Wildlife-rich jungle, majestic elephants and long rolling beaches…
By Sara D’Souza
Known as the Pearl of the Indian Ocean, the relatively small, lush teardrop-shaped Sri Lanka sits just off the tip of Southern India, but in true island style, its pace is relaxed. Herds of serene elephants pad about tropical forests, golden palm-fringed sandy beaches stretch for miles and the verdant green carpeted hillsides of its thriving tea industry, which dates back to the 19th century, are backed by mist-covered mountains. Sipping a steaming Ceylon brew here at sunset is magical.
Thrill seekers will be in their element as the rolling waves of the Indian Ocean provide the perfect surf with Arugam Bay being crowned the ‘surfing capital of the world’. Scuba divers can explore underwater coral gardens, which teem with tropical fish and rarely seen blue whales can be spotted on seafaring day trips in the south. Relax post -surf weary limbs and sun soaked bones with a local favourite: a soul-restoring Ayurvedic massage.
Don’t leave without…
Tasting some local Sri Lankan hoppers. With its historic former Dutch and Portuguese rule, homegrown spices like turmeric, lemongrass and cumin and its abundant seafood, rice fields and coconut trees, Sri Lanka has some seriously diverse, delicious and often fiery hot dishes. Tuck into spicy coconut sambal, rice noodle string hoppers (they’re usually served for breakfast or as an afternoon snack) and fish ambul thiyal.
Getting up at the crack of dawn to visit the Yala National Park. In southern Sri Lanka the 130-hectare Yala National Park is home to the highest density of leopards in the world. Watch the sunrise over the scrubs and grassland and keep your eyes peeled for leopards, sloth bears, elephants, water buffalo, crocodiles and regal crested serpent eagles.
Ticking the ‘eighth wonder of the world’ off your bucket list. Built 1,600 years ago the ancient rock fortress of Sigiriya (Lion Rock) is a jaw-dropping sight. The former palace and Buddhist monastery has been crowned a UNESCO World Heritage Site and for good reason. Explore its beautiful painted frescoes, tranquil water gardens and out-of-this-world views.
Get off the beaten track by…
Taking the train from Ella to Kandy. Step back to the romance of a by-gone era and take one of the most beautiful train journeys in world with the locals from Ella to Kandy. Gaze spellbound out of the window as you roll through undulating emerald green tea plantations and mountains past rushing waterfalls. Snack on sweet pineapple sprinkled with cinnamon and piping hot corn on the cob from sellers at stations en-route.
Brushing up on your gemstones. Dip into Sri Lanka’s ancient, opulent and auspicious gem industry and treat yourself to some world-class jewels. Marco Polo declared that Sri Lanka had ‘the best sapphires, topaz and amethysts in the world’, so head to Ratnapura ‘city of gems’ (specifically Wednesdays or Saturdays at the Beruwala Sri Lanka Gem Market) for a famous Ceylon sapphire or take a tour of one of the historic gem mines.
Learning how to make a traditional Sri Lankan mask. Don’t miss the opportunity to snap up some handcrafts in Sri Lanka’s local markets, like laksha (traditional wood carved pieces lacquered with bright wax). Re-enact some folklore with one of the colourful hand-carved masks or learn the step-by-step mask-making process at Ariyapala Mask Museum in Ambalangoda. Alternatively, watch the skilled handloomers or Beeralu lace makers weave their magic in Galle or snap up a traditional handmade drum in nearby Hikkaduw.
When to go
Sri Lanka’s close proximity to the equator means year-round sunshine and average temperatures that sit between 26 and 30°C. For your best chance of spotting incredible blue whales travel between January to April, when they’re in migration, while the perfect time to see leopards out in full force is mid-July to September.