DAWN is still just a smudge of rouge on the horizon, but at the port of Mirissa on Sri Lanka's  southern coast, an unusual daily challenge for locals is under way :

How many tuna can you fit on a tuk tuk?

The rules seem simple : buy as much of that day's catch as you can from the extravagantly-decorated boats jostling for a berth in the harbour, pack it on your three-wheeled scooter and drive away at speed.

Think Ben Hur in Billingsgate.

My family and I are here not to observe John West's  delivery squad, but to climb aboard the 50 ft  catamaran Jade, which waits for us at the far end of the quay, and head a few miles offshore for Mirissa's  other great sport : whale watching.

We're in luck. Sort of. Though the mighty humpbacks and blue whales that cruise these waters are on a day off to the deep, our skipper spies a pod of smaller pilot whales and we spend a magical tracking alongside them as they bob and dip obligingly for the camera.

That's another of Sri Lanka's attractions ticked off the list.''We're going to need a big sheet of paper,''

A few days ago we had been alongside elephants and leopards, camping out on safari in the north of the island.

Before that it was a hike up  Sigriya rock fortress, a monument that must rival Machu Picchu as a gob-smacking wonder of improbable construction.

Next stop : on to the central highlands, chugging through the tea plantations on one of the world's most scenic train rides. Oh, and did I mention the white water rafting?

So much to see. So much to do. So isn't it all a little exhausting?  This is Sri Lanka, after all, where tropical heat and occasionally erratic infrastructure can conspire against relaxation.

Ah, but if you want to make the most of all 'the teardrop island's' attraction, hiring a driver-guide  for the duration of your stay, and choosing a reputable travel firm to sort the itinerary, means that family parties can see Sri Lanka not just in comfort and safety, but in style.

That was what swung it for my family as we debated where in the world we would go for one last big adventure, before our daughter headed off to university and our 16-year old son decided the whole concept was 'like, totally not cool.'

The honor and serving of the latest Tourism and Travel research on Sri Lanka continues to Part 2.


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