Sri Lanka has a blissful tropical climate that offers winter sun to northern hemisphere dwellers. It's also varied, so you can go from sunbathe in the dry heat of the southern beaches to the cool breezes of the Hill Country in the same holiday. The main south-western monsoon brings rain to the popular South West between May and September, whilst the dry season in this region runs from December to March. In the North and Eastern parts of the island, the weather is influenced by the north-eastern monsoon, which brings wind and rain between October and January, with drier weather between May and September. December to March is the most popular time to visit.
Sri Lanka has an assortment of accommodation options. Colombo features not only a host of modern five-star hotels but also iconic colonial-era hotels with the charm and romance of a bygone era.
The island is generally blessed with impressive hotels usually situated in stunning settings. The coastal areas, especially the west and south, have innumerable resort hotels, where package tourists mostly stay. There are also an increasing number of boutique hotels on the west and south coast, mainly centered at Galle.
Hill country towns such as Kandy, Nuwara Eliya and Bandarawela feature colonial era hotels, and for those who venture farther afield, perhaps to indulge in adventure sports, there are beautifully converted colonial homes, tea and rubber plantation buildings, jungle cabins, tree-houses and eco-lodges as well as camping under canvas.
The alchemy of land, sun and rain in the Paradise Island of Ceylon, as it was known 40 years ago, presents the ideal climatic conditions for cultivation of tea. Ceylon now known as Sri Lanka brings a new dimension to tea by producing variations in taste, quality, character and appearance, largely based on terroir of the region. Ceylon tea with its distinct taste and character has now become every consumer’s favourite cuppa. Opt to stay with Ceylon Tea Trails, which has connected by walking trails through stunning tea gardens.
Sri Lanka’s cultural depth is recognized by UNESCO, which has declared six archaeological World Heritage Sites in the country: The sacred city of Anuradhapura, The ancient city of Polonnaruwa, The golden temple of Dambulla, The ancient city of Sigiriya, The sacred city of Kandy, The old town of Galle and its fortifications.
From enormous dagobas (dome-shaped structures) and remains of ancient buildings in the ruined cities of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa, to the awesome stairway to the temple at Dambulla and the sensual frescoes of heavenly maidens at the palace at the rock of Sigiriya, visitors can experience these World Heritage Sites within a compact area called the Cultural Triangle.
In the hill country lies the former royal capital of Kandy, home to the Dalada Maligawa or Sacred Temple of the Tooth, which houses the sacred tooth relic of the Buddha. With its distinctive architecture, art and music, Kandy is a bastion of traditional culture.
In contrast, experience the colonial heritage of the country by heading south to the mid-17th c. Dutch fort at Galle, the best preserved in Asia. With 14 massive bastions, a grid system of streets, and some original Dutch bungalows, the fort bustles with life just as it did when Galle was the country’s main port. It’s simply one of the most unique attractions in Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka is a multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-cultural society, a reflection of the island’s encounter with successive foreign immigrants. But it all began with indigenous people, the Veddahs, hunter-gatherers who exist today.
Whatever their situation in society, the people of Sri Lanka possess a warm and friendly nature reflected in persistent smiling faces and eagerness to help those unfamiliar with aspects of local life. You’ll find that Sri Lankans are very hospitable and take pride in inviting people to their homes, however modest they may be. So don’t be surprised if a driver or guide, or indeed virtually anyone encountered, requests the pleasure of your company. And don’t decline, as Sri Lankan hospitality is taken very seriously!
Shopping in Sri Lanka can take many forms: haggling with a handicraft-seller while sunbathing on the beach; choosing fruit from the traditional village store, while side-stepping sacks of rice; or checking out the bargain-priced latest international fashions (Sri Lanka is a major garment exporter) while enjoying the ambience of a luxurious shopping centre in Colombo.
And there’s much in between. Visit a handicraft shop and familiarize yourself with traditional designs that make excellent souvenirs.
Last but certainly not least, Sri Lanka has the widest variety of precious stones among the world’s gem producing countries. What’s more, Sri Lanka naturally has a tradition in jewellery - making, so you can bring your gems to life.
The cultivation of many types of rice, spices, vegetables and fruit, coupled with past foreign influences, ensures that Sri Lanka enjoys a varied and select cuisine. As a staple, rice is consumed with an assortment of colourful curries (eggplant, potato, green banana, chicken, fish) that range in potency from delicately-spiced to near-dynamite.
Seafood lovers will rejoice at the fresh fish, prawns, crab, squid and crayfish available. Desserts include buffalo curd eaten with palm-honey, and the Malay-derived caramel-like wattalapam.
Delectable fruit includes the popular mango, pineapple, banana and papaya, but also many lesser-known but distinctive examples such as sapodilla, mangosteen, rambuttan, woodapple, custard apple and beli.
It's not just tea and traditions, Sri Lanka is slowly making a name for itself as a hot surfing destination. Head to Arugam Bay on the east coast during the April to October for the best surf. Adrenaline junkies will also find lots of white water rafting opportunities in Kitugula, where Bridge Over the River Kwai was filmed.
Sri Lanka possesses a high degree of biodiversity. Indeed the island (together with the Western Ghats of India) has been identified by Conservation International as one of 34 world biodiversity hot spots. In addition, The Sinharaja Forest Reserve, the country’s last viable area of primary tropical rainforest has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. What’s remarkable is the high proportion of endemic species.
A safari in one of the 14 national parks offers the chance to see some of Sri Lanka’s 91 mammals (16 endemic) - elephant, leopard, sloth bear, sambhur, spotted deer, hog, mouse- and barking-deer, wild boar, porcupine, ant-eater, civet cat, loris, giant squirrel, and monkeys such as the macaque, purple-faced leaf monkey and grey langur.
The island is an ornithologist’s paradise, with over 233 resident species, (33 endemic) - but migratory species stretch the number to an astounding 482. There are 171 reptiles (101 endemic including two crocodile species). Thankfully, only five of the 83 snake species are lethal. In recent years there has been a surge in the discovery of amphibians, so that by the time you read this, the figure of 106 (90 endemic), will no doubt have risen.
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