Luxury (wild) life

Wild elephants on dusty grass in Minneriya national park in Sri LankaWild elephants on dusty grass in Minneriya national park in Sri Lanka

Independent local travel advisor Jack Leaf presents a guide to Sri Lanka, an island in the Indian Ocean boasting elephants, leopards, sloths and whales... and luxury travel at very affordable prices.

Most first-time visitors to Sri Lanka would first experience the Cultural Triangle, which is best visited between April and September. First stop is Sigiriya, the fifth-century rock fortress, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and an optional climb to the Lion Rock – it'll zap you of precious energy but is worth it for the view.

Moving on to Polonnaruwa, the second capital of Sri Lanka, built in the 11th and 12th centuries and another UNESCO World Heritage Site, you'll enjoy the ruins of the palace and many other great buildings.

After your fix of history, it's time for Minneriya and 'The Gathering', the spectacle of seeing a herd of Asian elephants – 300 in number – converge at the huge reservoir lake. Nowhere else will you see a herd as numerous in number. Lots of birdlife and other wildlife abounds, including crocodiles!

Most visitors will want to escape the heat and enjoy a train journey from Kandy as it climbs the mountains way up to Nuwara Eliya. This journey to the Hill Country is one of the most scenic rides I have enjoyed, and when you pass Hatton, which still revels in its colonial past, you will see one tea plantation after another; the panoramic views from the train are like no other. And the cool refreshing air will soon have you appreciating why the locals affectionately refer to it as Little England. From Hatton, those of you with energy to burn can climb the magnificent Adam's Peak.

But it's leopard viewing that draws tourists to Sri Lanka, and in particular, to Yala National Park. Whilst a viewing of these elusive cats is not guaranteed, if you stay a couple of nights, a sighting becomes more probable, and you will see many other mammals including sloth bears, water buffalo and deer. Despite its small size, Sri Lanka boasts one of the highest rates of biological endemism in the world, whether in plants or animals, and is included among the top five biodiversity hotspots in the world. The ocean around Sri Lanka is home to large families of cetaceans, including the mighty blue whale, sperm whale and lively dolphins. Altogether, 26 species of cetaceans rule the waters surrounding the country, making it one of the best locations for whale and dolphin watching.

You have to finish your first visit with a stay in Tangalle, Bentota or Marissa for the beach and whale watching, and then end in Galle, which is the best preserved colonial town – full of colonial architecture, churches and the Dutch fort, fantastic boutique hotels of the highest standard, wonderful cuisine and endless shops.

jlJack is based in Snaresbrook – visit or call 020 8989 6764. For more information on Sri Lanka, visit

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