For a small island, Sri Lanka has many nicknames: Serendib, Ceylon, Teardrop of India, Resplendent Isle, Island of Dharma, Pearl of the Orient. This colourful collection reveals its richness and beauty, and the intensity of the affection it evokes in its visitors.
Head for the rolling hills to escape the heat of the plains in the cool of tea plantations. The entire island is teeming with bird life, and exotics like elephants and leopards are not uncommon. To top it all off, the people are friendly, the food is delicious and costs are low.
Marco Polo considered Sri Lanka the finest island of its size in all the world, and you'll likely agree after exploring the country's fabled delights. What takes your fancy? Beaches? The coastal stretch south of Colombo offers palm-lined sandy expanses as far as the eye can see. Culture? Try the Kandyan dances, a procession of elephants or the masked devil dances. Ruins? You'll find enough ancient and inspiring architecture in the cities of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa to satisfy that inner archaeologist.
When to Visit Sri Lanka Seychelles
Climatically the driest and best seasons are from December to March on the west and south coasts and in the hill country, and from May to September on the east coast. December to March is also the time when most foreign tourists come, the majority of them escaping the European winter.
Out of season travel has its advantages - not only do the crowds go away but many airfares and accommodation prices go right down. Nor does it rain all the time. Reefs may protect a beach area and make swimming quite feasible at places like Hikkaduwa, which during the monsoon can be quite pleasant.
Attraction in Sri Lanka
Colombo, the island's largest city, is noisy, frenetic - and just a little crazy. Thankfully, the breakdowns, snarled traffic and power cuts are received with a shrug and a smile. While the city holds less obvious interest than many other parts of the island, it's still colourful and worth a look.
To the north of the centre is the Fort district, the country's business centre. South is Galle Face Green, a seafront expanse of occasional green graced by cricket games and trysting lovers. Cinammon Gardens, further south, is the most fashionable neighbourhood, with mansions and tree-lined streets.
Anuradhapura is Sri Lanka's first capital, a potent symbol of Sinhalese power, and the most extensive and important of Sri Lanka's ancient cities. It became a capital in 380 BC and for over 1000 years Sinhalese kings ruled from this great city.
The Sacred Bo-Tree is the city's holiest site, and was grown from the tree under which Buddha achieved enlightenment. The Thuparama Dagoba, the oldest of the many temples in Anuradhapura, is believed to contain the right collar-bone of Buddha.
The laidback 'capital' of the hill country, and the historical bastion of Buddhist power, is built around a peaceful lake and set in a picturesque bowl of hills. It has a distinctive architectural character and the town centre is a delightful compendium of old shops, buses, markets and hotels.
Its standout attraction is the octagonal Dalada Maligawa, a temple which houses Sri Lanka's most important religious relic - the sacred tooth of Buddha. There are daily ceremonies of homage to the Tooth Relic, each attracting white-clad pilgrims carrying lotus blossoms and frangipani.
The port of Galle, thought by some to be the Biblical city of Tarshish, splendidly illustrates the solidity of the Dutch presence in Sri Lanka. The 36ha (89ac) Dutch Fort, built in 1663, has withstood the ravages of time. Its massive ramparts surround the promontory that forms the older part of Galle, and shelters within its walls sturdy Dutch houses, museums and churches. The New Oriental Hotel, built for Dutch governors in 1684, is a colonial gem with a wonderfully atmospheric bar. Nearby is a tiny sliver of a beach suitable for a dip, though most travellers prefer to head along the coast to the fine beaches at Unuwatuna, Weligama and Tangalla.
Hikkaduwa has been severely affected by the Indian Ocean Tsunami of 26 December 2004. The area has suffered extensive damage and loss of life. Infrastructure is slowly being rebuilt and services restored but check with the relevant authorities before travelling to the area in the immediate future.
Hikkaduwa is the island's most developed beach resort. It has a range of accommodation, good restaurants and pleasant cafe-lined beaches. There's good snorkelling at an attractive and easily accessible coral sanctuary, scuba diving at a number of wrecks in the bay, tours by glass-bottomed boats and pretty good surfing. It's a relaxed place, similar to many Asian beach resorts popular with Western travellers. There are also plenty of handicraft shops catering to tourist whims, a Buddhist temple, a nearby lake with abundant birdlife and some pretty dangerous traffic hurtling down the main road.