More than any other South Asia country, Sri Lanka is the perfect destination for those wanting to unwind in a paradisiacal setting. Sunshine pours down most of the year, except for monsoon season, and tropical forests teem with wildlife beneath clear blue skies. There are also Buddhist temples, colonial architecture and rich cuisine to sample.
Although Sri Lanka isn't particularly vast, it can take a long time to get around because of its hilly terrain. Given the slow pace of trains, bus travel is often the best option, although dodgy roads that are often crowded with tuk tuks and pedestrians can make this a trial, too. Expect a three-hour journey from Colombo to Kandy.
Almost any visitor, no matter how much they just want to come and lay on Sri Lanka's beaches, will have to first traverse Colombo. The country's largest city, the capital is chaotic and traffic choked, with busy streets lined by a mix of modern towers and crumbling colonial architecture. It's worth doing what few bother to do, though – explore Colombo's parks, Buddhist temples, thrilling nightlife and intriguing museums.
It's not for Colombo, of course, that travellers including Marco Polo have been coming to this magical island over the centuries. Sri Lanka's palm-tree-lined beaches on the Indian Ocean transport you far from the rush of city life. South of Colombo, Benota is known both for its golden sands and hard-working fishermen, while north and west of Galle there's a lively beach scene. The east coast, meanwhile, is far less developed, and loved by surfers and bohemians.
Head inland to explore the jungle, which is brimming with rare endemic birds and unique wildlife, and climb the sacred Adam’s Peak. If all that trekking makes you thirsty, make a detour to one of the country’s many tea plantations. Back to wildlife, Yala West National Park is your best bet for leopards, while Uda Walawe National Park boasts some 500 hundred elephants.
Most visitors come to relax and hit the beaches, but with more than 2,000 years of recorded history, Sri Lanka has much in the way of ruined cities and ancient religious temples to explore, notably in the northern region (Sri Lanka is in fact the oldest home of Theravada Buddhism). Most of these historical wonders were built by the early Buddhist civilisation known as the Sinhalese.
In more recent times, as Sri Lanka became an important stopping point and trading post in the Indian Ocean, British, Dutch, Arab, Portuguese and other foreigners settled here, leaving behind the beautiful colonial gem that is the town of Galle.
To foreigners, Sri Lankan food can seem nearly indistinguishable from Indian with its predominance of curry and rice, but in fact there are many differences. With Sri Lankans' love of spice, food is often much hotter than in India, with the added mix of sweet flavours making it more Southeast Asian in style. Expect plenty of coconut milk, cinnamon, and fish. Beyond Colombo, it can be hard to find top-notch restaurants, though local joints serve up traditional food at low prices, and hotels usually have good fare. Be sure to try hoppers, a bowl-shaped pancake made from coconut-milk batter. Alcohol is popular here: look out for Lion lager and Arrak, a liquor made from the sap of coconut flowers.