Catch an evening flight, arriving in Colombo early the following day. You’ll be taken by your driver/guide to your luxurious Dutch warehouse-style hotel, just a few miles from the airport. You’ll also be given a welcome pack that includes a mobile phone so you can contact your driver whenever you want him.
Stay: One night in a garden suite at The Wallawwa – bed & breakfast
The next morning your guide will collect you for a fascinating three hour drive through picturesque countryside to Wilpattu National Park, where you’ll be staying in a traditional safari camp. The park is one of the largest and best established of Sri Lanka’s reserves, and features over 50 natural lakes and watering holes that attract a wide range of wildlife. You’ll venture out on a total of six evening and morning game drives – all the better to see elephants, leopards, buffalo, sloth bear, sambhur, spotted deer and mongoose. You’ll spot birds like painted storks, little cormorants, owls, terns, gulls, eagles, kites and buzzards, plus reptiles like monitor lizards, crocodiles, turtles and various snakes.
Stay: Two nights in a classic tent at Leopard Trails – full board
After breakfast you’ll take a last safari before setting off for the Cultural Triangle. Anuradhapura was Sri Lanka’s first capital, founded in the 4th century BC. 100 successive rulers spent 1000 years building a wonderful collection of palaces, temples, stupas and gardens – giving you a feast of sightseeing that includes two UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Particularly interesting to history fans is one of the world’s earliest examples of an advanced irrigation systems. Nature lovers will be amazed by the Sacred Bo-Tree; a descendant of the tree under which Buddha sat when he achieved enlightenment. At over 2200 years old it’s the oldest documented tree in the world.
Serene upright, sedentary and recumbent statues of Buddha dating back hundreds of years welcome you to the World Heritage Site of Polonnaruwa, which also presents you with historic ruins, the Audience Hall, Lotus Bath, royal palaces and Parakrama Samudraya Lake created by King Parakramabahu – as well as the Shiva Temple, Galpotha, Kiri Vehera and Lankathilake.
Rise early the next day to visit the truly astonishing royal citadel of Sigiriya. It’s quite a climb – best not attempted in the heat of the day – up to an impregnable fortress that rises 200 metres above the jungle on the monumental Lion Rock. The view from the summit is sensational, as are palace ruins and the sights you pass on the way; the mirror wall, for example, and frescoes of the heavenly maidens.
Stay: Three nights in a Ulagalla pool villa at Ulagalla Walawwa Resort – bed & breakfast
Your day begins with a trip to Dambulla to visit some of Sri Lanka’s most impressive cave temples. There are five of them, carved from the solid rock face, featuring 150 representations of Buddha – including a massive, impassive statue spanning 14 metres. After Dambulla you travel on to Kandy where you’ll be able to witness ceremonies in the Temple of the Tooth – named after the relic of Buddha’s tooth, now housed in the temple’s most sacred inner sanctum. The temple stands beside a magnificent lake where basking monitor lizards and a variety of birds are a common sight. Even more wonderful are the Peradeniya Botanical Gardens, spread over 147 acres.
Stay: Two nights in a junior suite at Kings Pavilion – bed & breakfast
From the lowland heat and bustle of Kandy you’ll board a scenic train that winds its way high into the hills where the climate is cooler – perfect for growing tea. Here you’ll have a real taste of the empire as you’ll be staying in colonial-style bungalows on a working tea plantation. You’ll be able to play croquet and golf and learn about the process of tea-making – as well as trekking, kayaking, rafting and hot air ballooning. Your tea tour will be led by a Resident Tea Planter and include watching tea pickers at work, examining the traditional machinery and tasting the different grades produced.
Stay: Two nights in a garden suite at Tea Trails, Summerville Bungalow – full board
There are few journeys more enthralling than this. Today you’ll board a seaplane and fly from Castlereagh Reservoir to Koggala Lagoon, where you’ll be met and escorted to Cape Weligama. This ultra luxurious resort sits high above the Indian Ocean on a huge promontory and features just 40 private retreats and no less than two beaches – one accessed by a private staircase.
Weligama is just 30 minutes from the fortress town of Galle. A UNESCO-declared World Heritage Site this ancient Dutch fort – believed to be the largest lived-in citadel in the world – has retained much of its 300 year old history and atmosphere, with quaint streets, a beautiful central square and charming mixture of churches, mosques and traditional cottages. If you like a bargain, buy the exquisite hand-made lace for which the town is famed, from the local vendors.
Stay: Three nights in an ocean villa at Cape Weligama – bed & breakfast
Weligama - Colombo – Home
Time to say goodbye to wonderful Sri Lanka. You’ll be taken from Weligama to Colombo’s airport to meet your midday flight back home.
It has been wonderful to discover that there remain places like this in the world, where one can find peace amid wild nature. This has been the highlight of our stay in Colombia and we look forward to telling our friends about it.- ZA, Colombia, 2014