You’ll gently ease into your tailor-made holiday in Sri Lanka with a night at the tranquil tropical gem The Wallawwa on the edge of Colombo, perfect prep for the watery wilderness of Wilpattu National Park. Meaning ‘natural lakes’ in Sinhala and ‘ten lakes’ in Tamil, your tented camp is ideal for daily safaris spotting Asian elephants, leopards and sloth bears among the park’s many pools. Unique experiences in Sri Lanka are aplenty, so you’ll swap wildlife for world-class heritage with a guided cycling tour around Anuradhapura’s crumbling remains, before visiting a pair of the Cultural Triangle’s lesser-known sights. First climb the ruin-scattered rock of Mihintale, thought to be where Buddhism was first introduced to the country, and then scratch your head in disbelief at the colossal granite-carved Aukana Buddha statue.
More of Sri Lanka’s history awaits in the cultural heartland of Kandy but before you get there, you’ll pause en route at the Cave Temples of Dambulla and their evocative paintings and Buddha statues. Once in Kandy you’ll take a tuk-tuk tour through its fusion of colonial and Kandyan architecture (the best way to see the city) and absorb the holy reverence that enshrouds Sri Lanka’s most important Buddhist site, the Temple of the Tooth.
You’ve explored on two wheels and by tuk-tuk, now’s the time to take the train from Peradeniya to Haputale. This isn’t any old train ride, however, as this stretch forms part of the line that is regularly touted as one of the finest rail journeys in the world, winding slowly through the heart of Sri Lanka’s emerald-wrapped Tea Country. After arriving in Haputale, you’ll have the chance to stop for a moment on your unique holiday in Sri Lanka amid this green-tinged ambience at a forest retreat. You can make these two days as relaxed or as energetic as you like, from treks to neighbouring villages and waterfalls, tea factory tours or just chilling in the Instagram-worthy swimming pool overlooking paddy fields. This is bespoke travel in Sri Lanka at its best.
Your deep dive into rural Sri Lanka continues in Gal Oya National Park, a wilderness that barely flickers on the tourist radar thanks to the better-known Yala National Park lying to the south. Their loss is your gain, as you enjoy its time-frozen villages, tree-covered peaks and ancient woodland all to yourself. Guides will be on hand to help you spot kingfishers, eagles and kites on a birdwatching walk and peel back the oft-forgotten northern swathe of Nilgala in search of sambar deer, water buffalos and endemic toque macaques. You’ll even get the chance to meet indigenous Vedda locals (and a village chief, no less) but the highlight of your time in the park will undoubtedly be a boat safari on the Senanayake Samudraya (Sri Lanka’s largest lake) to see swimming elephants. Phew – after all that exploring you’ll need time to stop and reflect, so your final few days will be spent on the isolated beaches of Sri Lanka’s north-eastern coast – nowhere beats it for exotic seclusion.
A restored two-hundred-year-old manor house resting in sprawling bird-rich gardens, The Wallawwa manages to deliver unbridled tranquillity despite being only a fifteen-minute hop from the international airport. It’s a convenient stop at both the top and tail of any Sri Lankan adventure but it also rewards those who choose to linger longer with its traditional Sri Lankan cooking, day trips to nearby Colombo or simply slowing your pulse by slinking into its jungle-fringed pool.
Curled up in a wild corner of Wilpattu National Park, Leopard Trails combines colonial comfort with the old-world romance of safari adventures. It may offer all the luxury trimmings with its deluxe tents and open-air fine-dining but it also recognises the true five-star appeal is the great outdoors. Twice-daily game drives with expert guides will mean encounters with the likes of muntjac deer, sloth bears and, of course, leopards. With a capacity of just fifteen people, intimate experiences are guaranteed in one of Sri Lanka’s under-the-radar wonders.
Within easy reach of the Cultural Triangle’s ancient treasures, Ulagalla is a grand manor house that once belonged to esteemed Anuradhapura nobility. It’s set in fifty eight acres of grassy grounds alive with grey langur monkeys, peacocks and over one hundred species of birds, a landscape Ulagalla is fully in tune with. Each chalet is made with local materials and nearly all have plunge pools, perfect spots to absorb the surrounding rainforest, rice paddies and woodland after a busy day exploring the Cultural Triangle.
Colonial luxury living at its peak, Kandy House is a boutique hotel situated within a former nineteenth-century mansion built by the last chief minister of the Kandyan kingdom. The palatial features of his former villa have been retained and its rooms boast vivid fabrics, black woods and whitewashed walls. Dinner is a personalised affair with tailored chef recommendations, while the twice-weekly ten-course curry feasts are taste sensation.
Gaze out from Living Heritage Koslanda’s hill-perched infinity pool over the paddy fields and forest tumbling down a gently sloping valley, you’ll probably think this scenery could only be fashioned by divine hands. No wonder it’s called God’s Forest, then, and Living Heritage Koslanda has the finest view of it all – Sri Lanka’s hill country has never looked good. The resort’s name also nods to the traditional architecture used throughout, from the Kandyan-style roofs to the colonnaded courtyards. A piece of heaven? Absolutely.
In twenty acres of private woodland on the edge of Gal Oya National Park, Gal Oya Lodge sits in a patch of Sri Lanka many miss. That’s clearly a plus and the lodge faithfully blends in with its neighbouring Vedda villages, thanks to its use of locally sourced teak, granite and illuk grass. This closeness to the indigenous people also means you can expect unparalleled experiences like ranger-led drives where you’ll often feel like the only ones there.
With Jungle Beach the clue really is in the name, with the resort sat within a heavenly mix of lush rainforest and sugar-soft sands on Sri Lanka’s secluded east coast. This is where Robinson Crusoe would stay if he were ever to find himself on the Teardrop Isle: think waking up in rustic jungle-enveloped cabins, walking out onto an almost-deserted beach, toes-in-the-sand apéritifs and siestas under a shaded parasol. Even the restaurant is like a treehouse – Mr Crusoe would certainly approve.
Passed down over five generations of the same family, Maniumpathy feels like a home from home. Now a boutique hotel with just eight charming colonially dressed rooms (each one is named after a woman from a different generation), it’s as if you’ve been transported back to relive the experiences of residents in years gone past. Found in the leafy Cinnamon Gardens district of Colombo, the hotel feels like a secret you’d want to keep to yourself as you step out of the busy street and into this peaceful walled retreat.
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