Set in the Indian Ocean at the foot of South Asia, the tropical island Sri Lanka, has a rich history that dates back to the dawn of time. Having attracted visitors for centuries with its natural, abundant, and unspoiled beauty, almost nowhere else in the world can travelers experience stunning landscapes, pristine beaches, captivating cultural heritage, and unique experiences within such close proximity. Housing eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites in a 65,610-kilometer area, its surrounded by 1,330 kilometers of white sandy coastline, 15 national parks exhibiting a rich array of wildlife, nearly 500,000 acres of lush tea estates, 250 acres of botanical gardens, 350 waterfalls, 25,000 water bodies, and a culture spanning over 2,500 years that encompasses different ethnic groups and diverse religions.
Any destination in this tear-shaped pearl is only a short distance away. Be ‘wowed’ by the sacred home of the world’s oldest living human-planted tree in the morning, and stand awestruck by the sight of hundreds of elephants gathering in the afternoon. Get up close and personal with the whales and dolphins as they put on a show just for you. Visit a temple that is more than 2000 years old, and exchange pleasantries with villagers while strolling through a picturesque setting. Marvel at birds and wildflowers. Savour the celebration of spices that come your way in every dish. Explore the colonial architecture of Colombo, en- route to some epic surf.
When you think you’ve seen it all, escape the tropical climate of the coast and lowlands, and head for the hills, with cool temperatures, and green charms. Throughout the lush tea plantations and rain forests, walkers and trekkers will find various options for an adventurous arrival or simply take in the scenery from a spectacular train ride.
Did we mention the beaches? You will never be far from a dazzling white, untrodden sandy dream no matter where you are. Dive and surf in mischievous waters and prepare yourself to discover something new at each turn.
Using incredibly fresh herbs, spices, and the bounty of the land and sea, Sri Lankan cuisine is a delight for the senses. Whether it is authentic rice and curry served at a roadside cafe, kottu (chopped roti flatbread containing vegetables and meat) at a downtown restaurant, or surf-fresh seafood served at a swanky oceanfront restaurant, Sri Lankan cuisine is a culinary experience to cherish.
Cultural fusion includes art, music, drama, and even architecture, all of which play an important role in Sri Lanka’s history. Castles and frescoes bear witness to the history and culture of the region, leaving people filled with reverence, and respect for the past.
As a whole, the people follow a very simple and humble lifestyle and appreciate the simple things in life, including the beauty of nature. Hospitality is a prominent characteristic making Sri Lanka one of the friendliest nations in the world.
With its ancient ruins, beautiful beaches, and amazing wildlife, and many other stories to uncover, Sri Lanka is called the land of serendipity for a good reason.
Beaches of Sri Lanka: Down South – Mirissa, Bentota, Trinco
Choosing the best beach in Sri Lanka is a difficult undertaking. The island’s numerous topographically varied beaches, coves, and bays attract sunbathers, fun seekers, and surfers throughout the year. There is an extensive marine park along the beaches, which is home to turtles and blacktip reef sharks, and is one of the best diving spots in the world. Experience the beauty of blue whales, sperm whales, and fin whales as they swim in their natural habitat.
Powdery sand, excellent snorkeling on the reef just off the beach, hammocks, and crystal-clear water complete the picture-postcard appeal. The pristine pink-hued sand is a perfect companion to the shimmering heat haze and miles of lovely beaches to explore, regardless of whether you are looking for solitude or a party. Stock up on water, mocktails, and local snacks and you may not want to leave … now that’s a job well done!
Heritage / Cultural Sites
Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa , Sigiriya, Yapuhuwa, Dambulla, Kandy,
A country steeped in culture and history, Sri Lanka is home to eight fabulous UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
A climb of 1,202 steps up the side of a massive boulder, colorful frescoes, and a mirrored wall leads to the palace and fortress of King Kasyapa, also known as Sigiriya; The Lion Rock. The complex comprises remnants of a ruined palace surrounded by extensive fortifications, vast gardens, ponds, canals, alleys, and fountains, and is considered the 8th wonder of the world by locals. From the top of the rocky mountain, you can view the jungle below in all its splendour.
