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Sri Lanka

The wonders of Sri Lanka are luring visitors once again. With spectacular beaches, historic sites and delicious cuisine it is a country that offers intrepid travellers experiences that contrast and surprise.

Sri Lanka’s biggest attraction is undoubtedly its coastline whose sun-baked, palm-scattered beaches offer the perfect secluded getaway. For those searching for a bit more than simply rest and relaxation, there are world class surf breaks in the East and colourful snorkelling and dive sites in the South. Time on the beach can be broken up by a visit to one of the old colonial coastal fortress towns like Galle, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, whose magnetic charm lies in it being a unique living museum. Unlike most old cities across the globe, this old town still functions as a bustling administrative centre; law court square is abuzz with activity every morning, fish-sellers loudly promote their wares atop bicycles whilst white-clothed schoolchildren litter the rampart walls.

A trip to Sri Lanka’s ancient cities is a must for anyone visiting the island and the intriguing UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Anuradhapura, Sigiriya and Polonaruwa offer more than enough motivation for you to leave your sun bed. Standing supreme above the dry zone landscape and often dubbed the Seventh Wonder of the World, Sigiriya is possibly the island’s most dramatic archaeological attraction. It is an impressive 5th century rock fortress reaching 370m high and features ruined pleasure palaces, fascinating water drainage systems and centuries-old paintings of celestial maidens, a handful of which are as crisp and clear as the day of their creation. The climb is not for the faint-hearted however, but is worth it for the amazing panoramic views.

For most English, Sri Lanka conjures up images of lush tea plantations that seem to stretch off into the horizon and it’s certainly not just a figure of the imagination; the rolling landscape of the Hill Country is decadently carpeted with lush green tea bushes punctuated by the colourful saris of the Tamil ladies tenderly plucking the new flush of leaves. A good base for exhilarating walks through the tea plantations and on towards temples and waterfalls is Ella. Perched up in the hilly Sri Lankan countryside, this small town offers breathtaking views of the surrounding land.

Besides its natural beauty, what makes Sri Lanka such a fascinating country to visit is its diverse society with its mix of Sinhalese and Tamils, its Muslims and Burghers, and the external influences of its English, Dutch and Portuguese colonialists.

Kandy is Sri Lanka’s cultural capital as it plays host to dozens of Buddhist shrines including the country’s most sacred, The Temple of the Tooth. Here you can join the throng of white-clothed devotees as they file in, colourful lotus blooms in hand, to perform their daily puja (worship) to the melodious thumping of drums.

Sri Lanka is an island that teems with wildlife. On its shores lie no less than 20 wildlife-filled national parks plus many more wetlands, sanctuaries and reserves. The elephant is one of the island’s most popular attractions – most numerously seen during the ‘Gathering’ in Minneriya National Park in September and October– but Sri Lanka is also renowned for being one of the best places in the world to see leopards and blue whales in their respective habitats in the wild.

Other creatures that can be seen include sloth bears, crocodiles, sambar deer, monkeys and wild boar. Of the 435 resident bird species on the island, 26 are endemic with many more arriving during the winter migratory season. Whilst Yala remains the island’s most popular and easily accessible national park, 2010 has seen the reopening of Wilpattu and Kumana for the first time since the war.

Besides its natural beauty, what makes Sri Lanka such a fascinating country to visit is its diverse society with its mix of Sinhalese and Tamils, its Muslims and Burghers, and the external influences of its English, Dutch and Portuguese colonialists. This contrasting jumble is perfectly reflected in the nation’s striking architecture that can be observed all over the island and also through its mouth-watering cuisine. In the North, sari clad women cycle past ornate brightly coloured Hindu temples conversing in rapid Tamil, which feels a world apart after spending time in the Sinhalese dominated South.