Sri Lanka offers so much in such little space. Spend a morning with hundreds of elephants before an afternoon at a near deserted white-sand beach. Inhale the incense in a 2000-year-old temple before being invited into a gorgeous village surrounded by endemic birds and wildflowers. Admire crumbling colonial gems before learning to surf and a fun train journey into the rainforest. Dive wonderful marine sites before relaxing amidst the lush green of famous tea plantations. There's history, culture, nature, endless beaches and the friendly welcome that makes everyone want to stay longer. Wherever and whenever you stop, there's something unique to experience on a luxury Sri Lanka tour.
Sri Lanka's extraordinary interior comes alive when taking the train from Colombo to Kandy, a three-hour journey through a rainbow of greens. Much of the second half the track wriggles around on a high shelf cloaked in rainforest, with a huge drop down to terraced paddy fields and distant plains on one side. Widely regarded as one of the most spectacular rail journeys in the world, it's a journey doused in history and a chance to travel in the history of Paul Theroux, his seminal work The Great Railway Bazaar bringing to light the endless contradictions of train travel in Sri Lanka.
Ebullient babies wandering beneath a mother's adoring gaze, infants using their trunks as snorkels, matriarchs squirting huge jets of water...there are no better places in Asia to get intimate with large herds of elephants. Picturesque Pinnawela is home to more than 60 elephants who were orphaned, abandoned or injured by poachers. Set amid lush green forests, coconut plantations, rice paddies and spice gardens, this is a destination that defies the photographs. Standing besides the giants is an almost unmissable experience on any Sri Lanka luxury tour. However, Pinnawela isn't the only place with elephants and we can guide you to various parks that are liberally sprinkled with pachyderm herds.
Frost glistens on the grass in the early morning as you hike or horse ride in the highlands. There are patches of forest, giant fern trees and pea-t¬rimmed lakes, and if you look closely you may see purple faced langurs, barking deer and wild boar, perhaps even one from the small population of leopards. The most famous views are from a sheer, 2,100 foot drop known as World's End, which plunges down to the valley floor. We can arrange three to four hours of horseback riding on the high grassland plateau, or an adventurous hike through The Peak Wilderness Sanctuary. Comparable to the Scottish Highlands because of its misty climate and desolate, windswept landscape, this landscape is an extraordinary contrast to the hot, humid lowlands.
If any area epitomizes the Sri Lankan appeal it's the landscape in the northwest, where the jungle dips down to tranquil blue lagoons and the dolphin inhabited waters of the Indian Ocean. Coconut plantations stand besides wetlands rich in birdlife, coral reefs draw turtles and stingrays, while scattered little islands provide a Robinson Crusoe-style getaway of white sand and silence. Travel a little further north and you find big game galore in Wilpattu National Park, herds of elephants bathing close to water buffalo and the exhilarating prints left behind by leopards. If you have time, this illusive landscape provides an immersive experience without encountering large groups of tourists.
Too often, UNESCO towns (and walled towns) feel a bit like a theme park approximation of what they once were. Galle, with its little boutiques and its cafés selling fruit shakes, is saved by a chance to experience true local life that is unchanged for centuries. An expert guide doesn't just show you the sights but ensures you meet the people. Neighborhood people still gather in the oddly pistachio-green courtyards, traders shout in low-slung merchant houses built in the Dutch colonial style, and there's always someone inviting you to share a cup of tea.
There is no better place to enjoy a refreshing lime soda than at Galle Face Hotel, Southeast Asia's oldest hotel, a grand colonial icon overlooking a long ribbon of ocean and a beach busy with kite fliers. The mood is relaxed as you sip on this most ubiquitous of Sri Lankan drinks, cool and refreshing yet tangy and tasty. The vista is something eternal: the sea, the surf, and the blurred horizon line. Enjoy the tranquility here amid the urban chaos, sleepy Sri Lanka feeling like something from a dream, so far from the bustle on the Colombo streets outside.