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It's the place you haven't been yet, but totally should. Beautiful Sri Lanka. It’s exactly as you dream it will be - palm trees, rice paddies and tea pickers. There are wild elephants and rainforests; beaches and pure natural beauty; food to make your stomach smile and culture by the bucket-load.
Is there anything this country's missing? Probably, but we haven't found it yet.
1. Colombo: Exploding with culture
Colombo is like any emerging city - flush with skycrapers and flash hotels. But as a former trading port between Asia and Europe, its historic remnants are just as abundant. Speckled with reminders of colonial rule as well as Arabian, Portuguese and Dutch settlers, the landscape is as diverse as it is modernised. For the full backstory, the National Museum's intriguing exhibits detail every aspect of Ancient Sri Lanka.
Colombo itself is divided into 13 districts. In downtown Colombo 1, the Fort Area, you’ll find interesting colonial architecture, including The Old Dutch Hospital. One of the oldest buildings in Colombo, it now houses shops, cafes and restaurants. Nip in for a bowl of Kukul mas curry (chicken curry) before taking a tuk tuk down to the beach. You’ll never get sick of seeing Sri Lanka’s golden sand - typical throughout the country.
Being a relatively small, droplet-shaped island, distances are short. It's easy to see a lot in a short amount of time. Book a driver to get around, then sit back and soak up the views.
2. Tranquil Anuradhapura
Anuradhapura, pronounced "ah-noo-ruh-duh-poo-ruh" is the country’s sacred ancient capital. UNESCO-listed and peppered with religious relics, you’ll find an assortment of well-preserved dagobas (brick stupas), ancient pools, ponds and temples. History isn’t read about on old placards in musty museums, but instead exists right beneath your feet. Anuradhapura’s serenity is almost as beautiful as its monuments and a nice relief from chaotic Colombo. Follow the jade-coloured canals, which date as far back as the 2nd century and drink up the tranquillity.
Visit the home of the world’s oldest living human-planted tree, it’s believed to have been standing patiently in Anuradhapura for over 2000 years.
4. Rolling tea plantations
In Sri Lanka, tea tasting is much like wine tasting, minus the giddy aftermath. Just like cellar doors found in rolling grapevines, there are tea plantations amidst misty tea hills. It was the British who first transformed jungle-clad Sri Lanka into a tea estate, and to this day a simple venture into the mountains will present sloping hillsides freckled with tea pluckers. Sharpen your tea tasting skills, visit the Tea Research Institute, and learn about the centre's ground-breaking tea discoveries (move over, NASA). Then lock lips with their latest wellness brew; brimming with so many antioxidants it could de-wrinkle a bulldog.
Learn the fascinating history behind Sri Lanka’s tea traditions such as Handunugoda tea, which was traditionally picked solely by virgins, wearing silk gloves and with golden scissors!
5. Food to write home about
From tea to good tucker, this is the island of curry. What the Sri Lankans don’t know about spice and rice, nobody does. And while the entire country boasts delicious culinary know-how, these are our four favourite must-eats:
• Fish ambul thiyal: (sour fish curry) An abundance of fresh local seafood and a small, sour-tasting fruit called goraka make this dish irresistible.
• Kottu: Sri Lanka's answer to fast-food, and readily available at most markets, kottu is a tasty combo of salty, and lightly spiced pieces of fried dough.
• Parippu: The most common curry in Sri Lanka. Made with Masoor dhal (split red lentils) fresh ingredients and various spices, your roti is just begging to be dipped.
• Polos (green jackfruit curry): There’s so much jackfruit in Sri Lank you’ll see it in everything. Curry or no curry, try as much as you can, as well as coconut, local seafood and an endless selection of spices.
Matale is the region for spice plantations. The road north of the town is littered with them. Find vanilla, rubber, cinchona, jackfruit, cocoa and cardamom, chillies and more.
6. Wonderful wildlife
Because Sri Lanka is so lush, green and pumped with wildlife, the entire country can feel like a national park. In fact, it’s split into 22 parks, all boasting countless animal encounters. Minneriya National Park is where wild elephants roam free. Often present in numbers as large as 200, especially during the dry season between April and October, although they are sighted, en masse, year-round. The park also provides a habitat for toque macaques, sambar deer, buffalo, crocodiles and birdlife, with early morning more fortuitous for bird spotters, and late afternoon for elephant sightings.
The months between June and September offer the greatest chance of finding leopards in Yala National Park. Book more than one game drive to increase your chances, and pack a really good camera. When the light fades these felines like to prowl, so you’ll want more than your smart phone.
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