The ‘Pearl of the Indian Ocean’, Sri Lanka holidays are the paradise of tea plantations, lush elephant-filled jungles, endless beaches and fascinating ancient ruins. Legendary temples, such as the Temple of the Sacred Tooth, rub shoulders with the colourful colonial architecture of Colombo and Kandy, and historic monuments, such as Sigiriya, invite travellers to discover the charms and heritage of this unique island country.
Up in the highlands, the fresh, cool environment is home to endless tea plantations and characterful villages, whilst a total of 8 UNESCO World Heritage Sites makes a Sri Lanka tour package an eye-opening experience. Sri Lanka is also known for its rich and varied wildlife, much of which is protected inside nature reserves, such as Mirrierya and Yala National Park, where leopards, elephants and monkeys can be found in abundance.
Furthermore, Sri Lanka’s ancient national culture makes it a captivating travel destination. A teardrop-shaped island in the Indian Ocean, Sri Lanka is situated off of the coast of the Indian Sub-Continent. Its bustling capital of Colombo is the gateway to the country, full of aroma-filled markets, high-rises and quaint relics of its colonial past.
Sri Lanka tours often also include a visit to the city of Kandy, set amongst verdant mountains in the centre of the country. A simply beautiful city, Kandy is known for its vibrant local culture, historic buildings and buddhist temples and enjoys a cooler climate due to its highland location.
Away from the cities, a holiday to Sri Lanka is incomplete without contemplating the sunset or watching the unique fishing methods of its famous fishermen along the idyllic coastline. A popular honeymoon destination, Sri Lanka’s beaches range from tranquil stretches of white sand to rugged, surfer havens, attracting travellers from around the world.
History of Sri Lanka
Formerly Ceylon under British colonial rule, Sri Lanka’s history can be traced back 3,000 years. Buddhism has played a pivotal role in the history of the country, starting from its arrival on the island around the 3rd-century BC. It was in this year that the teachings of Buddhism attracted the attention of the Anwradhapur King, who quickly spread the word to his kingdom.
The population of the island at this time was overwhelmingly the Sinhalese, whose descendants still constitute 75% of Sri Lanka’s population today. The significance of Buddhism grew and developed through successive kingdoms across the centuries, and on a tour of Sri Lanka today you can even visit the famous Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi Tree, a sampling taken from the tree under which Buddha himself became enlightened and brought by Buddhist monks to Sri Lanka in 288 BC.
This now fully-grown sacred fig tree is a major site of pilgrimage. Sri Lanka’s location historically made it an important trade hub, with Portuguese explorers arriving on the island in 1505. It was not long until these colonists built a fort at the port city of Colombo in a bid to secure and extend their territory, eventually forcing the King of Sri Lanka to move his kingdom to Kandy, where he was able to successfully fight off two Portuguese offensives and defy foreign forces for 300-years. British colonists began to settle in Sri Lanka in the early 19th-century, developing coffee and later tea plantations, following a devastating plant disease that destroyed the entire coffee industry.
Interior divisions between Sinhalese and Tamil populations characterised much of Sri Lanka’s modern history, although the Ceylon National Congress unified both parties in a bid for sovereignty, resulting in the nation's independence in 1948, although it was not until 1972 that Sri Lanka was officially renamed as an independent nation of the Commonwealth. A long and bitter civil war, starting in 1983 and lasting for 26 years has left its mark on the nation, causing hardships for the country’s economy and environment. In 2009, the Sri Lankan government finally defeated Tamil forces, bringing an end to the decades-long conflict. Another recent event that is sure to be in the memory of all who travel to Sri Lanka is the devastating 2004 Tsunami, one of the largest natural disasters in modern times.
Nature in Sri Lanka
A tropical Indian Ocean island, Sri Lanka enjoys year-round warm temperatures with rains brought on the monsoon winds between May and July in the southwest of the country and between October and January in the northeast. Home to diverse terrain, ranging from surfer-paradise beaches to mist-covered highlands, a Sri Lanka holiday is a great choice for wildlife and nature lovers. With an amazing 22 national parks, Sri Lanka takes protecting its natural abundance seriously.
The most famous reserve, Yala Nationa Park is home to the largest concentration of leopards in the world, as well as majestic Asian elephants, monkeys and colourful birdlife. Originating from the verdant highlands, Sri Lanka’s 103 rivers give rise to natural waterfalls, such as the beautiful Bambarakanda Falls, the highest in the country and an unmissable attraction on a tour of Sri Lanka. With more than 1,500 kilometres of coastline, beach-lovers are certainly spoilt for choice.
Arugam Bay, Hikkaduwa, Negombo and Mirissa Beach are just a handful of the most breathtaking beaches, mostly concentrated around the south and southeastern coasts of Sri Lanka. Inland, hilltop tea plantations and hiking routes, such as those around Ella Rock, offer tranquil outdoor pursuits in the crisp fresh-air and prove the diversity of Sri Lanka as a travel destination. Temperatures on the beach can be up to 20 degrees higher than those in the lush central highlands.
Culture in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka’s national culture has long been influenced by the practices and values of Theravada Buddhism, particularly in the south and central parts of the island, although the country’s colonial history has left its own marks, with elements of British, Portuguese and Dutch culture being seen in architecture, cuisine, music and even language. Hinduism is the second-largest religion and another important cornerstone of Sri Lankan culture. A trip to Sri Lanka is incomplete without experiencing the distinctive art forms, such as the colourful Kandyan dances of the highlands and the soul-stirring drumming of Sri Lankan folk music.
The two official languages are Sinhala and Tamil, although English is widely spoken, particularly in schools and business settings. A part of Sri Lankan culture that is known worldwide is their love of cricket. It is undoubtedly Sri Lanka’s favourite sport and the country ralliers together for the national teams most important matches, often closing businesses and schools to ensure their team has the full support of their country! A unique part of Sri Lankan culture is the significance of birds in everyday life. There are many stories about birds in traditional folklore, with different species believed to have luck-bringing properties. A number of traditional dances, such as the Kandian Peacock Dance, depict the significance of birds on the national culture.
An exceptional all-round travel destination, Sri Lanka offers both beachside relaxation and hilltop exploration. Take an iconic ride on a bright blue vintage train through the lush highlands, go snorkelling in the waters of the Indian Ocean, spot elephants in a national park or sip local tea in a leafy courtyard in Kandy, Sri Lanka holiday packages have universal appeal.