INSIDER'S VIEW ON WHAT TO SEE & DO
Althea Bunce, Founder of Sri Lanka Bespoke, shares her Insider Tips.
Sri Lanka is one of the world’s most intriguing, complex, and beautiful countries. The world remains largely unenlightened as to the true extent of Sri Lanka’s beguiling charm. Offering a stunning blend of history, culture, and wildlife, with spectacular landscapes, lush jungles and emerald tea plantations. Unlike other Asian destinations, Sri Lanka's jewel in the crown is its sheer diversity. It's the only place, where you can visit a 300BC city in the morning and take a leopard safari in the afternoon. This topped with extraordinary experiences and deeply gorgeous boutiques and luxe hideaways that boast amazing locations, Sri Lanka surpasses all expectations.
This small island with its big personality is overburdened with experiences and is unfairly blessed with cool hill stations, ancient capitals and sandy beaches. Not overlooking the sheer abundance of wildlife, Sri Lanka has the highest density of leopards in the world. Experience majestic elephants, sloth bears and a dizzying assortment of scaled amphibians and with whales and dolphins breaching the water line, the ecological stage is a crowed one. It’s the only place in the world where you can see the largest land and sea mammal all within a few hours of each other.
Tear yourself away from the idyllic palm fringed beaches and you will be rewarded with impossibly scenic train rides, cascading waterfalls, mouth-watering food and incredibly warm, friendly people.
A trip to Sri Lanka is an immersion in tropical wilderness, unrivalled wildlife, warm weather, all in wide screen technicolour with hospitality that feels like a huge hug.
It’s undeniable that Sri Lanka has had it fair share of difficulties, however the island's beauty and resilience of its people have persisted. Lonely Planet named Sri Lanka as the place to visit in 2019, but this was followed by Easter Sunday terrorism attacks and then Covid. Although, support and desire to visit Sri Lanka remained during the Covid travel windows, post Covid, the country experienced an unprecedented economic crisis. Food and fuel shortages pushed the country to an economic tipping point. Finally, months later, with political stability restored and an IMF bailout finalised, Sri Lanka’s recovery plan is in place, with its President predicting growth by year-end. Irrefutably, the island remains superlatively beautiful and the signature warmth of its people irresistible. 2023 is now the time for us to return to Sri Lanka.
WHAT TO DO - WALKING A 3000 YEAR OLD CITY
Visit some of the cultural capitals and relive some of the seminal episodes of the island's past. Colossal monuments and serene rock carvings in sprawling city ruins and caves, showcase the island's rich history. Better known as the Cultural Triangle, this area is also home to the island's most awe- inspiring archaeological site – Sigiriya Rock. This 200 metre Fortress is a UNESCO World Heritage site that is an elaborately planned royal township complex with the ruins of a palace on top.
INSIDER TIP: Roam the skies in a hot air balloon and experience the true magic of the beautiful landscapes from above. An unforgettable experience, as you drift over-jungles and cultural landmarks. Wave to the waking villagers and their families below and soak up the accompanying sounds of the elephants and monkeys that make for a magical jungle dawn chorus.
GO ON A LEOPARD SPOTTING SAFARI
Take a private safari into a national park and spy the iconic Asian leopard camouflaged on a branch or a sloth bear snorting a termite mountain or witness up to 300 elephants emerging at the end of a dry season. Sri Lanka’s wildlife is unrivalled and Yala and Wilpattu, two of the 21 national parks whose varied terrain and are some of the best places to spot the island's diverse wildlife.
INSIDER TIP: Stay at one of the super luxe safari residences that nestle among dunes and lush jungle at the ocean’s edge, where it’s not unusual to wake up to elephants crashing around in the hotel’s lily pond or chattering monkeys playing at the edge of the swimming pool. If a complete immersion is desired, then opt for luxury tented stays with private plunge pools and rangers whose supreme knowledge restores the original spirit and true essence of a safari experience.
GET A TRAIN TO JAFFNA
Jaffna, perched on the northern tip of Sri Lanka is just waiting to be discovered. A bastion of Hindu tradition, stepping off the train is akin to arriving in another country. With an ancient Jaffna Kingdom that dates back to the 13th century, the predominately Tamil city has a different culture, food, dress, art and lifestyle. With great emphasis placed on education, it’s not uncommon for families to relocate back to Jaffna, so that children can go through the schooling system. With many speaking English, this intriguing city is slightly off the beaten path and a thoroughly rewarding place to discover Sri Lankan Tamil Culture. With the second largest Dutch Fort in Sri Lanka, idyllic coastline islands, peninsulas with surrounding lagoons, an army owned harbour and beautiful temples and churches - all still remain despite the decades of war that deeply affected this historic town.
