cinnamon air Victoria lake

Cinnamon Air Review – Scenic flight over Paradise island

by Mani Mughal
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Ever wanted to see the many landscapes that Sri Lanka has to offer from the air? Ever wanted to
beat that slooooooow land transport on packed roads? If you have poshpacker options, consider the
flights offered by Cinnamon Air!

Take Off

For us this was a scenic flight, not a way to cut time. So we ventured out from our Colombo home,
asked the driver to drop off at Waters Edge and then sent him (with the suitcase) to Koggala. After
confusion at the hotel reception (see section ‘disclaimers and warnings’) we were shuttled to the proper location
inside the hotel grounds. Where the Cinnamon Air coordinator received us, told we were the only
passengers for this segment, and that the plane would soon fly in from Katunayake.
Though we had flown on a seaplane before, in Maldives, doing it over your own country adds a lot to
the excitement. Sadly the plane splashed down out of sight, towards the east of Diyatha Uyana; but
it taxied slowly towards us and anchored.

water taxi sri lanka

After very quick safety instructions the plane was set free from the jetty. It sped off towards the
West and we thought this was already takeoff, but then the pilot braked and turned the plane around
for the real takeoff. Later we understood that this ‘speed taxiing’ is a normal method for water
planes, unlike land-bound planes.

Towards Victoria

Flying low over East Colombo was a deja-vu, as we had the same experience with Helitours to Trinco.
(Which for the rest is less scenic, as it flies at far higher altitudes.) Then the plane reached cruising
altitude of around 2000-2500 m, and that allowed great views on the island below. We followed
more or less the train line, and first saw Polgahawela-Allawa and then the Mahaweli river west of
Kandy; sadly partly obscured by thick clouds. The descent however brought clear skies again near
Katugastota-Polgolla. Due to the winds we had to make almost a full circle over the Teldeniya side of
Lake Victoria, which brough impressive pictures like  sad for our many Kandy friends that
the water level was so low but it added to the colourfulness.

lake victoria sri lanka Teldeniya

Lake Victoria Teldeniya

Still no sight of the ‘underwater ghost village’ near Teldeniya, that was abandoned in the eighties when the dam was built and becomes visible every few years when the water level drops even further than now.
We flew close to Victoria Dam and then splashed down. The jetty is not that far from the excellent
Victoria Golf Resort where we stayed some years back. Now that we found how close this is, and
that there is also an excellent view-on-the-Dam outlook point near the resort, it’s added on our
bucketlist to visit again sometime. Sounds like a nice walk from hotel to the jetty for impressive
pictures. We had to wait around 20 minutes, as we left Waters Edge early hence also were too early
at Victoria for the next 2 tourists to join.

cinnamon air Victoria lake

Sandya & Erik at the Victoria lake

We departed towards Polgolla and then south, which gave us a nice view over Pallekelle cricket
stadium. Hills and southern plains Almost immediately a thick cloud cover started again, not uncommon for the Hill Country in August. But we were lucky as we saw Nuwara Eliya basking in the sunshine, in a flash too quick to make a
photo. However the pilot was so kind to announce that around the same time we could see the peak
of Mount Pedro, Lanka’s highest mountain, above the clouds. Nice!

Mount Pedro - tallest mountain in Sri Lanka

View of Mount Pedro – Tallest Mountain in Sri Lanka

After that we could not clearly find out our location; only ten minutes later we (okay, Sandya…) had
the great idea to simply use Google Maps on the smartphone. Due to the eyesight navigation these
water planes don’t have the ban on using your phone that even Helitours has. So we might have
flown over Ella or over Haputale. Luckily after the hills the clear skies returned, and we could see
Uda Walawe ‘tank’ on our right. And then made a slow descent over the plains, with at the end the
impressive large Lunugamvehera tank.

Lunugamvehera National Park

Lunugamvehera National Park Tank

Quickly followed by some sharp turns, and aiming at the runway of Weerawila airport [Photo6].
Which indeed was our 2 nd stop. For about 20 minutes; everyone had to leave the plane as it was
being refuelled. Next to us was a sister plane which just had flown Katunayake-Castlereagh (luckily
not blocked by the cloud cover there) and then was bound for Batti. An impressive sight, these large
‘Cessna Caravan’ 8-seater planes with the floaters and these in turn have wheels. The pilot told us
that the rules allow flying by one person, but due to Cinnamon Air’s training plan now most flights
were with also a copilot. Safer for the passengers, and makes also anchoring the plane to a jetty
much easier.

