- Lonely Planet named Sri Lanka the number one country in the world to visit in 2019.
- Vast tea terraces, an abundance of wildlife, and stunning beaches (and much more) make Sri Lanka a truly unforgettable destination.
- I had the pleasure of visiting Sri Lanka in 2018 and I can’t recommend it enough.
- Here’s why you simply can’t miss it.
The South Asian country was chosen because of a diversity of experiences, incredible food, and burgeoning tourism industry.
I had the pleasure of visiting this extraordinary country for two and a half weeks last year, and I honestly can’t recommend it enough.
During my stay, I was lucky enough to take part in multiple safari tours, travel through the country’s central highlands via one of the most beautiful train journeys in the world, and much, much more.
Scroll down for 15 stunning images and reasons why you can’t afford to leave Sri Lanka off your bucket list for much longer.
It has the highest density of elephants in Asia.
- Tom Murray / INSIDER
Sri Lanka has around 5,800 wild elephants wandering around its national parks. One of the best places to witness these gentle giants is Udawalawe National Park, which is home to about 600 elephants that roam in herds of up to 50.
You may even see elephants on the roads, where they often interrupt traffic – it’s usually best to let them pass.
Be warned: There are a number of so-called elephant orphanages and sanctuaries that are very popular with tourists. However, some have been highlighted by PETA for animal abuse as the elephants are often chained up and controlled by a mahout wielding a bullhook.
Basically, anywhere that allows you to ride the elephants should be a no-go.
Views don’t get much better than sunrise over Adam’s Peak.
- danilovi / Getty Images
I defy you to find a better view than this – it’s not possible.
Adam’s Peak (Sri Pada) climbs 2,243 metres (7,359 feet) into the air and is known for its depression at the peak, which Buddhists believe to be the footprint of the Buddha.
The climb itself should take you around 2-4 hours depending on your level of fitness and is best done first thing for an incredible sunrise view.
This shot was taken from the monastery, which is located right on the top of the peak.
Historic Galle Fort is great for shopping and dining.
While the city of Galle now stretches far beyond the ramparts, the fort itself (built up by the Dutch in the 17th century) has been painstakingly maintained and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
There are plenty of historical monuments to visit, but its also a great place to peruse shops at leisure and stop off at cafés and restaurants for refreshments.
It has a really cool rock.
Sigiriya Rock Fortress is one of Sri Lanka’s most formidable attractions. The delights of the 660-foot summit require a vertigo-inducing stair climb to the top.
You’ll also have to walk through a colossal stone gate, carved in the likeness of lion’s paws – no wonder King Kasyapa (477 – 495 AD) didn’t get many visitors…
The train journeys are among the most scenic in the world.
- Tom Murray / INSIDER
Sri Lanka is famous for its train journeys, which can take you pretty much anywhere in the country for the price of a coffee in the US or Europe.
Perhaps the best in terms of scenery, though, is the trip between Kandy and Ella through Sri Lanka’s central highlands.
During the journey, you’ll climb over 4,000 feet, and gaze over verdant tea terraces, vast valleys, tunnels, bridges and villages.
You may recognise the scene above – a train crossing over Nine Arches Bridge near Ella – from innumerable sepia-toned travel blogs.
There are literally hundreds of amazing hotels.
- Gal Oya Lodge
Luxury hotels are opening in Sri Lanka at a rate of knots. From the chic boutiques in Galle Fort, to the sprawling resorts on the west coast – there’s a hotel for everyone on the island.
There’s also plenty of eco-luxury offerings like Gal Oya Lodge (pictured), which forgo the modern trappings of things like WiFi and flat-screen TVs to offer a truly elemental but relaxing experience.
It’s a great alternative to Africa for safari drives.
While it doesn’t boast Africa’s famous Big Five, Sri Lanka’s Big Four (leopards, elephants, sloth bears, and blue whales) are becoming an increasing draw for nature tourists from around the world.
Most recent estimates put Sri Lanka’s leopard population at just 700-950, making it “vulnerable” in the IUCN Red List. However, if you go to one of the big parks like Yala or Kumana, the big cats are a little more accustomed to human contact and thus more likely to wander out in front of you.
We found that the best safari experience, though, was off the beaten track in Gal Oya, where the tourist-crammed Jeeps are few and far between.
It has stunning beaches too.
Believe it or not, this beach is not found in the Caribbean or Hawaii, it is in fact on the southern tip of Sri Lanka in the town of Mirissa.
Sri Lanka might not be known outright for its beach scene yet, but that will soon change. While Lonely Planet’s top recommendation is only likely to send a spike in visits to the island, tourism is still young enough in Sri Lanka that you can find that empty stretch of sandy beach, if you look hard enough.
The west coast, in particular, is being increasingly built up by resorts.
It has a sprawling ancient city.
Anuradhapura, the capital city of Sri Lanka’s North Central Province, is a place of great archaeological and cultural significance.
Thought to be settled in the fourth century, it was Sri Lanka’s first capital and many of the relics of the ancient Sinhalese residents remain. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage site and a must-visit for anyone interested in religious history.
The country is obsessed with cricket.
- Stu Forster / Getty Images
Sri Lanka is even more obsessed with cricket than the Brits are.
You’ll struggle to find a patch of grass that doesn’t have a bowling green lurking on it somewhere.
Even if you’re not into cricket, there are far worse ways to while away an afternoon than watching the sunset over the picturesque Galle International Stadium.
It has an ancient cave network full of Buddha statues.
Located in the island’s centre is Dambulla Cave Temple, Sri Lanka’s largest and best-preserved cave network.
Thought to date back to the first century BC, this cave monastery is a sacred pilgrimage site with five caves and 157 statues of the Buddha.
It has a trippy elephant festival
- LAKRUWAN WANNIARACHCHI / AFP / Getty Images
If you’re visiting Sri Lanka between July and August then you might just be lucky enough to witness the Kandy Esala Perahera – AKA the Festival of the Tooth.
This Buddhist pageant pays homage to the Sacred Tooth Relic for which Kandy is famous and is notable for its elephants, which proceed through Kandy wearing lavish garments and lights.
The food — especially hoppers.
Sri Lanka has what might just be the most versatile snack on the planet: the hopper.
Hoppers have been described by Indian Chef Madhur Jaffrey as the love child of a crêpe and a crumpet and can host anything from a baked egg to curries and spicy coconut relishes.
“They’re like a healthy burger – for those who don’t mind a bit of dribble,” Emily Dobbs, who serves the pancakes at her street food stall, Weligama, at London’s Druid Street market, told The Telegraph.
Oh, and don’t get me started on the curries…
There’s more tea than you can shake a stick at.
It’s hard to believe that the sweltering beaches of the east and the south are even part of the same country as the temperate climates of the island’s central highlands, which are dominated by verdant tea terraces.
This means stunning views and plenty of tea factories, which you can visit, learn about tea and drink cup after delicious cup.
- Matthew Williams-Ellis / robertharding
When you think of Sri Lanka, you might not think ‘surfer’s paradise’, but how wrong you are.
Arugam Bay on the east coast is positively awash with boarders who come for the waves, which are great for all abilities.
Even the likes of Red Bull have held events there in the past.