Sri Lanka is a cultural mecca and a coastal-meets-jungle paradise waiting to be explored.
From a distance, the vivid green tea terraces that cut into the slopes of the steep foothills of Sri Lanka’s Central Highlands appear flecked with bright splashes of colour. These are the tea pickers – nimble-fingered women wrapped in patterned cloth who pluck the precious leaves and buds from the bushes, then place them in giant canvas bags on their backs.
The air up here is cool and moist – ideal conditions for both growing and drinking the tea that still bears the island’s former name of Ceylon. Served to parched travellers in pristine china set on crisp linen, it’s a colonial legacy that lingers.
The teardrop isle off the southern coast of India is now something of a luxury hotspot and becoming a popular destination for travellers looking for a holiday that offers a touch of adventure, culture and wildlife, in one opulent package.
Among its attractions are eight World Heritage Sites, some of which are more than 2,000 years old. Dodge monkeys along the cobbled pathway to the cave monasteries that hang above the immense golden temple at Dambulla. Head to Kandy to experience its rich traditions then go south to explore the colonial Old Town of Galle. Climb the countless stairs to scale the imposing rock fortress at Sigiriya or wander the atmospheric ruins of the ancient cities of Polonnaruwa and Anuradhapura.
But it’s not all bricks and dust. The Sinharaja Forest Reserve and these tea-sprinkled Central Highlands make the list too. The island’s natural allure extends far beyond these two sites, to its vast national parks such as Yala. This dense swathe of forest is the realm of the elusive leopard. In fact, the park is home to the world’s biggest concentration of the big cats, 215 bird species and 44 varieties of mammal, among them the mighty elephant. Rumbling safari jeeps follow the wrinkled giants at a distance through thick greenery until the park gives way to the Indian Ocean.
Between May and September, surfers run into the water to catch the beach break or they head further up the east coast to Okanda or popular Arugam Bay. Here they paddle out, as clusters of salty fishermen drag brightly coloured nets tangled with fish from their faded wooden boats.
From October to April, the best surf can be found along the south coast. Boutique resorts and laid-back beach towns dot the rocky coastline and its golden sands along with shacks and restaurants.
The local cuisine has many similarities with that of its nearest neighbour, India, but also offers many surprises. Expect fiery coconutty sauces, the freshest seafood and unique dishes such as hoppers – intricate bowl-shaped pancakes made with rice flour.
Its offer of a relaxed beach holiday with an intensely cultural twist makes Sri Lanka a distinctly appealing destination. For those in search of off-the beaten- track luxury, swerve the developed strip of resorts close to the airport and you’ll discover a destination that remains crowd-free and unspoilt.
Soak up the secluded beachfront luxury just over an hours’ drive from the mayhem of capital Colombo. With Indian Ocean and Kalu Ganga River views, this is the perfect place to spot whales, dolphins and turtles.
Image courtesy of Anantara Kalutara Resort
Split your time between the crescent-shaped clifftop infinity pool and the ocean waves for guaranteed south coast relaxation. Here, your contemporary villa comes with a flower garden and butler.
Image courtesy of Cape Weligama Matara
Indulge in an Ayurvedic treatment, unwind with a yoga class or take a dhoni boat trip to Cinnamon Island. This chic jungle retreat set on the banks of Koggala Lake is the perfect combination of sustainability and luxury.
Image courtesy of Tri Lanka
Take a step back in time at these elegantly restored planters’ bungalows set in the hills, surrounded by tea estates and dramatic ravines. Even the menu at this sumptuous period property is inspired by tea.
Image courtesy of Ceylon Tea Trails Bungalows
Thanks to consistent offshore winds during the monsoon, you’ll find surfable waves along the west coast from November to March and along the east coast from April to October.
What could be better than sipping a cup of tea just metres from where it was picked on a vast tea plantation? Spectacular views of the Central Highlands are an added bonus.
With historic sites dating back more than 2,000 years spanning its ancient and colonial periods, Sri Lanka has enough ruins to keep history buffs satisfied.
Leopards, elephants, peacocks and whales are just some of the magnificent wildlife you’ll find in any one of Sri Lanka’s sanctuaries.
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