Sri Lanka retains a sense of mystery about it, despite its modern capital, and cultural icons that appeal to travellers looking for for something different and exotic to experience. And that's before you start looking at photos of Sri Lanka's beaches - which are as golden and lovely as any the world over - and the lush interior where they grow the treasures that made this country a key trading territory.
We've no idea, consider it lucky and take advantage of the situation before it changes by embarking on a 14 night tour like this one. 14 nights is the perfect amount of time to taste test the capital, delve into the interior to see some of the highlights of the region they call the 'Cultural Triangle', and spend a bit of time appreciating the beaches no one seems to really know about.
While Sri Lanka is still a less-travelled destination there are still plenty of tour options if you prefer to let someone do the organising for you. But if you want to go it alone most of our Sri Lanka specialists recommend hiring a car and a driver anyway for convenience sake. If you're on a shoestring budget then there's a good, albeit crowded, train service – but as always travelling with the locals is the best way to get to know a place.
Most flights to Sri Lanka will bring you into Colombo, and while you'll definitely want to spend a bit of time exploring this town, our experts recommend you leave this to the end of your trip. So this itinerary sees you leaving the airport and heading straight on to Negombo.
When you arrive settle into your hotel and do a bit of exploring around town. Negombo's notable attractions centre around its location on the mouth of a large lagoon, so the area's very verdant and was a hub for cinnamon production – one of the more romantic of the traded spices. The Dutch were very involved in the history of this town, and the Old Dutch Fort looks beautifully dilapidated when seen from aboard a boat, cruising the lagoon of an evening.
You'll also want to go to the markets, which still thrive, especially the daily fish auctions.
Negombo also has some of the best beaches on the western side of the island, and this is a good place to do a spot of diving – there's a wreck just off shore.
Leave coastal Negombo on the afternoon of your third day for Anuradhapura, the ancient capital further into the interior. This is an ancient city - the spot has been in constant habitation since the 4th century - but it was the introduction of Christianity that made this city truly great. This is when much of the infrastructure and irrigation was put in place, and much of it still exists today.
In modern times this city is better known for Buddhism, for kilometres all around it there are monasteries and other wonderful Buddhist structures including the city's very own Bodhi Tree, the stupas Ruwanwelisaya, Abhayagiri Dagaba, Jetavanaramaya and Thuparamaya, and Isurumuniya, which is a smaller temple known for some spectacular ancient rock carvings.
So there are plenty of things to see here as well.
Polonnaruwa was Sri Lanka's capital during the medieval period. It's been built on a man-made lake or reservoir. It's a beautiful city, but one of the main reasons it's worth visiting is that it's close to the Minneriya National Park, which is known for its elephants who gather around the lakes in the afternoons to drink and cool down, so this is a good time to spot them doing their own thing.
One of the most famous temples in all of Sri Lanka is located in Kandy: the Temple of the Tooth (Sri Dalada Maligawa). It was built in the 17th century and is the home of one of Buddha’s tooth, smuggled off his funeral pyre. The relic rests on a solid gold lotus flower, encased in jeweled caskets that sit on a throne. Basically, it is safely tucked away in a gold casket to be revered by all Sri Lankans.
While staying in Kandy you might also want to visit the Sigiriya Rock Fort, an ancient palace and ruins atop a huge rock, and take a trip out to the elephant orphanage at Pinnawala. If you've ever wanted to get closer to one of these majestic animals than zoo bars will allow then now is your chance, here you can volunteer your time to give them a bath and bit of a tidy up, or else just watch them at their afternoons watery play.
This plantation town is the highest in Sri Lanka, and was a retreat for the expats, from the heat of the lowlands. There are many old plantations in the area, so if you're interested in that portion of Sri Lanka's heritage then drop into one, and finish your day at the famous Hill Club – a traditional old gentleman's club from the plantation days.
There are lots of interesting things to see and do around Bentola, so if you want to extend your trip then you could add in a few extra days here. If you're only here for the one night you'll still have time to visit the turtle hatchery, and if you're here in the right season you'll be able to see the mother turtles come up on shore to lay their eggs.
Colombo is a working city, so expect it to be full of people with things to do and places to go. There's lots to do here though, so you can tailor this bit of your Sri Lankan trip to your own specifications. If you like shopping visit Pettah for the markets and the Jami-ul-Alfar Mosque, if you're interested in learning more about Sri Lanka's history then wander through the national museum, and if you want to soak up the great outdoors of this harbour city then swing by the Galle Face Green, Viharamahadevi Park or play some cricket on the beach with the locals.
Whatever your tastes when you get hungry you should make a point of trying to local cuisine – even though you might not normally consider eating in a food court, some of the larger ones here offer you an opportunity to try a bit of a lot of different dishes.
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