The ever-popular destinations of Thailand and Bali have a stunning rival in the exuberant South Asian island of Sri Lanka. Everywhere you look here, the terrains are picture-perfect, with luscious rainforests, vibrant tea plantations and shimmering sandy beaches. But it’s not just the aesthetic that is making us very excited about our trip – with the promise of animal encounters, jungle treks and incredible food, we are thrilled when it’s finally time to embark on our adventure.
The Shangri-La Hotel in Colombo is our first stop after an 11-hour flight. This glittering five-star resort in Sri Lanka’s capital only opened late last year, so everything is absolutely immaculate. The interiors are oh-so chic and the service is totally slick – but it’s not short on charm, either.
Our elegant room overlooks the fascinating city, where brand-new hotels are popping
up in between colonial-era buildings and traditional street markets to create a unique landscape. We soon forget how tired we are from the long journey and embark on a mission to explore. Turn one way outside the hotel and you’ll reach the coast, but we choose to check out Colombo itself. We join a guided walking tour, booked via the hotel concierge, so we can learn about this fascinating area from a local’s point of view.
There are endless places to eat and shop in close proximity to the resort. For our first night’s dinner, we make a beeline for The Ministry of Crab, one of Sri Lanka’s most highly rated restaurants. We can vouch for the fact that it deserves its stellar reputation. We enjoy huge portions of deliciously spicy seafood – all locally sourced, of course – and wash it all down with a generous measure of arak, the local spirit. We think we won’t be able to eat again all week, but soon discover the hotel’s breakfast offering.
There is a huge selection of dishes, and we are keen to try the Sri Lankan speciality of ‘hoppers’, which are fried eggs cooked into a thin, crispy pancake-style bowl and served alongside some warming curries. Let go of your traditional breakfast ideas and give this a go – it’s absolutely delicious!
Food is a wonderful highlight of Sri Lanka. As well as trying out tasty street food as you wander around the city, make sure you book in for an evening meal at the Shangri-La. We discover dim sum and Peking duck at the Shang Palace Chinese restaurant, where the views across the city landscape are just as good as the food. If you’re after a bite to eat in the daytime, the Sapphyr Lounge hosts afternoon tea, and we absolutely devour our seven-tier platter filled with both sweet and savoury local delights.
Life's a beach
The buzz of Colombo is so much fun, but after a while we’re craving the feel of sand beneath our feet. We take a car transfer to the south of the island to Shangri-La’s Hambantota Golf Resort & Spa. The hustle and bustle of the city soon gives way to a motorway cutting through mesmerising rice fields and tea plantations. After a couple of hours, we’re whizzing past small coastal towns brimming with temples and fruit stalls, and those long-awaited views of palm trees and blissful shores come into sight.
This idyllic 140-acre resort is built on a coconut plantation, and it’s beautiful from every single angle. The highlight of our Premier Ocean room is the breathtaking view out over the Indian Ocean, but the ginormous bed comes a close second! Waking up in a huge, cloud-like bed, listening to the sounds of the sea, is absolute heaven.
As tempting as it is to laze by one of the three pools, we opt for a stroll along the golden shores. Walking hand in hand along the coastline as the sun lowers in the sky
is such a magical experience, and soon it’s time for our appointment at the beautiful Chi Ayurveda Spa. There’s a dazzling list of treatments to be worked through, plus a cosy hangout with swinging beds to doze on afterwards. All snuggled up in our bathrobes, we nap for over an hour after our massages. If you’re itching for something more active, the resort has pastimes aplenty. There’s an 18-hole golf course set among palm trees and pineapple plants, as well as yoga classes and local bike rides to the small fishing hamlet of Godawaya.
We take a tuk-tuk to the nearby Walawe River, where a speedboat is waiting with a driver and guide to take us on a nature trail to spot birds, water buffalo, and even crocodiles. As the sun sets, fruit bats skim the treetops above us, and just as we think we might miss a sighting, our driver spots a crocodile in the undergrowth! For more wildlife encounters, head to the Yala or Udawalawe National Parks, where you can take safari drives. Or, for a slice of local culture, venture along the coast from Hambantota to the city of Galle, where you can watch fishermen who still sit on stilt-like poles to catch fish too nippy for their nets.
After you’ve had your fill of the local sights, retreat back to the resort for boat-fresh seafood and flavoursome dishes. If you aren’t keen on spice, then simply ask for your meal to be ‘British level’, and the chefs will happily accommodate your palette. On our last night, we enjoy a romantic meal alone on a table above the lagoon pool, where we sample more incredible food while soaking up the balmy evening ambiance. A week in Sri Lanka filled with fun, food, wildlife and romance has left us hungry for more, so we’re already planning a return visit. As the Maldives are a short flight away, perhaps we’ll arrange a twin-centre trip next time!
INSIDER TOP TIPS
To see: Temples
The major city of Kandy sits at the southernmost point of Sri Lanka’s cultural triangle and is home to seven Unesco World Heritage Sites. Visit for ancient monasteries, cave temples and historic locales. Trincomalee, Negombo and Hikkaduwa are other places worth checking out if you are in the country for longer.
To do: Tuk-tuk rides
With hectic city traffic, a tuk-tuk ride will always be a thrilling experience – so hold on and enjoy the tour! Leave the navigating to someone who knows the roads like the back of their hand so they can take you to hidden city temples and lesser-known street- food markets. We rode with tuktuksafarisrilanka.com
To treasure: Trinkets
Sri Lanka is famous for precious gems, cinnamon and tea, all of which make great gifts for loved ones back home. Shangri-La’s Hambantota Golf Resort & Spa has an artisan village, which offers local craftsmen a place to sell their wares, including batik-painted fabrics and wooden boxes, and demonstrate their skills to guests.
GO THERE: Room rates at Shangri-La Hotel, Colombo from £135 per night. Room rates at Shangri-La’s Hambantota Golf Resort & Spa from £232 per night. Both rates are based on double occupancy and include all taxes and fees.