Sri Lanka is currently one of the hottest travel destinations in the world. It is not possible to curate merely a few reasons to visit the island. For a small island with magnificent beaches, all year round tropical climate, wildlife, heritage and incredible food the challenge was listing just 10 reasons. So here are 12 reasons to visit the island.
Hikkaduwa beach, Southern Coast.
Sri Lanka boasts some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. With miles of golden sandy beaches lined with palm trees leaning towards the sun it is a paradise as you could never imagine. From lively beaches of the southern coast to the surfers’ haven of the east coast and the tranquility of the north, beaches are the island’s greatest allure.
2. Dutch Colonial Architecture
“Ceylon” as Sri Lanka was previously known was part of the Dutch governorate between 1640 – 1796. The Dutch East India Company established itself on the island and as such Dutch colonial buildings stand to this day. They are scattered all around the island. From the old Dutch Hospital in Colombo to the Groote Kerk Church (pictured) in Galle many of the buildings are still in use and visiting is free.
Mangoosteen is one of the quirky fruits that grow in Sri Lanka. They grow in season between May – September. The fruit is opened by squeezing it between the palms of your hands. The soft white segmented pulp is sweet and juicy. It can get a little messy but they’re worth it!
4. King Coconut
Locally known as ”Thambili” (meaning “orange” – a reference to its colour), King Coconuts are native to Sri Lanka. They are widely available on make shift tables on the road sides as in any restaurant. The fruit is traditionally opened at the top in two strokes with a knife. Once you’ve drunk the water, it is cut in half and a slice of its husk cut off to use as a spoon. What’s inside is the best bit – the translucent white flesh. Slurp up every bit of it’s jelly sweetness.
Seafood in Sri Lanka never travels far. It is usually sea to plate within a couple of hours or less. Crab in particular tends to be a popular choice. Ask for a moronga crab curry – generally eaten with bread, kick ass spicy and delicious!
Eaten for breakfast or dinner (never for lunch) hoppers are the answer to your taste buds’ prayers. Made of fermented batter hoppers maybe sweet or savoury. Savoury hoppers are served with curries at dinner. They are light, crispy and inexpensive. Don’t leave without trying them.
From cave temples in Dambulla to a temple on a mountain top at Adam’s peak, Sri Lanka doesn’t disappoint. Every village you encounter is likely to have a worshipping temple attached to it. From Hindu temples in the predominantly Tamil speaking north and east to Buddhist temples around the rest of the island they are incredible examples of what faith moves people to do.
It is estimated that the island has the highest density of elephants in Asia. So it would be impossible to leave without encountering an elephant or two. However, the species is listed as endangered. So avoid any experience which encourages rides or getting too close to them in captivity. Visit one of the 5 national parks instead – Udawalawe, Yala, Lunugamvehera, Wilpattu and Minneriya. You will never regret seeing them in their natural habitat.
9. Train journeys
Train journeys in Sri Lanka are safe and remarkably hassle free. The Kandy – Ella – Badulla route is impossibly scenic and also the most popular amongst travellers. However, the recently restored Yal Devi (Queen of Jaffna) which connects the commercial capital Colombo to the northern city in Jaffna promises to be spectacular. Get it on your bucket list.
No road trip in Sri Lanka is complete without more than a few toilet stops. Travelling by road is often time consuming and hazardous. Many roads on the island have remained undeveloped. However, for me at least, this means it has retained a wonderfully authentic and romantic charm which becomes evident once you leave the city. Stop by little tea houses for snacks.. Tea houses tend to be set in some of the most rural yet scenic spots along the roads. You will have the chance to sip your black tea served with ginger while you take in a spectacular view.
11. UNESCO World Heritage Sites
With no fewer than EIGHT Unesco World Heritage sites (Polonnaruwa, Sigiriya, Golden Temple Dambulla, Galle, Anuradhapura, Kandy, Sinharaja Forest, Central Highlands) in a land of just 65, 610 Sqkm, Sri Lanka is a culture vulture’s dream. Climb Sigirya rock for breathtaking views of the jungle below or attend a ceremony at the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy. You’re simply spoilt for choice.
New Year’s Eve 2012, Kayts, Jaffna, Sri Lanka – the most memorable sunset I have ever experienced. Sat on the side of a dirt road overlooking a paddy field I watched the sun dip against a crimson sky. A purple haze enveloped and immersed everything it touched, including me. The most remarkable feeling however, was knowing that the sun had set over this paddy field every day – just as colourful, just as bright and just as magnificent during Sri Lanka’s 30 year civil war when no one noticed it.
So now as the island enjoys a time of peace and prosperity it’s a great time to visit and enjoy all that it offers.