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Here Today (But Who Knows Where Tomorrow)

The world does not need another travel blog to tell you to go to the Uffizi when in Firenze.  Nor does it need lots of pictures of a blogger in different outfits posing in front of city sites.  But what would be cool, we Wanderlust Junkies think – and we hope you agree with us – is a blog that finds gems and shares them with you.  Places not everyone knows about.  Places underneath the skin.  We’re not going to bore you with tedious reviews.  We would rather just whet your appetite to try for yourself.  If you want to know more, contact us and we will tell all.  Go on – we were given feet not roots so check in, batter those suitcases and start your perpetual journey with us.  No baggage; except maybe a bit of Longchamp.  It’s now or never.

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To the Ancient Greeks – Taprobane. To the Persians and Arabs – Serendib. To the British – Ceylon. And since 1972 – Sri Lanka. It’s that blobby, jewel-shaped island that looks like it dropped off India, located in the ‘Laccadive Sea’ (yes, you heard it right!), hovering twixt the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal. It’s often referred to – justifiably – as ‘The Emerald Island’ – not just because it has them (and lots of other gemstones) in abundance, and not just because of its gemmy shape (and certainly not because it resembles Ireland!), but because it’s a real jewel for any Wanderlust Junkie. It isn’t big – just 272 miles (438 km) long and 140 miles (225 km) wide at its broadest point. But this comparatively miniscule landmass is an overflowing treasure chest of tantalising jewels. It’s a place you can do a lot even with limited time.

What has Sri Lanka  got?

Think of the island as a triangle and it has three coasts, each with its own distinct character. The east coast between the capital city of Colombo and the old harbour town of Galle is the most developed of the three and houses most of the big, package-tour-oriented hotels (though peppered with some smaller, choice places too). The south coast from Galle stretching west to Hambontota is the most sophisticated of the three – with top-end boutique hotels and fancy beach houses. Meanwhile, the coast that flanks the Bay of Bengal on the west of the island is largely undeveloped yet, but Arugam Bay is considered a surfing Mecca.

There is ancient history and vast, well-preserved archaeological sites, mostly in what is known as the ‘Cultural Triangle’. Located towards the north of the island, the region’s must-sees include the magnificent ruined city of Anuradhapura (capital of the island from the 3rd century BC to 993 AD), the remains of Polonnaruwa (the second historic capital) and the startling, mind-boggling rock citadel of Sigiriya.

Though originally mainly a coffee-growing country, that all changed in 1824 when the first tea plant was introduced from China. Then in the course of the 19th century the British managed to transform the Ceylonese landscape – and the central highlands south of the city of Kandy are now a furry green patchwork of tough, waxy leaves, speckled with colourful scarfed pickers and their baskets. There are some very appealing places to stay up there. What’s great is that it only takes a few hours to drive from the sun and the sand to the cooler, clean air of the hills.

There’s also wildlife and nature. The Wikipedia ‘List of national parks of Sri Lanka’ features 26, including one of the oldest established, Yala in the south-eastern corner of the island. There is a well organised safari infrastructure, involving ‘glamping’ or hotels and a couple of drives a day. The highlight – if you’re lucky – is the leopards. They’re endangered, but in 2015 there were an estimated 700-950 on the island.

Lau and I have been to Sri Lanka three times now – and off again on Wednesday! This time with Maroulla – her first time. The itinerary and activities and places have been different each time and this next trip, while revisiting some favourites, is a new structure with one brand new experience included. There will be other visits in the future too – we haven’t even glimpsed the north of the island or the east coast yet. We planned each of the trips ourselves – no UK or European travel agent involved. It wasn’t hard – and a helluva lot cheaper too!

Anyway, a couple of years back, following my 3rd visit, just for fun I donned my ‘Tracey the Travel Agent’ hat and consolidated some of our experiences into 2 itineraries for a first-time visitor to Sri Lanka. Each (a 2-week one and a 3-week one) features the main highlights, blending culture and sightseeing with relaxation and pleasure-loving.

Here they are:

THE 2-WEEK VERSION

Day 1

Arrive Colombo airport.

Short drive from airport to Horathapola Coconut Estate for 2-night stay. Afternoon at leisure to recover from your journey: enjoy the garden, the pool, a snooze and tea or drinks on the balcony. Overnight Horathapola

Day 2

At leisure on the estate.

