It's hard to pick just seven incredible things about Sri Lanka. With wild elephants and rainforests; beaches and pure natural beauty; food to make your stomach smile and culture by the bucket-load, it deserves a prime spot on your bucket list.
1 | Explore the culture of Colombo.
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.
In downtown Colombo, head to 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.
HOT TIP: 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 | Experience 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.
HOT TIP: 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.
3 | Hike Sigiriya rock fortress.
Adventurists won’t be able to control their excitement upon spying Sigiriya rock fortress. If you’ve ever seen the great Incan citadel of Machu Picchu, say hello to the Sri Lankan version. Nearly 200 metres high and bursting out of the ground with great drama, its flat summit houses the ruins of an ancient civilisation. Enveloped in billows of cloud and lush vegetation, it carries such an air of mystery it’s almost hypnotic.
HOT TIP: The eager and immensely fit can climb a series of steep staircases to reach the top, while those who prefer sedate excursions can spend their time at the nearby village of Hiriwaduna — mingling with the locals over a nice cup of Ceylon Tea.
4 | Stroll the 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.
HOT TIP: 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 | Indulge in meals to write about about.
From tea to good tucker, this is the island of curry. 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 Lanka that 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.
HOT TIP: 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 | Spot incredible 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.
HOT TIP: 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.
7 | Soak up the sun on picture-perfect beaches.
The southwest coast is one of Sri Lanka’s most rewarding places for jaw dropping beaches. One of our favourites is Bentota Beach. It's retina-shaking beautiful, a major water sports' hub and the pace of life is pleasantly slow. Being just 90-minutes by car from Colombo you can easily swap urban chatter for crashing waves. The beaches at the southern end of the Bentota are remarkably empty of people, so make a beeline there.
Or to get even more off the beaten track, ask your consultant about Pasikuda in the East — still relatively untouched, yet you'll find a few incredibly luxurious resorts waiting!
HOT TIP: Why not combine Sri Lanka with the Maldives? The islands are just a 1.5 hour flight south, so it's an easy add-on.