Sri Lanka is an incredible country – it is an adventure destination, somewhere to chill out and relax and a place to experience luxury and hospitality.
The island is steeped in myth and legend. It is believed Buddha left his footprint on Sri Pada (Adam’s Peak) on his way to paradise or was it Adam on his way from Eden? Whatever the legends, modern Sri Lanka embraces its turbulent history and now encourages visitors to experience the wildlife, (elephants anyone?) possibly the most beautiful train journey in the world, spectacular hill country, stunning beaches and, not forgetting, eight Unesco World Heritage Sites.
Top 5 Things to Do
Go On Safari
Sri Lanka has an abundance of National Parks to choose from. We love Minneriya for the elephants. Situated in the North Central Plains it is part of the elephant corridor that joins the Minneriya with Kaudulla and Wasgomuwa parks. The park is the largest known meeting place of Asian Elephants in the world which takes place between August and September, the dry season. If you are lucky you could see up to 300 elephants collecting at the shores of Minneriya Reservoir for a drink and a bath. Also in residence at Minneriya are Leopards, Sloth Bears, Wild Buffalo, and the purple faced Leaf Monkey.
Best for Leopards is Yala National Park situated in the South East of the island – it is believed there are some 30 beautiful cats roaming the area. Leopards are a secretive cat so you will need to do some serious wildlife spotting!
Ride the Kandy Train
It is said the Kandy to Ella train journey is the most scenic in the world. It is a 6-hour trip during which you are free to wander the train, purchase fresh pineapple, mango and cinnamon or salty buttered corn from the vendors who visit the carriages. To really make the most of the views pick a window seat or an open doorway! The train meanders through tea plantations, forests and local villages and over crossed bridges with thrilling drop off heights. If you book first class the carriage is air-conditioned, but that means you can’t open the windows and take photos of the stunning landscape. For the real experience travel 2nd class and feel the breeze.
If you are a real train enthusiast a 30 minute walk or a short tuk-tuk ride from Ella is the Nine Arch Bridge, also known as Bridge in the Sky. Check the timetable to ensure you snap the perfect picture that includes a train. The bridge is a feat of human ingenuity - due to steel being needed for World War 1 projects in Europe, the locals completed the construction using only stone bricks and cement and it is truly stunning.
Hike to Little Adam’s Peak
Starting in Ella the hike to Little Adam’s Peak takes walkers through tea plantations full of workers. There is a good path and the trip up and back should take between 2 – 3 hours. It is not the most challenging of hikes but the view from the top gives a real impression of the island’s landscape. If you are confident walkers, arrange to be there for sunset which is sure to leave you breathless but be careful walking down in the dark.
For more adventurous climbers Adam’s Peak, the bigger brother, is a must for sunrise. Tours start in the middle of the night as the climb up and back is 6 – 7 hours. The peak is believed to be where Buddha stepped on his way to paradise (Sri Pada), or where Adam stopped as he looked back on Eden. At the top is the sacred footprint and the Saman shrine where Pilgrims give thanks.
Taste Tea at a Plantation
Nuwara Eliya (a stop on the Kandy Train to Ella) is often known as ‘Little England’ due to its colonial bungalows, pretty gardens and tudor styled hotels, although there are a few buildings reminiscent of the Alpines. The cooler climate in the hills makes the ideal tea growing conditions and the tiered slopes that surround the town are verdant with plants and often covered with clouds. There are many plantations to visit where you can see the tea pickers at work, understand the grading, whisking and brewing processes and of course you will get to taste the product.
Whilst in tea country you should definitely have High Tea on a terrace enjoying the mountain air and visit a tea boutique to purchase leaves to bring home.
Hit the Beach
Sri Lanka offers a fabulous beach life and secluded stretches can still be found if you want to explore. Popular beaches include Hikkaduwa, Unawatuna and Mirissa.
At Hikkaduwa you can snorkel amongst multi-coloured corals, take a PADI dive course and explore deeper waters or even just take a glass bottom boat trip if you don’t want to get your feet wet. South of the beach, the reef gives way to sand and waves that are ideal for surfing or body boarding.
Unawatuna has many beaches you are sure to find the one that suits you. Wijaya Beach is renowned for its ‘beach swing’ the rope attached to the coconut tree swings out over the ocean. For something secluded, walk or take a boat to Jungle Beach early in the morning for a peaceful swim without the crowds. A 15-minute walk from Jungle Beach is the Japanese Peace Pagoda which overlooks the harbour and ocean - It is a peaceful haven for reflection.
Mirissa Beach is close to the most Southern tip of Sri Lanka and the surf and rips are great for surfing. From Mirissa you can go whale watching as the blue, humpback and right whales make passage around the west and south coast of the island. If you head out to Dondra point you will be able to see them from land but boat trips, that are monitored by the coast guards, are available. Don’t forget the dolphins here either as there are a number of species that inhabit the waters. For whales you should visit Sri Lanka from November to April although December and January are the peak months.
Luxury and Hospitality
War and weather had taken its toll on Sri Lanka and, in many respects, has hidden her beauty from the rest of the world. In 2019 however, she has risen like a phoenix from the ashes and is now fully resplendent in what she has to offer.
The people of Sri Lanka welcome visitors with smiles and kindness. They are eager to help and seem genuinely pleased you are there. They are keen to show you their customs and the beauty of their country and take pride inviting people into their homes. They will brighten your day, not only through the colours of their clothes but with the sparkle in their eyes.
Hotels and resorts across the island offer secluded, beautifully appointed accommodation and facilities include spas, fitness centres, and fine dining restaurants. You will find the perfect place to lay your sun hat.
Looking to be eco-friendly - Anantara Peace Haven Tangalle sits in 21 acres of coconut plantation overlooking a sandy crescent beach – they offer a turtle watch excursion that accompanies volunteers who protect the Leatherback Turtles when they come ashore to lay their eggs.
Looking for your family - Shangri-La’s Hambtona Resort & Spa is the perfect family hotel it has a mini water park and a Cool Zone Kids’ Club. On site there is ‘The Village’ where traditional crafts, dance and music take place. You can meet locals and learn new skills from the artisans and performers.
Looking for rejuvenation - Taj Bentota sits beside the beach and dates back to the Colonial period. The spa specialises in aromatherapy, Ayurveda, Indian therapies and you can learn yoga and meditation.
Sri Lanka is a 13 hour flight from the UK and many airlines fly with one stop – enjoy a few days in Dubai, Muscat or Abu Dhabi as well.
British nationals require a visa to enter Sri Lanka which must be obtained in advance. This can be done online with an e-visa. Visit GOV.UK for more advice.