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The Leader in Small Groups on the Road Less Traveled
Never more than 10-16 travelers—guaranteed!

2018 Soul of India: The Colorful South

India: Chennai, Mahabalipuram, Thanjavur, Madurai, Periyar, Kerala’s backwaters, Cochin

90% Traveler Excellence Rating Read reviews

18 Days from only $3795 including international airfare

SPECIAL OFFER
View details

Activity Level:

1 2 3 4 5

Moderately Easy

Courtesy Dmitry Sumin
Kovalam Beach, Kerala, India

Get a bird’s-eye perspective of Kerala, India’s scenic Kovalam Beach.

Courtesy of Théo Cheval
Kerala

Roam Kerala's streets, lagoons, temples, and fields to see how this vibrant destination turns daily life into a rythmic dance.

Courtesy Andrew Hinton
Amar

Experience authentic Indian culture by following a local boy through his daily routine.

Courtesy CNN
Sri Lanka's Freshest Seafood

Experts take us to their favorite places and explain important parts of Sri Lankan culture, such as seafood and rugby.

Courtesy CNN
Whale watching in Sri Lanka

Set off on a private charter to spot whales in Sri Lanka, which you can visit on our pre-trip extension.

FROM
$3795
18 DAYS
$211/DAY
including international airfare
17 DAYS FROM $2595 Small Group Adventure Only
  • 3 nights from only $595
    Single Supplement: $295
Extend Your Trip
 

Save $500 on airfare to India
on January-April 2018
departures. Reserve by 10/6/17

 

CRITICAL AIR INFORMATION
The air routing for this trip is very demanding. Learn More »

 

Enjoy a Stopover in Dubai
en route to India.
See More Options >>

Find the Adventure That’s Right for You

Our Activity Level rating system ranks adventures on a scale of 1 to 5 to help you determine if a trip is right for you. See the descriptions below for more information about the physical requirements associated with each rating.

Activity Level 1:

1 2 3 4 5

Easy

Travelers should be able to climb 25 stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 1-2 miles over some uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last at least 1-2 hours at a time. Altitude can range from zero to 5,000 feet.

Activity Level 2:

1 2 3 4 5

Moderately Easy

Travelers should be able to climb 40 stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 2-3 miles over some uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last for at least 2-3 hours at a time. Altitude can range from zero to 5,000 feet.

Activity Level 3:

1 2 3 4 5

Moderate

Travelers should be able to climb 60 stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 3 miles over some steep slopes and loose or uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last for 3 or more hours at a time. Altitude can range from 5,000 to 7,000 feet.

Activity Level 4:

1 2 3 4 5

Moderately Strenuous

Travelers should be able to climb 80 stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 4 miles over some steep slopes and loose or uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last for 4 or more hours at a time. Altitude can range from 7,000 to 9,000 feet.

Activity Level 5:

1 2 3 4 5

Strenuous

Travelers should be able to climb 100 or more stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 8 miles over some steep slopes and loose or uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last for 4 or more hours at a time. Altitude can range from 10,000 feet or more.

Pre-trip: Sri Lanka: The Resplendent Island

9 nights from: $2595 Single Supplement: FREE

Sri Lanka's Freshest Seafood

Experts take us to their favorite places and explain important parts of Sri Lankan culture, such as seafood and rugby.

Courtesy of CNN

Sri Lanka is home to a range of landscapes, each more exotic than the next. Its predominantly Buddhist spirituality mingles with the remnants of its history in the spice trade. This tear-shaped island’s natural bounty is a cornucopia of treasures, from the tea fields to the coconut plantations. Before you explore India, come discover the land that inspired Mark Twain to exclaim: “Dear me, it is beautiful. And most sumptuously tropical.”

It's Included:
International airfare from Dubai to Colombo and Colombo to Chennai
Accommodations for 1 night in Dubai, 2 nights in Colombo, 2 nights in Habarana, 2 nights in Kandy, and 2 nights in Galle
20 meals—daily breakfast, 5 lunches, and 6 dinners
7 small group activities
All land transportation
Services of a local O.A.T. Trip Leader
Gratuities for local guides, drivers, and luggage porters
All transfers
  • Depart the U.S. today for your flight to Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

  • This evening, arrive in Dubai, where you’ll spend the night before your connecting flight to Colombo, Sri Lanka tomorrow afternoon.

