Sri Lanka
Visitors enter a hindu temple in Kandy. @Markonthemap

More than any nation save Indonesia, Sri Lanka bared the brunt of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, which killed approximately a quarter of a million people in South Asia. If one adds the nation's 26-year civil war to the mix, it's clear the tear-shaped island south of India has had a rough go of it in recent decades. But things are looking up. The civil war is over, the tsunami is a distant memory and tourists are returning to South Asia’s most overlooked country in record numbers.

What they’ve found -- as the Instagrammed journey below details -- are dazzling untouched sands, awe-inspiring ancient cities and nature preserves teeming with enough Big Game to rival any in Africa.

Have a look:


Jaffna is the cultural and political heart of Sri Lanka’s Tamil population. Virtually cut off from the rest of the nation for almost three decades, visitors are only just beginning to return to explore the untouched beaches, pastel temples and war-torn villages of the far north’s windswept peninsula.

Women look out at the sea at Casuarina Beach on the island of Karaitivu. @Markonthemap
A Hindu temple stands tall north of Jaffna on the edge of a high security zone. @Fbascug
A large statue towers above a town north of Jaffna. @Markonthemap
Locals ride past the recently rebuilt Nallur Kandaswamy Kovil in Jaffna. @Markonthemap

Ancient Cities

Sri Lanka’s center is riddled with crumbling temples and lost cities that pay testament to the grandeur of the island’s former kingdoms. Bulbous dagobas rise from grassy plains in Anuradhapura, mysterious Buddha figures hide in a cave in Drambulla, and all the while, the Rock Fort of Sigiriya towers above them all.

Ancient Cities, Sri Lanka
The oldest dagoba in Sri Lanka is located in Anuradhapura. @Markonthemap
Ancient Cities
The new Golden Temple is just below the caves of Dambulla. @Fbascug
Dagoba cleaners
Cleaners work on a ladder at a dagoba in Anuradhapura. @Markonthemap

Colombo & Kandy

Colombo is the engine that drives Sri Lanka forward while Kandy is its heart and soul. The two metropolitan regions account for a sizable chunk of the densely populated nation’s 21 million residents and are where Sri Lanka’s most powerful individuals live and play.

Pettah, Colombo
Colombo's Pettah district is one of its oldest. @Fbascug

Hill Country

Tea may be nice to drink but it’s even prettier to look at on the sloping knolls of Sri Lanka’s Hill Country. Nestled below the island’s highest peaks, the air is cooler, the forest greener and the clouds a near constant. When Sri Lankans need a vacation from the heat, the effervescent Hill Country is the perfect remedy.

Tea Sri Lanka
Tea plantations stretch down a hill to the lake below. @Markonthemap
Adam's Peak
Devotees pray at dawn at a temple atop Adam's Peak. @Markonthemap
Each night at around 2 a.m. during pilgrimage season, devotees begin their climb to the top of Adam's Peak. @Markonthemap

Yala National Park

Who knew Sri Lanka could look so much like Kenya? Wildlife preserves like Yala in the island’s southeastern corner offer an incredible array of exotic animals, from herds of elephants to playful monkeys and elusive leopards. Spotting the game couldn’t be easier with safari guides who are almost too eager to make sure you tick every animal off your list.

Yala National Park
Safari guides travel through Yala National Park. @Markonthemap
A leopard
A leopard rests on a rock in Yala National Park @Markonthemap
Wild elephants roam through Yala National Park. @Markonthemap
Sri Lanka Monkey
Monkeys abound in the forests of Sri Lanka. @Markonthemap

Galle & Southern Beaches

Galle is like nowhere else on the island, though it would fit in just fine along the coast of Portugal. This luxurious fort town is a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of everyday Sri Lanka, and the beaches nearby provide even greater relaxation for those whose idea of a vacation is doing absolutely nothing.

Much of the city of Galle lies within this historic fort. @Fbascug
Palm Trees
Palm trees line the southern coast of Sri Lanka. @Markonthemap
Stilt fisherman
Stilt fishermen are a common sight along the coast east of Galle. @Markonthemap
Marisa Beach
The beach at Marisa is the starting point for popular whale watching tours. @Markonthemap

*** Photos courtesy of @MarkOnTheMap (Mark Johanson) and @Fbascug (Felipe Bascunan)