Sri Lanka offers it all in terms of engaging experiences and cultural immersion, and makes a superb stand-alone destination. Go from the historic hubbub and sky-scraping glass of Colombo to the cool, mist-covered hills of Tea Country in half a day; from safaris in a National Park wilderness to watching cricket in Galle in just a couple of hours. On the flip side, the Maldives is 100% about tuning out and relaxing; unwinding on golden sands and exploring a world beneath the waves.
The cherry on the cake of any Sri Lanka holiday is a few days uninterrupted downtime to digest and decompress before heading home. Although Sri Lanka is famous for its gorgeous beaches, and there’s certainly no need to go elsewhere for a slice of coastal serenity, absolutely nowhere does ultimate island luxury like the Maldives. The combination creates a holiday that’s much more than the sum of its parts.
A couple of days at the Notary’s House in Makandura is just the ticket for starting your Sri Lanka trip in comfort. This villa-style property is set within sheltered gardens where tall palms sway beside a wide lake - perfect for a post-flight breather. The team goes out of their way to create an immersive experience by introducing you to members of the local community, taking you out on guided bird watching walks, and getting you involved with cookery classes. There’s only a handful of bedrooms within the spacious property, making it feel elegant, welcoming and never crowded. Enjoy delicious meals onsite, venture out to explore the local area, and hike through the surrounding forest as you ease yourself into holiday mode.
In its cities and rural landscapes alike, Sri Lanka holds a wealth of historic and sacred sites to explore. Rising above a town full of faded ruins and compelling stories, Sigiriya Rock is iconic, its sheer sides rising near-vertically above the trees to a plateau of panoramic vistas - breathtaking for those who’ve got the leg power to handle the climb! At the top, the ruins of an ancient capital city tell of the shifting power of long-gone kings. Just a few miles north, Pidurangala Rock is a similarly-challenging, less-visited climb for those keen to step away from the well-trodden path, and is a wonderful place to watch the sunset and soak up the tranquillity.
A little further south, the Dambulla cave temple offers another glimpse into Sri Lanka’s blend of landscape and spirituality. Venture into the cool shade of a cliffside underhang to find hundreds of beautifully-carved Buddha statues keeping watch over the hills. Push on further south to Kandy, another former capital of ancient kings, to wander through the bustling streets of Sri Lanka’s second city. Take in all its sights and sounds, from the Temple of the Tooth to the Peradeniya Botanical Gardens, and stop for a bowl of the country’s best ‘rice and curry’ when the tempting aroma wafts your way.
Tea Country feels a world away from the dusty heat of the lower-lying regions; the cool hills are covered with lush greenery and neat tea fields, and their peaks often emerge through a soft blanket of mist. The region’s main town of Ella offers the quiet bustle of tuk-tuks and bikes weaving their way through the streets, and its lights can be seen twinkling gently each evening from the surrounding hills. Spend a couple of nights amid Ella’s gentle hum and hike over the hills into the wilderness of the Horton Plains National Park, making your way to the enigmatically-named World’s End cliff for a sweeping panorama over the undulating landscape below. For the full-colour experience, ride between Kandy and Ella on the tea train, its blue carriages winding their iconic way through the landscape and over the Nine Arches Bridge.
Sri Lanka’s compact borders host an astonishing 26 National Parks, each with its own distinctive combination of landscape and wildlife. Udawalawe is one of our favourites. Over 500 elephants make their home within its 119 square miles, alongside deer, sloth bears, civets, macaques, crocodiles, hornbills, eagles and many others, including the elusive leopards. Stay in high-end safari camps on the park’s outskirts, in expedition-style canvas tents which are a world away from what most of us think of as ‘camping’ - full-size double beds, private bathrooms, and a sprinkling of Hollywood-style glamour. Wake each morning to the sounds of the wilderness, and head straight out on a wildlife-spotting jeep drive as soon as the sun rises.
Galle’s rich seam of heritage flows strongly into its present-day identity. The 17th-century fort takes centre stage, its steadfast walls still sheltering the town from ocean storms. Explore the myriad artisan shopfronts and stalls within Galle Fort and along Pedlar St; wander along the fort walls, looking out to the sea and inwards over the cricket green; enjoy coffee and short eats at local cafes while you watch the world go by. If you’re keen to explore further afield, venture out on a morning cycling tour of the surrounding villages. With your guide leading the way, pedal along side-roads and gravel tracks, past a wide lagoon, mangroves and rice fields. Pause to take in several small temples, and watch the rhythms of daily local life unfold as you explore the landscape.
Colombo is a capital of contrasts; historic buildings line its winding streets, while sleek skyscrapers tower above it all. This is a city that’s changing at pace, its skyline reshaping to reflect the country’s shifting politics. Stay in the centre to experience the never-sleeping rush, or opt for a more tranquil base on the outskirts. Take time to settle into Colombo’s rhythm, and follow your guide’s lead to find the hidden corners that show you the city’s heart and soul at a local level. Head for the sociable seaside promenade and lawns of Galle Face Green, where street food vendors congregate at sunset, to sample your pick of ‘short eats’. Try spicy isso wade prawn fritters and traditional achcharu sweet-sour pickles, washed down with fresh lime juice. If you have time, enjoy a meal at the world famous Ministry of Crab, which we reserve for clients as often as we can - it’s outstanding.
With a head full of Sri Lanka’s kaleidoscopic sights, sounds and tastes, it's time to slow the pace right down in one of the world’s most picture-perfect island idylls. The mere mention of the Maldives conjures up images of pristine golden sand edged by water so flawlessly azure that it seems unreal. But those pictures don’t lie; it really is that beautiful. The Maldives are among the very best places for diving and snorkelling in Asia. Take a look beneath that calm, turquoise surface and you’ll find a wealth of fascinating marine life, from manta rays and octopuses to tiny, colourful fish flitting amongst the coral.
Each small island is usually host to just one resort, with everything you could want onsite. Focus on your own relaxation priorities and choose your ideal Maldives resort with them in mind, as each offers a slightly different experience. All are at the highest end of coastal luxury, but some, such as the Six Senses Laamu, take that to another level. Some resorts have a laid-back family friendly feel, while others maintain a more mature, adults-only vibe. Whichever resort you choose, this is your time to breathe deep, feel your shoulders lower, and enjoy a few days of uninterrupted unwinding while you digest the wealth of sights and experiences from your time in Sri Lanka; a balanced way to end an incredible holiday.
The guide price of £4,190US$4,890 is a per person price (not including international flights) staying 3 nights in Makandura, 2 nights in the Cultural Triangle, 1 night in Kandy, 2 nights in the Tea Country, 1 night in a luxury tented camp in Uda Walawe, 2 nights in Galle - all in our favourite mid-range hotels - and 5 nights at the luxurious Reeti Faru in the Maldives.
How yours looks is up to you, our tailor-made specialists work with you to create your perfect journey.
Combine the island’s top wildlife crowd pleasers with some magnificent hidden gems and cultural highlights before spending some time on the beach.