Cinnamon Hotels – Integrating Travel With Culture

One of the things I am mindful of when traveling is picking accommodations that are sustainable. Even if I’m staying at resorts or chain hotels, I do some research to check what kind of programs they have in place to support the local community, culture and the environment. I’ll also check hotels that rent by the month to see what type of tourists/ residents it’s attracting. For example, in the UK, various hotels accommodate the community by offering weddings at their accommodation, bringing everyone together in affordable but classy ceremony. For example, wedding venues high wycombe offers just that, with an ideal setting and hotel chefs creating the menu. This is what I mean, accommodation that can offer so much more than just a bed to sleep on. So when Sri Lanka based Cinnamon Hotels and Resorts invited me to experience some of their hotels around the country, I was excited to see how they integrate the local culture and cuisine into their luxurious hotels.

Cinnamon Hotels and Resorts offered a diverse range of accommodations from beach front to rustic jungle lodges. Here are some cultural activities you can do at each of the hotels:

Cinnamon Grand Colombo

Located in the heart of the capital city of Colombo, Cinnamon Grand is a luxury hotel with 13 eateries, spa and shopping center. From here, you can also walk to the beach and Spa Ceylon next door. I watched traditional masked dances here and ate at a mile long buffet of authentic local dishes served in clay pots, including hoppers, crab curry, beet root curry, tempered banana flowers, fish ambulthiyal, coconut roti, homemade pickles, and fresh cut mangoes. The dinner experience created in one of their gardens felt as if I was attending a Sri Lankan wedding!

Cinnamon Bey Beruwala

The South West Coast of Sri Lanka is home to the first Muslim settlement on the island, established by Arab traders. This also gives inspiration to the Moorish decor of Cinnamon Bey, with bright spacious rooms overlooking the Indian Ocean created by Channa Daswatte, one of the island’s most talented architects and creative minds.

I was mesmerized by the men wearing white blouses and loose pants twirling at lightening speeds as they welcomed us with the traditional southern dance. Then, the chef took me to the Beruwala fish harbor, a local fish market to pick the fresh catch where you can see fisherman coming into the beach at sunset, and served it for dinner at the Rock Salt restaurant. I visited a mask museum and watched craftsman make wood masks, a few hundred year old tradition. In season, you can visit the nearby Kosgoda turtle hatchery.

Cinnamon Wild Yala

Bordering Yala National Park, the rustic cottages at Cinnamon Wild Yala are a great place to see wildlife. I could see buffalos and monkeys right outside my room, and even heard elephants at the watering hole at night. You can walk to the tiny fishing village and hike on the sand dunes. There are also bird watching and night safari tours you can do in the area.

During the day, I went on a jeep safari into the national park, which is said to have one of the highest densities of leopards in the world. Because of the constant tug between wild leopards attacking farm animals and farmers encroaching on forests, Cinnamon Wild built protective fences and cages for domestic animals. This has helped the leopard population thrive.

Cinnamon Citadel Kandy

The resort is ideally located away from the bustling city of Kandy, on a green hill by Mahaveli River, the longest river in the country. It has an open lobby, an expansive pool, and restaurant with great views of the tropics. Nearby, visit the famous Temple of the Tooth Relic, visited by Buddhists from all over the world.

Hikka Tranz by Cinnamon

This was my favorite property because of its artsy style with colorful murals at the reception and sweeping views of the ocean. The white beach dotted with coconut trees is perfect for snorkeling, surfing or just relaxing. I used Hikka Tranz by Cinnamon as a base to explore the UNESCO town of Galle with its Dutch colonial buildings, boutique shops and trendy restaurants. Also, I saw my first blue whale at a whale watching experience from nearby Mirissa.

Nature Trails, the wildlife and nature based tourism arm of Cinnamon Hotels and Resorts creates experiences for nature and adventure loving travelers, taking them into the natural world of Sri Lanka, celebrating the endless wilderness, admiring the natural heritage and showcasing the true essence of Sri Lanka’s rural beauty, its people and places while treading lightly off the beaten tracks of this magical island.

