For a small island, Sri Lanka has plenty to tempt you to visit - white sand beaches, ancient cities, tea plantations, leopards and elephants, even a growing fashion scene, not to mention plenty of winter sun.And now the country's civil war is over and the effects of the 2004 tsunami are largely vanishing, it's no surprise that almost a third more Britons headed to the island this year. Before you add it to your must-see list, here's our top tips for your itinerary.
Starter for 10: Sri LankaAward-winning eco hotel Heritance Kandalama is built right into the mountainside jungle, designed by one of Sri Lanka's most respected architects Geoffrey Bawa. Looking out to the rock fortress of Sigiriya, a Unesco World Heritage site, it's near four more historic sights in the island's Cultural Triangle.
With an infinity pool, five star luxury and more than a few celebrity visitors, it ticks the style and responsible travel boxes, and makes a great base to explore from. Double rooms start from around £115. Visit www.heritancehotels.com/kandalama for more information.Starter for 10: Sri Lanka If you're lucky you'll still see elephants in the wild in Sri Lanka, and they're an important part of any perahera, or religious procession. But with the population reduced drastically over the years, the country's wildlife department created the Pinnawela orphanage to help injured and orphan elephants as well as to start a breeding programme.
Home to between 60 and 80 elephants, try to time any visit to see feeding time for the babies, at around 8am, and their bath in the river at 10am and 2pm. You can even get close enough for some trunk patting and to feed them a handful of peanuts. The elephant orphanage is north-west of the town of Kegalle.Starter for 10: Sri Lanka Find out more about Sri Lanka's fashion heritage – it might not be as high-profile as Paris or Milan, but the island is hosting its second annual design festival from November 11-17. Focusing on traditional arts and crafts this year, it's also highlighting ethical fashion and showcasing local jewellery.
Visit www.srilankadesignfestival.com for more information on events, including workshops and talks by international and local designers.Starter for 10: Sri Lanka Rising up from the forest, the Sigiriya rock fortress was designed to look imposing – and it still does. But while it's worth starting early to avoid the worst of the heat, don't miss the chance to climb it to marvel at the incredible 5th century feat of building a palace on the top, as well as engineering innovations like the hydraulic system to pump water all the way up.
During your climb, watch out for the mirrored wall, the famous frescoes and the lion's paws at the entrance to the final stretch, helping give Sigiriya its name of lion's rock. A ticket to the main Cultural Triangle sights costs around £25, or entrance is usually included in tour packages.Starter for 10: Sri Lanka The Cultural Triangle should be top of everyone's list – linking the ancient capitals of Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and Kandy, with Sigiriya in the centre, it also includes the hillside cave temples at Dambulla.
Anuradhapura, dating back to the fourth century BC, was established around a cutting of the bodhi tree under which the Buddha found enlightenment – the original tree has since been destroyed but the Sri Lankan sapling is flourishing. The huge temple complex stretches for miles, with restoration work still going on at various sites. And after exploring more ruins of the city in Polonnaruwa, including the huge Gal Vihara Buddha statues, take a moment to stop by the manmade lake dating from 1200AD.Starter for 10: Sri Lanka You'll get wonderful food wherever you go in Sri Lanka, including the ultra-spicy sambol. But for somewhere unique, dress up for the Hill Club in Nuwara Eliya. Gentlemen are still required to wear a jacket and tie (although you can borrow these) and it oozes colonial atmosphere from every wall, going back to its founding as a private club by a British coffee planter.
After dinner served by white gloved waiters, you can relax in front of the open fire – at 6,500ft about sea level, you might well be glad of it – or look into the billiard room and the reading room.Starter for 10: Sri Lanka The tea plantations in the hills of Nuwara Eliya were started by the British in the mid 19th century, and they're still going strong today. Many of the factories are open to visitors, so you can watch your cuppa from leaf to drink.
The Pedro Tea Estate starts with a view of the pluckers on the hills, before walking through the factory to see how the leaves are sorted and dried, and find their way to bag or teapot. Entrance costs around 50p.Starter for 10: Sri Lanka Down on the sultry southern tip of Sri Lanka, Galle is also a great place to spend your rupees. Inside the walls of the fort, you can wander the shady old streets, all packed with boutiques – try Church Street and Leyn Baan Street particularly.
As well as carvings and beautiful bright textiles, there's jewellery and even furniture. Elephant Walk on Church Street is great for gifts, Barefoot ,on Pedlar Street, is an explosion of brightly coloured fabrics and homewares.Starter for 10: Sri Lanka The south east of Sri Lanka was off limits to most visitors until the end of the civil war, so it's only recently that the Yala National Park has appeared back on tourist itineraries. Home to 215 species of birds, as well as elephants, it's the leopards which draw most people.
With the one of the highest densities of the elusive big cat in the world, you might not be guaranteed sight of a leopard, but you've got a good chance. Most tour operators can arrange safaris or you can hire a guide at the park – although you'll get what you pay for. The park closes for part of September and October during the rainy season.Starter for 10: Sri Lanka You can get a 30-day tourist visa for free when you arrive in Sri Lanka, although the government has announced it intends to suspend this. Check www.fco.gov.uk for the latest information.
On The Go Sri Lanka Unplugged 15-day tour costs from £1,199, excluding flights. Explore Secrets of Sri Lanka 14-day tour costs from £1,189 excluding flights. Imaginative Traveller Highlights of Sri Lanka 15-day tour costs from £1,150 excluding flights.
Reef & Rainforest tours has a new 11-day Leopard and Blue Whale Spotting Safari, including Yala, costing from £2,965
Return flights with Sri Lankan Airlines from London Heathrow to Colombo cost from around £515.Starter for 10: Sri Lanka