7 ways to be seduced by Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka's popularity as a holiday destination has rocketed in recent years, and it looks set to continue.
Here, we look at seven wonderful ways you'll inevitably be seduced by Sri Lanka, giving you every excuse to take advantage of the Sri Lankan government's planned free-visa scheme for visitors from certain countries, including the UK, from 1 May 2019.
Getting to Sri Lanka: if you're after a holiday with a difference, book an all inclusive break to Sri Lanka with First Choice* to bag that sophisticated base from which you can start exploring.
1. The hoppers
Okay, not just the hoppers (soft pancakes made with rice flour) but the curries (sour fish curry is a favourite), the sambal (chilli sauce), the kottu rotis (pieces of dough stir-fried with spices) and the seafood, whether it's salted fish, squid or super-sized prawns.
But we digress. The point is that the country has one of the world's most exciting food scenes. You'll find the above dishes throughout Sri Lanka, but for absolute diversity, it's got to be Colombo.
Essential stop-offs include Ministry of Crab, the high-end seafood restaurant founded by Sri Lankan cricketer Kumar Sangakkara, and, for the sheer spectacle, the colourful chaos Peliyagoda Fish Market, which opens at 4am.
2. Tea tourism
Sri Lanka is the world's fourth-largest tea producer, which might well explain its growing popularity with tea-loving Brits.
In recent years, many of the country's tea planters' bungalows have been turned into boutique hotels, and you'll find some of the best tucked in among the rolling hills surrounding Nuwara Eliya, a once popular summer retreat for the Brits who came here to trade rubber, coffee and tea.
Be sure to call by the Grand Hotel for a classic afternoon tea, which comes with Battenburg cakes and impossibly dainty cucumber sandwiches.
3. The national parks
Sri Lanka has some of the world's most beautiful national parks and has recently done its bit for wildlife conservation by creating several marine reserves, too. This includes Pigeon Island National Park, one of the country's two marine national parks.
Equally wild is the southeast-lying Yala National Park, home to the Sri Lankan leopard along with sloth bears, mongooses and civets.
Twitchers flock (excuse the pun) to Bundala National Park and the Palatupana Salt Pans to spot migrant shorebirds, while the Sinharaja Forest Reserve has several rare species, including the green-billed coucal, barking deer and three types of squirrel.
4. The diving
Warmed by Indian Ocean currents and lined with over 1,600 kilometres of palm tree-dotted coastline, the water surrounding Sri Lanka is a paradise for divers, who come here to admire the colourful coral and the vast range of marine life, whether it's blue whales or huge shoals of tropical fish.
Hikkaduwa is one of the best spots: divers head here for the turtles and multicoloured coral. Kalpitiya, on the northwest coast, has huge pods of spinner dolphins and some of the warmest water in Sri Lanka.
Meanwhile, the waters off Weligama are known for their beautiful nudibranchs (colourful molluscs), manta rays and whale sharks.
Some of the best wreck-diving spots are close to Colombo. This includes the rusting hulk of the British steamer SS Perseus, which sank in 1917 after hitting a mine.
Divers in Galle, on the island's southern tip, should check out the wreck of the SS Rangoon, a Sunderland-built steamer which sank in 1873.
5. The temples
The majority of Sri Lankans are Buddhists, with Hindus coming second. You'll find a temple around every corner here, whether it's the golden Buddhist Temple of the Tooth in Kandy, the 2,000-year-old Dambulla Cave Temple or Trincomalee's Koneswaram Hindu Temple, with its colourful reliefs.
But it's not just about the temples - one of the country's most photographed buildings is Colombo's Jami-Ul-Alfar Mosque, with its red and white chequerboard exterior.
Yes, we know Colombo is a city, not a reason, but visitors to Sri Lanka are increasingly spending more time in its capital, rather than simply using it as an entry point.
Look beyond the honking tuk-tuks and seafront construction and you'll find beautiful architecture, especially in the city's fort area, with its red-and-yellow clock tower.
You'll also see some of the region's most colourful markets, such as the ones in the Pettah neighbourhood, where you'll find everything from fresh fish and chillies to handicrafts and homeware.
Don't forget to take a walk along the beach, either; grab some street food from one of the beachfront vendors before heading to one of the rooftop bars - our favourite is the one at the Mövenpick, with its bar-side pool and regular DJ sets.
7. The people
To put it simply, we love Sri Lankans, and we're pretty sure you will too. For starters, they're incredibly accepting, which perhaps comes from the fact that in Sri Lanka, all religious holidays - Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim and Christian - are public holidays. Christmas, for example, is enjoyed by everyone.
They're also incredibly generous. The country ranks eighth on CAF's (Charities Aid Foundation) World Giving Index.
And they love to party. Sri Lanka has more festivals than any other country, and one of the most colourful events is the Sinhalese and Tamil New Year. New Year's Eve takes place on April 13 and New Year's Day is celebrated one day later.
Weather in Sri Lanka
If you're planning a trip to Sri Lanka, whether to the capital Colombo (climate details below), the interior tea lands of Nuwara Eliya or any of the national parks, don't miss our weather guide to Sri Lanka, which includes destinations across the country, plus when we think is the very best time to go.
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