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This tiny island nation, otherwise known as the ‘Pearl of the Indian Ocean’, has fast become a popular tourist destination for holidaymakers. It’s the perfect place for those looking to immerse themselves in local culture; a definite must-visit spot for watersport and wildlife enthusiasts; and a haven for history buffs.
The nation experiences two monsoon seasons, which affect different parts of the country at different months, as opposed to one monsoon at the same time throughout the country. This means that, at any given time, travellers can expect a sunny climate in the country. The southwest monsoon is between May and July, which leaves the north rain-free, and the northeast monsoon is between October and January, which leaves the south ready to be explored.
Sri Lanka is blessed with a distinctive cuisine flavoured with exotic spices that never fails to delight. An example of this is its famed rice and curry spread, which includes an intensely cooked and fragrant lentil and chicken or fish curry with rice and vegetables on the side. The fish curry comes highly recommended by locals. Kothu and egg hoppers, the Sri Lankan counterparts of the American burger and clam chowder, are also delicacies that should not be missed.
Pro tip: For those visiting Colombo, drop by Hotel de Pilawoos and try their cheese kothu for the ultimate street food experience.
Sri Lanka, Asia’s wildlife hotspot, boasts 26 national parks and two marine parks. The most well-known of them, Yala National Park, features the highest density of leopards in the world, 215 species of birds, mugger crocodiles and other reptiles while the coastline bordering the park is a nesting spot for five species of sea turtles. Adjacent to Yala is Udawalawe National Park, which is home to endless herds of elephants and rare birds like changeable hawk eagles and the serpent eagle.
Pigeon Island attracts many a curious traveller looking to tap into the vibrant marine life surrounding the island. The reef off the island consists of about 100 species of colourful corals and up to 300 reef fish species, making snorkelling in these waters a surreal experience.
Pro tip: To catch a glimpse of the leopards, take a night safari through Yala or visit in the wee hours of the morning.
Surrounded by sea on all sides, this tiny island nation boasts some of the most pristine coastlines in Asia. With sandy unpolluted beaches stretching on endlessly, palm trees swaying in the sea breeze and turquoise waters beckoning, Sri Lanka’s beaches are as magical as they come. Mirissa is recommended for those looking to soak up the sun in peace while Unawatuna is better suited for those in the mood for beach parties. For adrenaline junkies, Bentota, with its water activities like kite surfing and para-cycling, is the place to be.
Sri Lanka is probably the only place people can view both the world’s largest land mammal, the elephant, and the largest water mammal, the blue whale. Five species of whales, including the blue whale and the minke whale, are regularly seen in the seas off Kalpitiya. Visitors can also enjoy the sightings of mischievous dolphins, such as spinner dolphins, in the area. The peak months for whale watching in Kalpitiya are between January and March.
Pro tip: For those looking to escape the crowds, visit Trincomalee, which offers equally fantastic whale watching opportunities off the tourist trail.
Sri Lanka’s abundance of flora and fauna means that it has beautiful nature trails that are akin to something out of a fairytale. With stunning vistas and waterfalls, misty mountains rising into the clouds, hillsides covered with paddy fields and tea estates and the occasional peacock or deer crossing your path, Sri Lanka’s hiking trails are simply breathtaking.
For beginners, the Demodara Rail Hike in Ella is a great option that also takes hikers through the iconic Nine Arches Bridge. More experienced hikers should consider going to Kirigalpotha or the Knuckles Mountain Range, which is widely regarded as the most beautiful hiking trail in the country.
Pro tip: Get to the Nine Arches Bridge before 9:10 am to catch the train for some Instagram-worthy pictures.
Easy access to the waves, the wide number of sand bottomed breaks and the ever-consistent swells have fast turned Sri Lanka into a popular surfing destination. Arugam Bay is arguably the most sought after location for surfing and regularly hosts international competitions like Red Bull Ride My Wave. Not only does it have the best swells, but the wide range of choices means there are plenty of options for both novices and experienced surfers. Many other coastal towns, like Hikkaduwa, offer great surfing opportunities, too, and they’re definitely worth a visit.
Buddhism has played a key role in the country over the centuries and there are several ancient temples dotted throughout the country. These centuries-old temples hold a piece of Sri Lanka’s history and often feature awe-inspiring architecture and designs that were far ahead of their times. The most well-known example is the Temple of the Tooth, although the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi, which features a Bo tree from the original Sri Maha Bodhi in India, and Ruwanwelisaya, are must visits, too.
Dubbed ‘Little England’, Nuwara Eliya is a sleepy town hidden amid the tea country hills. Littered with colonial-era buildings and bungalows, Tudor style hotels and well-manicured hedges and gardens, Nuwara Eliya gives off the impression of a town still stuck in a bygone era. Although small, the town has plenty to see and do. Drop by the massive Gregory Lake for water activities and a lakeside barbecue or visit Horton Plains, a hauntingly beautiful grassland with rolling plains, mesmerising waterfalls and, of course, the dramatic escarpment that is World’s End.
Pro tip: Don’t forget to visit the Hakgala Botanic Garden, which is quite the underrated attraction.
During the months of May to September, the retreating banks of a 1,700-year-old reservoir make for one of the most astonishing sights in the country. Approximately 400 elephants gather at the lake to feed, socialise and frolick in the water bringing a centuries-old journey to an end. It is the biggest gathering of these gentle mammals at one time in the whole world. Other than the elephant gathering, the Minneriya National Park has a lot to see in the form of deer, purple-faced langur monkeys and a variety of birdlife.
Pro tip: Take a tour through the entire park and then drop by the Minneriya Tank around sunset as that’s when the elephants come out to the lake.
The country’s famous Cultural Triangle is the treasure trove of ancient cities, relics and religious monuments that showcase Sri Lanka’s early civilisation. The triangle consists of the area between three cities – Kandy, Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa. Within this triangle, visitors can find Sigiriya, the cave temples of Dambulla and Mihintale – the birthplace of Buddhism in Sri Lanka – along with many lesser-known but culturally important attractions, like Yapahuwa. For those looking to explore Sri Lanka’s kaleidoscopic history and culture in all its shine, the Cultural Triangle definitely deserves a visit.