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UAE / Sri Lanka

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 I never heard much about Sri Lanka, but jumped at the chance to go to reunite with friends at the start of Summer. I knew it was close to India, but was completely blown away by Galle, Sri Lanka. Friendly faces, amazing food, historical forts and tea plantations… Not to mention the breathtaking beaches. Hope to be back for longer to explore next time and also got to experience an amazing stopover program in Abu Dhabi along the way. Here’s the guide to my week-long trip halfway across the World.

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Getting from Miami to Sri Lanka is no easy feat. There are no direct flights, and even only one stop is hard to come by. During my research, I found that Etihad Airways had a very nice stopover program in Abu Dhabi that fit within my schedule so I went for it! Price below include business class (super nice!) on the way back and 6 flights from Miami to Chicago to Abu Dhabi to Colombo and back. You can bid online to get upgraded up to 48 hours before your flight.

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Take advantage of the reduced rates with the Etihad Airways stopover program. We opted to stay in Abu Dhabi at the Ritz Carlton, Grand Canal and had a great time. UAE is known for over-the-top hotels, so don’t miss out on visiting the Emirates Palace, Etihad Towers, Burj Khalifa (Dubai), and the Burj Al Arab (Dubai).

In Sri Lanka, we stayed with a group of friends at a private villa. Had a lovely lunch as well, at the Amangalla, and if you’re looking to splurge it’s a beautifully restored hotel within the Fort.

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Settle in for a long day of flights to Abu Dhabi. Step off the plane to that desert heat and ready to take a shower. Luckily the EPSA spa is still open at the hotel, so stop in to get a nice massage to help relieve some of the jetlag.

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Early morning tour with Hala starting just across the street from our hotel at the Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque. Architectural beauty and I must have snapped over 100 photos. The rest of the tour, we look at the cultural past and impressive future of Abu Dhabi as a city. Head back to the hotel for a little nap and then cocktails at Etihad Tower on the 62nd floor for a nice view of the skyline. The Emirates Palace is just across the street and you can tour the grounds for free. They also have some nice restaurants and can’t hurt since most restaurants in Abu Dhabi are in the hotels.

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Wake up early for a day trip to Dubai. It’s only about an hour away and a taxi is about $70. There are public transportation options, but it’s definitely more convenient to get dropped off where you want to go. First stop is the Dubai Mall, the largest in the World. I’m not a huge shopper, but the mall really does seem to have everything. Including a Hello Kitty salon, where I get my nails done. Next, we go out into the scorching heat to view the Burj Kahlifa from the exterior. You can get some really nice shots along the waterfront walking from the mall to the front entrance. We stop inside for a quick refresher at the Armani Hotel bar. We take a cab to yet another hotel, the Burj al Arab, for afternoon tea. If you plan on going inside, make sure to have reservations as they are very strict who they have on the grounds. A little on the pricey side, but definitely a memorable experience with an expansive view of Dubai. The tea lasts around 4 hours, so be prepared to indulge! We leave just in time to cross over to the Jumeirah Al Qasr property next door for a sunset view behind the Burj al Arab. Hop into an Uber and back to the hotel.

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Our last morning in Abu Dhabi, we decide to enjoy breakfast and lounge at the pool. It’s around 110F degrees, so the chilled face towels and bottled water is much appreciated. Board our afternoon flight to Colombo and the driver meets us to take us to Galle, just a few hours away. Arrive at this gorgeous oceanfront villa that our friends are staying at and try to get some sleep for a full day of sun tomorrow.

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Wake up super early to be the first to the beach. The beaches in Galle are truly special, with unique palm tree formations and a light mist in the air from the shore break. After a nice walk, head back to the villa. Today is all about relaxing by the pool and eating some of the freshest mango I’ve ever had. Later we have dinner at Why Beach, another beautiful private villa with a great restaurant. May isn’t exactly peak season for the local bars, so we head back to the villa for a dance party in the pool.

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Early morning out and ready to explore. First stop is the Handunugoda Tea Plantation, where they are famous for their virgin white tea. Tea is one of the largest exports from Sri Lanka, and they do a great job of giving you a tour of how the entire process works. Next stop is the Elephant Nursery. I can’t be sure the name of it, since our driver just took us there, but when presented with a chance to be around animals, I always say yes. They are beautiful creatures, but this particular one, it was sad to see them with chains on for some reason. I was going to ask, but it felt rude at the time since it’s the livelihood of the people working there. Next time, I will be sure to do a bit more research. We stop within the Fort for a nice Sri Lankan lunch and then back to the villa for dinner with friends.

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Another early morning at the beach. Really love this beach and hope to return again someday to spend more time. One last dip in the pool before lunch at the Amangalla. Really delicious Sri Lankan food and a nice tour of the hotel property. Head down to the surfer beach via tuk tuk for a goodbye cocktail. Back to the villa to pack and get back on the plane for the long journey ahead. Thanks to the online auction, got upgraded to business class on the way home. Etihad Airways is a real treat! 

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Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, with its four 350-foot (107-meter) minarets, 82 white marble domes, and what’s possibly the world’s largest hand-knotted carpet. The mosque and its courtyard are large enough to accommodate more than 40,000 worshippers.

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The $3-billion Emirates Palace hotel, a kilometer (0.6 miles) from end to end, sprawls on a white beach 4,265 feet (1.3 kilometers) long and features 114 domes—the tallest climbs 238 feet (72.5 meters)—and over a thousand Swarovski crystal chandeliers.

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Sri Lanka may be the tea capital of the world, but tea was introduced to it only in 1867. Before Sri Lanka became famous for tea, it was famous for coffee – but the coffee fields of Sri Lanka were wiped out by leaf blight in the 1870s.

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The country was formerly called as Ceylon, Serendib. The local people shortly call it Shri Lanka or Ilankai. The conventional short form is called Sri Lanka and the conventional long form comes to Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka.

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