With only one airline that flies directly to Colombo from the UK, the masses seem to have been kept at bay, meaning that glorious little boutique hotels can thrive and authentic experiences are still possible for you to enjoy a luxury family holiday if you know how. Locals are friendly and even in the most popular areas with foreign visitors, one can still see the excitement on children’s faces as you pass through their village.
So what are the best experiences to consider including to make your stay in Sri Lanka truly memorable?
One of my favourites is to take the seaplane with Cinnamon Air and see the island from the air. No matter whether the route is from Colombo to Sigiriya or over to the east coast in the summer months or from the tea country down to Dickwella to reach the deep south and Yala, the views are incredible and varied and when I last took a flight the plane had to route via Kandy and the tea country and Galle to reach Dickwella from Colombo.
Some might see this long routing as tiresome, but for me, I was thrilled to enjoy a scenic tour of a large part of the island. The pilots are charming too and so, all in all, a superb experience. It is also possible to charter the plane privately for up to eight people so for families or small groups of friends it is the perfect means of transport to avoid some of the longer drives.
Talking about seeing things from the air, why not consider flying over Sigiriya Rock Fortress and Polonnaruwa in a hot air balloon? As you glide through the air you can really take in the majesty of these outstanding UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Not far away is Anuradhapura, another UNESCO World Heritage Site, which is best explored by bicycle.
If visiting in the summer, witness the most important festival in the Buddhist calendar, from a hotel balcony overlooking the streets of Kandy (special arrangements required) as the Perahera processions pass by. The dates change every year and are announced by the head monk at The Temple of The Tooth Relic, so be sure to book accommodation enough in advance. Witness this fabulous, iconic, lively and colourful celebration as it happens.
One of my favourite places I have ever stayed is rather more off the beaten track, but oh so worth it. The little hidden gem of Living Heritage Koslanda sits between the hills of the tea country and the south coast and is the perfect excuse to slow down and relax after visiting historic sites cultural triangle and before going on safari. This place is truly unique.
Here sometimes wild elephant can be seen crossing through the jungle on the periphery, I took a short hike to a nearby waterfall and enjoyed a refreshing dip, the beauty being that this is only really accessed by those staying at Living Heritage and so is entirely private. Food is divine here with many of the vegetables and salad coming from their own organic garden.
From Koslanda, Yala National Park is only another couple of hours away. Since Yala is the most visited park on the island because of its concentration of leopard, it can get busy in certain areas and at peak times, so time your visit carefully but certainly if the peak season is unavoidable make sure that you stay in one of the excellent camps in the buffer zones to provide the best access to the park and where the best trained and highly knowledgeable naturalists know how to get you away from the busy zones.
Sri Lanka however is truly the most fantastic destination to visit for a celebration or gathering since the small nature of the hotels means that exclusive rentals are easily possible and if not of a hotel, then there are numerous stunning villas with dramatic vistas. Anivillas is one of my favourites.
An entire estate with 15 bedrooms in two villas and a team of dedicated staff for each where no request is too much trouble. Every day brings surprises here (so much so I wouldn’t want to spoil it by sharing), the thoughtfulness of the staff and management is outstanding, but my favourite experience was walking along the beach to a local temple where I received a blessing from a monk.
Finally, my last recommendation is not to miss out on spending at least one day in Colombo. Now is the time to visit before developers regenerate all the historic buildings into hotels and café bars as the city becomes ever more cosmopolitan. Currently a walk around the old fort is like stepping back in time, buildings with stories behind the façade. Explore the area on a walking tour and you won’t regret taking the time to do so