Sri Lanka is one of Asia’s richest treasure troves of both natural and man-made wonders. Royal and sacred cities, colonial strongholds, temple caves and virgin forests with no fewer than seven World Heritage Sites in Sri Lanka declared and listed by UNESCO.
Seven World Heritage Sites of Sri Lanka have been inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage namely, the sacred city of Anuradhapura, the ancient city of Polonnaruwa, the ancient city of Sigiriya, the Golden Temple of Dambulla, the old town of Galle and its fortifications, the magnificent temples and palaces of the royal city of Kandy and the Sinharaja Forest Reserve.
Nearly a quarter of Sri Lanka has dense forest cover and approximately half of that is devoted to wildlife protection. There are 16 National Parks and two Marine Parks covering the entire range of the island’s eco systems and its flora and fauna. Among these are the Horton Plains National Park which represents the montane wet-zone eco systems and the world famous Ruhunu (Yala) National Park in the southeast popular for watching elephants and leopards. Other parks open to visitors include Udawalawe in the interior and Wilpattu adjoining the island’s northwest coast. All the parks are reserved for wildlife and people can only visit with a permit issued by the Department of Wildlife Conservation, which can be arranged through Walkers Tours. Walkers Tours can also arrange hotel accommodation near the parks to give guests a chance to stay close to nature, in comfort.
A famous botanist once declared that Sri Lanka is simply one big botanical garden, nurtured by Nature itself. The Botanical Garden in Peradeniya was formally established in 1843 and another garden was set up in the hill country, established in 1861 at Hakgala south of Nuwara Eliya. In 1876, yet another garden was established, this time in the lowlands at Henarathgoda, the Gampaha Botanic Gardens, designated for the trial planting of the country’s first Rubber trees. Other private gardens such as the famous Lunuganga and “Brief”, designed by the world-renowned architect Geoffrey Bawa and his brother, landscape artist Bevis Bawa, bring to life the paradisiacal charm that is refreshingly Sri Lanka’s.
While the winds of change blow softly but surely through the legendary rolling hills of Sri Lanka’s tea estates, the beautiful scenery that captivated Sir Thomas Lipton - who fell in love with the spectacular scenery around Dambatenne – still remains. From the highest spot in the region — a point known today as Lipton’s Seat — he would gaze over one of the most dramatic regions of the country, the seemingly endless hills and tumbling waterfalls giving way almost abruptly to the southern plains, which stretch as far as the eye can see, all the way to the coast. Centuries later, the enchantment of the tea country, its mystique and romance lives on. Hundreds of miles of green velvet smothers the mountainside, the soft mist settles to cloak the surroundings in romance and mystery and the quaint, little cottages beckon you with the tantalizing aromas of freshly brewed Ceylon tea.
Sri Lanka is surrounded by beaches, both long stretches of golden sand along the west and east coasts and small coves and bays many surrounded by jungle wilderness on the south coast. In the north, too, there is a popular beach. The older beach areas, such as Negombo near the airport, and Beruwala, Bentota and Hikkaduwa on the west coast south of Colombo, are well developed holiday areas with hotels and guest houses to suit all budgets and plenty of after-beach action in bars and restaurants. In the south development begun with guest house accommodation has gradually moved up market with exclusive boutique style properties. On the east coast at Trincomalee with its massive natural harbour, beach life is centred around hotels and low budget guest houses while further south, at Passikudah, new hotels have opened on the beach. Further south, Arugam Bay is for surfers and the young at heart.
Sri Lanka’s Cultural and Religious sites are many. They range from the ancient ruins of cities, temples and shrines in the Cultural Triangle including the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy to the remains of Portuguese, Dutch and British colonisation in the form of old forts (especially the one at Galle). In Colombo there are statues of cultural interest as well as modern monuments such as Independence Square. Colombo has many museums reflecting the importance of its cultural heritage, including the National Museum with many artefacts from the Kandyan period. There is also a museum devoted to the Dutch Period as well as museums of modern culture such as the Currency Museum, the Philatelic Museum, a puppet museum as well as a Railway Museum in Colombo and another one in Kadugannawa, outside Kandy.
Sri Lanka’s Central Highlands comprising of Peak Wilderness Protected Area, the Horton Plains National Park and the Knuckles Conservation Forest have been the most recent addition to the UNESCO World Heritage list, and was designated a natural heritage site in mid-2010. These montane forests, where the land rises to 2,500 meters above sea-level, are home to an extraordinary range of flora and fauna, including several endangered species such as the western-purple-faced langur, the Horton Plains slender loris and the Sri Lankan leopard. The area is home to the Bear Monkey – the highland race of the endemic Purple-faced Leaf Monkey. In the Peak Wilderness, a small herd of elephants still roams.
As long as 2,300 years ago, Sri Lanka began developing a highly sophisticated system of hydraulic engineering, equal to that of ancient Egypt and Persia. The only other Asian civilisation to achieve feats of irrigation anywhere near comparable was Angkor, in Cambodia but that was not until more than a thousand years later. Today, more than 25,000 reservoirs are dotted about the country, from small reservoirs not much bigger than a pond to huge lakes resembling inland seas. Sri Lanka’s thousands of reservoirs or tanks, as they are locally known are a source of life not only for birds, fish and wildlife, but for the farmers who depend on them during the dry months in the country’s arid north-central zone. Some of the main reservoirs in Sri Lanka are, Kala wewa, Parakrama Samudraya or the Sea of Parakrama, Minneriya wewa, Kantale wewa, Yoda wewa and Tissa wewa .