Sri Lanka, an island South of India, packs an extraordinary variety of places to visit within it's modest size. Lapped up by the Indian Ocean, the coastline is lined with idyllic - and often refreshingly undeveloped - beaches, while the mainland boasts a compelling variety of landscapes ranging from wildlife-rich lowland jungles to the misty highlands of the hills, swathed in tea plantations. The tropical island has become more of a hot-spot to keen travellers in recent years, whereas before it was shadowed by its more dominant neighbour, India. Its new popularity means that much of the island is unaffected by mass tourism, a novelty that many South East Asian countries are beginning to lose - shaping travel to Sri Lanka as a top destination whilst it remains a romantically unique island. For up to date travel advice to Sri Lanka, click here.
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Places to visit in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka's diverse scenery creates an abundance of places to explore that fits with every traveller's itinerary. The size of the island makes travelling between destinations relatively short and easy, often with the infamous train rides that are hailed as the most beautiful routes in the world. A well-known saying often emphasised is that the journey is just as important as the destination, something the Sri Lankan government must have been attentive too when building the Kandy to Ella track for transporting goods across the country. Tourists add the 7-hour ride to their lists purely for the experience of seeing the spectacular coastal views and diverse landscapes at every window.
There are predominantly six regions of Sri Lanka, all offering a wide variety of landscapes. Colombo and the west coast is the main tourist route, along with the south. Kandy and the hill country closely follow before the Cultural Triangle and the east. Less is going on in Jaffna and the north.
Nature and wildlife in Sri Lanka
The island is notorious for its wildlife and with many nature reserves, such as Bundala National Park and Yala National Park. A less well-known safari destination, Sri Lanka offers sightings of elephants, leopards, crocodiles and exotic birds in their natural habitats, an experience that is truly magically whilst immersed in the dense jungle.
Coasts of Sri Lanka
An island that promises diversity, Sri Lanka also has some of the most prosperous beaches. With white sands and emerald waters, the coasts are postcard worthy and offer prime-spots for swimming and relaxing, not to mention surfing which has become a haven to professionals and beginners alike. Whale-watching is most popular in Trincomalee, where you will also witness the traditional method of stilt fishing, a centuries-old technique still used by locals.
Best times to travel to Sri Lanka
The climate is affected by two separate monsoons, meaning it is always a good time to travel to Sri Lanka, as it will often be dry somewhere on the island. The islands east coast is a mirror image of its West coast. When it is monsoon season in the west, the sun is shining in the east and vice versa. There are many places to see and plenty of things to do in Sri Lanka whatever the weather.
Planning your itinerary when you travel to Sri Lanka
Creating an itinerary for your travels to Sri Lanka will depend on what is on the top of your list for things to do and see. From relaxing beach holidays to activity-packed wildlife adventures, all is possible. Below is a suggested itinerary for first-time travellers.
Days 1 - 3: Galle
All flights arrive at Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka. From here it is recommended to head straight to Galle for 2-3 days. Galle, an area famous for its Dutch and Portuguese influences from the 18th century, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and allows for a good dose of culture to start your trip.
Days 3 - 5: Mirissa
Once you've wondered the markets and cafes in Galle, an option is to travel to Mirissa to relax on the beach and swim in the many bays clear waters. You can easily spend 2 days in Mirissa soaking up the sun and exploring the towns traditional fishing village. Whale-watching is a highlight and considered the best spot to see whales and dolphins in Sri Lanka.
Days 5 - 7: Talalla
After you have relaxed to your heart's content, it could be time to get active in Talalla. A beach town infamous for its surfing and yoga, perfect for a further few days.
Days 7 - 10: Yala National Park
For your remaining days, it is highly suggested that get wild with a safari in Yala National Park. The guided jeep tours offer you the opportunity to get up close and personal with some of Sri Lanka's most beautiful animals, from magnificent elephants to majestic leopards.
Culture and cuisine in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka is a predominantly Hindu country, although other religions such as Buddhism happily co-exist. Both Hinduism and Buddhism have a strong influence in the country, with many traditional temples dotted all over the island.
Cuisine in Sri Lanka is an important part of local life and is unique to the culture. Traditional dishes vary depending on where you are, for obvious reasons the coastal areas focus on fish curries whilst mainland areas consist of vegetables and rice. The aromatic spices of Sri Lankan food, the many colours of its curries and the flavours that enlighten your taste buds are a treat to your senses and the highlight of your travel the versatile island.
Top image: Golden Buddha Statue. UNESCO World Heritage Centre in Sri Lanka © Lyubov Timofeyeva / Shutterstock