Ask Lonely Planet: Glorious calm after conflict

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Tourism has boomed since the end of Sri Lanka's civil war.  Photo / Thinkstock
Tourism has boomed since the end of Sri Lanka's civil war. Photo / Thinkstock

We are in the midst of planning our honeymoon. One of the countries we are considering is Sri Lanka. How did the country develop after the tsunami? Is it welcoming tourism? Is there any conflict still going on? Also, are there any must-sees and when is the best time to visit?
-Simon Hawken

Lonely Planet's Sarah Bennett & Lee Slater write:

The 26-year conflict between the Sri Lankan military and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam ended in May 2009. An earlier attempt at peace was upended by the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, which killed tens of thousands and plunged the nation into chaos that allowed the war to erupt again.

Today, virtually all of Sri Lanka is open to travellers although in some northern areas there may be security zones and a few areas still off-limits.

More information is online at safetravel.govt.nz, fco.gov.uk and smarttraveller.gov.au.

Tourism has boomed since the end of the civil war. More than 800,000 tourists visited last year, an increase of almost 40 per cent from the previous year. With its amazing beaches, beautiful hill country and eight Unesco World Heritage Sites, Sri Lanka is a visitor's dream.

It's one of the finest wildlife-watching countries in South Asia with 92 mammal species (including elephants and leopards), 242 butterflies, 435 birds, 107 fish, 98 snakes and more, including behemoth blue whales that can be spotted off the south coast.

Highlights also include the legendary temples and architectural treasures that can be seen in the capital city Colombo and Kandy and Anuradhapura, the island's cultural and religious centres. Lonely Planet's new Sri Lanka guidebook will help you plan your trip.

Sri Lanka is pretty much a year-round beach destination. When it's raining in the east, it's normally sunny in the west, and vice-versa. The main tourist season coincides with the northeast monsoon, from December to March. At this time the beaches on the west and south coasts are bathed in sunshine; by contrast, the east coast is often wet and many hotels are closed.

Wildlife on a shoestring budget

My partner and I are travelling to South America. We would like to visit the Galapagos Islands but want to do so on a budget. Can you please suggest a few options for touring this area and how much we could expect to spend getting there and back from the mainland?
-Liz Styles

Lonely Planet's Sarah Bennett & Lee Slater write:

The Galapagos Islands, more than 1000km west of the Ecuadorian mainland, are spectacular for watching wildlife. You will have to fly to one of two airports on the islands, from either Quito or Guayaquil.

A return ticket to the islands with Tame or AeroGal will cost about US$350-450 (NZ$431-$555) per person, depending on when you travel.

Flights to the Galapagos can be fully booked well in advance but there are often many no-shows.

This is because agencies book blocks of seats for their Galapagos Islands tours and then release the seats on the day of the flight when there's no longer any hope of selling their tour. This can be a chance to pick up a cheap fare.

Most visitors tour the islands on an organised boat tour. Passengers sleep on board the boat, with trips lasting from three days to three weeks. As you'd expect, the cheaper the tour, the more cramped and basic the boat.

You can book boat tours when you get there, which can save money. However, generally only the smaller, cheaper operators have space up for grabs.

In high season (January to May), organising your berth can take several days. In the cooler, drier low season there are less visitors and you're more likely to find a good deal.

The El Chato Tortoise Reserve on Santa Cruz is a must-do. Other highlights include snorkelling around The Devil's Crown (Isla Floreana), the views from Darwin's Lake (Isla Isabela), and albatross-spotting by the dramatic cliffs of Isla Espanola.

- NZ Herald

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