The pearl of the Indian Ocean, Sri Lanka, is home to white-sand beaches, lush tropical jungle, misty mountain towns, ancient World Heritage sites, enchanting train rides through rolling tea plantations, vibrant cultural heritage and the friendliest locals you could ever hope to meet. What more could you ask for?
Our first stop is Adam’s Peak or Sri Pada which means “the sacred footprint”. Adam’s Peak is one of the most iconic natural landmarks in the country and is home to myth and legend for Buddhist, Islamic, Hindi and Christian faiths. In Buddhism, the footprint is believed to have been left by the Buddha when he was going to paradise. For Hindus, it is Lord Shiva’s footprint. And for Christians and Muslims, they would say it is the footprint of Adam as he was banished from the Garden of Eden. Hundreds of pilgrims from all religions watch the sun rise from the peak of Sri Pada on the cusp of the Sinhalese New Year. Climb the 5,500 steps to the summit and join them in their New Year celebration.
From here go to Sri Lanka’s famous ancient rock fortress, Sigiriya. Sigiriya, otherwise known as Lion Rock, is an ancient palace built in 480 AD atop a unique rock island that rises 200m above the jungle below. The Fortress, full of abandoned palaces, gardens, waterways and frescoes, has always been an important part of Sri Lankan history and has seen many wars and invasions play out over the years. Today it is one of the country’s most visited cultural heritage sites with awe-inspiring views from the top.
Next stop is the ancient city of Polonnaruwa. Built between the 10th and 12th centuries, it quickly became the thriving commercial and religious epicentre of the country. Made up of a series of temples and religious buildings, the ancient site looks and feels like the Angkor temples of Cambodia. The ruins include a complete ancient Buddha statue – the Gal Vihara, The Sacred Quadrangle, The Royal Palace, Rankot Vihara and Lankatilaka – an impressive church-like structure with high walls and huge, standing Buddha.
Kandy is home to the Temple of the Tooth, the most important shrine to the country’s Sinhalese population. The ornate, golden roofed Sri Dalada Maligawa (Temple of the Sacred Tooth), houses the most important Buddhist relic in Sri Lanka – a tooth of Buddha brought to the island in the 4th century. Built between 1687 and 1707 to house and honour the sacred relic, the temple has long been a place of spiritual and cultural importance for both Sri Lankan and international visitors. If you visit Kandy during the annual Perahera (festival of the tooth), you may see the tooth paraded around the city accompanied by 65 decorated elephants.
From Kandy, jump aboard the most picturesque train ride in the world to Ella. Wind through misty forests, lush tea plantations, over gushing waterfalls, past colourful towns and stare in amazement at the sheer beauty passing you by.
Go to Yala National Park, home to a huge diversity of wildlife, a rich array of dunes, forest, open plains and lush lagoons. Yala contains one of the largest densities of leopards in the world, so make the most of this opportunity and go on safari for a chance to see leopards and elephants in the wild.
Mirissa Beach is potentially Sri Lanka’s best beach – a great place to swim in the sea, relax and drink out of a coconut. Nearby is the delightful Coconut Tree Hill. It’s a beautifully unique place to visit, with literally hundreds of palms jutting out of this small hill – a great place for a photograph. If that’s not enough, down the coast is Dalawella Beach where you can embrace your inner Tarzan and rope swing into the water from a palm tree.
The last stop is the historical and beautiful Galle Fort. With a vague European feel, Galle Fort is unlike any other place in Sri Lanka. The Fort is rapidly gentrifying as chic boutiques, cafes and hotels begin to restore the whitewashed Dutch colonial buildings back to their former glory. You must explore the markets to see the incredible range and quality of produce on the island, including its cinnamon. Cinnamon is said to have originated from Sri Lanka and was first found by the Egyptians in 2000 BC. Go to the Galle Fort Lighthouse which was first built in 1848 and watch the Sri Lankan sunset from the Galle Fort walls – a great way to end your tour of Sri Lanka!