By Sandy- March 2017

Sri Lanka is indeed a mystical land full of contradictions and fascination. We arrived in Colombo late in the evening and was met by our cheerful driver and guide, Kris. We spent our first night in total bliss at the Uga Residence. This very fine boutique hotel is a calm oasis in the busy sprawl of Sri Lanka’s capital. After a drink at the sumptuous bar, we feasted on giant prawn laksa and heavenly lemongrass sorbet. It was time to hit the hay; tomorrow would be a busy day.

We headed north up the west coast of Sri Lanka, stopping enroute for a refreshing roadside coconut juice straight off the tree. Our destination was Anamaduwa, for 2 nights at the Mud House, a truly unique eco retreat. Way off the beaten track, the Mud House is an eclectic and rustic cluster of whimsical huts immersed in the beautiful natural environment of this region. The uber attentive and cheerful staff made our stay here delightful despite the staggering heat. The Mud House is really getting away from it all. The huts and pathways are lit at night by kerosene lamps. The delicious Sri Lankan style meals are locally sourced and are served in an open air thatched dining area with views over the lake (which unfortunately is dry, at the moment, due to the years of drought). Peacocks are in heaven here and you never tire of hearing their cat-like calls. While we were here, we had a great tour of the Mud House layout and organic farms. We rode squeaky old bikes down to the other lake to kayak through lotus flower patches.

On our second day at Mudhouse, we hopped in a tuk tuk for the short ride to Paramakanda Temple impressively set amongst massive boulders. We had the temple to ourselves to explore and enjoyed scrambling up the boulders for wonderful views. After lunch, we took an afternoon drive up to Wilapttu, Sri Lanka’s largest national park. We took an African safari like game drive in search of leopard, elephant, sloth bear, jackal, sambur, spotted deer, wild buffalo, mongoose and the jackal. There are also many species of birds to be seen here including the painted stalk, cormorant, owl, tern, buzzard, kite, ibis, teal, egret, heron, hornbill and eagle. Unlike African safaris, you won’t see massive amounts of game in Sri Lanka, but the parks are stunning and we were fortunate to see 2 sloth bear, elephant, spotted deer and birds!

We bid farewell to the wonderful folks at Mudhouse and eagerly climbed into the air-conditioned vehicle. (The staff at Mudhouse admitted it was unusually hot and said they would think about fans for the future…). Today, we are on our way to Kandy in the central mountainous region of the country. This is a busy city with every conceivable vehicle scurrying around. Monkeys tip toe over electrical wires strung between a dizzying array of tiny shops arranged with zero regard for urban planning. We had a delightful tour around the Peradeniya Botanical Gardens with the guide who literally wrote the book on all things flora and fauna related. We took a leisurely walk and enjoyed the quirky tales of our guide. From there, Kris covered our exposed arms and legs and we headed to the sacred UNESCO world heritage site – the Temple of the Tooth during a massive storm. We felt the gods were a bit unhappy with our questioning the veracity of Buddha’s tooth, when a spectacular lightning bolt exploded close by, shutting off the power and causing all the school groups to let out one giant high pitched scream. After we all calmed down a bit, we had a delightful tour of the temple and then headed to our accommodations outside of town, Kandy House.

Maybe we had died and gone to heaven. Kandy House is absolutely wonderful. This former aristocrat’s manor is truly a place of prestige keeping the mystique of a 200-year-old palazzo with all the pleasures of the 21st century. Each of the eight rooms is uniquely romantic and opens onto a serene central courtyard or a private terrace. We were served tea by our own very charming butler and took a swim in the serene infinity pool. Cocktails were served on the lawn and we woke early to enjoy a swim before breakfast. Somehow, we tore ourselves away early the next morning for a 10 mile hike in the Knuckles mountain range with our guide, Amal. Putting on leech socks was a first for me, as we would encounter these thirsty suckers along the lush nature trails. He hiked the Corbett’s Gap Viewpoint track which awarded us spectacular views across the cloud forest. We climbed Leopard Rock and fed a grateful little kitty lemon biscuits and Milo chocolate milk. We picnicked on boulders at the bottom of a pretty water fall and then shared more biscuits with a bunch of local children. After many hours of sitting in vehicles, it was wonderful to get out and get some exercise. We were pretty eager to get back to Kandy House to enjoy the pool and incredible service of this lovely establishment.

After a leisurely morning at Kandy House, it was time to bid farewell to our butler. My attempts to stuff him in my duffel didn’t pan out too well…alas. Kris took us to the train station to board the train to Hatton. The station was right out of a Wes Anderson flick; we loved it. The train wobbled out of town and into the countryside past mountains, waterfalls and into the upcountry’s vast tea plantation region. We enjoyed spicy peanuts on the train and the connection with fellow travelers. This was a 2.5 hour journey and if I could do it over again, I would opt to be with the locals for a more authentic experience. We met up with Kris in Hatton as he drove our car and luggage from Kandy. Kris and I played a joke on my husband and pretended that we were about to stay for 2 nights in a local tea hut to pick tea in the mountains and live like a traditional Tamil tea pickers (not an easy life). Imagine his delight when we pulled into Ceylon Tea Trails bungalow, Castlereigh, a Relais & Chateau property. These colonial era tea planter residences feature period furnishings, gracious butler service and gourmet cuisine. Situated at an altitude of 1250 meters in the vast emerald tea fields, the resort offers breathtaking panoramas of mountains, wonderful walking tours, tea service for when you are feeling peckish mid-afternoon, croquet and a swimming pool. After an in-room massage, we joined other guests for cocktails, dinner and wonderful conversation about travel!

