Sri Lanka is of course cricket-mad, and both the men’s and women’s national sides regularly distinguish themselves in international competition against all the world’s top nations. There are domestic clubs at all levels and for all ages, and cricket grounds of every description in the major towns, with the impressive R Premadasa International Cricket Stadium in Colombo the largest of all.
The history of Sri Lanka has since earliest times been intrinsically linked with the growing of spices and the spice trade. Numerous spice gardens offer interesting tours demonstrating the production of cinnamon, nutmeg, anise, clove, cardamom, mace, and other spices, and of course there are shops where you will find it difficult not to make a few wonderfully aromatic purchases.
Mirissa Water Sports offers a good range of activities ranging from snorkelling, sailing, whale watching, and river-safaris. Blue whales are frequently seen during their annual migration off the south and west coasts of Sri Lanka. Spinner dolphins often follow the boats. They are very impressive as they travel in large pods, and are at their most profuse in the calm seas between January and April. If you are lucky, you may see the stunning killer whales in December and April, during their seasonal migration between the Arabian Sea and Bay of Bengal.
There are plenty of opportunities for turtle watching in Sri Lanka, with numerous turtle conservation projects all along the west coast and particularly the south coast. Sri Lanka boasts five out of the seven marine turtle species worldwide and has some of the most important marine nesting sites, where turtles come ashore to nest throughout the year. All five species of turtles that nest in Sri Lanka are endangered, including the Leatherback turtle, the largest of all the sea turtles, which can grow up to 3 meters in length and weighs up to 600kg. At the conservation centres female turtles are allowed to nest; either the hatchlings are left to scramble down to the ocean immediately after emergence from the nest under supervision or the eggs are taken to hatcheries and then released when they reach the right size. You can join groups during night watches to see turtles come ashore and lay their eggs.
Sri Lanka is an ideal country for watersports. Water-skiing, banana boating, jet skiing are possible on the Bentota River, body-surfing and surfing on most beaches, and rafting and canoeing near Galle. There is a diving centre in Unawatuna. Boats can be chartered in most areas.
In the middle of the island’s central highlands, Pinnewala Elephant Orphanage is the home for about 60 elephants, many of which are baby elephants found, abandoned, or orphaned in the wild. Twice a day you may see the elephants being fed and led to the river for bathing - quite a spectacle!
Sri Lanka is home to one of the world’s richest varieties of birdlife, a veritable twitcher’s paradise. In spite of its relatively small size, the island boasts a wide range of natural habitats, from coastal wetlands and mangrove swamps to the dry northern plains, lush tropical forests, and mountainous areas inland. Over 435 species of birds have been identified on Sri Lanka, of which 235 are resident on the island and include the around thirty species (learned opinion varies on the number) recognized as endemic. Another two hundred species have been identified as migratory, the majority of these from the northern winters; in contrast, numerous species of seabirds come north to Sri Lanka to escape the harsh winters of the Southern Ocean. There are numerous bird sanctuaries across the island, offering unique opportunities for life-listers to see some fabulous and rare species, in some of the most beautiful surroundings imaginable. Sinharaha Forest Reserve is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is home to some of Sri Lanka’s rarest birds, and the dense forest terrain will challenge the most skilled birdwatcher.
Sri Lanka remains a beautifully undeveloped island in spite of increasing population and tourism, and vast swathes of its landscapes are protected national parks, home to the most magical assortment of flora and fauna, and the centre of the island’s burgeoning eco-tourism industry.
The most popular park is Yala National Park, a conglomeration of smaller parks on the southeastern coast. It is known mainly for having the world’s densest population of leopards, although you will still need good fortune to spot one of these elusive creatures in its natural habitat. No matter, there are over 200 species of birds and over forty species of animals to delight the wildlife enthusiast, with a substantial population of elephants, spotted deer, sambar deer, wild buffalo, the elusive sloth bear, and crocodiles (!) all vying for a place in your viewfinder.
Bundala National Park is a vast (6,216 hectare) open area of scrubland on the south coast, and its coastal lagoons and salt pans are home to an amazing array of aquatic birds, including vast clouds of pink flamingos. The best time to visit Bundala is during the winter migration season between November and March. Grey langur monkeys inhabit the trees, and you may also catch a glimpse of spotted deer, jackals, and an occasional elephant.
Uda Walawe National Park is one of Sri Lanka’s most popular national parks, best known for its elephant population, estimated to number around 400, including six tuskers. They can often be seen travelling in impressive large herds, and the mainly open parkland can offer excellent views. Other animals which may be seen here include the spotted deer, langur monkeys, wild boars, and water buffalo. Uda Walawe is also a prime birdwatching area, with a large variety of aquatic birds flocking to the Uda Walawe Reservoir.