How to explore Sri Lanka as the island nation strives for a brighter future

Sri Lanka can be translated as Resplendent Island, or Great Island, and with its lush, varied landscapes and abundance of resources, it’s easy enough to see why. Now the oft-struggling island nation is seeking to reclaim that destiny for itself.

That name, representing the island’s spices and gems, its forests and tea plantations, is now a dream, a hope for the future. After decades of violent civil war, followed by the shattering 2019 terrorist bombings in its capital, the 2020 pandemic and political turmoil, corruption and economic strife thrown on top for good measure — all of this after a string of three colonizing powers over a period of centuries — Sri Lanka is seeking to emerge on the other side not with its past wiped clean, but with a fresh start.

Sri Lankans are seeking the realization of another translation of its name, Prosperity, on their island. The ubiquitous greeting of ayubowan, or may you live long, is a genuine gesture. They welcome tourists with open arms to come and see what makes their country so special and to help them achieve that vision for what the future could hold. Yes, it is safe to travel to Sri Lanka right now, and yes, a resplendent island of wonders awaits.

What to Do & Where to Stay

At the top of many traveler to-do lists for Sri Lanka is a visit to the Sigiriya Rock Fortress. The UNESCO heritage site rests at the summit of an imposing flat-topped rock mound jutting 200 meters from the earth below. After climbing 1,200 steps to its apex, on a combination of natural pathways, ancient, carved stone steps dating back to the 5th century and modern metal stairs added to the site when it was modernized for tourists several decades ago, a stunning view of the surroundings awaits, from the remains of what was one part royal retreat and one part stronghold. It’s south Asia’s answer to Machu Picchu, and in similar fashion was left hidden from the world until a modern rediscovery.