Sri Lanka Tourist Destinations
Explore Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka Tourist destinations are found in every nook and corner of the island. You name it, the island has it and in close proximity making it convenient to travel. The island has one of the highest bio-diversity in the world with over 15 national parks and protected nature reserves with a rich variety of flora and fauna; the island’s coastal belt boasts of the golden beaches that surround the whole island nation; travelling on to the salubrious hill country through breathtaking scenery and pleasant cool climates; while Sri Lanka’s ancient cities with stupendous monuments containing intricate artwork, huge man-made lakes and landscaped gardens have taken pride of place among the treasures of the ancient world, – eight of them are UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites.Most visits to Sri Lanka begin at the Bandaranayake International Airport at Katunayake (35 kms north of Colombo) the primary port of entry to Sri Lanka. Colombo is the islands capital and by far its largest city – a sprawling and chaotic metropolis whose contrasting districts offer and absorbing introduction to Sri Lanka’s myriad cultures.
Many visitors head straight for the beaches which have traditionally been the primary attraction to draw crowds of visitors to Sri Lanka. The innumerable hotels which are now located in most popular beach resorts around the coastline, still power the country’s tourist industry. Destinations include the beach-holiday resorts of Negombo and Beruwela, the more stylish Bentota, and the old backpacker hangout of Hikkaduwa. Further down is the marvellous old Dutch city of Galle, with it’s only surviving fort in Asia is Sri Lanka’s finest colonial townscape, which has been recently given a marvelous facelift and has a large appeal among locals and foreigners alike to spend a couple of days within the premises of the fort.
Beyond Galle the south coast presents a more laid-back and budget oriented face. A string of outstanding beaches remain largely the preserve of independent travelers. The foremost of these is at the personable village of Unawatuna, currently the island’s most popular backpacker hangout, whilst further along the coast are a string of quieter beaches including Weligama (a surfer’s paradise), Mirissa (most popular whale-watching destination) and Tangalla (providing an array of exciting sightseeing excursions), as well as the lively provincial southern capital of Matara, boasting further Dutch remains.
The east coast resorts have only reopened recently to visitors after the armed conflict. Gateway to the east is the personable city of Trincomalee, virtually the only place of any size along the entire east coast. The huge swathe of pristine coastline itself remains almost completely undeveloped except for the redeveloping beach resorts of Passikudah, and Nilaweli, and the internationally popular surfing centre of Arugam Bay, at the southern edge of the region.
North of Kandy, the hill country continues to a totally into the contrasting highlands of the Knuckles Mountain Range, which is rich with flora and fauna, and thereafter the hills tumble down into the arid plains of the Northern dry zone. This area, known as the Cultural Triangle was the location of Sri Lanka’s first great civilizations , and its extra-ordinary scatter of ruined palaces, temples and dagobas still give a compelling sense of this glorious past. Foremost amongst these are the fascinating ruined cities of Anuradhapura – the first ancient capital of Sri lanka and the medieval capital of Polonnaruwa, the marvellous cave temples of Dambulla, the hilltop shrines and dagobas of Mihintale and the extraordinary rock citadel of Sigiriya (once a royal pleasure garden) – close to been tagged as the eighth wonder of the world and rightly can be named the most prominent tourist attraction in Sri Lanka.
West of the Cultural Triangle lies the relatively undisturbed Wilpattu National Park, recently reopened to visitors. Like Yala. Wilpattu is famous for spotting the elusive leopard. West of the park lies the backward coastal town of Puttalam, which boasts of a vast lagoon rich in biodiversity. Beyond the lagoon on the peninsula lies the newly emerging tourist resort known as Kalpitiya, with its pristine beaches which hold a treasure trove of marine life while being the home for thousands of pods of Dolphins who come out with a spectacular display for sea going visitors..
The north, meanwhile, bore the brunt of Sri Lanka’s three decades of civil war and remains a destination for the adventurous only, although if you have the time it’s well worth making the long journey to the fascinating capital city of the North – Jaffna – a city of rich culture and history portraying the lives of the minority Tamil population.
Inland from Colombo rise the verdant highlands of the hill country, swathed in the tea plantations (first introduced by the British) which still play a vital role in the island’s economy. The symbolic heart region is Kandy, Sri Lanka’s second most important city (after Colombo) and the cultural capital of the Sinhalese, its colourful traditions embodied by the famous Temple of the Tooth and the magnificent Esala Perehera, Sri Lanka’s most colourful festival pageant taking place in August each year. South of here, close to the highest point of the island, lies the old British town of Nuwara Eliya (Little Engalnd), centre of the country’s tea industry and a convenient base for visits to the spectacular Horton Plains National Park and the World’s End.
A string of characterful towns and villages – Ella, Haputale and Bandarawela – along the southern edge of the hill country offer an appealing mixture of magnificent views, wonderful mountain treks across the misty tea country and old-world British colonial charm with old plantation bungalows converted into chic boutique resorts. 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 center on Ratnapura to the south offers a convenient base for visits to the elephant rich Udawalawe National Park and the rare tropical rainforest of Sinharaja.
East of here, the newest deserted metropolis in the south – Hambantota and the amenable town of Tissamaharama (once an ancient powerbase of the Sinhalese kings) also serves as a convenient base for the exciting jeep safaris at Yala, Udawalawe and Bundala National Parks, and for the fascinating temple town of Kataragama, one of Sri Lanka’s most important pilgrimage destinations.