Endless beaches, timeless ruins, welcoming people, oodles of elephants, rolling surf, cheap prices, fun trains, famous tea and flavorful food make Sri Lanka irresistible.
The Undiscovered Country
You might say Sri Lanka has been hiding in plain sight. Scores of travelers have passed overhead on their way to someplace else, but years of uncertainty kept Sri Lanka off many itineraries.
Now, however, all that has changed. The country is moving forward quickly as more and more people discover its myriad charms. Lying between the more trodden parts of India and Southeast Asia, Sri Lanka's history, culture and natural beauty are undeniably alluring. It's the place you haven't been to yet, that you should.
So Much in So Little
Few places have as many Unesco World Heritage Sites (eight) packed into such a small area. Sri Lanka's 2000-plus years of culture can be discovered at ancient sites where legendary temples boast beautiful details even as they shelter in caves or perch on prominent peaks. More recent are colonial fortresses, from Galle to Trincomalee.
Across the island, that thing that goes bump in the night might be an elephant heading to a favorite waterhole. Safari tours of Sri Lanka’s pleasantly relaxed national parks encounter leopards, water buffaloes, all manner of birds and a passel of primates.
It’s So Easy
Distances are short: see the sacred home of the world’s oldest living human-planted tree in the morning (Anuradhapura) and stand awestruck by the sight of hundreds of elephants gathering in the afternoon (Minneriya). Discover a favourite beach, meditate in a 2000-year-old temple, exchange smiles while strolling a mellow village, marvel at birds and wildflowers, try to keep count of the little dishes that come with your rice and curry. Wander past colonial architecture in Colombo, then hit some epic surf.
Sri Lanka is spectacular, affordable and still often uncrowded. Now is the best time to discover it.
Rainforests & Beaches
When you’re ready to escape the tropical climate of the coast and lowlands, head for the hills, with their temperate, achingly green charms. Verdant tea plantations and rainforested peaks beckon walkers, trekkers and those who just want to see them from a spectacular train ride.
And then there are the beaches. Dazzlingly white and often untrodden, they ring the island so that no matter where you go, you’ll be near a sandy gem. Should you beat the inevitable languor, you can surf and dive world-class sites without world-class crowds. And you're always just a short hop from something utterly new.
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These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Sri Lanka.
Part of Parakramabahu I’s northern monastery, Gal Vihara is a group of beautiful Buddha images that probably marks the high point of Sinhalese rock…
Buddhist TempleAbhayagiri Dagoba
Dating back to the 1st century BC, this colossal dagoba was the ceremonial focus of the 5000-strong Abhayagiri Monastery. Originally over 100m high, it…
A short stroll north of the Royal Palace ruins, the area known as the Quadrangle is literally that – a compact group of ruins in a raised-up area bounded…
The Horton Plains plateau comes to a sudden end at World’s End, a stunning escarpment that plunges 880m. The walk here is 4km, but the trail then loops…
The beautiful, 1000-year-old, rock-cut Buddha figures of Buduruwagala are the region's biggest attraction. The gigantic standing Buddha (at 15m, it is the…
Buddhist SiteMulkirigala Rock Temples
Dangling off a rocky crag 16km northwest of Tangalla and nestled away among a green forest of coconut trees are the peaceful rock temples of Mulkirigala…
Hindu SiteKandasamy Kovil
This revered temple at the summit of a rocky outcrop is one of Sri Lanka’s pancha ishwaram, five historical Hindu temples dedicated to Shiva and…
Buddhist StupaRuvanvelisaya Dagoba
This magnificent white dagoba is guarded by a wall with a frieze of 344 elephants standing shoulder to shoulder. Apart from a few beside the western…
National ParkUda Walawe National Park
With herds of elephants, wild buffalos, sambars and spotted deer, and giant squirrels, this Sri Lankan national park is one of the nation's finest. In…
ChurchOur Lady of Madhu Church
This mainland church is Sri Lanka’s most hallowed Christian monument (though it's thought to be have been constructed over an ancient Hindu shrine). Its…
National ParkBundala National Park
Bundala National Park is a fantastic maze of waterways, lagoons and dunes that glitter like gold in the dying evening sun. This wonderland provides a home…
Hindu SiteNallur Kandaswamy Kovil
This huge Hindu temple, crowned by a towering god-encrusted, golden-ochre gopuram, is one of the most significant Hindu religious complexes in Sri Lanka…
National ParkKumana National Park
This 357-sq-km park, once known as Yala East, is much less frequently visited than its busy neighbour, Yala National Park. Consequently, it's a far less…
FortYapahuwa Rock Fortress
The steep ornamental staircase of this dramatic rock fortress is perhaps its finest feature, and once led to the Temple of the Tooth. One of the lions…
Buddhist SiteSri Maha Bodhi
The sacred bodhi tree is central to Anuradhapura in both a spiritual and physical sense. It was grown from a cutting brought from Bodhgaya in India and is…
Buddhist TempleCave Temples
The beautiful Royal Rock Temple complex sits about 160m above the road in the southern part of Dambulla. Five separate caves contain about 150 absolutely…
Long the gatehouse of the city, the vast Jaffna fort, overlooking the Jaffna lagoon, has been fought over for centuries. Today you can wander its walls,…
Buddhist TempleRidi Vihara
The primary attraction at this Buddhist temple is the golden standing Buddha statue in the main cave called the Pahala Vihara (Lower Temple), which also…
GardensPeradeniya Botanic Gardens
These stunning gardens were once reserved exclusively for Kandyan royalty. Today, even commoners are allowed in to enjoy the most impressive and largest …
This beautiful Benedictine monastery once belonged to tea planter Sir Thomas Lester Villiers. To recreate his English lifestyle, he developed some English…
Whether it’s a guided tour of a historic landmark, private tasting of local delicacies, or an off-road adventure — explore the best experiences in Sri Lanka.
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