Sri Lanka has to be one of my favourite destinations in the whole world – and I’ve visited and lived in quite a few exotic destinations! Lush vegetation, incredible history and heritage, a tropical climate, stunning beaches lapped by balmy Indian Ocean waters, delicious cuisine that is milder and creamier than Indian food, smiling English-speaking locals, elephants, spice gardens, rainforest and tea plantations – Sri Lanka pretty much has it all.
Although Sri Lanka is easy to reach on a direct long-haul flight, many travellers (and mainstream travel publications) pass this tear-shaped island by in search of adventure further afield. Put off by the ethnic Tamil insurgency which ended in 2009 or the (unwarranted) fear of “third world” conditions, travellers seem hesitant to venture to this beautiful island paradise. One easy solution is to book a bespoke luxury tour complete with private car and driver to escort you to some of the top sights around this fascinating island.
The AdventureLanka Tour I would personally recommend includes luxury accommodation in boutique hotels and former plantation homes that combine local charm with European standards. The beauty of having your own chauffeur-driven vehicle means you can deviate off on one of the most scenic railway journeys in the world in a first class seat which includes meals, unlimited refreshments and free Wi-Fi. Your driver can drop you at the station near Colombo and pick you up several hours later from your destination in the Highlands while you travel in style, unencumbered by luggage.
Like every destination, you simply can’t do everything in a 14-night vacation, but planning a personalised tour of Sri Lanka allows you to focus on what really matters to you.
UNESCO listed attractions in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka has six UNESCO Heritage Sites and two UNESCO Nature Reserves – a great foundation for any bespoke tour. Historic sites include the sacred city and former capital, Anuradhapura, with its temples and monuments. Nearby Polonnaruwa is crammed with royal relics, architecture and lakes while Dambulla Rock Temple is a remarkable site of painted caves.
Sirigiriya Rock Fortress is a 5th century palace carved out of a huge rock with ornate carved detail and preserved frescoes well worth clambering up the steps to see. Kandy, with its British Colonial history, Royal Botanical Gardens and Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic is sure to be a highlight of your trip.
Wildlife attractions in Sri Lanka
For wildlife diversity it’s hard to beat Horton Plains National Park. Tours can include a half-day hike with a local naturalist to Baker’s Falls and World’s End, a stunning viewpoint with a sheer drop of around 1,200 m (4,000 feet). For wildlife, birds and elephants, you’ll want to spend time at Minneriya, Uda Walawe or Yala National Parks where you can stay the night at a world-class game lodge as part of your bespoke trip.
Beaches and watersports
Schedule a few days relaxing on Trincomalee’s famous white sand beaches and, of course, some shopping in Colombo, home of Oscar de la Renta and many other luxury clothing outlets. Souvenirs do not come more beautiful than sapphires and gemstones. Local gem dealers will tip out one drawer after another of glittering loose gems as you sip tea and haggle for a bargain.
You’ll want to include seeing the stilt fishermen perched on their poles patiently awaiting their next meal. Schedule a visit to a Turtle Hatchery to release wriggling 3-day-old turtles into the sea or perhaps bathe a working elephant in a clear mountain stream. Tour the gardens and tea plantations of “Little England” at Nuwara Eliya and get VIP tickets to the spectacular Esala Perahera Festival with its procession of ceremonially dressed elephants.
All these are good reasons why a bespoke tour of Sri Lanka should definitely be on your 2017 bucket list, preferably between November and April.