Poised just above the Equator amid the balmy waters of the Indian Ocean, the Srilankan legendary reputation for natural beauty and plenty has inspired an almost magical regard even in those who have never visited the place. Sri Lanka has described it as the finest island of its size in the world, while successive waves of Indian, Arab and European traders and adventurers flocked to its palm-fringed shores, attracted rare spices, precious stones and magnificent elephants. Romantically inspired geographers, poring over maps of the island, compared its outline to a teardrop falling from the tip of India or to the shape of a pearl.

Sri Lanka packs an extraordinary variety of places to visit within close dimensions with natural environment. Lapped by the Indian Ocean, the coast is fringed with idyllic – and often refreshingly undeveloped – beaches, while the interior boasts a fascinating variety of landscapes ranging from wildlife-rich lowland jungles, home to widespread populations of elephants, leopards and rare endemic bird species, to the misty heights of the hill country, swathed in immaculately manicured tea plantations.

Nor does the island lack in man-made attractions. Sri Lanka boasts more than two thousand years of recorded history, and the remarkable achievements of the early Tamil and Sinhalese civilization can still be seen in the sequence of ruined cities and great religious monuments that litter the northern plains.