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Why you should go to Sri Lanka

By Martha Hales

Sri Lanka is a tropical treasure chest stuffed with all the ingredients for a great holiday, from dreamy beaches to verdant mountains, mystical temples to majestic wildlife. Exploring the teardrop isle is straightforward, as distances are manageable and sights are well spread across the nation so you can fit all sorts of activities into your trip. If you are looking for a beach holiday with a side order of safari, or a cultural tour with some adventure sports mixed in, Sri Lanka is the destination for you.

Here’s a taster of what your Sri Lankan adventure could involve.

Fishermen balancing on stilts in the waters of Ahangama

Tropical coastlines

Beaches are easy to come by in Sri Lanka so whether your ideal shore is deserted or bustling, full of local charm or international facilities, you can find it here. The west coast is packed with impressive beaches and plenty of resorts and hotels to serve them. A more backwater charm pervades the south coast, where the tourist scene is visible but not all-enveloping, and some of the prettiest beaches hereabouts are also the best locations for whale watching trips. Surfers should head for Weligama and Midigama and, if you hope to catch a glimpse of the iconic stilt fisherman of Sri Lanka, the coast between Galle and Koggala is the place to look. If you venture north into the Tamil region around Jaffna, the beaches you will find lacing the shorelines of the Palk Strait islands are often deserted and beautiful, though require a little effort to reach.

Weligama beach in Sri Lanka

Colonial charm

Sitting proudly on a rocky promontory on Sri Lanka’s south coast, Galle Fort is the epitome of picturesque. Stroll the lanes among delicately crumbling Dutch colonial architecture, stop to browse a few boutiques or galleries before picking a spot outside a cafe to watch the world go by. Breezy Galle has abundant charm and a colourful daily life to admire, and what is more it is within easy reach of some great stretches of coastline.

The Galle Fort in the Dutch colonial town of Galle, Sri Lanka

Further colonial ambiance can be found in the central uplands known as the Hill Country, where tea plantations cloak the hills in brightest green and pickers thread among the bushes plucking the finest leaves by hand. In the mid 19th century, tea began to replace coffee as the crop of choice following a severe and widespread case of coffee blight. Ceylon tea, as it was known, became a favoured brand for its quality and flavour, and the industry is thriving to this day. Nuwara Eliya is a hub of tea production in Sri Lanka, established as a hill retreat for colonialists who would regularly seek refuge from the heat of the lowlands. The Queen’s Cottage, Grand Hotel and Post Office are some examples of the British colonial style of the town, which is known for its neat lawns, golf club and formal parks.

The post office in Nuwara Eliya which is built in British colonial style

Cultural relics

Sri Lanka has a profound and enduring cultural heritage, and the monuments of the Cultural Triangle bear testament to this. Climb the impressive Sigiriya Rock for a trip back in time and explore the ruined fortress-palace atop the 200m high bluff. Not only is the view from the top worth the 1,000 steps, but as you ascend pause to admire the fine artistic representations of the female form painted on the rock’s surface.

Sigiriya rock is a UNESCO world heritage site

Further cultural relics in the area include the ruined early capital of the Sinhalese Kingdom at Anuradhapura, where several temples and monasteries are still used today, while others have been left to be reclaimed by nature. Around a millennia ago, power was transferred to a new base at Polonnaruwa, and though largely abandoned, more of the city is still standing.

The pretty temples of Anuradhapura

Finally, don't miss the fascinating cave temples of Dambulla, a series of five underground places of worship established by kings of centuries past. Parts of the complex are around 2,000 years old and all areas are adorned with multiple statues of Buddha, including an immense reclining statue more than 50m long. What makes this place so atmospheric is its on going statue as a place of pilgrimage, so you are likely to share your visit with devoted pilgrims who come here to worship and leave offerings of flowers and fruit.

The cave temples of Dambulla

Where to spot wildlife

Yala National Park is the most famous spot for wildlife watching in Sri Lanka, boasting the world’s densest concentration of leopards. The chance of spotting leopards in the wild is rightly an attractive option for many visitors to Sri Lanka, and though a sighting is by no means guaranteed, the park is hugely popular, so be prepared for busy game drives and long waits to get started. If you are not going to prioritise leopard sightings or you are lucky enough to spot one early in your tour, you can leave the crowds behind and go in search of less celebrated animals such as buffalo, jackals, sloth bears, spotted deer, crocodiles and all sorts of birds.

A leopard lounging on a branch in Yala National Park

Further inland a much quieter prospect is Udawalawe National Park, where the routes are mostly free of jeeps and the hundreds of elephants are the major draw. You can also enjoy sightings of various creatures frolicking in the wetlands, such as buffalo, crocs and various waterfowl, and for the very fortunate, you may even spot a leopard here, too. Wilpattu is another peaceful National Park popular with birders, along with the wetland park at Bundala where you may be lucky enough to see turtles as well.

Elephants in Udawalawe National Park

Make it happen

So how many of Sri Lanka’s myriad attractions are you going to tick off on your next trip? Get in touch with our expect local partners who know Sri Lanka inside out - they can combine your ideas into a dream holiday itinerary created just for you. To speak to someone in the TravelLocal office please call +44 (0)117 325 7898.