Sri Lanka 21.11.2023 Transindus
Few island nations match the variety of experiences of the evergreen Emerald Isle, Sri Lanka. This 'Pearl of the Indian Ocean' not only rewards travellers with natural beauty, a rich and diverse cultural heritage and balmy sunshine, but it also offers a host of other experiences from ancient cities to remote villages hidden among its rising hills and glimpses of stunning wildlife both onshore, in the jungles of its heartland, and along its shoreline, where some of the largest whales on the planet swim free.
Here is our list of the best places chosen by past travellers to Sri Lanka. Which will you Love?
Often dismissed by some as a modern city with nothing more than lawmakers of the country in residence, the capital, Colombo, is steeped in history and culture that every traveller should explore. The architecture here carries vestiges of its Dutch, Portuguese and British past while the chimes of ancient Hindu temple bells mingle with the sites and sounds of the vibrant coastal metropolitan city, bustling markets, cafes and deluxe boutique hotels create an alluring atmosphere.
Highlights of Colombo:
-Explore Colombo's excellent Dutch museum and Independence Square to learn about their colonial past.
-Experience the country's religious diversity, make a shrine run to Jami Ul-Alfar Mosque, Gangaramaya Temple, a Buddhist temple and Hindu temple Sri Manika Vinayagar Kovil.
-Head to the iconic Dutch Hospital and Odell's for chic shopping and dining experiences.
-Witness the flag ceremony during sunset at the beach promenade.
-Taste authentic delicacies at the Ministry of Crab, Hilton's Curry Leaf, and Pettah Market.
The second largest city of the Island a
The former capital of the Sinhala Kingdom, Kandy, sits atop a plateau at the heart of the island, surrounded by the stunning beauty of rugged mountains, lush tropical plantations and Team. This undisputed cultural capital of the country is a melting pot of cultures marked by several world heritage sites, among which the Peradeniya Botanical Gardens, the most extensive botanical garden in Sri Lanka, and The Temple of the Tooth, the most auspicious place for Buddhists, stand proud. The latter is also the focal point of Esala Perahera, the country's most prominent festival, when the tooth relic of Lord Buddha, housed within the sanctum, is paraded for all to see.
Highlights of Kandy:
-Visit the iconic UNESCO World Heritage Site Sri Dalada Maligawa, The Temple of the Tooth Relic and Sri Maha Bodhi Maha Viharaya. If visiting in August, take advantage of the Esala Perahera.
-Enjoy the Peradeniya Botanical Gardens, the most extensive botanical garden in Sri Lanka.
-Take in the Kandy National Museum, housed in one of the most beautiful historic buildings, for great insights into the Kandyan period.
-Explore the Ceylon Tea Museum and learn about the history of Tea.
-The British Garrison Cemetery and Commonwealth War Cemetery
-Shop of lacquer, brassware and gemstones.
Locally known as 'Little England', the tranquil Hill town of Nuwara Eliya in the central province is renowned for its breathtaking landscapes, cool refreshing climate and charming light railway. The legacies of British colonial rule still thrive in its racing track, flower shows and notable hotels like The Grand, Windsor and St Andrew’s.
Perched at 6,128 ft, with stunning views of Sri Lanka's tallest mountains and a carpet of tea gardens. Once a small, sleepy retreat, it has transformed into the Tea Hub of the nation, with some of the most significant Tea trades conducted within its tasting rooms.
Highlights of Nuwara Eliya:
- Hike in the Horton Plains National Park, Moon Plains and Galway's Land National Park,
- Walk around Gregory Lake, Aberdeen Waterfalls and through Hakgala Botanic Gardens.
- Admire the Victorian architecture at Seetha Amman Temple and the iconic Hakgala Botanic Gardens, showcasing diverse flora.
- Experience an overnight stay in a beautifully converted Tea Factory.
