With a geographical outline like a pear and refreshingly idyllic surprises everywhere on the island, Sri Lanka rightfully claims to be the ‘Pearl of the Indian Ocean’.
This small island has big wonders in store for the tourist. See the world’s oldest living tree in Anuradhapura, stand awestruck by hundreds of elephants gathering in Minneriya, meditate in a 2000-year-old temple, exchange smiles while strolling a mellow village, marvel at exotic birds and wildflowers, try to keep count of the little dishes that come with your rice and curry or stroll past colonial gems in Colombo, and all this before hitting the many glorious beaches and phenomenal surf.
Cities to visit:
Sri Lanka's capital and largest city, Colombo, is at first glance a confusing jumble of bustling streets, modern office blocks, peeling colonial buildings, and downcast apartments. Besides this, there are also fine restaurants, a buzzing nightlife scene, good museums, parks, and beautiful Buddhist temples. The beach resort of Mt. Lavinia is only a short taxi ride from the downtown area and offers a golden, sandy beach and sunset view to die for. As an exciting blur of colors and cultures, Colombo presents a neatly packaged microcosm of this island nation.
At first sight, Galle is an endlessly exotic, bursting with the scent of spices and salty winds, and yet also, with its wonderful collection of Dutch-colonial buildings, a town of great beauty. Classic architecture melds with a dramatic tropical setting to create a reality that is endlessly interesting. Above all else, Galle is a city of trade and, increasingly, art. Today, the historic Fort area is crammed with little boutique shops, cafes and hotels owned by local and foreign artists, writers, photographers, designers and poets – a third of the houses are owned by foreigners.
Lapped by lazy azure waters, the coconut-colored beaches around Tangalle are simply astonishing. Tangalle itself marks the dividing line between the picture-perfect tropical coves that dominate much of the southwest coast and the long, wave-lashed beaches that one will find in the southeast corner of the island.
The ruins of Anuradhapura are one of South Asia’s most evocative sights. The sprawling complex contains a rich collection of archaeological and architectural wonders: enormous dagobas, soaring brick towers, ancient pools and crumbling temples, built during Anuradhapura’s thousand years of rule over Sri Lanka. Today, several of these sites remain in use as holy places and temples; frequent ceremonies give this place a vibrancy that is a sharp contrast to the ambience at Polonnaruwa.
Sites to see:
Rising from the central plains, the iconic rocky outcrop of Sigiriya is perhaps Sri Lanka's single most dramatic sight. Near-vertical walls soar to a flat-topped summit that contain the ruins of an ancient civilization, thought to be once the epicenter of the short-lived kingdom of Kassapa, and there are spellbinding vistas across mist-wrapped forests in the early morning.
Located in a beautiful area of the southern Hill Country, this lofty peak has sparked the imagination for centuries and has been a focus for pilgrimage for more than 1000 years.
Famously known as Adam’s Peak (the place where Adam first set foot on earth after being cast out of heaven), some believe that the huge ‘footprint’ crowning the peak belongs to St Thomas, the early apostle of India. The pilgrimage season here begins on poya day in December and runs until Vesak festival in May. During the pilgrimage season pilgrims and tourists alike make the climb up the countless steps to the top.
Hill country and Kandy:
Occupying the island’s southern heartlands, the sublime green heights of the hill country are a world away from the sweltering coastal lowlands – indeed nothing encapsulates the scenic diversity of Sri Lanka as much as the short journey by road or rail from the humid urban melee of Colombo to the cool altitudes of Kandy or Nuwara Eliya. The landscape here is a beguiling mixture of nature and nurture. In places the mountainous green hills rise to surprisingly rugged and dramatic peaks; in others, the slopes are covered in carefully manicured tea gardens whose neatly trimmed lines of bushes add a toy-like quality to the landscape, while the mist and clouds which frequently blanket the hills add a further layer of mystery.
Uda Walawe national park:
With herds of elephants, wild buffalo, sambar deer and leopards, this Sri Lankan national park rivals the savannah reserves of Africa. In fact, for elephant-watching, Uda Walawe often surpasses many of the most famous East African national parks. The park, which centers on the 308.2-sq-km Uda Walawe Reservoir, is lightly vegetated but it has a stark beauty and the lack of dense vegetation makes game-watching easy.
Horton plains national park:
Placed in the middle of the island nation of Sri Lanka, the Horton Plains National Park is a showpiece for the country’s peaks and valleys. The park is also home to an innumerable selection of flora and fauna. Established in 1988, the park has become a prominent destination for visitors who seek to explore Sri Lanka’s natural side. Where once the region served as big game hunting grounds, the terrain’s visitors have replaced rifles and trophies with camera and memories.
Peradeniya Botanic Gardens:
At one time these beautiful botanical gardens were reserved exclusively for Kandyan royalty. Today even commoners are allowed into what are, at 60 hectares, the largest and most impressive botanic gardens in Sri Lanka.
Some of the major highlights include a fine collection of orchids and a stately avenue of royal palms. Also there is a giant Javan fig tree on the great lawn. Covering 2500 sq metres, it is like a giant, living geodesic dome.
The beautiful Royal Rock Temple complex sits about 160m above the road in the southern part of Dambulla. Five separate caves contain about 150 absolutely stunning Buddha statues and paintings, some of Sri Lanka's most important and evocative religious art. Buddha images were first created here over 2000 years ago, and over the centuries subsequent kings added to and embellished the cave art.
Sri Lankan cuisine has been influenced by many historical, cultural, and other factors. The central feature of Sri Lankan cuisine is boiled or steamed rice, served with a curry of fish, chicken, beef, mutton, or goat, along with other curries made with vegetables, lentils, or fruits.
Dishes are accompanied by pickled fruits or vegetables, chutneys, and sambols. Especially common is coconut sambol, a paste of ground coconut mixed with chili peppers, dried Maldive fish, and lime juice.