Marco Polo christened it the "Most beautiful island in the world" yet Sri Lanka has a lot more going for it than just its good looks. Boasting far more attractions than we can list from jungle safaris, elephant gatherings and white water rafting to spiritual temples, sun-drenched beaches and mouthwatering cuisine, this once inaccessible country is quickly climbing its way up every globetrotters' bucket list.
Perfect for these thrill seekers who have seen India, done South East Asia and are hungry for more, Sri Lanka simply cannot be missed.
1)Sip your way through ‘Little England’s’ tea plantations
Sri Lanka is one of the most important tea producers in the world and its hill country is stunning. The vegetation is lush and green and the rolling hills make for a breath taking sight. Nestled in the heart of the hills, the formal colonial retreat of Nuwara Eliya or “Little England,” is home to the country’s oldest tea estates. Make your way from plantation to plantation on a tea tasting tour - like a wine tour but without the headache! Learn the history of Ceylon teas, the role they play in Sri Lankan culture and everything about it from cultivation to cup. Not much of a tea drinker? Opt for a tea infused culinary lesson, therapeutic tea massage or rejuvenating herbal treatment.
2)Ride a train
Sri Lanka’s trains are like stepping back in time. They chug slowly along through hills and valleys. It is the slow journey that makes it special. Looking out over the mountains and tea plantations rival any view in the world and the people that you meet on the train will be remembered forever. Originally constructed to transport tea and spices from the misty mountains to Colombo’s port, this historic railway line chugs through carpets of rolling tea plantations, spice gardens, hidden waterfalls and smiling rail-side vendors. Exchange pleasantries with the locals on board as you uncover Sri Lanka’s historic past from the tracks of century old locomotives.
3)Leopard jeep safari in Yala National Park
No visit to Sri Lanka is complete without a 4x4 jeep safari through Yala National Park. Regarded as one of the best game parks outside of Africa, Yala boasts a plethora of wildlife from herds of elephants and adorable sloth bears to wild boars and over 100 species of birds. If you’re looking to find out how the leopard found his spots, this is the place as Yala has the highest concentration of leopards anywhere in the world, so you have an incredible chance of seeing one! (Then stay over in luxury tented accommodation overnight)
4)Explore Sigiriya Rock Fortress (UNESCO World Heritage site)
The important archeological site Sigiriya is impressive. One of the country’s seven UNESCO world heritage sites, it was one of the most short-lived, yet fascinating citadels of ancient Sri Lanka. Approached through water gardens and sculpted boulder buildings it’s a heady 1200 steps to the ruins of King Kasyapa’s summer palace. Gracing the covers of many Sri Lankan Guide books, hanging in the office of tour companies and standing proud on the cover of several coffee table books, it just may be Sri Lanka’s most recognizable site. It is also set in a beautiful location, surrounded by jungle, villages and farmland Sigiriya is a location set back in time. Monkeys play on the trails and crocodiles dwell in its moat. The walk up the steps isn’t for the faint hearted, but it is worth it for the a beautiful view and with an impressive museum as well, if you love history and archeology, Sigiriya is for you.
5)Galle (pronounced 'gawl' in English, and 'gaar-le' in Sinhala)
Is the big unmissable destination in the south. It's at once endlessly exotic, bursting with the scent of spices and salty winds, and yet also, with its wonderful collection of Dutch-colonial buildings, a town of great beauty. Classic architecture melds with a dramatic tropical setting to create a reality that is endlessly interesting. Above all else, Galle is a city of trade and, increasingly, art. Today the historic Fort area is crammed full of little boutique shops, cafes and hotels owned by local and foreign artists, writers, photographers, designers and poets. Built by the Dutch, beginning in 1663, the 36-hectare Fort occupies most of a promontory that's surrounded on three sides by the ocean. Just wandering the old walls and streets at random yields one architectural surprise after another as you explore the amazing collection of structures dating back through the centuries. Its glories have earned the Fort status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.