Top Destinations for 2015: Sri Lanka
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A teardrop in the ocean just off the south-easternmost tip of India, the tropical island of Sri Lanka has a history that dates back to the birth of time. There are only a few places in the world that can offer the weary traveller such an escape - to idyllic beaches, stunning landscapes, pristine beaches, captivating cultural heritage and unique experiences - within such a compact location. Sri Lanka is the birthplace of Buddhism, so religion and heritage flourish in the country, and nature remains abundant and unspoilt. With 1,330 kilometres of coastline, this little country is the epitome of tropical perfection. It's 15 national parks boast an abundance of wildlife, nearly 500,000 acres of lush tea estates, 250 acres of botanical gardens, 350 waterfalls, 25,000 water bodies, and most eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Phew... Where to go All visits to Sri Lanka currently begin at the international airport just outside Colombo, the island’s capital and far and away its largest city. Many visitors head straight for one of the west coast’s beaches, where resort hotels power the country’s tourist industry, whilst package holidays are likely to take you to Negombo and Beruwala, the stylish Bentota, and the old hippy hangout of Hikkaduwa. For unspoilt countryside, though, head north of Colombo to the Kalpitiya peninsula and the vast Wilpattu National Park - home to leopards, elephants and sloth bears. Inland from Colombo you’ll find the hilly countryside, enveloped in tea plantations. And to the east is the characterful city of Trincomalee, with its completely undeveloped and pristine coastline, and the sleepy villages of Nilaveli and Uppuveli. If you fancy a bit of surfing this is the place to go; visit Arugam Bay at the east coast’s southern end to hit the waves. Beyond Hikkaduwa, the south coast is significantly less developed. Gateway to the region is the old Dutch city of Galle, Sri Lanka’s best preserved colonial town, beyond which lie a string of fine beaches including the ever-expanding village of Unawatuna. The symbolic heart of the region is Kandy, Sri Lanka’s second city and the cultural capital of the Sinhalese, its colourful traditions embodied by the famous Temple of the Tooth and the magnificent Esala Perahera, Sri Lanka’s most colourful festival. Close to the hill country’s southwestern edge, the soaring summit of Adam’s Peak is another of the island’s major pilgrimage sites, while the gem-mining centre of Ratnapura to the south serves as the best starting point for visits to the elephant-rich Uda Walawe National Park and the tropical rainforest of Sinharaja. North of Kandy, the hill country tumbles down into the plains of the northern dry zone. This area, known as the Cultural Triangle, was the location of Sri Lanka’s first great civilisation, and its extraordinary scatter of ruined palaces, temples and dagobas still give a compelling sense of its glorious past. Foremost amongst these are the fascinating ruined cities of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa, the marvellous cave temples of Dambulla, the hilltop shrines and dagobas of Mihintale and the extraordinary rock citadel of Sigiriya. Sri Lanka is packed with novel experiences – whether you choose to swim with elephants, visit the golden beaches of Jaffna, hike or climb through the mid-country towards ancient fortresses, or explore a lost city amidst the untamed jungle. What to do Go for a ride in a trishaw These motorised three-wheeled chariots are the backbone of Sri Lankan transport – just remember to hang on!
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