10 good reasons to visit Sri Lanka

For many an intrepid traveller, Sri Lanka is a haven of varied countryside, climates and experiences; from a winning combination of tea and temples in Kandy to wildlife safaris in Yala, it’s no surprise that Sri Lanka is known as “the pearl of the Indian Ocean”. As well as indulging in a tranquil and unforgettable stay in one of our Sri Lanka luxury retreats, there are several reasons why visiting Sri Lanka is an absolute must. Read on and see if we can convince you…

Diverse wildlife

Boasting 14 national parks, Sri Lanka is rich in diverse wildlife, and a safari in one of these reserves will see you get up close to 91 distinctive mammals, including 16 native to the country – elephants, leopards, wildboar, anteaters and several species of monkey among others await those keen to discover more about the animal kingdom. Alongside this is the opportunity to witness over 233 resident species of bird, making it an ornithologist’s paradise, as well as 171 species of reptile. 101 of these reptiles can only be seen in Sri Lanka, including two species of crocodile.

Spiritual experiences

Sri Lanka is an incredibly culturally diverse country, resulting in a number of religions coming together in one place to offer an array of religious experiences. Primarily a country which practices Theravada Buddhism, in Sri Lanka you can immerse yourself in the teachings of the Buddha and visit highly spiritual places such as Kandy’s Dalada Maligawa. Here you can join in with the daily poojas (praying ceremonies) and an annual procession dedicated to one of the holiest relics in Buddhism, a holy molar which is kept in the temple. Adam’s Peak is another important place of pilgrimage, not only for Buddhists, but also for Hindus, Christians and Muslims – climb the peak to enjoy the sunset and soak up the spiritual atmosphere.

Sport and adventure

If you’re looking for a more adventurous holiday experience, Sri Lanka can certainly cater for that. Its 1600km of coastline makes the country an excellent destination for snorkelling, scuba-diving, surfing, sailing, water-skiing and windsurfing. Heading inland, the country is also criss-crossed with over 100 rivers and lakes, perfect for gentler activities such as kayaking and canoeing. Looking to get your heart racing on a white water rafting adventure? Sri Lanka can help with that too, as the Kelani Ganga near Kitugala has an endless supply of exhilarating headwaters and rapids.

Tea drinking (and plenty of it)

One of Sri Lanka’s main exports is tea, and today you’ll find the island carpeted with tea plantations, where you can visit, learn how the tea leaves are cultivated, and, of course, sample the many different varieties grown here, including Ceylon black tea, green tea and white tea. One of our chic Sri Lanka hotels, Taylors Hill, is named in honour of James Taylor, who was the first person to cultivate tea in then-Ceylon in 1867, and you’ll be able to learn more about the fascinating story of Taylor’s growing tea empire if you decide to pay a visit.

Shopping ‘til you drop

Much like many experiences in Sri Lanka, shopping can take many forms, from a modern shopping centre in Colombo to browsing local produce in the traditional village store. As a major garment exporter, Sri Lanka is a great place to grab a bargain if you’re seeking out the latest international fashions. Throughout the country’s handicraft shops, you’ll soon become familiar with the traditional Makara motifs, often including mythical animals, swans, elephants and lotuses, found in intricate brasswork and silverware. Other popular souvenirs include wood carvings, lacquer ware and batik textiles, as well as a wide variety of precious stones, such as sapphires, rubies, aquamarines and topazes, to name a few.

Natural beauty

For incredible natural beauty, Sri Lanka has to be one of the world’s best locations, as it has an unrivalled biodiversity ranging from the Knuckles mountain range to the rainforests of Sinharaja. Take a hike or trek through the Hakgala Strict Natural Reserve or the cloud-forests of Horton Plains, each with unforgettable views as well as all manner of wildlife to encounter. For a once-in-a-lifetime experience, head down to the southernmost point Dondra Head, where you may be fortunate enough to see whales travelling through the waters.

Festivals and events

Visit Sri Lanka any time of the year and you’ll see new life breathed into ancient traditions and spiritual practices in a crowded and colourful festival calendar. One of the highlights is April’s Aluth Avurudda, a celebration of the Hindu and Buddhist New Year, bringing music, fireworks and food to the streets. May sees Vesak, an important Buddhist festival, take place, where houses and roads are decorated to create a sea of lanterns, while summer’s Kandy Festival brings together the diversity of the island with a combination of ancient costumes, exciting dance and music, and displays of painted elephants.

UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Though Sri Lanka is only a small island, it is home to eight of the world’s most culturally significant places, classified as UNESCO World Heritage sites. These include the ancient cities of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa, as well as the country’s religious capital, Kandy, found in the heart of the mountainous jungle, and the historically and spiritually important cave temple of Dambulla. Dating from the Dutch colonial period is the historic site of Galle, found in the south, crowned by its famous fort, for those interested in the Sri Lanka of the past. Sri Lanka’s UNESCO-certified natural heritage sites include the towering monolith Sigiriya, as well as the Sinharaja Forest Reserve and the wide open Central Highlands.

The Indian Ocean

As an island country, Sri Lanka is surrounded entirely by beautiful coastline and the waters of the Indian Ocean, meaning that some of the world’s best beaches await you on this island. Inawatuna is one of Sri Lanka’s most enjoyable beach resorts, set around a pretty horseshoe beach of golden sands, while Uppuveli, near the former war zone, remains untouched and free from swathes of tourists (for now!). For a postcard-perfect view, head the Mirissa on the south coast – an arc of sand lined with palm trees, this beach is also a great spot for whale watching. If you’re staying on the east coast, try Arugam Bay, a beach famous for its surf, with close proximity to a number of interesting sights.

Spa experiences and Ayurvedic treatments

An ancient Indian medicine practice that dates back over 2000 years, Ayurveda is a holistic healthcare system said to help the mind, body and soul, incorporating practices such as massage, yoga and meditation. Offered at many of Sri Lanka’s hotels, spas and resorts, the peaceful practices of Ayurveda, set within the island’s tranquil settings, mean that the island is the perfect place for some holistic relaxation.

Image: Nasick, available under Creative Commons

Andrew is a firm believer that travelling like a local inevitably leads to the best off-the-beaten-path finds which truly make a destination remarkably more memorable. From traditional Indian festivals in humid Hyderabad to fresh seafood pasta by the Sorrentine Peninsula, he appreciates variety when travelling. He hasn't been everywhere, but it’s on the list.