1. To get wild
Dive with blue whales in season or watch spinner dolphins leap about in Kalpitiya. Sri Lanka also has 5,800 wild elephants ambling about and the biggest concentration of leopards in the world. See them in Yala national park, along with sloth bears and buffalo.
2. For cricket in Galle
Sleepy Galle is a haven for grown-up backpackers, with Dutch colonial architecture, jewelry shops, ice cream parlors and an almost complete dearth of nightlife. It is also where to catch an international cricket match or have a knockabout near an old fort.
3. There’s an entire ministry for crab
Opened by two former national cricket players in an old Dutch hospital, Colombo’s Ministry of Crab serves knockout sweet, succulent and spicy Sri Lankan crab in what is one of the capital’s most beautiful buildings. The restaurant itself was also voted one of Asia’s 50 best restaurants last year.
4. Get lost in caves
The Dambulla Buddha caves are filled with Buddha statues, cave paintings and are amazingly atmospheric.
5. See elephants
The kindest way to see elephants is by volunteering at an elephant sanctuary. Working Abroad has information on positive projects around the country.
6. The trains are impossibly scenic
A newly reopened train route from Colombo to Jaffna promises an eye-opening journey through Sri Lanka
The recent reopening of the Yal Devi (Queen of Jaffna) Express provides visitors to Sri Lanka with an opportunity they have not had since 1990: to travel by train from Colombo to Jaffna.
The railway journey between Kandy and Ella is also one to remember.
7. They have the world’s most adaptable snack
You can dine on hoppers for a song. The dish is composed of a thin, crepe-like batter that’s infused with coconut milk and spices and crisped into a bowl shape to hold fried eggs. It’s versatile enough to serve as a breakfast dish, quick snack or hangover cure dependent on your needs.
8. Tea and an early morning hike
Sri Lanka is famous for its Ceylon tea. Walk past lush green tea plantations on a four-hour trek up to Ella Rock for amazing views.
9. Hotels to get excited about
Plenty of new hotels have opened recently, including a handful of beach resorts, including contemporary KK Beach, with its own beach club near Habaraduwa.
Also see the luxurious but sustainable Tri, chic Chena Huts, the Anantara resorts and beautiful boutique Owl and Pussycat.
10 …there’s also one in a giant elephant
See the eco-lodge at Kumbuk River, bordering the Yala National Park. It’s right in describing itself as “one of a kind”.
11. A totally tropical Greggs
Forget cheese lattices and limp sausage rolls, Perera and Sons sell tasty Chinese rolls, samosas and savory bites. They’re literally everywhere but cheap and hugely popular in Sri Lanka.
12. To surf and to party
In the south-east of the island, Arugam Bay is a crescent of golden sand that offers barrelling breaks during summer days and beach parties galore on balmy nights. In winter, drag your board to Weligama.
13. It’s ‘India Lite’
It’s just so much easier to travel here than in India. Transactions go more smoothly, things work and best of all, trains and planes leave near enough on time. And there’s a fantastic network of hotels, all of which you can book on the web.
14. For a vision of hell
Inside Wewurukannala Vihara temple are models of humans being boiled alive and sawn in half – eek! Visitors must first walk past these horrors before reaching a giant Buddha.
15. To think of England
The British-built town of Nuwara Eliya is “where the elite go to be cold and damp and imagine they’re in England”, according to John Gimlette.
16. Peaceful beaches
Uppuveli and Nilaveli, both close to Trincomalee on the northeast, are secluded and stunning stretches of sand. The few accommodation options are spread out, making these beaches perfect for lonely wanderings.
17. Good-looking rocks
Considered a must-visit attraction, Sigiriya is an abandoned palace (its ruins are almost entirely eradicated) at the top of a soaring, gargantuan bolder. Those with vertigo should avoid as the ascent is up an extremely steep, extremely narrow staircase. Traces of ancient frescoes are still visible on some walls, and two lion’s paws, hewn from the rock and dating from the 5th century, are a unique design feature placed at the base of the final stairwell.
18. Seaplane to heaven
A growing network of seaplane routes provides flights from teeming Colombo to the country’s lush interior and the ocean-fringed jungles on the south of the island.
19. South-east Asia at its most chilled
While not quite as sleepy as Laos, the pace of life in Sri Lanka is sedating in comparison to other popular tourist destinations in Asia, making it a good introduction to the region for travelers.
20. Virgin rainforest walks
Sinharaja rainforest is a beautiful natural heritage site – the country’s last viable area of primary rainforest – and still not well known. You can go for treks and swim in the waterfalls but keep an eye out for snakes and spiders among the varied plant life.
21. Genteel full-moon festivals
Poya festivals celebrate the full moon with Buddhist calm, the Poson Poya in June being a particularly elegant affair, where people dress all in white, make pilgrimages to Mihintale – a sacred mountain peak – and light pretty lanterns.
22. Kite festivals
Galle Face beach is a great place to fly a kite – or watch others take to the skies – on a blustery day.
23. See Buddha – or Adam’s – footprint
The top of Adam’s Peak is thought holy by Buddhists, Christians, Muslims, Hindus and the Veddas, Sri Lanka’s early inhabitants, who all believe the imprint of a footprint in the rock here belonged to a very important person.