Sri Lanka was once dubbed by Marco Polo as the finest island of its size in the world, and 700 years later it is still easy to see why. Blessed with idyllic palm-fringed beaches, swathes of tea-covered hill country, primeval rainforest, abundant game reserves, temples, ruined cities and a rich cultural heritage, the modern-day explorer is spoiled for choice.
Sri Lanka is very much an island of two halves. The well-trodden trails of the central and southwestern provinces accommodate tourists at every budget, while the northern and eastern coasts â€“ off limits for more than two decades until the end of the civil war in 2009 â€“ remain virtually untouched, and the lack of infrastructure offers a challenge to even the most adventurous of travellers.
The south of the island is now within easy reach of the capital, Colombo, thanks to a new highway, and the historical Dutch fort town of Galle and the laidback beach resorts of Unawatuna, Mirissa and Tangalle are well worth the trip. Further east, Yala, Uda Walawa and Bundala national parks offer excellent leopard, elephant and bird spotting.
Inland, the temperate hill country, with its picturesque tea estates and amazing views, is a hiker's paradise. Meanwhile, the famous Temple of the Tooth in Kandy, the Dambulla cave temples, and the ruins of Sigiriya, Polonnaruwa and Anuradhapura, bring alive the island's Buddhist heritage.
At present, few tourists venture to the tranquil east coast beaches or further north to Jaffna, since bus journeys are long and uncomfortable and accommodation is limited, but things are improving and for those with a true sense of adventure, it is well worth the effort.
Train and bus travel is very affordable, although the roads are not great and journeys can take much longer than you might expect. Accommodation can sometimes be surprisingly expensive, and many guesthouses charge upwards of $25 a night, although there are still bargains to be found.
One-month visas must now be applied for online before travelling, but are extendable to three months after arrival.
Despite its relatively small size, Sri Lanka offers a lot to see and do, so don't expect to see it all in two weeks. However, whatever your itinerary, it is difficult to go wrong on this varied and beautiful island and there really is something for everyone.