An island that sits comfortably in the Indian Ocean and with a known history that goes back to over 2000 years Sri Lanka is waiting for travellers and adventure seekers alike. This is because of a range of locations that span from rainforests to rolling hills to sandy beaches, that exist as part of this magnificent landscape.
BentotaWith coconut palms swaying in the light breeze, Bentota is a multi-tasking tourist town on the southern coast of Sri Lanka. Bentota is one of Sri Lanka’s most popular beaches and is an Indian Ocean beach resort where water adventure activities, such as surfing, sailing and snorkeling awaits tourists. When it’s time for a change of pace, you can visit a sea turtle hatchery and conservation center monitoring five of several species of sea turtles in the world. Travellers can also visit in a 17th century fortress, lush gardens and an old Buddhist temple that has existed from medieval times.
Nuwara EliyaSri Lanka is famous for its tea leaves. What better place to learn more about tea than the source itself, which is Nuwara Eliya. With a temperate climate and elevation of 1,900 meters (6,100 feet), Nuwara Eliya is Sri Lanka’s tea production capital. Travellers can take a tour of tea plantations and see how tea leaves are processed. Founded in the 19th century, this hill country town soon became a retreat for British colonists, earning the nickname Little England. April is an ideal time to visit, when tourists flock to Nuwara Eliya to see the blossoms and celebrate the Sri Lankan New Year. Other popular sights include Lake Gregory and Laxapana, Sri Lanka’s most renowned waterfalls.
AnuradhapuraAnuradhapura is an ancient sacred city established around a cutting from Buddha’s fig tree. The city dates back to the third century BC, as Anuradhapura was established by the founder of an order of Buddhist nuns. This magnificent city consists of palaces, temples and monuments that have survived for over 1,000 years but were abandoned after it was invaded in the late 10th century. On the same lines as Machu Picchu in Peru, locals were aware of it but not many others until it was ‘re-discovered’ by Europeans a few centuries later. These fantastic ruins have since been excavated and are accessible for travellers to enjoy.
ColomboColombo has been the commercial capital of Sri Lanka for more than 2,000 years since its large natural harbor has made it popular with ancient traders from Italy to China. Colombo is often referred to as the country’s capital, though the legislative capital is located in a nearby city. Ruled over first by the Portuguese and then British colonists, Colombo is a popular tourist destination. One of the most popular attractions is Galle Face Green, a strip park along the Indian Ocean. Also not to be missed is Gangaramaya Temple, known for its mix of ethnic architectural styles.
Yala National ParkAnimals rule the ground and the sky at Yala National Park. A scenic wildlife sanctuary about 240 km (150 miles) from Colombo, Yala offers tourists a plethora of things to do. Your visit begins with a safari to see animals, including elephants, water buffalo and leopards, found here in numbers higher than any other sanctuary in the world. The park is home to 215 bird species, of which seven are native to the area. Top sights, besides wild animals, are Sithulpauwwa, an ancient rock temple that once housed 12,000 monks, and Magul Maha Viharaya, once the setting for a royal marriage. Travellers will need to note that this park closes for September’s leopard breeding season.
MirissaIf tourists are looking to spend their holidays in a tropical paradise, Mirissa is just the answer to your dreams. The swaying coconut palms and beautiful golden sand beaches may induce travellers to spend days rocking away in a hammock. It doesn’t get much better than Mirissa. This crescent-shaped piece of paradise is famous for having the most stunning sunsets and sunrises in Sri Lanka. Travellers need to note that are no luxury resorts, so it’s just you, the beach, and quiet during the day. Mirissa is the largest fishing port on the southern coast of Sri Lanka and is a great place to go dolphin and whale watching.
PolonnaruwaThe terms ‘beauty’ and ‘beast’ usually go together well, except at Polonnaruwa where beauty goes better with the word ‘ruins’! Polonnaruwa is the second oldest kingdom in Sri Lanka and is known for the ruins present in this ancient garden city. The 12th century ruins are some of the best preserved in Sri Lanka. Polonnaruwa was a place where traders of exotic goods mingled with worshippers in the many temples. Tourists can begin their tour of Polonnaruwa at the Archaeological Museum, then proceed to the massive Royal Palace with its well-preserved audience hall. The stunningly decorated Sacred Quadrangle is another must-see at Polonnaruwa.
KandyKandy is the second largest city in Sri Lanka and is the gateway to the Central Highlands. The city is well known for its tropical plantations that grow both tea and rubber. If travellers are driving from Colombo, they will witness lush rubber plantations on a road that is considered one of the country’s most scenic. The last capital of the ancient kingdoms, Kandy is home to the Temple of the Tooth Relic, one of the most sacred Buddhist temples in the world. Also recommended to tourists is to time your journey to be part of a major, colorful festival involving the parade of the tooth relic around the city.
GalleGalle’s most famous attraction is the 17th century fort built by Dutch colonists. Sitting on a promontory overlooking the Indian ocean, the fort is known for its mix of Portuguese and Dutch architectural styles. Galle is considered a prime example of a fortified city. The fortress is not just another pretty place and today the fort houses courts and businesses. This location is fast becoming accepted as an arts colony and its expat community, comprising about a third of the city’s homes, are owned by foreigners. Other top sights for tourists include a natural harbor, Sri Lanka’s oldest lighthouse, a maritime museum, a Shiva temple and the St. Mary’s Cathedral built by Jesuit priests.
SigiriyaAspiring archaeologists need to add Sigiriya on their list of must-see places to visit in Sri Lanka. Sigiriya, an ancient city built on a steep slope is topped by a plateau almost 180 meters (600 feet) high. This plateau known as Lion’s Rock is the perfect vantage point to view the jungle in the surrounding areas around Lion’s Rock. Access to the site is through staircases and rooms emanating from the lion’s mouth. You’ll also see ponds, gardens and fountains. Locals consider the site the eighth wonder of the world. This ancient rock fortress dates back to the third century BC when it was a monastery. It was later turned into a royal residence.
While soft-sand beaches and lowland jungles may be the first images that come into a traveller’s mind when imagining Sri Lanka, this tropical isle is endowed with a mountainous interior that is every bit as scenic as the coast, blessed by pleasantly cool temperatures and general good weather. Rising at dawn is the best way to see this region of Sri Lanka burst into life, as the rays of the rising sun highlight a stunning and lush amphitheater of green, and views stretch to the horizon not fazed by the mist and the clouds that roll down the hills in the morning trying to obscure the characteristic Sri Lankan vista.
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