Colombo is the commercial capital of Sri Lanka and has a fascination of its own. Nearly every visitor to Sri Lanka begins or ends his stay in Colombo. More than anywhere else in the country it’s a city where the old and new co-exist.
There are high-rise complexes and colonial mansions, supermarkets and street bazaars, flashy western fashions and traditional sarongs, speedy sports cars and one-man rickshaws. Most of the remnants found in Colombo today are the legacy of the British, Dutch and Portuguese. Horseracing was a regular activity on the seaside Galle Face Green. Today, most of the hotels are gathered around this same Green, now minus the horses.
Places of interest – Vihara Maha Devi Park and the colonial style brilliant white Town Hall; the Museum which houses many rare treasures; the parliamentary complex at Sri Jayawardhanapura, the administrative capital, a unique work of architecture set on an island. The Bandaranayake Memorial International Conference Hall with its spacious gardens and right opposite is the colossal statue of Lord Buddha. Galle Face Green; the Zoological Gardens – reputed to be one of Asia’s finest; handloom and handicraft shops. There are plenty of Night Clubs and Casinos to keep you busy in the night.
Visit the gemming area, panning of gems, watching men at work with their age-old customs and rituals. Experience the thrill of unearthing a priceless treasure. Visit a gem cutting and polishing centre and the gem museum. View an exhibition of Sri Lankan Gems.
Famous for a 1st century B.C. Cave Temple complex, this is an archaeological treasure. The rock temple is a series of caves (05), which has a painted area of more than 20,000 sq. ft of stunning Buddhist murals. A huge 47 ft. rock cut of a sleeping Buddha dominates the main cave.
Sigiriya is a fascinating fortress, which was a stronghold of a fifth century king who murdered his father. The red stone rises 600 feet from the green scrub jungle it is famous for its frescoes painted within a sheltered rock. Only 19 out of the 500 painted in the 5th century remain. The Lion stairway, the mirror wall and the water gardens are amongst Sigiriya other highlights
Polonnaruwa – Sri Lanka’s medieval capital [11th-12th century A.D] is a well-preserved metropolis of buildings and shrines. The majestic King’s council chamber, the rock cut Lotus Bath, the statue of one of Polonnaruwa great king’s, Parakramabahu and the rock cut sculptures of the Gal Vihare (temple) are a few of this capital’s memorable sights. The Gal Vihara of Polonnaruwa is a brilliant structure best known for it’s Buddha sculptures. It was once known as the northern shrine, “Uttararama” of Parakramabahu. However, its modern name “Gal Vihara” simply means Rock Temple. It comprises of four mid-12th century statues of Buddha, cut from a single granite wall, and is ranked as one of the best masterpieces of Sri Lankan Art. A “Sea of Parakrama”, a vast 12th century man-made reservoir also dominates the city.
Anuradhapura has been the greatest city of all. It remained the capital of Sri Lanka for about 1400 years. Its ruin’s today displays infinite details of rare beauty, delicately set in the world’s mightiest masses of monumental masonry second only to the Pyramids of Egypt. The best time to visit Anuradhapura is during “Poson Poya” June – the most sacred place is the “Sri Maha Bodhiya”. Worship at the bo tree has continued unbroken for 23 centuries.
The story of Mihintale is a story etched deep in the national consciousness. It was at Mihintale that, King Devanampiyatissa while on a deer hunt with his attendants encountered the grandest event in the history of this land – the advent of Buddhism. The Mihintale Mountain, less than 13 km from Anuradhapura has never ceased to fascinate both local and foreign visitors since it is the cradle of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. Visitors can join in the ascent of one of the world’s most antiquated stone stairway climbing 1840 steps to reach the summit.
Kandy – the royal city, nestling amidst the mid-country hills was the last seat of the Sinhalese King, Sri Wickremarajasinghe. Every visit to Sri Lanka should include its second largest city, Kandy; the Sinhalese cultural and spiritual centre – made even more appealing by its comfortable climate. It is the home of the sacred temple in which is enshrined the Tooth Relic of Lord Buddha. Kandy is also famous for its art and crafts and ancient dance forms. Visit the beautiful Royal Botanical Gardens at Peradeniya on the banks of the Sri Lanka’s longest river.