Set amidst forested hills and surrounded by tea plantations, Kandy is a picturesque town situated in the central part of the island. It is Sri Lanka’s cultural center and home to the golden-roofed Temple of the Tooth Relic of Lord Buddha, the holiest shrine in the country. Kandy Esala Perehera, an annual ritual held at the Sacred Tooth Temple, isn’t to be missed if you’re in town in the months of July or August.
In Anuradhapura lies the sacred 2,000-year-old Bo Tree, which was grown from a sapling of the Bhodi tree, under which Lord Buddha attained enlightenment. In this ancient city, ruins of majestic palaces, monasteries, and monuments are well preserved, making it a popular spot for tourists to explore.
A well-known and well-preserved cave temple in Dambulla is one of Sri Lanka’s most significant pilgrimage sites. This monastery is situated on a 600-foot-high rock and is home to over 150 statues of Lord Buddha and other holy sculptures. The ceiling and walls of the temple are covered with intricate and delicate paintings. Its historical, archaeological and artistic implications makes it a must-see spot.
With two ramparts and a moat, the Yapahuwa rock fortress provided strong battle defenses, which can still be seen today. Its steep ornamental staircase is its most distinguishing feature. Once it led to the temple that housed the tooth relic that was preserved here for 11 years. Sculptures of two lions adorn the staircase, showcasing fine craftsmanship.
There are numerous temples, shrines, palaces, and ruins in Polonnaruwa, an archeological treasure trove. Glimpse the royal palace from the time of King Parakramabahu I (1153 – 1186AD) which was once a massive structure with 50 rooms, guarded by Lion sculptures. Inside the king’s audience hall, intricately carved stone elephants line the walls, while large crocodile mouth statues spout fresh water from the king’s swimming pool.
Hill Country – Nuwaraeliya, Ella, Haputale
In Sri Lanka, the Hill Country has some of the most beautiful landscapes. Its central heartland features quaint hilltop villages, mist-shrouded mountains, green tea plantations, and cascading waterfalls. A trip to the beguiling hill country is full of activities that will energize the mind and body and refresh the soul, including trekking a peak, trout fishing, golfing in beautiful surroundings, and hiking through rugged wilderness.
A premier hill resort with a fine, bracing mountain climate, Nuwara Eliya is also known for its world-renowned tea production. A velvety green carpet of tea plantations blankets the mountain slopes and valleys, interspersed with gushing streams and breathtaking waterfalls. Plantation bungalows with red or green roofs, English country-style homes with flower gardens, a fine golf course, and a race course give Nuwara Eliya a decidedly British feel.
The town of Ella is situated in the beautiful central highlands of Sri Lanka. Located in the southern plains, Ella Gap offers views of the Indian Ocean as well as impressive mountain views. It is characterized by a variety of topography including lush tea plantations, cloud forests, and rolling hills. The small town receives rainfall year-round and is primarily wet
In the southern hills of Sri Lanka, Haputale offers a stunning destination for nature lovers. Misty mornings can last throughout the day and provide an ideal environment for strolling. With its fresh mountain air and warm sunlight, this is a perfect location for observing magnificent views. Misty skies allow you to see the south coast during the day, and at night you can see the blinks of the Hambantota Lighthouse.
Wild Life – Yala, Minneriya
While Sri Lanka’s unique blend of cultures has long attracted historians and travelers, its wild habitats provide something special for those who are passionate about wildlife. Sri Lanka is an enchanted landscape of magnificent rivers, fabled jungles, fascinating wildlife, and a rich variety of flora & fauna.
Asia’s highest leopard and elephant density can be found in Sri Lanka. Watering holes in national parks are frequented by elephants in the evenings and early mornings.
Extend the wildlife experience further by spending the night under a starry canvas in the dense jungle. Enjoy everything from a luxury camping experience to a rustic adventure. Wake up to the sounds of the wild, observe the birds and the smaller mammals at your doorstep, indulge in some great photography, assist in preparing meals, and leave for a safari long before the crowds arrive. Enjoy a sumptuous BBQ by a roaring campfire by the end of the day while sipping sun-downers and discussing the day’s adventures.
