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Leopards, Long Island Iced Tea and a whole lot of lounging around.

For a small island, Sri Lanka has many nicknames: Serendib, Ceylon, Teardrop of India, Resplendent Isle, Island of Dharma, Pearl of the Orient. This colourful collection reveals its richness and beauty, and the intensity of the affection it evokes in its visitors.

The beach thing may be a cliche, but don't miss them. Then head to the hills to cool off amidst tea plantations and ancient cities. The island teems with bird life, and even the occasional elephant or leopard. To top it all off, the people are friendly, the food is delicious and costs are low.

Weather

Sri Lanka is a typically tropical country with distinct dry and wet seasons. The picture is somewhat complicated by the fact that it is subject to two monsoons: the Yala season (May to August), when the southwest monsoon brings rain to the southern, western and central regions; and the Maha season (October to January), when the northeast monsoon brings rain to the north and east of the island. Temperatures in the low-lying coastal regions are high year round but they rapidly fall with altitude and in the hill country, where it feels like perpetual spring. The highest temperatures are from March through June, while November to January is usually the coolest time of the year. Rainfall is heaviest in the south, southwest and central highlands; the northern and north-central regions are very dry. The best time to visit the west, south coast and hill country is between December and March. May to September is best on the east coast.

A Top Day in Colombo

Sri Lanka has an enormous range of Buddhist, Hindu, Christian and Muslim festivals. The Kandy Esala Perahera (July/August) is the country's most important and spectacular pageant, with 10 days of torch-bearers, whip-crackers, dancers and drummers, not to mention elephants lit up like giant birthday cakes. It climaxes in a great procession honouring the Sacred Tooth Relic of Kandy. Second in importance is the Duruthu Perahera (January), held in Colombo, which celebrates a visit by Buddha to Sri Lanka.

Other celebrations include National Day (February), which is celebrated with parades, dances and national games; New Year (March/April), celebrated with elephant races, coconut games and pillow fights; Vesak (May), a sacred full moon festival commemorating the birth, death and enlightenment of Buddha; the Hindu Vel festival (July/August) in Colombo, where the ceremonial chariot of Skanda, the God of War, is hauled between two temples; and the predominantly Hindu Kataragama festival (July/August) in Kataragama, where devotees put themselves through a whole gamut of ritual masochism.

 
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