Sri Lanka’s diversity is limited only by your client’s imagination: everything is possible, even skiing - but on water not snowy slopes.
Sri Lanka can be easily described through its convenient division into seven areas: Colombo, the Cultural Triangle, the East, West, North and South, and the Hill Country.
Colombo is its principal city and port, just 20 minutes drive by expressway from the airport. Other cities are Kandy, once the medieval kingdom, and Galle in the south with its formidable colonial Fort. In the north, the bustling city of Jaffna retains ruins of an ancient Hindu civilisation while Trincomalee in the east has the world’s finest natural harbour. Nuwara Eliya in the hill country has many bungalows and mansions resembling those of the English countryside, while Matara in the south is a hub of commerce; Ratnapura in the interior is the city of gems.
Sri Lanka is blessed with superlative beaches. Negombo near the airport has a beach shared with fishermen; just south of Colombo at Mount Lavinia the beach is popular with city folk. The west coast has three beach areas dedicated to tourists, at Beruwela, Bentota and Hikkaduwa. There are beaches and coves along the deep south coast with those at Unawatuna, Mirissa and Tangalle being popular. On the east coast, there is the surfers’ paradise of Arugam Bay and broad beaches lapped by shallow water at Passikudah and the mature stretch of beach just north of Trincomalee.
The main places that attract visitors because of their historical and religious connections are the first millennium ruins of Anuradhapura (which also has the world’s oldest documented living tree) and Polonnaruwa with its huge man-made lake, and the Gal Vihara royal shrine in the northern half of the island. Within easy driving distance of those ancient capitals, is the natural rock of Sigiriya, once a king’s fortress (which can be climbed by visitors); the colossal statue of Buddha carved out of solid rock at Aukana; Mihintale regarded as the cradle of Buddhism in Sri Lanka; Yapahuwa, the rock fortress capital in the 13th century; and Dambulla, a rock temple with caves dating from the 1st century BC.
Kandy, which is the third point of the Cultural Triangle after Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa, is home to the sacred tooth relic of Buddha kept in the town’s central Temple of the Tooth, as well as many colonial buildings and a king-made lake.
Nature is well represented in the island’s National Parks and wildlife reserves. There are orphaned elephants at the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage, accessible on the drive to Kandy, with wild ones to be seen gathering at Minneriya in the central interior, and at Yala in the southeast, Wipattu in the northwest and Gal Oya in the northeast. Bundala National Park in the deep south is a sanctuary for wild birds and crocodiles.
Climbing to the summit (2,243m/7,358ft above sea level) of Adam’s Peak during the December to April climbing season is a pilgrimage for locals and an extreme challenge for visitors, and there is trekking across the blustery hill country of Horton Plains. The less energetic can commune with nature in the exotic botanical gardens of Peradeniya, near Kandy, and at Hakgala (at 1,884m/6,182ft above sea level) near Nuwara Eliya, or in the landscaped gardens of Brief near Bentota. Also in the south, the Sinharaja rain forest is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.