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An Odyssey in Sri Lanka – Everything You Need to Know

This island nation is bound to capture your heart and your mind with its stunning beauty and its generous hospitality. The lush greens of the Nuwara Eliya, the beautiful beaches of Hikkadua, a pilgrimage to Adams Peak, the tea gardens at Ella, leopard spotting at the Yala National Park, lots of history, and the picturesque train rides, Sri Lanka is fascinating. There are wonderful tour packages offered by local tour agencies. Call ahead of time to make your bookings.

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The colonial and the modern in Colombo
You are mostly likely to fly into Colombo, Sri Lanka’s capital city. While you would be tempted to zoom off to the countryside, it is worth spending a day in the city. The harbor, some of the wonderful temples, churches, and mosques, and elegant cafes are captivating. The dusty streets, the colonial heritage of the Pettah locality and the fashionable district of Park Street exude an eclectic atmosphere. The cobblestoned streets come alive at night and provide a wonderful dinner setting. Of late, there are many bicycle tours being organized that take you around the wonderful sights of the city at night.

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The scenic inland
Traveling inland, along a scenic road from Colombo, you get to explore the spectacular ruins of Polonnuwara, a city built by the Cholas in the 12th century. The archaeological park is wonderfully preserved. The Topa Wewa lake and the many shrines, dagobas and historic buildings located within a rectangle of city walls tell you the story of the grandeur of the past. You could make this bustling little town a base to visit the ancient city of Anuradhapura or take a day trip to the Minneriya National Park, a vast expanse of natural wonders.

Travel south to Sigiriya and visit the Dambulla caves. Budget a day for the climb up the 1400 steps to the Sigiriya fort and catch a panoramic view of the ruins and the forests around the place. From Sigiriya, you could take the local buses to Kandy, with a transfer at Dambulla. A travel on the local buses can be an adventure with their creaking gears and squeaky brakes. If you are not made for it, you can always hire a taxi. On your way, you could take a short break at Pinnawala elephant orphanage, a wonderful facility for rescued elephants. In Kandy, explore the busy streets, stroll to the Bahirawakanda Temple from where you could have amazing views of the city.

As you get nearer to the Southern coasts, the journey gets exciting and scenic. From Kandy, travel to Nuwara Eliya and on the way, stop at the majestic Ramboda Falls. The Nuwara Eliya, in the central highlands is known for its salubrious climate, the tea plantations, and great hiking options on Mount Pedro. While here, take a fun trip on the highland railways that ply to Ella. If you can, get a seat booked in advance in the observation coach. That would help you avoid the crowds and enjoy the beauty of the hills.

The sandy beaches
The southern shores of Sri Lanka take a couple of days to explore. Beautiful beaches, snorkeling options in the crystal-clear waters, and lush greenery lining the coasts are a feature on most beaches. Visit Mirissa for the soft, sandy beaches and whale watching. The Unawantua beach is a hidden gem, free of the touristy crowds and only a short drive from Galle, another impressive fort city. In Galle, visit the Fort Lighthouse, the Dutch Reformed Church, the 1707 Dutch clock tower, and the National Maritime Museum. The Weligama beach should be visited for its stilt fishing practice that is unique to this region. You should also visit the small historic town of Tissamaharama that dates to the 3rd century B.C. The town also serves as a base for the Yala National Park, a pristine protected zone of 380 square miles that has a large population of leopards, elephants, crocodiles, egrets and a diverse population of birds. Besides, the park also offers wonderful views of the coastline from the famous Kirinda Temple.

Finish off your trip at the resort town of Kalutara, a laid-back coastal town with a wonderful palm-fringed beach. Do not forget to have the “mangosteen”, a luscious purple fruit that’s juicy and is often had by the locals with a glass of arrack, an alcoholic drink made from sweet, milky coconut blossom.

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