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A Guide to Sri Lanka - colonial cities, historic temples and beach bliss

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Shaped like a teardrop hanging off the south coast of India, the island of Sri Lanka holds an assortment of enchanted charms within it’s palm-fringed borders. Pristine beaches encircle green highlands, where tea plantations line wildlife reserves, and ancient temples protrude through the canopy. Witness a spectacular elephant gathering, learn to pluck tea leaves, or celebrate a sacred Buddhist relic during one of the many festivals that occur year-round on this enthralling island.

Natalie Lyall-Grant

My Destination local expert on

Sri Lanka

Cultural Triangle

 

Bursting with history, Sri Lanka’s central region is the product of 2000 years worth of changing dynasties. Ancient Buddhist temples, spectacular relics and curious rock formations are scattered across its lush mountainous scenery. Bursting with tradition, these ancient sites each hold their own mystical stories behind them. Immersed within this jungle-strewn region lies the UNESCO listed Dambulla Cave – a sacred pilgrimage site for 22 centuries, and the ancient city of Sigiriya; its rock fortress holding the ruins of an ancient palace often regarded as the eighth wonder of the world.

 

Beaches

 

Perhaps most famous for its pristine beaches, Sri Lanka’s tropical white sandy coastlines offer the ultimate desert island experience. Still largely unspoilt by civilization, while away your days under an overhanging palm, watching stilt fisherman amble past on the azure waters. Head for Pigeon Island in the east for the best snorkeling, Mirissa for the best blue whale watching, or Unawatuna in the south for the calmest waters and the best swimming. Alternatively, the uninhabited northern beaches immerse you in complete beach nirvana, where palm-fringed expanses meet crystal clear shores.

 

National Parks

 

The rich wildlife scene in Sri Lanka makes it a nature lover’s paradise. Home to the world’s densest population of leopard, the biodiversity here is as extensive as the country’s history. Yala National Park on the southern coast is the best place to spot leopards, along with elephants, bears and sloths, finishing up your day with a dip in the warm ocean on the southern beaches. The island is also famed for its spectacular elephant gatherings, when herds congregate to drink and bathe at the scattered watering holes.

 

Tea Country

 

Home to some of the world’s finest tea, Sri Lanka’s central highlands are blanketed with thriving plantations. First brought to the country by Scottish tycoon James Taylor in 1867, the island has remained a leading tea producer ever since. Visit Nurweya Eliya, the heart of the country’s tea industry, to tour picturesque tea estates set atop rolling hills and picturesque countryside, where you’ll watch tea pluckers at work and sample some of the finest leaves to take home with you.

 

Cities

 

Sri Lanka’s cities each offer their own slice of colonial history and scenic beauty. Wander the bustling streets of Colombo or head to the vibrant city of Kandy, set around an emerald lake and famed for its ancient Temple of the Tooth. Yet perhaps the most fascinating of all is the Dutch colonial city of Galle. Built on its own peninsula around a 17th century fort – which has been listed an UNESCO heritage site - you’ll discover a bundle of rich heritage within this medieval-looking town that stands curiously out of place in the heart of the tropics.