From world-famous tea plantations to national parks made for safaris, Sri Lanka has plenty to tempt you away from the beach.
A taste of the exotic
Poised above the equator, south-east of the subcontinent, Sri Lanka is often described as ‘India lite’. And it offers the perfect introduction to this part of the world. There’s enough of a culture difference to make you feel like you’re somewhere properly exotic, and yet everything is so easy. The food is fantastic, English is widely spoken, and the island’s bijoux size means you can fit a lot into a small amount of time.
The main tourist zone runs along the south-west coast of the island, from Negombo to Galle. Here, football pitch-sized swathes of sand are washed by the Indian Ocean and pinned down by skyscraper palms. In parts, rivers and lagoons run in to the sea, providing the ideal conditions for watersports like kayaking and paddle boarding.
Temples and tea
Elsewhere, more than 2,000 years of history have left their mark on Sri Lanka. An island that’s smaller than Scotland, it packs an astonishing amount into its borders. One minute you can be sipping a cup of traditional brew at a tea plantation, the next wandering around a vast ancient city or intricate temple.
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Found on Sri Lanka’s west coast, within the so-called ‘Coconut Triangle’, Negombo is just 10 kilometres from the airport, making it easy to hop straight off the plane and explore. The beach resort and fishing stronghold is one of the most liberal cities in Sri Lanka, and its modern lifestyle, luxury hotels and fine restaurants make it popular among western tourists.
Bentota can be found on Sri Lanka’s west coast, around 80 kilometres south of the capital, Colombo. It nestles itself between the Laccadive Sea and the sweeping, sleepy lagoon of the Bentota Ganga. Its trump card is its beach – something that’s becoming less and less of a secret among western tourists. But while a handful of high-end hotels line the shores, the town remains refreshingly low-key.
Holidaymakers have been rocking up to Hikkaduwa since the Seventies and, these days, the resort is as popular as ever. The main draw is undoubtedly the beach. The long stretch of sand here is typical of Sri Lanka’s west coast – think soft, golden sand flagged by leaning palm trees. The surf is excellent, and there are plenty of snorkelling and diving opportunities. The vibe is really chilled, too, making the place as popular with backpackers and locals as it is with those after a bit of luxury.