Six reasons to visit Sri Lanka right now

If you haven’t discovered the charms of this ‘pearl of the Indian Ocean’, now could be just the time.

There’s no denying Sri Lanka has been doing it tough in recent years with political and social upheaval and tourism taking a direct hit, but now this resilient and beautiful nation is welcoming back travellers with open arms, and very big smiles.

Whether you’re an adventurer, a nature enthusiast, a foodie, a history buff or just looking for some lazy days in the sun, now may be the perfect time to discover Sri Lanka’s hospitality and charms.

Here are six compelling reasons to put Sri Lanka on the top of your travel list.

Tropical paradise

First up: let’s talk about the weather. Warm, sultry days and evenings, palm-fringed beaches, tropical fruits galore—what part of that doesn’t sound appealing on a frosty morn in a Canberra winter? Or any season, really. No need for puffer jackets here—it’s year-round warmth. How does 28 degrees sound right about now?

It’s not just warm sun on your skin. That climate means tropical fruit flavours too: mangos, papayas, pineapples, the sweetest of bananas and coconuts just for starters. Pick them up from the myriad of street stalls wherever you travel and lap them up for breakfast or dessert. Fresh coconut milk straight from the shell, anyone?

Spice central

Known as ‘Spice Island’, Sri Lanka is renowned for its aromatic treasures and exotic flavours which, along with its strategic location along ancient trade routes, made it a coveted destination for spice merchants from around the world for centuries.

The spice legacy lives on with the country continuing to be celebrated as a source of exceptional quality spices, used liberally to add depth and flavour to local cuisine.

Spice gardens are dotted around the country giving an insight into the world of Sri Lankan spices—cardamom, cumin, cloves, nutmeg and pepper, and cinnamon of course—and their myriad of uses, not just in food but with an important role in herbal and traditional medicines. With some added vanilla and ginger, a cup of spiced tea never tasted so good.

If you’re a curry fan, pack your stretchy pants as there’s a wealth of curry options and foods to explore, from belly-warming curries to tantalising seafood fresh from the ocean. You can dine with a local Sinhalese family, try your hand at making string ‘hoppers’ (flat discs of fine noodles made from rice flour), learn the art of making fresh spicy coconut sambal at a Sri Lankan barbeque, sample freshly-made roti from roadside stalls and dine at true local restaurants for some really memorable food experience.

History and culture

With a long and complex history and with a melting pot of religions, there’s a wealth of culture to uncover.

Six of Sri Lanka’s eight UNESCO world heritage sites—selected for their outstanding universal value to cultural or natural heritage—highlight historic and cultural sites.

Be transported back in time to the 17th century at the seaside town of Galle and its Dutch fortifications, a sign of the island’s colonial past, with its charming architecture, narrow streets and coastal allure, or be enchanted by the ancient cities of Polonnaruwa and Anuradhapura where you can explore intricately carved temples and massive stone Buddhas.

For an understanding of the importance of Buddhism, head to the Dambulla Cave Temple, a sprawling cave complex that stretches over more than 80 caves, five major ones, adorned with over 150 colourful frescoes and countless Buddha statues. The Sacred City of Kandy is home to the Temple of the Tooth, the most sacred site in the country which holds a revered relic of Buddha himself.

The remarkable Sigiriya Rock, a granite rock formation rising dramatically out of the surrounding jungle near Damballa, a place where a King’s palace and fortress once stood, is a site not to be missed. Also known as the Lion Rock, it was the centre of a short-lived kingdom 1500 years ago and features a series of colourful cave frescoes and is surrounded by a vast network of gardens, ponds and canals showcasing technological skills seemingly way ahead of their time.

Wildlife galore

Sri Lanka is a nature lover’s paradise with abundant wildlife offerings, like giant squirrels, wide-eyed loris and a never-ending supply of cheeky monkeys, three different species of them.

It’s also one of the best places in the world to go on safari outside Africa with seven of the 26 national parks offering morning or afternoon safari experiences, including Yala National Park, which boasts the highest leopard population density in the world. You can also encounter majestic elephants, water buffalo, spotted deer, wild boar and or even an elusive sloth bear.

The Sinharaja Forest Reserve showcases a vibrant array of flora and fauna in its lush rainforest reserve, the country’s last viable area of primary tropical rainforest, another UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Sri Lanka is also a haven for bird watchers with hundreds of resident species, including 34 endemic species. Wetlands lands like Bundala and Kumana attract a multitude of migratory and resident birds.

A multitude of landscapes

Beach landscapes not enough to sway you? Try misty mountains and rolling hills covered in verdant green tea plantations instead. Plenty are on offer in the land where the Dilmah empire started, and a visit to a tea plantation is a must to reveal the time-honoured traditions including hand-picking, still used to make the premium brews the island is famed for.

And how about seven types of forest, lagoons, wetlands and wildlife-rich jungle? It’s all possible, and the good news is that because Sri Lanka is relatively small at only around 430 kilometres in length, you get to uncover lots of different landscapes in one trip. Taking an extended guided tour is an easy way to get around the island to take in the best of it.

Take an adventure or just relax

If you’re not sure of what holiday you’re after, don’t panic: Sri Lanka offers lots of options, from rollicking train trips to active adventures. From the golden shores of Mirissa to the surfer’s paradise of Arugam Bay to the perennially popular Unawatuna, there’s a beach for every mood. Soak up the sun, swim in crystal-clear waters and unwind in the laidback beachside resorts.

The vast collection of national parks and trails is perfect for those who like to add a bit of hiking or cycling to their holidays, or even a spot of kayaking. Train trips offer a fun way to take in the landscapes.

Known as one of the most scenic train journeys in the world, the trip from Nanu Oya heading south to Ella in the central highlands is truly spectacular, taking in sweeping views, impossible greens, farming fields, villages and tunnels, and even some bold stands of Eucalypt forest to make you feel like home.

So, shake a leg. Sri Lanka awaits.