Striking a bold contrast with the rest of Sri Lanka's undisturbed countryside and quiet villages, Colombo is the country at its busiest - as the capital and commercial centre of the island - and most Westernised. A definite highlight is the colourful and chaotic Pettah bazaar, a lively neighbourhood full of tuk-tuks and tropical fruit, where Colombo's multicultural population is at its most evident.
Other highlights include Viharamahadevi Park, Colombo's oldest and largest park, which is a pleasure to explore on foot, and Galle Face Green promenade, the locals' choice for picnics and day trips beside the Indian Ocean. Gangaramaya Temple, a sprawling complex of hand-painted shrines and golden Buddhas, is the most important place of worship in the city, and is also well worth a visit.
For all Sri Lanka’s diversity, there’s nothing more relaxing than just lying back on its stunning beaches with a king coconut in hand: watching as the sleepy parade of elephants, orange-cloaked monks, and traditional stilt fishermen drifts by, before heading out for whale watching, diving, and surfing. Families tend to favour the beaches of the west coast, which have the calmest waters and family-friendly hotels, such as Bar Reef on the on the Kalpitiya Peninsula. The northwest coast is particularly unspoilt and secluded, and offers real Robinson Crusoe style beaches, rustic hideaways, and fantastic surfing. The Mudhouse, an eco-friendly beach lodge in Puttalam, is perfect for just such an offbeat coastal adventure.
Also on the northwest coast lies Wilpattu National Park, the largest in Sri Lanka, which is home to a great variety of wildlife including leopards, sloth bears, elephants, deer and a wide range of birdlife. Wilpattu is less visited than many of the country’s other national parks, giving you a feeling of real wilderness seclusion.