For the first time in long while it is now simpler to list the countries where UK travellers cannot go than to list where the UK government allows them to travel. The Travel Red List has been reduced to just seven countries, all in Latin America (Columbia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Haiti, Panama, Peru and Venezuela) and it feels like the world has finally opened up – to fully vaccinated travellers at least. Time for a change in bulletin name perhaps!
For the time being there are still testing requirements in place, in particular a requirement that fully vaccinated travellers take a PCR test on Day 2 after their return from overseas. The Government has said that this will be removed in time for October half term and an announcement on the exact timing is expected in the next day or so.
As I write this bulletin, I am sitting looking out of the window of a cave in my hotel in Matera, Italy – location of part of the opening sequence of the recent Bond film No Time to Die. It is the most spectacular place with literally hundreds of caves in the hillside, many of them empty, but many more turned into homes and boutique hotels. There are ancient cave churches, baroque cathedrals, meandering trails into Parco della Murgia Materana where you can see yet more cave dwellings and churches and of course wonderful food and wine. Unfortunately my view of the caves on the other side of the gorge is obscured by rivulets of rain streaming down the cave window. The sun will come out in a day or two I’m assured but in the meantime I am dreaming of destinations where sunny weather during the UK’s winter may be more certain. Of course the Maldives, Mauritius and the Seychelles spring to mind. But I am also thinking of Sri Lanka, which has just opened up to international tourism again and the wonderful opportunities for beaches, culture, history and wildlife it provides. See below for some ideas for trips to this country.
Whilst Sri Lanka is now open to tourism, not every country is quite as accessible to UK travellers. So I continue to remind my clients that when choosing where to travel you should first check the entry requirements for your destination. As always, the FCDO travel pages (see link below) will give you an overview of the entry requirements for a country. Be particularly careful if you are travelling with under 18s who are not fully vaccinated as the rules on accompanying children vary considerably from nation to nation.
Sri Lanka’s cultural triangle
If you are more interested in culture than flying and flopping on Sri Lanka’s beautiful beaches (although you could always add this at the end) then a ten day tour to Sri Lanka’s cultural triangle might suit you. The trip includes the ancient capital of Pollonaruwa with its finely sculpted statues, frescoes, huge Buddha images and striking stupas followed by a visit to Minneriya where elephants are the main attraction. No cultural visit to Sri Lanka would be complete without an ascent of Sigiriya rock to view its fifth century Fortess and stunning views over the surrounding plains. Follow this with a stay in Kandy (home to the Temple of the Tooth) travelling there via Dambulla with its well preserved cave-temple complex and extraordinary murals. From Kandy you can go on to explore the nearby tea country before returning to Colombo for your flight home. From £2950 per person as a tailor-made tour (group tours also possible and cheaper).
Off the beaten track in northern Sri Lanka
Much of northern Sri Lanka was off limits for decades during its civil war. It is now emerging as a fantastic tourist destination in its own right but is far less visited than the more popular south west. Particularly good for a visit in summer months when the monsoon sweeps in to the south west, the north has a great combination of ancient sites, wildlife and beautiful beaches. Begin with a leopard safari in Wilpattu, one of Sri Lanka’s largest but least visited national parks. A sighting of leopard is a great moment, but staying in a safari camp is a real experience in itself and there is plenty of other wildlife to see. Follow the safari with a visit to the ancient capital Anuradhapura, cycling around the city to see all the incredible stupas, a tree grown from the branch of a tree in India where Buddha first obtained enlightenment and the ancient water tanks. In the right season follow this with a jeep trip to see the elephants gathering in the jungle clearings at Minneriya. Then drive north to Jaffna, where you can learn about the recent civil war and visit the amazing Nallur Kandaswamy temple. Follow this with a few days on the north east coast beaches near Trincomalee (with its British war cemetery and striking temples) and perhaps some snorkelling and whale watching. You will need to take a short small plane flight back to Colombo but on a clear day the views from above are spectacular. From £3500 per person.
Sri Lanka’s two signature species are elephant and leopard. A two-week tour of the island should give you ample opportunity to spot both. Visit Sri Lanka’s three most famous national parks – Yala, Udawalawe and Sinharaja – and stay in safari and eco lodges, taking early morning and evening trips into the parks in search of wildlife. You could also stay in the coastal resort of Mirissa and take a whale watching cruise in search of blue and sperm whales. Finally you could end your holiday with some down time on the beach at Galle, staying in a chic boutique hotel. From £3400 per person.