Known as the ‘Pearl of the Indian Ocean’, Sri Lanka is a rare gem sparkling in the tropical sun, which has enthralled visitors for centuries. Discover for yourself why the famous 13th-century explorer Marco Polo called this ‘the finest island of its size in all the world’ and experience why, 800 years later, it’s still a unique region of serene beaches, vast tea plantations, exotic animals and stunning natural and urban sights.
In the classical language of Sanskrit, the name Sri Lanka
translates as ‘splendid island’, and no title could be more fitting for this
small nation. With eight different UNESCO Heritage Sites that cover both
manmade structures and unique natural formations, the island offers a plethora
of things to explore.
When Marco Polo first came to Sri Lanka, he was accompanying the Mongolian emperor Kublai Khan in the search for the relic known as ‘the Tooth of Buddha’. The invading forces failed in their quest, but the island had made a lasting impression on the young Italian explorer, who later returned here. Today the sought-after relic is kept in the stunning city of Kandy. A former capital of the Sinhalese empire, this fortress city stands out with its white buildings gleaming against surrounding mountains and treelines. Further exploration of the ancient kingdoms of Sri Lanka can be made through visits to the ancient ruins and structures of Polonnaruwa, Anuradhapura and the ‘sky-palace’ of Sigiriya – a fortress that was built on top of a rock towering over the neighbouring flat landscape.
Sri Lanka is also home to lush tea plantations and magnificent national parks, both of which are available to visit through guided tours. Herds of elephants pace through the sunburnt greenery of the Udawalawe National Park, and guides will take you up close to these majestic creatures. You may also be able to catch a glimpse of crocodiles basking by the banks of the park’s reservoirs. Alternatively, head to the Yala National Park, which boasts the largest regional population of leopards, monkeys and exotic birds.
After exploring the island’s mainland, relax along the white beaches of Arugam Bay and Bentota. Take a dip in the Indian Ocean, go snorkelling or SCUBA-diving, or relax under a palm tree with a glass of cold passionfruit juice in hand. To experience the Sri Lankan cuisine, tuck into a good, spicy Sri Lankan curry that is more coconut-based than its Indian counterpart. Dishes such as lamprais (rice and meat folded and steamed in a banana-leaf), hoppers (pancakes) and sour fish curry should also be eaten in copious amounts — but beware, Sri Lankans do like their food spicy!
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