The Island is probably the driest, most barren area in Sri Lanka. The landscape features many baobab trees, probably introduced from Africa by Arab traders centuries ago. Mannar, the major town on the island, is at the southern end, joined the mainland by a 3 km causeway. It's not interesting apart from its picturesque Portuguese/Dutch fort. Talaimannar, near the western end, is about 3 km from the pier that was the arrival and departure point of the ferry for India that operated until 1984. A little farther west, an abandoned lighthouse at South Point marks the start of Adam's Bridge, the chain of reefs, sandbanks and islets that almost connects Sri Lanka to India. In the Ramayana, this is the series of stepping stones that Hanuman used to follow Rawana, the demon king of Lanka, in his bid to rescue Sita.
The major beach resort in the West Coast is Negombo which is a characteristic fishing town in Gampaha district, 37 km north of Colombo, merely 6 km from the International Airport. The wide sandy beaches and its safe sea attract thousands of visitors to Negombo. Set amid lush groves of coconut palms, it breathes the spirit of the sea. Negombo is also a gourmet's paradise with seafood in plenty. The fish market where there are busy trading of a variety of fish, prawns, crabs and seer that take place lively in the mornings, when the fishing crafts return to the shore with their catch, is a worth visiting place. The most popular fishing craft is the outrigger canoe called 'oruwa' dug out from a huge log which is seen in large numbers in the Negombo lagoon.
A 2 km-long Kalkudah Bay, 32 km north of Batticaloa, is one of fine beaches in the east coast that is well protected from the monsoon by the off shore reef. Passekudah Bay is another wide beach with the length of 4 km located to the south of Kalkudah and is a lovely bay with clear water. The combined area of Passekudah and Kalkudah was declared as a National Holiday Resort in 1973. This is an ideal site for bathing, windsurfing and water skiing and is a well frequented tourist center with a modern hotel and related facilities.
An hour drive from Colombo along the southwest coast will take you to Beruwela marked for the beginning of the 130 km stretch southwest coast beach resort. Beruwela is in Kalutara district 56 km to the south of Colombo that is considered to be the first Muslim settlement in the island established by the Arab traders of the 8th century. There is also a famous Muslim mosque at the beachhead.
Situated in Galle, a district that is 62 km southwards of Colombo or 4 km southward of Beruwela, the Bentota Resort Complex is a romantic rendezvous of river and sea with several hotels, railway station, post office, shopping arcade, cafeteria and an open air theatre showing folk and mask dancing with clusters of palms overlooking everything. There is also an abundance of water based recreational activities in the area.
The beautiful coast of Ambalangoda is a half an hour drive from Bentota or 86 km from Colombo. It is a fair-sized town that has a beautiful sweep sandy beach to its north. It is also home of devil dancing and mask making. Colorful masks worn during traditional dance are carved out of soft wood and brightly painted. Other products such as batiks and hand-woven cottons are also found here.
Located in Galle district 98 km south of Colombo, Hikkaduwa has long been Sri Lanka's most popular beach spot. It is the place for underwater delight where there is a marine sanctuary, abundant with rare corals and tropical fish. The underwater world of colorful corals and beautiful shoals of fish can be explored either by snorkeling or taking a ride in a glass bottom boat. Hikkaduwa is a fun and busy town, there are numerous and varied restaurants, bars, clubs and cafés. Hikkaduwa has it all to offer: coral for snorkellers, waves for board and body surfers and good wide strips of sand if you want to just sit back and relax. During May to October of monsoon season, many places close and water can be quite rough.
Considered as the southern capital (116 km from Colombo), Sri Lanka's fourth biggest town, Galle is the most historically interesting living city. Its modern towns were gradually built separately from the ancient one. It was the seaport of Sri Lanka before the Colombo Port was developed in the late 19 century and it still handles shipping and cruising yachts today. Its main attraction is the Fort called 'Santa Cruz' that has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The Fort was built by the Portuguese in 1619 and subsequently expanded and developed by the Dutch and the British the one time colonial masters of the island. What now remains is mostly the work of the Dutch and the British.
Weligama - means 'Sandy Village' - is situated in Matara district, 143 km from Colombo or 27 km from Galle with its sandy sweep bay. It is indeed a very fishing town with less travelers visit. Very close to the shore there is an off shore islet known as Taprobane where a dream house of French Count de Maunay was built on, Weligama is where you will see the famous stilt fishermen.
Unawatuna is 4 km southeast of Galle or 120 km from Colombo, and is a beautiful wide curving golden beach in the south that is popular and safe for bathing by which there is a reef protecting it. It is popular for travelers because at this beach there is no annoying road right to the beach unlike some other places such as Hikkaduwa. However, during public holiday, the beach can get very crowded.
Situated on the Matara road 4 km southeast of Weligama, Mirissa marks for one of the country's most beautiful beach. Its headland separates its small fishing harbor from its beautiful curve of sandy beach with calm, clear waters. Mirissa is the alternative for quieter place to Unawatuna or Hikkaduwa.
Situated 195 km from Colombo, Tangalla is one of the nicest spots along the cost, particularly if you want somewhere to find a place to laze and soak up the sun. Tangalla's series of bays are the modern attraction, white sandy beach of Medaketiya shimmer away from the northeast to smaller bays on the west. However, some of the beaches in these bays shelve off very steeply and the resulting waves make them dangerous for swimmers. The town pretty much reminds of the Dutch period, for example, the Rest House was once home of the Dutch administrators.
The Temple of Tooth houses the most important part of Buddha relics, the sacred tooth of the Lord of Buddha. The tooth was said to be taken from the flames of Buddha's funeral pyre in 543 BC and was smuggled into the island during the 4th century AD, hidden in the hair of princess. The tooth was moved from place to place, up and down Sri Lanka from Anuradhapura, the first place, eventually to Kandy.
About 15 km to the south of Monaragala, Maligawila is where two colossal Buddha statues stand. One of them is the 11m-high ancient Buddha statue dates back to the 7th century AD that is considered to be the world's largest free standing Buddha figure. Both of them are carved from crystalline limestone. In close proximity (about 1 km away) at Dambegoda is another 10m-high statue,Avalokitheswara Bodhisattva (a divine being who chooses to reside on the human plane to help ordinary people attain salvation).
With its meaning of 'Buddha image', Buduruwagala was named after rock-cut Buddha statues carved on a cliff located in the area. This 7-statue complex, which is of the Mahayana Buddha School, comprises of the huge standing Buddha figures traced back to 8th - 10th centuries AD. The central of three figures to Buddha's right is thought to be the Buddhist mythological figure, the Avalokitheswara Bodhisattva.
Located proximity to the highway 24 km away from Badulla, the Dowa Cave Temple, near an old wooden bridge, attracts visitors with its ornamental gateway. The cave is situated by a stream at the bottom of a hill. It has a 4m Buddha image sculptured into a rock and some interesting paintings.
A shrine built, to enshrine the jaw-bone of the Lord Buddha, in the 4th Century AD at a site personally blessed by the Lord Buddha during one of his three visits to Sri Lanka, and hence is one of the sixteen most venerated places for Buddhists in Sri Lanka.
The only Kandyan-period roofed wooden bridge built during the 16th century, constructed gracefully over the Gallanda Oya, is elegantly supported by 11 pairs of elegantly carved pillars and a railing of banisters.