The tropical island nation of Sri Lanka has a history dating back to the birth of time. It is a place where the original soul of Buddhism still flourishes and where nature’s beauty remains abundant and unspoilt.
The tropical island of Sri Lanka, formerly know as Ceylon, is rich in history and tradition. Old colonial powers have long since gone, but the Portuguese, Dutch and British influences still impact on the culture, religion, architecture and cuisine of this fascinating country. Picturesque beaches dot the coast, while majestic mountains, tea estates and rain-forests cover the interior.
Sri Lanka is a teardrop-shaped island in the Indian Ocean just below the Southern tip of India, and lying North of the equator.
For a small island, Sri Lanka has many nicknames: Serendib, Ceylon, Teardrop of India, Resplendent Isle, Island of Dharma, Pearl of the Orient. This colourful collection reveals its richness and beauty, and the intensity of the affection it evokes in its visitors. Head for the rolling hills, to escape the heat of the plains in the cool of tea plantations. The entire island is teeming with bird life and exotics like elephants and leopards are not uncommon. Sri Lanka’s blend of ethnicities has often produced friction and tragedy, but it makes for an interesting culture. Traditional art and architecture is predominantly Buddhist, and the country is dotted with stupas and sculptures of the Serene One. Traditional dance is all about agility and symbolism. Food is often fiery hot, with hoppers (pancakes) to wrap it up, and the tea is as marvellous as you would expect.
Sri Lanka has a history that dates back to over 2,500 years. It had established trade and cultural links with many ancient civilizations. Throughout history, it has been known by different names. To the Greeks it was Taprobane, to the Arabs it was Serendib, to the Portuguese it was Ceilao, to the Dutch it was Zeylan, and to the British it was Ceylon. Sri Lanka was the ancient name meaning “The Resplendent Isle”.
Sri Lanka enjoys a tropical climate throughout the year. There are no seasonal variations except for the bi-annual monsoon rains. Being closer to the equator, the temperature is high throughout the year. The average temperature in Colombo is 27 degrees centigrade (80 degrees Fahrenheit). This is accompanied by high levels of humidity. However, in the different parts of the island, the temperature and the climate vary according to the terrain. The higher you go, the cooler it gets. In the mountainous regions of Nuwara Eliya, the temperature averages 16 degrees centigrade (61 degrees Fahrenheit).
As a general guide, comfortable casual and semi-casual clothes are best for day-time with smart casual clothes for evening wear. Clothing made of natural fibres is best in tropical and sub-tropical climates, and with hats should provide adequate protection from the sun.
Food & Water
Standard 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 Sri Lanka. A speciality is basic curry, made with coconut milk, sliced onion, green chilli, spices such as cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon and 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).
Sri Lankan Rupee (Rs). ATMs which accept the major cards, such as MasterCard, American Express and Visa are available in Sri Lanka. Now available Foreign ATMs in Colombo and Kandy city (USD,GDP).
Sinhala and Tamil are both national languages. English is widely spoken.
Internet & Email
Internet facilities available in most tourist areas are reasonably priced and major hotels will also have internet access.
230V – 240V 50 cycles alternating current. Round three-pin plugs are usual, with bayonet lamp fittings, so a travel adaptor is recommended.
Sri Lankan masks are popular collectors’ items, from key-rings to large wall decorating sizes, as are Batik pictures and clothing items. Good quality low priced leatherwork can be found especially as bags and cases.
Sri Lanka’s famous gemstones remain an important industry with countless showrooms and dealers throughout the country and the State Gem Corp. will test for you free or provide a certificate for a small fee but of course it isn’t easy to take away a stone to test before you buy! Be aware of regulations which could affect your ability to bring items such as woodenware, coconut products, teas and spices etc, as well as those from endangered species, back into the country.
