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 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?) 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.
If you only do three things in Sri Lanka…
- Go to Jaffna. Still untouched by large-scale tourism, it’s raw and authentic. The scenery is spectacular, the people are amongst the friendliest we have met and the food is out of this world.
- 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.
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.
Thoughts on a postcard
Rumbling through the high passes of the tea plantations in the comfort of the first-class air-conditioned carriage, we gazed out enthralled by the green tea carpeted hillsides scattered with tea pluckers in beautiful sarees. Essential Sri Lanka in a single snapshot.
Sri Lanka Holidays : OUR FAVOURITE PLACESEast Coast / Tangalle / Gal Oya National Park / Yala National Park / Uda Walawe National Park / Tea Country / Jaffna / Cultural Triangle / Kandy / Galle and the southern beaches / Colombo /
Our Escapologists only recommend hand-picked, delectable properties we have sampled and savoured ourselves. We judge all our hotels by their excellence, the sheer hedonistic pleasures they have to offer. And we reject a lot that don’t meet our exacting standards.
Some of our selections are classics, with reputations recognised the world over. Others are discoveries: boutique havens where hospitality, relaxation and fine cuisine have been distilled into a rare art form. You’ll find a few options for the budget conscious too, where Yonder’s principles are still to the fore. And for those who just need an airport stopover on their way to paradise, there’s one or two convenience choices, too.
We provide in-depth descriptions of every property, based upon our own experiences there, along with our unique Yonder rating and icons that will give you further insights into what’s on offer. We even tell you the types of clientele you might soon be rubbing shoulders with!
Now that’s choosing a hotel Yonder style!
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…
The stunning east coast of Sri Lanka is wild, untamed and exactly the place you need to go to escape the masses. 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 microclimate and monsoons fall.
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 and swaying palm trees so take your sunhat and book for a slice of heaven.
- Take a ride into Tangalle town. It is still geared up for locals, so you’ll find it charming and uncommercialised.
- Want a chance of glimpsing the world’s largest mammal, the Blue Whale? Take a whale-watching trip and you’ll almost certainly see bottlenosed and spinner dolphins.
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) are its hidden cultural treasure. What’s more, it is the only place in Sri Lanka where 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.
The 180-degree view from the top of monkey mountain was stunning. Beneath the rising sun the jungle canopy was still shrouded in mist.
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.
- Yala is all about leopards. Grab every opportunity to jump into the jeep in search of this elusive but awesome cat. It’s one of life’s great encounters.
- There are five zones inside Yala. Speak with your naturalist and driver about which are open and head for the furthest to get away from the crowds.
- Ask the driver to stop, crack into the onboard refreshments and just 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.
- An early-morning Uda Walawe safari 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, commanding a view stretching out over the park.
- Take a little time armed with binoculars to study the astonishing birds, such as the woolly necked stork or the green bee eater. A Uda Walawe safari is twitcher heaven!
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. After our latest sojourn on this magical island, it is often not the glorious beaches that make us smile most with fond memories, 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 visit to tea country is complete without a visit to a tea factory. You’ll never take the ubiquitous brew for granted again.
- Board a train for a seat with an ever-changing view through rolling hills, carpeted with tea bushes and little towns that haven’t changed their way of life for 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 and the North of Sri Lanka. Jaffna was completely off limits until 2009 when Sri Lanka’s tragic civil war finally 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 cross low-lying causeways over a vast salt lagoon towards the collection of islands to the west of Jaffna.
- Stroll through the streets and just soak up the atmosphere of this city timewarp.
- Nallur temple is the most significant Hindu shrine in the Jaffna district. It’s just a few minutes ride from the city centre and is a spectacular place to visit.
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. And thanks to Yonder, you have the finest pick of Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle hotels.
- Visit Anuradhapura, which has more ancient sites than you can shake a selfie stick at. We adore the pools of Kuttam Pokuna.
- Power up (okay, trudge) the steps to the top of Sigiriya. The thud of your heartbeat and the sheen of sweat will quickly be banished when you discover what awaits you at the top.
- Dambulla Caves will give you the ultimate Buddha frescos cultural fix with over 2,100 square meters of them.
Speak to any Sri Lankan about their country and the first question you’ll be asked is: ‘Have you been to Kandy?’ Why? Because Kandy is a special place. Journey here for your culture fix. 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 all surrounded by forested hills, while busy street markets, bus stations and restaurants provide that urban buzz.
- The Temple of the Tooth is cream of the crop. Leaving without seeing it would be like visiting the Vatican without marvelling at the Sistine Chapel.
- The Kandy botanical gardens are truly beautiful and the orchid house is an intoxicatingly-scented hit every time.
- Despite Kandy being a tourist hot spot, daily life unfolds just meters from the main sites so leave time for a gentle wander just to take it all 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 ramparts at sunset. The setting is spectacular and romance will flourish (take our word for it).
- Enjoy a walking tour with our favourite resident historian for a high hearted but detailed overview of the history of Galle and modern day life within the walls of the fort.
- Explore the charming fair-trade market in Magistrates Square on a Saturday. You’ll find all kinds of local produce and knick-knacks.
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). Most tour operators have never really got under the skin of the Sri Lanka capital, so still wouldn’t recommend it. 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. It is always thronging with well-heeled visitors and 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. Other than being one of the best casual eateries in town, 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.
Chat to your dedicated Escapologist about the latest offers available
Notes In Our Journal
Out with the old and in with the new. A Yonder Escapologist recasts a familiar phrase.
What's the dress code? Is it safari chic? Or perhaps safari practical?