Sigiriya Rock Fortress and City
Sigiriya (Lion Rock) is another UNESCO listed World Heritage Site. It was the shortest lived but most extraordinary of all Sri Lanka’s capitals built by a crazy King in the 5th century. This awesome, towering rock outcrop, is a remarkable archaeological site in the most dramatic of settings. A series of moats, ramparts and water gardens lead on to the ascent of the spectacular summit once occupied by a royal palace. Etched with ancient graffiti and colourful frescoes of celestial nymphs it is considered one of the oldest tourist attractions in the world.
The ruins of Anuradhapura are scattered over a large area and you could spend hours exploring the enormous dagobas, ancient pools and tanks, monastic holy places, and the sacred bodhi tree which is the oldest recorded tree in the world. It is a magical site and was the first established kingdom in ancient Sri Lanka. It was the seat of power for over a thousand years and at its height one of the greatest cities of its age. Its status today as a major Buddhist pilgrimage centre gives it an added vibrancy.
This was the second most ancient of Sri Lanka’s kingdoms with its heyday in medieval times when it replaced Anuradhapura which had been ravaged by invaders from South India. For three centuries it was a royal capital and the glories of that age can be detected in the archaeological treasures scattered round the complex. It is sited on a large artificial lake and at its height must have been a dazzling city. However, like Anuradhpura it too fell to invaders and was eventually abandoned to the jungle.
The Fort area of this colourful south coast town is a glorious collection of architectural gems dating back through the centuries. It was first built by the Portuguese in 1588 before being extensively fortified by the Dutch in the mid 1600s. It has been recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site and visitors are sure to be enchanted by the mix of boutique shops, cafes, hotels, museums and places of worship crammed within the majestic ramparts and fortifications that encircle the site.
This beach-lover’s paradise is a crescent of golden sand in a sheltered bay that provides year round safe swimming. A variety of water sports are on offer including several diving centres, snorkelling, jet skis and other activities. When the day’s relaxing on the beach is done there are numerous cafes, restaurants, bars and other places to chill. There is also a big choice of places to stay and tourist shops to check out.
Picture perfect Mirissais as close to paradise as it gets. Its beautiful sandy beach is fringed by coconut palms and the overall ‘vibe’ is enchantingly chilled. It is also host to a lively harbour and fish market plus the starting point for whale watching tours. This is Sri Lanka’s exciting new wildlife attraction and with sightings of blue whales, the biggest creature to inhabit planet earth, incredibly frequent, this is fast becoming recognised as one of the world’s best whale spotting locations.
Tangalla is the place to completely crash out and sink into days of lethargy soaking up the sun, sea and sand. The beaches stretch for several kilometres either side of the small town which straddles a freshwater lagoon where a small river flows into the sea with a fishing harbour at its mouth. There are a number of attractions within easy reach including turtle watching, a bird sanctuary, the amazing Hoo-maniya blowhole, plus shrines and statues.
Kalpitiya, located north of Colombo on the peninsuala of land that separates Dutch Bay from the Indian Ocean, is an exquisite coastal region with a diversity of habitats ranging from glorious sandy dune beaches to bar reefs, salt marshes and mangrove swamps. Ambitious plans are underway to transfer this area and its string of offshore islands into a luxury tourist destination. Perhaps one of the best reasons to visit is its reputation as one of the best places in Sri Lanka to see dolphins.
Nilaveli and Uppuveli
Uppuveli and Nilaveli, on the east coast of the island, make up the Trincomalee area’s pair of fabled beaches and now that the war has ended more visitors are discovering the charms of this forgotten corner of Sri Lanka. Just offshore is Pigeon Island with its coral reef and crystal clear water home to hundreds of fish, turtles and other creatures. The reef is so shallow that snorkelling provides nearly as good.
Situated south of Trincomalee is Pasikuda about 35 kms from the town of Batticaloa. The shallow turquoise blue waters make it a favourite with local and foreign tourists who come to surf, swim and have fun in the sun. The more energetic can also enjoy kite surfing, boogie boarding, canoeing, surfing and other active pursuits.
