For over 2500 years, Sri Lanka has managed to create just the right blend of tranquility and vitality, chaos and calm, ancient and modern.
Located a mere 3o kilometres off the southern coast of India, the vibrant cities, elegant palaces, exquisite parks, astonishing temples, fascinating monasteries, grand monuments and gorgeous beaches are all testament to a people whose character and culture has never been one to surrender to the inevitability of the modern world.
Sri Lanka may very well be the last paradise on earth.
  
History
Known to the Indic, Chinese, Arabic, and Western civilisations for millennia, it was first called Tambapanni or "copper-red" due to the natural colour of the local soil. The Ancient Greeks called it Taprobana, while the Arabs referred to it as Sarandib, which gave us the word "serendipity". When the Portuguese arrived in 1505, they named it Ceilão, from which the British derived Ceylon.
In 1972 the island was renamed Sri Lanka, meaning "resplendent land" in Sanskrit.

People

The majority of the population is Sinhalese. Tamils live predominantly in the north and the east and they make up the largest minority. Descendants of the Moors, Indian Tamils, Malays and Burghers also form part of Sri Lanka’s rich ethnic tapestry.

Places

You will be spoiled for choices, but here are a few of our must-sees:

Sigariya Rock Fortress
The name translates as ‘lion stone’ and this amazing rock fortress has rock star status. Recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, it is probably the most visited cultural icon in Sri Lanka. This ‘fortress in the sky’ is the ancient ruin of the once mighty Sinhala Kingdom’s fort and palace. Located in central Matale district, it is surrounded by what’s left of an extensive network of gardens, reservoirs and historic structures. Be sure to see the ancient fresco paintings.

Kandy
Kandy is truly a gem. As the gemstone hub of Sri Lanka, it is known for exquisite precious stones, particularly sapphires, along with a wonderful array of arts and crafts. It is also home of the annual Perahera ceremony and was the site where the last Singhalese king relinquished power to the British in 1815. Perhaps the town’s most famous attraction is the sacred tooth relic, housed in a 4th century temple. Legend has it that Buddha's tooth was brought to Sri Lanka hidden in the hair of an Orissan princess. If you can’t get your teeth into that, then a visit to the old town market is also a treat.

Dambulla Cave Temple
The caves at Dambulla are truly incredible. Composed of five adjoining caves, they are filled with Buddhist statues carved directly into the surrounding rock. The first cave was begun over 2,000 years ago and the largest now contains about 60 different Buddhas. You’ll see Buddha depicted in many different poses – each with its own special meaning. Don’t forget to look up! The ceilings are covered with vivid fresco paintings that have lost nothing over the centuries. The site is still a functioning temple, so remember to be respectful by removing your shoes and covering your knees and shoulders. (Bring a lightweight scarf or a sarong for just such occasions).

Yala National Park
Yes! You can go on safari in Sri Lanka. In fact, it has one of the highest concentrations of leopards in the world. You’ll also see your fair share of crocodiles, elephants, deer and even warthogs. Located in the southeast, Yala is about 300 kilometres from Colombo. Designated a wildlife sanctuary in 1900, it remains an important part of Sri Lanka’s conservation efforts. If you’re really adventurous, you can stay overnight at an eco-lodge.

Polonnaruwa
Another UNESCO world heritage site, Polonnaruwa is a sprawling complex that is sure to bring out the ‘Indiana Jones’ in anyone. Before you head into the park, check out the archeological museum to get your bearings. Hire a bike and explore the royal palace, the king’s audience hall and his ancient swimming pool. (Don’t bother bringing your swimsuit– the pool cleaner hasn’t been around for a while.) There are a host of incredible temples and statues in various states of preservation. Don’t miss the four figures of Buddha at Gal Vihara. Carved from one slab of granite, the standing Buddha is 7 metres tall and the sleeping Buddha is 14 metres long. Truly stunning.

The Beaches
There are so many beautiful beaches in Sri Lanka – it’s hard to pick just one. So here are our top five:

Unawatuna
Famous for gentle emerald-blue waters, you can get a tan, scuba dive, snorkel and sometimes spot a whale shark from the shore. There’s even a turtle-nesting site.

Bentota
Home to some of the nicest high-end spa resorts and alternate medicine centres, Bentota is an ideal spot for a break when the sightseeing finally wears you down. You’ll find the usual crop of water sports and bicycle tours here, as well as a river safari if you have any energy left after your spa!

Mirissa
As well as a perfect spot for swimming, Mirissa boasts an amazing aquatic wildlife habitat which serves as an ecological park as well as a holiday resort. There’s a small coral reef where you can hire a fishing boat. Be sure to keep an eye out for whales and dolphins. And if you visit from December to March or August to October, you’ll spot hatching turtles.

