Sri Lanka

Whether you prefer to take in the acknowledged sites or explore off the beaten track, Sri Lanka has it all in abundance.

Philip Briggs, author of Sri Lanka: the Bradt Guide

Sri Lanka is a fantastic all-round travel destination. Most people know about the sumptuous surf-lapped palm-lined beaches that line the island’s long tropical Indian Ocean coastline. But the small Asian country formerly known as Ceylon – extending over an area comparable to the Republic of Ireland – has so much more to offer curious travellers than a stock beach holiday.

There are the ancient Sinhalese capitals of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa, where handsome domed dagobas, the tallest of which were built in pre-Christian times on a scale to rival the Egyptian pyramids, tower over jungle-bound monastic ruins adorned with centuries-old Buddhist statues and engravings.

There are exquisitely painted cave temples at Dambulla and Budugehinna, towering stone Buddha engravings at Avukana and Buduruvagala, and magnificent boulder-top royal citadels at Sigiriya and Yapahuwa.

The pretty inland city of Kandy, the most recent of Sri Lanka’s dozen or so erstwhile royal capitals, is renowned for its Temple of the Tooth, which stands as a living symbol of the island’s 2,400 years of Buddhist history. Contemporaneous with Kandy, yet contrasting with it in almost every respect, is the port city of Galle, a former colonial trade entrepôt – possessed in turn by the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British – whose characterful old town is protected within the largest and best-preserved of the country’s time-warped European-built fortresses.

This impressive collection of cultural gems – many inscribed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites – contrasts with some lovely scenery and great wildlife viewing. The Hill Country running south from Kandy supports a cover of neat tea plantations interspersed with misty moorlands and dense rainforests teeming with plants and animals found nowhere else in the world.

An ever-growing network of national parks protects Asia’s densest elephant and leopard populations, and an abundance of peacocks (often seen performing their spectacular fan-tailed mating dance on the roadside), as well as sloth bears, wild boars and plentiful deer and monkeys.

Whether you prefer to take in the acknowledged sites or explore off the beaten track, whether your tastes veer towards beach holidays, wildlife viewing, cultural sightseeing or montane hikes, and whether your priority is upmarket luxury, mid-range value for money or affordability above all else, Sri Lanka has it all in abundance.

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One of Sri Lanka’s greatest exports, tea has been grown here since the 1800s.