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Sri Lanka is an island with over 2000 years of history, lovely beaches, lush mountains, ancient cities and abundant wildlife. Nicknamed the ‘Pearl of the Indian Ocean’, this inexpensive country is a paradise for luxury as well as budget travelers.
Sri Lanka is one of the few countries in the world with two capitals – Colombo, its economic and legislative capital and Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte (also known as Kotte), the official administrative capital. Kotte is, in fact, a satellite city within the urban area of Colombo.
The bustling city of Colombo features a fascinating mixture of Dutch and British architecture. The Colombo National Museum (also known as Sri Lanka National Museum) offers great insights into the country’s history and culture. The adjacent National Museum of Natural History exhibits Sri Lanka’s natural treasures including endemic plant and animal species.
Colombo’s largest and oldest park, Viharamahadevi with a giant Buddha statue, Gangaramaya Temple, the scenic waterfront area of Galle Face Green, Independence Memorial Hall and the recently built Colombo Lotus Tower – South Asia’s tallest self-supported structure are the main highlights of the capital. From Colombo, you can visit the beach town of Negombo known for its splendid resorts, restaurants and sandy beach.
Sri Lanka’s true treasures are hidden in its ancient cities and ruins. Anuradhapura – the capital of Sri Lanka’s North Central Province, is surrounded by ruins which date back thousands of years. This UNESCO heritage site features historical landmarks like Ruwanwelisaya – an iconic stupa from 140 BC, Thuparama Dagoba – the oldest dagoba in Sri Lanka, Abhayagiri vihara – one of Sri Lanka’s most sacred monasteries and Jetavanaramaya – a massive 3rd-century stupa.
Located about 100km southeast of Anuradhapura, is the town of Polonnaruwa, once the capital of Sri Lanka. Nowadays, the town is known for its UNESCO listed archaeological park. Another town in the province, Dambulla is known for its well-preserved rock cave temple, known as Golden Temple of Dambulla. This UNESCO site comprises over 80 caves which contain statues of Buddha, a few Sri Lankan kings and Hindu gods like Vishnu and Ganesha.
Dambulla also makes a great base to explore the ancient rock fortress of Sigiriya. To reach the top of the dramatic rocky outcrop of Sigiriya, you need to climb more than 1000 steps which takes around 2-3 hours. An enormous lion statue sat at the northern end of the rock once, but now, you can only see its paws as the head collapsed a long time ago.
The central and south-central regions of Sri Lanka are mostly hilly. Kandy – a large city located in the heart of the country, is known for the picturesque Kandy Lake and Buddhist monuments. The city itself is situated in a plateau ringed by scenic mountains. Take a scenic train ride from Kandy to Ella, which will welcome you with verdant forests, tea plantations, breathtaking viewpoints, photogenic waterfalls and Buddhist monasteries. When in Ella, don’t forget to click a picture of the Nine Arches Railway Bridge, reached by a small hike along the tracks. Little Adam’s Peak is the most-visited hiking site in Ella and a popular spot for watching a sunrise.
The tea-plantation town of Nuwara Eliya, on the way from Kandy to Ella makes a great base to go hiking in Horton Plains National Park, and has stunning viewpoints like the World’s End. Adam’s Peak (also known as Sri Pada), one of the most sacred sites in the country for all its four major religions – Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and Christianity is located in this region.
Located in the south, Galle is a UNESCO listed historic port-city. Pretty Dutch-colonial buildings, ancient mosques and churches and the popular Galle Fort are some of its attractions. About 40 km southeast of Galle lies Mirissa – a small coastal town with excellent nightlife and an amazing beach where you can indulge in activities like surfing and whale-watching or just relax and soak up the sun. You can also witness the traditional fishing methods of Sri Lankan fishermen, which is more of a photo-op than actual fishing. Other popular beaches are in Hiriketiya, Tangalle, the palm-fringed Hikkaduwa Beach.
Arugam Bay on the southeast coast is a prime surfing destination, while Kalpitiya on the west coast is a kitesurfing paradise and a great place for watching dolphins.
Adding to the rich history and culture, Sri Lanka is also blessed with abundant wildlife. You are likely to find elephants in almost every national park, but Minneriya which is famed for its large elephant gatherings and Yala are the most popular national parks. You can arrange a trip to Minneriya from the ancient towns of Dambulla or Polonnaruwa.
Once known as Ceylon, modern day Sri Lanka has everything you could ask for – a perfect blend of history, culture, wildlife, and natural beauty. Wherever you go, you will be warmly welcomed by the friendly locals. Moreover, visiting Sri Lanka is affordable and you can experience all these wonders without burning a hole in your pocket!
Nicknamed the ‘Pearl of the Indian Ocean’, this inexpensive country has over 2000 years of history, lovely beaches, lush mountains, ancient cities and abundant wildlife.