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Abu Dhabi & Sri Lanka trip with Etihad Airways & If Only
I travelled with Etihad airways from Heathrow direct to Abu Dhabi early on Friday 7th November, after a flight of 7 hours we arrived in Abu Dhabi – the immigration through the airport was swift and we were transferred by coach to the beautiful Ritz Carlton Hotel. Abu Dhabi is 4 hours ahead of us so when we arrived we had a quick drinks reception with some of the sales staff and then retreated to our beautiful deluxe rooms for a night’s sleep.
Sat 8th November
Breakfast was a very sociable buffet at 08.30 on the sunlit terrace before we headed out from the hotel for our first visit of the day to the Yas Marina Waterpark, this is similar to a Wet & Wild / Wild Wadi waterpark where you can purchase and all inclusive ticket for the day for approximately £40.00. After leaving Yas Marina Waterpark we headed a very short distance to Ferrari World,the worlds largest indoor theme park, many of the supercars are on show here along with engines etc. for the F1 enthusiasts, there are also a couple of simulator rides and Formula Rossa for thrill seekers – this ride takes you 0 – 240 km in less than 5 seconds, this one I didn’t try – a few from the group did and they said it felt like their brains were shaking – only for the brave!!!
Lunch was taken at the St Regis Sadiyat Island, which is a beautiful hotel on an endless stretch of white sand and attached to a Links Golf Course, the words that I
would use to describe this hotel is ‘understated elegance’ he grounds are so spacious and the public areas are just beautiful. We headed back to the Ritz Carlton via the Emirates Palace Hotel and the City later that afternoon where we had dinner.
Sun 9th November
Today was our last morning in Abu Dhabi, as a surprise, Greg from Etihad Airways who was accompanying us, arranged for us to have a visit to the Etihad Innovation Centre – here we saw the new A380 aircraft & the new 787 Dreamliner that are being launched December ’14. The Dreamliner will have 3 classes and the A380 will have 4 classes including the residence apartment with own walk in shower room and double bedroom.
Once we left the Innovation Centre we had time to visit the Grand Mosque before heading to the airport. The dress code for ladies at the mosque is extremely strict – ladies must have their legs and arms fully covered, and have their head covered with a scarf. The mosque is a magnificent sight even though it is a major attraction in Abu Dhabi it still a place of worship so it is best to check at your hotel before you go there as to opening times.
We travelled back to Abu Dhabi airport where we took a flight with Etihad to Colombo, Sri Lanka which took 4.5 hours. Again immigration in Colombo was fairly swift and we made our way by minibus for a quick 20 minute transfer to Negombo where we were spending our first night. We were first taken to the Jetwing Blue Hotel where we were having dinner (11.30 pm by this time), I can highly recommend the Sri Lanka curry, and then we walked down the beach 5 minutes to the hotel next door Jetwing Beach where we were staying the night.
Monday 10th November
A very early alarm call this morning 5.00 am as we had to leave early for our journey to Pinnawala Elephant Orphange, the journey takes about 2.5 hours and we wanted to be there for feeding time.
Pinnawala is home to 76 elephants, 44 were born at the orphanage. They are fed regularly through the day by both their keepers and visitors and twice daily walked through the village down to the river where they bathe and play for 2 hours at a time.
After we left Pinnawala we headed to Mawenella 35 minutes away to a Herb & Spice Garden, Sri Lankans use a lot of Ayurvedic Medicines and treatments which are taken from many of the plants and spices grown on the island, we visited the New Paradise Herb & Spice Gardens where we were given a tour of the gardens and explained how they used many of the plants for medicines.
We headed off again for a 45 minute drive to Kandy and the Cinnamon Citadel Hotel, which was our base for the night. Kandy is the second largest city in Sri Lanka after Colombo and was a previous Capital, Kandy is home to the Temple of the Tooth once of the most sacred places of worship for the Buddhist Religion.
After lunch at the Cinnamon Citadel we headed back into Kandy where we watched a Pooja which is a performance of local dances by both men & women with traditional music, we then visited Dalada Maligawa the magnificient shrine which houses the Temple of the Tooth, many Buddhist were there praying and making their offerings of flowers and food.
We made our way back to the Cinnamon Citadel in time for a drinks reception, tour of the hotel and then dinner.
Tuesday 11th November
An action packed day was ahead of us – I felt like Jungle Jane!!
We left the hotel early before for a 2 hour 45 minute drive up to Sigiriya, ‘The Lion Rock’. Sigiriya is a World Heritage Site, where according to Sri Lankan history centuries ago King Kasyapa built his palace on top of the rock to protect himself from enemies – today the remains of the palace are still visible on top of the rock. We successfully climbed to the top of the rock and made it down again in 2 hours – exhausted but and achievement.
