So, in July I did something crazy… I only went and got married. Your wedding day is, without a doubt, one of the biggest days of your life, which it absolutely was for me. But with a wedding comes a honeymoon. And THAT, for me, was something to get excited about. Here’s hoping we’ll only get married once, so for that reason, my other half and I wanted to go all out and make it a honeymoon to remember. With that in mind, we booked an incredible ten-day private tour of Sri Lanka, followed by a week of pure relaxation in the Maldives.
Sri Lanka holidays are completely mind-blowing; I absolutely fell in love with the place. And if you ask me, doing a tour of Sri Lanka is by far the best way to see this stunning country. Here are some of my highlights from our truly unforgettable experience.
As we were doing a private tour of Sri Lanka, we were met at the airport by a friendly and welcoming man by the name of Cally, who was to be our personal tour guide for the week. Little did we know at this point what an amazing friendship was going to be formed over the course of our ten days together.
First things first, we were whisked away on a city tour of Colombo, taking in all the fascinating sights of the bustling capital city. From temples and monuments to government buildings, cricket grounds and magnificent lakes; we covered all grounds of the city’s main attractions. It was only day number one and I could already see steam coming off the shutter button of my camera; I knew this was going to be an incredible country.
We only had a couple of hours around the city after our long journey, but we settled in at our fantastic hotel so excited for what lay ahead. So we celebrated by eating our entire body weight in food at the evening buffet… And then ordered a breakfast fit for a king to our room the next morning. Well, if you’re going to do a honeymoon, you need to do it right!
Where we stayed: Cinnamon Lakeside
Habarana and Sigiriya Rock
From Colombo, we moved on and spent a couple of days in the beautiful area of Habarana; the first part of our journey around Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle. We drove through traditional towns and villages, rice fields and coconut plantations to get there; taking in the typical Sri Lankan scenery and way of life as we went.
Habarana felt to me like everything I imagined Sri Lanka to be, with busy streets and residential areas, surrounded by miles upon miles of lush, green landscapes for as far as the eye can see. On our first day here, we were taken on a private 4x4 tour of Minneriya National Park, where my mind was blown by the amount of elephants we saw ambling in their natural environment. It was a magical experience to spend time in the presence of these beautiful, gentle giants.
Our next day in Habarana was one I’d been looking forward to from the moment we booked our honeymoon; it was time to climb the iconic Sigiriya rock fortress, which stands so proud and prominent in the midst of the Sri Lankan countryside. Not for the faint of heart, this mammoth rock with its steep and vertical faces is a bit of a challenge in the hot Asian sun, but so rewarding once you reach the summit. You’re treated to some of the best views in the country and will be fascinated by what you’ll find at the top.
After our incredible morning at Sigiriya, we continued the theme of visiting fascinating rock formations and headed to the ancient city of Polonnaruwa, where we explored the impressive ruins of this UNESCO World Heritage Site, which was once the second capital of Sri Lanka.
On our final morning in Habarana, we stopped off at the nearby village of Hiriwaduna to get a taste of what life’s like in rural Sri Lanka. Our visit here felt like we’d stepped back in time, as we rode down dirt tracks through rice paddy fields on a traditional bull cart, visited local farmers in their homes, climbed palm trees and collected coconuts to drink, then climbed sturdy tree houses used to escape wild elephants. After our tour of the villagers’ cultivated land, a friendly boatman who could barely speak a word of English rowed us down a river and across a reservoir on his wooden catamaran, where we could see an elephant grazing in the shade in the distance. But my highlight? The boatman making my husband and I two lily pad hats to keep the sun off our heads!
Where we stayed: Cinnamon Lodge
Dambulla Cave Temple and Kandy
Our journey across Sri Lanka continued on the road to the cultural city of Kandy, but not before a couple of stops along the way. First off; the Dambulla Cave Temple. Set high up in a mountainside, you’ll need a good bit of energy to climb all the steps up to the top; it was quite the treat for our legs the day after climbing Sigiriya! It’s the biggest and best-preserved cave-temple complex in all of Sri Lanka, home to 157 statues and over 2,100m² of Buddhist mural paintings. I counted every step on our descent and wish I could remember the number to share with you…but it was around 400!
Our final stop before reaching Kandy was at a traditional spice garden. This only seemed like it was going to be a small part of our day, but I absolutely loved it. It was so good being shown around all the different plants and spices; smelling them, tasting them and learning how they’re used in everything from medicine and cooking to lifestyle and beauty products. We had to make quite a bit of room in our suitcases to make space for everything we bought there.