After a delicious breakfast of tropical fruit, Sri Lankan style hoppers and tea, of course, we were off to the local tea factory for a tour. Who knew so much goes into making a cup of tea? Not me, but it was certainly an enlightening tour. We spent the reminder of our day enjoying the bungalow and hiking along the various trails around the property. One of the most delightful experiences in Sri Lanka, is bumping into the children on their way home from school. By some miracle, these kids have the most immaculately white school uniforms at the end of their day. I could only recall the memory of my son’s tragic white polo shirt after his school day… The children are absolutely enchanting, always smiling and eager to practice their English.

After our time in the upcountry tea lands, it was time to explore the southern coast of Sri Lanka and Yala National Park. It was a long drive down to the park and, once again, we were glad that we weren’t driving! Driving is not easy in Sri Lanka. Overall, the mostly Buddhist people of this lovely country are super chill. Then, they get behind the wheel and it’s a mad race competition between trucks, colorful tuk tuks, motorbikes, cars and buses along narrow twisting roads. We always felt very safe with our expert driver, Kris. The drive was beautiful out of the tea country, around the lush mountain peaks and pit stops at thundering waterfalls. We stopped along the way in the very English town of Nuwara Eliya with

its tudor architecture, race track and old post office. In the town of Elle, we enjoyed the street food snack of kottu, before continuing our journey south arriving at Leopard Trails just in time for an afternoon game drive.

Situated in Sri Lanka’s south-east hugging the Indian Ocean, Yala was designated a wildlife sanctuary in 1900 and was designated a national park in 1938. Ironically, the park was initially used as a hunting ground for the elite under British rule. Yala is home to 44 varieties of mammal and 215 bird species. Among its more famous residents are the world’s biggest concentration of leopards, majestic elephants, sloth bears, sambars, jackals, spotted dear, peacocks, and crocodiles. We were cautioned that this would not be like an African safari where you typically see large herds of animals. The experience of game viewing was similar, but you will not see plains teeming with wildlife here. However, the park’s various ecosystems are breathtaking and you will see animals. We had a wonderful naturalist guide with us from Leopard Trails, Avi, who cleverly entertained and educated us on some species we typically wouldn’t give a hoot about. It was pretty magical when we did see a couple leopards, elephant, crocodile and lots of monkeys and spotted deer. Currently, the park has 2 out of 5 zones open which makes it pretty congested with vehicles, particularly when a leopard is sighted. We were told that this situation should improve soon as more of the park opens.

We spent 2 nights glamping it up at Leopard Trails. This is luxury African style camping with air-conditioning and fans in the tents, impeccable service, fantastic food, cocktails by the campfire and tea/coffee in the tent before morning game drives. We loved our time at Leopard Trails. Our only suggestion here would be to offer other activities besides the game drives.

Our time in Sri Lanka was almost over and this was indeed making us sad. Our next and final stop was the coastal city of Galle. We stayed at the new and absolutely exquisite, Fort Bazaar Hotel in the heart of this UNESCO Heritage site. Galle Fort was built by Portuguese in 1588 and fortified by the Dutch in the 17th century. This fortification withstood the devastation of the 2004 tsunami in this part of the town and preserved this old neighborhood of spice traders and gem merchants. We loved wandering around the fort area which is very much bustling with local schools, temples and mosques, government buildings, travelers from all over and local businesses. We had a great tour with a very passionate Muslim woman who really should be the mayor of Galle. Tonight, we wandered the quiet streets and had our most memorable dinner at the Lucky Fort restaurant. We feasted on 10 different curries and lion beers for about $8 USD. Next morning, the Fort Bazaar sent us over by tuk tuk to their beach club for lunch and pool time. Who are we to say no to this! Then, back to Colombo airport for our short flight to the Maldives!


We spent five nights at 4-star Dhigufaru Island Resort in the Baa Atoll region of the Maldives. This is a dreamy beach resort. We loved our beach villa with its semi outdoor bathroom, all the modern amenities and fast access to the beach and ocean. The Maldives have been on my wish list for a long time and my expectations were exceeded. These disappearing islands are truly gorgeous and I felt truly lucky to experience them. We spent a lot of time in the water here. The beach and sea are perfect for a swim or a float and the fiery sunsets are spectacular. We did a couple dives here along some impressive walls and snorkeled as well. The diver operation here is top drawer. The resort staff were friendly and helpful and our overall experience here was really nice, but not quite perfect. If I could make a suggestion, it would be improving upon the buffet service for every meal. Although we always found

something to satisfy us, the whole cafeteria like dining experience here could be made more special and better thought out. Dhigufaru resort is mainly managed by an Italian travel company, so most of the guests were Italian. I have no problem sharing my vacation time with fun loving Italian families. We had a good time with our beach neighbors. However, if you are not part of the Italian guest portion of the resort, you feel about like a 2nd class citizen as the Italians are more catered to by their own hospitality staff. Lastly, we rarely saw anyone using the non-motorized watersport toys at the resort mostly because it was costly to rent a paddleboard, kayak, etc. When you are spending a great deal per night at a resort like this, it seems a bit tacky to charge extra for these toys. So, include the beach toys or charge less so they actually get used. This is a new resort so I feel these three areas are an easy fix to make the overall experience enjoyable.