Welcome to another High Five, the weekly Blog feature that sees us counting down five of our favourite things to do in a place you might not have thought about visiting before.
This week, it’s that little island nestled at the bottom of India that gets the High Five treatment: step forward, Sri Lanka!
Years of civil war and some natural disasters meant that Sri Lanka was, for a long time, left off backpackers’ hit lists. But with the war over and the country rebuilding itself, Sri Lanka has emerged as a not-so-hidden paradise, claiming its title as the Pearl of the Indian Ocean and a spot on any discerning traveller’s Asia itinerary.
Small enough to explore in a couple of weeks, you’ll probably find yourself wanting to stay a couple of months, years, or – why not – forever. So I’m giving Sri Lanka a big ol’ High Five. Let’s take a look at five top experiences that this country has to offer.
Five amazing Sri Lanka experiences
1. Life’s a beach
White sand? Check. Turqoise waters? Check. Palm trees swaying softly in the breeze? Yep, they’re here, too. Sri Lanka is the home of the postcard-perfect beach, and the island’s small size (it’s about as big as Ireland) means you can explore loads of them.
Head to the southern coast for long, empty stretches of coastline that will make you wonder why you battled with the tourists in Thailand when you could have been here all along.
Unawatuna is the most popular beach town down here, but for even more seclusion check out the beaches and bays of Tangalla, or head further west to Mirissa, which is emerging as the backpackers’ beach hangout of choice.
2. Make tracks
When we brought you the world’s best train journeys back in February, it was no surprise that Sri Lanka made the list. It may be slow and a bit bumpy, but when your view is lush greenery, the air is warm on your feet as you dangle them out of the open door, and the food on sale is this good, you’ll want the journey to go on and on. A sunrise journey through tea country gets my vote.
Beats the daily commute | Image by Garret M. Clarke Photography
3. Get high in the sky
If history and archeology are your thing, the ancient city of Sigiriya is your holy grail. Even if they weren’t your favourite subjects at school, I challenge you not to be impressed by the giant rock formation, the ‘Fortress in the Sky’, that dominates Sri Lanka’s most famous historical site.
If you’re up for the climb, you’ll be rewarded with the ruins of the palace at the halfway point, and breathtaking views at the summit (like the one at the top of the page – nice!). There’s a call for Sigiriya to be named the 8th Wonder of the Ancient World, so get over there and see it before everyone else does.
If culture’s your thing, check out our 6-day Sri Lanka Highlights tour – it’ll take you to Sigiriya as well as some of Sri Lanka’s best temples and shrines.
4. Turtle power!
Cute animal alert! You’ll find numerous turtle hatcheries and nesting beaches in Sri Lanka, set up in an attempt to save the endangered species.
You can do your bit and get up close with the turtles – you could even help with their release if you plan your visit at sunset. A truly unique experience that shouldn’t be missed.
5. Anyone for a cuppa?
Who doesn’t love a good cup of tea? Us Brits may have claimed the global stereotype for being a nation of tea drinkers, but it’s Sri Lanka that has the goods.
Take a guided tour of one of the country’s many beautiful tea estates – Nuwara Eliya’s Pedro Estate is one of the best – and learn how your favourite cuppa makes its way from the ground to your tea bag, as well as the fascinating history behind the industry.
Thirsty for more? Check out some of the world’s best tea plantations, as rounded up by our Ant back in March.