Sri Lanka is undergoing a tourism renaissance at the moment and it is becoming a hot destination since recovering from 30 years of civil war. This gorgeous nation, a teardrop-shaped island south of India, boasts lush jungles, pristine beaches, beautiful temples, abundant wildlife and remarkably friendly people.
Packed in its 65,000 square km landmass are eight – yes, eight – UNESCO world heritage sites. Here we take a look at where to go in Sri Lanka.
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After British colonialists arrived in Colombo, back in the 19th century, the capital city was known as ‘The Garden of the East’. Though you’re more likely to head to Singapore for that moniker nowadays, the garden roots remain between the streets.
Visit the country’s National Museum, looking back through the country’s 2000 year history, from ancient times through British rule. It’d be hard to miss the giant, ninth-century stone Buddha that greets you upon entry – but you’re well-advised not to miss it anyhow. The biggest park in the city, Viharamahadevi Park, is also notable. Superb flowering trees are the highlight, while elephants often roam these grounds when ceremonies are in action.
Eating Out in Colombo
The capital city offers the best array of fine dining in the country. Sri Lankan cooking is wonderful, but there is no eating out tradition and locals often eat at home or at the cheap local cafes. Most of the independent restaurants can be found in Colombo, so it is a great place to start for the foodie. Here are just a few restaurants in Colombo you don’t want to miss.
The Gallery Café
This elegant and atmospheric café offers art as well as fine food, as it displays a collection of local artists and designers on its walls. It serves the very best authentic Sri Lankan food made with the freshest local ingredients – such as black pork curry and lemongrass and ginger chicken.
Located just outside of the small main tourist district in Colombo you will find the Casa Colombo, which offers visitors a distinct design and a lovely relaxed atmosphere. This 12-suite colonial building has glitzy style with a pink pool, glass sun loungers and strip of neon lighting under the bed frames. Each suite offers rainforest showers, 15 foot high ceilings and free Wi-Fi.
Known as one of the most exclusive restaurants in Sri Lanka, the Curry Leaf offers excellently prepared Sri Lankan cuisine and is one of the best places to experience the culinary delights of this nation.
A gorgeous bar, café and restaurant within a beautiful glass chamber, Zaza offers a selection of traditional Ceylon tea in the day time and then transforms into a chic tapas restaurant at night with a range of international and local dishes. Later in the evening, the glass cube lights up and it becomes one of the hottest bars in the city.
The Golden Valley
Possibly Sri Lanka’s most famous export is the delicately flavoured tea that comes from the Bogawantalawa valley. You and I know it as Ceylon tea. The region’s humidity, cool temperatures and rainfall are what make the climate favourable to the production of the highest quality leaves.
Again, the colonial aspect gives this place an edge. It was a Brit, James Taylor, who brought the tea plant here – back when Britain was spreading the crop far and wide. And the imperial setting is no clearer than on the Tea Trails resort, perched atop the highlands at an altitude of 1250 metres. Here, several colonial-style bungalows are the setting for an opulent stay on what remains to this day a working tea plantation.
Visiting the Ceylon Tea Trails is a must during your trip.
Jaffna and Around
The north of Sri Lanka can feel a world apart. The climate is dry and sun-baked all year round, while the Tamil’ culture here comprises of its own language and cuisine.
The region might be most famous for its large, rainbow-coloured Hindu temples. Impressive to say the least. Nallur Kandaswamy Kovil is the most imposing, topped off by a towering, golden gateway, decorated by all manner of gods. The Jaffna Fort meanwhile, offers quite the vantage point: overlooking the Jaffna lagoon. This vast citadel was fought over for centuries, but makes a wonderful architectural sight today.
Situated on the south coast of Sri Lanka, Weligama is most famous for its Cape. That is a collection of impressive private villas, rather than something you might see aspiring superheroes wearing. Set on a cliff that overlooks the Indian Ocean, the luxurious collection of private villas was designed by famous Asian architect Lek Bunnag. There are few better places to view the natural beauty of the ocean’s bounty or the nearby Koggala Lake.
It’s not a bad spot from which to visit the region’s not-in-short-supply cultural attractions, either. Around the aforementioned Koggala Lake lies a number of Buddhist shrines, while the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Port Galle, lies nearby – a trading post which reveals the multi-cultural colonial history of the Island.
The City of Galle is a whitewashed walled fort city with great views of the bright blue ocean and it is home to this stunning 17th-century building. The Amangalla Hotel has antique and period furnishings, so your room will be appointed with a freestanding bathtub and a four-poster bed. Relax on the terrace and enjoy the views while dining on a tasty curry.
Elsewhere in Sri Lanka
During your visit, you should absolutely explore everything Sri Lanka has to offer and experience its natural beauty and laid back charm of Sri Lanka. Here are some of the best recommendations:
Yala National Park
Take a guided safari tour through this lush park and you could possibly spot elephants, deer, peacocks, monitor lizards and if you are lucky – the rare leopard. Companies such as Kulu Safaris offer luxury camping in the national park, with open bush barbeques for dinner and breakfast served on tables in the river while the cool water soothes your feet.
Raja and the Whales Tour Company
In the town of Mirissa on the South Coast you will meet Raja, who is passionate about offering excellent eco-friendly whale watching tours while working to protect these beautiful creatures.
Hunas Falls by Amaya
Located an hour’s drive from Kandy, Hunas Falls is a luxurious 31 room resort. Its 28 deluxe rooms and 3 special suites offer dazzling views of the misty waterfalls and scenery of the Hun Assgiriya mountain ranges.
As one of the top tourist destinations in Asia, Sri Lanka is a country with an abundance of activities, natural wonders and sublime cuisine. Visiting this island of spectacular beauty and staggering contrast will no doubt be a life-changing experience.