Make Your Next Trip Extraordinary

Travelers on Peradeniya Botanical Garden's Avenue of Royal Palms, Sri Lanka.

Pam Greenstein and family on Peradeniya Botanical Garden’s Avenue of Royal Palms.

We had an incredible vacation to Sri Lanka over the Christmas holidays with our two daughters, ages 21 and 18. We had just celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary and wanted to do something special with them. We were there for 2.5 weeks and stayed in 9 different boutique hotels. They were all fantastic! Our guide was absolutely outstanding. He added so much to the trip by getting us into various cultural events, restaurants, markets, and experiences. We never had to wait in line! He was also very caring with our girls when they were tired and needed a break. His passion for the country was instrumental in our learning about the culture and history, and eating incredible food. Unfortunately, we had a lot of rain, which was unusual for the time of year. He was able to be flexible and change our plans accordingly. We saw beautiful Buddha temples, rode the famous train to see the incredible topography, learned all about tea country, hiked mountains with spectacular views, went on a jeep safari and got up close to elephants, leopards and water buffalos; rode bikes through rice paddies, had a wonderful massage and sauna, toured a gem mine to see how they make beautiful jewelry, and swam with the sea turtles. The highlight was our farm-to-table cooking class, picking fresh vegetables at the market and then making Sri Lankan rice and curry dishes with local chefs. It was fun and delicious.

We had various anniversary cards, cakes, and champagne when we arrived at our hotels, such a warm and caring gesture from the staff. This was our third trip working with Wendy and her team, and as usual, they did an outstanding job connecting us to someone who could plan every detail.

We recently returned from a three-country group tour (India, Sri Lanka, the Maldives), for which we were the organizers and leaders. We used three different travel planners from The WOW List, one for each country.

Our trip to Sri Lanka was a great success. All of our group participants were extremely pleased with our experiences, hotels, meals and our guide Dilan.

Two years passed from the first contact with Miguel to the actual trip, due to Covid and the economic and political situation in the country. During that time our group size fluctuated, necessitating numerous reviews and re-jiggering. Our first contact was with Miguel, and as much time passed, we ended up working with Andrea, and then Donovan. Donovan was extremely helpful and patient with all of the ups and downs and the repeated requests to modify our group size. Whenever we asked questions and requested details, his responses were always very thorough and informative.

There were many highlights of the trip. One of them was a general lack of other tourists, which is bad for the country but excellent for us. We would highly recommend Sri Lanka as a destination and would encourage others to visit without hesitation. While there was some political unrest last year, we felt perfectly safe at all times.

Our two nights in the high tea country were a definite highlight, as was a fabulous farewell dinner. The private dinner was arranged even though the venue has a 7- to 8-month waiting list for reservations. All of our accommodations were exceptional.

Based on our experience, I would certainly recommend working with Miguel and his team.

We spent two weeks in Sri Lanka and loved it. The unrest caused by the economic crisis has subsided to nothing and tourist infrastructure is protected by the government. That means you or your driver can easily get gas. The country and the tourist industry workers desperately need hard currency. We could easily have spent another week and plan to go back at some point. We strongly recommend the destination for travelers, of all ages, who want to experience more of Asia. The millennia-long historical connection to India is apparent, but it is definitely not India. India overwhelms; Sri Lanka seduces. We found so much to enjoy: history, tea country, food, and nature (beautiful scenery, hiking and wildlife), and of course, the warm and friendly people, many of whom speak English. It is a place that one could navigate on one’s own, but you would miss so much!

This proud country has a long history with different kingdoms and their capitols dating back thousands of years. We really enjoyed visiting the ancient sites of Sigiriya and Polonnaruwa, as well as the sacred caves of Dambulla, where worship first started in the third century B.C.E. and which are active today. The colonial history was also quite interesting, from the British introduction of tea in the hill country to the old Portuguese/Dutch/British fort of Galle in the south. The hill country was stunningly beautiful and a delightful temperature. We visited both a commercial tea factory, using machinery 150 years old, and a boutique one called Amba, which Miguel’s office arranged for us to visit. The contrast was fascinating. It was pleasure to be away from the heat and humidity found at sea level.