Best for families
Many of our hotels are on the island’s beautiful beaches. At Mount Lavinia, just 12km from Colombo, relax and enjoy the sea, joining the locals playing cricket and surfing on Sundays. The typical fishing town of Negombo, set amid lush coconut groves, has great, spicy seafood. And south of Colombo, Beruwela marks the beginning of a glorious 130km stretch of beaches, with great bathing in the bay year round.
Best for couples
Trincomalee – Known as Trinco to the locals, this unspoilt destination was visited by Horatio Nelson who described it as having the finest harbour in the world! With a thriving market at its centre and wonderful beaches you can bask in the sun or engage in something a little more active with surfing, diving and even whale and dolphin watching.
This exotic island is a haven for romance. Take your vows on a perfect beach, in a flower-filled garden, or in the jungle amid the ruins of an ancient kingdom, accompanied by dancers, drummers and traditional singers. Spend your honeymoon relaxing on the beach, enjoying Ayurvedic spa treatments and touring the hill stations, tea plantations and rainforests. Take the most romantic, sea view rooms, or private villas.
No matter when you visit, Sri Lanka will enchant you with its natural beauty, easy-going pace of life, and its rich traditions. With a large population of elephant and leopards and its diverse landscapes, this country is truly special. There are adventure holidays available and luxury hotels with attractive over-water bungalows: a holiday in Sri Lanka can make your wildest dreams a reality.
Feel the festive spirit – Party Sri Lankan style. Heaps of festivals and public holidays happen throughout the year, like Vesak, a May festival that commemorates the Buddha’s birthday. Lanterns light up the streets while pilgrims flock to the temples. And if you feel like fire-dancing might spark your mojo, check out Kandy’s Esala Perahera in July or August.
Climb the Sigiriya Rock Fortress – Play the conquering hero and breach the walls of this ancient rock fortress. When you’re finished celebrating your victory, head to the Sinharaja Forest Reserve. A UNESCO heritage site, it’s packed with amazing wildlife – from horned lizards to Asian elephants.
Sight Seeing Ideas
Visit a working tea plantation – Fancy a cuppa? Head into the hills to Nuwara Eliya. You’ll visit a working tea plantation in this lush and stunning landscape and settle down to a tea-inspired meal. We love Ceylon Tea Trails, which also doubles as a 5V boutique hotel.
Sri Lanka’s history dates back many centuries, providing subjects of great interest to the more studious visitor. Being under British rule for over 100 years, English is widely spoken in Sri Lanka, making holidays to Sri Lanka stress-free as far as communication with the locals is concerned. One of the few remaining countries where Buddhism is the dominant religion, you will see monks throughout the country, but particularly in the largest city of Colombo. Temples seem to be everywhere you look, some ancient and imposing, some very ornate and beautiful. Many temples offer tours, and a respectful visit is recommended when on holiday in Sri Lanka.
The country’s “cultural triangle” lies toward the drier centre of the island and includes archaeological ruins from the 4th century B.C., cave paintings, and ancient ruins deep in the forests. If the opportunity arises visit Dambulla’s Golden Temple. It was built within caves and houses a large collection of Buddhist statues. This can be followed by an elephant trek – crossing a river on the back of an elephant is quite an experience! When you have recovered and are ready for more action, head toward one of the coasts and try your hand at surfing, diving, snorkelling, or kite surfing. To truly appreciate the diversity of wildlife in Sri Lanka, it is a good idea to spend some time on a birdwatching tour or a wildlife safari. Eco-tourism is certainly on the rise, and holidaymakers can take guided trekking or biking tours, as well as 4WD Jeep tours to view the abundant wildlife and learn more about the countryside.
Yala National Park – Reminiscent of the African bush and recognised as one of the best parks in the world to observe and photograph leopards, Yala is also an ideal background to view animals such as crocodile, elephants and wild boar.
Kandy – Founded in the 14th Century and home to the Temple of the Tooth, a sacred Buddhist site, Kandy is a delightful mix of old shops, antique and gemstone specialists and a bustling market in its center.