The hub of any visit to southern Sri Lanka is Galle. An eccentric little world of its own, Galle lies on a small peninsula in the south of the country, and is a fascinating place to wander through, with its Dutch colonial architecture and 17th century fort. Galle has grown to be Sri Lanka’s fourth-largest city, but the old Dutch quarter, known as the Fort, retains a rich atmosphere of its colonial history. Galle’s origins go much further back than the days of the Dutch Empire, though; it’s often identified as the Biblical city of Tarshish, from which King Solomon sourced various exotic goods. You’ll be made to feel like royalty yourself in hotels like Amangalla, which is housed within the walls of Galle Fort and set in lush landscaped gardens.
One of the best ways to explore Galle’s UNESCO heritage heart is with a sunset walk around the ramparts: passing pretty Dutch-style churches, colourfully painted bullock carts, and elegant women carrying parasols, before stopping off for market shopping and excellent street food. The Dutch Reformed Church dates from the 18th century and is a great example of the city’s colonial architecture. You could also consider cycling into the surrounding rice paddies, or taking a serene evening stroll on the outlying beaches where you’ll see fishermen casting-off from stilts; the scenic Flag Rock is a picturesque place to watch the sunset.
The Galle region and surrounding southern and southwestern coast is also home to long swathes of unspoilt beaches, where there are endless opportunities for fantastic diving and snorkelling. Tucked away on near-deserted beaches near Galle you’ll find the beautiful Aditya Beach Resort, while The Fortress Resort & Spa at nearby Koggala combines beach relaxation with the fascinating rainforest of the Kottawa Reserve. Just up the coast at Bentota, there’s yet more shorefront relaxation and varied wildlife at Reef Villa and Spa.
Home to the world’s highest density of leopard, Sri Lanka’s national parks boast an astounding abundance of wildlife, and given the island’s relatively small size you’ll be amazed at the biodiversity. Yala National Park is where you’re mostly likely to spot leopard, along with sloth bears, buffalo, macaques, and majestic fan-tailed peacocks.