Over the centuries, Sri Lanka has been described as a tropical paradise. This is hardly surprising, as it has everything – Sun, sea, sandy beaches, cool mountains, ancient lakes, forests teeming with wildlife, precious stones, magnificent archaeological sites and above all, friendly, well-educated people. Combine this with good tourist infrastructure and it is not hard to see why it is such a popular tropical island destination.
Physically, Sri Lanka is a teardrop-shaped island in the Indian Ocean, separated from the Indian peninsula by the Gulf of Mannar and Palk Strait. It measures 432km from north to south, and 224km from east to west. Fine sandy beaches can be found around almost the entire coast, although it is the strip from the west coast to the south, with its sandy bays and delightful covers that is the most heavily developed for tourism. The resorts at Negombo to the north of Colombo and those to the south at Benthota and Beruwela are magnets for beach lovers and water sports enthusiasts. Further south Unawatuna and Hikkaduwa beaches are ideal for snorkeling and diving, where swimmers can share the ocean with turtles.
Around the southern coast are the Dutch fortress towns of Galle and Matara, and beyond these lie the sanctuaries of Kalametiya and the national parks of Bundala and Ruhuna (Yala). Here, the jungle belongs to elephants, leopards and dozens of other large animals. Thissamaharama, once the center of an ancient kingdom, is now a thriving safari destination.
Sri Lanka is an exciting mix of wildlife and culture is nowhere more evident than in the ancient capitals of the north central plains. Culturally, the ancient kingdoms of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa rival those of the Egyptians, Mayans and Incas, whose ancient religions have been lost. In contrast, many of Sri Lanka’s ancient temples pre-date Christianity, and its Buddhist and Hindu culture is very much alive.