Moving on to the picturesque city of Kandy, built into the hillside and overlooking a glistening lake. Our time here was short, but sweet, and just so happened to tie in with the first day of one of the country’s biggest religious festivals held here; ‘Kandy Esala Perahera’, or ‘The Festival of the Tooth’. As the name would suggest, this celebration is centred around the famous Temple of the Tooth on the lake in Kandy, so we had fun joining in with the all the locals while we were there. I had a great time meeting all the school children who were there on school trips and fascinated by my husband and I!
After a busy morning at the festival, we sought out a bit of calm and tranquillity at the beautiful Royal Botanical Gardens, just outside the city. This was the perfect place to enjoy a bit of time out, wandering around all the colourful landscape and getting lost in the orchid house. We rounded off a wonderful day back in the city with a cultural Kandyan dance show, featuring vibrant costumes, beating drums and daring fire-eaters.
Where we stayed: Earl’s Regency
Next stop on our travels around Sri Lanka, was up in the breathtaking mountainous region. By breathtaking, I obviously mean the mind-blowing sights and views that we saw on the drive up there, but I might also be hinting at the incredibly windy roads that twisted and turned in all directions as we made our ascent… Can we stop for some air, please?!
The journey was absolutely worth it though, when we were rewarded with some of the most incredible scenery I’ve ever seen. But there was something else that made this such a great day for me… Tea. I’m a tea nut; obsessed with every kind of herbal tea and guilty of sinking upwards of eight cups a day… And this area of Sri Lanka is tea plantation country. All my dreams came true when we stopped at a working plantation where I was able to go tea picking for my own leaves! Then getting to drink the finished product up in the mountains was something quite special, which I’ll certainly never forget.
We went on to enjoy afternoon tea (shock) at the superb Grand Hotel in the classy town of Nuwara Eliya, before exploring the area on foot and experiencing the sights and smells of the local markets.
That night, we had an absolutely magical experience staying at the wonderful Heritance Tea Factory, which is a converted former tea factory and now the number one hotel in the area, still containing all the machinery and artefacts. We were treated to panoramic views of the surrounding plantations from our room, which were quite something, considering this is the highest point in all of Sri Lanka.
Where we stayed: Heritance Tea Factory
Yala National Park
After descending the mountains (which seemed much easier than the journey up there), we re-joined the hot weather that stayed put in the towns and villages on lower ground and continued our journey towards Yala National Park. En route, we made a pit stop at an elephant transit home, where elephants from the wild would make an appearance to enjoy a bite to eat. There’s also an interesting information centre there, where we could learn all about elephants and the excellent conservation efforts that Sri Lanka has in place to protect them.
We arrived at Yala National Park, where our hotel was located right in the heart of it, and had a relaxing evening by the pool in preparation for our two safaris the next day. Never have I seen such a luxurious infinity pool, surrounded by cows, wild boar, monkeys and all the other wildlife that the national park brought to us… I was in heaven!
Yala National Park is incredible. We woke early to set off on a 5am jeep safari, and then ventured out again in the afternoon for more. I couldn’t believe just how much amazing wildlife we saw right before our eyes. Countless elephants, buffalos, deer, wild boar, crocodiles, mongoose, lizards and tropical birds. You name it, we probably saw it. Everything, that is, apart from one of the 40 odd leopards that call the park home. I could have been disappointed by them not coming out to see us. But at the same time, my animal-loving self was quite pleased to think that despite us driving around the park, the leopards were still able to keep well hidden and out of sight when they wanted to. It’s a big place, after all!
Where we stayed: Jetwing Yala
The last part of our ten days in Sri Lanka was spent driving along the country’s stunning south coast towards the colonial city of Galle. It’s such a beautiful stretch of coastline, but it was so heart-breaking to think of how devastated it was by the Boxing Day tsunami in in 2004. There are still bits of evidence of it there today, but despite that, it’s amazing to see how the strong-spirited locals have rebuilt their lives following it. We stopped off at some beautiful places along the way to take photos and meet the locals. It was so hard to imagine what they went through, but so good to see how far they’ve come.
The last stop in our unforgettable journey was in Galle, where we spent time exploring the historical sights and learning about its colonial past from when the Portuguese landed in the country. Cally gave us a detailed tour of the city’s old town, with its magnificent fort and towering lighthouse, which made for some excellent photo opportunities. We took a look around the Dutch reformed church and the city’s architecturally stunning cathedral before heading to our hotel and enjoying one last cultural show before flying off to the Maldives the next day.
What a country.
Where we stayed: Jetwing Lighthouse
Have you ever been to Sri Lanka before? Is it somewhere you’d like to go? We booked our honeymoon through Signature by Thomas Cook, so you too could experience the Classical Ceylon tour for yourself. Feel free to ask me any questions in the comments below.