With its sloping palms, history, and ecology – among the most biodiverse in Asia – travelers will be spoiled for choice in Sri Lanka, not knowing whether to use it as a beach and tea field retreat or a hiking and wildlife adventure. In Sri Lanka you can laze on white sands, climb mountains, and even go on safari, all within easy traveling distance. Twenty-four wildlife preserves, 45 estuaries, and 40 lagoons make the island nation a hotspot for naturalists and luxury travelers alike.
Undoubtedly, travelers to Sri Lanka will begin by landing in the 2,000-year-old trade city of Colombo, but from there, the entire island nation is an option. No matter where one is, only a few hours away is something completely different. Dambulla’s cave temple and dramatic Sigiriya Rock Fortress are iconic emblems of Sri Lanka’s ancient civilization; north from there is Wilpattu, where visitors can spot leopards and sloth bears. A trip to the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic in Kandy is also a must on the way to Nuwara Eliya and the Central Highlands.
When not occupied touring these incredible sites, travelers may bask on the sun-drenched beaches of Sri Lanka’s southern coast and watch baby sea turtles hatching in the sand. Or, if sunbathing isn’t your thing, there’s always the colonial charm of Galle, an ancient port with some of the most picturesque streets in Asia.
It is the abiding culture of Sri Lanka with which travelers will find themselves so enamored. Like the deep harbors that made it a key stop on the Maritime Silk Road, Sri Lanka’s cultural reserves are fathomless. The rich traditions shared by Sinhalese, Tamil, and other Sri Lankan ethnic groups are the highlight of every journey.
After a brief but severe fall in inbound travel after the tragic 2019 Easter bombings, Sri Lanka is ready to show the world in 2020 that it is a safe, exciting travel destination.
Before one books their journey with Remote Lands, however, it’s important to note that Sri Lanka’s unique location gives it a strange place on the travel calendar. The monsoon seasons mean different things to different travelers. The west and south coasts are best from October to March, and April to September are the best for the north and east. For lovers of the central hills, aim for early spring.
Living large in paradise is the best way to get to know Sri Lanka, and several boutique luxury hotels make it easy to travel around the island without sacrificing comfort and class. The Remote Lands favorite is Amangalla in Galle for a unique opportunity to live in luxury among the ramparts of the UNESCO heritage of Galle Fort. The exquisitely maintained grounds – complete with 200-year-old gardens, original furnishings, and luxuriant four-poster beds – recall the heyday of steamship travel and the tea trade during British rule. Get personalized Ayurvedic therapy in the baths and sip tea on crisp linens beneath chandeliers.
Situated up the coast in Tangelle, Amanwella is a world away in design aesthetic from Amangalla but equal in quality and service. It is the ideal Sri Lanka beach retreat. Ceylon Tea Trails, on the other hand, is the best way to explore the Bogawantalawa Valley. The Geoffrey Bawa-designed Heritance Kandalama in Damballa is a stunning example of green architecture: a literal forest of grasses and hanging vines subsumes the entire building.
As for the best wildlife national park experiences at Yala and Wilpattu, there are two words that really matter: Leopard Trails.
What to Do
VISIT TEA COUNTRY
The Bogawantalawa Valley put Sri Lanka on the map as a producer of tea, just ask Thomas Lipton. Go on a bike tour and hike between working plantations and take your afternoon tea at the resplendent Ceylon Tea Trails estate.
This coastal colonial city has stunning architecture and more than enough to do, from exploring the ancient port and Yatagala and Rumassala temples, to outdoorsy adventures on the nearby whale-filled waters.
The short-lived kingdom of Kassapa built its palace atop a striated formation that is made of two-billion-year-old metamorphic rock. The near-vertical face is thought to have been a gigantic gallery – perhaps the largest in the world. Climb up the side to see the remaining frescoes and a lion’s paws carved into the rock before reaching the ruins on its top.
DAMBULLA CAVE TEMPLE
The ancient monastery and complex of cave temples here are even older than Sri Lanka’s ancient Pāli Canon, the world’s oldest complete collection of Buddhist scripture. In the main caves, you will see Buddha statues hewn out of the rock and escorted by wooden figures. The spring water that drips from a crack in the tempera-painted ceiling is said to have healing powers.