Adventure / Experiences – Kithulgala White Water Rafting, Hiking in Haputale, Whale & Dolphin watching, Village Tour in Habarana, Ayurvedha
Experiencing the thrill and adrenaline rush associated with adventures is one of the greatest pleasures in life. A white water rafting excursion in Kitulgala provides an exhilarating experience for anyone interested in encountering spectacular rapids. While rushing through turbulent waters, the picturesque landscape around you adds an element of awe to the experience. It is a sight for sore eyes to see the mountainous landscape, while rafters of all experience levels will enjoy the rapids. It is also a popular spot for outdoor sports such as confidence jumps, waterfall abseiling, jungle trekking, bird watching, cave exploration, river trips and expeditions.
It is a rocky and bumpy path covered in fallen leaves that leads you to the top of Haputale Mountain to enjoy a spectacular panoramic view from nearly 1,750 meters above sea level. With the sky under your feet, you will feel like you are literally on top of the world. On your hike through the tea fields, you will encounter monkeys, butterflies, woodpeckers, and other animals as you admire the rich flora and fauna.
Enjoy an intimate experience as you cruise alongside some of the ocean’s most beloved and playful creatures, dolphins, playing about on the waves in the mist-filled air. Blue whales and humpback whales, two of the largest and oldest species of sea life, will glide nonchalantly past you as you explore the sea.
Take a stroll through the unspoiled and scenic meandering paths of Habarana to experience authentic Sri Lankan rural life. Meet the local villagers, experience their culture, and enjoy their hospitality. Embrace the cooling breeze as you relax with a refreshing cup of Pure Ceylon Tea and jiggery (sweetner made from tea sap) in their humble homes
Immerse yourself in ancient wisdom! Derived from Sanskrit terms for ‘existence’ (ayuh) and ‘knowledge’ or ‘science’ (Veda); Ayurvedic treatment spread rapidly to Sri Lanka, and the Sinhalese kings further modified the treatment methods through the use of Hela Wedakama, an indigenous Sri Lankan treatment method. Ayurvedic medicine uses a combination of plants, food, massage, hydrotherapy, and oil massage to treat anything from depression to diabetes, migraine, asthma, inflammation, and hypertension. It strengthens the immune system, increases well-being, and even slows down the aging process.
City of Colombo – Restaurants, Shopping, places of interest and accommodation
Want to see Colombo’s best? Visit Sri Kaileswaram Hindu Temple, the oldest and largest in Sri Lanka, Gangaramaya Temple and the Light House Tower for a glimpse into Sri Lanka’s origins. Stop to admire the Manning Market, Bo Tree, and Red Mosque and hear about their local relevance. Visit Town Hall, and Viharamahadevi Park, Colombo’s largest park with a golden Buddha statue, many water fountains, and a kids’ playground. You can interact with the locals at the floating markets at Pettah Market too!
Take an evening stroll at the Galle Face Green, then relax with a cocktail on the checkered patio at the Galle Face Hotel. Make a pit stop at Arcade which houses a cluster of magnificent renovated buildings, set amid green lawns and featuring a glass-floor aquarium. Shop at well-known brands and indulge in a quick meal.
You will find hand-loomed fabrics, locally made clothes, books written by Sri Lankan authors, and interior decorations at Barefoot, or unique souvenirs to decorate your house with a Sri Lankan touch at Paradise Road.
Among Colombo’s shopping malls, Odel, One Galle Face, and Colombo City Centre are popular. The Colombo Dutch Hospital features a wide variety of shops and restaurants, making it one of the most popular nightlife destinations in the city.
Want to take a break? The best part of any city tour is definitely the unique cuisine. Authentic Sri Lankan restaurants in Colombo serve some of the most popular food like Hoppers, Pittu, Kottu Roti, and Lamprais. Enjoy a cuppa Ceylon tea or Ceylon coffee, a tradition that was adopted in Sri Lanka during colonial times. Some of the most popular rooftop bars in Colombo include Cloud Red at Cinnamon Red hotel, 41 Sugar, and Ward 7 at Jetwing Colombo Seven hotel.