In past years we have sent them to explore Vietnam by TukTuk and snorkel the reefs in The Maldives, so when they came into our shop looking for their next adventure, we had one country on our minds… Sri Lanka.
Ray and Trudy Andes embarked on a beautiful journey across the Island with our friends at Authenticities. Here’s how it went…
“We started our Sri Lankan adventure at the Heritance Kandalama, about four hours north of Colombo.
After a long flight from Heathrow via Dubai, we arrived at the hotel late in the evening and fell straight into bed. The next day we woke up to find the hotel peacefully nestled in the forest with a fantastic view over the lake, a truly breathtaking surprise.
Our first trip was to Sigiriya Rock Fortress (pictured above), an amazing experience. While we were unfortunate to catch it during a torrential rainstorm, it didn’t take away from the extraordinary history and stunning scenery. It’s a must-see for anyone visiting Sri Lanka, although be warned, the full climb is not for the faint-hearted.
We also hit all of the must-see sights of what is known as the cultural triangle of Sri Lanka. These included the ancient kingdom of Polonnaruwa and one of the best meals of the trip at a welcoming farmer’s home overlooking several paddy fields.
We definitely consider ourselves foodies and getting to try so many traditional dishes was amazing. It was also fascinating to learn about the health benefits of the ingredients used.
The real highlight of the area was seeing a herd of elephants with their calves up close at Minneriya National Park, thanks to our expert guide who claimed to be able to sniff them out for us.
We visited the Dambulla Cave Temples, an experience made all the more enriching thanks to our amazing guide Charlie.
Charlie really made our trip. His passion and knowledge was combined with a great sense of humour and a relaxed, yet professional, guiding style. We learnt more about the country than just the history or facts – he really brought the tours to life. Combined with a great driver, Sampath, they were a dream team, enabling us to see everything without the stress of navigating ourselves.
On the way to our next hotel in the city of Kandy, were a few more sights to see.
We met a charismatic botanist for our tour around Kandy’s picturesque Botanic Gardens. An experience made all the more poignant by a family connection. The gardens were once home to our grandfather who served in the army during WWII.
We then took a whistle-stop tour of the Temple of the Tooth before turning in.
Kandy is a buzzing city, so if you can, spending a night or two there is a great idea.
The next day we took a four-hour scenic train ride up into the tea plantations with a packed lunch. Well-worth doing for the unobstructed views. For a truly authentic Sri Lankan experience travel in second-class.
The next destination was Nuwara Eliya and the Grand Hotel. Built in 1891, today it still reflects the glamour and grandeur of the time. It was here that we spent Christmas. It was a beautiful and luxurious resting place after the excitement of the last few days, complete with a magnificent banquet with every type of food you could ever imagine on Christmas Eve.
Our Christmas Day started with a trip to the Damro tea factory, a fascinating visit for any tea lover and a great place to buy gifts for family and friends at home.
The girls then headed back to enjoy some relaxing spa treatments while the boys nipped off for a quick round at Nuwara Eliya Golf Club. This is not to be missed if you are an avid golfer. The Club was founded in 1889 and is one of the oldest golf clubs in Asia. A real gem of a course thanks to its incredible history.
The next day we got up early to head to Horton Plains for a 9km round trek through the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Driving up and up the winding mountain roads, the vast plains at the top are slightly unexpected.
It was a truly stunning walk and well worth the effort. The views from the World End are breathtaking and a real highlight of our two weeks in the country.
After a quick turnaround we sped down to Weerawila, where we stayed at the Flameback Eco Lodge, a great and unique place to stay should you wish to visit the famous Yala national park.
Our drive around the park the next day didn’t turn up any leopards sadly. The park was a little busy even with the 5am wake-up call. There is an alternative park close by that may be worth looking into instead, which is known to be less touristy.
We made a brief stop at Galle. Here we met Shanjei, our enigmatic and witty guide for a tour of Galle Fort. Make sure you give yourself enough time in Galle to wander around its colourful markets, restaurants and charming shops.
Our day concluded with the best Sri-Lankan cooking of our visit at the home of Wasanthi - a close friend of our guide Shanjei.
She cooked up a storm with a shout-out going to the sticky spicy aubergine pickle - Brinjal Moju –and an outstanding jackfruit curry.
We then took a few days downtime by the sea at a luxurious hotel – the Heritance Ahungalla.
It was here that we brought in the New Year with a bang, thanks to the extravagant gala dinner. This followed a beautiful experience releasing rescued turtle hatchlings back into the sea to start their lives against the backdrop of the setting sun.
Our final night was spent in Colombo with an afternoon tour by our final expert guide, Mark Forbs.
A self-proclaimed architecture-nut, Mark told the story of the city in a unique and insightful fashion, using the buildings to paint a picture of the city’s history.
We were fortunate enough to end our evening, and holiday, with another amazing meal, this time at the popular Ministry of Crab. Owned by two famous Sri Lankan cricketers and set in the Old Fort, this place is a must visit for any foodie and lives up to its reputation. You’ll need to book in advance.
As far as the itinerary is concerned, it was great for us. The schedule had a lot packed in but our feeling is if you go that far, you want to see as much as you can. We loved the authentic experiences (particularly the ones involving local cuisine) and we get the impression that Authenticities really do employ the best guides.
Sri Lanka is a truly mesmerising country delivering the perfect mix of culture, beauty, amazing wildlife and fantastic food. Ideal for all types of holiday at any stage of life, this really is a must-visit destination.”