Unveiling the essence of Asia

WELCOME BACK! Sri Lanka is Now Open for Travel and Tourism


The Essentials of Sri Lanka

We have all been looking to the light at the end of the tunnel and now, finally, we can see it revealing Asian countries as the region slowly starts to re-open to travel and tourism. In this edition we are happy to announce the reopening of this South Asian Island nation, Sri Lanka.

Since October 31, 2021, Sri Lanka is welcoming visitors to its beautiful shores again. Open to most countries however all foreign visitors will need to acquire a visa, health insurance, and present a negative COVID-19 test result taken no longer than 72 hours before their trip. Fully vaccinated travellers, presenting a negative COVID-19 PCR test result and visiting from Sri Lanka’s list of approved countries, do not have to undergo a COVID-19 test on day 7 of their stay. Visitors who have travelled within the last 14days to South American countries, India, South Africa, Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland, Zambia or Zimbabwe are not permitted entry to Sri Lanka presently and until further notice.

Enchanting Sri Lanka offers visitors a dizzying array of sight and activities to see and do. From mountains to jungle and virgin forest, to the beach and the sea, Sri Lanka really has it all. Discover the rich culture and deep history in the ancient cities of Polonnaruwa and Anuradhapura. Head out on outdoor adventures such as leopard safaris, seeking out the forest elephants of Gal Oya National Park, bird watching or go big with whale watching. Climb the UNESCO world heritage site of Sigiriya or Lion Mountain – a breathtaking, literally during the climb, site of historical and religious importance with both a fort and a Buddhist monastery atop this monolithic pillar of rock. Swap stories with people of the forest dwelling Vedda tribe at the stunning Gal Oya Lodge. Sri Lanka’s first nation people, learn about their ancient ways of life and living in harmony with nature which are timely lessons for us all to learn. And so many more sights and activities beyond these highlights. Sri Lanka truly is a land of endless wonder and fascination.

Start planning your holidays and travels in this mesmerizing country with the help of the Secret Retreats’ concierges and look forward to a uniquely rewarding and unforgettable holiday in Sri Lanka.


Mannar Island, in Sri Lanka’s Northern Province, is an island off the coast of Mannar, linked to the mainland via a causeway that is also said to have once been connected to India through a chain of limestone shoals called Adam’s Bridge. Mannar Island is renowned for its absolutely stunning Hindu temples, churches and mosques, set amongst the island’s scenery of lagoons, lush greenery and sand banks which are also home to a rich variety of resident and migrant birds – the island is also home to the Vankalai Sanctuary for birds, protecting the islands wetlands and wetland birds. The waters around the island are equally rich in wildlife, with the star being the Sea Cow or Manatee – the animal believed to be the inspiration behind 100s of years of seafarers’ tall tales of mermaids.  Wander the streets of Mannar town, actually the capital of Mannar district, and discover the crumbling facades of 100s of years of history of the island, where stories are told in architecture of the Portuguese, the Dutch, the British and the Tamil people who have all called this pretty island home. The more you see of this hidden jewel, the deeper you’ll want to dig.

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Look in awe at some of the South Asia’s most evocative historical sights touring Sri Lanka’s cultural triangle. From the sacred city of Anuradhapura in the north, then head south to the ancient cave temples at Dambulla, and completing the 3rd point of the triangle, with a stop along the way at Sigiriya, by heading east to another of Sri Lanka’s important ancient cities, Polonnaruwa.

Anuradhapura, a sacred city of well-preserved ruins and monuments dating back more than 2,000years, is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world today. The old city of Anuradhapura is a sprawling complex of archaeological and architectural wonders. One of Sri Lanka’s 8 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the city was once the centre of Theravada Buddhism and is home to a holy tree that was grown from a cutting from Siddhartha Gautama’s (the Buddha) ‘tree of enlightenment’. The cutting, planted in the city in 345BC, was taken from the Pipal, Bo, Bodhi or Sacred Fig tree in Bodh Gaya beneath which the Buddha is believed to have achieved enlightenment. Enormous dagobas (brick stupas), palaces, ancient pools and crumbling temples, built over the combined reigns of more than 120 of Sri Lanka’s kings, all compete for your awe, wonder, and for space on your camera’s hard drive.

