Sri Lanka Holidays
We were on our way to Bangkok when we discovered Sri Lanka. Serendipity? A fortunate happenstance? Absolutely. Just like this glorious island’s former name, Serendib. Set within the Indian Ocean, Sri Lanka luxury holidays provide a sublime explosion of colour and culture, as many-faceted as a radiant cut Ceylon sapphire.
This is a warm-hearted nation we absolutely adore, less full-on than India and more vibrant than the Maldives. The explorer Marco Polo described it as the finest island in the world. And who are we to disagree with such a well-travelled gentleman?
Few destinations in the world can offer such diverse experiences close at hand as a luxury holiday to Sri Lanka. Within one smal(ish) island lie eight UNESCO World Heritage sites waiting to be explored, 15 national parks brimming with flora and fauna, 500,000 acres of tranquil tea estates, more lustrous beaches than you can shake a stick at and a scintillating culture that extends back over 2,500 years. Not to mention a dazzling array of luxury boutique hotels. If variety is the spice of life, then a Yonder tailor-made holiday in Sri Lanka is as hot as one of the island’s delicious coconut curries.
This is a place where the original soul of Buddhism still flourishes, a place where modern-day culture and ancient civilisations combine to fascinate you, and where nature’s beauty remains abundant and unspoilt (did you know that the world’s greatest concentration of leopards are residents of Sri Lanka’s national parks, making it ideal for safari holidays?) Whatever you worship, you will find it here.
This is a country that demands to be explored. And in the service of Yonder guests, we have not stinted. We have flown and driven countless miles and climbed aboard unforgettable train journeys to delve deeply into the secrets of Sri Lanka. We’ve done it in luxurious comfort and we’ve travelled simply with the locals.
And as a result of our exhaustive researches (it’s a tough job but somebody’s got to do it), the mainly boutique hotels we have selected for your Sri Lanka luxury holiday are small and characterful, endearingly individual and always captivating. In fact, the hotels we have unearthed will fill you with a similar frisson of surprise to that which blossoms on your palate when when you first discover the island’s marvellous cuisine.
Whether it’s street vendors or fine dining you desire, you will find yourself hungrily exploring spicy freshly-caught seafood and a wide variety of curries – dhal curry, chicken curry, lake fish Badhuma, Elabatu Pahi (vegetarian curry), cashew and pea curry to name but a few – while you can cool your tastebuds with bountiful local fruits like mangoes, pineapples, guavas, bananas, wood apple fruit, durian, longan, jackfruit and delicious rambutan.
If you only do three things in Sri Lanka…
Go to Jaffna. Still untouched by mass tourism, it’s raw and authentic. The scenery is spectacular, the people are amongst the friendliest we've met and the food is sublime.
Conquer the 1,202 steps of Sigiriya Rock. Not only will you see ancient fresoes but also stunning views of the former water gardens and the surrounding countryside.
Spend time in Galle exploring the iconic fort. The history is immersive, the architecture immense and the hotels amongst the island’s best.
EXPLORE Sri Lanka
In each of Yonder’s main destinations, we have selected a range of highlights you might like to include in your personalised Yonder trip.
Whether they are fabled regions, resorts or cities, single destinations or entire itineraries, these are the Yonder ingredients we know will help you begin to piece together the ideal trip…
WHERE TO GO IN Sri Lanka
Wilpattu National Park is a sensational hidden gem that is thankfully overlooked by mainstream visitors to Sri Lanka. Brimming with flora and fauna, almost any Sri Lankan Naturalist (and some of our most experienced Yonderers!) consider it to be the most exciting of the 26 national parks in Sri lanka.
- The park opens at 6am so get out early for the best chances of seeing sloth bears and leopards
- Experience the large number of elephants which will gather around the shores of the lakes to cool off
- Grab the bird book and and park by a lake to see countless species fishing over the water
There is a magnificence about Wilpattu. Something more exciting than we have experienced elsewhere. Having a cup of tea on a hillock, served by Priyantha, our vastly experienced naturalist, whilst looking down at elephants in the wetlands was mesmerising.
The stunning east coast of Sri Lanka is wild, untamed and largely deserted. The beaches are gloriously long and sandy, providing an old-fashioned castaway paradise. Places such as Trincomalee, Pasikuda and Arugam Bay make perfect beach holiday destinations from May through to September due to the way Sri Lanka’s monsoons fall.
- If you aren’t already a surf bum, take some lessons to learn the art of the pop up
- Walk the full length of the golden sand on the main beach and take in the stunning scenery
- Take a short taxi and go out in the evening to the plethora of restaurants in the middle section of the beach
This is a beachcomber’s paradise. A coastline of narrow coves, long sandy beaches and rocky outcrops make the Tangalle area the place to come for true beach escapes.A holiday in Tangalle is worth the trek. Not least because the best luxury hotels have set up shop here.
- Tangalle is littered with sandy coves so take your sunhat and book for a slice of heaven.
- Tangalle town is still geared up for locals, so you’ll find it charming and uncommercialised.
