Galle is best for street food. Pic by Hiranya Malwatta
Ten years ago, a 26-year-old civil war ended in Sri Lanka. This island country in South Asia is inhabited by several different ethnic groups with the majority of the populace belonging to the Buddhist faith, It is also the world’s second largest exporter of tea.

And its sun-kissed tropical beaches, which occupy nearly 1 600km of the coastline, have become one of the most spellbinding attractions for tourists - including honeymooners.

Let’s talk statistics, though.

Last year, Sri Lanka attracted 2.33 million tourists. That was a 10.3% increase from 2017. While it fell short of the 2.5 million target, it saw the largest number of visitors - 253 169 - descend on the island in December.

Another milestone for the country was Lonely Planet naming it the country to visit in 2019: “There are not enough places that can equally satisfy adrenalin junkies, culture vultures and wellness seekers much like the gorgeous Sri Lanka. From its growing surf scene to its ancient temples, there’s something for everyone visiting this Asian paradise.”

They have something for everyone. The landscape lends itself beautifully to different experiences: romantic, scenic, historical and cultural.

The Easter carnage will in all likelihood have a knock-on effect on tourism in the coming months.

That said, this country did bounce back from more than two decades of civil war. And, hopefully, the reputation it had as a haven before the tragedy will prevail once again.

Here are five of the must-see attractions: 

ELLA

This small town in the Badulla District of Uva Province, Sri Lanka, is about 200km east of Colombo and 1 041 metres above sea level. Aside from the area’s rich biodiversity, its tea plantations are a sight to behold. Set among hills partially concealed by pillows of clouds, the town enjoys a cooler climate.

Attractions here include visits to the Dhowa temple, a 2 000-year-old rock temple on the Badulla-Bandarawela Road; Bambaragala Peak; Ella Rock; Little Adam’s Peak; Ravana Ella Falls; and the Nine Arches Bridge, Demodara. There is also the Mahamevnawa Buddhist Monastery, where people can learn Buddhism and practise meditation.

NUWARA ELIYA

This is a city in the hill country of Sri Lanka’s Central Province. The name can be interpreted in two ways: City on the Plain (Table Land) or City of Light. It is the coolest area in Sri Lanka and also one of the most important locations for tea production. The landscape of this place makes it the perfect Instagrammable spot. Also referred to as Little England, the colonial architecture has survived - examples are the Queen’s Cottage, General’s House, Grand Hotel, Hill Club, St Andrew’s Hotel and the Town Post Office.

The main attractions include the golf course, trout streams, Victoria Park, and boating or fishing on Lake Gregory. It’s also a popular spot for birdwatchers. A must is a train ride to truly appreciate the scenic views of its mountains, tea plantations and waterfalls.

POLONNARUWA

The second-most ancient of Sri Lanka’s kingdoms, Polonnaruwa was first established by the Chola dynasty as their capital in the 10th century.

Unesco declared the ancient city of Polonnaruwa a world heritage site. In the small town within, there are several hotels available to tourists wanting to explore the temples here. A wonderful maze of tombs and statues can be found among the ruins. Aside from the historical and cultural value, it taps into one’s spiritual consciousness.

UNAWATUNA BEACH

Located in a coastal town in the Galle district, this is a major tourist attraction. It is home to the endangered and endemic purple-faced langur, a usually shy monkey species that can only be found in Sri Lanka’s forests.

Visitors can enjoy cocktails on the beach with picturesque sunsets and sunrises. For the more adventurous, there are diving excursions and eco-treks available. Other attractions here include the Japanese Peace Pagoda, Yatagala Raja Maha Viharaya Buddhist Temple and turtle hatcheries (in Habaraduwa).

MARKETS

The Pettah Market, also known as Manning Market, it’s an open market in the city of Colombo. The towering Khan Clock Tower, which was built by the family of Framjee Bhickajee Khan, an affluent Parsi family with substantial business interests in the country (they also owned the Colombo Oil Mills), welcomes visitors at the entrance. There are many gold and jewellery shops located here.

Another popular market in the region is the Kala Pola Art Market. But for the best street food, Galle Face Green the go-to spot!