Open the Notes app on your phone and checklist your ultimate holiday. It's got to have: endless beaches, cheap prices, fantastic food, exotic animals, adventure – maybe diving? Friendly people, pampering. And culture.
You've just landed in Sri Lanka. The teardrop-shaped island in the Indian Ocean between heavily touristed South East Asia and India is often overflown or overlooked and is probably the place you haven't been to yet. Spectacular, affordable, often uncrowded; maybe you should get there before everyone else does.
The country is a rich tapestry of cultures: you'll notice the legacies of Sinhalese and Tamil, traders from the age-old Silk Road and the British, Dutch and Portuguese empires within minutes of landing in the capital, Colombo, and taking to its wide, tree-shaded streets.
Diving into the city's heaving, timeless markets will leave you bewildered – and excited. You'll see and smell the nation's rich diversity of foods and flavours, a heady – and sometimes fiery – mix of ground and roasted spices, minced, sliced and diced meats and vegetables. A "simple" meal of rice and curry can consist of dozens of intricately prepared dishes.
Some of the best are found in Galle's enchanting old town; the Dutch built the place and locals added the our and style. Wander galleries, quirky shops and boutique cafes; rest up in guesthouses or splendid hotels.
Time for a break? The British cleared the Hill Country jungle to plant millions of fragrant bushes and today Sri Lankan tea is world-famous. Like a classic vineyard, sip Dilmah or Lipton in the estate where it is grown.
Sri Lanka's pearls are its beaches, ringing the island with a dazzling white-sand necklace. Stretching for miles, often untrodden, swimmers, divers, surfers and sunseekers are spoiled for choice.
The country's national parks offer wildlife experiences to rival Africa. Udawalawe, near Colombo, is home to herds of buffalo, sambar deer, crocodiles, masses of birds and elephants.
Avoid the crowds at Bundala National Park's islands, lagoons, dunes and internationally significant wetland, where animals are relatively undisturbed by humans. In addition to elephants, langur monkeys and crocodiles, four species of marine turtle lay their eggs on the coast.