Beyond The Beaches…Seven Must Have Experiences in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is not like other islands where all you do is lay on the beach and snorkel in the sea. Sure there are plenty of places to do that around Sri Lanka, but it is also a country full of rich cultural activities. Here are some experiences you should not miss during your visit…

Get an Ayurvedic Massage

Ayurveda is an ancient medicinal practice based on natural plants and roots. Because Sri Lanka is abundant with natural resources, spices and flora, it has used ayurveda to prevent and heal diseases of the eyes, skin, breathing, digestion, and mental health for thousands of years. One of the best places to experience ayurvedic treatments is Siddhalepa Resort where you can consult with an experienced doctor, receive massage treatments based on his/ her prescription, and enjoy organic healthy meals. The Siddhalepa Group has hotels in Wadduwa and Mt. Lavinia in Sri Lanka, as well as in Berlin, Sliac and Bad Homburg. They manufacture over 400 kinds of oils, balms, elixirs, cosmetics and teas, so make sure to pick up some gifts to take back.

Shop at an Open Air Fish Market

Fishing is the main occupation for locals in southern Sri Lanka. It is interesting to see fisherman carrying their large nets on wooden boats heading out into the sea early morning, and returning to the shore with their fresh catch at sunset. The chef from Cinnamon Bey Beruwala hotel showed us where he gets his daily catch from and we picked our dinner together at the market. If you are lucky, you can also see stilt fishing, where fishermen perch balancing on poles, careful not to cast shadows in the water, as they skillfully draw spotted herrings and mackerels from the shallow waters.

Watch Traditional Mask Dances

The ancient traditional of dancing wearing devil or spirited masks was another way of chasing away health and mental issues. Rituals would start at night and go on until sunrise to chase demons out of the human bodies. These masked dances were also performed during comedy shows and for entertainment. You can see how the intricate and colorful masks are handcrafted of very light wood in the village of Ambalagodan. At Cinnamon Grand in Colombo, I also watched live mask and fire dances.

Take a Safari

The Sri Lankan safari experience is very different from what you may have experienced in Africa. There are dense tropical forests with thick canopy, so it’s difficult to spot leopards (though they exists). Yala National Park is one of the best places to spot wild elephants, deer, monkeys, wild boar, buffaloes, peacocks and other exotic bird species. Plan to spend at least half a day in an open air jeep to get a good view of the local animals.

Go Whale Watching

The warm waters of the Indian Ocean along the coast of Sri Lanka make for one of the ideal places to sea whales in the world. From Mirissa, a charming coastal village in the south, embark on a whale watching cruise early in the morning and spend a few hours looking for the world’s largest mammal, the blue whale, with experienced guides. The best time to see whales in November to April, though you may be able to spot them year round in Sri Lanka. For whale watching along the Pacific Coast of America, san diego whale watching will make for a fantastic and unique day out.

Feed and Bathe Elephants

I am strictly against riding elephants as in most cases the animals have been captured, trained and abused to make a profit. But at Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage, baby and adult elephants who have strayed away from their packs, found on the roads, or orphaned and brought to live freely in an open space. They seem to be well taken care of. Some of the elephants who previously worked and interacted with humans are allowed to be fed and bathed by visitors, for a small fee. I enjoyed feeding chunks of pineapples and watermelon to a charming lady, with the assistance of a local guide. Please remember you cannot touch, ride, or even go close to wild elephants as they are very dangerous.

Cruise Down Madu Ganga River

The Madu River area is a swampy marshland covered in mangrove forests and abundant in wildlife. You can spot over 100 species of birds, reptiles, butterflies and molluscs when cruises on a boat safari through the river. Additionally, you can visit locals living around the river who live on cinnamon and fishing industries. Stop to visit an open-air fish spa, watch how the locals peel cinnamon, weave palm leaves, purchase cinnamon soaps, tea, oil and spices directly from the source.

Discover Three Thousand Year Old History in Sri Lanka

When you think of Sri Lanka, you may picture a tropical island dotted with sandy beaches, wildlife reserves filled with elephants, coconut groves, spice and tea plantations. Surely, the small island located just south of India merits all these, but there’s also three thousand year old temples, palaces and caves to explore.

Here are some places in the North Central Province of Sri Lanka that are must see:

Rangiriya Dambulla Cave Temple

This UNESCO World Heritage Site also known as the Golden Temple of Dambulla, dates back to 1st century BC. Burial sites in the area indicate that prehistoric Sri Lankans lived in these cave complexes 2700 years ago.

