Sri Lanka in five nights

It is virtually impossible to see Sri Lanka completely and comprehensively
in just five nights. Unless, of course, we fly you around in sea planes and
helicopters. There is a scheduled sea plane service that connects various parts
of the island that isn’t expensive and works wonderfully well. Naturally, the
exact plan for the first day would depend on the time of your arrival; but the
scheduled flights to the Cultural Triangle and to Kandy will put you in the
ancient heart of Sri Lanka in a heartbeat, saving you a four-hour drive. This,
in my opinion, would be the ideal way to start your trip – not least because
nothing beats a bird’s eye view of the tropical paradise that is Sri Lanka. But
let me backtrack a little and paint you an overall picture before getting into
operational details.
The ancient capital of Anuradhapura

Sri Lanka is incredibly varied and diverse. It is a country
that has a history that goes back thousands of years with its own unique heritage
and rich culture. That said, it is a country through which 24 civilizations
(dynasties?) have passed. A friend archeologist who recently alerted me to this
fact said that it is impossible to talk about Sri Lankan history without
casting a much wider net and approaching the subject from a regional
perspective. Among the forces that have shaped the county’s identity and
character is, of course, Buddhism and, in particular, the custodianship of the
tooth relic of the Buddha for over two millennia (the Temple of the Tooth in
Kandy is one of the most sacred pilgrimage sites in the world). The great east
and west trading routes for both spices and textiles as well as the geography
of the island have played a huge role in shaping its history. The entire
country is one giant botanical garden. Everything grows in Sri Lanka; the land
is incredibly fertile and food and water is plentiful. Today, Sri Lanka is the
second largest exporter of tea in the world, and the largest exporter of

Sri Lanka was a tremendous asset to the Portuguese, the
Dutch and the British, each colonizer nation left its mark on the people and
the land adding to the diversity and to the general mix of things here. In
today’s global geopolitics, Sri Lanka is at a crossroads (namely China, India
and the west).
Another little known fact is that Sri Lanka is home to the
highest density of leopard in the world. We also have elephants, bears, sperm
whales and blue whales, and 33 endemic species of birds. It is truly one of the
most bio-diverse places on the planet.
In order to grasp the significance of Sri Lanka and the
interplay of all this, there are various places in the country that you need to
visit even within the short spell of time you will be here. The devil is in the
details (or planning) and the people you meet.

A trip around Sri Lanka is always best planned in a
clockwise fashion – starting from the center north and then working your way
down through the mountains/tea plantations to the south. Unfortunately, a visit
to Yala National Park (where the probability of seeing leopard is approximately
75% over a 1 night stay) might be a little out of the way and difficult to
include on a five-night trip. On arrival, I would head up to the Cultural
Triangle to see the remains of Sri Lanka’s ancient civilization – Sigiriya Rock
at the very least, if possible also the Dambulla Cave Temples, both UNESCO
Heritage sites. One night would do. We can try to fly you there in roughly 45
minutes. (This will, again, depend on the time of your arrival. Keep in mind
that it would be a four-hour drive, otherwise). From here, we need to organize
a chauffeur/guide to take you to Kan

dy. En route, you can stop for lunch at the
home of Ena de Silva, who runs a a fantastic cooperative of local village folk
who team up to cook a spread of 22 curries: hands down the best food in Sri
Lanka. In the evening, a visit the Temple of the Tooth – UNESCO World Heritage
site – is highly recommended. The following morning, check out the Royal
Botanical Gardens with a learned Professor of Botany named Bandara Palipana,
and then fly back to Colombo city via sea plane (45 minutes again). That’s the
‘center north’ covered.

The Temple of the Tooth


Here onwards, you could drive down the coast to Tangalle (if
you wish) and spend a night at the AMAN (note that beaches are beaches anywhere
in the tropics and technically you
need not go to Tangalle if you would rather your trip’s focus be on culture and
people; but, of course, it is an option if you wish to rest a little). The
drive from Colombo to Tangalle is three hours, approximately. Overnight stay in
Tangalle (that would be night number 3) giving us two more nights.
Hotel Amangalla

I would then head to Galle, yet another UNESCO site. En
route, you may visit Herman Gunaratne’s tea plantation and have a cup of tea
with the man, who just so happens to be a living legend in the tea trade. And
then, lunch at Villa Mayurana, a Cinnamon Plantation, followed by a visit to
the plantation itself. In the late afternoon, head to Galle Fort and check into
AMANGALLA. There you will find a renowned author by the name of Juliet Coombe
who can show you around. She is full of stories and anecdotes about the fort
and its Dutch heritage. Overnight at the AMAN.

The next day, I would head back to Colombo, possibly
stopping en route to have lunch at Lunuganga, the home of the late great
Geoffrey Bawa – father of an architecture style called ‘tropical modernism’.
His home and gardens are stunning, to say the least. The drive to Lunuganga from
Galle takes one hour, and from Lunuganga to Colombo takes another 1.5 hours,
approximately. It is important to try and get to Colombo in the early afternoon.

Colombo is where you will take the pulse of the nation in
terms of where it’s at economically, socially and culturally, and how Sri Lanka
is faring in an increasingly ‘globalized’ world. There are a few great shops and
department stores and an array of high quality restaurants that would make for
a fun and interesting last hoorah! Your flight back home will take off either late
that evening or the next morning.

So that’s that, in a nutshell.
  • Day 1 – Cultural Triangle
  • Day 2 – Kandy
  • Day 3 – Tangalle
  • Day 4 – Galle
  • Day 5 – Colombo
A bit crazy, perhaps – but doable and fun, and in-style as well.