There is only one word to describe Colombo and that is hectic! It can be fun with a handful of good shops and restaurants to explore but we wouldn't overly recommend it as the first point of call for newcomers to Sri Lanka. It isn't a must see.
Kandy is 3 hours from Colombo and the religious heartland of Sri Lanka. It was made a world heritage site in 1988. The city's main attraction is the Temple of the Tooth, home to Sri Lanka 's most precious Buddhist relic which becomes the focus of a fortnight long festival known as the Perahera each July. Other points of interest include the Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage, Royal Botanical Gardens and the Commonwealth Cemetery.
Originally a fishing town the long beaches of Negombo are nowadays dominated by tourists who like the short transfer times from Colombo International Airport. With a few good hotels, Negombo is a popular jumping off point for visitors but it is by far the most touristy town in Sri Lanka and so may not appeal to everyone.
Bentota is just 2 hours from the airport and as such has a good range of facilities such as watersports and local restaurants. There are a number of larger hotels along the main beach, but your likely to have the smaller beaches to yourself. The area is ideal for families with elephant rides on the beach, banana rides year round and Kosgoda Turtle Hatchery nearby.
Hikkaduwa is traditionally a surfer town and so has a number of laid back beachfront bars and restaurants, as well as two of the only discos on the island. We have a few accommodation options in Hikkaduwa and recommend it as a day trip from both Bentota and Galle for the glass bottom boat and chance to swim with turtles in the bay.
The Galle Fort is a UNESCO World Heritage site thanks to its Dutch colonial past and makes a great day trip from a coastal villa. It has a real cosmopolitan feel due to boutique gift shops and hotel restaurants, mixed with Moorish, Portuguese, Dutch and British history. It is possible to stay in the fort and definitely fun for a few nights. It is approx 3 hours from the airport.
Adam's Peak at 7500 ft high is the most famous physical feature in Sri Lanka and a place of pilgrimage. Sri Lankans come mainly in the month of April to pay their respects to the mountains deity Sumana, while foreigners come to admire the sunrise. The climb takes several hours and is done at night, therefore only suitable for the physically fit.
Yala National Park
Yala National Park on the southeast tip of the island is the most well known of Sri Lanka 's 15 wildlife reserves. Yala is prime leopard spotting territory, especially in August when the area is at its driest, but it is also home to a healthy population of elephants, sloth bears, crocodiles, wild boar, buffalo, jackal and an abundance of bird life.
Ella has one of the best views in Sri Lanka - through the Ella Gap to the Kirinda Lighthouse on the coast 1000m below. Ella can be reached by road or rail, 7 hours from Colombo. Home to some lovely waterfalls, working tea estates and mini Adam's Peak you can happily spend a few nights in this charming little hill town.
Home to the Kelani River, Kitugala is a pretty riverside village dedicated to white water rafting, canyoning and kayaking.
Arugam Bay on the east coast of Sri Lanka is a surf paradise, popular with backpackers during the months of April - September. Best avoided in the off season when most of the local businesses close down.
This remote, white sand bay has boomed over the last few years and is now home to 4 or 5 swanky hotels. Although perfect for a pure beach holiday between the months of April - September the area offers little else of interest bar dolphin watching and the Batticola Fort. 6 hours drive from Colombo, a internal flight or stopover in the Kandy is advisable.
Despite a turbulent past, Trincomalee is now peaceful and the most interesting of Sri Lanka's east coast towns. Miles of white sand beach and calm seas, combine with both local, colonial and wartime history to make this area well worth a visit during the dry months April - September. 7 hours drive from Colombo, a internal flight or stopover in the Cultural Triangle is advisable.
Dambulla is located in the center of the country, approximately 3 hours directly north of Kandy and 4 hours from the airport. The construction of the impressive Dambulla Cave Temple originally began in the first century BC under King Valagambahu of Anuradhapura , who had sought refuge in the cave during a 14 year exile. Following this period successive kings have added to the temple's chambers, rock carvings and murals, providing a physical record of Sri Lanka 's dynastic history.
Sigiriya was built from 477-485 AD and is essentially the ancient equivalent of the playboy mansion. Set on top of the 200m high 'Lions Rock' the fortress was created by King Kasyapa who is said to have buried his father alive and then built Sigiriya as protection from his half brother. Often referred to as the 8th wonder of the world, a visit to Sigiriya is an absolute must.
Polonnaruwa was the island's medieval capital from the 11th to 13th century and is by far the most accessible and rewarding of all Sri Lanka's ancient sites. Its temples, judicial buildings and stupas remain in good condition, with some residential buildings still to be excavated. Polonnaruwa can be reached from Dambulla in approx 1.5hrs, Kandy in 4hrs and the airport in 5hrs.