Whether it’s chilling on the beach, trekking through the rainforest, searching for wild elephants or surfing on that perfect wave – Sri Lanka has something for everyone. It has a long and unique history, having been fought over for centuries before gaining its independence from the British in 1947. Moreover, it only recently saw the end of a long and fatal civil war, which was made worse after the tsunami in 2004.

However, this turbulent history has shaped the Sri Lankan people into the friendly, generous and grateful people they are today, and with the war over, this hidden paradise is being rediscovered. Combine these great people with their distinctively diverse and creative culture and you have Sri Lanka. Here are a few of the country’s highlights:

GALLE FORT

Situated in the south, Galle is a place not to be missed, especially if you like food. You’ll wake up in the morning to the sounds of waves crashing on to the fort walls before being lured out of bed by the smell of Pol Sambol wrapped in a fresh egg hopper. If you’ve got up early for sunrise, then head down to the Lighthouse beach where more often than not you’ll see turtles bathing in the sand. Here, there will be a few local fishermen casting their bamboo rods in the sea, hoping to catch what they can for one of the many delicious restaurants in the fort. Galle Fort is a UNESCO World Heritage Site boasting fabulous architecture dating back to when the Dutch first built it in 1663. Perhaps the best way to see the sights of the fort is just taking a stroll along the cobbled streets and discovering the many hidden gems this place has to offer. Before you leave, make sure you try the fish curry at the Elita Restaurant.

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MIRISSA

A short tuk-tuk ride from Galle is Mirissa, where you’ll find yourself swinging in a hammock, sipping at a coconut and contemplating whether you’ll ever bother going home. The beach is dotted with cabanas and small guesthouses, with neighboring bars playing those Bob Marley favourites. If you’re feeling brave, rent a couple of body boards out and take on the waves, or if you fancy a surf, its better to jump in a tuk-tuk and head to Weligamma, a short distance away. Ultimately, Mirissa is a place is for chilling, reading and getting your tan on. However, if you’re looking for a beach party, Mirissa is one of the few places in Sri Lanka where you’ll definitely find one.

Mirissa

KANDY

So, you’ve seen the endless stretches of beaches Sri Lanka has to offer, and you feel like seeing something different. Kandy is a busy city situated in the Hill country, which, hence the name, is full of hills upon hills of tea plantations offering sublime views, and surprisingly, fresh cool air that you’d find in Europe. If you’re lucky enough to visit in July or August, then you can’t miss the Perahara festival – one of the largest Buddhist festivals in Sri Lanka. It’s a 10-day festival celebrating the Buddhist tooth relic and providing a unique spectacle of fire dancers, drummers, hundreds of extravagantly dressed elephants and acrobats. When you need a break from the city, enjoy a walk by the lake and stroll up the hill to Helga’s Folly. This is one of the most unique places you will visit in Sri Lanka, yet it does not represent Sri Lankan culture at all. The moment you step into the hotel, you’re senses are overwhelmed with shapes and colours crawling up every wall and ceiling. The place was initially decorated by staying guests who would contribute to any free space left.

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ELLA

Chilled out vibes crossed with vast awe-inspiring views and cool fresh air and you get the idea of Ella. To get here, hang out the door of a train from Kandy true Sri Lankan style while you take in the never-ending layers of tea plantation after tea plantation. Once you’re here, find a cosy family run guesthouse and hire yourself a scooter. Explore the surrounding areas with a visit up Little Adams Peak followed by a dip in the Ravana waterfall with the locals.

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There are few places in the world that compete with the diversity Sri Lanka has to offer, and being relatively undiscovered, it has hundreds of places that are ‘Off the Beaten track.’ So don’t stick just stick to the highlights, go out and explore!

Benjamin Wilcockson

Featured Images by Aditi Das Patnaik. Embedded images courtesy of MbiebuschArian Zwegers, Ronald Saunders and Peter Glenday via Flickr

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