Sri Lanka celebrated its 63rd Independence Day last week, which was also the second Independence Day in a terrorism-free country. The event marked not only the defeat of nearly 133 years of British rule, but also the remarkable sense of living in a truly peaceful country.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa, has accepted that tourism is a vital area and has identified this sector as the effectively capable driving force for the country’s socio economic development. Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa has vowed ‘to take every possible effort to turn the tourism industry into the highest foreign income earner of the country’.
With this backdrop, former Chief Executive Officer of Sri Lanka Insurance, Dr Nalaka Godahewa has taken over the responsibility as the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA) Chairman to make “Sri Lanka’s golden beaches a major tourist attraction for the real sun seeker”.
Sri Lanka Tourism Promotions Bureau, which has launched the “Visit Sri Lanka 2011”, aims to attract over 700,000 tourists this year, with 12-themed events spread across the year, while the government expects a target of 2.5 million tourists by 2016.
Twelve themes will be promoted during each month this year, symbolising the 12 letters in “Wonder of Asia”. These 12 themes include beaches, sports and adventure, MICE, people and culture, religious tourism, weddings and honeymoons, body and mind wellness, heritage, nature and wildlife, community and education, culinary and shopping and entertainment.
Sri Lanka Tourism also plans to get the involvement and the support of the domestic tourism market to develop these products by the end of this year. With the help of the locals, the idea is to create a safe and beautiful environment to the visiting tourist.
Sri Lanka was earlier known as a beach destination. However with the events planned for this year and the products created surrounding the events and themes, the intention is to highlight the various products that could cater to different market segments the world over.
For a small island the tourist sites in Sri Lanka is limitless.
It is always advisable to contact a travel guide before visiting places because there are different activities available during different times. One good example is the Kandy pageant [Esala Perahera] which is held once a year. Visiting Kandy during this festival is a great experience.
The Top Five
One of the world heritage sites and considered the eighth wonder of the world, Sigiriya is the most visited site in Sri Lanka. It is a fortress built on top of a 350 metre high rock and the surrounding gardens and the irrigation system is considered a great feat during the time Sigiriya was built. It is also world renowned for its frescoes which are found in some part of the rock walls. Another reason why Sigiriya is so popular is that it is just a day’s visit from Colombo, the main business city of the country. So for a one day getaway Sigiriya is great destination.
2. Ancient Cities of Anuradhapura and Pollonnaruwa
Sri Lanka is a country which has a recorded history dating back to 2,500 years. Ancient cities of Anuradhapura and Pollonnaruwa are considered the first two capitals of Sri Lanka in the days when the country was ruled by kings. There are many historical sites to be visited in both these cities and remains of old castles and temples are all around the cities.
3. Sacred City of Kandy and surrounding areas
Temple of the tooth relic or “Dalada Maligawa” as it is known in Sinhala holds a tooth of the Buddha and is a sacred destination for Buddhists all over the world. The temple is a majestic building with gold plated roofs, huge walls with elephant carvings and beautiful paintings and carvings inside the temple. There are guide books and video guides available if one is interested in a guided tour. Although Kandy is famous for the Temple of the Tooth Relic there are many other temples and ancient places that can be visited in the surrounding area. Ambekka temple is famous for its wooden carvings with every wood column supporting the temple having a unique carving. There is also the Gadaladeniya temple with its stone carving and old manuscripts. Another popular tourist destination on the way to Kandy is the Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage where visitors can see elephants in a semi wild life environment. Another great place to visit while in Kandy is the botanical gardens in Peradeniya which boasts of beautiful floras and many rare plants.
4. Galle Fort
Galle fort was originally built by the Portuguese but it was the Dutch who modified it and made it the impressive fort as it is today. It was built mainly to control the cinnamon trade but later it served as a fortress to hold off invasions. Inside the Galle Fort one can find few of the most preserved building from the colonial era with the beautiful churches being prime examples. Remains of the old guns, fortifications and the canals dug to make Galle Fort and impregnable fortress are still visible.
5. Yala National Park
The Yala National Park is the most famous national park in Sri Lanka and it is definitely the one most visited by tourists. Watching animals in there natural habitat is one of the main reasons tourists come to Sri Lanka and in that sense Yala is the best due to its wide variety of animals. [Yala is famous for having the highest density of wild leopards found anywhere in the world, with chances of seeing one almost assured]
Going Beyond five
In 1819, during the British colonial era, a few Britishers on a hunting expedition in the hill country spotted the site where the present day Nuwara Eliya town stands 1890 metres above sea level and decided to set up a health resort for their use. It was Sir Samuel Baker who later converted it to a holiday resort with a touch of an English village which earned it the name ‘Little England’ where the temperature sometimes drops down to 9°C. The 18-Hole golf course is very popular with locals and foreign tourists. Hakgala Botanical Gardens, a few kilometres away is an added attraction.
