Less than a 10-hour plane journey from the UK, Sri Lanka has everything you could wish for and more. You’ll find rich historical Buddhist culture, stunning countryside, beautiful beaches, astounding wildlife, fantastic food, and friendly locals. All this squeezed into an island a similar size to Ireland! If you’re looking for variety, Sri Lanka is the perfect destination for your next trip.
I was lucky enough to visit Sri Lanka for the first time in October 2022. Having travelled in India, Nepal, and Pakistan on my previous adventures, I knew I was already a huge fan of the Indian Subcontinent. However, Sri Lanka exceeded all my expectations.
On the plane journey home from Sri Lanka, I found myself already planning my next trip to the island and wondering why it had taken me so long to finally reach Sri Lanka. It’s a very special place with a very generous spirit. I can’t wait to go back.
I spent 11 days exploring the central part of Sri Lanka, covering part of the famous Cultural Triangle. I then continued south through the lush hill country and tea plantations before finishing my journey on the tropical beaches of the south coast. Every day brought new stunning landscapes – the variety of Sri Lanka’s scenery is out of this world.
During my trip, I visited the ancient rock fortress of Sigiriya, the Buddhist temples of Kandy, and a countryside health retreat on the edge of the Knuckles Mountain range. I then set off on a serene wildlife safari in Gal Oya National Park, wandered through the tea plantations at Nuwara Eliya, and travelled by steam train through the hills to Ella. I spent my final three nights exploring the south coast, famous for its tropical beaches and boutique resorts.
Throughout my journey in Sri Lanka, I stayed in some gorgeous four- and five-star resorts. Here’s a handful of my favourite boutique hotels in Sri Lanka, and I highly recommend these hotels for your trip. In fact, it’s possible to string these resorts together into an unforgettable Sri Lanka holiday itinerary.
Located in the heart of the Cultural Triangle, Water Garden was the first resort I stayed at when I arrived in Sri Lanka. It was wonderful. I could have stayed here for the full 10 days. If you’re visiting Sri Lanka for the first time, you can’t miss this region – it’s packed with beauty, history, and culture.
The Water Garden is out of this world. The resort is surrounded by beautiful lakes and flowing streams. In the far distance, beyond the meandering water, you can see the famous Sigiriya Rock towering above the landscape. It’s an unforgettable view from the hotel.
There are many walkways between the gentle streams on the grounds of the resort, so the gardens are constantly filled with birds. Following the walkways, you can see the many local peacocks and kingfishers that roam freely around the grounds each day.
The resort comprises 30 freestanding villas, 17 of which have their own private plunge pools. There’s also a huge outdoor swimming pool for a refreshing dip after a long day of sightseeing. The spa sits on stilts beside the pool, giving you the chance to watch the beautiful birdlife while you have a massage.
The Water Garden is the perfect base for exploring the surrounding area. You can set off on a sightseeing excursion in the morning, then relax around the pool until the late afternoon, when you can take an early evening safari or climb Pidurangala Rock at sunset.
I personally recommend staying here for 3 to 4 nights. There’s plenty to see in the area and the resort is also a place where you can relax and enjoy the facilities between trips around the Cultural Triangle.
Next, I visited Santani Wellness Resort, hidden in a lush valley at the edge of the Knuckles Mountain range. It’s just an hour’s drive from Kandy, making it a great base for experiencing the colourful city and visiting the Temple of the Golden Tooth relic.
Many travellers visit Santani to relax in the countryside for a few days and avoid staying in too many cities during their trip to Sri Lanka. It’s on the way south from the Cultural Triangle towards the coast, making it a strategic place to unwind for a few days between visiting Sigiriya and reaching the beach.
As soon as I arrived at the resort, I felt instantly relaxed. All 20 of the rooms are chalet-style, overlooking the surrounding mountain range or the sweeping gardens of the resort. The design is very stylish and minimalistic. A huge highlight is the hilltop infinity pool, as well as the award-winning hydrotherapy spa. Every day, there are a free yoga classes, and you can book all kinds of luxurious treatment packages.
Santani is also a brilliant place to stay if you want to explore Sri Lanka’s interior. From here, you can hike in the Knuckles Mountain Range, cross the hanging bridge of Narampanawa, go wild swimming in the Hulu River and trek to the Kuku Oya Waterfalls. I highly recommend spending a few days here.
My next stop in Sri Lanka was Gal Oya Lodge, set just outside Gal Oya National Park. Often considered as a hidden gem, this is one of the least visited of Sri Lanka’s National Parks, and it feels like a totally untouched wilderness. Set around Sri Lanka’s largest inland lake, it’s the only place on the island where you can take a boat safari. Its surrounds are also home to the Vedda Tribes, the last indigenous people of Sri Lanka.
