Often overlooked for its mammoth neighbor to the north, Sri Lanka may finally be earning its place on travelers’ wish lists. The “Pearl of the Indian Ocean,” long ruled by Europeans, was politically unstable for years following its independence. The unrest–combined with the 2004 tsunami–kept visitors away. But this small, beautiful country, full of smiling people, has emerged with one of the fastest growing economies in the world.
Your flight will land in Colombo, but head south to Galle. You’ll find gorgeous, powdery beaches bordered by palm trees. The first stop, for many, is the Galle Fort, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was built by the Portuguese and taken over by the Dutch. Today, it’s the heart of the city. The fort’s narrow streets are filled with shops, restaurants, and hotels. Find gambooge at the fruit market. Drink a milkshake at Pedlar’s Inn. Browse lace and jewelry. Eat curry at Anura’s. Walk the ramparts at the sunset.
When you’re ready to explore beyond the walls of the fort, tuk-tuks are ready to take you further away. Go to Kalutara temple. Visit turtles at a hatchery. Drink white tea at the Handunugoda Tea Estate. Say a prayer at Seenigama temple. And then join the nearby surfers. Watch a cricket match. Pick your favorite beach: Unawatuna, Dalawella, or Talpe.
Usually a room with a beach view would be your first hotel choice, but have you ever stayed at a tea estate? Sri Lanka is the world’s largest tea exporter, after all. Near Koggala Lake, you can learn about the tea process and meet the tea pluckers at Kahanda Kanda. The grounds of the hotel are filled with white bougainvillea, mango trees, monkeys, mongoose, and candles at night. Rooms feel like an extension of the outdoors, with open-air showers and louvered doors. Dinner is served under the stars. All of the fruits, herbs, and vegetables you eat are from the estate. Be sure to have an Arrack Sour at the bar.
Plan your trip now, before everyone else catches on.