Moving south to the cave temples at Dambulla, this holy site is another of this amazing country’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Sri Lankans have been using the caves since prehistoric times, today more than 80 of these caves are dedicated to Buddhism, set with Buddhist murals, stupa and statuary, there are said to be more than 150 statues of the Buddha in these cave temples. The Dambulla cave monastery comprises 5 main caves and has been in use since at least the 1st Century BC. Heading east from Dambulla to complete the 3 points of the triangle a diversion inside the triangle to Sigiriya is a Sri Lanka essential. The igneous pillar of rock known as Sigiriya or Lion Rock earned its name from the enormous lion which greeted visitors halfway up the rock. Carved in the rock perhaps as a gateway guardian to the Sigiriya, the lion long served both to welcome visitors and warn enemies. Sigiriya was home to a palace and a fortress. The palace and fort perched atop this enigmatic rock featured five gates and measured just under two miles wide by just over a half-mile long. Sirigiya was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982.

We complete the cultural triangle at the city of Polonnaruwa. Made a UNESCO World Heritage Site the same year as Lion Rock, this ancient city is famed for being one of Sri Lanka’s most beautiful and cleanest cities. Founded as the first city (capital) by the Sinhalese over 1,000years ago after the sacking of Anuradhapura in 993 by the Pandyas (ancient dynasty of Tamils from Southern India). Referred to as a Garden City, the city planning and construction of Polonnaruwa is renowned for its beauty making the enigmatic ruins a photographer’s paradise. If you end your triangle tour at the north then a trip to the National Park of Wilpattu is highly recommended. Or perhaps end your triangle to the south and head to another of Sri Lanka’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the ancient city of Kandy before heading east to one of Sri Lanka’s off the beaten path, and all the better for it, National Parks at Gal Oya.


Sri Lanka, thanks to its great diversity of habitats, is home to an incredible diversity of flora and fauna. Depending on which study you read, the numbers are never in agreement (are they ever? what do you call a group of scientists? – An argument), Sri Lanka boasts around 100 species of mammal, 7,500 different plant species, and more than 400 (some say more than 500) species of birds. Sri Lanka also has one of the highest rates of biological endemism in the world today too. In a land of so many natural wonders it is most pleasing to know that Si Lankan’s value their wildlife and wild country, and they have set aside an incredible 26% of Sri Lanka’s total land area for nature in the form of a variety of protected areas including sanctuaries, biosphere reserves and National Parks – one of the highest percentages set aside in the world.

If we are talking wildlife then we have to mention Sri Lanka’s Big Five, and this list might surprise you. The Big Five, typical safari parlance to denote the superstar animals within an area, the ‘must try to see’ animals (with ‘try’ being the operative word, as most of the world’s wondrous beasts wouldn’t have survived to today – for scientists to try to count them – by being easy to see now would they…maybe that’s why the counts never agree) in Sri Lanka we are looking for Leopards (always a good idea to try and spot one before it spots you…pun intended), Sloth Bears (they might be slow but they are masters of disguise, never let them near your dressing-up box), Elephants, Sperm Whales, and the largest mammal alive today, the absolutely awesome Blue Whale.

The crowning jewel for wildlife lovers on holiday in Sri Lanka is though typically the leopard. And as incredibly stealthy as leopards are, if you are on a leopard safari in Sri Lanka you are very very likely to encounter one of these big cats…and safely, without having to present yourself as bait (always a good idea to pay your bills without argument when on safari). The highest population density of leopards in Sri Lanka’s National Parks is at Yala National Park, and if guided by the excellent Noel Rodrigo’s Leopard Safari seeing these beautiful and often elusive animals in the wild is almost guaranteed. Glamping on the edge of the park in their luxurious safari tents you will make 2 expertly guided safaris a day into Yala. The team also have a site at Wilpattu National Park which aside from leopards is a great place to see the sloth bear.

Gal Oya National Park is Sri Lanka’s oldest National Park, one of the biggest too, and home to the country’s biggest lake, Senanayake Samudra Lake. Located off the well-trodden path of the tourist industry it is certainly one of the quietest (for tourism) parks in the country too and the abundance of the animal and birdlife are testament to this. A stay at the gorgeous Gal Oya Lodge on the edge of the park is the perfect way to experience and enjoy this incredible place. With 10 comfortable bungalows set within more than 20acres of private forest Gal Oya Lodge makes the perfect home base for Sri Lanka wildlife holiday. The lodge team also work closely with the indigenous forest dwelling Vedda tribe, Sri Lanka’s first nation, who will guide guests on forest walks, safaris and to meet the tribe to learn about their ancient way of life. Bird watching is excellent at Gal Oya but the highlight has to be the Gal Oya elephants and their famed behaviour of swimming in the lake going from island to island for fresh grazing grounds. Another of Sri Lanka’s elephant wonders is The Gathering. Considered one of the world’s top ten wildlife spectacles, the wild elephants of Minneriya National Park gather at the park’s lake in an enormous herd of more than 400 head of elephants around the months of July to October, the dry season for Central and Northern Sri Lanka.

