The teardrop isle floating in the seas off the southern coast of India has had many names. Once upon a time, it was Serendib. For some Hindus, it is the Lanka of their religious epics. The British, and tea lovers around the world still, called it Ceylon. And the modern, independent country goes by the name of Sri Lanka, too. Whichever name you prefer, it cannot be denied that this lush island is one of South Asia’s finest, most fascinating destinations, and has captured the hearts of generations of traders, missionaries, settlers, and tourists. We invite you to join us on a tour.
History lovers are drawn to Sri Lanka’s jungles, where numerous ancient Buddhist sites are waiting to be discovered. Lion Rock at Sigiriya was once the centrepiece of a magnificent capital; the wonderfully preserved cave temples at Dambulla are filled with statuary and murals; and you still walk the city streets in the ruins of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa. For centuries pilgrims have climbed to the summit of Adam’s Peak, the highest mountain in Sri Lanka, to survey the island at daybreak, and you can climb the ramparts of Galle’s historic, Dutch-built fort as well. Tea lovers should head to the verdant hills of Nuwara Eliya, the country’s main tea growing area. Higher and with greater levels of rainfall than other parts of Sri Lanka, this cool, moist land is ideal for growing tea. Colonial architecture, including sprawling bungalows, dot the landscape, and many of the tea estates offer tours and tastings. For the full tea experience, you can stay at the impressive Tea Factory hotel, learning about and imbibing what is indisputably the world’s favourite drink. In the summer months, as the monsoon approaches, spectacular Perahera festivals take place, the largest of which is in Kandy, a sumptuous city around a lake. Over the course of a week or more, there are nightly processions of dancers, musicians and caparisoned elephants, and each night’s display is more dramatic than the last. The city’s holiest relic, a tooth belonging to the Buddha, is the centrepiece of the procession, paraded through the streets which thousands of visitors watch on. It is well worth spending a few days in laid-back Kandy. Not only will you want to visit the Temple of the Tooth and stroll around the lake, but the Kandy Botanical Garden has one of the largest and most beautiful collections of orchids in Asia, including many rare species you simply can’t see elsewhere.
Sri Lanka’s wildlife is rich and diverse, and includes many species of colourful birds. The elephants are a perennial draw, and you’ll see them everywhere you go: wild in the jungles and wandering across the roads; working in the forests; cared for as sacred animals in the temples; and carrying ecstatic guests on safari. A highlight of many people’s visit to Sri Lanka is a day spent at the Pinnewala Elephant Orphanage, feeding and bathing elephant calves who have lost their mothers in accidents or to poachers.
Last but certainly not least, do not forget the endless, clean, white beaches. Bentota Beach, just south of the capital Columbo, has upmarket resorts and plenty of opportunities for water sports, but if you prefer something a little quieter, it’s just a matter of heading further along the coast. Around Galle you will see men fishing out at sea on stilts, their traditional manner, and whether you dine in a 5* hotel or a roadside cafe, the huge tiger prawns, seer fish, and other catches of the day, often served with coconut and wrapped in banana leaves, will leave your mouth watering for more.