You must ascend over 100 stone steps to see the complex of 5 caves carved into a 160 meter rocky hill. Inside you can see 153 Buddha statues, three statues of Sri Lankan kings and four statues of gods and goddesses, along with various cave inscriptions. Every inch of the roofs of the caves are covered with colorful murals (many still intact) covering an area of 23,000 sq. ft. You will feel insignificant in the presence of one of the largest statue of Buddha spanning 15 meters located inside the first cave.

Hotel Tip: Stay at Habarana Village by Cinnamon in Habarana for luxurious village style retreat near the spiritual sites. The hotel organizes village tours including bullock cart rides and traditional meals by the river. 

Sigiriya

Also know as Lion Rock, this ancient rock fortress is the iconic image of Sri Lanka in posters and tourist brochures. According to the ancient Sri Lankan chronicle the Culavamsa, this site was selected by King Kasyapa (477 – 495 CE) for his new capital. You can see this example of urban planning by climbing up the  massive column of rock nearly 200 meters (660 ft) high. On the way, see a gateway in the form of an enormous lion, the palace ruins, painted frescos, and a swimming pool. On top, enjoy spectacular views of the canopy and gardens surrounding the complex, with giant white Buddha status propping in the green.

Hiking Tip: The best time to climb Sigiriya is early morning when it’s not too hot or late afternoon so you can see the sunset. The best photos of the rock are aerial shots, but you must obtain permission to fly a drone prior to your visit. 

Anuradhapura

Also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Anuradhapura was the first capital of Sri Lanka from the 5th century BC to 9th century AD. The ancient city, has 16 square miles filled with monasteries.

Pay respect to the oldest historically documented tree on earth (over 2,200 years old). The Bodhi tree is considered to be the island’s oldest Buddhist shrine, as Buddha got enlightened under it (the sapling comes from the original tree in India). A large white stupa as well as small alters surround the complex. Look for impressive white ‘dagabas’ (relic chambers), stone carvings, rock sculptures and more.

Temple Visit Tip: It is necessary to cover arms and legs; remove shoes, hats and sunglasses when visiting holy sites in Sri Lanka. You will find the locals typically dressed in white, a symbol of purity. While it’s ok to take photos inside the temples, it’s illegal to take a picture with your back towards Buddha. 

Mihintale

This is where Buddhism was first introduced to Sri Lanka and is therefore regarded as the cradle of Buddhism. On this rock are many shrines and dwellings, originally used by monks. A grand stairway of 1,840 steps made of granite slabs 15 feet wide, leads to the summit from where one could get a splendid view of the surrounding countryside.

Polonnaruwa

There are mostly ruins of temples, palaces and stupas to be seen in this medieval city, which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. After a brief perspective at the museum, visit the Royal Palace complex including the Kings Palace and Audience Hall, the Quadrangle with its concentration of ancient heritage and the spectacular Gal Vihare complex of four massive images of the Buddha, cut from a single slab of granite. Some of the best examples of the Hindu influence – the Temples of Shiva, intricate statues of Hindu Gods, fascinating Buddhist temples, the Lankatileka and Watadage, the Galpotha, the Lotus bath, the Kiri Vihare Dagoba and the remains of a former Temple of the Tooth are other impressive sights.

Temple of the Tooth

This is one of the most important shrines for Buddhists and pilgrims from all over Sri Lanka come to the hill town of Kandy through the year, offering trays of lotus flowers and sweets, as they pay respect to the tooth relic of Lord Buddha. While you can’t actually see the tooth (the door encasing it is opened once a year), you can admire the beautiful carvings and splendor of the palace-turned-temple located on the lakeshore. Spend some time walking the temple ground, listen to the drummers dressed in traditional costumes and peek into the museum for some historical facts. There are two ceremonies performed each day so make sure to time your visit accordingly.

Kandy Tip: Kandy is a popular tourist town, mainly because of this temple, access to hiking areas, trendy restaurants and lots of shops selling tea, gems and souvenirs. Stay at Cinnamon Citadel by the river and reserve a special Sri Lankan curry lunch overlooking the city at Theva Residency.

The above sites can be visited in 2-3 days and give valuable insight into the belief system of the Sri Lankan people. If you are the kind of traveler interested in ancient history and culture, add Sri Lanka to your travel list.

Booking Tip: To avoid the hassle of making hotel reservations, public transport and finding guides, contact The Holiday Place for a custom made itinerary in Sri Lanka. They can arrange a private driver with knowledgeable guide, tickets to the monuments and hotel reservations. 

Do you have a travel tip for Sri Lanka? Post your comments below…