Sri Lanka has enjoyed a special allure with westerners for centuries. Thanks to tales of sparkling gemstones, exotic spices and verdant flora and fauna, few places typified the mystery of the east as much as Sri Lanka. While the country may be easier to reach now than in days gone by, it is still a deeply seductive destination that manages to pack thousands of years of history, a diverse landscape, and a multifaceted culture into its relatively compact size.
Thanks to its pleasant year-long climate in the Indian Ocean it is also an ideal place to visit to escape the harsh winter months. The coast is lined with many fabulous resorts, and the country’s tourist industry is well-developed, but its finest jewels are located a little further from the beach. If you’ve never considered Sri Lanka for a holiday before, here are a few reasons why you should:
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Few countries can boast the wealth of history that Sri Lanka has. With a documented history stretching back for three millennia, there is a rich abundance of historical sites to visit. One of the most spectacular is Sigiriya. An ancient rock fortress, this fifth century complex is one of the finest examples of urban planning from the ancient world. It contains ancient frescoes, landscaped gardens and an array of historic structures.
A UNESCO World Heritage site and the most visited historical location in the country, the centrepiece of the site is Lion Rock a 200-metre granite peak that juts out above the surrounding canopy. Sigiriya is a must-visit location for anyone wanting to experience a slice of Sri Lankan history.
Scaling Sri Pada is an experience that anyone capable simply must do when visiting Sri Lanka. While it is a taxing hike, the 2200m high mountain has stair all the way up and anyone with a moderate fitness level should be able to do it in around 2-3.5 hours. Those that do will be greeted with the best view on the island. Seeing the cloud topped green peaks 500m below is an incredible site and on a clear day the views can seem endless.
The mountain, also known as Adam’s Peak, is also an important sacred site, with a 2-metre formation in the rock that tradition regards as the footprints of the Buddha. While the hike can be extremely busy between January and April, you will find the crowds thin as the year progresses. And remember your sore legs will pass in a day or two, and the memories of the view will last forever!
Horton Plains National Park
Sri Lanka’s biodiversity is reason enough to visit on its own, and the country has a number of protected nature reserves. One of the finest is Horton Plains National Park. This rich undulating landscape is in fact a high plateau that offers a more temperate climate than at sea level, and hosts the island’s second and third largest mountains.
The park has numerous splendid hikes to enjoy, a rich variety of endemic wildlife, and is also home the World’s End – a 800m sheer precipice at the edge of the plateau, it views attract tourists all year round.
Minneriya National Park
If you want to experience a truly wild slice of Sri Lanka, then you should make your way to Minneriya National Park. The majority of the park is relatively flat grassland, but the main attractions are the animal species that live there. The park is an important habitat for Sri Lankan elephants, and it is not unusual to see herds containing dozens of the animals around the edges of the grassland. Especially lucky visitors may even get to see upwards of 100 elephants coming together.
The area is also an important habitat for other incredible animals like Sri Lankan monkeys, crocodiles, pythons, deer, as well as endangered species such as the Sri Lankan leopard. Many tour operators offer safaris to the park, and it should be on any holiday itinerary to the country.
Whether you want lush green jungle, cloud capped peaks, unique wildlife, ancient history, or a combination of it all, then there is no better destination than Sri Lanka.
Sri Pada by Amila Tennakoon CC License.
Horton Plains National Park by Cherubino (Own work) CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)
Minneriya National Park shankar s. CC License.