And the animals just get bigger, and they don’t get any bigger than the Sperm Whale and the mighty Blue Whale. These ocean giants are found off the southern coast from December to April. It was originally believed that Blue Whales migrated to Sri Lanka’s coast for feeding, but studies have shown that there is a Blue Whale population off Sri Lanka all year-round, but they come closer to shore for feeding from December to April. With the steep drop of the continental shelf off the southern and eastern coast of Sri Lanka, great cold currents draft up from the ocean depths pushing huge volumes of krill and plankton to the surface. This is what makes southern Sri Lanka such a fantastic place for whale watching. Sperm Whales are also a year-round resident, along with spinner dolphins and a variety of other whale species, and again a good time for whale watching is in the Blue Whale season. Tours are organized from the southern and north-eastern respectively coastal towns of Mirissa and Trincomalee for both the Blue and the Sperm whales. And Kalpitiya, on the western coast, is also considered one of the world’s best spots for Sperm Whale watching.

And staying in the south there is one last wildlife site worth a mention, and it has to be Sinharaja in the southern lowlands of Sri Lanka. Again, another of Sri Lanka’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the Sinharaja Forest Reserve was made both a Biosphere Reserve and a World Heritage Site. Nearly 40square miles of virgin forest, the reserve is home to more than 140 species of birds, and with 21 out of 26 bird species endemic to Sri Lanka found here too. Magnificent Crested Serpent Eagles and Changeable Hawk-Eagles, Flamingoes, Hornbills, Parrots, Parakeets, Fly Catchers, Owls and Owlets, and colourful Woodpeckers and Kingfishers to name just a few. This rich endemism of Sinharaja is not restricted to birds alone, more than 60% of the trees here are both endemics and rare.


Sunscreen at the ready, it’s time to head to the glorious golden sands and beautiful beaches of the southern coast. With coconut palm-lined beaches, turquoise seas, sublime curved lost bays, and sunsets to get engaged to, Sri Lanka’s coast and beaches have all the ingredients you need for a truly wonderful beach holiday to rival anywhere else in Asia.

Grab your surfboard and explore surf spots for all levels. Search for deeper blue, get your snorkel or scuba-dive equipment on, back roll entry into warm water and encounter Sri Lanka’s abundant sea life up close, explore the healthy reefs with their surprising and colourful inhabitants. Leave footsteps on sunrise beach walks as you watch fishermen coming back from their night-out at sea. Live in the moment, at peace with the world.

The beach at Arugam Bay, on Sri Lanka’s dry south-east coast, is the stuff of dreams for advertising execs trying to sell Bounty chocolate bars. The local villagers have long held off the march of corporate tourism and kept their slice of paradise free of major development and big branded businesses. Castor-sugar-soft sands, coconut palms bowing lazily in the breeze, and being largely off the tourist radar tranquility is assured but for the whoops and whooshes of surfers riding the revered point break – considered one of Sri Lanka’s best waves.

Mirissa, while famed for the whale watching just off the coast also has a fine beach. Palm fringed sands and a sea good for swimming and some gentle waves for trying your hand at surfing perhaps. An arrow shaped coast with scattered rocky crags snorkeling is also possible here with 5 good spots for sea life spotting. It is a charming beach and not overly developed with most of the development focused on catering to the whale watching tours.

And for a different kind of beach life why not head to Negombo beach. On Sri Lanka’s west coast, the beach is home to a Christian community of fisherfolk. Occupied by the Portuguese in the early 16th Century for its excellent protected mooring – a shallow lagoon – they established both a trading port and protected it all with a military fort. Spice trading and fishing were key trades, particularly cinnamon. Traditional fishing is still practiced here today with catamarans and out-rigger canoes, and the lagoon crab and lobster are a must taste delicacy when visiting Negombo.

Visiting Negombo is easy when combined with a stay at Ambarella Lodge, located near Negombo and just 25minutes from Columbo Airport. The lodge is very convenient for stays both at the start of your holiday to Sri Lanka, or pre departure. Your long-haul flight timings to and from Sri Lanka are often late evening and early morning so having a delightful garden lodge set within a coconut grove and spice garden is the perfect way to relax post or preflight. Immersed in nature, close to Negombo to enjoy the beach life and local culture, and very convenient for Columbo Airport, Ambarella Lodge is the perfect choice for arrival and pre-departure stays on a Sri Lanka tour and holiday.

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In sharing our Asian homes with travellers, Secret Retreats strive to ensure that each and every footprint placed in our destinations leaves a positive impact on our local community and environment in supporting our efforts in sustainability and conservation. Contact our concierge and find out how you can experience luxury travel and still leave positive impact to the world.

And Welcome Back to Asia!

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