INSIDER TIP: Along with a visit to the iconic gilded Nallur Kandaswamy temple and the Jaffna library housed in an elegant white stucco domed building, take a boat ride across the shallow waters to Delft island. With a small population of Dutch heritage, visit the one Post Office and the only bank, where customers leave their shoes outside before entering. Don't miss the fascinating ruins of the British Court building, complete with prison and Justice residence.
GO ON A GASTRONOMIC JOURNEY
Sri Lanka’s food is among the best in the world. Its cuisine is blessed with a diverse array of influences and very much reflects the geographical and rich ethnic differences of the island. Find crab curries on the central west coast, pittu and dosai in the Tamil north, fried rice and sambols in the ancient kingdoms, egg hoppers in the hill country, clay pot fish curries in the south.
Expect a myriad of colourful dishes that will appeal to the most discerning with rice and curry being the heart of Sri Lankan cuisine and one of the great culinary traditions pervading every part of life on this paradise island.
INSIDER TIP: A must for keen cooks, is a chance to prepare some delicious dishes in a local Sri Lankan home, with two generations of Sri Lankans. Follow the entire journey from market to plate. If you prefer to stay out of the kitchen, then a tailored food mapping journey will take you across the regions and give you an incredible insight into the daily parade of curries and aromatic chutneys and tangy sambals. From dining in restaurants housed in seductive manor houses to roadside ‘boutiques’ where you can sample Sri Lankan short-eats, whilst playing a game of Carom with the locals.
TAKE TEA ON THE VERANDAH OF A PLANTERS BUNGALOW
A stay in the tea country is a heart stopping experience with mist shrouded mountains, rolling tea plantations, cascading waterfalls and quaint hill-top villages rising over 2500 metres. Expect lush-terraced hills blanketed in emerald fields of green tea, interrupted only by splashes of colour from local Tamil women’s saris. Visit a tea factory to see how the leaves are crushed and fermented or stay in luxuriously converted tea planter bungalows that proffer a rich heritage with infinity pools overlooking verdant views. Sipping tea on your hotel verandah whilst taking in the spectacular lush views, will feel both brilliantly familiar and exotically different. INSIDER TIP: Wake early one morning to catch the sunrise. The sun glinting across the verdant tea plantations along with morning sounds of the Hindu chants is unmissable. Also, take a walk through the emerald plantations and stop along the way to meet the tea plantation workers. If you're lucky you might be able to test the sheer weight of the planter sacks and leave in awe at how these heavy bags are carried!
GET ON THE INSIDE TRACK
Sri Lanka has an astonishing number of experiences. This country is full of well-kept secrets and hidden gems and quite simply has something incredible for everyone. For those looking to go beyond the ordinary, get on the inside track of Sri Lankan culture with a curated itinerary that will give a rare and remarkable insight into some of the local traditions. Be a guest at a local wedding, or your children can take part in a music lesson in a local school. Go on a nature tour with the indigenous Veddah people, or participate in the Sri Lankan New Year traditions in a local home. The list is endless! These unique insider experiences are rich encounters and it's in these moments that everlasting memories are made for you and your loved ones.
INSIDER TIP: Participate in the beautiful local Culture
Sri Lanka’s ancient civilisations bestows the island with a myriad of colourful festivals. Hardly a month goes by without a unique celebration rooted in the island’s long traditions attributed to its multi- ethnic population and diverse religions. Many of the holidays are celebrated over several days with hugely colourful celebrations, drummers, dancers and mesmerising traditions. Immerse yourself in a festival, from wearing the saris and costumes, to receiving family blessings, to walking along with the festival parade. It's an extraordinary chance to soak up the deep cultural traditions along with vibrant costumes and decorations, wonderful cuisine and captivating processions.
GET ON THE INSIDE TRACK
INSIDER TIP: Plan an unforgettable Celebration or Proposal
Remarkable and unique backdrops and utterly beautiful experiences are simply overflowing in Sri Lanka. Imagine a marriage proposal in a private hot-air balloon, landing to an engagement breakfast in the middle of a paddy field. Or an intimate anniversary celebration or a blow-out birthday do with Kandyan dancers. Plan your wedding in a fabulous private colonial manor house or romantic beach boutique, but with a lavish Sri Lankan twist.
Sri Lanka Bespoke is a travel boutique dedicated to luxury and authentic travel to Sri Lanka, offering something a little more special. With unrivalled knowledge, our itineraries are handcrafted around each client and unlike any other, we include highly tailored insider experiences.
www.srilanka-bespoke.com +44 207 8662177