Sri Lanka

Colombo Bandaranaike (CMB) (Katunayake) is 29km north of Colombo and has a duty-free shop, restaurant, bar, snack bar, banks, post office, tourist information and car hire.

Located in the deep south of the island is the second international airport, Mattala Rajapaksha International Airport (HRI), 70km north of Tangalle.

A departure tax is included in the cost of your ticket.

Sri Lanka has a tropical climate. Upland areas are cooler and more temperate, while coastal areas are cooled by sea breezes. There are two monsoons, which occur May to July and December to January. The average temperature is 24°C.

Bring loose, lightweight clothng and waterproof rainwear.

Cotton clothes are useful at any time of the year but you will need light woolens for the hills and waterproof clothing or an umbrella. Modest dress for women is advisable especially when visiting religious sites (no shorts or skirts above the knee and tops or dresses that are see through or reveal too much of cleavage will not be permitted). Do not forget comfortable shoes, sandals or trainers and cotton socks.

If you are planning to trek and climb, go prepared with suitable gear. Water sports enthusiasts would do well to take their snorkels and diving equipment along however these could rented at most coastal areas as well.

Honour or personal dignity, is extremely important to Sri Lankans and causing an individual to 'lose face' by public criticism or anger should be avoided. Homosexuality is illegal and smoking and drinking in public is strictly forbidden. Topless sunbathing is also not permitted, as there are no nude beaches in Sri Lanka.

During public holidays and long weekends certain beaches and sites do get highly crowded with locals.

Currency
The Sri Lanka rupee (LKR) is divided into 100 cents. Notes are in denominations of LKR 5,000 / 2,000 / 1,000 / 500 / 200 / 100 / 50 / 20 and 10. Coins are in denominations of LKR 10, 5, 2, 1, 50 and 25 cents. There are also large numbers of commemorative coins in circulation.

Currency Exchange
Foreign currency must be changed only at authorised exchanges, banks and hotels, and these establishments must endorse such exchanges on the visitor’s Exchange Control D form, which is issued on arrival and must usually be returned at the time of departure.

Credit/Debit Cards and ATMs
American Express, MasterCard and Visa are widely accepted. Diners Club has more limited acceptance.

Banking Hours
Monday through Saturday from 9.00 am to 1.00 pm. Some city banks close at 3.00 pm, whilst some even have night bank facilities.

The following articles are exempt from duty:

  • 2 bottles of wine and 1.5 litres of spirits
  • A small quantity of perfume and 250ml of eau de toilette

Import/Export of the following goods are strictly prohibited:

Tobacco products

Firearms, explosives and dangerous weapons

Ivory

Antiques, statues and treasures

Old books

Animals/birds/reptiles (dead or alive) and parts

Tea, rubber, coconut plants, dangerous drugs

Please note:
(a) Only two members of the same family travelling together are entitled to free import allowances.
(b) Valuable personal effects (including jewellery), must be declared on arrival in Sri Lanka.
(c) There is no gift allowance.
(d) Unused Sri Lankan currency should be reconverted to foreign currency upon departure. You are not permitted to leave Sri Lanka with currency in excess of LKR250

Drink only bottled water of a reputable make and check that the top has not been tampered with.

230/240 volts, 50 cycles AC

Plug points used to be round pins however, the more modern hotels do have square pins, nevertheless it is advised you carry your travel adapters to avoid hassle.

Standard Sri Lankan foods are spicy and it is advised to approach curries with caution. There are many vegetables, fruits, meats and seafood. Chinese, continental, Indian and Japanese menus are available in Colombo. A local specialty is basic curry, made with coconut milk, sliced onion, and green chili, aromatic spices such as cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, saffron and aromatic leaves.

Things to Know
Alcohol cannot be sold on Poya holidays (which occur each lunar month on the day of the full moon).

National Specialties
• Hoppers is a cross between a muffin and a crumpet with a wafer-crisp edge, served with a fresh egg soft-baked on top.
• String hoppers are steamed circlets of rice flour, a little more delicate than noodles or spaghetti.
• Jaggery is a fudge made from the crystallised sap of the kitul palm.
• The durian fruit is considered a great delicacy.

National Drinks
• Tea is the national drink and thought to be amongst the best in the world.
• Toddy (sap of the palm tree).
• Arrack (fermented toddy which comes in varying degrees of strength).

Nightlife
Some Colombo hotels have supper clubs with music for dancing. There are theatres in Colombo, cinemas showing films from the USA, ballet, concerts and theatre productions.

