Holidays & Travel

Why lustrous island Sri Lanka is set to sparkle again

As the FCDO softens its advice on travel to the Indian Ocean island, Sarah Marshall rounds up the best holidays.

Small boat on a beach in Sri Lanka
Small boat on a beach in Sri Lanka (Alamy Stock Photo)

It’s been a difficult few years for Sri Lanka. Terrorism attacks, political instability and a financial crisis have tested the Indian Ocean to its limits. But finally it looks like change is on the horizon.

Interest in the destination is rapidly returning, with tour operators reporting a boom in bookings. Sustainable adventure specialists Intrepid saw 130% customer growth from 2022 to 2023, and this year plans to run 350 trips to meet the increasing demand.

A softening on advisories from the FCDO has also given the green light for holidays. Here are a few of the top picks for travellers of all tastes.

A cultural odyssey

Sigiriya Rock Fortress
Sigiriya Rock Fortress (Alamy Stock Photo)

For a country of its size, Sri Lanka has an impressive number of UNESCO World Heritage sites. Visit five key locations as part of a Highlights of Sri Lanka tour, ideal for first timers eager to experience everything on offer.

Climb ancient staircases hewn into a 600ft rock to reach the Sigiriya Rock Fortress, credited as a work of engineering brilliance thanks to its irrigation system, take a train ride through the waterfalls and tea plantations of the Hill Country and catch the sunrise at Lipton’s Seat (named after tea planter Thomas Lipton) on top of the Poonagala Hill near the Dambetenna tea factory in Haputale.

City tours in cosmopolitan capital Colombo and coastal hub Galle give a good overview of modern day Sri Lanka, while a trip to in Udawalawe National Park provides an opportunity to spot Asian elephants.

How: An eight-night trip costs from £2,095pp, including B&B accommodation and flights. Visit

Hiking ancient paths

Horton Plains National Park
Horton Plains National Park (Alamy Stock Photo)

Launched last year, the Pekoe Trail winds through tea plantations and hillside communities on paths used by local communities for decades. The 300km route can be broken down into 22 sections, averaging around 12km each, giving options for day hikes or multi-day expeditions.

Begin in central city Kandy, famous for the Temple of the Tooth, and head towards Horton Plains National Park, a high plateau inhabited by elk, deer, giant squirrel, wild boar, wild hare, porcupine, and leopard. Eventually finish in the city of Nuwara Eliya – dubbed ‘Little England’ due to its cool climate and colonial-era buildings.

How: A 21-day tailor-made itinerary, including trekking part of The Pekoe Trail, costs from £6,160 per person (two sharing), including flights, transfers, excursions and B&B accommodation. Visit

Culinary capers

Cardamom pods at Matale Spice Garden
Cardamom pods at Matale Spice Garden (Alamy Stock Photo)

Scents of aromatic spices dance through the streets and hills of this fertile island. Cinnamon, turmeric, nutmeg and cumin all grow here, providing the foundation for a cuisine as diverse as the country’s landscapes.

For a giddy immersion into the exotic flavours, join a six-night guided food tour combining bucket-list sites with local restaurants, spice gardens and cooking demonstrations.

Explore Dambulla (a cave monastery and pilgrimage site for 22 centuries) with a bull cart ride and mud house visit, cook with a local chef in sacred city Kandy, learn about spice cultivation at Matale Spice Garden and take a train into the Hill Country and visit a tea factory.

How: From £1,799 pp (two sharing, including half-board accommodation, activities and flights. Visit

Uncovering a wild world

Herd of elephants grazing at Minneriya
Herd of elephants grazing at Minneriya (Alamy Stock Photo)

From jungles and plains to wetlands and coastal regions, the variety of habitats in Sri Lanka are responsible for an impressive biodiversity. Discover some of the most iconic species on a new wildlife-focussed trip from Intrepid, visiting key sites.

Go on safari in Yala National Park, home to one of the world’s highest densities of leopards, and witness elephants gather at an historic reservoir in Minneriya. Stay overnight in a rainforest lodge in the Sinharaja Forest Reserve and join nature walks looking out for butterflies, jackals, big cats, wild boars and toque monkeys.

Along the coast, head out at night to watch sea turtles coming ashore to lay eggs at Rekawa Beach, witnessing the spectacle through infrared night goggles.

How: A 12-day guided trip costs from £2,435pp, including B&B accommodation. Flight extra. Various departures from June to October. Visit