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Elephants in Sri Lanka

6 Reasons Why I Love Sri Lanka – and So Will You

 Steve McKenna head shot
by Steve McKenna

July 07, 2017

Nicknamed ‘the teardrop of India,’ Sri Lanka is a unique and unforgettable destination. This exotic island nation has emerged as a booming tourist hotspot since the end of its decades-long civil war in 2009, allowing visitors to experience the country's extraordinary cultural charms and unspoiled natural gems. These are some Sri Lanka tourism highlights that have truly captured my heart.

1. Vivid Colombo

Colombo

Tickled by the balmy breezes of the Indian Ocean, Sri Lanka's largest city and capital is a sensory-jolting place that cobbles together a patchwork of intriguing neighbourhoods. With a local guide for company, I was able to take in the photogenic charms of the Fort in Colombo. Here there were colourful historic buildings from the Portuguese, Dutch, and British colonial eras, currently being restored to their former glory. Equally arresting is the nearby Pettah district, whose bustling open-air bazaars sell everything under the sun from tropical fruits to kaleidoscopic shirts to saris.

2. Pulse-raising wildlife

elephants

As well as popping into the renowned Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage - a home for abandoned elephants – I got to see some of these adorably cute animals in the wild. I found these giants bathing, grazing and playing amid the reservoirs and grassy pastures of Minneriya National Park. In addition to the elephants that frequent the park, there are monkeys, leopards, and deer that also call this sanctuary home. Along with my land adventures, I had the chance to glimpse wildlife and birdlife from a tranquil sunset cruise along the Mahaweli, which is Sri Lanka's longest river.

3. Sacred sites

temple of tooth

Perched 500m above sea level, the city of Kandy is Sri Lanka's so-called ‘cultural capital.’ The banks of its central lake are peppered with sacred sites, including the gilded Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, which pilgrims believe to contain a tooth of the Buddha. Other places travellers won’t want to miss are two of the country's most celebrated UNESCO World Heritage sites: Polonnaruwa and Sigiriya. The ancient ruined city of Polonnaruwa has a jungle-fringed collection of crumbling temples, tombs and palaces. Sigiriya, an incredible 5th century fortress, is perched atop a rocky outcrop that sprouts from lush paddy fields.

4. Tea Country

tea srilanka

Venturing higher into Sri Lanka's mountainous countryside, the verdant landscapes become more dramatically picturesque. I journeyed along narrow roads that snake past sculpted tea bushes, which fan out from plantations such as the Pedro Tea Estate, where I did a guided tour and tea-sampling session. That night I chose to bed down in the heart of ‘Tea Country’ in the town of Nuwara Eliya, which boasts the moniker ‘Little England.’ British colonials had country estates built here back in the day, both to oversee the booming tea industry and to escape the hot and humid lowlands of ‘Ceylon,’ which is what Sri Lanka was called at the time.

5. Gorgeous Galle

cricket

Returning to sea level, I spent three nights at a resort on the doorstep of the palm-fringed white-sand beaches of Bentota, located in the southwest of Sri Lanka. From there, I took a day trip into Galle. Another UNESCO-rated treasure, Galle's enclosed old town is wedged onto a peninsula jutting into the ocean. Its cyclist-sprinkled streets are lined with quaint heritage buildings, sheltering lovely places to eat, drink, and shop. Don't be surprised if you see kids and adults playing cricket by the Dutch fortifications!

6. Absorbing local culture

srilanka mask

On my trip, I was fortunate enough to learn about the ancient art of Sri Lankan mask making and kolams, which are traditional masked dance dramas. I also visited a spice market with an expert guide, ambling past stalls piled high with the likes of cinnamon, clove and cardamom. I was able to discover the secrets of Sri Lanka's fragrant cuisine and discover just why it delights the palates of vegetarians, pescatarians, and carnivores alike. As you immerse yourself in the country of Sri Lanka, you can’t help but feel the culture take hold of you.

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