“There are lots of activities to do at Horathapola. The estate itself with its large agricultural area invites for strolls through pepper gardens, beneath coconut trees or through paddy fields. In the middle of the estate you’ll find a huge old Nuga tree – the kind you may remember from “jungle book“ stories. It is inhabited by thousands of bats. Watching them take off to their feeding grounds at sunset is a spectacular experience! For those who prefer to be shown around the estate by bullock cart, we offer a free ride to all guests. You’ll be surprised at the diversity of spices, fruits and vegetables that are grown organically on Horathapola. And you can learn all about the coconut tree and the many different things it is used for by the local people. To explore the area outside the estate premises, we offer bicycles in all sizes. You can visit nearby Buddhist temples or check out the small rural villages in our vicinity. Alternatively a member of the Horathapola staff will take you for a guided village walk.” (From the estate’s website)

Overnight Horathapola

Day 3

After breakfast drive to the Cultural Triangle* for a 3-night stay.

Accommodation options include:  Wild Grass Resort, Jetwing Vil Uyana, Heritance Kandalama, Back of Beyond Pirundagala or Back of Beyond Dehigaha Ela.                            

Overnight Cultural Triangle

Day 4

Visit Polonnaruwa

Overnight: Cultural Triangle

Day 5

Morning: Early start to visit and climb Sigirya Rock.

Afternoon: Visit Dambulla Caves

Overnight Cultural Triangle

Day 6

Drive to Kandy for 1 night stay** at Kandy House.

Enjoy the intimate, idyllic surroundings of Kandy House. Take a swim in the beautiful pool with its view of the surrounding landscape. In the evening visit Kandy for the famous ceremony at the Temple of the Tooth.

Overnight Kandy House

Day 7

Rise early. After “bed tea” in your room, enjoy an idyllic walk, accompanied by a member of the hotel staff, across paddy fields, through tiny local villages, to an exquisite, small cave temple. Return for breakfast.

After breakfast leave Kandy and drive to the Hill Country, stopping en route (if you wish) to visit the Botanical Gardens on the outskirts of Kandy.

Continue to the Hill Country for a 2-night stay.

Accommodation options include: Warwick Gardens and Tea Trails (Luxury all-inclusive)

On arrival, relax and enjoy the stunning landscape of the Hill Country with its verdant pastures and thousands of acres of tea plantations.

Overnight Hill Country

Day 8

For the adventurous traveller, rise early and, after tea or coffee, drive to the Horton Plains National Park for the 9-km (approx.) walk through this extraordinary and ever-changing landscape. Enjoy the view from World’s End and take time to photograph some of the flora and fauna. Return for breakfast. Alternatively, after breakfast, enjoy some of the delightful local walks, which are available in the vicinity of whichever accommodation you choose, or visit a tea factory for a fascinating insight into the process of tea production, and a chance to taste and buy.

In the afternoon take a short trip to Nuwara Eliya (“Little England”) for a glimpse of the colonial days gone by.

Overnight Hill Country

Day 9

After an early breakfast drive to the south-east corner of Sri Lanka for a 2-night deluxe-tent safari in Yala National Park with Kulu Safaris.

Late afternoon – Game drive No.1

Overnight Kulu Safaris

Day 10

Game drive No. 2 before breakfast.

After breakfast enjoy a relaxed day in “the camp”. Maybe even take a swim in the shallow river that flows past your tent.

Late afternoon: game drive No. 3

Overnight Kulu Safaris

Day 11

Game drive No. 4 before breakfast.

After breakfast drive to Galle for 2-night stay.

Accommodation options include: Fort Printers Hotel, Galle Fort Hotel, Amangalla, Jetwing Lighthouse

(NOTE: The Fort Printers, Galle Fort and Amangalla hotels are all heritage properties within the old Galle Fort area. The Lighthouse has a stunning seaside setting, about a 10-minute tuk-tuk or taxi ride away from the Fort area, so more of a feeling being on the coast, but with easy access to the attractions of the old town.)

On arrival, spend the rest of the day relaxing or take a walk around the old town. A “must” is an evening stroll around the Fort’s ramparts for a view of the setting sun.

Overnight Galle

Day 12

Maybe take a guided tour of the Fort, visiting churches, museums, heritage houses etc. Give yourself time to do some shopping – there are gift shops, jewellers, fabric shops, home décor, art galleries etc.

