BY DAVID STOTT
1 Galle Face Green, Colombo
Whether it’s sundowners at the Galle Face Hotel or mingling with the masses out on the Green, sunset from this iconic promenade is an essential Colombo experience. Make time to see the atmospheric Gangaramaya Temple and the beautifully restored Dutch Hospital – chock full of shops and restaurants.
2 Wilpattu National Park
While jeeps all but climb over each other for a leopard sighting at Sri Lanka’s more famous parks, Wilpattu’s gently stunning landscape of tangled jungle and forest-rimmed ponds provides a more solitary experience of wild Sri Lanka. Leopard and elephant sightings are harder won here – and all the more satisfying for it.
3 Sinharaja Reserve
Sri Lanka’s only surviving rainforest, Sinharaja’s canopy harbours an incredible variety of birds, butterflies and reptiles. With dense vegetation, waterfalls and eco-lodges, it’s a great place to find peace.
4 Galle Fort
The rambling lanes of Galle Fort are an enchanting place to wander. Check into a lovingly restored printer’s workshop or grain store, explore the old buildings revamped as restaurants and boutiques, and walk the ramparts of the fort at sunset.
5 South Coast
Sri Lanka’s magnificent southern coastline is home to five of the world’s seven species of sea turtle. Take time out from sunbathing or surfing to spot them at Kosgoda or Rekawa Beach.
Explore the rich Buddhist history of Kandy at the incredible Temple of the Tooth, but also make a circuit of the smaller temples clustered to the west of the city – Gadaladeniya, Lankatilaka Mahaviharaya and Embekke Devale.
With rolling tea plantations to explore, the Ravana falls to visit and the beautiful trek to Little Adam’s Peak to complete, you can work up a thirst wandering around Ella. Luckily, you’ll never be far from a decent cup of tea. Many guesthouses have stunning views, especially at sunrise.
8 Anuradhapura and Mihintale
The towering brick dagobas of Sri Lanka’s greatest ancient capital loom large over a landscape studded with treasures still to be excavated. To the east, Mihintale’s giant white dagoba shines out from a jungle-swathed hill, marking the birthplace of Sri Lankan Buddhism.
Fifth-century playboy-king Kasyapa had an eye for the dramatic. From the ramparts of his citadel atop Sigiriya’s startling rock island you can look out over a landscape of utter beauty: pyramid mountains rise from a verdant forest plain, dotted with hundreds of shimmering ponds.
10 Trincomalee and its Beaches
From the dazzling clifftop temple of Konesvaram, your eye drifts north over some of Sri Lanka’s finest beaches: Uppuveli, which retains the languid tourist charm that Bali lost years ago, and Nilaveli beyond, with its miles of empty sand.
11 Arugam Bay
This is one of the best surf spots in Asia. Beginners and old hands alike flock to Arugam Bay from April to October to sample the waves. Don’t miss a beautiful morning trip to Kudimbigala Hermitage.
12 Jaffna and its Islands
As exiles return to Jaffna after decades of war, Tamil Sri Lanka’s cultural capital and its trippy landscape of god-bedecked temple towers, pancake-flat islands and arrow-straight causeways miraging into the salt haze is opening up to a slow trickle of visitors.