Need to know...Sri Lanka

| July 1, 2013

LOCATION: The democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka is an island nation, off the southern coast of the Indian Subcontinent.
LANGUAGES: Sinhala and Tamil are the most prominent languages, though English is widely spoken in urban areas.
POPULATION: 20.9 million.
TIME ZONE: GMT +5.5 hours.
CURRENCY: Sri Lanka rupee (LKR). £1 = 190 Sri Lankan rupees.
VISAS: Required for British passport holders. The Electronic Travel Authority can be obtained online. We recommend that this be obtained prior to departure from the UK.
POTTED HISTORY: It is believed that the first inhabitants, ancestors of the Veddas, arrived nearly 30,000 years ago. Recorded history suggests that the island was invaded by the Kingdoms of Kalinga and from the Malay Peninsula. Buddhism was introduced around 4Bc and had a huge impact on the culture of the region. Historically, the island nation was an important port and trading post and had contact over centuries with the Romans, the Persians and other civilisations in south-east Asia. The Portuguese, dutch and British started arriving from the 16th century and made settlements along the coast. In the early 19th century, the island became a colony of the British and remained so until 1948 when it became an independent nation.

TOP TIP: Stay on a working tea estate in a converted planter’s bungalow and
soak up the atmosphere of the hill country.

Sri Lanka expert Balaji Kandasamy picks the best of the country’s new and up-and-coming hotels.

Set on the Pasikudha beachfront, Uga Bay is protected by a reef running across the bay, creating not just a scenic beach but also one of the calmest stretches of eastern coastline. Batticaloa, a fantastic dive site, is an hour’s drive away.

With stunning ocean views and lush gardens, this new boutique hotel is a perfect spot for some R&R after a cultural tour of the country. Set on the sandy southern coast near Balapitiya, it’s an easy drive back to the airport.

The sleepy village of Ahangama, between Galle and Matara, is one of the island’s best-kept secrets. Tucked behind palm lined shores, Mosvold Villa is a luxurious sanctuary by the sea. The idyllic beach is home to the famous stilt fishermen, and there are whale-watching opportunities nearby.

This new all-suite resort, with rooms overlooking the clear blue Indian ocean, is just over 30km from Colombo and a few minutes from Wadduwa on the island’s west coast. Treat yourself to one of the many Ayurvedic spa treatments on offer, or just relax by the pool or on the beach.

Cultural Triangle: Visit the sacred and ancient cities of the cultural Triangle – Anuradhapura, Sigiriya, Polonnaruwa and the golden Temple of Dambulla – and discover Sri Lanka’s cultural and religious history, lost cities, ruined palaces, cave temples, striking murals and centuries-old frescoes.

Kandy & beyond: Once an impregnable fortress, Kandy was the capital of the last Sinhalese kingdom. Today, this bustling city is the cultural centre of Sri Lanka and home to the country’s holiest temple, the Temple of the Tooth.

Hill Country: The attractive villages of Nuwara Eliya and Hatton are some of the most scenic in the country and offer spectacular trekking and walking opportunities. Brick and stone-built houses, rose gardens and beautiful lawns are dotted among verdant rolling hills, soaring peaks, dramatic ravines and lush green tea estates.

Yala: Sri Lanka’s second largest national park is one of the best places to see Asian elephants, sloth bears, leopards, hanuman langurs and many migratory birds.

Colombo: The capital city and the modern political, economic and cultural centre, Colombo’s attractions include the national museum, the Pettah bazaar, colonial buildings from the Dutch, Portuguese and British colonial eras, and some interesting temples.

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