Overnight Galle

Day 13

After breakfast drive to Colombo for a 2-night stay.

Accommodation options include: Colombo Courtyard and Tintagel

(NOTES: 1. Colombo is a bustling, noisy, somewhat chaotic city, but well worth a visit. All the above are charming boutique hotels in pleasant, residential areas, providing welcome refuge/escape from the hustle and bustle. One side of the Colombo Courtyard faces a main road, but the rooms are quiet and the facilities exquisite. 2. Suggest bed-and-breakfast option for stay. While both hotels have good restaurants, Colombo has quite a few excellent restaurant choices, so freedom is desirable.)

The drive from Galle to Colombo is approx. 4 hours. So arrival is in time for lunch. That gives the afternoon for some exploration of Colombo, some shopping etc.

Overnight Colombo

Day 14

In the morning take a guided tour of Colombo city. Visit the bustling bazaar area of Pettah, the sleek, but slightly crumbling, mansions of Cinnamon Gardens, parks, monuments, churches, the exquisite Seema Malaka, lakeside Buddhist temple (designed by Sri Lanka’s most illustrious architect, Geoffrey Bawa) and the oriental-looking houses of parliament (also designed by Geoffrey Bawa), and the modern high rises, which symbolise the emergence of the “new” Colombo and the brand new, beautifully designed cultural centre, almost 90+ % funded by Chinese money. Enjoy a wind-swept walk by the sea on the famous Galle Face Green. No one would call Colombo a “beautiful” city, but it is certainly worth a 2-night stay (many people don’t even visit it!).

Enjoy a light lunch at the Gallery Café, Barefoot or the Galle Face Hotel (or at your own hotel).

In the afternoon, take a short taxi ride to Mount Lavinia Hotel for their famous afternoon tea and a wonderful view of the sea.

Overnight Colombo

Day 15

Transfer to Colombo airport for your flight home.

Alternatives within a 2-week time-frame:

If you do not wish to include a “city experience”, then leave out Colombo. In terms of shopping (if that is on your agenda), Galle has plenty to offer. So options could include:

  1. Days 11, 12, 13 & 14 in Galle. In this case, the Jetwing Lighthouse is a very good option, because it provides the combination of the culture of the Galle Fort with a seaside experience (the Lighthouse has its own stunning beach). Also, from Galle, if you wish, you can take a whale-watching trip. The only drawback of this choice is if, on Day 15, your homeward flight is an early one. The drive from Galle to Colombo airport is a good 5 hours. However, if you have the time, the drive up the west coast is a very pleasant one, with opportunities to stop and see things, have something to eat etc.
  2. Days 11,12 and 13 in Galle. Then on Day 14 transfer to the Wallawwa which is a luxury boutique hotel, located just a 10-minute drive from Colombo airport).
  3. Days 11 and 12 in Galle, definitely staying in one of the Fort options. Then transfer for Days 13 and 14 to the Aditya Resort (just outside Galle) or Villa Bentota to finish off your holiday with a couple of days by the seaside.

* The Cultural Triangle. This tour does not include a visit to the ancient city of Anuradhapura. In our experience, with just 2 weeks available to discover Sri Lanka in all its diversity, Anuradhapura just feels crammed in. It’s more like visiting this amazing place just to say, “I did it!”, rather than giving it the time it deserves. Polonnuruwa, Dambulla and Sigirya are all within practical distance of one another, giving you time to really savour them.

**  Unlike most package tours, this itinerary only allocates 1 night to Kandy. In our view, a visit to Kandy shows you what the place must have been like once upon a time. But modern Kandy is rather congested and grubby. The Temple of the Tooth is beautiful and the famous ceremony unique (if a little tourist-oriented). This itinerary allows time for this visit. The Botanical Gardens are also justifiably famous. This itinerary allows time for a visit en route to the Hill Country.

THE 3-WEEK VERSION

Day 1

Arrive Colombo airport. Short drive from airport to your hotel for a 2-night stay.

Accommodation: See the 2-week itinerary.

Rest of the day at leisure. Enjoy some time by the pool or venture out for an initial exploration of the city. Maybe even do a little shopping. Colombo does not have an abundance of “fabulous shops”, but the Paradise Road shops and Barefoot are well worth a visit and Odel’s department store is ideal for the kind of summer clothes (men’s, women’s and children) you will need for your Sri Lankan holiday. In fact, why not travel light and buy what you need here?!

