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Luxury Travel in Sri Lanka: Galle, Tea Trails and World-Class Diving

OVERVIEW

This Indian Ocean island gem has it all - pristine beaches, amazing diving, ancient ruins and temples, stunning national parks, luxurious resorts, delicious food, traditional local culture and warm welcoming locals. Sri Lanka is an undiscovered treasure offering great value and the time to visit is finally here as a post-war post-tsunami Sri Lanka has emerged where Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Sinhalese and Tamils live side by side in harmony. Colonialized by the Portugese, the Dutch and the English, Sri Lanka retains a bit of each yet its own unique culture is indeed the dominant force. The wild beaches are lined with palm trees and traditional wooden fishing boots. The azure Indian Ocean coastline is home to spectacular scuba diving including the chance to see blue whales and swim by old sunken shipwrecks. The restaurants serve unique and well spiced foods much lighter than neighboring India (also, unlike India, there is no litter, no noise pollution and no begging). Massive wild peacocks are everywhere including high up in the tree tops. Elephants, leopards, and bears run wild in the national parks. Ancient ruins, unique stupas and beautiful temples dot the north of the country. And then of course there are the people - warm, friendly, honest, hard working and hospitable. So what are you waiting for... 

WHAT WE LOVE

  • Galle: This ancient fort and walled city is home to amazing hotels and unique crafts mixing ancient and modern. Wander the cobblestone streets and watch the sun rise and set from the top of the walled perimeter of the city. Exploring the harbor, above and below water, is also a must with over 75 sunken shipwrecks!
  • Beaches on the East Coast: Sri Lanka's eastern coast is low key, less touristed and phenomenal for surfing, shipwreck diving and whale watching. Start at Trincomalee, make your way down to Uppuveli and Nilaveli then onto Passekudah, Kalkudah, Batticaloa and Arugam Bay, a laid-back surfing hotspot. 
  • Whale Watching: Charter a boat and take a quick ride to the deep navy waters of the Indian Ocean where blue whales and sperm whales swim within a stone's throw of your boat. Blue whales live for 90 years and grow to over 100 feet and upwards of 200 tons making them the largest creatures that have ever inhabited the earth - a blue whale's tongue weighs more than a full grown African elephant!
  • Scuba Diving: Trincomalee is typically considered to be the best but depending on what you're looking for and how experienced of a diver you are, the location may vary. For beginners, we recommend Swami Rock and the Pigeon Island North Reef (not to be confused with the Pigeon Island East Rocks - which hosts terrific snorkeling). For experienced divers, HMS Hermes is phenomenal. And for all, British Sergeant and Barracuda Reef are musts.
  • Stilt Fishermen: The method looks ancient but in fact it's only 70 some years old as it started during WWII in response to food shortages. Nevertheless, it's utterly beautiful and impressive and can be seen from the beaches of Weligama (Kathaluwa, Koggala, Ahangama) during sunset, noon and sunrise.
  • Ancient Kingdoms and Ruins: Anuradhapura (6th Century B.C.), Polonnaruwa and Sigiriya (situationed atop a dramatic and steep mountain) are 3 ancient Kingdoms that will be appreciated by any history buff.
  • Kandy: Whether visiting the spectacular Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic or just wandering the streets of this truly Sri Lankan city, its a must on any itinerary to Sri Lanka for culture lovers. Once a year the city hosts the Kandy Position Festival where 100 elephants, 3000 Kandian dancers and 1000 drummers take to the streets with tens of thousands of locals for an extraordinary full moon celebration.
  • Tea Estates: Terraced mountains of tea plantations with spectacular views where you can watch and learn how lady tea pickers make one of Sri Lanka's biggest exports possible. You can also tour the artisanal tea factory and observe a process that has remained unchanged for over a century.
  • Wilpattu National Park: While many refer to this as a safari, we prefer to call it a nature drive as anyone that has been to Africa will find the big game sparse comparatively speaking. That said, the nature drives are spectacular and you will likely see elephants, leopards, bears and lots of birds. If its big game you are after, we recommend Minneriya, the annual convergence of several hundred wild elephants that gather in July, August and September. During the dry season in this area (July-Nov), the water in the reservoir recedes leaving in its place lush green grasses - a veritable feast for Sri Lanka's 7,000 wild elephants. Watching these enormous herds as the sun sets over the surrounding mountains is truly phenomenal. 
  • Food & Cooking Classes: Delicious local cuisine similar yet significantly lighter than its Indian neighbor, the food is unique, and learning to cook with so many new spices is a treat.
  • Drive a Tuk Tuk: Negotiate a price to get somewhere and then offer double and ask if you can drive. They are stick shift and not the easiest to drive and while we are not sure if this is technically legal, it's certainly a lot of fun.

