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Sri Lanka: The Enchanted Island by Cox and Kings

It was my privilege to experience this tour recently (with some variations) & I would like to share my impressions with you. 

Day 1: Travel to Colombo  

We were welcomed by our Cox & Kings (C&K) host, Roop Kumar, at Heathrow Airport. Roop is the ‘go to’ man at C&K for all things India & Sri Lanka; a true expert, with unrivalled knowledge & experience in his field. Then, overnight on a Sri Lankan Airlines flight to Colombo. Though in an economy, a light load meant we all had the luxury of a window seat, with an empty one adjacent! Great food & service meant for an enjoyable flight.   

Day 2: Colombo 

After an 11-hour flight we arrived at the Cinnamon Lakeside Hotel, in Colombo. Set among 2.8 hectares of lush landscaped gardens, the rooms had impressive views of Colombo’s skyline, or the Beira Lake.  Ignoring our tiredness, like true Brits, we pressed on with an afternoon sightseeing tour of Colombo.  Places of interest included Hindu & Buddhist temples & the Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall, which was a gift to Sri Lanka from the People’s Republic of China.  We then returned to the Cinnamon Lakeside to enjoy a lovely evening meal & a much needed early night.  

Day 3: Sigiriya Rock

After breakfast, we boarded our minibus & drove 4 hours from Colombo to Sigiriya.  Sigiriya Rock is an amazing sight, & the more intrepid of our group climbed to the very top. It takes approximately 1.5 hours to reach the top, involving a rather challenging particularly steep section, of about 200 metres.  I contented myself with the lovely extensive water gardens, at the base of the rock!

Our hotel for the night was the Heritance Kandalama. The main building stretches out for more than a kilometre, with the terraced building giving the appearance of being built into the cliff, while the overhanging jungle foliage is now an integral part of the hotel design.  

Day 4: Polonnaruwa 

Today, onwards to Polonnaruwa, which had been the capital city in ancient times. We visited the fascinating Primate Center & went on a field session to hear & see the various monkey behaviours. It was amazing how close you could get to the monkeys, which included the grey langur, the purple-faced langur & the toque macaque.  

We then continued to explore the ruins of the Royal Palace & Gal Vihara, where three statues of Buddha are carved out of the rock.  It is disrespectful to stand with your back to a Buddha whilst having your photograph taken, hence the reason you only see photographs of people standing side-on.  

We had a glimpse of authentic local life, with lunch in a farmhouse, & then we travelled to Minneriya National Park. Here, we boarded jeeps & headed through the evergreen forest in search of elephants, spotted deer, sloth bears & crocodiles.  For me, the elephants were the highlight of my day.  We then continued to our next hotel, the Cinnamon Lodge Habarana, situated on the fringe of a tranquil & ancient irrigation lake.  

Day 5: Dambulla Caves 

Today our destination was the Dambulla Caves, situated 150 metres above the road, with superb views over the surrounding countryside.  There is a 15-metre-long reclining Buddha image in one of the caves, which is just astonishing. The Dambulla ‘cave temple’ is also known as the Golden Temple of Dambulla. This is a World Heritage Site & is the most extensive & intact cave temple complex in the country.  Next stop Kandy, a bustling city full of shops & market stalls. A cacophony of traffic, general mayhem & car horns; great fun to see, but probably not something for every day!  We journeyed on to the haven of our next hotel, the Amaya Hills, for one night. It was just a 15-minute drive above the city of Kandy, but in tranquil wooded surroundings & with a panoramic view over the city. 

Day 6: Nuwara Eliya 

Next, Kandy to Nuwara Eliya, via a tea factory & plantation, where we were shown the process of tea producing & grading.  I really did not realise how much hard work went into the production of tea, which the British, especially, take for granted.  We were to overnight at the very comfortable four-star ‘Colonial’ style Araliya Green Hills.  

Day 7: Train Journey to Ella 

A change of transport today, as we travelled from Nanu Oya to Ella by train.  Oh my goodness me, what an experience!  The views throughout this journey were breath-taking, but there was more excitement with one of the carriage doors wide-open, & passengers actually grabbing hold of the handrails & leaning out of the fast-moving train!  It certainly got the adrenalin going, but this isn’t recommended for those of a nervous disposition!!!!  

On arrival into Ella, we went for a scenic walk & then back to the normality of our minibus for the 2-hour journey to Hambantota.  Hambantota Bay forms a crescent, with lots of fishing boats lining the shore. Nearby are salt pans that attract many species of birds.  We then made our way to the very beautiful Shangri-La Hambantota Golf Resort & Spa for one night.  What an amazing hotel, with facilities to suit everyone, including a children’s play area with waterslides, an 18-hole golf course, swimming pools, spa & much more.    

Day 8: Galle 

After a nice leisurely breakfast & a tour around the Shangri-La we made our way to Galle, a must see when visiting Sri Lanka. Narrow streets, an historic fort, boutique shops, cafés, galleries, as well as the famous lighthouse.  We then made our way to the Heritance Ahungalla, where we had a cookery demonstration on how to make a Sri Lankan prawn curry. The chef even gave us the recipe to take home, but I’ve yet to experiment on hubby!  After dinner, an early night again, ready for our early departure the following day.   

Day 9: Back to Colombo 

We were up bright & early this morning – homeward bound!  Little did I know that this morning would give me a lasting memory of the most beautiful boutique hotel I have ever seen, the Reef Villa & Spa. Located just 40 minutes south of Colombo & set in three acres of landscaped gardens beside a palm fringed beach, this stunning property certainly had the ‘WOW’ factor.   

There were seven exclusive suites, which had 150-year-old four poster beds & the most luxurious bathrooms which opened out onto their own private, walled palm-filled gardens, with waterfall showers.  The Summer Breeze beachfront restaurant has a menu fit for a king, with the most mouth-watering dishes to choose from.  

For the energetic, the Reef offers an all-weather tennis court, table tennis & an azure swimming pool. There is also a spa offering an array of treatments.  The hosts, Brendan & Bernadette, are so welcoming & you’re made to feel at home as soon as you arrive.  

For an extra special treat, I urge anyone to spend at least one or two nights at the Reef, especially if you’re celebrating a special occasion.  I promise that you won’t be disappointed!  After a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice & pastries (which were made at the Reef), we said our fond farewells & headed to the airport, happy that we were given the opportunity to experience this fascinating destination.  

Special thanks go out to our magnificent local guide Richard, & our Cox & Kings leader, Roop, who made this whole experience a great success.  

Maria Kibble. 

Maria Kibble is a Senior Travel Consultant at Travel Club Elite, one of the UK’s leading travel businesses, with over 33 years proud ABTA Membership. Cox & Kings is one of the world’s oldest travel companies, leading the field with an unrivalled 260 years’ experience!  

For any enquiries on Sri Lanka, or any other destination, please call Maria (free) on 0800 707 6229, or email: [email protected] 

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