Overnight: Colombo

Day 2

In the morning take a guided tour of Colombo city. Visit the bustling bazaar area of Pettah, the sleek, but slightly crumbling, mansions of Cinnamon Gardens, parks, monuments, churches, the exquisite Seema Malaka, lakeside Buddhist temple (designed by Sri Lanka’s most illustrious architect, Geoffrey Bawa) and the oriental-looking houses of parliament (also designed by Geoffrey Bawa), and the modern high rises, which symbolise the emergence of the “new” Colombo and the brand new, beautifully designed cultural centre, almost 90+ % funded by Chinese money. Enjoy a wind-swept walk by the sea on the famous Galle Face Green. No one would call Colombo a “beautiful” city, but it is certainly worth a 2-night stay (many people don’t even visit it!).

Enjoy a light lunch at the Gallery Café, Barefoot or the Galle Face Hotel (or at your own hotel).

In the afternoon, maybe take a short taxi ride to Mount Lavinia Hotel for their famous afternoon tea and a wonderful view of the sea.

You might like to view the sunset with a cocktail and a view on the terrace of the Galle Face Hotel.

Overnight: Colombo

Day 3

Drive to your first Cultural Triangle destination, near Anuradhapura for a 2-night stay.

Accommodation options include: Ulagalla Resort or Waters Edge

Both hotels are very close to the fascinating – and vast – Anuradhapura archaeological site. The location provides the opportunity to visit this ancient city at leisure over the next one-and-a-half days (instead of rushing it in a morning or afternoon, as many package tours of Sri Lanka do). There are also several other ancient Buddhist sites (including Mihintale, Aukana, Tantirimale, Ritigala and Yapahuwa), which are well worth a visit and all within a half an hour to an hour’s drive from here.

Overnight Anuradhapura

Day 4

Another day of archaeological exploration, interspersed with relaxation.

Overnight Anuradhapura

Day 5

After breakfast drive south to the Polonnuruwa/Dambulla/Sigirya area of the Cultural Triangle for a 3-night stay

Accommodation options: see 2-week itinerary.

Overnight Polonnuruwa/Dambulla/Sigirya

Day 6

Visit Polonnaruwa

Overnight Polonnuruwa/Dambulla/Sigirya

Day 7

Morning: Early start to visit and climb Sigirya Rock.

Afternoon: Visit Dambulla Caves

Overnight Polonnuruwa/Dambulla/Sigirya

Day 8

Drive to Kandy for 1 night stay* at Kandy House.

Enjoy the intimate, idyllic surroundings of Kandy House. Take a swim in the beautiful pool with its view of the surrounding landscape. In the evening visit Kandy for the famous ceremony at the Temple of the Tooth.

Overnight Kandy House

Day 9

Rise early. After “bed tea” in your room, enjoy an idyllic walk, accompanied by a member of the hotel staff, across paddy fields, through tiny local villages, to an exquisite, small cave temple. Return for breakfast.

After breakfast leave Kandy and drive to the Hill Country, stopping en route (if you wish) to visit the Botanical Gardens on the outskirts of Kandy.

Continue to the Hill Country for a 3-night stay.

Accommodation options: see 2-week version.

On arrival, relax and enjoy the stunning landscape of the Hill Country with its verdant pastures and thousands of acres of tea plantations.

Overnight Hill Country

Day 10

For the adventurous traveller, rise early and, after tea or coffee, drive to the Horton Plains National Park for the 9-km (approx.) walk through this extraordinary and ever-changing landscape, Enjoy the view from World’s End and take time to photograph some of the flora and fauna. Return for breakfast.

Alternatively, after breakfast, enjoy some of the delightful local walks, which are available in the vicinity of whichever accommodation you choose.

In the afternoon take a short trip to Nuwara Eliya (“Little England”) for a taste of the colonial days gone by.

Overnight Hill Country

Day 11

Overnight Hill Country

Day 12

After an early breakfast drive to the south-east corner of Sri Lanka for a 2-night deluxe-tent safari in Yala National Park with Kulu Safaris.

Late afternoon – Game drive No.1

Overnight Kulu Safaris

Day 13

Game drive No. 2 before breakfast.

