Sri Lanka has been hot on the list of ‘new destinations’ from the likes of the New York Times, CNN, Huffington Post and the Sydney Morning Herald for years now. Adventure tour company Intrepid has slated the country as one of its top growing destinations. So what is it about Sri Lanka?
For the uninitiated, a bit of history first: turns out Sri Lanka, the teardrop shaped island that sits off the southern tip of India amid the balmy waters of the Indian Ocean has been beckoning travellers for centuries. The 13th-Century merchant traveller Marco Polo is said to have proclaimed it the ‘most beautiful island in the world’, and early Arab traders along the Silk Road romantically named the island ‘Serendib’, which led to the English word serendipity.
The country’s unstable political stance over the past few decades kept all but the most devoted of travellers away, but in 2009 the 26-year long civil war came to an end and over the past five years the island has been on the cusp of a tourism boom.
A place that feels more like a tropical zoo than a nation of 20 million people, Sri Lanka is for beach lovers with a penchant for culture, wildlife and good food. Here are just a few reasons why you should add Sri Lanka to your travel bucket-list. Elephants roaming free included.
1. Bicycle your way around a tea plantation
Bicycle riding as a mode of transport is big here, so if you love to pedal and feel the wind in your hair, Sri Lanka is for you. Take a day trip to a tea plantation area of Nuwara Eliya. Home to the country’s oldest tea estates, the region is known as ‘Little England’ due to its colonial past ignited by the Brits hankering for tea.
Here, you can bicycle your way from one plantation to another tea tasting – learning about the history of Ceylon (the former name of Sri Lanka) teas and the role they play in Sri Lankan culture – these guys are the third largest tea producers in the world. If you don’t fancy drinking the brews, go for a tea infused culinary lesson or therapeutic tea massage instead. Lush.
2. Make friends with an elephant
A must see on a trip to Sri Lanka is the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage. Here, locals care for and help rehabilitate injured elephants. The nursery and captive breeding program is home to over 80 elephants at any one time. Come face to face with the elephants, bottle feed baby elephants and help serve them lunch, or look on during the splash-inducing bath time.
3. Find your own tropical paradise
Forget the Caribbean or Cannes, Sri Lanka is home to over 1,300 kilometres of pristine, near-deserted beaches. Coconut palms fringe white sand shorelines and turquoise waters, which boast an average temperature of 27 degrees Celsius all year round. The waters of Sri Lanka have been popular amongst keen divers and snorkelers for some time, but there are plenty of water sports and beach related relaxation activities to partake in.
Bentota is best for watersports including windsurfing, deep sea fishing and scuba diving, whereas tranquil Nilaveli is best for snorkelling and lazy walks along the beach. The small coastal village of Passikudah exudes the typical tropical island vibe and is famous for its golden bay and calm shallow waters. Unawatuna in Galle is a picturesque spot, as are Hikkadua and Arugam Bay. Much of Sri Lanka’s coastline is quiet, but the beaches of the south are even less populated and often the most attractive.
4. Take a walk on the wide side
Regarded as one of the best game parks outside of Africa, you can’t visit Sri Lanka without a safari through Yala National Park. The park features a plethora of wildlife including herds of elephants in the wild and those off-the-Richter-scale-cute sloth bears. What’s more you’re guaranteed to see a spotted leopard as Yala has the highest concentration of the sleek creatures in the world!
5. Set foot on Lion’s Rock
Located in Sri Lanka’s ‘Cultural Triangle’ which boasts ancient cities and temples and no fewer than seven UNESCO declared world heritage sites, is the breathtaking Sigiriya (Lion's Rock). Many say if you do nothing else in the triangle, do this! The 200-metre rock citadel is a sight to behold. You can scale the fortress’ 4,202 steps and check out the view from what was once the lofty palace grounds of King Kasyapa (477-495 CE).
6. Expand your palette
Sri Lanka’s Sinhalese cuisine features a distinctive range of spices and regional specialties. Think curries, roti breads and plenty of fresh coconuts. Fruits are in abundance, from bananas to mangosteens, star fruit, mangoes and papayas. A typical Sri Lankan breakfast goes by the name ‘hoppers’ – don’t worry, no grasshoppers are harmed in the making of your meal – hoppers are made from dough and feature many toppings from honey to egg, curries and an array of spices. On the side of the road, look out for kotthu, a traditional dish made of spices, roti, vegetable and egg – quick, cheap, delicious and quintessentially Sri Lankan.