Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon) is an island nation south of India in the Indian Ocean. Its diverse landscapes range from rainforest and arid plains to highlands and sandy beaches. It’s famed for its ancient Buddhist ruins, including the 5th-century citadel Sigiriya, with its palace and frescoes. The city of Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka's ancient capital, has many ruins dating back more than 2,000 years.
- Sigiriya — Located atop a rock plateau overlooking verdant jungle and a vast plain is Sigiriya, the mysterious remains of the 5th-century fortress of King Kasyapa. These ruins of Sigiriya are the most unique of the ancient sites in Sri Lanka. Be sure to brave the rickety-looking spiral staircase to see the awesome 1500-year old painted frescoes located beneath an overhang about 90m up the rock. This archaeological site, unparalleled in South Asia, is a place of pilgrimage for Sri Lankans and has been declared a World Heritage Site.
- Polonnaruwa — The glory of medieval Sri Lanka is best appreciated at Polonnaruwa, an ancient and compact city featuring 12th-century stone sculptures and the Gal Vihara, comprising three enormous Buddha figures. One of the statues is reclining and is 13 metres in length, another in a standing position and the other seated. The statues, located in a cluster along a dirt road, are revered as being among the most sacred monuments in all of Sri Lanka. There are also palace ruins, great bas-reliefs and friezes to see.
- Kandy — The hill city of Kandy was the last bastion of the Sinhala Kings and is a charming place offering a living record of a magnificent past and is set around an attractive man-made lake in scenic hill country. It is also the site of Sri Lanka’s greatest annual spectacle, the Esala Perahera Festival in August, also known as the Kandy Festival when thousands of people from all parts of the country and Elephants are paraded in the courtyards of the temple during Esala Perahera. Kandy’s star attraction is the ornate Dalada Maligawa (Temple of the Tooth) which houses a sacred relic in well-guarded casket.
- Colombo — As the capital of Sri Lanka, Colombo is a modern city filled with good hotels, restaurants, al fresco cafes, shopping and every form of transport imaginable. Just off the north end of Galle Road is the Fort, once a colonial stronghold but now home of many government residences and offices. To the south is Galle Face Green, a seaside promenade where informal cricket games are played out among city folk. Just east of the Fort is the Pettah, a traditional bazaar where you can enjoy a colourful retail experience.
- Anuradhapura — Brimming with ancient ruins and mystery, Anuradhapura is one of Sri Lanka’s most fascinating destinations. Founded in the 3rd century BC and at one point the heart of Sri Lankan civilisation, the city is tucked away within dense jungle and was inaccessible for hundreds of years before regaining its rightful place on the map. While you are here, be sure to marvel at the sight of the three main dagobas, which were among the largest structures ever built in the ancient world. Another highlight that cannot be missed is the scared Sri Maha Bodhi, one of the world’s most revered trees. It is said that this tree grew from a cutting that was taken from the original bodhi tree, under which Buddha attained enlightenment in India. Yet the city isn’t all sombre worshipping - frequent ceremonies and celebrations inject the streets with life and vibrancy.
- Adam's Peak — Shooting up dramatically from the lush jungle of Sri Lanka’s southwest region, Adam’s Peak, or Sri Pada as it is known locally, is one of the most sacred places in the country. For many centuries it has been a pilgrimage site for people from a range of different faiths, including Christianity, Buddhism and Islam. Walkers usually start their journey in the middle of the night when the path to the top is lit up by strings of lights. The magical effect of this lighting technique is certainly not lost on hikers or observers as they climb the path that looks destined for heaven. The purpose of this incredibly early start is to ensure that your arrival at the summit coincides with sunrise. There are few sights more beautiful than watching the sun emerge across the horizon, lighting up the country as it begins to bathe the landscape in a warm golden glow.