Lonely Planet Sri Lanka
Nikolas Otter surfing in Weligama Bay, Sri Lanka
Located in Southeast Asia, near the southern tip of India, Sri Lanka - which used to be called "Ceylon" - offers golden, deserted beaches, bustling cities, breathtaking mountain ranges, and impressive cultural sites.
When Sri Lanka's civil war ended in 2009, many new travel opportunities developed - both for backpackers and high-end, five-star hotel travelers.
Starting with Colombo - Sri Lanka's largest city, and former capital - here are a few reasons to visit ...
- You won’t find a single subway station in Colombo, but you can't avoid the hundreds of slightly wild tuk-tuk drivers who are more than willing to take you wherever you want to go (make sure you agree on the fare before you take off).
- If swimming pools and massages are your thing, you can check out - or check into - one of the many top-notch hotels that dot the city.
- After a long day of touristy things, fell free to visit a local restaurant for some fiery local cuisine, or opt for an arrack night cap, which is similar to coconut rum.
The southern coast of Sri Lanka has a stunning beach every ten kilometers or so, and many inexpensive hotels that may be checked into without a reservation. If possible, try to avoid the high tourist season from November to March, because hotel and other prices nearly double, which makes it harder to find a good hotel. The good thing is that even in peak season the beaches don’t get crowded.
If you're into extreme sports, Sri Lanka may be one of the best places on the lonely planet (sorry) to learn how to surf. You can find low waves at Weligama Bay that seem to stretch the entire coast at once - or massive waves at Arugam Bay that are ideal for the more experienced surfer. Talk to the locals about beach safety (see more below).
If you prefer safer adventure travel, move inland to central Sri Lanka with its lush vegetation perched high on the low mountains. Or take a train to Candy - an old colonial town - to watch cultural dances. Or try to find the most famous of the Buddhist temples - the "tooth temple." Maybe take a break at the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage to see a herd of working elephants playing in a river together with wild elephants from the forest.
Travel Warnings. See the links in the Link Box for general information and warnings about Sri Lanka, keeping in mind that although the civil war ended long ago, it's best to avoid travelling too far north or north east, as some terror groups such as the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) have clashes with local or state police every now and then. The conflict between Tamils in the north and Singhalese people in the south is nothing a tourist should be worried about - although the origins of the conflict lie with Sri Lanka’s colonial past (be nice to everyone when you visit, aye). And, yes, there are saltwater crocodiles located in regions such as these, as well as sharks and other dangerous animals (plants are dangerous, too; here's a Hub that talks about coconuts falling on peoples' noggins). It's always best to check with locals on local safety issues, regardless.
By Nikolas Otter, with Sean Kinn.
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