This teardrop-shaped island packs lots into its modest dimensions, from beaches and tea plantations to culture and wildlife. Its staggering beauty and welcoming people are sure to tug at your heartstrings and may even bring a tear to your own eye.
The pace of life is slow which adds to the island’s charm and yes, getting from A to B may take a while, but as you’re on holiday what’s the rush?
As far as beaches go, Sri Lanka boasts undeveloped shores and romantic hideaways as well as fun sociable hubs, family-friendly sands, endless watersports and surfing hotspots.
Heritage also reigns supreme, with dozens of impressive cities, including the buzzing capital Colombo where soaring skyscrapers loom over British and Cutch colonial architecture. The historic city of Galle is a delight to explore on foot and blessed with imposing Dutch-colonial buildings, ancient mosques and churches, grand mansions and museums, not to mention stylish cafés, quirky boutiques and impeccably restored hotels. Spiritual sites and epic ancient monuments, many of which are UNESCO World Heritage listed, abound in the Cultural Triangle which stretches between the great Sinhalese capitals of Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and Kandy, whilst also encompassing Sigiriya and Dambulla.
Sri Lanka’s wild side can be experienced at its many national parks. Yala and Wilpattu are top havens for leopards, Udawalawe is a prime elephant site and, at Gal Oya boat safaris take you in search of swimming elephants. The annual Elephant Gathering in Minneriya National Park (August-September) is also truly mesmerising. Sinharaja is Sri Lanka’s only remaining primeval rainforest and a biodiversity hotspot, and on the island of Mannar, off the north western coast, feathered friends take centre stage, as migrant flamingos settle into the salterns, lagoons and wetlands for winter (November-April).
In the ocean, whale and dolphin sightings are possible from November to April in Mirissa and Kalpitya, or from March to April in Trincomalee. Sea turtles can also be seen year round in Kosgoda or Rekawa.
In the cool central highlands, the landscape of lush green tea plantations studded with brightly coloured sari-clad pickers is totally captivating. This is also your go to region for soft adventure and a colonial-era railway. In the misty heights of Nuwara Eliya, view incredible plunging valleys, thundering waterfalls and bright green tea fields. Restored colonial-era bungalows evoke a bygone era and a cuppa has never tasted so good. If you fancy some soft adventure, Ella awaits with ziplining, trekking, hiking as well as the scenic delights of Little Adams Peak and Nine Arches Bridge.
Indian Ocean gems such as the Maldives combine perfectly with Sri Lanka, otherwise stop en route in the Middle East for a taste of Arabia.
GMT +5.5 hours
Sri Lankan rupee. Travellers cheques are not accepted.
Colombo is approximately 11 hours (non-stop flights) from the UK.
The monsoon winds bring rain to the country at different times, making Sri Lanka’s beaches a year round prospect. The south western coast is sunny and the sea calm from November to March, while the east coast is best from April to October.
A visa may be required. Please ask for details.Find out more
A wonderfully personalised walking tour through the city of Colombo with guide Mark Forbes or one of his trusted friends. Witness some of the amazing architecture the Dutch and English left behind, walk along the old colonial streets, seek out former mansions and pass several notable landmarks. Available from Colombo.
Minneriya National Park may be relatively small but is home to a range of wildlife including deer, monkeys and hundreds of birds. It’s also a superb place to observe herds of elephants bathing or grazing on the grasses, partiuclarly during the dry months (Jul-Oct) for the ‘gathering’ when they migrate here in search of water and fresh grass. Available from Chilaw (approx 2 hours drive). Also available from Habarana, Sigiriya and Kandalama.
Explore the UNESCO World Heritage site Galle Fort with a local resident whose family has lived and worked here for generations. Wander the maze of narrow cobblestoned streets lined with colonial period buildings and old merchant houses then walk along the sturdy ramparts looking out to sea and visit colonial period churches, the lighthouse and museums. Available from Galle.
Wilpattu is one of the largest national parks in Sri Lanka and widely regarded as one of the best places to spot leopard in its natural habitat. The park is comprised of lakes called ‘Villu’ surrounded by grassy plains set within scrub jungle and along with leopard is home to elephant, sloth bear, deer and water buffalo. Available from Chilaw (approx 2 hours drive). Also available from Habarana, Sigiriya, Kandalama and Ulagalla.
A half day excursion during which yoy may spot blue Whales, sperm whales, dwarf sperm whales, spinner dolphins, striped dolphins or Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins. Available along the south west coast from Nov-Mar while the east coast off Trincomalee is preferable from Mar-Apr. Dolphins can be seen until October.
Early morning departure from Hambantota or Tangalle to Udawalawe National Park (approx 1½ hours drive). On arrival embark on a game drive by jeep, watching for elephants, deer, macaques, water buffalo and more. After lunch (included) proceed to the Elephant Transit Home (supported by the Born Free Foundation) to see orphaned elephants being bottle fed. Also available from Bentota, Kalutara and Galle.