The Undiscovered Country
You might say Sri Lanka has been hiding in plain sight. Scores of travellers have passed overhead on their way to someplace else, but years of uncertainty kept Sri Lanka off many itineraries. Now, however, all that has changed. The country is moving forward quickly as more and more people discover its myriad charms. Lying between the more trodden parts of India and Southeast Asia, Sri Lanka's history, culture and natural beauty are undeniably alluring.
Unlike other popular tropical destinations, Sri Lanka remains relatively pure, untouched and unspoiled. Yes, there are massive tourist destinations and slightly shady beach parties, but you won’t find anywhere like Kuta, Patpong or Patong in Sri Lanka. With tourism rates projected to explode over the next few years, now is the perfect time to visit!
So Much in So Little
Few places have as many Unesco World Heritage Sites (eight) packed into such a small area. Sri Lanka's 2000-plus years of culture can be discovered at ancient sites where legendary temples boast beautiful details even as they shelter in caves or perch on prominent peaks. More recent are evocative colonial fortresses, from Galle to Trincomalee. Sri Lanka has a diverse and rich cultural history and was a Dutch, Portuguese and British colony from the early 1800s to 1900s, so expect splashes of European influence to be reflected in the architecture, food and drink and passion for cricket.
Across the island, that thing that goes bump in the night might be an elephant heading to a favourite waterhole. Safari tours of Sri Lanka’s pleasantly relaxed national parks encounter leopards, water buffaloes, all manner of birds and a passel of primates. Sri Lanka possesses a very high degree of biodiversity and is considered one of the top biodiversity hotspots in the world. You can’t visit Sri Lanka without visiting one of the many national parks to try to catch a glimpse of an elusive spotted leopard or see elephants, bears, deer, monkeys, mongoose, wild boar, water buffalo, peacocks and many other beautiful species in their natural habitat.
Sri Lanka’s international airport, Bandaranaike International Airport, is approximately 40 minutes away from Colombo by car. While there aren’t many direct flights to Colombo from Europe, Australia or the U.S., the good news is that most of the U.A.E airlines fly to Sri Lanka via Doha or Abu Dhabi, and there are direct flights from major layover hub airports including Hong Kong, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok. The airport is pretty much at max capacity, but a second terminal is being constructed as we speak.
Once you’re in Sri Lanka, there is a multitude of transportation options – train, bus, private cars, domestic flights. The most scenic way to travel is by train, but bear in mind that trains can often be delayed or cancelled.
Distances are short: see the sacred home of the world’s oldest living human-planted tree in the morning (Anuradhapura) and stand awestruck by the sight of hundreds of elephants gathering in the afternoon (Minneriya). Discover a favourite beach, meditate in a 2000-year-old temple, exchange smiles while strolling a mellow village, marvel at birds and wildflowers, try to keep count of the little dishes that come with your rice and curry. Wander past colonial gems in Colombo, then hit some epic surf.
Rainforests and Beaches
When you’re ready to escape the tropical climate of the coast and lowlands, head for the hills, with their temperate, achingly green charms. Verdant tea plantations and rainforested peaks beckon walkers, trekkers and those who just want to see them from a spectacular train ride.
And then there are the beaches. Sri Lanka is a beach-lover's paradise. Dazzlingly white and often untrodden, they ring the island so that no matter where you go, you’ll be near a sandy gem. Should you beat the inevitable languor, you can surf and dive world-class sites without world-class crowds. And you're always just a short hop from something utterly new.
Language and Ease of Communication
Sinhalese and Tamil are the two primary languages spoken in Sri Lanka, but many people also speak or understand basic English. Most people who work in, or live around, major tourist destination cities like Galle, Mirissa, Weligama, Unawatuna, Colombo and Kandy will be able to communicate in conversational English.
Wide Assortment of Accommodation Options
There are rooms for every type of traveler and for every type of budget – Sri Lanka has it sorted. There are not only beautiful five-star hotels like the Anantara Tangalle Peace Haven Hotel, Shangri-La’s Hambantota Resort, Anantara Kalutara and Cape Weligama, but also boutique hotels, converted colonial houses, eco-lodges and luxury tents for “glamping” (like Madulkelle Tea & Eco Lodge) – basically, anything your heart desires.
Beautiful Produce and Food
Sri Lanka cuisine is typically wholesome, relatively healthy, and features a wealth of spices and flavours – like its neighbour, India, quintessential Sri Lankan meals consist of colourful curries (in general, milder than Indian curries), rice and roti, but also string hoppers (steamed rice noodles), kottu (a carb-heavy diced roti dish, often served with veggies, eggs or chicken), tons of fresh seafood from the Indian Ocean and an abundance of wonderful tropical fruit. Sri Lanka is spectacular, affordable and still often uncrowded. Now is the best time to discover it.