- Experience a working Tea Estate,
Ella's natural wonders have mesmerised travellers forever, from majestic trees lining the undulating mountains to enchanting caves and cascading waterfalls. This captivating hill town is in the Uva Province of Sri Lanka, and its natural wonders, lush tea gardens and breath-taking landscapes have made it a top destination for exploration and outdoor activities like trekking and hiking.
Highlights of Ella:
-Enjoy a train ride on the beautiful hill railway through tea gardens
-Check out the engineering marvel Nine Bridge Arch, made of stone between Ella and Demodera railway stations.
-Stay in one of the many beautiful colonial houses converted to boutique hotels.
Sigiriya, a UNESCO World Heritage Site close to Dumbulla, is a captivating fortress and archaeological marvel that rises dramatically from the central plains —built by the Sri Lankan King Kasyapa, a palace complex crowns the 5th-century fort with breathtaking panoramic views at its summit. Sigiriya is adorned with stunning frescoes of celestial maidens, showcasing exceptional artistic craftsmanship. A series of staircases lead to the top of the mountain, the entrance of which was once guarded by two enormous carved lions; although the heads have collapsed, the giant claws continue to mark the access to the staircase.
Highlights of Sigiriya:
-Hike to the top of Sigiriya Rock to explore King Kasyapa's 'Palace in the Clouds'.
-Visit Dambulla Royal Cave Temple, another UNESCO World Heritage Site in neighbouring Dumbulla.
-Explore the Pidurangala Royal Cave Temple, an ancient Buddhist temple built on the massive Pidurangala rock
-Experience a gathering of wild Asian elephants on a jeep safari to Minneriya National Park.
The UNESCO World Heritage-listed ancient city Anuradhapura, located in north-central Sri Lanka, once served as the island's political and religious capital for over a millennium, from the 4th century BCE to the 11th century CE. Its ruins now showcase the rich heritage of Sinhalese civilisation and stand as a testament to its enduring spiritual and architectural legacy. The ancient site boasts remarkable archaeological ruins, including enormous dagobas (stupas), ancient monasteries, and intricately carved stone structures. The sacred Bodhi Tree, a descendant of the tree under which Buddha attained enlightenment, resides in Anuradhapura's Mahavihara complex.
Highlights of Anuradhapura:
-Explore Anuradhapura and neighbouring sites by bicycle, including the giant dagobas (brick stupas), archaic pools and temples to better appreciate this ancient city's architectural and archaeological wonders.
-Recite a Buddhist mantra under the Sri Maha Bodhi tree... 'Om Mani Padme Hum'.
-Visit nearby Mihintale, the birthplace of Buddhism in Sri Lanka,
-Wildlife enthusiasts should consider visiting Wilpattu National Park, one of the best places for sightings of Sri Lankan Leopard.
The second capital of the Sinhalese civilisation from the 10th to 12th centuries, its UNESCO World Heritage-listed archaeological marvels reveal a past grandeur of epic proportions, from majestic temples, colossal stone statues of the Buddha, and intricately carved structures, while the Parakrama Samudra, an ancient irrigation reservoir, exemplifies its advanced engineering prowess. Today, a thriving modern town, Polonnaruwa's ancient cultural treasure continues to attract tourists and scholars alike.
Highlights of Polonnaruwa:
-Explore the well-preserved archaeological park and its ancient craftsmanship
-Famously, the backdrop for Disney’s 2015 docu-drama, ‘Monkey Kingdom, follows the lives of a troupe of toque macaques at the site as they grapple with an ever-changing pecking order of alphas. You can join a guided tour with a local monkey expert to explore the relationships between different species.
Once the capital of the ancient Tamil Kingdom, Jaffna, the northernmost region of Sri Lanka, was later occupied by the Dutch and Portuguese powers, giving it a unique and distinct blend of Tamil, Sri Lankan and colonial cultures that makes it stand out from all other parts of the island. Despite its recent troubled past, Jaffna now thrives as a popular tourist destination with colourful temples and colonial architecture adding to its beauty and glory. Embrace Tamilian culture through its cuisine at Nallur Bhavan Vegetarian and Malayan Cafe.
