Facts and Figures
Srilanka, an island in the Indian Ocean is located to the South of the Indian subcontinent. It lies between 5 55’ and 9 55’ North of the equator and between the Eastern longitudes 79 42’ and 81 52. The total land area is 65,610 sq km and is astonishingly varied. A length of 445 km and breadth of 225 km encompasses beautiful tropical beaches, verdant vegetation, ancient monuments and a thousand delights to please all tastes. The relief features of the island consist of a mountainous mass somewhat south of the center, with height exceeding 2,500 meters, surrounded by broad plains. Palm fringed beaches surround the island and the sea temperature rarely fall below 27 C.
Sri Lanka lies 10 degrees North of the Equator and South East of India, separated from it by the Gulf of Mannar, Palk’s Bay and Palk Strait, which at its narrowest point, Rameswaram in India and the Jaffna Peninsula, is less than 80 km wide. The sea crossing between Rameswaram in India, and Mannar Island, off the North-West coast of Sri Lanka, is only around 32km.
There is evidence of a natural land bridge connecting Sri Lanka with India at this point, and indeed this vanished causeway, only a few meters below sea level, is still known as Adam’s Bridge. This close proximity to the subcontinent has meant that Sri Lanka’s history and ecology have always been exposed to strong influences from its larger neighbour.
Climate and Seasons
Only 640km North of the equator, Sri Lanka’s tropical climate shows little seasonal variation in temperature. Around the coasts, temperatures hover between 26 C and 28 C, with a mean temperature in the capital of 27.5C inland, however, average temperatures are very much cooler. From May to September, the South-West monsoon deposits heavy rain on the South-West coasts, from Colombo to Galle, and also raise heavy seas which make swimming and diving unattractive. The worst intensity of the monsoon is from November to February, but this will have little impact on most visitors, as the main resort areas and visitor attractions are concentrated in the South and the central hills. Local thunderstorms can occur at any time of year, and while these are often intense they do not usually last more than a few hours.
In the lowlands the climate is typically tropical with an average temperature of 27 C in Colombo. In the higher elevations it can be quite cool with temperatures going down to 16 C at an altitude of nearly 2,000 meters. Bright, sunny warm days are the rule and are common even during the height of the monsoon – climatically Sri Lanka has no off season. The South-West monsoon brings rain mainly from May to July to the Western, Southern and Central regions of the island, while the North-East monsoon rain occurs in the Northern and Eastern regions in December and January.
Temperature Chart in Celsius
Recent excavations show that even during the Neolithic Age, there were food gatherers and rice cultivators in Sri Lanka. Very little is known of this period; documented history began with the arrival of the Aryans from North India. The Aryans introduced the use of iron and an advanced form of agriculture and irrigation. They also introduced the art of government. Of the Aryan settlements, Anuradhapura grew in to a powerful kingdom under the rule of King Pandukabhaya. According to traditional history he is accepted as the founder of Anuradhapura.
During the reign of King Devanampiya Tissa, a descendant of Pandukabhaya, Buddhism was introduced in 247 B.C. by Arahat Mahinda, the son of Emperor Asoka of India. This is the most important event in Sri Lankan history as it set the country on the road to cultural greatness. As a new civilization flourished Sri Lanka became rich and prosperous.
In the mid 2nd century B.C. a large part of north Sri Lanka came under the rule of an invader from South India. From the beginning of the Christian era and up to the end of the 4th century A.D. Sri Lanka was governed by an unbroken dynasty called Lambakarna, which paid great attention to the development of irrigation. A great king of this dynasty, Mahasen started the construction of large ‘tanks’ or irrigation reservoirs. Another great ‘tank’ builder was Dhatusena, who was put to death by his son Kasyapa who made Sigiriya a royal city with his fortress capital on the summit of the rock.
As a result of invasions from South India the Kingdom of Anuradhapura fell by the end of the 10th century A.D. Vijayabahu (I) repulsed the attack and established his capital at Polonnaruwa in the 11th century A.D. Other great kings of Polonnaruwa were Parakramabahu the Great and Nissanka Malla both of whom adorned the city with numerous buildings of architectural beauty.
Invasion was intermittent and the capital was moved constantly until the Portuguese arrived in 1505, when the chief city was established at Kotte, in the Western lowlands. The Portuguese came to trade in spices but stayed to rule until 1656 in the coastal regions, as did the Dutch thereafter. The Dutch rule lasted from 1656 to 1796, in which year they were displaced by the British. During this period the highland Kingdom, with its capital in Kandy, retained its independence despite repeated assaults by foreign powers who ruled the rest of the country. In 1815 the whole island came under British power when the last Sinhalese King Keerthi Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe was captured. Modern communications, Western medical services, education in English, as well as the plantation industry developed during the British rule. By a process of peaceful, constitutional evolution, Sri Lanka won back her independence in 1948 and is now a sovereign republic, with membership in the Commonwealth of Nations and the United Nations Organization.
