The Pearl of the Indian Ocean, Sri Lanka may not attract as much attention as its neighbor India, but travelers in the know are visiting the island nation more and more. Poised for a boom in popularity, here are just a few reasons you’ll have your most rewarding holiday ever in Sri Lanka. Go ahead. Get off the backpacker trail and discover one of Asia’s hidden gems.
Impossibly green mountains and forests, over 800 miles of coastline, breathtaking panoramic views… There’s no end to Sri Lanka’s natural beauty. Tangalle and Unawatuna’s Jungle Beach are both the stuff tropical dreams are made of. For a jaw-dropping inland adventure, learn how cinnamon is harvested on a boat tour of the Madu Ganga mangrove forest. Ceylon cinnamon is considered the best in the world and was just one of the inspirations for legendary explorer Marco Polo to dub Sri Lanka the finest island of its size.
There are eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites on this richly multicultural island and there’s much for culture hounds to explore. In the south, the colonial town of Galle still boasts a great deal of Dutch influence, as well as a 16th century UNESCO listed Fort. Alternatively, rub elbows with village farmers on a lilypad-covered reservoir while touring Hiriwadunna. Up north, top attractions include the 2000-year-old lost city of Anuradhapura and the ancient rock fortress of Sigiriya.
South Indian food definitely has an influence on Sri Lanka, but the island nation definitely has its own style of cuisine. Dutch colonists and traders along the Silk Road have all brought their traditions to the table. Today, curry, rice, coconut, and a wide variety of spices are the island’s main staples. Roti flatbread and hoppers, a range of dishes made from fermented batter, are also common finds. Expect to see lots of seafood as well. Rice and prawns are a very typical meal. Want to learn more? Many hotels throughout Sri Lanka offer cooking classes in their kitchens, often beginning with a visit to the local market to pick up ingredients.
Just a stone’s throw from India and the Maldives, there’s no reason not to include Sri Lanka in your itinerary. Take a train from north to south across the Indian subcontinent, then fly to Colombo. Sri Lanka is the perfect place to slow down after the hectic pace of Indian cities like Delhi and Mumbai. Getting around Sri Lanka is also quite easy. Galle’s colonial beauty is just two hours south of capital Colombo, while in the north, Pidurangala Rock is just 90 minutes from Anuradhapura.
Africa isn’t the only place to go on safari. During Sri Lanka’s dry season, from December to March, Minneriya National Park welcomes hundreds of elephants who come to bathe in its waters alongside native birds and fish. Other popular safari destinations in the country include Yala National Park and Uduwalawe National Park, where you can catch a glimpse of leopards, buffalo, peacocks, deer, and more. Uduwalawe is about a three-hour drive south of the Dutch colonial town Galle.