It’s biggest attraction is the annual Kandy Esala Perehara (an elaborate religious procession to honour the sacred tooth relic of Lord Buddha), a magnificent elephant procession – which fills the town to bursting point with tourists from all over the world. Thousands of dancers and more than 100 elephants make it one of the highlights of the Sri Lankan year.
The three 14th century temples of great importance are a short distance from Peradeniya, namely; Gadaladeniya Vihara, Lankathilaka Vihara and Embekke
Pinnawela is situated 52 km away from Colombo. It is an orphanage for baby elephants created by the Department of National Zoological Gardens. The orphanage was established to feed, nurse and house young elephants found abandoned by their mothers. Other inmates are those displaced from their natural environs by development projects or those found wounded. It has been recorded that a few baby elephants have been bred here in captivity.
The main tourist attraction in Matale is the handicrafts and Spice Gardens where one can view various spices that have been grown. A guided tour explains the herbal and medicinal value of these spices. Matale is also known to have some of the best craftsmen in the country. Having learnt the work from their ancestors, these talented craftsmen strive to create works of art making use of the traditional methods to suit the modern day living styles. Apart from spices and handicrafts, the colourful batiks (a traditional Sri Lankan form of hand painted designs onto cloth) are also a great attraction.
The British rulers modeled Nuwara Eliya on an English Village in the early 19th century, with homes and buildings in styles from Georgian to Queen Anne. It is based on 1890 meters (6199 ft) above sea level. Cool rugged and picturesque, it is set in the heart of the tea country. Throughout the surrounding you will come across beautiful waterfalls cascading hundreds of feet down mountainsides. One of the biggest attractions in Nuwara Eliya is the 18-hole golf course, one of Asia’s finest.
A few miles from Nuwara Eliya is a prominent peak, Hakgala. At its foot lies the “Hakgala Botanical Gardens”. The gardens are smaller and less exotic than those at Peradeniya, but at 5600 feet elevation the species of flora are quite different. The sheer rock of Hakgala (“Jaw Rock”), which rises 1500 feet straight up above the gardens, is said to have been carried here from Himalayas in the jaws of Hanuman, the mythical monkey General who helped Prince Rama rescue Princess Sita from the demon king Rawana in the Ramayana epic.
NEGOMBO (North of Colombo)
The major beach resort on the coast north of Colombo is Negombo, popularly known as the Fishing Village. Here is an old world atmosphere of 17th century churches that line the highway and forts. The feast of St. Anne is celebrated here in late July in a carnival atmosphere. Like many other coastal towns in Sri Lanka, Negombo was an important spice port long before the Portuguese set foot on the island. The Negombo Lagoon is a good place to watch the Karava fisherman at work. These fishermen bring their daily catch of fish, crabs and prawns to the fish market. During the day they are seen mending their nets on the beach.
(Mount Lavinia, Wadduwa, Kalutara, Beruwela, Aluthgama, Bentota, Induruwa, Kosgoda, Hikkaduwa, Galle, Unawatuna, Koggala, Weligama, Dikwella, Tangalle)All of these towns have very good beaches and have an array of hotels to choose from. Along the coast there are a variety of activities including water sports, a visit to the botanical gardens, river boat rides (Bentota); a visit to a turtle hatchery (Bentota, Induruwa & Kosgoda); glass bottom boat rides to see corals, snorkeling, diving and surfing (Hikkaduwa), or visiting a mask museum & factory and lace factory. (Ambalangoda – just before Hikkaduwa) Of course, seafood is predominant throughout.
Galle the seaside town is famous for its well-preserved 17th century Dutch Fort, lace making and ebony carvings. The journey to Galle is along the Palm fringed coast passing Ambalangoda, famous for its mask makers and Hikkaduwa with its incredibly beautiful coral gardens and exotic tropical fish. Seafood is a specialty all the way. Another interesting place to visit is a Turtle Hatchery.
Hambantota is the largest town on the south-eastern coast and is a well sheltered fishing port. Just outside the town are saltpans where seawater is left to evaporate, then carried by rail to salt factories. The town also boasts the best curd (a local yoghurt made out of buffalo milk) and traditionally eaten with honey.
is a port city on the east coast of Sri Lanka, about 110 miles northeast of Kandy. The city is built on a peninsula, which divides the inner and outer harbors. It is one of the main centers of Tamil speaking culture on the island. Historically referred to as Gokanna or Gokarna it has been a sea port that has played a major role in maritime and international trading history of Sri Lanka.