Sri Lanka may be a small island in the IndianOcean but that’s the only thing small about it. The country, formerly known as Ceylon, boastsan ancient civilization, golden sandy beaches with their swaying coconut palms, mountains,and tea plantations. While visiting the island, you’ll see colonialarchitecture from the days when the Portuguese, Dutch and English ruled. You’ll also see lots of elephants, some of which participate in local festivals and, if you’re lucky, perhaps a leopard or twoat a wildlife sanctuary. Here’s a look at the best places to visitin Sri Lanka: Number 10. Hikkaduwa The small, seaside city of Hikkaduwa is northof Galle, along the southwest coast of Sri Lanka. Well-trodden by tourists who are looking fora slice of sand and a chilled-out time, the town is packed full of cheap guesthouses,tourist shops, and many cafes and restaurants. It may have lost a little of its beauty sincethe tourists started arriving here in the 1970’s, but if you want to spend a few daysnear the sea, this might be the spot for you. Number 9. Ella. Located in a beautiful setting with forest-coveredhills, sweeping valleys, and picturesque tea plantations, Ella is a lovely place to spendtime. The journey by rail to Ella from Kandy isan iconic one and will take you chugging along in a colorful carriage up through the lush,verdant hills. Ella itself may be small, but if you enjoyhiking or just relaxing in the peace and quiet of nature, it’s definitely well worth yourtime. Make sure to hike to some of the nearby waterfallsand temples, as well as to the top of Ella Rock for incredible views.
Number 8. Anuradhapura. Anuradhapura is an ancient sacred city thatwas established around a cutting from Buddha’s fig tree. Dating back to the third century BC, Anuradhapurawas established by the founder of an order of Buddhist nuns. This magnificent city of palaces, templesand monuments flourished for 1,300 years but was abandoned after it was invaded in thelate 10th century. Much like Peru’s Machu Picchu, locals wereaware of it but not many others until it was “discovered” by Europeans many centurieslater. These fantastic ruins have since been excavatedand are accessible for the public to enjoy.
Number 7. Colombo Colombo has been the commercial capital ofSri Lanka for more than 2,000 years when its large natural harbor made it popular withancient trades from Italy to China. It’s often referred to as the country’scapital, though the legislative capital is located in a nearby city. Ruled over by first Portuguese and then Britishcolonists, Colombo is a popular tourist destination. The city seamlessly mixes modern malls andskyscrapers with beautiful colonial buildings. A range of architectural styles can be foundin the city, with the Murugan Hindu temple being one of the best.
Number 6. Yala National Park. Yala National Park is a wildlife sanctuaryabout 150 miles from Colombo. It has the highest density of leopards inthe world, so chances of seeing them are very high. Although leopards are the main attractionhere, they are followed closely by elephants, sloth bears and crocodiles. The park is divided into five blocks; someof which were zoned to hunters until Yala became a national park in 1938. Ensure you make time to visit the very informativevisitor center at the entrance of the park for insightful displays about the area.
Number 5. Mirissa If you’re looking to holiday in a tropicalparadise, Mirissa just might be the answer to your dreams: swaying coconut palms, beautifulgolden sand beaches, days spent rocking away in a hammock. It doesn’t get much better than this. This crescent-shaped piece of paradise isfamous for having the most stunning sunsets and sunrises in Sri Lanka. There are no luxury resorts to mar the landscape,so it’s just you and the beach during the day. The pace picks up at night. Mirissa is the largest fishing port on thesouth coast and is a good place to go dolphin and whale watching. .
Number 4. Polonnaruwa The second oldest kingdom in Sri Lanka, Polonnaruwais known for the ruins of this ancient garden city. The 12th century ruins are some of the bestpreserved in the country. Polonnaruwa was a place where traders of exoticgoods mingled with worshippers in the many temples. Start your tour at the Archaeological Museum,then proceed to the massive Royal Palace with its well-preserved audience hall. The stunningly decorated Sacred Quadrangleis another must-see here.
Number 3. Kandy. Kandy, the second largest city in Sri Lanka,is the gateway to the Central Highlands and its tropical plantations that grow both teaand rubber. If you’re driving from Colombo, you’llpass by rubber plantations on a road that is considered one of the country’s mostscenic. The last capital of the ancient kingdoms,Kandy is home to the Temple of the Tooth Relic, one of the most sacred Buddhist temples inthe world. A major, colorful festival involves takingthe tooth relic around the city. Movie buffs may be interested to know Kandywas a chief location in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
Number 2. Galle. Galle’s most famous attraction is its 17thcentury fort built by Dutch colonists. Sitting on a promontory overlooking the Indianocean, the fort is known for its architectural style. Galle is considered a prime example of a fortifiedcity. The fortress is not just another pretty place,however; today it houses courts and businesses. Galle is becoming known as an arts colonyand its expat community. Other top sights include a natural harbor,Sri Lanka’s oldest lighthouse, a maritime museum, a key Shiva temple and the Jesuitbuilt St. Mary’s Cathedral.
Number 1. Sigiriya. Wannabe archaeologists need to put Sigiriyaon their list of must-see places in Sri Lanka. This ancient city is built on a steep slope,topped by a plateau almost 600 feet high. This plateau is known as Lion’s Rock asit oversees the jungles below. The ancient rock fortress dates back to thethird century BC when it was a monastery. It was later turned into a royal residence. Access to the site is through staircases androoms emanating from the lion’s mouth. You’ll also see ponds, gardens and fountains. Locals consider the site the eighth wonderof the world.