10 things you must do in Sri Lanka

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There it lies, like ‘a pearl in the Indian Ocean’ as travelers of yore described it. Sri Lanka has also been called ‘Serendip’, indicating the endless, unexpected surprises it can hold. Here’s our list of experiences you simply have to pack into your time in the gorgeous little island.

1. Stay in Colonial style

Colombo may be a bustling, modern capital, but parts of it are quiet corners of the past. In Colombo, there is the magnificent Galle Face Hotel, well over 100 years old, now carefully restored to its former glory. We recommend sundowners, with the most glorious sunsets, on the verandah of this colonial hotel that overlooks Galle Face Green and the sea. Further south, on the fringes of Colombo is the Mt Lavinia Hotel, perched on a cliff by the ocean. Utterly romantic, and hugely in demand for picture postcard weddings.

2. Surfing in Unawatuna

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The beaches are a big draw in Southern Sri Lanka. Unawatuna is also special for the excellent prospects it offers for surfing and diving. This is one of the busier beach towns, attracting experienced surfers. But if you are an amateur you can get classes in surfing. Or, sign up for a spot of diving. Watery adventures not for you? Simply lounge on one of Sri Lanka’s most popular beaches and contemplate the good life.

3. Dolphin-watching and whale-spotting in Mirissa

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Mirissa, on the southern coast, is a laidback seaside town with white sand beaches and clear waters. That, in fact, is something you can expect all along the Sri Lankan coast. This is now a hopping off point for going dolphin- and whale-watching. Observation boats carry you to waters where there’s a very good chance of seeing a school of dolphins frolic or marvelling at the sheer size of Sperm Whales, Fin Whales and, very occasionally, Killer Whales. It’s a sight that will stay with you forever.

4. Play With Elephants

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Imagine getting up close with baby pachyderms. The elephant orphanage at Pinnawala, not too far from Colombo, rescues abandoned and injured baby elephants and works as a rehabilitation centre for them. Visitors are encouraged to watch these gentle giants at close proximity. It is a trip that children will especially cherish.

5. Chill on a Tea Estate

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If the beaches are beautiful, the hill country is like an endless painting – all rolling hills, veiled in gauzy mist, crashing waterfalls and orchids growing wild. It is the home, too, of the country’s tea industry. Up in the mountains are vast acres of green estates where the island’s high quality tea is grown and manufactured. The Tea Factory in Kandapola is a hotel that is just that – a tea factory – and offers unique accommodation. You can also stop at the cafes that are now attached to many estates, order a cup of golden orange pekoe, eat a slice of warm cake and take in the view.

6. Taste the Tropical Fruit

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Small as it may be, Sri Lanka’s fertile soil and tropical soil put forth an array of delightful, exotic fruit. Experience the pleasure of biting into juicy rambutan and mangosteen. Eat avocadoes and sweet papaya. Buy pineapple wedges sprinkled with chilli from a roadside vendor. You’ll discover a whole new universe of tropical fruit out here. And don’t forget to taste the water of the golden King Coconut.

7. Eat a Spicy Breakfast

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The Sri Lankan breakfast table is a delight for the adventurous diner. There are stringhoppers to be eaten with creamy coconut curries and fiery hot ‘sambols’. Pittu, scattered with freshly grated coconut and the island’s favourite ‘kiribath’ or milk rice. Best of all, there are hoppers, with centres of egg, coconut milk or jaggery, which you can eat in a fancy restaurant or a streetside eatery frequented by the locals. Other must-try Lankan foods are the array of savoury morsels known as ‘short eats’, curd and treacle, lamprais, a meal-in-one with Dutch origins and everything ‘devilled’ which simply means devilishly hot.

8. Shop for Spices & More

Sri Lanka produces some top quality spices – fragile cinnamon, cardamom, cloves and pepper. You might want to buy some for your trip back home. The painted masks, batik and coconut shell handicrafts also make excellent souvenirs. If you’re in the mood to splurge go shopping for a bone China dinner service from Noritake.

9. Visit a Temple

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Buddhist temples in Sri Lanka, with their graceful dagobas and stupas, are havens of tranquility. Stop by at one, make an offering of fresh lotuses and spend a quiet moment in meditation or prayer. The Dalada Maligawa, the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy, houses a relic of the Buddha and is a must-do on the tourist circuit.

10. Put a Shot

‘Put a shot, machan,’ is an exhortation you’ll hear often in friendly Sri Lanka. It’s simply an invitation to have a drink. The best thing to drink here is the locally produced arrack, not to be confused with the somewhat homespun version of Goa. This is a refined drink, smooth and golden and definitely what keeps Sri Lankans in high spirits.

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