It’s been 10 years since the Boxing Day tsunami of 2004 which wreaked devastation and destruction on the eastern and southern coasts of Sri Lanka, leaving more than 30,000 dead but the tiny island is finally back on its feet. Here’s the low-down on six Sri Lankan stops that you really mustn’t miss
Head to Hikkaduwa
Surfing types should head to Hikkaduwa; Sri Lanka’s top surfing spot. The destruction caused by the Boxing Day tsunami can still be seen and felt but while you will pass some skeletons of houses, most properties have been repaired and now look as good as new. It’s sobering though to listen to the locals recount their experiences of the tsunami (many have lost loved ones, limbs and their homes) with moving eloquence.
Go to Galle
Further down the coast is the historic city of Galle whose weighty walls protected Galle Fort from the tsunami when many places weren’t. Do as the locals do and stroll around the old ramparts at sunset before pushing on to Sri Lanka’s most popular beach, Unawatuna.
Top up the tan on Unawatuna
This Sri Lanka’s most popular beach: a place where nut brown children frolic in the water while their grandmothers gossip on the stretch of sand.If you’re feeling active, take to the water for a spot of snorkelling otherwise just chill out or stroll along the beachfront that’s free of aggressive hawkers but is home to a hotch potch of stalls selling fishermen’s trousers, bright bikinis and branded Gap garments at prices so cheap you’ll be buying them in bulk.
Get back to nature at Sinharaja
When you’re bored of the beaches, there’s the UNESCO heritage listed Sinharaja rainforest to get to grips with, although admittedly it’s not ideal for those averse to physical exertion. In parts, it is undeniably a steep scramble but persevere and you’ll have the magnificent forest pretty much to yourself.
Enjoy an elephant encounter
For encounters of the elephant kind, Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage which houses more than 90 abandoned and wounded elephants, won’t disappoint. Time your visit to coincide with feeding time or bathing time when all the elephants are taken to the river close by.
But if you see nothing else of Sri Lanka, you really can’t leave without visiting the hill capital of Kandy, steeped as it is in centuries of tradition: this world heritage site was the last stronghold of the Sinhalese Kings during the Portugese, Dutch and British rule. There’s plenty to do in this pretty town – set beside a lake and framed by hills – but temple addicts will want to visit the Temple of the Tooth which houses the sacred tooth relic of Lord Buddha.