Best known as one of the worlds leading exporters of tea, the small Indian Ocean island of Sri Lanka is also a well-kept secret among seasoned travelers, with its friendly locals, palm-fringed beaches and ancient Hindu temples buried deep in lush jungles. After suffering through a civil war for over two decades, Sri Lanka is now welcoming tourists again and has become one of the fastest growing economies and most interesting destinations for tour holidays in the world.
The port city of Colombo serves as the gateway to Sri Lanka. Situated on a natural harbour that has been used by traders for over 2,000 years, the sprawling Sri Lankan capital is an intriguing mix of the modern and ancient, with modern skyscrapers juxtaposed against crumbling Hindu temples, colonial mansions and ornate mosques.
If you only have a short time to spend in the city before moving inland to explore, take some time to visit the Galle City Green, a palm-lined seaside promenade where you can sample food from local street vendors and pick up curios at bargain prices.
Sigirya Rock Fortress
Travel inland towards Sri Lankas mountainous interior and youll find the imposing edifice of the Sigirya Rock Fortress, an ancient fortress fused into a volcanic rock that towers over the surrounding plains.
First used as a Buddhist monastery, over the centuries the Sigirya Rock was appropriated as a suitable location for a royal fortress, giving birth to a sprawling human settlement that includes fortifications, irrigation systems and lush gardens.
Visitors to the Sigirya Rock Fortress can roam its three tiers, marveling at the detailed frescoes that were painted onto the rock surface over the millennia, and at the ancient Mirror Wall, a porcelain-covered rock wall that was once polished to a mirror-like sheen.
Yala National Park
Yala National Park is the premier destination for those who wish to explore Sri Lankas ecological heritage. The park includes a wide range of habitats, from beaches to forests, wetlands and open grassland.
The grassland is perhaps the best place to view the Parks wide selection of wildlife, which includes over 200 bird species and 40 mammalian species. Sightings of the large Sri Lankan elephant population and of the leopards that populate the park are common.
No trip to Sri Lanka is complete without a visit to one of the plantations that grow the countrys most important cash crop tea. Sri Lankas tea plantations are located in the countrys highlands, a picturesque landscape of lush, terraced hills framed by mist-cloaked mountains.
Sri Lanka is the worlds second largest producer of tea. The crop was introduced to the area as recently as 1824, when the British recognized Sri Lankas highlands as the perfect environment for cultivating fine tea.
Tea, temples and game parks are just a taste of what awaits on the island of Sri Lanka. To explore Sri Lanka, consider taking a guided tour with Thomas Cook Escorted Tours, one of the worlds leading tour agencies.