Luxury travel experiences in Sri Lanka will appeal to the explorer in you. A land of rolling tea plantations, ancient temples, lowland jungles and golden sands, this teardrop island country offers huge variety complemented by boutique luxury. Think leopard safaris with guides that know just how to track these elusive cats, historic monuments with insiders keen to share their fountain of local knowledge, boutique hotels with a handful of beautifully designed rooms, and remote highland villages where you’ll be welcomed in with open arms by curious locals.
Exploring Sri Lanka, you’ll find an abundance of exclusive experiences. And the luxury doesn’t end there. Service is at the core of luxury trip in Sri Lanka, and with it comes a choice of top-end hotels. Whether staying on an old tea estate, in a jungle lodge, or beach property, you’ll find delicious food and attentive staff.
Although small, Sri Lanka packs in a wealth of wonders, making this island nation a fine choice for a sabbatical – in fact, there are few places on Earth with so many UNESCO World Heritage Sites in such a modest area.
Not only will you find a ton of cultural sites, but there are wildlife safaris, tea plantations, rainforests, scenic train journeys, and mouthwatering cuisine to be enjoyed. A sabbatical in Sri Lanka offers a wonderful mix of luxury accommodation, culture, relaxation, adventure and nature.
Sri Lanka is also blessed with a shoreline that’s lapped by the Indian Ocean. Its beaches are perfect for a break – end your trip here or make it a focal point. There are surf beaches and swathes of golden sand with swaying palms. Choose relaxation or adventure. Or both.
Sri Lanka in pictures
How do I start planning sabbatical travel in Sri Lanka?
There’s a lot to think about when planning a sabbatical. One of the first things we like to think about is your motivation for taking a sabbatical and then the reasons you’re drawn to a specific destination.
That provides a great starting point for planning. But if you need more information, the research is a fun part of the planning phase. Coming up with a long list of ideas for places to visit, things to see, hotels to stay in and experiences to pack in helps to narrow it down. Logistics come much more easily when you can pinpoint the ideas that excite you most!
Hunker down with a great travel magazine, read some inspiring travel blogs, or watch your favourite travel shows to get more ideas.
Once you have that long list of ideas – from leopard safaris in Wilpattu to cookery classes in Colombo and tea picking in Nuwara Eliya – we can start to hone in on the accommodation, guides and the best route.
Whatever luxury means to you, you’ll find a hotel that fits the bill in Sri Lanka. Safari-style glamping on the shores of Weerawila Lake is a perfect base for wildlife expeditions into Yala, Lunugamwehera, and Bundala National Parks, each home to a delightful array of creatures – think leopards, elephants, crocodiles and hundreds of bird species.
Sri Lanka’s beaches boast a blend of modern and rustic properties, each with its own charms. We love KK Beach Hotel near Habaraduwa for its modern yet understated luxury. Meanwhile, the luxurious tented suites at Karpaha Sands are a touch more overstated, with indoor-outdoor bathrooms, four-poster beds, large bathtubs and handpicked furniture.
Then there’s the tea estates, harking back to Sri Lanka’s colonial history. Our favourite luxury properties here have been converted from old planters homes and blend the history with modern facilities and decor. Rosyth Estate House and Thotalagala sit on expansive tea plantations and are blessed with the most spectacular views across Sri Lanka’s tea country. Enjoy breakfasts on the lawn and walk across the rolling hills. For the ultimate in luxury, stay in Rosyth Estate’s Rock Villa.
Luxury experiences in Sri Lanka
Luxury comes in all its varied forms in Sri Lanka, from exclusive hotels and lodges to exclusive guiding and transport. Indulge in one of the many Ayurvedic spas or sip cocktails from a sparkling infinity pool. Swap road transfers for helicopter flights or seaplanes to make the most of the birds-eye views. And if you want to make your trip truly unforgettable, soar over Sirigiya in a hot-air balloon.
Guiding is also first class, and we work with handpicked guides that are brimming with local knowledge, whether it be cultural or natural.
Sri Lanka is a year-round destination but the monsoon season hits different parts of the island in different months, so you’ll want to plan accordingly. From late October to late February, the monsoons blow over the North and East of Sri Lanka – though the rains can reach the South and West, too (Usually in October and November).
The South and West monsoons tend to hit from April to September, with the most intense rainfall between April and June.
Sri Lanka is close to the equator, which means temperatures are relatively stable throughout the year. The coastal and lowland areas are warmer, averaging 26–30°C. During the hottest part of the day, they can often climb up well into the 30°Cs. Highland areas like Kandy and Tea Country average 18–22°C – evenings can get quite cool here.
If you’re coming for cultural events, Sri Lanka has a busy calendar of festivities and you’ll find celebrations every month of the year. The Kandy Esala Perahera (also known as The Festival of the Tooth) is a major highlight held in July and August each year.
Given the better all-island access nowadays you can always fine somewhere that is good for travel which makes Sri Lanka a possible year-round destination.
What’s the best way to travel around Sri Lanka?
Travel within Sri Lanka is pretty straightforward. For a lot of journeys, you can travel by road – we include air-conditioned vehicles with a private driver and guide in most of our itineraries. Some journeys are best enjoyed by train. The train from Kandy into Tea Country is often a highlight for first-time visitors to Sri Lanka as it’s a perfect way to enjoy the scenery and experience the country like a local.
For longer journeys, there are a couple of airlines that cover domestic routes by air taxi and seaplane. Private helicopters are also an option for some shorter journeys, should you wish to arrive in style.
Many of Sri Lanka’s luxury hotels have impressive sustainability credentials to boot. You’ll find hotels that support local wildlife initiatives, hotels built entirely from local materials, and a selection of tented options designed to reduce the impact on their surroundings.
There are many hotels that pitch themselves as “eco-friendly” but do little to advertise how. It pays to take note of which are actually working to do their bit for the planet.
Another way you can travel responsibly in Sri Lanka is by supporting local communities. Eating in local restaurants and supporting local economies is a fantastic way to give back.
Sri Lanka travel tips
Sri Lanka’s transport and infrastructure are well geared up for tourism but things can run at a leisurely pace. Come with an open mind and treat every journey as an experience – there’s plenty of impressive scenery to enjoy when travelling by land.
Portions of your trip may be in wild areas – Sri Lanka is known for its wildlife so bring a camera, your binoculars and your insect repellent. We also like to recommend you take eco-friendly suncream and insect repellent to help preserve the unique ecosystems.
Be mindful of what you pack for your trip, too. Remember that Sri Lanka can see large downpours when the monsoons hit, so you may need waterproofs. Light, long-sleeved shirts and long natural-coloured trousers are advised for safaris. There’s also lots of hiking available so you may wish to pack hiking boots or comfortable walking sandals.