Stunning Sri Lanka: You have to see it to believe it

Sri Lanka’s heady mix of endless beaches, timeless ruins, welcoming people, tons of elephants, cheap prices, famous tea and flavorful food make it an amazing destination. But the tropical isle has only popped up on travelers’ radars in recent years, following the end of the country’s 26-year-long civil war in 2009.

More and more people are discovering Sri Lanka’s myriad charms, and many tourists claim that it’s an unexpected surprise. Lying between the more trodden parts of India and Southeast Asia, Sri Lanka’s history, culture and natural beauty are undeniably alluring. It’s the place you haven’t been to yet, and it’s really one that you have to see to believe.

Though Sri Lanka may look like a small island, there is a lot to see and do there! Anuradhapura and Sigiriya both have amazing ancient ruins. Kandy is filled with hiking treks, a big Buddhist temple, and a butterfly garden. Nuwara Eliya is known for its hiking, Tissa is the gateway to Yala National Park (which has elephants and leopards), and Galle is a beautiful old Dutch fort town.

Few places have as many UNESCO World Heritage Sites (eight) packed into such a small area. Sri Lanka’s 2000-plus years of culture can be discovered at ancient sites where legendary temples boast beautiful detail. Across the island, that thing that goes bump in the night might be an elephant heading to a favorite waterhole. Safari tours of Sri Lanka’s pleasantly relaxed national parks encounter leopards, water buffaloes and all kinds of birds.

Sri Lanka may be small but it packs a powerful punch. Here are a few tips to get you started.

Travel tip 1: Water: You shouldn’t really drink the water in Sri Lanka, so bring a reusable water bottle with a purifier.

Travel tip 2: Food: Outside of the major cities of Colombo and Kandy, you won’t find many non-Sri Lankan or non-Indian food options. Try them anyway. Local food is delicious.

Travel tip 3: Tuk-tuks: You can hire drivers cheaply. Any tuk-tuk driver will let you hire them for the day.

Travel tip 4: Trains: If you are taking the scenic train from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya or Ella (or vice versa) and want a seat, book it in advance through a travel agency, as tickets can’t be booked in person at the station unless it’s done four days before departure.

Travel tip 5: Accommodation: There’s a lot of budget-friendly accommodation. You’ll usually be served breakfast with your room too.

Travel tip 6: Go north: Formerly off limits, the country’s Northern Province is prime territory for those who want to roam off the beaten path. If you’re after deserted golden beaches, remote temples and colonial port towns go north.

Travel tip 7: Plan around the seasons: Your experiences can vary wildly according to season. So plan ahead.

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