  • After breakfast, we’ll transfer to the airport for our flight to Colombo, Sri Lanka. When we arrive, we’ll experience the spiritual side of Sri Lanka by meeting a Buddhist monk. While Sri Lanka houses many religions, about 70% of its people practice Buddhism, which came to the country in 247 BC when Mahinda, the son of Indian emperor Ashoka, sent Buddhist missionaries to the island—eventually making Sri Lanka one of the first countries to convert to Buddhism. We’ll learn more about Buddhism in Sri Lanka during a question-and-answer session with the monk. Later, the monk will also teach us how to meditate and guide us through an evening prayer, before we all enjoy a vegetarian dinner together in his home.

    Tonight, we’ll transfer to our hotel and check in.

    Please note: On January-March departures, we will depart on an afternoon flight to Colombo and arrive this evening. We will have dinner at a local restaurant, and the monk visit will take place on Day 4 instead.

  • Today, we’ll explore Colombo—Sri Lanka’s bustling commercial capital. While Colombo was once known as the “garden city of the East,” today it’s flourishing as a vibrant cosmopolitan hub, filled with a growing array of chic restaurants, museums, shops, and cafés. In the north lies the Fort district, with its unusual combination of modern financial intuitions (like the World Trade Center) and colonial buildings, while the south is home to the fashionable and evocatively named Cinnamon Gardens neighborhood.

    During our city tour, we’ll visit some of Colombo’s most vibrant attractions—including the sprawling 19th-century Gangaramaya Temple, which is regarded as one of the city’s most important shrines. We’ll have time for lunch on our own before we continue exploring Colombo.

    Please note: On January-March departures, we will visit a local monk this evening (see Day 3 itinerary description).

  • After breakfast this morning, we’ll drive north to Habarana, a small village known for its location at the crossroads of Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle—an area of lush green hills that was once called “The King’s Land” due to its history as the bastion of early Sinhalese civilization.

    This afternoon, we’ll have lunch in the village of Dambulla. Then, we'll check into our hotel, where we’ll enjoy dinner together tonight.

  • Today we’ll visit the immense Sigiriya rock fortress. Rising 600 feet above the surrounding jungle, this monolith is visible from miles away. Dubbed “The Lion Rock” because bricks and stucco were originally added to form the shape of a giant lion, we'll see all that remains of this façade as we enter: two enormous clawed, feline feet flanking the 1,001 steps to the top. We'll have time to explore the terraced gardens of the fortress, as well as the lush Water Garden and the ancient Boulder Garden. And we'll climb the spiral staircase to see the Mirror Wall and colorful frescoes of the sensual Cloud Maidens, whose beauty inspired visitors from long ago to scribble graffiti on the polished lime wall. We’ll also learn more about the cultural importance of Sigiriya by visiting the Sigiriya Museum.

    We’ll enjoy lunch at a local restaurant after returning to our hotel for some time at leisure. Then, we’ll explore one of the Cultural Triangle’s crowning jewels: the ancient city of Polonnaruwa. For three centuries, Polonnaruwa thrived as a commercial and religious center, even acting as the royal capital for both the Chola and Sinhalese kingdoms. When the city reached its zenith in the twelfth century, it stood as one of the great urban centers of South Asia. However, after being adorned in the extravagance of several kings, Polonnaruwa slipped into an era of chaos as Tamil and Sinhalese factions battled for control of the city. Eventually, Polonnaruwa was pillaged by Tamil mercenary Magha. While Magha left Polonnaruwa in 1255, the damage he did was irreversible, and the city was abandoned, falling into the grasp of the surrounding jungle until restorations began in the mid-20th century. 

    This evening, we'll return to our hotel and dinner is on your own.

