The island of Sri Lanka is often referred to as the jewel of the Indian Ocean and rightly so. Its palm-fringed sandy beaches, clear tropical waters, diverse cultural history and friendly people make it an excellent choice of holiday destinations. Its small size makes it easy to get around, and there is a wealth of cultural, sightseeing and activity-based option available to allow many varied and interesting itineraries.
Sri Lanka is a primarily Buddhist country, and wherever you travel you will find imposing large statues and beautiful temples. The cave temples at Dambulla and nearby rock fortress of Sigiriya are particularly impressive. There are also some huge seated and reclining Buddha statues throughout the country and it is well worth a slight detour to visit one or more of these.
Other cultural highlights include the ancient capitals of Pollonaruwa and Anuradhapura, both World Heritage Sites. Situated in the north of the country, they are full of ruined palaces, temples and other historic buildings and are easy to combine with Sigirya and time in the central hill country. Also close to Pollonaruwa is Minneriya National Park. During the dry season of June to September, the huge central tank (artificial lake) built in the 3rd century, is a fabulous place to observe elephants coming to bathe and graze, as well as huge flocks of birds.
The capital of Sri Lanka's hill country is Kandy, which is also an important religious centre for the Sinhalese and home to the Temple of the Tooth which holds a relic of the Lord Buddha. A scenic city, Kandy is well connected with Colombo and is a good stop en-route further north, or into the hill-country. This central region of the country is home to beautiful rolling hills and countryside and most of Sri Lanka's famous tea estates are found here. There are some fabulous accommodation options in these estates, and you can travel through the region on a spectacular train journey that snakes through the hills from Kandy to Ella. You can break this journey to see the colonial town of Nuwara Eliya, climb the pilgrimage mountain of Adam's Peak, and walk to World's End, a sheer precipice in the Horton Plains National Park.
The south of the country holds several other wildlife viewing opportunities, including Yalla and Wallawe National Parks where you can take jeep safaris to view wild elephants, crocodiles, myriad birdlife and if you're lucky, spot a leopard. Sri Lanka is a great place for elephant lovers, and at Pinnewalla Elephant Orphanage, and the Millenium Elephant Foundation on the road between Colombo and Kandy, you can get very close to the animals, ride on them, and even bathe with them.
The southern coasts hold some of Sri Lanka's most beautiful beaches, with a wide range of accommodation options from lovely small boutique properties to modern hotels. Snorkelling and scuba-diving is good, though some months of the year the waters get rather cloudy. You may also see turtles while you're swimming, and can visit several hatcheries where young turtles are returned to the wild.
Also in the south is the old colonial city of Galle, held by the Dutch, Portugese and British over the years. Galle still has some Dutch buildings, and an impressive fort, now a World Heritage Site.
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