Lying off the southern tip of India, the tropical island of Sri Lanka has attracted visitors for centuries with its natural beauty.
But it has been scarred by a long and bitter civil war arising out of ethnic tensions between the majority Sinhalese and the Tamil minority in the northeast.
After more than 25 years of violence the conflict ended in May 2009, when government forces seized the last area controlled by Tamil Tiger rebels. But recriminations over abuses by both sides continue.
The island fell under Portuguese and Dutch influence after the 16th century. It gained independence in 1948, after nearly 150 years of British rule.
The main draw is undoubtedly the beach. The long stretch of sand here is typical of Sri Lanka’s west coast – think soft, golden sand flagged by leaning palm trees. The surf is excellent, and there are plenty of snorkelling and diving opportunities. The vibe is really chilled, too, making the place as popular with backpackers and locals as it is with those after a bit of luxury.
There are many activities to entertain all visitors on a holiday in Sri Lanka, from exploring Sri Lanka's ancient Buddhist and Hindu temples to investigating the local wildlife at popular, unique turtle farms, elephant sanctuaries and botanical gardens. Even if you prefer to take it easy on your holiday, relaxing on Sri Lanka's gorgeous beaches and soaking up the tropical weather, a holiday in Sri Lanka has something for everyone.
Sri Lanka’s UP Country
Although just 69 km from Sri Lanka’s second-largest city, Kandy, on the map, the island’s so-called “up” country seems an entire world away. This is first and foremost because the journey from Kandy, whether you do it by bus or train, takes several hours, on account of the dramatic rise in elevation – more than a kilometre – and, for the bus, roads that are dodgy at best.
Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka
Commercial capital: Colombo
• Population 21.2 million
• Area 65,610 sq km (25,332 sq miles)
• Major languages Sinhala, Tamil, English
• Major religions Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Christianity
• Life expectancy 72 years (men), 78 years (women)
• Currency Sri Lankan rupee