With glorious beaches, mountainous wilderness and countless cultural treasures in an area half the size of England, Sri Lanka has long been a popular long-haul destination for British travellers. But attendance there is still well below pre-pandemic levels — so if you go now, you’ll “see the sights without the crowds,” says Emma Thomson in The timeswhile it gave the country’s economy a “much needed” boost.
First-time visitors might want to start with the classic tour — a loop that begins in the island’s largest city, Colombo, and encompasses the ancient capitals of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa to the north, the sacred city of Kandy in the central highlands, and the coastal fortified city of Galle to the south.
Between Polonnaruwa and Kandy lies Sri Lanka’s most famous site, Sigiriya, a 180-meter-tall column of magma that “suddenly rises from the forest” and is crowned by the remains of King Kashyapa’s fifth-century palace. Frescoes of his “jeweled harem and her gravity-defying breasts” adorn its sides, and steep iron stairs lead to the top where there are wonderful views over the treetops to the rice fields, “shimmering” lakes and hills beyond.
A short drive further is the Dambulla Cave Temple, a place of Buddhist worship dating back two millennia and made up of five caves ‘adorned’ with thousands of ‘living’ images of Buddha and Bodhisattvas.
In the central highlands, the road meanders around steep terraces planted with tea. To the south is Yala National Park, one of the best places in the world to see leopards and home to many other animals – Sri Lankan black bear, crocodiles, elephants, water buffalo, sambar deer – all of which have recently been sighted becoming more ‘relaxed’ and consequently easier to spot as there are no crowds of tourists.
Cox & Kings are offering a 12 night tour from £1,895 per person including flights, transfers and guide (coxandkings.co.uk).
https://www.theweek.co.uk/arts-life/travel/956315/trip-of-the-week-sri-lankas-lush-heart Trip of the week: Sri Lanka’s lush heart