Guide to travelling like a local in Sri Lanka

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Idyllic lagoons, colonial-era forts, wild elephants, and, of course stunning beaches – it's all about eastern Sri Lanka…

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© Karen Edwards

Why go to Sri Lanka?

With gorgeous golden beaches, ancient ruins and elephant safaris on offer – there's a reason why Sri Lanka is becoming a popular destination on the tourist trail.

But while the south and west coasts draw in the masses, the east remains reasonably untouched. Here, it's all about kicking back with the locals, indulging in great food and the long, wide (and almost always, near-empty) palm-fringed beaches. Sounds amazing, right?

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© Karen Edwards

Where to go in Sri Lanka

Start at the port city of Trincomalee, where you can take a stroll around the 17th Century Portuguese-built Fort Frederick and go snap-happy over the spectacular views from the Koneswaram Hindu temple at the top of the cliff.

In town, stop off at the fish market to pick your own dinner – most guesthouses will happily make up a curry out of the catch. When you're ready for the beach, jump in a tuk tuk (cost more than Rs150/60p) to Nilaveli (about seven kilometres north) to find stretches of silky sand and glistening blue seas.

From Trincomalee, head inland to the Minneriya National Park where a ride in an open-top jeep could bring you face-to-face with elephants. This is where the country's famous 'Gathering' happens during dry season and you could end up seeing herds congregating around the large reservoir – so don't forget your camera!

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© Karen Edwards

Back the coast, head to Navalady Beach in Batticaloa, where the lagoon meets the sea and you can watch fishermen at work. Wind your way around the street stalls, trialling the delicious mini bananas, watermelon, papaya and mangoes, before stopping off at the famous Kallady Bridge to watch the sunset over the lagoon.

Finally, turn into a complete beach bum for a few days at surfer's paradise Arugam Bay, where you can hire boards and take lessons – or just sit in the bustling bars, topping up your tan and watching the pros.

Best places to eat and drink

Grab a table at Trinco's New Parrot restaurant for some super fried rice and devilled (read: spicy) curries, while Anna Pooram's Vegetarian Restaurant serves everything from Ceylon teas to idli (rice cakes) and sambar (a soup-like lentil and veggie dish).

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© Karen Edwards

If you fancy a break from the spice, Café Chill in Batticaloa town will happily serve you fish fingers and chips or fried chicken. Wash it all down with a fresh papaya shake, chilled coconut straight from the tree or a bottle of Lion beer.

Don't miss Perera Restaurant's home-made rice and prawn curry, followed by coconut and banana pancakes in Arugam Bay.

Where to stay in Sri Lanka

Orr's Hill House, Trincomalee (Rs6,000 (£27) per night) is a family-run guesthouse overlooking the river – with a beautiful outside garden to lounge in. While Batticaloa's Riviera Resort offers rooms and cute wooden cabanas - although you'll probably spend most of your time in the hammocks by the lagoon (Double rooms, Rs4,4000 (£20) per night,

Samantha's Folly in Arugam Bay is literally a roll away from the beach and right in the thick of the night-time social scene (Rs3,500 (£16) for a double). Finally, experience life on a Minneriya paddy field by booking a beautiful Rice Villa (Rs6,000 (£27) per night).

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© Karen Edwards

When is the best time to go?

The east coast comes alive between May and September – with Arugam Bay hosting its annual International Surfing Competition in August. And you know what that means…hot surfers!

The Lowdown

We enjoyed a superbly spacious Etihad flight to Colombo's Bandaranaike Airport via Abu Dhabi. Return fares start at £435 (Economy) and £1,595 (Business).

A sleeper train ticket from Colombo to Trincomalee costs Rs760 (£3.50).

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