Sinharaja forest reserve is one of the least disturbed and biologically unique lowland rain forests in Sri Lanka. This forest covers an extent of about 11,187 hectares from east to west. The length of the forest is about 21km and width from North to South is about 3.7km.
It was declared a Man and Biosphere Reserve (MAB) in 1978, as representative of tropical humid evergreen forest Eco system in Sri Lanka and has been recognised by Unesco as part of its International Network of Biosphere reserves.
Peradeniya Botanical Garden
Situated in the hill capital Kandy, a visit to this garden will provide a spectacle of extraordinary beauty and absorbing interest for any nature lover and casual visitor.
Horton Plains National Park
Horton Plains National Park is in the highlands of the country belonging to the central province. This is the highest plateau in the country. This was declared a National Park in 1988. The park area is 3,160 hectares. The second and third highest mountains of the country – Kirigalpotta and Thotupola – are found within the borders of the park. Three major rivers of the country start from this area – Kelani, Walawe and the Mahaweli, the longest river of the country.
A fishing town located 35km from Colombo and 6km from island’s main International Airport. [Negombo offers lots more than just beach, but] the beauty of the beach and surrounding star class hotels are a major attraction for tourists.
Beruwela is located 55km from Colombo is the starting point of 130km long southern coast also a main fishing centre.
Located in south of the country, 62km from Colombo has romantic scenic hotels and popular for wind surfing and water skiing.
Described as the most beautiful beach by visitors, Unawatuna is one of the best scuba diving locations in Sri Lanka. It is also famous for wind surfing and some of the most authentic sea food in Sri Lankan style. The jungle beach, Roomassala, is also an interesting place.
Mirissa is a beautiful small rocky beach which is calm, relaxing and almost private. Deep sea fishing, river trips, snorkelling and bird watching are activities one could engage in Mirissa.
Weligama is a unique bay and beach with a wide and long sandy beach located in Matara district of the southern province close. The tiny island once owned by Frenchman Count de Maunay has a beautiful house on it. The bay is famous for its remarkable fishermen who engage in stilt fishing,
The place located in the south of the country, 100km from Colombo, was the first area to be developed for tourism. The famous coral reef and scuba diving spots are major attractions for tourists.
A mere 5Km away from Laxapana you will find the 322 feet high Aberdeen Falls.
Baker’s Falls at Horton Plains gets its water from the Belihul Oya. It is close to World’s End. The icy waters glisten in the sunshine amid a backdrop of mountain terrain and deep valleys. If one is lucky a visitor may see the rare black monkey and rhododendrons in bloom.
Discovered by Sir Samuel Baker and a good stopover on the way to the World’s End. The tallest is the Bambarakanda Falls which cascades down 263 metres. It is only four miles away from the Colombo-Bandarawela road in a forest glade, but it is not visited often, though well worth the trip.
“Bopath Ella”, not like many of the others of her kind, finds her abode in a busy surrounding in the village called Devipahala off Kuruwita on A4 High Level Road close to Ratnapura. Being within 3 hours driving distance from the capital, it thus claims the honour of having the highest turn-over of enthusiasts seeking respite from the grimy and monotonous town life.
With a peculiar appearance imparted to it by its formation in three continuous cascades, Devon Falls pours down to the valley beneath not a long distance away from its brother the “St Clairs”.
With an appearance and location which often make people believe that it is the highest waterfall in the island, this lanky waterfall pours its way down and flows toward Kirindi Oya underneath a bridge on the highway from Beragala to Wellawaya. Its geographical location by one of the mostly used highways spanning the Hill Country to the Plains speaks for its reputation not only here but in other parts of the world as well.
Udawalawe National Park
Located approximately 200km south-east of Colombo and is a major eco tourism destination in Sri Lanka. It is most famous for the many elephants that roam (about 400 in total). During a visit, it is not unusual to see whole herds of adults and young elephants – feeding or bathing and playing in the water.
Wilpattu National Park
In 1905, the designated area in Wilpattu was declared a sanctuary. Thereafter it was upgraded to national park status on February 25, 1938. The park is located 30km west of Anuradhapura and spans the border between the North Central and North Western Province.
Bundala National Park
Bundala National Park is an internationally important wintering ground for migratory water birds in Sri Lanka. Bundala harbours 197 species of birds, the highlight being the Greater Flamingo, which migrate in large flocks. In 2005 the national park was designated as a biosphere reserve by Unesco, the fourth biosphere reserve in Sri Lanka.