Make Your Next Trip Extraordinary

Miguel and his team did a great job on our trip. The Galle Face Hotel was a lovely choice and our historical walking tour of the Fort with Chirath was one of the highlights of the trip. They also arranged a half day of textile-related visits, including a weaving factory trip. We had a car and driver who stayed with us for the entire trip and added so many nice touches based on our interests. Overall a great trip — we can’t wait to plan the next one!

Travelers with the chef at their cooking class in Amanwella, Sri Lanka.

Jan Heininger and husband Jamie Reuter cooking with the chef of Amanwella.

We had a three-week trip to Sri Lanka in January/February 2024 planned by Miguel Cunat, aided by Nicola Watson. This very interesting trip covered almost the entire country from the Cultural Triangle with its archaeological ruins, cave temples and Buddhist sacred sites, its historic capitals of Anuradhapura and Kandy, its largest national park (Yala) famed for its leopards, its gorgeous Indian Ocean beaches, its colonial past displayed in the Galle Fort, and its myriad of agricultural products, especially tea and cinnamon. We especially thank our chauffeur/guide T.G (Thissa) Ranasinghe, who took wonderful care of us.

Miguel’s skill in putting our trip together started when he built in an extra day of rest after our arrival. I agreed to add in the day in spite of not thinking it necessary, until it was. A snowstorm delayed our departure from DC, causing us to miss our connecting flight in Doha. We end up with a 9-hour airport layover and didn’t get to our hotel until 4 am. We were very grateful to sleep late the next morning and snooze by the pool that afternoon. It began our process of recovering from the exhausting trip to get to Sri Lanka. Miguel also ensured that we had a flexible schedule. Thissa could say, “let’s stop and see that bird” or we could stop and taste a Golden coconut or visit a local market where we were introduced to many unfamiliar vegetables and fruits that are essential elements of Sri Lankan cuisine. Miguel had us stay in wonderful places including two Aman resorts on the south coast. At Amanwella, we took one of the best cooking classes we’ve ever had with the Executive Chef. As Amanwella was on the Indian Ocean, it was also a great place to just kick back, cancel everything and have a wonderful day reading on our huge terrace high above the Indian Ocean. At Amangalla in Galle Fort, we went for a bike ride in the countryside (beware of heat exhaustion), toured the Fort with a terrific local guide, and had a workshop making and painting traditional Sri Lankan masks. We also spent hours reading and lounging by Amangalla’s secluded pool, blissfully escaping from the heat and humidity. Miguel also booked us into Castlereagh, a five-room, former tea plantation manager’s bungalow. We were told to treat it like our home—just tell them what we wanted to eat and when. Our days in the tea country were a haven from our packed schedule in the Cultural Triangle and the daily heat and humidity.

Most important, Miguel directed us to Leopard Safaris for our three days at Yala National Park and booked the owner, Noel Rodrigo, a leopard expert, as our exclusive guide for our time there. We had no idea how important this decision would turn out to be. Unlike in Africa, no safari camps are inside Yala. That means all safari vehicles line up at one of the three Park entrances at 6 am. Once people get into the park, they drive in line frantically searching for a leopard—the chief reason people come there. Only 1% of the park is available for tourism. Most people take one safari into the park, or two at most (an afternoon and the next morning). Leopard Safaris is adjacent to the park and very close to a less-used park entrance. Most vehicles use a different entrance and have to travel up to an hour and a half just to get to the entry gate, especially if you stay at the high-end Wild Coast Tented Lodge. It was such a smart decision by Miguel to book our time exclusively with Noel Rodrigo. We spent most of our time on safari birding—and still saw four leopards. Noel told us he’d enjoyed the time because it gave him time to enjoy the park focusing on birding instead of making a frantic search for a leopard. Leopard Safaris is one of only two camps that have a ranger sitting with the guests, not isolated in an air-conditioned cab in front of them. It’s definitely the best place to stay.

Miguel set up wonderful experiences including the cooking class, a mask carving and painting workshop and visits to a cinnamon plantation and to a tea factory. He had us hike a segment of the Tea Trail where we interacted with women tea pickers and with kids and villagers we encountered along the way. We also had a private whale-watching trip from Mirissa. This is the best place in the world to see blue whales and sperm whales. Unfortunately, our catamaran crew told us that the monsoon season was late this year and the whales’ migratory patterns had shifted. They hadn’t seen blue or sperm whales in three weeks. Alas, neither did we, although we surely enjoyed our time on the boat. We think of this experience as having seen an example of climate change in action.

We could not have planned this trip by ourselves. Miguel has access to unique experiences. We spent an afternoon in Kandy with an artist and his artist daughter. Miguel directed us to accommodations he knew would meet our not-even-known-to-us needs. We’re especially grateful he sent us to Leopard Safaris. And very grateful for our wonderful chauffeur/guide. Thissa retrieved items we left behind, negotiated with the ground crew to ensure our seaplane took all the luggage we needed on the plane, and most important, kept the car stocked with Diet Coke—er, Coke Zero, for me. The night before we left Sri Lanka, we were lucky to have dinner with Miguel and his lovely wife. It was a treat to meet with and talk to the man who was behind our trip.

What makes Wendy’s trip specialists stand out from the usual run-of-the-mill travel agents is that they—and Miguel—listen carefully to what you’re looking for in a trip. They have access to experiences you could never find on your own and include things you had no idea you wanted and end up delighted you experienced them. The mask my husband carved from a block of balsa wood and the two we painted are off being framed right now and will always be physical reminders of our time in Sri Lanka.

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.

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