Best places to see in Jaffna:
-Check out Fort Jaffna for its mix of Portuguese and Dutch colonial history,
-Explore the ruins of the ancient Jaffna Kingdom at Nallur
-Visit the Jaffna Public Library and the Jaffna Archeological Museum.
-Take in the illustrious ancient temples of Nallur, which feature significantly in Hindu mythology, including the Kandaswamy Temple, Keerimalai Naguleswaram Kovil, Nagadeepa Temple and Nagapooshani Amman Temple.
-Sail the Palk straights between India and Sri Lanka on an early morning birdwatching tour.
-Take the recently opened ferry between India and Sri Lanka (You will need visas for both countries!).
-Unwind at Kankesanthurai and Casuarina Beachs.
Bentota is a coastal gem that seamlessly combines sun-soaked leisure with adventure and the chance to impact marine life positively. Visitors can explore its golden beaches and engage in diverse activities, including thrilling water sports and boat safari along the Bentota River. Take advantage of the opportunity to support sea turtle conservation at the local project, where you can witness these magnificent creatures up close and contribute to their protection.
Highlights of Bentota:
-Relax at Bentotal's beaches and calm, clear blue waters
-Partake in turtle conservation.
-Enjoy boat safaris to watch giant blue Whales.
-Explore the Bentota River on a scenic boat safari through lush mangroves
The Southwestern tip of Sri Lanka, Galle, was one of the first cities in the country that experienced colonial rule. With Galle Fort, a UNESCO World Heritage site, at its heart, you can see an amalgamation of European and native architecture thrive in the area.
Founded by the Portuguese, Galle underwent a series of power changes, with Dutch and British rule taking over. The port city now stands as the capital of the Southern Province in Sri Lanka, with vibrant cafes, unique boutiques, restored heritage hotels and quirky art stores.
Some local haunts where travellers can taste Galle are Hoppas, A Minute By Tuk Tuk, Tequila Mockingbird, Sugar Bistro and its latest curiosity, the first Arrack Bar in the cocktail lounge in the country.
Highlights of Galle:
-Explore the Galle Dutch Fort and the iconic Galle Lighthouse by the shoreline.
-Check out the Maritime Museum within the fort with its archaeological exhibits.
=Walk around the coast of Galle and spot the Flag Rock Bastion.
-Enjoy a guided walking tour to explore Galle's Colonial history and Geoffrey Bawa architecture.
-Take in the vibrant city's many annual festivals, including Gourmet Galle, which celebrates local and international chefs. The Galle Literary Festival every January and the Bi-Annual Art Fes. Scheduled for 2025.
A small coastal town in Southern Province, Mirissa is where travellers head to relax on the pristine and secluded beaches. From whale and dolphin watching to surfing, you can have an exciting variety of water adventures in Mirissa. While the town doesn't have any remarkable monuments, the beaches make this a hotspot for tourists.
Highlights of Marissa:
-A treasure trove of coastal landmarks, including swimming with turtles at Turtle Point,
-Climb Parrot Rock for a fabulous view of the island.
-Explore Secret Beach, which has three further small, hidden beaches.
-Ride the waves on a surfboard at Marissa or venture down to nearby Weligama Bay.
-Take a boat safari to see giant Blue whales.
Yala National park
Yala National Park, home to the elusive Sri Lankan leopard, is a wildlife enthusiast's paradise, renowned for its diverse ecosystems and abundant wildlife. It offers thrilling jeep safaris where you may encounter elephants, sloth bears, and many birds. The park's varied landscapes include dense jungles, grasslands, and coastal areas, providing a habitat for a rich array of flora and fauna.
The park currently has around 35 leopards – among the highest population densities anywhere in the world. Sightings, however, remain a matter of luck.
Some excellent resorts have opened in recent years, offering a blend of luxury lodges to eco-friendly camps where you can relax in comfort between safaris.
Highlights of Yala:
-Experience the diverse ecosystems and abundant wildlife including elephants and sloth bear.