Beaches

If Sri Lanka looks outlined in white from space, it’s due to the beaches that encircle the island. You can rarely travel any part of the coast for long without coming upon a simply stunning stretch of sand. More amazing is that many are almost empty.

Thalpe With its smattering of comfy guesthouses and quiet sands, this beach is a welcome respite from crowds.

Marakolliya Beach So what if the swimming isn’t always safe? The beach itself is simply gorgeous.

Rekawa Beach Long and windswept, this beach attracts turtles and folks who love a lonely, dramatic landscape.

Arugam Bay Classic hangout for surfers and anyone who likes mellow, easy vibes.

Uppuveli & Nilaveli Beautiful beaches in an idyllic eastern corner; there's a small travellers' scene and untouched nature.

Northeast Shore Most of the sands this far north are totally isolated; for explorers and dreamers only.

Water Sports

Sri Lanka’s diving scene is developing along with its surf scene. Excellent places for aquatic pleasures can be found right around the coast; most are still seldom visited. The west coast south of Colombo has been the centre of diving but other, better areas like the south and east are coming on strong. Surfing is also huge in the south and east.

Arugam Bay A beautiful crescent of sand where you can go from guesthouse to break in 10 minutes.

Bar Reef Little-exploited and near-pristine reefs where dolphins play in their hundreds.

Great Basses Reefs Tricky access and fickle conditions only add to the mystique of Sri Lanka's best dive site.

Pigeon Island National Park A shallow coral reef with tons of life where it's equally satisfying to snorkel or dive.

Weligama Sweet surf town down south, where you can learn to ride or just hang.

Batticaloa The HMS Hermes is for technical divers, but the rock dives here are for everyone.

Walking

Sure it’s a bit hot during the day and it might rain, but there are oodles of places where you can stretch your legs and appreciate Sri Lanka’s remarkable natural beauty, rich culture and ancient monuments.

Colombo The main streets may be choked but other roads in the capital are tree-lined and have a genteel charm.

Polonnaruwa The ancient monuments here are in a lush park-like setting that rewards explorers.

Adam’s Peak Walk in the footsteps of the Buddha with hundreds of pilgrims.

Knuckles Range Rain soaked and densely vegetated, the Knuckles Range offers exciting hiking.

Galle After the endlessly walkable Fort, continue to the tropical fantasy of Jungle Beach.

Jaffna This old town has colonial buildings, the nation’s most intriguing fort and tree-lined streets.

Buddhist Temples

More than 2000 years of religious heritage can be found in the temples great and small that dot this island. Time your visit with a festival for an extraordinary experience.

Gangaramaya Temple Among many high-profile Colombo temples, this is the centre for the most extravagant Vesak celebrations.

Mulkirigala Rock Temples Hiding inside a series of caves is this beautiful and little-visited temple.

Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic Containing a tooth of the Buddha, this is local Buddhism's heart and soul.

Sri Maha Bodhi The world’s oldest documented living tree is the focus of this very sacred site in Anuradhapura.

Mihintale This temple of legends has more than 1800 steps to its mountaintop location.

Nagadipa Temple A simple temple on a little island in the far north where the Buddha, legend has it, once visited.

Wildlife

The island may be small, but the animals are big, especially the herds of Asian elephants that live inside and outside the national parks. Leopards and water buffaloes are just some of the other creatures you might spot.

Uda Walawe National Park If you’ve ever wanted to see a wild elephant, try your luck here.

Minneriya National Park The site of ‘the Gathering’, when over 400 pachyderms gather in an awesome spectacle.

Pottuvil Lagoon safaris can bring you tantalisingly close to elephants, monitor lizards and crocodiles.

Yala National Park Drawing huge crowds, a leopard safari here can reward, but beware at busy times.

Kumana National Park There are leopards, elephants and birds galore at this remote park, which is much less crowded than Yala.

Shopping

Given that it's such a lush country, it's no surprise that Sri Lanka grows many of its best goods. Tea is an obvious purchase; all manner of spices are another. In addition there are various handicrafts and a growing range of designer items.

Colombo Stylish designer boutiques, galleries and markets galore sell just about anything, with plenty of surprises on offer.

Negombo Charming and ramshackle, with a busy town centre and a beachfront lined with souvenir shops.

Galle A surfeit of classy galleries, independent designer boutiques and quirky bric-a-brac shops make Galle unmissable.

Hill Country At tea plantations and factories you can buy excellent teas – many hard to find elsewhere.

Ayurveda

Ayurveda is an ancient system of medicine and therapies designed to heal and rejuvenate. It's widely used in Sri Lanka for a range of ailments and draws many visitors each year; some stay in clinics and spas for weeks.

Siddhalepa Ayurveda You can enjoy a full range of treatments in Colombo at places such as this authentic spa.

Sanctuary Spa Follow a hard day swimming in Unawatuna’s surf by getting your inner balance restored.

Jetwing Ayurveda Pavilions In Negombo, Pavilions offers rooms that include spa treatments.

Barberyn Reef Ayurveda Resort A complete health resort in Beruwela, this place includes yoga and meditation.

Heritance Ayurveda Maha Gedara A west-coast retreat where the quality of the resort matches the quality of the treatments.

Heritage Sites

Unesco has recognised eight World Heritage Sites in Sri Lanka, an impressive number for a small island.

Galle Fort The Dutch fort forms a beautiful urban environment; stroll the walls at sunset.

Kandy The Royal City and temples are the heart of culture.

Sinharaja Forest Reserve One of the last remaining slabs of dense montane rainforest is a birdwatcher’s dream.

Dambulla The cave temples and their extraordinary paintings are works of art.

Sigiriya The rock monastery which, yes, many people still think was a fort or temple.

Polonnaruwa A vast range of surviving structures populate this medieval capital.

Anuradhapura The sacred and the secular come together in a sprawling precinct spanning centuries of history.

Central Highlands Sri Pada Peak Wilderness, Horton Plains and Knuckles Range shelter outstanding biodiversity.

Colonial Architecture

The Dutch, the Portuguese and the British all literally left their marks on Sri Lanka. Their legacies are today’s atmospheric sights.

Colombo's Fort The Dutch Hospital is one of many colonial beauties in Fort; many more treasures abound.

Colombo's Cinnamon Gardens The National Museum was once a British compound; elegant mansions shelter behind hedges.

Galle Fort Take a sunset walk along the fort walls and summon up a time long past.

Nuwara Eliya Stay in one of the grand old hotels and feel the Raj flicker back to life.

Jaffna See Portuguese-era churches, a grand old fort and elegant homes on tree-lined streets.

Batticaloa The compact neighbourhood of Puliyanthivu has colonial gems and a big fort.