If you are planning your first visit to Sri Lanka, this is a sensible question because this is a country with so many diverse attractions.
Obviously a lot will depend on whether you are young and fit and want to try something extreme like white water rafting (that’s at Kitulgala, 100km east of Colombo) or you’re more mature and relish great cuisine as well as a chance to unwind as you enjoy a carefree holiday.
The island’s lush beauty is a result of generous rainfall so if you want to avoid the bliss of daily cooling rain showers, try a holiday on the West Coast beaches from October to April, and on the East Coast ones from April to October. For sunbathing, swimming, snorkelling, scuba diving and boat trips, base yourself in one of those coastal resorts on the West Coast, like Beruwala (58km south of Colombo), Bentota (62km), and Hikkaduwa (97km), or Trincomalee (257km from Colombo) on the East Coast in their seasonal months.
Take a Tour
Our tip for getting the best out of Sri Lanka is to combine a few days of relaxation at a beach resort and then move to the interior to see some of Sri Lanka’s varied attractions.
A stay in Kandy (116km from Colombo) would enable you to visit the revered Temple of the Tooth, enjoy a day at the nearby Peradeniya Botanical Gardens, and to make day tours to the surrounding tea country and colonial highlights of Nuwara Eliya.
By moving on to Habarana (100 km from Kandy) as your next base, you are within easy distance of some fascinating places to visit on day trips. There is Anuradhapura (60 km from Habarana), with its Bodhi tree, the oldest living tree in documented history being descended from the tree under which Buddha attained enlightenment.
There are ancient ruins at Polonnaruwa (just 45km from Habarna) and The Lion Rock at Sigiriya (30km from Habarana), a 5th century Royal Citadel, that can be climbed by the hardy. At Dambulla (25km from Habarana) a rock temple dating from the 1st century BC with 150 life-size images of Buddha, is an inspiring cultural experience.
Wild life enthusiasts have treats in store by visiting the island’s many National Parks, with the one at Yala (265km southeast of Colombo) being especially rewarding (but closed September to mid-October). Near Haputale (181km from Colombo via Ratnapura) in the hills, there is an unusual reserve alive with butterflies next door to a granite colonial mansion now a Novitiate, called Adisham.
It’s trees rather than animals that you want to see, near Habarana, you can visit Sri Lanka’s only dry-zone arboretum, savaged land returned to its natural state (Kandalama Road, Dambulla) or make a trip to the Sinharaja Forest while staying in the beach resorts of Hikkaduwa, Bentota or Beruwala and to the nearby, ornate but charming, private gardens of Brief and Lunuganga.
Perhaps the best destination, if this is your first visit to Sri Lanka, is Colombo. With the widening of boulevards, the tearing down of walls, the opening up of parks and playing fields, and the restoration of Victorian and Edwardian edifices to become leisure centres and shopping malls, Colombo is returning to its glorious reputation as “The Garden City.”
With top notch hotels offering super wining and dining, as well as swimming pools gymnasiums and spas, the city also has everything the shopaholic or night owl wants. There are casinos with modest stakes and free food and drink, sensational cocktail bars, lively pubs, independent restaurants and cafés offering cuisine of every ethnicity and shopping malls with the latest fashions at bargain prices, and irresistible souvenirs.
For the culture vulture there are several different museums as well as art galleries, and a street where local artists hang their painting on the railings. For the active, there are parks, jogging tracks, the Royal Colombo Golf Club, and for spectators, frequent cricket and even rugby matches to watch.
Colombo comes into its own as the ideal destination to use as a base because day trips from the city, either by train or hired vehicle, can easily be arranged. The Dehiwela Zoo (10km from the city centre) can be visited by bus, as can the suburban beach resort of Mount Lavinia (12km from Colombo). Further south, the beaches at Bentota (62km from Colombo) and Hikkaduwa (97km) beckon for a day in the sun, while it’s also possible to explore Galle Fort (116km) on day’s outing from Colombo.
The West Coast resort of Negombo, an hour’s drive north of Colombo via the new expressway and near to the airport, is a fun town, either to visit for the day, or to make your base for a beach holiday in a town that warms up at sunset with lively evening action.
Whether you are in search of solitude in the sun, a cultural high, an eco-experience, or relentless action among the madding crowd, Sri Lanka is the destination.