Sri Lanka

Just off the Southern tip of India lie two of the most beautiful tropical paradises on the planet. Situated in the Indian Ocean, on one-side rests the magnificent Maldives islands and on the other Sri Lanka – an island that the great traveller Marco Polo described as ‘undoubtedly the finest of its size in the world’.

Despite being a tropical island of the coast of India, with the majority of people not Hindu but Buddhist, Sri Lanka is totally different from its neighbouring country. Once visited it is hard not to agree with Marco Polo – it’s a delightful mixtures of British colonial heritage, tropical landscapes, extremely friendly locals, delicious cuisine (especially the seafood!), amazing waves (head to Mirissa and Weligama if you’re chasing the swell) and fascinating historic sites (the ruins of SigiriyaAnuradhapura and Polonnaruwa are a trip within themselves – and let’s not forget the Dambulla Cave Temples). If beaches take your fancy, the coastal stretch south of Colombo offers palm-lined sandy havens as far as the eye can see – and lots of opportunities for spotting baby turtles hatching. Otherwise, escape to the hills where you’ll find gorgeous rolling hills usually coated with tea plantations. Ella is particularly a tourist favourite with its bohemian vibe and stunning waterfalls. The island is also home to a diversity of exotic bird life and animals, with safaris and tours to sight elephants and leopards particularly popular. Yala National ParkUdawalawe National Park, Kaudulla National Park and Horton Plains National Park particular highlights.

About 400 miles southwest of Sri Lanka are the Maldives, a large group of islands that have become a dream destination for many holidaymakers. The 1190 unique islands spread across the Indian Ocean and circle into 26 natural atolls. They boast beautiful white beaches and breathtaking underwater scenery. Travellers can stay on only 87, which have been developed as tourist resorts. The airport is on one of the islands, its capital city Male is on another. There’s a boat taxi called a ‘dhoni‘ that takes you between the two and costs about a dollar. International Tour Operators offer package holidays to the Maldives, many focusing on diving and tropical luxury.

Quite different to Sri Lanka, there are fewer independent travellers, but it is also one hundred percent Muslim and all other religious paraphernalia are confiscated at the airport. People pray up to five times a day and there is no alcohol except at the tourist resorts. Fish are still caught here by rod and line so as not to deplete stocks. Fishing used to be the country’s main source of industry but slowly it’s giving way to tourism.

The Maldives has gained a reputation for being one of the best diving destinations in the world. With hundreds of breathtaking dive sites and colorful fascinating underwater worlds, it has perfect conditions throughout the year and a visibility every photographer dreams of. It’s certainly not a place for low budget backpackers or amateur anthropologists.

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