Tea country starts in Kandy, the last kingdom of Sri Lanka before the British conquered the country. It’s a lovely city and the key attraction is the Buddha’s Tooth Temple. Our guide/driver took us for the evening puja, and it was a fascinating experience. I cannot imagine doing that without him to lead us.

From Kandy one can take the train through tea country all the way to Ella. We chose to drive from Kandy to a point about halfway to Ella and take the train from there to the Ella area. The drive through the tea plantations was a highlight, as was the stop at the Damro factory. The downside is that the afternoon train encountered fog, as it often does, and our visibility was limited. Also of note, we saw more vegetable gardens than tea plantations from the train.

We planned a 3-night stay in tea country with a work day, but ended up at a somewhat primitive cottage with bad internet at the top of a mountain. It was not what we expected, or wanted for that matter. We asked to move for the 3rd night and were very happy with the property in Ella, a charming if somewhat touristy town.

I should add that “going with the flow” makes travel better anywhere, and that is certainly true in Sri Lanka. As we were stuck at this mountaintop camp, I asked if I could watch the staff cook dinner and I ended up with a wonderful cooking lesson and very enjoyable experience.

One of our trip highlights was the animal safari in Yala National Park with Wild Ceylon Safari group. The experience was very much like one has in Africa. We saw wild elephant, leopards, wild boar, water buffalo (domestic and wild), jackals, two kinds of deer, and lots of interesting birds. We were the only guests in camp and were treated like royalty. The guides, Arran and Angi, were excellent. Their knowledge was impressive and they were eager to share. We also booked a morning birding at the neighboring national park, Bundala. It is a highly-protected and well-known wetland. We failed to understand that in addition to the tracker we were required to book, Donovan, our trip planner, should have booked a professional guide to accompany us. The tracker’s English was non-existent and he did not even bring binoculars. Although we saw over 50 species of birds, it was incredibly difficult to sort it all out.

Galle was worth the 3 nights that we spent there. The history of the Fort, and all those occupying forces, is fascinating. One day we went to a nearby beach, which was fun.

Colombo was not originally on our itinerary, but we are glad that we added it. Donavan arranged for a local historian to take us on a walking tour of the old Fort area, where so much of Colombo began. It was incredibly interesting to see the history and wealth of the island and what its future could be. Plus, Colombo is a lovely modern city.

Overall, the island reminded us of Bali outside of the heavily touristed areas, and, if you liked Bali, you should like Sri Lanka. The food is more varied and, to our minds, better. However, the tourist infrastructure in Sri Lanka is a little less developed, and accommodations range from luxury to not quite ready for prime time. Be clear about what you want when you plan, and be ready to roll with the punches as needed.

We felt that Donovan did a good job but made a couple of “rookie” mistakes, that we had no way to sort out in advance and ask for something different. He was quite responsive and we benefitted from the back and forth. To their credit, when we were unhappy with the accomodation in the tea country mountains, they handled it well.

The one activity that we would have skipped for more time in Kandy was a private spice garden tour. We had seen something similar in Bali and this was far less commercial, but seeing a vine with vanilla growing on it remains the same. However, the lunch there was excellent and restaurants outside of heavily touristed areas are hard to find.

Miguel’s deputy Andrea Goonesekera planned our trip to Sri Lanka perfectly. She asked us what we liked to do, what we wanted to see, and helped pick activities that were interesting, exciting, and very special. We met people and experienced activities we wouldn’t have known about or had access to without Andrea’s help. When we decided not to participate in an activity later in our trip, she cancelled it with no problem. Our driver Daminda was friendly, competent, and made us feel safe and confident everywhere we went. It was truly a vacation of a lifetime.

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