Touring Base
If you want to see a lot of Sri Lanka independently, Kandy is the best base. This former medieval kingdom (founded by King Sena Sammatha Vikramabahu who reigned 1474-1511 after moving his capital there from Gampola) is blessed not only with the sacred Temple of the Tooth (dating from 1592), but also with an easy-going ambience, a lake, a nature reserve and lots to see, and is ideally located for making day trips to other parts of Sri Lanka, whether by train, bus or hired vehicle.

 

Day trips from Kandy can be made to the ancient cities of Anuradhapura and  Polonnaruwa and also to the Dambulla Cave Temple and the former rock citadel of Sigiriya. There are several wildlife sanctuaries within easy reach, as well as the Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage, and the two botanical gardens (Peradeniya and Hakgala near Nuwara Eliya) and the forests and tea gardens of the hill country.

 

Kandy is within easy reach by road to the east coast resorts of Trincomalee, Passikudah and Arugam Bay, popular during April to October when the sea is calmer and the climate better. It’s possible to journey to the south coast too and then up through the west coast resorts to Colombo.

 

A popular time to visit is during the annual 10-night perahera (a procession of elephants, dancers, jugglers, acrobats and whip-crackers) in honour of the Sacred Tooth, culminating on the night of the full moon; this year that’s on Sunday 10 August.

 

Embekke
There is a fascinating, and little visited shrine quite unlike the conventional temples in Sri Lanka, within easy reach of Kandy off the Pilimatalawa Road. Built during the reign (1357-1374) of King Vikramabahu III, this consists of three open-sided pavilions, the main one being the Hall of Drummers.

 
Embekke, Hall of rummers

Embekke, Hall of rummers

 

City Birds
As park and playing field walls are being torn down and roads cleaned up, Colombo is fast regaining its colonial reputation as a Garden City.

 

Although the original sprawling cinnamon gardens that once formed the city’s boundary has become the prime residential district of Colombo 7, Vihara Mara Devi (formerly Victoria) Park remains as a 53-acre garden of lawns, trees, paths and playgrounds, opposite the classically ornate old Town Hall building.

 

This is where many of the city’s birds can be spotted, but the most unusual are to be seen where the outlet of the Beira Lake meets the sea near the Galle Face Green. You’ll see a brigade of Spot Billed Pelicans perched on a ledge below the bridge by the Presidential Secretariat (the old Parliament Building by the Galadari Hotel).

 

Visitors to Gangarama Temple are enchanted by the sight of spot billed pelicans gracefully swimming like swans in the nearby lake. The pelicans can also be seen as they roost in ungainly postures on top of city lamp posts.

 
Spot Billed Pelicans. Photo by J F R De Fonseka

Spot Billed Pelicans. Photo by J F R De Fonseka

Highest Peak Now Open
The hill country town of Nuwara Eliya has always been a favourite of travellers who want something different after exploring the cultural ruins and exotic beaches of the rest of Sri Lanka. With its colonial bungalows and chilly, misty nights, it seems an anachronism situated within seven degrees of the tropics.

 

Popular places to visit near Nuwara Eliya include Horton Plains for windswept wilderness and wildlife and the gorgeous beauty of the flowers and bushes in the Hakgala Botanical Gardens.

 
Nuwara Eliya Post Office

Nuwara Eliya Post Office

 

The town itself, with its meandering golf course, raucous fruit & vegetable market, grand tree-lined streets, park and traditional pink post office, offers lots to see and do. Now, after being off limits for decades because of the security situation, Sri Lanka’s highest peak, at 2,524m (8,281 ft) above sea level, Mount Piduruthalagala, is open to visitors.