Upset Stomachs
Upset stomachs can happen due to the unsanitary preparation of food. Watch out for under-cooked fish (especially shellfish) and meat (especially pork and mince), which can be hazardous.

Sunburn
When you lie onto the beach or poolside lounger for a spot of sunbathing, always remember to apply a sunscreen product. Remember you are just 600km from the equator: even with sunscreen, your sunbathing should be limited in time.

Heatstroke
Sometimes those who have spent too long in the sun suffer heatstroke, the most common form being caused by dehydration. Take plenty of bottled water to the beach, or buy a thambili (king coconut) from an itinerant seller.

Prickly Heat
This rash occurs when your sweat glands become clogged after being out in the heat for too long or from excessive perspiration. To treat it, take a cold shower, clean the rash with mild soap, dry yourself, apply hydrocortisone cream, and, if possible, a product that contains salicylic acid. Repeat every three hours.

Train rides in Sri Lanka can be a great choice to cross the country and it can be quite an adventurous experience.

One of the most exciting and scenic train rides is the up-country train tour where one can bask in the glorious sights of the lush green tea estates, gushing waterfalls and misty mountains as the train makes it climb up the hill country up to 6,000 ft. above sea level. The train ride available in the coastal region along the coastal towns, coconut-tree speckled beaches and turquoise waters is also quite striking.

Apart from the government railway network, the train services have now expanded into the private sector as well that that offers tours from Colombo to Kandy, Badulla, Trincomalee and Vavuniya. The privately-operated rail carriages offer air-conditioned comfort, reclining seats and on-board meals.

Vehicles drive on the left. Most roads are tarred, with a 56kph (35mph) speed limit in built-up areas and 75kph (45mph) outside towns. Flashing lights mean that the driver is asserting right of way. Avoid remote areas and travelling at night.

Bus
An extensive network of services of reasonable quality is provided by the Sri Lanka Central Transport Board. Private bus drivers are paid according to the number of passengers and can often drive rather dangerously.

Taxi
These have yellow tops and red and white plates. In Colombo, taxis are metered but it is advisable to agree a rate before setting off. Drivers expect a 10% tip.

Car Hire
This is available from several international agencies. Air conditioned minibuses are also available. Motorised rickshaws are also readily available for hire in towns and villages. Chauffeur-driven cars are less expensive and recommended.

Documentation
In order to avoid bureaucratic formalities in Sri Lanka, an International Driving Permit should be obtained before departure. If not, a temporary license to drive is obtainable on presentation of a valid national driving license. This must be endorsed at the AA office in Colombo. The minimum age for driving a car is 18.

Getting There by Air
The national airline is SriLankan Airlines (UL) and the national budget airline is Mihin Lanka (MJ). Other airlines servicing the country include Emirates, Singapore, Malaysian, Thai, Cathay Pacific, Qatar, Saudi Arabian, Oman Air, Etihad, British Airways, Air India, Spice Jet, Royal Jordanian to name a few.

Health Care
Treatment is free at government hospitals and dispensaries; 24-hour treatment is available at Colombo General Hospital. Some hotels also have doctors.

Note
1. A yellow fever vaccination certificate is required for travellers over one year of age from infected areas.
2. Following WHO guidelines issued in 1973, a cholera vaccination certificate is not a condition of entry to Sri Lanka. However, cholera is a serious risk in this country and precautions are essential. Up-to-date advice should be sought before deciding whether these precautions should include vaccination as medical opinion is divided over its effectiveness.
3. Typhoid occurs in rural areas.
4. Malaria risk, predominantly in the benign vivax form, exists throughout the year, except in the districts of Colombo, Galle, Kalutara and Nuwara Eliya. The malignant falciparum strain is also present and is reported to be highly resistant to chloroquine and sulfadoxine-pyrimethamine. The recommended prophylaxis is chloroquine plus proguanil.

It is suggested that visitors consider short-term health and accident policies from your own insurance company prior to leaving home. As medical evacuations can be extremely costly, we recommend that you take out a comprehensive insurance policy that will cover the costs of a medical evacuation and subsequent medical care.

The majority of hotels have internet facilities. If your hotel does not have internet or email facilities available, ask where you can find a "Tele communication". Most coffee shops and restaurants have free WiFi available as well. In addition, most mobile service providers have very attractive mobile broadband connections to keep you and your smart devices connected while on the go.

The majority of Sri Lankans speak Sinhala, with Tamil as the second language. English is commonly used by government and tourism officials. Don't expect everyone, everywhere to be able to speak it fluently - it's much more common in the beach and tourist areas. Most people in rural villages cannot speak any English, beyond a few simple words.

