In this extract from our Sri Lanka Travel Guide, we look at some Sri Lankan experiences that you must not miss.
You can rarely traverse any part of the Sri Lankan coast for long without coming upon a stunning beach, generally with attractive hotels nearby. There are long, golden-specked ones (try Bentota), dainty ones with soft white sand (Tangalla); those with a lively vibe (Hikkaduwa) and some without a footstep for miles (Talalla).
Whale watching in Mirissa
The sandy jewel of the south, Mirissa is also Sri Lanka’s best base for a whale-watching boat safari. Every morning in season (January–April), boats leave the beach in search of a creature like no other – the massive blue whale. Also found in the blue waters around Mirissa are sperm whales and dolphins. In the evenings, you can plant yourself on a candle-lit table by the sea with the waves curling at your feet.
In Anuradhapura (p131), Sri Lanka’s cultural and religious heritage sprawls across 3 sq km. In the centre is the over 2000-year-old Sri Maha Bodhi, the oldest tree known to have been planted by a human. The surrounding fields of crumbling monasteries and enormous dagobas (temples) attest to the city’s role as the seat of power in Sri Lanka for 1000 years. Several of the ancient sites remain in use, and the frequent ceremonies there give Anuradhapura a vibrancy that you may not find at other ruins.
Soaring Sigiriya rock
The rolling gardens at the base of Sigiriya are as much of a highlight as the structure itself. Ponds and little manmade rivulets create these water gardens and offer a serene idyll amid the sweltering countryside. But look up and catch your jaw as you ponder this 370m rock that erupts out of the landscape. Etched with art and surmounted by ruins, Sigiriya is an awesome mystery. The climb to the top is a wearying but worthy endeavor that will reward you with panoramic views.
Richly spicy food
The permutations and combinations of Sri Lankan cuisine are similar to those found in many parts of India, but yet not quite the same. A seemingly humble rice and curry can consist of dozens of intricately prepared dishes, each redolent with a rich and, at times, fiery goodness. In all parts of the country, the influence of outsiders is never far from the menu. Muslim restaurants serve up perfect flatbreads and samosas introduced by Arab traders. Celebratory cakes often have a Dutch or Portuguese touch, and deliciously sweet desserts concocted from jaggery, coconut milk, cloves and cardamom revive memories of Malay traders from the spice islands further east.