Why you should visit: Sri Lanka’s cosmopolitan city is a must-visit destination for foodies. In recent years, Colombo has seen an explosion of stylish restaurants, hip cafes and pop-up eateries. It has an outstanding street-food reputation, with a plethora of mouthwatering choices throughout the city. In addition, Colombo is good for boutique shopping, especially around Galle Road and Viharamahadevi Park.
Where you should stay: The Wallawwa is a wonderfully spacious retreat just 20 minutes from the airport. It serves some of the best food we’ve ever tasted in Sri Lanka. The high-quality global fusion menu offers Balinese tuna skewers, amazing eggs Benedict, and sizable authentic curries. Front Office Manager, Mohamed Rilwan, says: “Expect to be thoroughly spoiled with free room upgrades, special offers on activities and, above all, individualised attention from the staff.”
Why you should visit: Historic Galle is top of our list for uncovering Sri Lanka’s colonial past. Located in the Southern Province, this UNESCO World Heritage city is renowned for its Dutch and Portuguese influenced architecture. The centre has an easy-going mood. It’s perfect for leisurely people-watching or catching the Sri Lankan cricket. You can also peruse some brilliant interior design shops.
Where you should stay: Why House is a bijou hideaway with tropical gardens and a personal touch. It’s an oasis of calm that reflects a genteel elegance. Think polished dark furniture, light airy rooms, glass-roofed bathrooms and private terraces. Guest Relations Manager, Henrietta Cottam, says: “We put on free tuk-tuks to our nearest beach, where lots of turtles have been spotted recently. The streets of Galle Fort are a little bit quieter, so an early morning wander is a sublime way to soak up its history.”
3 The Cultural Triangle
Why you should visit: The Cultural Triangle is crammed with some of Sri Lanka’s most awe-inspiring sites. Discover long-lost Buddhist dynasties’ remains, get drawn into the mysteries behind the Temple of the Tooth, gaze in awe at the UNESCO World Heritage Sigiriya rock fortress, or witness the illuminated walls of Dambulla Cave Temple. An absolute must for culture fans.
Where you should stay: Water Garden Sigiriya is a stylish water-lined hotel near the Cultural Triangle’s main sites. The roof terraces, dining areas and huge pool all face the Sigiriya rock fortress. You can admire it for hours (without the crowds). Hotel Director, Rohen Wijeyesekara, says: “One of our favourite seasonal excursions is to Minneriya National Park, a short drive away. Crowds of elephants congregate on the park’s reservoir, making this the largest amassing of Asian elephants in the world.”
4 Yala & The East Coast
Why you should visit: Yala National Park is one of the few places in the world where you have a sporting chance of spotting leopards in the wild. Look out for elephants, water buffalo and exotic water-birds. The East coast’s sandy beaches are perfect for sun worshippers. Note: the park is closed from 1 September to 31 October.
Where you should stay: Chena Huts is a truly luxurious lodge in leopard-rich Yala National Park. It boasts plush cabins, private plunge pools, all-inclusive gourmet food, and twice-daily safaris with (near) guaranteed sightings of the elusive big cat.
5 The West Coast
Why you should visit: The hugely popular West Coast is a true melting pot. You can find developed cities, uninhabited mangrove forests, watersports hotspots and a string of golden beaches. The glittering coastlines are perfect for dolphin-spotting.
Where you should stay: Kumu Beach is a small, relaxing beachside hotel with superb food and stylish rooms. Bentota (for watersports), the Madu Ganga wetlands (for nature) and Geoffrey Bawa’s beautiful lakeside estate are all a 30-minute drive away.
6 Kandy & Tea Country
Why you should visit: Loved by travel romantics and soul seekers, Kandy is a photographer’s dream. The green tea plantations lining its majestic hills are often coated in ethereal mists, and they provide the backdrop for one of the world’s most scenic train rides (from Ella to Kandy). Kandy boasts Sri Lanka’s most important festival: Esala Perahera.
Where you should stay: The Kandy House is a historic manor house converted into a luxury boutique hotel. A personal butler tends to your needs while you enjoy afternoon tea on colonnaded verandas (or by the pool). The botanical gardens are bountiful, attracting butterflies and birds. Tim Jacobson, Director of Manor House Concepts, says: “Our butlers will be pleased to guide you into Kandy and to other lesser-known sights, such as the Degaldoruwa Cave Temple. It has some fantastic 18th-century murals.”
7 The South Coast
Why you should visit: Because beach lovers will love Sri Lanka’s glorious south coast, where the living is oh-so-easy. These small palm-fringed bays are the ideal place for honeymooners or chilled family holidays. Be sure to snap see the famous stilt-fishermen at work at Ahangama.
Where you should stay: Abode Ahangama is a brand-new boutique hotel tucked away in a quiet corner of Ahangama, with just four tranquil rooms. We loved the Art Deco indoor-outdoor bathrooms, the wrought-iron canopies, and the cute wicker furniture. Fantastic value for money.
8 Tangalle & South East Coast
Why you should visit: Charming Tangalle is famous for being the gateway to Sri Lanka’s excursion-rich south-east region. Try birdwatching at Bandula National Park or elephant-spotting at Udawalawe National Park, and definitely catch the sunrise at Mulkirigala Rock Temple.
Where you should stay: Villa Don Hendrick is a gloriously intimate hideaway with just three bungalows in a sprawling natural environment. Owner Harold de Jong makes exquisite home-cooked dinners on request. We loved the personal yet unobtrusive service. All i-escape guests receive a specially-made welcome gift. Harold says: “If you need to unwind, our adult-only hideaway has large tropical grounds and a sophisticated ambience.”
Sensational beaches. Ancient temples. Irresistible hospitality. There’s never been a better time to visit Sri Lanka. Here are eight special places to consider for 2020