  • Sinhala Language: The greeting in Sinhala is "aa-yu-BO-wan" meaning "May you live longer"; "Thank you" is "sthu-thee"
  • Tamil Language: The greeting in Tamil is "Vanakkam"; 'Thank you' is "Nanri"
  • Sri Lankan Moor: If you meet a Muslim it is polite to say "Assalamu Aliakum" (Arabic); and "Thank You" is "Jaza-ka Alla" (Arabic)

Sri Lanka is on GMT +5.5.

Some important some reference times include:

  • Banks, Monday through Friday, 9.30 am to 3.00 pm
  • Currency Exchange Booths, daily, 10.00 am to 6.00 pm
  • Department stores/shopping malls, Mon through Saturday (some stay open on Sunday), 10.00 am to 7.00 pm
  • Offices, Monday through Friday, 9.00 am to 5.00 pm / Saturdays, 9.00 am to 12.00 pm
  • Government offices, Monday through Friday, 9.00 am to 4.30 pm

(Offices usually close for a one-hour lunch break between 12.00 pm and 1.00 pm)

Sri Lanka has an enormous range of Buddhist, Hindu, Christian and Muslim festivals. The Kandy Esala Perahera (July/August) is the country's most important and spectacular pageant, with 10 days of torch-bearers, whip-crackers, dancers and drummers, not to mention elephants lit up like giant birthday cakes. It climaxes in a great procession honouring the Sacred Tooth Relic of Kandy. Second in importance is the Duruthu Perahera (January), held in Colombo, which celebrates a visit by Buddha to Sri Lanka.

Other celebrations include National Day (February), which is celebrated with parades, dances and national games; New Year (March/April), celebrated with elephant races, coconut games and pillow fights; Vesak (May), a sacred full moon festival commemorating the birth, death and enlightenment of Buddha; the Hindu Vel festival (July/August) in Colombo, where the ceremonial chariot of Skanda, the God of War, is hauled between two temples; and the predominantly Hindu Kataragama festival (July/August) in Kataragama, where devotees put themselves through a whole gamut of ritual masochism.

Passports
Passport valid for at least 6 months from date of entry required by all nationals.

ETA (Visas)
All holiday or business travellers to Sri Lanka must have Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA) for entering into Sri Lanka. Please visit http://www.eta.gov.lk for more information. An ETA is issued only for short visits to Sri Lanka for business, tourism and transit purposes

Validity
ETA is valid for 3 months and a fresh ETA cannot be obtained using the same passport until that ETA expires. If you lose the passport that contains the valid ETA, you may apply for a fresh ETA by paying the relevant fee again.

Short Visit to Sri Lanka
An intended traveller visiting Sri Lanka for a short stay for any of the following purposes, must obtain ETA prior to arrival.

Visit Categories

  • Tourist
    - Sightseeing, holidaying
    - Visiting friends and relatives
    - Medical treatment including Ayurvedic and yoga
    - Participate in sporting events, competitions and activities relating to cultural performance

  • Business
    - Participate in business meetings and negotiations
    - Conferences, workshops and seminars
    - Short-term training programs
    - Participate in art, music and dance events

  • Transit
    - Transiting through Sri Lanka

Note
All foreign nationals intending to visit Sri Lanka for the purposes other than a short visit must obtain necessary visas prior to their arrival.

Post offices are available freely around the island for your convenience. Most hotels will help you with your post as well.

There are numerous mobile network operators available on the islands; it is advisable to get a connection with mobile broadband, which would allow your smart devices to be connected and functional. All these phone companies have a pay-as-you-go plan where you can buy a local SIM card for around Rs. 1,000 (do keep in mind to request for micro SIM). You will find recharge cards at any corner store throughout the island.

Sri Lanka is made of 70% Buddhists, 12% Hindus, 10% Muslims, 7% Christians and 1% other faiths.

Dressing in a modest manner is essential for men and women when visiting religious sites. When you visit a temple or other religious site, remember that photography should not be carried out in a manner causing disrespect. For instance, it is strictly forbidden to be photographed in front of or beside any statues and murals. Note that flash photography can damage old murals. Not adhering to these guidelines may result in prosecution and deportation. Do not wear any clothes or accessories with pictures depicting Lord Buddha or any other religious leaders as this may also result in prosecution and deportation.

Certain areas of the country, such as high security zones and areas of national interest, may not be accessed without prior approval from relevant departments.

There are no overland border crossings as it is an island, however deep sea expedition maybe carried out with prior approval and documentation as necessary.