Weligama
If you want surfing, look no further than Weligama on the south west coast. Sheltered by a shallow coral reef, there’s no danger of sharks here. You’ll see Sri Lanka’s famous stilt fishing and for some after-sun wear, check out the local lace weaving.

Hikkaduwa
One of the island’s most famous beaches is home to plush hotels and upmarket nightclubs. But it also has its own share of natural beauty and fantastic local cuisine. Be sure to take a ride on one of the glass-bottomed boats that ply the coral reef.
 
Food
Sri Lankan cuisine is heavily influenced by the island’s Indian, Portuguese, Dutch and English heritage and by the many spices for which it was an important trading point for centuries. The result is a unique melting pot you won’t find anywhere else. Some of our favourites are:

Lamprais
This is a dish originating from the Burghers. Consisting of rice infused with cardamom, cloves and cinnamon and mixed with boiled eggs, eggplant, frikadeller beef balls and chili sambal. All wrapped in a banana leaf and baked. There is also a veggie version. Delicious!
  
Hoppers
Hoppers or “appa’ are a whole range of a kind of pancake snack, soft inside and crispy outside. Made with a fermented batter of rice flour and coconut milk with spices. The dish is either pan-fried or steamed. Choose from savoury or sweet. String Hoppers are a variation made from dough that is pressed into a circular string mold. Try an egg hopper for breakfast!

Kottu
Kottu is the Sri Lankan equivalent of the hamburger. If you’re craving something greasy but tasty, you’ll love this spicy stir-fried dish of shredded roti bread and vegetables in a curry sauce. Options include eggs, meat or cheese.

Kool
Kool is a seafood broth from Jaffna. Made from a mix crab, fish, cuttlefish, prawns, and crayfish with long beans, spinach and tamarind.

Sour Fish Curry
Ambul Thiyal is a dish that uses a firm fish such as tuna chopped into cubes and sauteed in a peppery blend of spices and a sour dried fruit called goraka. Gotu Kola Mallung This is a traditional salad made with chopped greens and chilies then seasoned with salt and pepper along with lemon juice, shallots, ginger and coconut.

Watalappan
A Malay heritage dish, Watalappan is a frothy steamed egg custard made with treacle, coconut milk and a host of spices such as cinnamon, cardamom and nutmeg.

Wood Apple Juice
The Wood Apple is a hard shell fruit with a pungent kind of blue cheese aroma. Try it as a smoothie for a unique sweet and sour flavour.

Curd and Treacle
A dessert you can’t miss! Prepared with buffalo milk and topped with a healthy lashing of palm treacle.
 

Do

Be aware that it takes a lot of time to travel even short distances.
Be adventurous in your diet. Take time to explore your palate as well as the countryside. It’s really worth it.
Show respect for religious sensibilities and customs. Sri Lankans are a gentle thoughtful people and it helps to return the favour.
Enter temples with covered shoulders and legs. You’ll also need to remove any footwear and headwear.
 

Don’t

Miss out on the hill train – it’s a wonderful way to see the countryside and the people up-close and personal.
Be afraid that Sri Lankans eat with their fingers. Most places will offer visitors cutlery but if you’re game, try to use the fingertips of your right hand. It's the original finger-licking good!
Miss out on soaking up the daily hustle and bustle. Walk the markets and linger over that cup of Ceylon tea or glass of toddy.
Be in a hurry. Sri Lankans operate at a speed that Westerners often find way too relaxed. But that’s the point of being here – slow down and enjoy it all!
Touch the top of the head of Buddhist monks or small children, and avoid turning your back to a Buddha statue when close by.
 

Best time to go

Essentially Sri Lanka is a year-round destination. There are two monsoons, the Southwest Monsoon runs from May to July and the Northeast Monsoon from October to January.
In practical terms, the best times to visit are January to April and Mid-July to September.
However, February to September is best for the North and East while December to March is best for the Hill Country and the Western and Southern Coasts. For the East Coast, your best bet is April to September
Generally, the beach season runs January to April for Southern beaches and May to July for Eastern beaches.
 

Best way to go

Sri Lanka is an island, so one of the best ways to travel around is by boat…. Moor in Galle on the south western tip of the island, spend some time exploring and deciding your itinerary. Whatever you choose, no problem. Your boat can pick you up anywhere along the coast and drop you off wherever you decide, meaning your trip is completely customisable.
Your boat’s customisable too…just choose from any of the beautifully equipped vessels.
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Sri Lanka