2011's tourism hotspots: what to do in Sri Lanka

Tourism is a major industry in Sri Lanka and is set to grow even more in the coming years.

Last month, tourist arrivals to the country were up by 46 percent on the same period last year, and - fuelled by the recent end of the island's civil war - a total of 650,000 people visited in 2010.

This year, Sri Lankan tourism authorities are aiming for 700,000 and by 2016 the country hopes to pull in 2.5 million overseas visitors annually, although analysts have warned that the tourism infrastructure will need improving to cope with the expected demand - there were only an estimated 15,000 rooms in the country as of March 2010.

Nevertheless, 2011 looks as if it will be a bright year for Sri Lankan tourism, with officials laying on different events every month to drum up interest as part of the "Visit Sri Lanka Year."

So what can visitors during the year look forward to in the country Lonely Planet described as the "jewel of the Indian Ocean" in its "top ten places to visit in 2011"?

Watch and play. Sri Lanka has a vibrant sporting culture and is the host country of the ICC Cricket World Cup throughout February and March. During the rest of the year, it is a well-known golfing destination and popular with watersports fans thanks to its pristine beaches and backwaters.

Heal. Legend has it that Ayurveda was imported to Sri Lanka in the 6th century BC, and it has since evolved to include some indigenous treatments. At the Mihintale mountain, visitors can see the ruins of what many believe to be the world's first hospital.

Sleep in the jungle. Ecotourism is big business in Sri Lanka, and it's only going to get bigger. Already, guests can lay their heads in the middle of the jungle, disturbed only by the odd passing elephant.

Follow. The Ramayana Trail is one of Sri Lanka's most unique attractions - follow the events of the epic poem which supposedly took place in the country, taking in jungle shrines, mountains, ponds and hot springs.

Go back in time. The ruins of Anuradhapura tell the story of a city which was once one of the grandest in the world between the 4th century BC and the 11th century AD. Now a UNESCO World Heritage site, it's popular with those seeking meditation or discovery.

Drink tea. Ceylon tea is probably Sri Lanka's most famous export (it's the fourth largest tea producer on the planet). There are many tea plantation tours available on the island, or visitors can just settle for sipping tea in one of Colombo's many tearooms.

http://www.srilanka.travel/

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