Endless beaches, welcoming people, tea plantations and majestic elephants are just some of the magical things waiting for you to discover in Sri Lanka, an independent island nation lying 30km off the south-east coast of India.

The teardrop-shaped island is 432km long and 224km at its widest point, about a quarter of the size of the UK. You’ll be surprised that for a relatively small country, it’s packed with amazing travel experiences, like seeing elusive leopards in the wild or watching elephants bathe. Head to the western coast for its capital, Colombo.

 

Beaches and sports

 You’ll find that the Indian Ocean coastline is fringed with sun-kissed golden beaches and palm trees, with the best stretches on the west and south coasts. Head to the south for some particularly gorgeous beaches and fishing villages, complete with fishermen spearing their catches while balancing on stilts. Near the colonial town of Galle, you’ll find the pretty Unawatuna beach with its calm blue waters, while further up the west coast lie Bentota and Induruwa. Negombo is just half an hour from Colombo airport. Hikkaduwa is the place to head for scuba diving and snorkelling centres while Arugam Bay is famous for surfing which attracts fans from all over the world. The conditions are perfect for kitesurfing, too.

 

History and culture

 You’ll discover this is a very old country, settled as long ago as 125,000 years, so it’s packed with history and heritage. Sri Lanka was well known to the ancient Greeks and its location on the Silk Road trade routes gave it great strategic importance. You’ll find its people are a rich mix of cultures and speak many different languages including Tamil, Malay and Chinese. The official languages are Sinhalese and Tamil but you’ll hear English being widely spoken. One of the best places to witness its history is the ancient city of Anuradhapura, a World Heritage Site with Buddhist monasteries and ruins. You could also make a pilgrimage to Kandy’s Temple of the Tooth to see the golden casket containing the tooth of the Buddha.

 

Adventures for families

 Safaris aren’t just for Africa, as there are plenty of adventures to be had in Sri Lanka where you can get close to its amazing wildlife. Leopards and elephants are the main animals you’ll hope to spot in the wild, and you can also watch cute baby elephants being fed at the orphanages. The animals aren’t all on land either, as Sri Lanka is a good spot to go whale watching and rescue centres offer the chance to release a turtle back into the sea. If you’re feeling energetic, you’ll want to tackle the challenge of climbing the rock fortress of Sigiriya.