Sri Lanka is hot property right now and for good reason. Here are just ten of the many reasons why the ‘pearl of the Indian Ocean’ should be on your travel list this year.
There are loads of new luxury hotels
New luxury hotels are springing up all over Sri Lanka at the moment, providing travellers with ever more options to experience some incredible places in comfort. Amongst these recent openings are Tri at Koggala Lake and Chena Huts in Yala National Park. Wild Coast Lodge, also in Yala, is due to open in 2017.
It’s the best place to see the Asian leopard
Yala National Park has the highest density of leopard in the world, meaning it’s easier to see these powerful, handsome cats here than anywhere else. A three-day safari in Yala will usually result in leopard sightings, though as with anything to do with the wildlife, there can be no guarantees. Head out between March and October for the best chance of spotting them.
It has miles of unspoiled beaches
Sri Lanka has no shortage of beautiful beaches. Whether you’re seeking solitude, a party, surfing or snorkelling, there’s a strip of sand for that. The west and south coasts are where you’ll find the best of the beaches in Sri Lanka, with golden sand, coral reefs and palm trees. Spot ‘stilt fishermen’ perched over the water and watch the daily fish haul being dragged onto the beach. Galle is the main town in this area, a walled, colonial city with a melting pot of heritage from the Dutch, Portuguese and British.
Sri Lanka is home to five out of the world’s seven turtle species
Green, hawksbill, loggerhead, leatherback and olive ridley turtles live in the waters around Sri Lanka, coming ashore to lay their eggs. There are several organisations set up to protect the turtles from the many threats they face, such as pollution and being hunted for their flesh. To watch baby turtles hatch and flip-flop down the beach to the sea, pay a visit to the Kosgoda Sea Turtle Conservation Project, about an hour away from the Amangalla. Offer a generous donation to make the experience really count.
The vibe is chilled
Often referred to as ‘India lite’, Sri Lanka’s vibe is much more laid-back than that of its giant northerly neighbour. It’s smaller, easy to get around and the locals are relaxed and do take no for an answer. Though India might triumph in its diversity, vibrancy and sheer number of iconic cultural sites, Sri Lanka is the place to go for those who want to take things at a slower, more relaxed pace.
The tea plantations are beautiful
2017 marks the 150th year since the first tea bush was planted in Sri Lanka and today it is the fourth largest producer of tea. Originally called Ceylon, Sri Lanka’s tea country is a landscape of undulating green fields in which pickers deftly harvest the tea leaves, tossing them into sacks hanging back from the crowns of their heads. Learn about the tea industry whilst enjoying the fresh, highland air and beautiful scenery, staying at a countryside resort such as Thotalagala.
Seafood is plentiful, delicious and cheap
Being an island nation surrounded by rich waters, seafood is a highlight of Sri Lankan cuisine, and Colombo, the capital, is the perfect place to sample it. Dig into fresh, straight-off-the-boat produce at Ministry of Crab or Curry Leaf. At Seafood Cove in the Mount Lavinia hotel you can try jumbo prawns, squid, cuttlefish and lobster cooked any way you want it – grilled, fried, poached – with your toes in the sand at your table on the beach (see more of our Colombo highlights here).
Whales and dolphins thrive in coastal waters
Another perk of visiting a country surrounded by water is seeing famous marine mammals in the wild. Watch spinner dolphins leap from the water off Kalpitiya or spot the world’s largest animal, the blue whale, at Mirissa, less than an hour from Koggala Lake. The whale watching season in Mirissa begins in November and ends in April.
There’s 34,000 years of history
Sri Lanka’s history dates back an estimated 34,000 years. For centuries, the country was divided into ancient kingdoms occasionally controlled by the same king. In 1505, it was part-colonised by the Portuguese, then the Dutch in the first half of the 17th century, then the British, who founded the tea industry in the highlands during their period of control. Sri Lanka regained independence in 1948, later becoming a republic in 1972. From 1983 to 2009, the country was embroiled in a long civil war, before establishing peace. This long, varied history has resulted in a melting pot of cultures, cuisines and heritage, particularly in the coastal cities where grand, colonial administration buildings sit alongside ancient, ornate temples.
Asian elephants live in a higher density here than anywhere else
There are around 5,000 elephants that live throughout Sri Lanka. You can see them at parks such as Gal Oya National Park, one of the best places to see the animals and still off the average tourist’s radar, or Yala, which is home to about 350 elephants. Despite Sri Lanka having the highest concentrations of elephants in Asia, they are still under threat, largely due to conflict with humans outside protected areas.