The Royal Botanic Gardens in Kandy is one of the largest botanical gardens I have visited. It is so large; you can rent a golf cart to take you around. I opted to walk so that I could take photos. Most of it is like a large park instead of a garden. Given the size and the heat, I only stayed for about an hour and made a plan based on the map. The highlight for me is the orchid house! It also has the largest bamboo I have ever seen.
Driving down the dirt road, you have no idea there is a luxury hotel waiting for you at the end. You almost have to reach the end of the road before you can see any of it come into view. Then the top of the hotel peaks out and the road curves up a hill, and there is the Heritance Kandalama hotel. Well, what isn’t hidden in the jungle.
Never I have seen a hotel like it before. It almost looks like the hotel time forgot with vines hanging down the front of the building. The hotel is built around the rock face facing the Kandalama Reservoir. The hotel was built by Sri Lankan architect, Geoffrey Bawa. He designed it to blend in with nature allowing it to envelop the hotel and for waters and animals to be able to go under and around it.
Hallways of the hotel are open to surrounding rock face and the room balconies face the jungle. There are even signs on the doors warning you to keep them shut so that monkeys do not get it. Nature truly surrounds the hotel. While there I saw monkeys, huge squirrels, hawks, cranes, starlings, other birds and a centipede! (None in my room, though.) Not all of it was wonderful, though. Keep reading to find out why.
Every room has a balcony overlooking the reservoir at different heights. One wind faces Dambulla and the other Sigiriya. On a clear day, you can see Sigiriya Rock.
The rooms are decorated in dark tones that match the surrounding nature. My room was a deluxe room, which is the most basic room. It was on the smaller side, but since it was just me, I did not mind. The bed was very comfortable, and the air conditioning worked so well, I had to turn it off! However, the dark tones that look so nice during the day make it difficult to see anything in the room at night since the overhead lighting is not adequate.
My bathroom also had large windows facing out to the reservoir, which gave it the feeling of showering outside. As I discovered early on in my trip to Sri Lanka, the water faucets work the opposite way of what I am used to, and it did take some time for the hot water to arrive.
Due to the threat of monkeys and mosquitos, I did not spend to much time outside on the balcony. I spotted many monkeys hanging out on the hotel and around one of the pools! Overall, the rooms were nice, comfortable and clean.
There are three pools! Each pool is on a different level and has different scenery. I elected not to swim since I was not sure the water was warm enough for my now thin blood! And I wasn’t going to swim at the one where I saw the monkeys.
Located on the 6th floor was a wonderful lounge area with ample seating. You could spend several hours reading on these couches. If you are lacking reading material, there is a library on the top floor that you can take a book left by others.
There is also a Six Senses Spa on site. I never ventured down that wing to see what it looked like though. I was too busy looking for elephants and monkeys! Not only that, but this hotel is supposedly a mile long from end-to-end. I wasn’t going to walk a mile to get to the spa.
This was one of my complaints. The hotel is isolated and there isn’t any option but to eat at the hotel unless you want to take the 20-minute ride down the dirt road to the tiny town. There are only two options in the hotel as well. One is a buffet dinner and one a sit-down. I opted for the buffet both evenings because I was pretty tired each day. Both nights I was disappointed. The food the first night was terrible. The second night it improved, but given the amazing food of Sri Lanka, I was sad to find out that very few Sri Lankan options were offered. The breakfast was better, but the meat was being served outside with the bugs.
My last morning, I decided to walk down to the reservoir’s edge. I had been told it was safe. I was looking to get some shots of wildlife at a different angle. Instead, I was greeted with a huge disappointment. Chained up by the reservoir was an elephant for riding! I was almost in tears. The elephant scared me as I didn’t know he was there and was chained. He or she looked mad! I couldn’t believe the LEED certified hotel had an elephant chained up. I have written a letter of complaint to the hotel.
For this reason, I cannot recommend you stay at the hotel. A friend of mine told me after she found out I stayed there, that she stayed there last year and the elephant was there then! If the hotel writes me back with a positive response, I will update this post.
Update: The hotel responded to my email with some positive things. I won’t copy and paste the whole email as it is long. Basically, they know it is an issue. They have to change it from riding the elephant to walking with the elephant. The hotel does not own the elephant and leases her and chooses to do so they can keep an eye on her to make sure she is being cared for properly. They were happy to receive feedback to share with the person that owns her and help convince him to change his ways. As I say about anything, change takes time, and the hotel and I understand that. The asked me to write back with any ideas or suggestions regarding this. I will be asking for the elephant not to be chained and not kept in such a confined area. I am so happy they responded and have taken action!
Seeing elephants in the wild has been one of my biggest dreams for a long time. All the elephants I have seen have been in zoos, which isn’t the same. When I learned there was a park in Sri Lanka where I could possibly see wild elephants, it became the must-see there. There are several national parks within Sri Lanka where you can see wild elephants. Make sure the park you are visiting is actually a national park with wild elephants and not an elephant amusement park. These parks do not always treat their elephants they way they should be treated. Minneriya National Park does not fence or chain their elephants. They are free to roam, but do get assistance if needed.
