We were comped this and a series of flights by Cinnamon. They're expensive but basically the best internal flights.
Cinnamon Air has been up and running for a while now. It’s an expensive way to get around, but the experience is unlike any other. The views are stunning, the service is excellent and the best part is that you save a lot of time traveling across the country. Cinnamon Air is still a luxury, but if you’re not one to spend hours on the road, flying is well worth it.
Provided the weather’s good to you, the experience up in the air is magical. The flight to Sigiriya lasts a mere 30 minutes (as opposed to at least 3-4 hours on the road) and offers great panoramic views at a cruising altitude close to 5000 feet (more on that later).
Considering the low altitude and how short the flight is, most of your time is spent looking out the window, unlike a normal commercial airliner where you kick back (or at least try to) and occupy yourself with some form of entertainment. There’s no TV here and the only reading material is the safety manual. They also don’t serve food on board but there are drinks available at their domestic terminal in Katunayake (adjoining BIA).
The take-off and landing happen so quickly that you really don’t have time to absorb it. My pilot explained that these aircraft only need about 1000-1500 feet to do either. Cinnamon Air shares the same runway as BIA, so you feel really small when you taxi past the large commercial airliners at the main terminal. The air strip at Sigiriya on the other hand is empty and awfully quiet.
Cinnamon Air’s fleet of Cessna is very different to your average commercial airliner. First off (and quite obviously), it’s much, much smaller. For the aviation enthusiasts out there, the Sigiriya sector uses a Cessna 208B Grand Caravan. The aircraft fits about 8 passengers on board and it feels a little like a private jet. You might even make some friends considering there’s just a few of you flying at the same time.
The flight is comfortable until you fly through bad weather. You feel the turbulence more in these Cessna, so it can get quite rough. That being said, the seats are plush, resembling something out of business class with armrests and plenty of leg space.Plus, the seatbelts are like a car and come down over your shoulder.
Probably the best part about the aircraft though, is that every seat has a view. Behind the pilots, there are two seats on either side with their own windows that look out over the wings. Unlike your average Airbus or Boeing, the cockpit here is part of the main seating configuration. So you’ve got front row seats to watch the pilots in their element. It’s like watching someone play Flight Simulator, but for real. Note that the Grand Caravan’s engine packs quite a punch so it can get quite noisy if you’re sitting here.
There are also four seats in the middle of the aircraft (two on either side, facing each other) each with their own window that have a view from behind the wings. The best view however is from the bench seating at the back, where the windows give you an unobstructed view of the scenery below.
Don’t even think about getting on a Cinnamon Air flight without a good camera. When you’re flying at low altitudes, the views over the island are magnificent. The first thing you realize once you’re up in the air is how green Sri Lanka is. Then you realize how small it is when you start flying over towns and landmarks in a matter of minutes.
The Sigiriya flight takes off from Cinnamon Air’s private terminal in Katunayake and circles back around the airport so you get a good view of the E03 and the Negombo Lagoon. As you move inland towards Kandy, mountains start poking out of the clouds and you begin to see the verdant hills and valleys of the central highlands below. There are plenty of paddy fields and bodies of water along the way too.
You get your first glimpse of Sigiriya when the descent begins over the surrounding forests. Visibility was low on the day I flew, but once the altitude drops to 1000-2000 feet, it’s like watching everything in HD. At this altitude, you’ve got an amazing view of Sigiriya and its neighbor, Pidurangala from the sky. You know that aerial view of Sigiriya you always see in the promotional photos? This time you get to see it in reality. The pilots make sure to do an orbit of the rock, once from the right and then from the left so passengers on both sides get plenty of photo ops. Watch out for the sunlight when taking photos though. I flew around Sigiriya an hour before sunset and had to deal with some harsh lighting. That being said, once you’re flying above the clouds on the return journey to Katunayake, the sun is in the perfect position for some beautiful sunset shots in the sky.
The service was fantastic. From the bookings to the ground handling to the pilots, everyone is welcoming and happy to help you out.
Bookings take place just as they would with any other airline - the best method being to book your flight online and print out an eTicket to show at check-in. My flight was actually delayed, but I received both an e-mail and phone call the night before to make sure I was informed.
Ground handling is quick and efficient. The whole thing is a small operation, so I suppose this makes life easier. A Cinnamon Air van picks you up from BIA or Naikanda (the entrance to the SriLankan Airlines and Civil Aviation Authority offices) just ahead of the airport and takes you to their modest domestic terminal right next to the SriLankan Airlines hangar. This service is great for tourists who would’ve just landed at the international airport and want to catch a connecting flight to any one of Cinnamon Air’s destinations. At the domestic terminal, there’s a quick security check before checking in. After a couple of minutes, your pilots come greet you and ground handling escorts you to the aircraft. The whole operation is seamless. Likewise, on the return journey, everything happens in a matter of minutes. The plane lands, you get off, you and your baggage are put on to a Cinnamon Air van and then you’re transferred either to a vehicle from your hotel or to BIA to catch your connecting flight.
But pilots might just be the coolest of the lot. Clad in their crisp white shirts and epaulettes, khaki shorts, leather slippers and some Aviators, these guys are friendly and always up for a chat when they’re not working from the best office view in the country. Just before take-off, one of the pilots looks back and gives you an affirmative thumb’s up. You respond the same way and it’s all systems go from there. When the aircraft has parked on the apron, the pilots open their doors, fold out the steps and get off to help their passengers with their baggage. I even listened to them explain the story behind Sigiriya to the rest of passengers, which was brilliant. Mind you, all this happened on the ground. You can’t talk to the pilots during the flight because the engine is too noisy for them to hear anything. So while they’ve got headsets to communicate with each other, you don’t.
Cinnamon Air operates daily flights from Colombo to Sigiriya, but their schedules vary from day to day. We’ve created a table below to help:
||M, Th, Fr, Sat
||M, Th, Fr, Sat
||Tu, W, Sun
Some of these flights also make onward journeys to Batticaloa and Trincomalee at a further cost.
At USD 223 (incl. taxes) for a one-way journey per person, the airfare is a little harsh on the wallet. But if you’re looking for a quick way to get across the country in luxury with a view you can’t find anywhere else, Cinnamon Air is your best bet. Travelling across Sri Lanka is always an adventure, but flying is something else altogether. If you’re willing to shell out the cash, flying Cinnamon Air is highly recommended.
Keep an eye out for promotions on the Cinnamon Air website. They’re currently offering 20% off on flights to any of their destinations if you book 60 days in advance.