On arrival in Colombo we checked into the Wallawwa. Close to the airport, it’s a lovely place to stop for a night or two and recover from jet lag. Before setting off for the Cultural Triangle, we visited the bustling Negombo Fish market which is well worth exploring for an insight into the lives of the locals in the area.
The journey up to the Cultural Triangle is an experience in itself with fantastic lush scenery all the way and, if you’re lucky, plenty of elephant sightings. In fact, it’s quite normal to have to pull over to allow wild elephants to cross the road! We stayed at the Water Garden, which as the name implies is built around lakes and ponds. From the hotel, you’ll get your first glimpse of Sigiriya Rock in the distance. One of the trip highlights was climbing this ancient rock fortress (not for the faint hearted) and taking in the incredible views from the top, as well as seeing the amazing Buddha statues at Dambulla Caves.
We then made our way south towards the former capital of Kandy, calling in at the Santani Wellness Resort en route. Set up in the hills around Kandy, its minimalist rooms offer fabulous views of the surrounding countryside. As you would expect, the resort offers very healthy food (designed individually to your tastes) along with a great spa. Close by are some lovely walks through local villages and rice fields, and a river where you can take a cooling dip. Around 1.5 hours away is the sacred city of Kandy, home to wonderful botanical gardens and the Temple of the Tooth - the most revered temple in Sri Lanka. We stayed at Kandy House, a lovely boutique hotel set in a 200-year-old manor house framed by lush, tropical gardens.
From Kandy, we headed east to Gal Oya National Park and the eco-conscious Gal Oya Lodge which offered very comfortable accommodation, fantastic food and friendly staff. One of the most memorable moments of the whole trip was taking a boat out on the lake to see the famous swimming elephants, followed by sundowners on a tiny island watching the sunset - fantastic! For any birders, Gal Oya is definitely a place to include in your itinerary with its huge array of exotic birds.
We then followed the winding roads up into the cooler Tea Country area, stopping at the small town of Ella which has a backpacker vibe to it with lots of small B&B’s, cafes and restaurants. In the tea country, we stayed in a five-bedroom tea bungalow called Nine Skies. Dating back to the colonial era, the property sits on a hill with lovely views of the surrounding tea fields. Those with a passion for tea can visit one of the local factories to learn all about the history and tea making process. For those feeling a bit more energetic there are plenty of scenic walking trails around the hotel, as well as the opportunity for zip lining and hikes up ‘mini’ Adam’s Peak.
Onwards to Yala National Park, which is probably Sri Lanka’s most famous park, known for having the highest concentration of leopards in the country alongside countless birds, elephants, crocodiles, deer, wild boar…the list goes on! Yala was definitely a major highlight and well worth including for any wildlife enthusiasts. There are several very nice accommodation choices, but we stayed at Leopard Safaris by KK which was reasonably basic but comfortable. As with every hotel I visited in Sri Lanka, the food and service was outstanding.
From Yala we journeyed to the southern coast, stopping for a night in Galle. I loved the Galle Fort area - it has a huge amount of colonial history with many original buildings still standing. It’s also a great place to stroll around with lots of cafes, boutique shops and jewellers. We stayed at the Fort Bazaar, another excellent boutique hotel with a perfect location within the Fort area.
The final part of the trip was spent on the beach at Villa Bentota, a charming property originally designed by Geoffrey Bawa, Sri Lanka’s celebrated architect (we also visited his estate at Lunuganga which makes for a nice excursion from the beach). Lovely rooms, more fantastic food and an amazing, vast beach made for the perfect finale. A slightly unique point to the hotel is a railway line that runs between the beach and hotel. Although not frequent, it’s an interest sight seeing the old trains trundle past with the locals hanging out of the windows! There are number of excellent beachside properties in the south including Kumu Beach, Amanwella, KK Beach and Aditya, each with their own style and charm.
I’m not sure what I expected of Sri Lanka, but it absolutely beat all expectations. I cannot wait to return!