We were then taken for lunch to the Jetwing Vil Uyana, an Eco Luxury hotel built amongs the reed beds and paddy fields in the shadow of Sigiriya. The accommodation has individual villas built over the lake, between the paddy fields or in the forest. A few of us had a very quick lunch and then went off to Habarana for an elephant ride around the lake. After a 45 minute ride we met up with the rest of the group and headed to Kaudulla National Park for an open top jeep safari; most animals were elusive but around 5.00 pm we headed over to the lake where there was a huge gathering of elephants in several large groups feeding and bathing. After spending around 30 minutes watching the elephants we headed back out of the national park to Kandalama for our nights stay at the Heritance Kandalama.
This is where I am brutally honest – this hotel was not for me, it was my worst nightmare!!
We arrived in the dark and entered through a long white corridor into an open reception, the hotel is built into the jungle and mountains – so there were numerous bugs, mosquitoes & bats flying around, our room overlooked the jungle with floor to ceiling windows in the bedroom and bathroom, so I promptly closed all blinds and they were not opened until daylight the following morning. I am sure nature lovers would really appreciate this hotel and the views during the day were beautiful but I will be sending my clients to a lovely hotel nearby in Habarana – The Cinnamon Lodge.
Wednesday 12th November
We left our hotel in Kandalama at 8.30 for a 20 minute drive to Dambulla where we had a short but steep walk up to the Dambulla Cave Temples, again another UNESCO World Heritage Site, where five individual caves have been carved out with various frescoes and buddha’s inside. We left Dambulla and after a very interesting and expensive visit to a batik factory in Matale we headed off on a long bus ride to Hatton and the tea plantations. The journey took just over 4 hours and I was slightly worried what the accommodation would be like after our previous night’s experience.
We were staying at the Ceylon Tea Trails in the Tientsin Bunglow, when we arrived I could only say ‘WOW’!!! This beautiful property was a former Tea Estate Managers house, it had 6 individually furnish bedrooms with four poster beds and rolls top baths, a beautiful reception room and dining room, stunning veranda to have breakfast or afternoon tea, landscaped gardens with croquet lawn and an infinity pool overlooking the hills. The Bungalows are on an All Inclusive basis with private dining and an open bar. We were in heaven – we even had our own chef, butler and 3 amazing waiters. Our stay here was far too short but still fabulous. I had never heard of Hatton for the tea route, usually would book people to Nuwara Eliya, but if the price is right I would highly recommend it.
Thursday 13th November
Had an amazing early morning swim at 6.00 am in the infinity pool overlooking the tea hills – was chilly but got us ready for the long journey ahead. After a wonderful freshly prepared breakfast we sadly left the Ceylon Tea Trails at 08.50 for our 5 hour journey down to Galle in the South of the Island. We arrived in Galle and headed straight to The Lighthouse Hotel where we had lunch and then a site inspection of the hotel, afterwards we drove into Galle where we had a walking tour of UNESCO World Heritage town, large parts of the town were devastated by the 2004 Tsunami but thankfully many of the historic buildings survived and now Galle is a bustling tourist centre. Late afternoon we headed back into the bus for a short 45 minute journey through to our last night’s accommodation. As they say we definitely saved the best until last – we stayed at the newly opened Cape Weligama, this property is a brand new development all individual villas with private pools and personal butlers. The communal areas were beautifully bright and spacious with a lovely A La Carte Dining Room, there is also a Japanese restaurant on site. The hotel is sold on a Half Board Plus basis so breakfast, lunch and drinks with meals plus all activities land or water based.
Friday 14th November
Our last day, we left Cape Weligama mid-morning for our journey back to Colombo, this now takes just over 2 hours since they built the motorway, previously it would have taken 4 – 5 hours. We arrived at the Mount Lavinia just in time for a late lunch and then a hotel inspection. Mount Lavinia is a hotel commonly used for either a first or last night’s stay to it being in Colombo – close to the airport. A word of caution – I would recommend Negombo if an overnight is required before you homebound flight, due to traffic in Colombo a 30 km journey 20km of which is on the motorway took us 2.5 hours!
After our visit to the Mount Lavinia we had a brief tour around the city of Colombo before we met with our ground agents Columbus Tours for afternoon tea at The Cinnamon Lakeside Colombo. After a quick freshen up and change we headed back on our long and stressful journey back to the airport where thankfully we just arrived in time! Our flight home from Colombo was again with Etihad with a brief 90 minute stopover in Abu Dhabi. We landed back into Heathrow early Saturday Morning.
I would highly recommend visiting Sri Lanka, and even stop via the Middle East if you have time.
We only had 5 nights to cover all that we did, due to the time it takes to travel anywhere I would definitely recommend that to do a similar itinerary to mine you would need at least 9 nights, more if you were to take in the National Parks in the South of Sri Lanka where the game viewing is better.
If you would like any ideas on itineraries or prices please feel free to contact me as I will happily give you as much information as I can, or will get the information from if Only if I don’t know.