Refreshingly Sri Lanka: Wonder of Asia

Endless beaches, timeless ruins, welcoming people, oodles of elephants, killer surf, cheap prices, fun trains, famous tea and flavourful food describe Sri Lanka.

Once known as Ceylon, the picturesque island of Sri Lanka has been attracting visitors for centuries with its diverse wildlife, lush tea plantations and miles of beaches. The country boasts great ethnic and religious diversity, and is home to several ancient Buddhist sites, splendid Hindu temples and impressive Colonial-era buildings. With almost 30 years of Civil War and the tragedy of the 2004 tsunami behind it, Sri Lanka is steadily moving towards peace and prosperity.

Posed just above the Equator amid the balmy waters of the Indian Ocean, the island’s legendary reputation for natural beauty and plenty has inspired an almost magical regard even in those who have never visited the place. Romantically inclined geographers, pouring over maps of the island, compared its outline to a teardrop falling from the tip of India or to the shape of a pearl.

Spanning an area of just over 65,000 sq km (25,097 sq mile), the island nation of Sri Lanka offers much to see, owing to its long history and pristine natural beauty. While the remains of ancient cities, such as Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa, attest to the country’s cultural and religious heritage, the grand old hotels of Nuwara Eliya and the fascinating Galle Fort evince its Colonial legacy. The country is noted for a number of national parks and nature reserves, such as Yala West and Uda Walawe, which form secure habitats for a diverse variety of flora and fauna. The coastline is fringed with beautiful beaches that offer a wealth of activities for watersports enthusiasts, while the Hill Country rewards trekkers with trails meandering through manicured tea plantations peppered with waterfalls.

Top Reasons to Visit Sri Lanka

WORLD HERITAGE SITES

UNESCO has recognised eight World Heritage Sites in Sri Lanka, an impressive number for a small island.

Sri Lanka boasts more than two thousand years of recorded history, and the remarkable achievements of the early Sinhalese civilisation can still be seen in the sequence of ruined cities and great religious monuments that litter the northern plains. Few places have as many UNESCO World Heritage sites (eight) packed into such a small area. Its two thousand-plus years of culture can be discovered at ancient sites filled with mystery.

Do not miss these world heritage sites:

  • Galle Fort
  • Kandy
  • Sinharaja Forest Reserve
  • Dambulla
  • Sigiriya
  • Polonnaruwa
  • Anuradhapura
  • Central Highlands

STUNNING BEACHES

For many people the beach is Sri Lanka, and, small though the island is, it really is no slouch in the sand and sea department.

If Sri Lanka looks outlined in white from space, it’s due to the beaches that encircle the island. You can rarely travel any part of the coast for long without coming upon a simply stunning stretch of sand. More amazing is that many are almost empty. There are long, golden-speckled ones, there are dainty ones with soft white sand, there wind- and wave-battered ones, and ones without a footstep for miles. Some have a slowly, slowly vibe and some have a lively party mood, but whichever you choose, the beaches of Sri Lanka really are every bit as gorgeous as you’ve heard.

Must-visit Sri Lankan beaches:

  • Thalpe, South Coast
  • Marakolliya Beach, South Coast
  • Rekawa Beach, South Coast
  • Arugam Bay, East Coast
  • Uppuveli & Nilaveli, East Coast
  • Batticaloa, East Coast

WILDLIFE ENCOUNTERS

The island may be small but the animals are big, especially the herds of Asian elephants that live inside and outside the national parks. Leopards and water buffaloes are just some of the other creatures.

Sri Lanka is one of the finest wildlife-watching countries in South Asia. The island may be small in size, but the variety of habitats, and the wildlife found there, would do justice to a country many times its size. Even a visitor with only the most casual of interest can’t help but be overawed by the sight of great herds of elephants, enormous whales, elusive leopards, schools of dolphins, hundreds of colourful birds, and reefs teeming with rainbow-coloured fish. The Sri Lankan tourism industry hasn’t been slow to cotton on to the country wildlife-watching potential, and an impressive array of national parks, protected zones and safari options exist that allow anyone, from dedicated naturalists to interested lay persons, to get out there with a pair of binoculars and make the most of the Sri Lankan wilderness.

Best places to view wildlife:

  • Yala National Park
  • Uda Walawe National Park
  • Minneriya National Park
  • Kumana National Park
  • Pottuvil

OUTDOOR ACTIVITIES

From diving and snorkelling to whale watching tours and a whole host of water-based activities, the Sri Lankan coast has something to offer everyone.

Sri Lanka’s diving scene is developing along with its tourist scene. Excellent places for diving and snorkelling can be found right around the coast but most are still seldom visited. The West coast of Sri Lanka has been the centre of diving; however other areas like the South and East are coming on strong.

Sri Lanka is fast gaining a reputation for being a world-class whale-watching location. The big attraction is big indeed – blue whales, the largest of all creatures. Mirissa is the best place from which to organise a whale-watching trip.

You don’t have to be a beach babe to enjoy Sri Lankan water sports. High up in the hills, rivers tumble down mountains to produce some memorable rafting conditions. Kitulgala has the best-known white-water rafting area.

Best areas for outdoor activities:

  • Bar Reef – diving with dolphins
  • Great Basses Reefs – finest dive site in Sri Lanka
  • Pigeon Island National Park – diving with fish and sharks
  • Batticaloa – wreck diving
  • Mirissa – whale-watching
  • Kitulgala – white-water rafting

COLONIAL ARCHITECTURE

The Dutch, the Portuguese ad the British all literally left their marks on Sri Lanka. Their legacies are today’s atmospheric sights.

Yes, the Brits were chased out at independence in 1948, but their legacy lives on in much more than an often impenetrable bureaucracy addicted to forms. Colombo has wide, tree-shaded streets where you’ll see the structures of the empire at their most magnificent. The National Museum building is redolent with empire. Look around a little and you’ll find the colonial legacies of the Dutch and Portuguese as well. Just head to restored quarters of Fort and wander, pausing at the hugely popular Old Dutch Hospital.

Best places to experience Sri Lanka’s colonial legacy:

  • Colombo
  • Galle Fort
  • Nuwara Eliya
  • Jaffna
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Best Time to Visit Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka’s climate is rather complicated for such a small country, due to the fact that the island is affected by two separate monsoons – though this also means that there is usually good weather somewhere on the island, at most times of the year. It’s worth bearing in mind, however, that the basic pattern described below can vary significantly from year to year, and that global warming has disrupted these already complex patterns.

The basic rainfall pattern is as follows. The main southwest (“yala”) monsoon brings rain to the west and southwest coasts and hill country from April/May to September (wettest from April to June). The less severe northeast (“maha”) monsoon hits the east coast from November to March (wettest from November to December); there’s also a inter-monsoonal period of unsettled weather preceding the Maha monsoon in October and November during which heavy rainfall and thunderstorms can occur anywhere across the island. In practical terms, this means that the best time to visit the west and south coasts and hill country is from December to March, while the best weather on the east coast is from April/May to September.

Where is Sri Lanka located?

Shaped like a teardrop, the island country of Sri Lanka sits in the Indian Ocean, just off the southern tip of India. Sri Lanka is separated from India by the 48-km (30-mile) wide Palk Strait and sits just north of the equator. The island is mostly made up of low-lying areas and forest, with densely inhabited coastal regions. The South, however, has more mountainous areas.

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