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For such a bijou island, Sri Lanka delivers on all fronts, offering a diverse mix of historic attractions, cultural heritage, natural splendour, national parks brimming with elephant and leopard, idyllic palm-fringed beaches and luxury accommodation. The people are warm and welcoming, the food is exceptional and the island’s diversity means there is something to suit both couples and families. One of our favourite destinations, we’ve put together some of the reasons why Sri Lanka should be on everyone’s bucket list.
Colonised by the Portuguese, Dutch and British, visitors to Sri Lanka can soak up a wealth of colonial architecture in the major cities of Colombo, Galle and Kandy. The showstopper is UNESCO-listed Galle with its impressive Dutch Fort built in 1663 where you can see marine artefacts recovered from shipwrecks. These include maps, naval craft, artillery guns and sailor shoes up to 800 years old. In Colombo historic highlights include Cinnamon Gardens, the Fort and the old district of Pettah.
Infused with ancient Buddhist culture, the island is liberally dotted with monasteries and temples. The Cultural Triangle to the north contains many important pilgrimage sites, including Anuradhapura home to the first monasteries and shrines; the wonderful stone carvings and reclining Buddha at Polonnaruwa and the ancient fortress at Lion Rock in Sigiriya. Other cultural highlights include the atmospheric Dambulla Cave Temple and the golden-roofed Temple of the Tooth in Kandy, which claims to house the relic of Buddha’s sacred tooth.
A highlight of the island is the amazing bird and wildlife found here. There are nearly 6,000 wild Asian elephants living on Sri Lanka and the island boasts the world’s highest density of leopard. Yala National Park is a great destination for a jeep safari or head to Minneriya National Park to spot elephant and wild buffalo. Bird watchers will want to visit Sinharaja Forest Reserve, home to endemic birds such as the Ceylon Hanging Parrot.
For beachside relaxation, you can visit the shallow reef around the northeast coast is ideal for snorkelling. Alternatively, Sri Lanka’s south coast is the perfect place to relax on the palm-lined beaches of the Indian Ocean. The south coast is made up of long stretches of golden sand beaches and secluded coves, so it is the perfect place to unwind and work on your tan surrounded by inspiring views.
Away from the heat of the coastal regions, the Hill Country contains some of Sri Lanka’s most stunning scenery. Hire a bike and ride around the tropical backroads, coastal wetlands and sleepy villages to appreciate the island’s natural beauty. Hikers should make the two-hour trek up Little Adam’s Peak for panoramic views, or trek through the misty forests of Horton Plains National Park to World’s End, one of the most beautiful viewpoints in Sri Lanka.
Foodies can enjoy excellent Sri Lankan curries, fabulous seafood and fresh coconuts. Do also try buffalo milk curd dusted with coconut and another local delicacy, the hopper, which is a battered pancake filled with everything from fried eggs to sweet treats. This is also the island to visit for a great cup of tea. The capital of Tea Country, Nuwara Eliya offers fresh mountain air and green hillsides, where you can explore the tea trails and tour the Victorian-era estates.
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