Itin­er­ary

Lonely Planet (UK) - - Best Travel 2019 -

1 Ula­galla is around 4½ hours by car from Colombo’s Ban­daranaike In­ter­na­tional Air­port. It has lux­ury stilted cab­ins (pic­tured) spread out among for­est and rice pad­dies in a ru­ral set­ting; meals are served on the colon­naded ve­randa of the his­toric main house (from £155; ugaescapes.com/ ula­galla). It’s a 45-minute drive to the an­cient city of Anu­rad­ha­pura (en­try £20) and 30 min­utes to the hill­top tem­ple of Mi­hin­tale (£3.50).

2 Man­nar Is­land is worth a few hours’ ex­plo­ration at least. It’s pos­si­ble to see it as a de­tour be­tween Anu­rad­ha­pura (three hours away) and Jaffna (an­other three hours), but if you want to break the trip, stay at the smart Palmyrah House (from £115; palmyrah­house.com) – also great for a lunch stop – or if you’re keen to try kitesurf­ing, at the end-of-the-Earth haven of Vayu Re­sort (from £55; kitesurf­in­g­man­nar.com).

3 The Jetwing Jaffna opened in 2016 in the cen­tre of Jaffna. It’s a mod­ern tower with South Asian-in­spired dé­cor, buf­fet din­ners in its restau­rant (pic­tured) and a won­der­ful rooftop bar look­ing out over this sur­pris­ingly green city (from £70; jetwingho­tels.com/ jetwing­jaffna). An­other ho­tel, The Thin­nai, runs Thin­nai Or­ganic Farm in the coun­try­side north of the city – cook­ing cour­ses cost £27 (thethin­nai.com).

4 Most of Jaffna’s ar­chi­pel­ago is eas­ily ex­plored by road (thanks to cause­ways) or short ferry cross­ings. A day trip to Delft Is­land re­quires a bit more plan­ning as ferry depar­tures are fewer. These change reg­u­larly so it’s best to ask lo­cally, but be ready to leave Jaffna at dawn to ar­rive at Kurikad­duwan pier in time. There are very few places to stay on the is­land; Delft Sa­mu­dra is a new open­ing (from £30; delft­samu­dra.com).

5 There’s a wider choice of places to stay in and around Trin­co­ma­lee, 4½ hours’ drive from Jaffna. North of Trinco town, past Up­pu­veli and Nilaveli beaches, you’ll find Uga Jun­gle Beach Re­sort, which has its own se­cluded stretch of sand, cab­ins dot­ted around the name­sake thick­ets of trees, and a tim­ber-built, open-plan main build­ing, with a restau­rant serv­ing Western and Sri Lankan cui­sine (from £165; ugaescapes.com/jun­gle­beach).

6 The quick­est boat trips to Pi­geon Is­land Na­tional Park de­part from Nilaveli beach (park fee, boat trip and snorkel equip­ment hire around £30). Try to ar­rive on the is­land for snorkelling by 8.30am, as the wa­ter clar­ity re­duces dur­ing the day and vis­i­tor num­bers can be high around noon. For scuba div­ing in the area, try the Po­sei­don Div­ing Sta­tion on Nilaveli beach (two-tank boat dives from £65; div­ingsri­lanka.com).

7 Make time at the start or end of your jour­ney to see Colombo. Vis­i­tors of­ten rush past Sri Lanka’s cap­i­tal, but it has an in­trigu­ing mix of sur­viv­ing colo­nial ar­chi­tec­ture and var­ied lo­cal styles, plus bur­geon­ing moder­nity. Get there be­fore the vibe changes. You’ll find a more timeless ap­peal at Ma­ni­umpa­thy – a lovely 19th-cen­tury man­sion in Tamil style, with an­tique-filled rooms sur­round­ing a pool in the cen­tral court­yard (from £150; ma­ni­umpa­thy.com).

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