REST & REJUVENATE

  • Ullagalla Resort: Located on a spiraling 58 acre estate, this luxurious resort is nestled among two sparkling reservoirs, lily ponds and lush green paddy lands. There are only 19 modern chalets on property, each with glass walled panoramic views of the surrounding natural paradise, a private pool and spacious deck. You can explore the property on foot, bike or horseback and take part in endless activities from archery and jungle kayaking to a garden tour and private cooking lessons.
  • Amangalla: The former Dutch governor's private residence. This architecturally stunning property located within the walled city of Galle boasts a gorgeous stone pool with white saree clad cabanas and two private spas that you and your loved one can book privately (included in your room rate) and enjoy by candlelight. A great buy for an Aman in any room category, but if you have some cash to burn, we recommend booking the Garden House - it's extraordinary and will be the least expensive Aman Presidential Suite you will ever stay in.
  • Amanwella: Simple, organic and tranquil. 'Amanwella' means peaceful beach and with contemporary suites featuring private plunge pools and terraces and interspersed along the coastline with breathtaking views of the ocean - we must agree. Situated in a mature coconut grove facing a crescent-shaped beach near the fishing town of Tangalle in the south, you really have the best of both worlds.
  • Ceylon Tea Trails: Set in the stunning highlands amongst mountains draped in cascading tea plantations, this is Sri Lanka's first Relais & Chateaux property. Explore the plantations by foot, bike or car or take a snooze by the stunning pool and raised garden from which you can enjoy sweeping panoramic views of the tea-carpeted mountains. We recommend that you take a train from Kandy to Hatten to reach this property as the road is windy and not for the faint of heart and the train provides a unique experiential alternative anyways. 
  • Jungle Beach: Three words - luxury tree house. Jungle Beach's revolutionary design arfully incorporates trees and surrounding plant life to make you feel like you're staying in the ultimate luxury tree house - brilliantly combining childhood and adult dreams. Whether you're facing the beach, the lagoon or fully immersed in the jungle, you'll fall asleep to the sounds of lapping waves and waterfalls and wake to the song of indigenous birds. Nearby snorkeling and diving with whales, hot springs and temple visits are just a few of the activities offered.
  • Uga Bay: Blending Sri Lanka's magic with Mediterranean architecture, genuine hospitality and outstanding luxury and located on what is arguably one of Sri Lanka's best beaches - Passekudah. Uga's underground spa, spellbinding Indian Ocean views and proximity to snorkeling reefs, fishing and famous shipwreck dive sites make for a truly incredible stay.  
  • Kandy House: A former aristocrat's manor and a 200-year-old palazzo, the Kandy House feels like a movie set with its cinematic crescent-shaped pool set inside a lush manicured jungle. With just 8 rooms, swinging hammocks, private terraces and gorgeous scenery, you're guaranteed the most intimate and romantic getaway - not to mention the exceptional Asian Fusion cuisine!

WHAT TO KNOW

  • Traveling domestically in Sri Lanka will likely be done by car and the roads are generally good with some notable exceptions. Our ideal itinerary is 2 weeks long and includes Kandy, Anuradhapura, Galle and a beach holiday on the east coast to end it all.
  • Poya Day Celebrations (Full Moon Festivals): There are many Buddhist and Hindu full moon festivals across the country, the most special of which is the Kandy Esala Perahera as well as Colombo's Vel festival - both of which take place during the months of July and August. 
  • When To Go: The island is affected by 2 moonsoon seasons as well as an inter-monsoonal period so we'll break the answer down accordingly.
    • Southwest Moonsoon: hits the west and southwest from April-September (wettest from April-June) and the dry season falls from December-March. The affected area includes Hikkaduwa, Colombo and Galle.
    • Northeast Monsoon: hits the east coast from November-March (wettest from November-December) and the dry season falls from April-September. The affected area includes Trincomalee and Batticaloa.
    • Inter-monsoonal Period: hits from October-December where heavy rainfall and thunderstorms can occur anywhere on the island.

          All of that being said, given these dramatic seasons, this means there is usually good weather somewhere in Sri Lanka             at any point in the year. 

  • How to Get There: Direct flights from Dubai, Doha, Abu Dhabi, Mumbai, Chennai and London.