Minneriya National Park
We bumped along the dirt road in the open top Jeep-style vehicle hoping to sight an elephant on the way in. I stood up despite feeling like I was being beaten up by the car. The driver had eyes like a hawk and kept spotting animals in the trees and on the ground. Eventually, he stopped as he spotted three elephants in the jungle. Two adults and a baby!
After admiring them for a few minutes, we moved on. The road into where the elephants gather is a bit longer than I expected. I stood the whole way hoping to see more elephants in the green foliage. Then suddenly the jungle disappears and in front of you is the Minneriya tank, which if you didn’t know better you would think it was a lake.
Turning towards the lake, we immediately spotted a herd of elephants! About 10-12 elephants were shading themselves under a group of trees. Several babies were running around the adults. A few times the elephants walked over to the tank to spray themselves with water and have a drink. Then they would meander back to the shade of the tree.
On a slow march from the jungle came more elephants from the left of us. At first, we thought it was just a few, but as they emerged, we realized it was a much larger group of about 25. There were much younger babies in this group. They were just grazing away and didn’t seem to be interested in the water.
We watched these two groups of elephants for awhile, but we wanted to see what else was around. This allowed us to get closer to all the many birds I had spotted hanging out around the elephants.
Seeing the elephants was truly the highlight of my trip to Sri Lanka, and I could have watched them for hours.
Most people drive to the area around Minneriya National Park, such as Dambulla or Sigiriya. If you are staying in a hotel nearby, they may be able to take you on a tour, or you can hire a driver to take you. Once you arrive, you will have to hire an off-road vehicle and a driver. They vary in cost by comfort level. I suggest going in the morning as many people head there after going to Sigiriya Rock and when I left the park at one we passed twenty cars going in and the elephants might leave if they see that many people.
Every once and while when I travel I run across the unexpected and the surprising. Many times these are hidden gems. They could be lesser known destinations, an unexpected hotel or a travel experience. Many times they may only be a hidden gem to you and not necessarily to others.
Slovenia – Slovenia is a hidden gem to most people even those who know of the famous Lake Bled and its church. What struck me the most was the beauty of Slovenia. It hits you right as you walk out of the doors of the airport where snowy peaks greet you with green pastures below.
Driving from Ljubliana to Radenci, the green pastures and mountains continued, but I also saw lots of fields filled with yellow flowers. Cows grazed at angles on the sides of hills. Church steeples shot up from the valley floors and called to your with their bells to come see their beauty.
Florence – Florence – is definitely a hidden gem to me. It took me three trips to Italy to finally go there. This was only after my Mom spent hours extolling the greatness that is Florence. Don’t ask me why I didn’t want to go. I was more into Rome and Venice, and now Florence is my heart in Italy. So much so I went three times last year! I think it is the fact that the city is a museum and there are over 70 museums to visit. I have only seen about nine of these even though I have been there three times. Guess I will have to go back!
Giverny – Many people know Giverny because Claude Monet painted many of his paintings there. What some people don’t realize is that he painted his famous Water Lilies pieces based off a pond on his property there. You can visit both his house and his gardens. As a Monet fan, I had to do this when I went to Paris. Most travel sites talk about to go from Paris to Giverny as a day trip. However, there is more to Giverny than Monet.
Monet must have inspired gardens in Giverny. The whole town is one long garden. Many people that live here have gardens in their front yard that line the main street, and they are lovely. There is a small area where shops and restaurants can be found. I had this “salad” there that was one of the best things I have ever eaten. Salad is in quotes because while there were vegetables, there was no lettuce of any kind.
While I can’t be sure, as it is the only small French town I have been to, it was the classic French country village. I walked from one end to the other several times and rarely saw another person until I reached Monet’s house. It has the added benefit of Monet’s house and the Giverny Museum of Impressionism.
Nun Assisi Relais & Spa Museum – Booking a hotel hours before staying there is not usually my style, but I would happily do it again if it led to hotels like this. Not having tons of time to research the hotel, I didn’t realize it used to be a monastery that was built in 1275! There are only 18 rooms in this hidden gem. Each one is unique.
That isn’t all! The ancient Roman baths are below and have been transformed into a spa. I had one of the best massages of my life in this spa. The space is gorgeous, and you can relax the underground pool.
Heritance Kandalama – Hidden in the jungle is a hotel that is probably the longest hotel in the world. The hotel was built by famous Sri Lankan architect, Geoffrey Bawa. The hotel was built into nature with open air hallways so that rain and animals could move around and under the hotel unobstructed. There was a warning on the balcony door to keep it closed, so monkeys won’t come inside!
Never in my life have I wanted to stay a hotel one more day so I could take pictures of it. It sits on a reservoir that imitates a lake. Birds, monkeys, elephants and giant squirrels can be seen on the property. The views over the reservoir are also stunning. There will be a full review of the hotel coming soon, but this is a sneak preview!
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