After breakfast enjoy a relaxed day in “the camp”. Maybe even take a swim in the shallow river that flows past your tent.

Late afternoon: game drive No. 3

Overnight Kulu Safaris

Day 14

Game drive No. 4 before breakfast.

After breakfast drive to Galle for 3-night stay.

Accommodation options: see 2-week version

(NOTE: The Fort Printers, Galle Fort and Amangalla hotels are all heritage properties within the old Galle Fort area. All have deluxe facilities, swimming pool etc. and are pleasant places to relax, with the Fort on your doorstep. The Lighthouse and Aditya, however, have attractive seaside settings. The Lighthouse is about a 10-minute tuk-tuk or taxi ride away from the Fort area, Aditya a little further, so both give more of a feeling of being on the coast, but provide easy access to the attractions of the old town.)

On arrival, spend the rest of the day relaxing or take a walk around the old town. A “must” is an evening stroll around the Fort’s ramparts for a view of the setting sun.

Overnight Galle

Day 15

Maybe take a guided tour of the Fort, visiting churches, museums, heritage houses etc. Give yourself time to do some shopping – there are gift shops, jewellers, fabric shops, home décor, art galleries etc.

Overnight Galle

Day 16

Whale-watching

Overnight Galle

Day 17

Drive up the east cost (approx. 2 hours) for a 2-night stay at Lunuganga.

Lunuganga Estate was the country home of the renowned Sri Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa. Started in 1947, the garden led Bawa, a lawyer called to the Bar at the Inner Temple in 1940, to decide to become an architect. As he went on to become Sri Lanka’s and one of Asia’s most prolific and influential architects, the garden at the Lunuganga estate remained his first muse and experimental laboratory for new ideas. He continued to change and experiment with its spaces and structures throughout his life until his final illness in 1998. Left to the Lunuganga Trust on his demise in 2003, the gardens are now open to the public and the buildings on the estate are run as a country house hotel.

Explore the extraordinary, extravagant gardens of Lunuganga, where bird watching is utterly rewarding. Go on a boat ride along the tranquil Dedduwa Lake that fronts the property.

Overnight Lunuganga

Day 18

Include visit to the nearby “Brief” Garden.

A barely controlled riot of a Jungle Book garden, the grounds are a lovely place to get lost, while the house, which used to be the home of Bevis Bawa, brother of renowned architect Geoffrey Bawa, has an eclectic range of artwork on display – from homoerotic sculpture to a wonderful mural of Sri Lankan life in the style of Marc Chagall. The mural was created by Australian artist, Donald Friend, who originally came for six days but stayed six years.

Overnight Lunuganga

Days 19, 20 & 21

The obvious thing to do is to conclude your holiday in Sri Lanka with a relaxing seaside hotel at a small luxury hotel, preferably not too long a drive from the airport, when you fly back on Day 22.

Here are some options: Jetwing Ayuverda Pavilions, Negombo, Jetwing Lagoon, Negombo and Bar Reef Resort. NOTE: Carefully study the websites of the above resorts to see what they offer, in terms of hotel facilities, activities, excursions etc.

A very pleasant alternative to the seaside is: Horathapola Coconut Estate. (See description in 2-week itinerary)

Day 22

Transfer to Colombo Airport for your homeward journey.

*  Unlike most package tours, this itinerary only allocates 1 night to Kandy. In our view, a visit to Kandy shows you what the place must have been like once upon a time. But modern Kandy is rather congested and grubby. The Temple of the Tooth is beautiful and the famous ceremony unique (if a little tourist-oriented). This itinerary allows time for this visit. The Botanical Gardens are also justifiably famous. This itinerary allows time for a visit en route to the Hill Country.

So there you go!

Both itineraries veer to the comfy side in terms of accommodation (no youth hostels or sad B&Bs!) – but even within my suggestions there are a range of prices. Transport? No problem. Once you’ve booked your hotels and got the best deals they can offer, contact one or two of them and see what they can do about providing you with a driver/guide. Either one for the entire trip or two or a few to tackle different sections of the journey. In our experience, they are happy to do that and have a network of drivers they can draw on. It’s always worked for us anyway. Book your ticket, provide your arrival time, arrive – and you’re in your driver’s hands. It’s that easy – and your hands are free for your camera!!

 

 

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