Beach fun

The last two legs, Weerawila-Dickwella and Dickwella-Koggala, were as scenic as the Lake Victoria
part. And brought again deja-vus. First the now enlarged Hambantota port from the air, and much
later on also the new Beliatta-Matara train line. After Bundala and Hambantota followed Kalametiya
bird sanctuary and then a string of lovely bays. Research afterwards showed that this picture, when
the descent had clearly set in, must be Sooriya Resort at Rekawa; it is added to the bucket list also,
and we will bring this aerial photo then .

Rekawa Beach

Rekawa Beach & Sooriya Resort and Spa aerial View

As then we knew the location I switched to video immediately and was just in time to film the roof of one of the most impressively built Lankan hotels: Tangalle Bay hotel, Goyambokka beach. Built like an ocean ship, with the rooms in ‘floating wings’, it was a great base (and lovely pool and garden) when we stayed there a few years back.

Splashes

The wind being Western, the splashdowns in Dickwella and Koggala lagoons were not too hard; in
both cases the jetty is on the southern end of the lagoon, good to reach for the transfer vehicles. The
one in Koggala is next to the runway of the air base there, so we had to prearrange a permit to enter
with all driver’s details. And indeed, the driver who had left us at Water’s Edge around 10 AM had
reached Koggala before noon; beating our lightning-fast plane by almost an hour. As announced in
the start, a turtle can beat a hare if given enough headstart .So far our scenic flight travelogue. Happy reading, and hope also happy flying for some of you!

Disclaimers & Warnings

A few disclaimers and warnings. We are not sponsored by anyone in the Lankan industry, and we
paid full price for our flight. And we admit that around USD 200 for even a single 30 minutes flight is
not cheap, if e.g. you can fly return Chennai-Colombo for half that price. But hey, apparently this is an economically viable model for these planes while the former Srilankan Air Taxi, much cheaper,
was bleeding money.

The sole disadvantages/smaller mistakes of Cinnamon Air were mostly at the start, and to be fair we mention those too.

  • It’s a small airline, hence prone to cancellations if a plane unexpectedly breaks down. Also cancellations can happen if they don’t find enough passengers for a certain flight and date, and partial cancellations/alterations can happen in case of bad weather in one of the ‘aerodome’ areas; as all navigation is on eyesight, not radar etc, they depend on good visibility. And these decisions on fly-or-not are made days before the flight, so it’s good to have a plan-B if your air transport is not possible.
  • They had our booking for a route via Polgolla and Mattala, but swapped these for nearby places (Victoria and Weerawila) without telling that before the flight. Not a major issue as they informed all passengers (dis)embarking there, but e.g. I had tried to reach a Kandy friend the night before to send someone to Polgolla so that I could hand over a small gift parcel at the jetty. Luckily I could not reach him, as only 30 minutes before landing we heard about the swap and Polgolla to the Victoria jetty side is 45 minutes or so by road… ☹ 
  • Check-in directions could be better. The site clearly mentioned for Waters Edge areodrome to report to hotel reception, whilst the actual place is 500 m further on the other side of the resort – the Thuna Paha garden restaurant!

Further Reading

Two links that give more background. The whole Sri Lanka public transport shebang, including info on the cheaper flight option being Helitours.
https://docs.google.com/document/d/1JX9TDMmp3CE9zQL5tjPwkm_CmVB6IyD99XlPoNhgx6U/
An overview of beach areas including Tangalle, which is zoomed in onto towards the end of this
travelogue https://docs.google.com/document/d/1sMlet-7Qz7ncYWd5PbGEjKogwFzErA06Cl_DRSx406U/

About the authors

Sandya & Erik are travel nerds. A mixed European-Lankan couple, they split their time unsurprisingly between bases near Colombo and in Europe. And have travelled throughout the lovely island numerous times. Google if you have a strong urge to find a way to contact them directly 😉. 

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