Sri Lanka, also known as Ceylon, is considered the pearl of the Indian Ocean due to the shape of the island.
Many travelers may think of Sri Lanka for its well-known beautiful beaches, there’s plenty of culture, natural beauty and history to take in for such a small island. Due to recent civil unrest between the Sri Lankan government and the native Tamil separatist group, tourists have been less frequent or keen to take their chances to such a small point on the map. However, since the end of the war in 2009, the country has been working to redevelop itself and is hopeful tourism will pick up.
Luckily, the country is not economically dependent on tourism for its growth and exports in cinnamon, rubber and Ceylon tea continue to support the nation. Still, tourists are eagerly welcomed as small tours pass by.
Because of the low numbers of tourists, one remarkable aspect to note is that there are not many people begging in the tourist spots as is usually found in most developing countries. Tours are taken in sedans as guides maneuver their way through typically small two-way roads at high speeds.
Most tours will begin in Colombo. As the capital and biggest city in Sri Lanka, Colombo holds the only international airport for the country. Though one could spend a couple of days in the city exploring its cultural and historical sites, limited time might reasonably exempt more than a night’s stay in the city and travelers will not have missed too much.
However, not far outside of the city travelers can visit the elephant orphanage in Pinnewala, where you can watch the elephants bathe and play in the river. This is one of the most touristy stops with small shops set up along the path to the river where one can purchase elephant-related souvenirs.
From Colombo to Kandy, another major city full of culture, history and nature, is a scenic view of the country’s rubber plantations and rice fields. It’s about a three-hour drive from the capital to the old royal city of the Singhalese kingdom located in the hill-country.
In the middle of the city is a lake where locals gather to sit, chat, or have a peaceful moment in the fairly active cultural city.
The biggest attraction in Kandy is the old Royal Palace complex which is now the Holy Temple of the Tooth, where the relic of the tooth of Buddha is enshrined. Sri Lankans and tourists alike visit to give patronage as an important Buddhist pilgrimage destination.
Upon leaving Kandy, which is considered the last proper city in the country, the short tour will head further into the mountains to nearly 2,000 meters above sea level towards Sri Lanka’s highest point – Nuwara Eliya.
As the major Ceylon tea center that used to be run by the British during their rule, Nuwara Eliya offers beautiful views of the flourishing tea plantations and scenery below. It also maintains a traditional English resort-feel with the Victorian-style architecture of the buildings in this area despite the tea centers now being under Sri Lankan government control.
A short tour will generally only hit these three major destinations as much time will be spent on the road traveling to/from each location. Along the way some stops will be made to purchase batik fabric, look at blue sapphires –best found in Sri Lanka- or botanical gardens where tourists can purchase natural remedies.
Bandaranaike International Airport is Sri Lanka’s major airport located in Colombo. Many major airlines fly through with Sri Lankan Airlines as probably the cheapest fare. Though not much should be expected of this airline – you pay for what you get.
Overall, if you would like a quick holiday to the pearl of the Indian Ocean, this is a good highlights tour of the country. Getting to the renowned beautiful beaches will take a bit more road travel, but is said to be worth the effort.