FROM ancient cities to colonial towns to world-class surf spots, Sri Lanka is emerging as a choice destination for nature- and culture-oriented travelers in search of something a bit different.
As quoted in Sri Lanka’s Daily Mirror: North of the capital Colombo, on Sri Lanka’s west coast, Kalpitiya and the Puttalam lagoon are eco-tourism hot spots with bird watching and kayaking.
Near Dondra Head, on the south coast, mighty blue whales are regular visitors from January to April while land-based wildlife thrills include the leopards and elephants of Yala National Park, and the more rugged and remote Wilpattu National Park, open once more after being closed for more than two decades during the civil war.
While Sri Lanka has been given the gifts of nature – beautiful beaches, gorgeous scenery, a diverse tropical eco-system and even a rich and fascinating human culture – there have been some problems from both Mother Nature and the modern heirs to the ancient culture of this island republic.
Devastated by the tsunami of 2004, the “oldest democracy in South Asia” has also been a hot spot for political and ethnic strife, which claimed the lives of up to 100,000 people over a period of 26 years. A further 300,000 were displaced by the civil war.
Be advised, there are still concerns about human rights abuses and allegations of war crimes that took place. However, despite the refugee camps and lingering social problems like malnutrition, Sri Lanka is rapidly growing in both in terms of population and economics.
Contributing to this economic growth is the tourism industry, especially the increasing number of foreign tourists who have been flocking to this multicultural, but largely Buddhist island.
Eco-warriors might like to visit or volunteer at a turtle sanctuary, or perhaps spend some time on an organic farm. Those into the more serene pursuits may like to practice a bit of authentic Buddhist meditation.
As far as ecology, Sri Lanka is one of the 25 biodiversity hotspots, with the highest biodiversity per 10,000 sq km in Asia, with a remarkably high rate of endemic species – 27 percent of flowering plants and 22 percent of mammals.
Native animals include sloth bears, slow loris, Asian elephants, Sri Lankan leopards, deer, langur and anteaters. Rainforest species, birds and woody trees, just to mention a few, abound in the country’s national parks and biosphere reserves such as Hurulu Forest Reserve, Wilpattu National Park, Yala National Park and Sinharaja.
For foodies, Sri Lanka sounds like a paradise. Tropical fruits and vegetables, seafood galore, curries, most of which are influenced by South Indian and Middle East influenced fare. Sri Lankan cuisine may not as widely recognized as Indian, but that just adds to the mystery.
The Lonely Planet goes on to explain: All around the country, tuck into great-value local cuisine including grilled seafood, spicy kottu (roti chopped and mixed with vegetables) and multi-course mini banquets of different curries at family-run guesthouses.
Indian and Thai cooking may be world-renowned, but Sri Lanka’s time in the global gourmet spotlight can’t be far away.