    • Meals included:
    • Accommodations:

    We’ll say goodbye to Habarana this morning as we begin our four-hour drive to Kandy, a city encircled by mountains and the Mahaweli River. This was the last capital of the Sri Lankan kings, now designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. During the imperialist scramble of the 17th and 18th centuries, several European countries tried to scoop up beautiful Kandy to add to their burgeoning empires. But neither Portuguese, nor Dutch, nor British navy could break through Kandy’s natural mountain fortress; after the Portuguese succeeded in their coastal conquests, Kandy became the last independent kingdom on the island.

    En route, we'll stop at a spice garden to learn about Sri Lanka's many varied spices. We’ll have lunch together near the garden, then transfer to our hotel in Kandy, where we’ll have some time at leisure. Tonight, we’ll gather for a lively cultural performance featuring traditional Sri Lankan dancing. Dinner is on your own.

    • Meals included:
    • Accommodations:

    After breakfast, we’ll venture about three miles west of the city to explore the lovely Royal Botanic Gardens at Peradeniya. The locale that comprises the gardens has been a royal site since 1371, when King Wickramabahu III held court here. Now, 4,000 species—including more than 300 varieties of orchids—thrive on the lush 147-acre grounds, which also boast a suspension bridge, a lake, spice beds, and a pavilion-sized fig tree. We'll have lunch at the gardens before returning to our hotel for some time at leisure.

    Then, we’ll walk to the Temple of the Tooth, nestled within the royal palace complex. Here lies what is said to be a sacred tooth of the Buddha, which has been revered throughout the ages as a good luck charm of sorts (it’s believed that whoever holds the tooth holds the country in his hands as well, and ancient kings fought over it as they did over their land). We’ll witness an evening ceremony at the temple before dinner at our hotel.

  • This morning, we’ll journey to Galle, an ancient fortified city that was the main port on the island for more than 200 years. The city experienced its heyday in the 18th century during Dutch colonial rule, erupting into an exotic hotspot for spice traders traveling between Europe and Asia. However, when the British took control of Galle in 1796, they quickly turned their attention to Colombo for most of their commercial needs, leaving Galle to flourish as Sri Lanka’s secondary port. Today, the city still handles some shipping and yachts, but has refined its reputation as the island’s art mecca, with artists from around the world drawn to its rich contrast of Dutch colonial architecture and breezy tropical charm.

    When we arrive in Galle this afternoon, we’ll check in to our hotel and explore Galle Fort, built by the Dutch in 1663. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Galle Fort is the largest fortress in Asia built by Europeans, and has been remarkably well-preserved over the centuries. In fact, today, the 36-hectare fort still contains working administrative offices, courts, and export companies.

    Tonight we’ll have dinner at a local restaurant.

  • Today we’ll dive into the history of Sri Lanka’s most important crop: tea. The British were the first to introduce tea to Sri Lanka, bringing a single camellia sinensis plant from China to the then-colonized island in 1824 with the intention of displaying it in the Royal Botanic Gardens. However, only decades later, Sri Lanka blossomed into a center for tea production—partially thanks to Thomas Lipton, who exported the product to London. By 1965, Sri Lanka was the largest tea exporter in the world. Today, the country still earns an estimated $1.5 billion each year from its thriving tea export industry. We’ll learn more about the history of tea in Sri Lanka by visiting a local tea factory and estate, where we’ll have a chance to witness the tea production process and interact with some of the planters. We'll enjoy lunch on the estate.

    Later, we’ll learn about the arts in Sri Lanka by visiting the Martin Wickramasinghe Museum—the partially renovated home where the Sri Lankan author was born in 1890, as well as his burial site. Today, the museum contains various folk artifacts from throughout Sri Lanka’s history, including costumes, musical instruments, puppets, masks, and kitchen utensils. 

    This evening, we'll have dinner at the hotel.

    • Meals included:

    After breakfast, we’ll transfer to the airport in Colombo, where we’ll meet our flight to Chennai, India. When we arrive in Chennai, we’ll meet our Indian Trip Leader and drive to our hotel, beginning Day 2 of our Soul of India adventure.

Please note: If you make your own international air arrangements, your extension price will increase due to internal air transportation. This extension may not be available on all departures.

Click below to read our Travel Planning Guide on Soul of India: The Colorful South

Read Travel Planning Guide

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