Sri Lanka Tours
As Seen in…
Places to visit in Sri Lanka and on our Sri Lanka tours
Why visit Sri Lanka?
In relatively recent times, Sri Lanka’s 65,000 km² were entirely forested and archaeological evidence suggests that until the end of the first millennium A.D. stone age tribes were still eking out an existence in the remotest forests. Their ancestors today – the extraordinary Veddah people are remnants of that aboriginal culture, still occupying corners of the 30% of the island which remains forested.
Despite its reduction in size, this relatively untouched woodland, of ebony, teak, ironwood and mahogany retains an exceptional level of biodiversity. The growing consciousness amongst the Sinhalese government is that conservation is essential both for the environment and also for the future of tourism. Hence, now almost 14% of the country is under protected status and the gems of the natural world – the leopard, sloth bear, Asian elephant, purple-faced langur, mugger crocodile, fishing cat, etc. – are finding genuine protection in places such as Wilpattu and Hurulu and at least 22 other wildlife reserves.
The abundance of this landscape has always been central to Sri Lanka: early inhabitants built cultures and economies of the trading of rice, ivory and precious stones to far off civilisations such as Greece and Rome: sites such as the ancient capital city of Anuradhapura with its grand stupas, dagobas, elaborate ruined palaces and extravagant bathing complexes speak of a culture that was flourishing. The early dominant religion was, and now remains Buddhism which arrived in 246 B.C. and survived the blip of invasion from the north by the Hindu Chola people. Religious sites such as the tranquil haven of Ritigala Monastery, with its intriguing staircases leading through dappled forests to impressive ritual washing pools , show the importance of Buddhism to the dominant culture.
As regional kingdoms rose and held sway, producing colossal planned urban sites such as at Sigiriya Fortress, so the outward-looking perspective grew until the inevitable arrival of European traders, to become European colonists. The Portuguese came to harness the rich spice trade and they were supplanted by the Dutch, ushered in by the naïve collaborations with the King of Kotte. By 1796, the British had taken over and within 8 years had subdued even the resolutely insular Kingdom of Kandy to create ‘Ceylon’’s first unified government. The period has left some beautiful colonial buildings, such as in the capital, Columbo, and in Ngombo’s ‘Little Rome’ district, and some equally dramatic forts in places such as Jaffna and Delft and Mannar islands, but the impact of foreign influence and plantation culture was perhaps less brutal than elsewhere: Sri Lankan indigenous people benefitted to some extent from the economic boom and the transition to Independence in 1948 was a relatively smooth one, illustrative of its pragmatic and mild mannered people.
Today’s challenges – reconciling the Hindu-Tamil north with the dominant Buddhist Sinhalese population, protecting the endangered mangrove coastline and critically endangered species of the interior – are at the forefront of the nation’s consciousness. Yet this is a land which very much sells itself to the outside world: an eternally smiling people whose love of cricket, fabulously idiosyncratic cuisine and devotion to traditional cultures, religion and cottage industries endears them to visitors makes for a wonderful place in which to travel.