Kandy is the geographical, cultural and religious heart of Sri Lanka and the last stronghold of the Sinhalese kings, falling to the British in 1815. It's a laidback town built around a peaceful lake and surrounded by lush green hills, which makes an excellent base for exploring both the Hill Country to the south and the ancient cities to the north. But unless you're there during a festival, don't expect buzzing nightlife.
While in town be sure to visit The Dalada Maligawa (aka Temple of the Tooth) which houses Sri Lanka’s most important religious relic - the sacred tooth of Buddha. Or coincide your visit with Sri Lanka's most important festival, the Kandy Esala Perahera. During July/August, this stunning 10-day event culminates at full moon with a spectacular procession of dancers, drummers and decorated elephants.
The hilly area south of Kandy is carpeted in lush tea plantations, clustered around the city of Nuwara Eliya. Sri Lanka is one of the world’s biggest producers of tea, which is said to be of the highest quality. Many of the old plantation bungalows have been transformed into luxurious boutique hotels. Reach them by train from Kandy - it’s a bucket list-worthy journey through jaw-dropping scenery.
Instead of joining the throngs at Adam's Peak, discover Horton Plains, Sri Lanka's highest and most isolated grass-covered plain (near Haputale). Paths lead you to the World's End precipice, where there’s a sheer drop of 700m. To avoid wandering around in the mist, go between January and April and get there before 10am. You can go by train, but the nearest station is Ohiya (40 minutes from Haputale), from where it's an 8km uphill walk to the entrance, followed by a 40-minute walk to World’s End. If you don't fancy the hike, hire a car with a driver so you can get up there early without having to set off in the middle of the night.
Head into the Hill Country and immerse yourself in the region's lush tea plantations. At 4,000 feet above sea level, [h:SL007:Ceylon Tea Trails'] 4 beautifully restored plantation bungalows were originally built for British tea managers during the Raj, and are set around the picturesque Castlereagh lake. From this luxury hotel you can watch the harvest in adjacent fields, visit a tea factory and discover the skills of tea blending and tasting. Another great way to see the area is by riding the Victorian railway, a relic from British colonial rule.
The 60m Dunhinda Falls are set in a tightly wooded valley and are one of Sri Lanka's most spectacular (pictured). They're 6km from Badulla (the end of the railway line - 2 hours from Haputale / 1 hour from Ella, followed by a 20-minute walk). Less magnificent but worth a visit if en route are the Diyaluma Falls, 170m high. If you're heading down to Wellaya from Haputale they're about half way down (1 1/4 hours) and 5km past Koslanda.
Sinharaja (30km south of Ratnapura) is Sri Lanka's last major area of virgin rainforest (8,800 hectares), and was designated a World Heritage Site in 1989. There's an abundance of birdlife, tropical foliage, small mammals, monkeys and leopards (rarely seen). Nearby Uda Walawe National Park is a 308 sq.km park of mainly grassland, which is less visited than Yala. In addition to a variety of birds and snakes, the wildlife here includes elephants, sambar deer, wild buffalo, crocodiles and the occasional leopard. You need your own transport to get here.