In general, the threats to personal security for travellers in Sri Lanka are remarkably small. It is more pleasant to travel with a companion as it is advised not to travel alone especially after dark. If you have anything stolen, report it to the tourist police, a special police force set up to look after the needs of the tourists, by calling + 94 11 242 1451.

Sri Lanka's Shopping Scene

Among its breathtaking scenery and landscapes, Sri Lanka offers shoppers a variety of vibrant choices. Replete with colourful gems, shiny silks and soft fabrics like cotton and rayon, travellers can find everything they want — and more! — in this charismatic country.

Where To Go
Some of the country’s most well-known shopping malls are JAIC Hilton, Odel Unlimited, Majestic City, Liberty Plaza and Crescat Boulevard. Not to mention, the capital city of Colombo features some 5-star hotels with shopping centres inside. On hot days, there’s nothing like spending time in a gorgeous, air conditioned shopping mall.

What To Buy
When in Sri Lanka, take advantage of the exotic setting by investing in some of the local crafts. Sri Lankan artists are famous for their skills in working with terracotta, silver, brass, wood and bone. As such, common products on offer include ceramics, sculptural carvings and remarkable jewellery. You can often find these beautiful products for very reasonable prices. Textile work is also very popular here, so keep your feelers out for deals on batik garments, hand-woven lace and baskets.

Shaking hands is the normal form of greeting. It is customary to be offered tea when visiting and it is considered impolite to refuse. Punctuality is appreciated. A small token of appreciation, such as a souvenir from home or company, is always welcomed.

Full Name
Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka

Capital
Sri Jayewardenepura

Commercial Capital
Colombo

Area
65,610 sq. km / 25,332 sq. miles

Population
20.33 million

People
74% Sinhalese | 15% Tamils | 9% Moor | 2% other

Major Industries
Processing of rubber, tea, coconuts and other agricultural commodities; clothing, cement, petroleum refining, textiles, tobacco, rice, sugarcane, grains, pulses, oilseed and spices

Major Trading Partners
US, UK, Germany, Japan, Singapore, India, Iran, Taiwan, Belgium, Hong Kong, China and South Korea

Sri Lanka's ancient history begins in the 6th century BC, when an exiled prince from West Bengal landed on the north western shores of the island, however prehistoric evidence dates as far as back 37,000 BC. History states that the exiled prince and his 700 followers tricked the local inhabitants of three yaksha, naga and deva tribes into handing over the island to them. By 380 BC, the kingdom moved to the first capital of ancient Sri Lanka which stood tall for 1,400 years. Due to its close ties to the royals of India, this period saw the introduction of Buddhism.

Later on, due to various invasions by India, the kingdom moved to Polonaruwa all the way to Kandy due to its close proximity to trade lines and rich resources such as a wealth of spices, gems, ivory and elephants. In the 16th century, the Portuguese colonised the island calling it “Ceilao”. In the 17th century, the Dutch took over the areas held by the Portuguese, which in turn they ceded by default to the British who made the island “Ceylon”, a British Colonial colony, in the 19th century. The British took control of the entire island by means of a treaty signed by the Kandyan monarchy known as the “Kandyan Convention”.

During the British colonisation, the island was introduced to modern infrastructure, which included the present railway systems and some of the early road ways. The British were also instrumental in the introduction of tea and rubber cultivation, which remain some of the island's top income sources.

After gaining its independence in 1948, the island changed its name to the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka. The 1980s saw a period of severe unrest in the north and south. Although the unrest in the south was neutralised, ethic tensions in the north spiraled out of control resulting in a three-decade long war, which was neutralised in 2009 by many thousands laying down their lives. These decades saw the island go through many ceasefires, assassinations and suicide bombs that halted its development amongst its peers in Asia. Since then, the isle has been looking toward the future through the numerous ongoing developments island-wide.

A 10% service charge is added to most restaurant and hotel bills. Tipping is a customary way to show appreciation for almost all services and small amounts are sufficient, otherwise 10% of the amount due is standard.

Hotel and airport porters should be given USD 2 - 3 depending on the amount of baggage. Taxi and tuk tuk drivers do not expect to be tipped. Tour guides and coach drivers respectfully accept any gratuity in recognition for outstanding service.

The driest and best seasons to visit Sri Lanka are from December to March on the west and south coasts and in the Hill Country, and from May to September on the east coast. December to March is also the time when most foreign tourists come.

Out of season travel (May to October) is advantageous as it's less crowded and accommodation is comparatively low.

July and August is the time of the Kandy Esala Perahera, the 10-day festival honouring the sacred tooth relic of the Buddha, and also the Kataragama Festival in the south. Take note that during these festivals accommodation prices in both these towns can double and need to be reserved well in advance.