Sri Lanka luxury travel guide
2 MINUTE SUMMARY
Sri Lanka was known as Serendib to Persian traders who ‘fell upon the island’, and it is believed that the word ‘serendipity’ came about as a result, because the word encapsulated that notion of an unexpected, happy discovery. If you want to splash out on Sri Lanka, however, you will discover that there is nothing serendipitous about it. This is a country with two monsoons, a rapidly growing tourism industry and some irresponsible tourism issues. Sri Lanka is a stunning country, however, and having a tailor made vacation with local experts who have created a carefully crafted itinerary ensures you avoid tourist crowds, stay at the finest heritage hotels or boutique beauties, have your own private chauffeur guide, and seek out the remote beaches and best waterside eateries. Splashing out responsibly is also an art. This Sri Lanka luxury travel guide has tested the water for you, and made sure it is perfect for you to jump into.
Best time to visit Sri Lanka
TEMPERATURE & RAINFALL
Why choose luxury in Sri Lanka?
Responsible Travel recommends
There are some incredible budget vacations to the ‘teardrop island’ of Sri Lanka, so why pay almost double for one that has the luxury label attached to it? First and foremost, because for many people time is a luxury and when you have a luscious budget it means you can save time by having a bespoke experience created for you. Think of it as a diamond teardrop, but one that is ethically and locally sourced, not too ostentatious but which will still bring you oodles of pleasure on a daily basis.
Tailor made timetables
The only stressful decisions you have to make when opting for a luxury vacation to Sri Lanka are how long to go for, and how to divide up your time. Our local experts will guide you on the latter, pointing out how far one place is from another and ensuring that plenty of rest time is included between safaris, Ayurveda treatments, whale watching, balloon rides over ancient sites and food fests. You also need to decide whether you want to spend more time at the hotel in the tropical hill country with a forest enveloped pool and tea plantation estate, or by the beach in a classic Geoffrey Bawa-designed minimalist hotel, the local guru for design led by nature.
As for the amount of time you need to spend there? Throw the watch away. You will never lie on your death bed saying ‘I wish I hadn’t taken that extra week in Sri Lanka’. Or, if work is calling, and time is money after all, how about working remotely for a while instead of dashing back? Now, that is a luxury.
Be cautious about staying in so-called "heritage hotels" in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka has a vast and oppressive colonial history, so don't drink up the often whitewashed tea heritage tours and plantation stays without considering whether it's a appropriate to stay there. (Chances are, it's not.) Instead, try these...
Beach hotels are, of course, high up the list on a Sri Lanka vacation, and top choices include Heritance Ahungalla Hotel, one of several hotels designed by Geoffrey Bawa, the highly revered local architect in his “tropical modernism” style. They are certainly all tropical treats. It is also worth visiting his gardens at Lunuganga.
The golden beaches of Koggala are made even more glossy when you stay at the Fortress Resort and Spa, where you will want to stay locked in for a couple of days with its spectacular infinity pool segueing somewhat sexily into the Indian Ocean. You can even throw the beaches of the Maldives into your already heady mix, with tailor made vacations that encapsulate both these Indian Ocean gems.
As for safari, Sri Lanka does the whole luxury tented camp thing rather beautifully too, on the outskirts of Wilpattu or Yala National Park, giving ease of access for sunset and evening safaris. Collapsing into your wilderness bed with the finest meditative slumber soundtrack you could hope for: that of elephants and tropical birdlife.
Sri Lankan spas are the real thing, with the ancient art of Ayurveda very much part of the Sri Lankan psyche, not just in stunning luxury spas but in every day pharmacies and small practices. In Sri Lanka, it is not considered an alternative form of medicine, but an ancient Hindu and very real way of treating all sorts of ailments. It was brought to the island in the 6th century BC from India by Prince Vijaya who went on to become the first king of the island. Merging philosophy, psychology and spirituality with plant and herbal medicines, it pretty much captures the Sri Lankan raison d’être.
Many luxury hotels and lodges boast impressive environmental and social credentials, such as supporting the Sri Lanka Wildlife Foundation or community initiatives like the Zero Plastic project in World Heritage-Listed site Sigiriya.
Buying food locally is one of the most important things you can do on a vacation in Sri Lanka, and our luxury vacations don’t buy into the all inclusive model which, by nature, excludes local communities from benefiting financially from tourism. Ask your guide to recommend the best street food, the most sizzling beach cafes, the finest fish restaurants (some of which need booking up well in advance, such as the very cool ‘Ministry of Crab’), shop at the food markets or seek out a cookery class. Buying food locally feeds people locally.
Shopping & giving
This is one of the most fun ways to be a responsible tourist – so leave plenty of room in your suitcase. When traveling with a luxury vacation company they will know the best places to buy excellent quality crafts, such as Beeralu bobbin lace at Dikwella. This village was badly hit by the tsunami and is now reviving the tradition. You can also bring home Ayurvedic medicines available in pharmacies everywhere. Get a consultation for your ailments or bring some herbal happiness in a bottle back for a friend.
To guarantee ethically and locally sourced goods, check out the state owned boutique chain, Laksala, and beware of buying antiques or anything over 50 years old, as you are not allowed to export them. Many people want to make donations to local schools and hospitals, but do seek the advice of your tour operator because it may be possible to buy what is needed locally, and then donate it, thus supporting local shops and traders too.