Sri Lanka, meaning "Resplendent Island" in Sanskrit, is nestled off the Southeast corner of India, just 5° North of the equator in the temperate Indian Ocean. As early as the days of the Silk Road, the island has been at the center of the shipping and trading routes across the region, lending to a wonderful multicultural community encompassing several religions, ethnicities and languages. Today, Sinhala and Tamil are Sri Lanka's two official languages, though English is widely spoken, especially in tourist areas.
The nearly 1,000 mile (1,600km) coastline boasts palm-fringed beaches, which have remained surprisingly undeveloped despite the rise in tourism to the island. The interior of the island offers a variety of landscapes ranging from wildlife-rich jungles, home to elephants, leopards and countless bird species, 51 natural waterfalls, Ceylon tea plantations and mountain peaks reaching over 7,000ft (2,100m). Despite its small size it has the highest biodiversity density in all of Asia. Average yearly temperatures range from 82°F (28°C) to 88°F (31°C).
When you are not busy under the water take advantage of the countless top side activities Sri Lanka has to offer. For those who can't tear themselves away from the sea, try whale and dolphin watching tours, surfing along the Southeast coast line, or laying beachside on any of the untouched beaches around the island.
Inland, check out Yala National Park, home of the densest population of spotted leopards in the world. You can also spot elephants, tropical birds, lizards, and a variety of lovely flora and fauna. There are also plenty of trekking trails, including Adam's Peak at 7,359 ft (2,243m). The summit is famous for Sri Pada, or the "sacred footprint" believed to be that of Buddha.
For a cultural treat tour the Ceylon tea plantations in the central highlands, or visit some of the nation's oldest cities, such as Colombo, Kataragama, Kandy, and Galle. The island's ethnic diversity means you can find religious celebrations and festivals every month of the year.
Sigiriya is an ancient palace in the Matale District featuring a massive rock column some 200 metres/660 feet tall. The Royal Palace of Kandy, which now accommodates the National Museum of Kandy. Alternatively, relax on one of the many beaches near many of the PADI Dive Shops or enjoy the nightlife in Colombo or other lively towns.
Sri Lanka's main airport is the Colombo-Bandaranayake International Airport (CMB). There are many non-stop options from Europe and Asia, but Americans will have to plan for stop-overs along the way.
In country, there are many travel options from tuktuks and taxis to buses and trains depending on the distance, cost or level of comfort you are looking for.