Sri Lanka has become a much recommended destination this year – publications from the UK’s Telegraph to Conde Nast Traveller and more will tell you think is a country to visit, and soon – and this tear drop shaped island to the south of Indian in the Indian Ocean has a great deal to recommend it.
Blessed with beautiful and relatively quiet beaches, Sri Lanka offers huge range for the visitor that also includes tea plantations in the heights of its central mountainous region, national parks and a wealth of history covering 2,000 years and more and culture, which has merited no less than 8 UNESCO World Heritage Sites – an exceptional collection for a relatively small area.
Sri Lanka is sometimes referred to as “India-lite” and whilst there are some similarities, of course, the differences are also marked and the expression partly reflects an easy-going people noted for their friendly welcome and hospitality.
Sri Lanka is one of two new frontiers – hand in hand with the Philippines. Relatively undiscovered, partly due to the civil war which finished in 2009, the country has undergone a huge transformation, particularly in the infrastructure needed to get visitors around the country and accommodate them in those places that they may want to stay. Now Sri Lanka is very much open for business and is being discovered by a fast rising number of UK and European travellers anxious to see and experience something new.
In the 19th century labelled the “garden city of the East”, Colombo retains some of its colonial roots and elegance whilst having become very much a 21st century centre for business as well as being the essential gateway to Sri Lanka for visitors from overseas. Colmbo is also an important habour in the region being set on the main East-West trade route. The country’s official legislative capital is Sri Jayawardenapura Kotte, which is located within Colombo’s urban area. Colombo is set on the west coast of Sri Lanka, with beaches facing the Indian Ocean, and so experiences the seasonality of that side of the island. Very much a destination in itself, Colombo entices with beaches, historic temples, bustling markets and a famous national museum.
Set on the east cost of Sri Lanka about 5 hours’ drive from Colombo, the white sand beaches of Passikudah and its shallow waters have long made it a favourite for tourists and the area is now a “Special Economic Zone” of Sri Lanka undergoing a transformation to what has been described as “a kind of mini-Cancun” (LonelyPlanet). However, this is of ultimately a total of 14 luxury hotels – so really “mini”. The beaches are clean and the waters clear and shallow for a long way out, so that taking a swim means walking a long way from the beach but with the advantage that the water heats up very nicely. The beautiful stretch of sand is mixed with coral that is often sharp, so walking barefoot is not advised.
Sri Lanka’s second city and ancient capital of the Sinhalese kings’ era, which finally capitulated to the British in 1815, Kandy sits at 500m above sea level towards the centre of the island, surrounded by higher hills and enjoying a cooler, more refreshing climate than coastal towns and cities. The busy street markets, restaurants and shops mingle with religious and historic attractions, which include the Temple of the Tooth relic – once of the most sacred places in the Buddhist world. Kandy Lake is a major attraction too – the large lake is a centrepiece of the city and a great place for a quiet walk in the foothills below the tea plantations that grow Sri Lanka’s best known crop. Kandy is now one of Sri Lanka’s phenomenal eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Centrally located in the pear drop island of Sri Lanka and in easy reach of both Kandy and Colombo, Damulla is an important site of some of the signs of early habitation of Sri Lanka. Ibbankatuwa prehistoric burial site suggests that the area was inhabited from between the 7th and 4th centuries BC with statues and paintings in these caves dating from 1st century BC. Damulla cave temple is the largest and best preserved cave temple complex in Sri Lanka containing no less than 153 Buddha statues as well as statues of some Sri Lankan kings, gods and goddesses. There are also statues of 2 Hindu gods and murals covering 2,100 square meters. The Golden Temple sits alongside the access to the Royal Rock Temple and is a much more recent (250 years old) development by Buddhist monks. At the entrance a vast figure of Buddha presides. Dambulla’s cave temple complex is another UNESCO World Heritage site and well worth visiting on a stay in Sri Lanka.
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