Romance and Adventure at Sri Lanka

Dambulla Temple, Sri Lanka by Wandering Angel (http://www.flickr.com/photos/wandering_angel/}
Dambulla Temple, Sri Lanka by Wandering Angel (http://www.flickr.com/photos/wandering_angel/}

Romance and adventure are in the air when you land in Sri Lanka. It is the romance of ancient cities and giant Buddhas, of a cool hill country with immaculate tea plantations, of colonial old forts and colorful festivals which last for days.

Find adventure in its national parks or in catching great breaks along 1000 miles of peerless beaches around the south and west and intermittently along the east coast. When it is time to chill, Sri Lanka has some of the most intimate and enchanting boutique hotels, villas and eco-lodges to be found anywhere.

Described by Marco Polo as the finest island of its size, it packs a tremendous and surprising variety of attractions. Distinctive by its teardrop shape against an ocean of blue, Sri Lanka is slightly larger than Ireland or Tasmania. It is only 430 km (271 miles) from north to south and only 240 km (149 miles) at its widest. It is separated from neighboring India by the narrow and shallow Palk Straits.

The island is mainly flat but the south-central portion of the island is mountainous with nine peaks, the highest being Mt Pidurutalagala which shadows its tea-growing capital, Nuwara Eliya. However, its second highest mountain, Adam’s Peak is better known as it a sacred mountain and a point of pilgrimage.

Temperatures are cooler and more temperate in the hill country and sea breezes cool the coastal areas. There are two major monsoon seasons. The best times to visit are December to March for the west and south coasts and the hill country, and from April-September for the ancient cities and the east coast.


Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka by JamesDale10 (http://www.flickr.com/photos/31910792@N05/)
Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka by JamesDale10 (http://www.flickr.com/photos/31910792@N05/)

Kandy - Basecamp for Ancient Sites

Kandy, the easy-going capital of the hill country, is a good starting point for visiting the ancient sites of Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Sigiriya, Dambulla and Panduwasnuwara. These cities make up the original heart of ancient Sri Lankan civilization where for 1500 years, a golden age was supported by intricate water systems, ornate gardens, frescoes and magnificent sculptures.

Kandy is the island’s cultural center with glorious Buddhist temples, the most sacred of which is the Temple of the Tooth, colonial architecture and a little bit of an urban buzz. It is also the stage of the country’s most magnificent festival, the great Esala Perahera, an elephant-led procession of dancers, drummers and devotees which lasts for 2 weeks.

Colombo Town Hall, by Augapfel (http://www.flickr.com/photos/qilin/)
Colombo Town Hall, by Augapfel (http://www.flickr.com/photos/qilin/)

Colombo

The economic and political capital Colombo, on the west coast, has a bustling bazaar in Pettah where you can find just about anything, fine dining and shopping options and a colonial heritage in the Fort where Dutch architecture stand next to Portuguese forts and grand British mansions.

A short drive north is the relaxed beach town of Negombo whose proximity to the airport attracts travelers either before or just after a long flight. It is home to the country’s second largest fish market, where fishermen participate in daily auctions.

Sunseekers flock down south to Bentota, Hiddikawa and Unawatuna where stretches of beautiful coast offer surfing, diving, snorkeling or space  to hang loose. Here, tourists can find simple guest houses or slick ayurvedic spas.

Ambalama Villa by AmbalamaVilla.com
Ambalama Villa by AmbalamaVilla.com

Galle, and Further East

The southern town of Galle is fast becoming an international destination. Every February, the gliteratti of the literati come together for a 5 day sell-out literary festival. Steeped in atmosphere, this old port is a beautifully preserved example of colonial life in Asia.

Sri Lanka's most exquisite villas can also be found in this area, like the modern and stylish Ambalama Villa, where you can really put your mind and body at rest.

The main draw on the east coast is Arugam Bay, a laid back surfing destination, and a staging point for exploring a hinterland full of wild-life. As most beach lovers gravitate to the south, locals are pleasantly surprised by and heart-warmingly welcoming of tourists.

Jaffna, in the Tamil-dominated north, is less visited by tourists. Here is the country’s biggest and most significant Hindu temple which dates back to the 16th century. It is also the focus of the extraordinary Nallur Hindu festival when pilgrims arrive from all around the region.

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