For a small country, Sri Lanka has so much to offer, from safari drives in the national parks to world-class surfing beaches, from ancient Buddhist sites to misty tea plantations.
Most visitors arrive by air in Colombo, so after a day or so settling in and perhaps sleeping off jet-lag, it is time to explore this charming, friendly, and picturesque country. The choice of where and what to see is, naturally, very personal. Some visitors may well opt to lie on a beach for their entire stay, which is fair enough, but a bit of a shame, when there is so much waiting to be explored.
A good way to start your trip is by visiting the major historic sights, which are essential to understanding the religious and cultural psyche of the country. The rock temples of Dambulla and the stunning frescoes of Sigiriya are both breathtaking — the latter both literally and metaphorically — since it involves a steep climb up to the top of Sigiriya rock. A piece of advice: visit Sigiriya early in the morning, so that you can puff your way up the steps in relative cool — relative is the key word here, since we are talking about a tropical island.
The ancient kingdoms of Polonnaruwa and Anuradhapura are a dreamer’s, a poet’s and a photographer’s delight. Tumbled masonry, columns, stupas, and ancient, enigmatic Buddhas watch over you. Trees and creepers lend a certain abandoned feel to the sites, as you wander around in complete peace with monkeys playing in the branches above you and Buddhist monks kneeling quietly in contemplation.
Kandy, a pretty temple town in central Sri Lanka, is home to the Temple of the Sacred Tooth (pictured above). If you are planning a trip in July-August, you will be lucky enough to witness the Perahera, one of the world’s most amazing religious processions.
After days exploring the marvels of all these ancient cities, move onto cool, misty Nuwara Eliya, which sitting at nearly 2,000 meters is pleasantly chilly and delightfully time-warp-ish. You will need sweaters here even if you visit in the middle of summer. The hotels usually have fires lit in the evening, and give you a lovely cozy hot water bottle at night.
Nuwariya Eliya is the absolute epitome of a hill station as seemingly every room has framed photographs of the Queen at the grand old Hill Club. When you see an oil painting of Prince Charles and the late Princess Diana taking pride of place over a large fireplace you know for sure that the clock of fast-paced, twenty-first century living has definitely stopped.
From the striated green hills of the tea plantations drive south, losing altitude as you head for the beaches of the southern coast. Sad vestiges of the 2004 tsunami remain as reminders of how this little island suffered, but the beaches and the pretty fishing villages seem to have recovered.
Galle is a delight, an absolute revelation, a beautiful gem — completely natural and welcoming. Within the fort walls there lives a thriving community with Montessori schools, picturesque antique shops, children playing cricket (what else, in Sri Lanka?), families out for evening strolls along the fort ramparts. A whole bustling world encased in a 17th century fort.
Colombo is your passage out of a dreamy holiday mind-set and back into the realities of modern life — in other words, shopping. Lots and lots of it. Colombo is clean and chic and has just the right mix of lovely old colonial buildings and smart new districts and shops filled to bursting with export quality clothes
Wherever you travel in this delightful country, you will be greeted with gentle smiles and genuine kindness, with people always ready to chat about cricket, which is (consider yourself warned) a national obsession.