I have been fortunate to travel on many African safaris, so I wasn’t sure whether it would be worth going on safari in Sri Lanka. In fact, Gal Oya doesn’t feel like a safari destination. It isn’t somewhere to try and tick boxes in terms of spotting wildlife species, although you’re certain to see plenty of elephants. It’s more of a remote wonderland filled with beautiful creatures and plants.
Gal Oya Lodge is a gorgeous eco-lodge with just 9 bungalows and one family villa, all set within 20 acres of private jungle. There’s no phone signal or Wi-Fi, giving you the chance to take a true break from the modern world. From the lodge, you can set off on which allow jungle drives, spot elephants on a boat safari, observe birds with a naturalist guide, and learn about the Vedda way of life.
Goatfell is located close to Nuwara Eliya, in the heart of Sri Lanka’s famous tea plantations. If you wish to walk freely amongst the plantations and meet the locals picking tea, this is the place to stay.
This is a luxurious renovated 4-bedroom former tea manager’s bungalow overlooking a valley of rolling tea plantations. With only 4 rooms, it’s about as boutique as hotels get. The fantastic infinity pool looks out over the misty hills, and it’s the perfect place watch the sunrise in the early morning. For me, it was an unforgettable experience.
The lodge is beautifully designed, with a cosy log fire in the sitting room for you to relax after a day of exploring the tea plantations. Sip a Ceylon tea on the terrace, enjoy a picnic in the tea plantations, visit the former British hill station of Nuwara Eliya, or hike through the grasslands of Horton Plains. There’s loads to do here, and you can follow up every activity with a panoramic dip in the pool.
From Nuwara Eliya, I took the scenic steam train journey to Ella, where I stayed at Nine Skies Boutique Resort, the sister hotel to Goatfell. The railway trip is phenomenal, with jaw-dropping scenery from both sides of the train. It’s a real experience and something that you simply can’t miss if you’re visiting Sri Lanka.
Nine Skies used to be part of the Concordia Tea Estate and was transformed into a boutique hotel in 2018. Its hilltop location is simply stunning, with panoramic views over the sweeping tea plantations and passing trains. Inside, the lodge is beautiful, with very high ceilings and very spacious rooms. Outside, there’s an infinity pool overlooking the lush green countryside.
This is the perfect place to stay if you do not wish to be in the centre of Ella, which is just 15 minutes away by road. From here, you can take tea factory and plantation tours, visit the famous Nine Arches Viaduct and hike to the top of Little Adam’s Peak. I recommend staying here for two nights, to enjoy the countryside and learn about the history of Ella.
From Ella, I made my way towards the coast. My first stop was Why House, a rural boutique resort close to the beaches of Galle. Nestled in the rice fields, this is a beautiful resort set within a landscaped three-acre walled garden of tropical plants, fruit trees and spice bushes.
If you’re not fussed about being directly on the beach, this is a wonderful place to relax for three or four nights at the end of your trip. Here, you can experience luxury with the beautiful rooms and gorgeous jade green pool. At the same time, it feels like a home away from home, with a relaxed atmosphere that makes you feel instantly at ease.
The resort is a short tuk-tuk ride from the spectacular Dalawella Beach. Here, you’ll find a beautiful lagoon created by a protective reef, which means you can swim safely throughout the year. Why House is also a great base for exploring the historic town of Galle and you can book Sri Lankan cookery classes amidst the paddy fields.
If you want some time out on a tropical beach at the end of your trip to Sri Lanka, Kumu Beach is the perfect place. Set along boulder-strewn Balapitiya Beach, which could easily be mistaken for the Seychelles, it’s a ten-room boutique resort with epic ocean views. It’s a laid-back beach resort with a feeling of understated modern luxury.
Here, you can spend your days relaxing on the beach, taking dips in the Indian Ocean, and trying all kinds of traditional Sri Lankan dishes. Between November and May, you can see baby turtles hatching on Balapitiya Beach and visit the local hatchery to learn about their conservation. It’s a beautiful spot to unwind at the end of your trip.
For a small island, Sri Lanka is packed with variety and it’s absolutely perfect for a single-destination holiday. I would recommend spending at least 14 nights in Sri Lanka, giving you a chance to explore the culture and countryside before spending a few nights on the beach at the end of your trip. If you can afford to get away for 3 weeks, you can travel more slowly and see the country in more depth, giving you plenty of time to relax along the way.
We can put together tailor-made Sri Lanka holidays of all shapes and sizes, making sure it’s perfect for your personal style of travel. If you’re looking to really splash out or planning an extra special getaway, why not mix Sri Lanka with Maldives? It’s very easy to combine these destinations and it’s the recipe for a once-in-a-lifetime experience! Simply call us on +44 1273320580 or send us a quote request by email.