Clients can interact with elephants at Sri Lanka’s Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage. // © 2013 Jered Barclay
Ceylon Express International
When there is positive buzz about a country that has previously been under a cloud, that’s the perfect time for the seasoned traveler to investigate its pleasures. The idea is to get there before there are more tourists than locals per square mile. Such is the case with Sri Lanka. With the Tamil conflict resolved, the country has opened up to its full potential.
Twenty-five miles southeast of India, Sri Lanka is known as the Pearl of the Indian Ocean because of its spice-rich tropical forests, white-sand beaches and diverse landscapes. Because it has one of the longest documented histories in the world — spanning 125,000 years — the treasures of its past civilizations are the country’s crown jewels. It has a total of six UNESCO World Heritage sites, an astonishing number for such a small country. The 10th and 11th century provided the country’s pinnacle of fascinating ruins, palaces and royal edifices, made even more interesting by the commingling of both Buddhist and Hindu cultures.
All of the country’s important sites are accessible by car, so after arrival in its capital, Colombo, take a road journey by rental car to circle the central and eastern area of the island where the majority of ancient cities is concentrated. Seven days will allow travelers to make the circuit without feeling rushed.
Ceylon Express International, a savvy company with vast knowledge of the area, can help plan a tour to suit your client’s needs. In addition, Jetwing Hotels and Jetwing Holidays can provide hotel and travel arrangements for clients in Sri Lanka. The company has properties at almost all of the major sites.
On the way to the first site, Sigiriya, a surprise treat is a stop at the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage. This 24-acre compound houses 78 orphaned, injured or deserted Asian elephants. This is as up-close and personal as it gets — there are no cages or fences and, with caution and help from the guards, you can touch an elephant. Advise your clients to time their visit so that they can see the herd having a two-hour afternoon swim in the river.
A strenuous but rewarding climb to the top of the rock fortress of Sigiriya, the “Fortress in the Sky,” brings travelers to a sweeping 360-degree view of the countryside. UNESCO declared it as the 8th Wonder of the World. Sigiriya offers the remains of the 5th-century palace of King Kashyapa, a dramatic outcropping of golden granite and an extensive network of gardens. In its many caves are delicate frescoes that are carefully preserved. Afternoon is the best time to photograph the frescoes since flash cameras are forbidden.
Near Sigiriya is one the most inviting hotel properties in the country, Vil Uyana, which is also a member of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World. Its villas rising from the rice paddy/marshlands are connected to each other and the central buildings by a wooden walkway. A small private plunge pool is outside every villa.
Drive to the city of Kandy and stop at the Spice Gardens of Matale where travelers can see how hundreds of spices are grown. Clients can also buy fresh spices to take home. Kandy’s elevation — 1,500 feet above sea level — provides a respite to the summer heat as well as a visit to the beautifully appointed Temple Of The Tooth. Set on a pretty lake in the middle of the city, it is believed to contain a sacred relic — one of Buddha’s teeth. This major attraction draws people from around the world. Go early in the morning or just before closing time to avoid the rush of the crowd.
Although the drive is long to Nuwara Eliya, Sri Lanka’s most popular resort, the endless successions of waterfalls, panoramic views and gardens make it an easy one. Its 6,500-foot elevation is what inspired the British to introduce the tea industry, now the country’s number-one export.
Go to Galle on the southwest coast, one of the seaports used in the Silk Road and watch the sun go down between the lighthouse and the minaret of a mosque. The Jetwing Lighthouse hotel offers real comfort, seaside dining and a welcome infinity swimming pool with a view of the Indian Ocean.