This is considered the best surf spot in Sri Lanka but even if you’re not a surfer there are plenty of other reasons to visit. Its mellow atmosphere and crashed out atmosphere make it a great base to just hang out and ‘chill’. Nature watching, elephant spotting and bird watching tours in the glorious surrounding countryside provide another draw as well as many ancient ruins and archaeological sites.
This bewitching site has attracted pilgrims for over a thousand years as the soaring summit bear’s a huge ‘footprint’ with rival claims as to the source. Some say it is the place where Adam first set foot on earth – others revere it as an impression of the Buddha’s footprint, and Hindus claim it as that of Shiva. The ascent is traditionally made at night and as dawn breaks the rising sun reveals spectacular views and a sense of magic about the beauty of the location.
Horton Plains National Park & World’s End
These wild, windswept moorlands provide enjoyable hiking and spectacular views over waves of tea plantations, mountain ranges, waterfalls, lakes and paddy fields and one of the finest of the hill country’s many unforgettable vistas.
NuwaraEliya is a mountain station often referred to as ‘Little England’ with its architecture resembling an English country town complete with well-kept park, colonial hotels, mock Tudor buildings, country club and golf course. Blessed with a cool climate and breathtaking views of valleys, meadows, mountains and greenery, it’s hard to imagine that NuwaraEliya is only 180 Km from hot and humid Colombo.
This hill country village is the perfect place for easy-going hiking through tea plantations, to tumbling waterfalls, temples and a marvellous view through Ella Gap to the plains below. Its pleasant temperate climate and the bonus of some delightful guest houses and excellent home-cooking makes it a popular destination for visitors seeking some peace and quiet.
Sri Lanka is blessed with an incredible richness of wildlife parks and nature reserves. Amongst the pick are:
A vast region of dry woodland, open patches of grasslands, and rocky outcrops that is home to trumpeting elephants, preening peacocks, monkeys and numerous other animalsplus the biggest draw of them all - leopards. Yala is thought to be one of the world’s best parks for getting sight of one. A jeep safari, with guides as keen as you are to spot these elusive animals, will be a memorable experience.
The centrepiece is an ancient man made reservoir (tank) and the principal attraction here is elephants. As the waters dry up elsewhere in August/September as many as 300 or more will come to drink at the tank in an event known as ‘The Gathering’. The park offers a wide range of habitat types and other residents include deer, sloth bears, a few leopards and an enormous number of birds.
The isolated position of this national park, 225km away from Colombo, makes it one of the most unspoilt of all Sri Lanka’s reserves. Elephants can be seen in large herds and it is also one of the most important bird areas with around 150 species. The name comes from ‘Walasa’ which is Singalese for sloth bear and ‘Gamuwa’ which means a wood.
This is the largest national park in Sri Lanka and after years of closure, due to its position close to the frontline of the civil war, it is now open again. It includes the usual wildlife residents including what is believed to be a growing number of leopards. Jeeps can be hired in the nearby fishing town of Puttalam.
With its herds of elephants, wild buffalo, sambar deer, monkeys and crocodiles, this is one of Sri Lanka’s most popular parks and closest to its East African equivalents. It is the best place in Asia to see pachyderms in the wild. It is beautifully situated just south of the hill country and its extensive grassland and scrub, combined with the lack of forest cover, makes spotting wildlife easier than in other parks.
Experience White Water Rafting in the picturesque Kelani River in Kitulgala. The water comes tumbling down its boulder strewn major and minor rapids and according to ability you can either enjoy a gentle river meander or a thrilling white knuckle descent. It can also be coupled with other extreme sports including canyoning.
Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage
A visit here is for many people the highlight of a visit to Sri Lanka. It’s your chance to get up close and personal with elephants. It was started back in 1975 by the Department of Wildlife to look after baby elephants found in the jungle without their mothers. It now has around 80 elephants of all ages who roam freely round the sanctuary area. Feeding time and bathing at the river are popular spectacles.