Sri Lanka’s commercial capital of Colombo is just about an hour’s drive from the Bandaranaike International Airport. Due to its strategic location along the East-West sea trade routes and the early Silk Road, Colombo has been an important stopover for ancient Roman, Arab, Persian and Chinese traders and travelers for over 2000 years. Four and a half centuries of rule under the Portuguese, Dutch and finally the British, has left its mark on the city, with stately colonial edifices and mansions nestling side-by-side with modern chrome and glass buildings. Colombo is today a bustling metropolis of approximately 700,000 people, with a vibrant business sector, ample starclass accommodation, restaurants, British style clubs, shopping malls and night clubs. Colombo is a cosmopolitan city, with friendly, tolerant people and a relaxed, easygoing atmosphere. English is the language used in business and is widely spoken and understood.
Dambulla Cave Temple
The Cave Temple of Dambulla, built by King Valagamba, is Sri Lanka’s largest and best-preserved complex of over 80 caves, with statues and murals dating back to the 1st Century BCE. The best attractions are spread over 5 caves consisting of 153 statues of Lord Buddha, including the renowned Golden Buddha statue, 3 statues of Sri Lankan kings, 4 statues of gods and goddesses and murals which cover an area of 2,100 square meters.
City of Kandy
Established by the Vikramabahu III (1357–1374 CE), Kandy was ruled by several
successive monarchs and finally became the capital city of the last remaining independent Sinhalese kingdom in 1592. Having resisted the Portuguese and Dutch, the city finally fell to the British in 1815. Kandy is home to the Sacred Tooth Relic of Lord Buddha, which is taken around the city in a colourful annual pageant called the Esala Perahera.
Royal Botanical Gardens, Peradeniya, Kandy
Royal Botanical Garden was formally established by the British in 1843, on the location where King Wickramabahu III had his court in 1371. The total area of the present botanical garden is 147 acres (0.59 km2) and is home to the Avenue of Palms, 300 varieties of orchids, spices, medicinal plants, palm trees and the Cannonball Tree planted by King George V of the United Kingdom and Queen Mary in 1901, as well as the attached National Herbarium. Admiral Lord Louis Mount Batten’s Headquarters was situated within the Gardens, during WW II.
Cinnamon was exported from Galle as far back as 1,400 BCE and it is believed to have been the ancient seaport of Tarshish from where King Solomon obtained ivory, peacocks and other valuables. Initially conquered by the Portuguese in 1505, Galle was ceded to the Dutch, who built their fort in 1663. It was later used as an administrative centre by the British. Together with the fort and its Dutch era buildings, Galle boasts numerous tourist attractions, including the Dutch Museum and Dutch Reformed Church, which enjoys the distinction of not having any pillars supporting its roof.
Adams Peak (Siri Pada)
Located on the Southern reaches of the Central Highlands, Adam’s Peak (2,243 metres (7,359 ft) is revered by all major religions in Sri Lanka, The ‘Sacred Footprint’ on its summit is regarded by Buddhist as the footprint of Lord Buddha; Hindus consider it as that of Lord Siva, while Christian and Muslim traditions attribute it to Adam. This is an important pilgrimage sight, especially to Buddhists from December to May. A spectacular dawn awaits those who scale the summit of Adam’s Peak before sunrise. The surrounding forests are home to several species of wildlife and birds.
Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage
Established in 1975 by the Government of Sri Lanka for the protection and conservation of orphaned elephants found in the jungles, the environment simulates their natural habitat in the wilds. However, the elephants are provided with regular meals and taken to the river twice a day for a bath, while baby elephants are bottle fed until the age of 3 ½ years. Over the years, the orphanage has achieved considerable success in breeding elephants in captivity.
Trekkers Camp - Knuckles World Heritage site
The camp is located in the Riverston (northern) part of the Knuckles range, which combines virgin forest with streams, rivers and wildlife at an altitude of 1400m above sea level. More than 200 bird species are found in here, including fifteen which are endemic to Sri Lanka - Jungle fowl, Yellow-fronted Barbet, Small Barbet, Sri Lanka Whiteeye, Black headed Bulbul, Yellow eared Bulbul, Dusk blue Flycatcher, Brown capped Babbler, Sri Lankan Grackle, Sri Lankan Lorikeet, Sri Lankan Warbler, White faced Starling, Spot Wing Thrush, Sri Lankan blue Magpie and Layard’s Parakeet.
Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, Kandy
Sri Dalada Maligawa as it’s called in Sinhalese, is located in the former royal palace complex in Kandy. It houses the Sacred Tooth Relic of Lord Buddha, whish was brought from Kalinga in India to Sri Lanka during the reign of King Kirthi Sri Meghavarna (301- 328). The tooth relic is encased in seven golden caskets studded with precious stones and preserved in a chamber whose door is covered with gold silver and ivory.
City of Nuwara Eliya
Located at an altitude of 1,868 m (6,128 ft) in the heart of the Tea Country, Nuwara Eliya is a picturesque town which boasts a temperate climate all year round. It was known as ‘Little England’ as the colonials used to retreat here for their quintessentially British pastimes such as hunting, polo, golf and cricket. Many landmark building still retain touches of this era, including their colonial style architecture and furniture, as well as immaculately kept lawns and hedges.
The name means ‘City of Gems’, making it the de facto Gem Capital of Sri Lanka from where most gem leading gem traders operate. Numerous gem pits dot the area, where one can get a first-hand glimpse of gems being mind. Visiting one of the museums is the best way to see Rubies, Sapphires, Cat's Eyes, Alexandrites, Aquamarines, Tourmalines, Spinels, Topazes, Garnets, Amethyst, Zircons, to name a few. Gems can be purchased from reputed dealers in Ratnapura.