Sri Lanka is the Pearl of the Indian Ocean

A small island off of the Indian subcontinent, Sri Lanka is the centre of Buddhist religion and culture from ancient times.

The natural beauty of Sri Lanka has led the country to be referred to as The Pearl of the Indian Ocean. Lush tropical forests, white beaches, diverse landscapes with rich biodiversity and a friendly, multicultural community make Sri Lanka the perfect spot for a holiday.

What to do?

Sri Lanka is home to many national parks, full of trumpeting elephants, monkeys and peacocks, but World’s End is the only one where visitors are permitted to walk on their own – on designated trails only. The entire walk is 9.5km and will usually take around three hours at a leisurely pace and passes through the 2km stretch of Baker’s Falls.

Visit one of Sri Lanka’s principal viharas (Buddhist complexes) in Kandy, Asgiriya Maha Vihara. From a historical perspective, many of the rulers of the Kandyan Kingdom contributed to the development of the complex and it was the monks that safeguarded the Tooth Relic during troublesome times.

According to legend the sacred tooth was snatched from the flames of the Buddha’s funeral pyre in 543BC and smuggled into Sri Lanka where it was hidden in the hair of a princess. The tooth gradually became a symbol of sovereignty and it was believed that whoever had custody of the tooth had the right to rule the island.

Take a stroll around the Fort Walls at dusk among the locals. The UNESCO World Heritage Site was built in 1588 by the Portuguese and then extensively fortified by the Dutch during the 17th century. The oldest breadfruit tree is said to found within the fort. The Dutch introduced the tree to Sri Lanka hoping it would make the locals sick, however they found a neutraliser to breadfruit – coconut and created a delicacy. It is now grown throughout the country.

Check out the sacred Bodhi tree, the Sri Maha Bodhi. It serves as a reminder of the force that inspired the creation of all the great buildings at Anuradhapura. The tree has been tended to by a succession of guardians for 2000 years. Though there are many trees, the oldest and holiest of trees is on the topmost platform, with ancient steps leading up to it and a modern golden railing, festooned with prayer flags.

Where to stay?

Stay in a trendy villa, The Cove, in the quieter areas of Negombo, five minutes away from Negombo town and just a 20 minute drive from the airport. Every bedroom in the three suite villa have access to a balcony with views of the bay while the patio doors downstairs open directly onto the beach. This is the perfect spot to recover from the long flight and wind down into holiday mode.

If you’re after more than just a hotel, book a few nights at The Galadari Hotel in the heart of Colombo. Aside from offering superior accommodation, this five-star hotel houses some of the best restaurants in Sri Lanka. Indulge in flavours from India, Arabia and California, or simply stop at the pastry shop, Café 64 for some delicious cakes, pastries, cookies and all things yummy.

Business and leisure travellers will find the ideal getaway at the Renuka Hotel. Just a stone’s throw from the major attractions of Colombo, the hotel is situated in a quiet residential area; the Renuka has the best of both worlds – bustling city life and a quiet getaway.

Where to eat?

Sri Lankan cuisine with a touch of French from the European head chef is available at Semondu Fusion from the Sky in Colombo. The former Dutch hospital, now restored to its past glory, in a charming restaurant cum shopping precinct, centrally located in Fort, has lent its wide open verandas and sprawling courtyards to some of the best cuisines in town. Take your pick from a selection of starters, salads, soups and mains whilst watching the chefs in action at the far end of the plush restaurant.

For excellent Sri Lankan food try the Curry Leaf Restaurant at the Hilton Hotel in Colombo. Try a variety of authentic local fare like String Hoppers, Hoppers – a Sri Lankan kind of pasta made from steamed rice flour, Pittu – rice flour mixed with freshly grated coconuts and rolled into strips, and Kottu Rotti – a Sri Lankan stir fry made with bread, meat and vegetables. Handpick your dinner from the exquisite seafood market and have it prepared to your liking while you sit in the landscaped gardens by the Lotus pond or in the thatched dining area.

Rachel Zammit Cutajar writes for Malta Today.

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