- Take a whale-watching trip to see the world’s largest mammal, the Blue Whale
Not only is the park Sri Lanka’s best-kept secret, but the ancient Vedda tribe who live here (yes, they really do still wear loincloths and hunt with poison tipped arrows). What’s more, you can take a boat safari in the hope of seeing the mighty Asian elephant swimming in its natural habitat.
- Be up with the birds to see elephants swimming between the islands in the lake.
- The jungle cooking course is amongst the best on the island.
- Meet the Vedda and learn about their fascinating way of life.
Speak to any Sri Lankan about safari and one of their first questions will be: ‘Have you visited Yala?’ It is by far the most famous national park, as well as being the largest. Sri Lankans are proud of their national parks and this one rightly sits at the top of the list.
- Grab every opportunity to jump into the jeep in search of elusive leopards
- Ask your naturalist to take you to the furthest zone to escape the crowds.
- Tell the driver to stop, crack into the onboard refreshments and listen to the soundtrack of the bush.
The sun shimmering on the horizon. A lake stretching as far as the eye can see. More elephants than you could possibly count. Water buffalo and deer grazing on the vast wetlands. The cough of a leopard in the still of the night. Birds galore.
- Watching the sun rise over the wetlands is a memory that will last for ever.
- Breakfast on top of the rock at the edge of the safari camp will leave you feeling like the king of the jungle
- Take time armed with binoculars to study the astonishing birds, such as the woolly necked stork!
The swirling mists, rolling hills and emerald carpets of tea bushes of Sri Lanka’s Tea Country occupy a very special place in Yonder hearts. It’s a magical place. It is often not the glorious beaches that make us smile most, but the highlands. If there was one place in the world to be played on loop, this would be it.
- Immerse yourself in the tranquil beauty by taking a walk along the plantation paths.
- No experience is complete without a visit to a tea factory.
- Board a train for a seat with an ever-changing view through rolling hills and little towns that haven’t changed in generations.
We’ve seen so many of the world’s wonders. And yet we can’t help feeling a special thrill of excitement about Jaffna . Jaffna was completely off limits until 2009 when the tragic civil war ended. It has only very recently been fully opened up and tourists remain few and far between. And that’s what helps make it special.
- Head across paddyfields and low-lying causeways over a vast salt lagoon towards the islands to the west of Jaffna.
- Stroll through the streets and just soak up the atmosphere of this city timewarp.
- Nallur temple is a spectacular and is the most significant Hindu shrine in the Jaffna district.
You guessed it... a concentration of cultural landmarks in geographically triangular area. In fact, there are no fewer than seven UNESCO world heritage sites concentrated here, with three main sites it would be shamefully remiss not to visit on your Sri Lanka Cultural Triangle tour: Anuradhapura, Sigiriya and Dambulla caves.
- Visit Anuradhapura: we adore the pools of Kuttam Pokuna.
- Power up the steps to the top of Sigiriya. The sheen of sweat will quickly be banished when you discover what awaits
- Dambulla Caves will give you the ultimate Buddha frescos cultural fix with over 2,100 square meters of them
Kandy is a special place. History and creativity can be found in abundance, and, what’s more, at an altitude of 500m, Kandy offers a cooler temperatures than elsewhere in Sri Lanka, with colourful buildings and a beautiful lake at the heart of the city, while busy street markets, bus stations and restaurants provide that urban buzz.
- The Temple of the Tooth is cream of the crop.
- The Kandy botanical gardens are truly beautiful and the orchid house is an intoxicatingly-scented hit every time.
- Daily life unfolds just meters from the main sites so leave time for a gentle wander to take it in.
Galle is a living time capsule, a melting pot of colonial grandeur and bohemian chic. Its massive fortified walls protectively enclose densely-packed streets lined with British and Dutch colonial buildings.
- Walk hand-in-hand along the spectacular ramparts at sunset. Romance will flourish!
- Enjoy a walking tour to hear about the history of Galle fort and day life within the walls.
- Explore the charming fair-trade market in Magistrates Square on a Saturday.
Colombo has been the Sri Lankan elephant in the room for many years (OK, so not literally. We’ve seen many elephants in Sri Lanka but fortunately never in the room). However (and you heard it here first) Colombo is getting hot. Seriously hot. And we aren’t talking just about the weather.
- Go for dinner at the Old Dutch Hospital. The restaurants are among the best in the city.
- Independence Memorial is great for a history lesson and the restored Independence Arcade is perfect for a shopping fix.
- Visit the Barefoot Cafe. The shop has a beautiful range of ethical homeware items.
Here at Yonder we have devised some exciting itineraries that will illustrate just what amazing journeys you could enjoy through Yonder’s exciting far-away destinations.
Of course every one of Yonder’s clients is a unique individual and we only create personalised itineraries that reflect those personal desires and wishes. So your Yonder journey will be as individual as you are. But to help you envisage just what amazing adventures might be possible, we have devised sample itineraries that we are confident will inspire you. You only have to pick up the phone to explore how any one of these ideas might be adapted to create your own perfect journey Yonder.