Government and Economy
Declared a republic in 1972, 14 years after independence, Sri Lanka has opted to stay within the British Commonwealth and maintains close links with Britain and with other Commonwealth member countries, especially those in Asia. The president, the prime minister and the single-house parliament are elected for a six-year term. With the power to dissolve parliament and appoint or dismiss cabinet ministers and the prime minister, the president is the real head of state, not merely a ceremonial leader.
Language has been a contentious issue in Sri Lanka. In the 1970s, Sinhalese demagogues promoted efforts to make Sinhala – the language of the Sinhalese majority – the sole language of education, administration and government. This was perceived by the Tamil minority as a deliberate move to keep Tamils out of government and exclude them from further education, and was a major cause of the discontent that eventually erupted into inter-communal violence. Subsequently, a compromise was reached in an attempt to satisfy both the disgruntled Tamil community and hard-line Sinhalese nationalists. Tamil and Sinhala are ranked equally as “national” languages. Tamil which is also the largest language group in Southern India and the main language of Tamil Nadu, the Indian state closest to Sri Lanka – is the mother tongue of about 20 percent of the population in total, including both northern and hill-country ‘Indian’ Tamil communities, while Sinhala is the first language of the Sinhalese majority.
Meanwhile, English is still almost universally spoken by educated people of all communities, and is the language with which Sri Lanka communicates with the outside world. Despite being the language of the former colonial power, English is also politically neutral. Most of the people you are likely to encounter in shops, hotels, restaurants and when travelling on public transport are likely to speak enough English for you to get by. Taxi drivers usually speak some English, and bus and railway personnel are usually quite fluent.
Sri Lankan visual arts, architecture, literature, music and dance, all bear the stamp of the country’s centuries-old Buddhist culture. Poetry, as well as music and dance, were almost entirely ceremonial and devotional until well after the fall of the Kandyan Kingdom to the British, but by the mid-19th century Sri Lanka was being opened up to outside cultural influences by the advent of the printing press. However, a strongly conservative Buddhist tradition has not provided fierce political repression which followed the leftist revolts of 1971 and 1987-88 and the ethnic troubles of the 1980s and 1990s have also made it hard for writers to write freely. That said Sri Lanka has its share of home-grown literary talent. Probably the best known of its authors is Michael Ondaatje, author of the acclaimed novel, the English Patient, which is also a popular screen picture.
Music and Dancing
Music and Dancing in Sri Lanka are still closely tied up with religious ritual. Kandy or ‘high country’ dance has evolved from village dances performed by the complex rhythms of several drummers who use a percussion instrument called the ‘gatabere’ – a wooden drum with leather heads of monkey skin at one end and cow-hide at the other, which make contrasting tones.
Dancers, usually women, go through a routine of sinuous pose and flowing arm movements. ‘Low Country’ or ‘devil-mask’ dancing is also accompanied by drummers, who use a special ‘demon drum’ to enhance the steps and movements of dancers wearing the grotesque masks which represent the 18 demons of disease. These dances were and sometimes still are performed with the intention of persuading the demon to leave the afflicted person.
Art and Architecture
The most prominent examples of Sri Lanka’s Buddhist influenced architectural heritage are at the dagobas which can be seen from one end of the country to the other. In the shape of a dome, the dagoba, usually painted white, often enshrines a relic of the Buddha, such as a hair or a tooth, and is usually massively constructed of brick covered with a coat of plaster. The pan tiled roofs and verandahs which grace many older buildings are the legacy of the Portuguese and Dutch. Galle has many fine old Dutch buildings, while in Kandy and Nuwara Eliya there are many surviving buildings from the British colonial era which would not look out of place in an English country town.
Statues of the Buddha are features of ancient temple sites, where they are often carved from the living rock of basalt crags and crafts. The Buddha may be represented standing, reclining or sitting in meditation. Frescoes like those at Sigiriya may display beautiful women, temple dancers or deities.
Sport and Recreation
Sri Lankans have triumphed internationally at athletics, among them, 2000 Olympic Games Bronze medallist sprinter Susanthika Jayasinghe and others, including Sriyani Kulawansa and Sugath Tillekaratne. But it is Cricket that is the first and true love of all Sri Lankan sport fans. When Sri Lanka, led by Arjuna Ranatunga, trounced the giants of world cricket to win the 1996 Wills Trophy in one-day internationals, there was dancing in the streets. When Sri Lanka’s team is playing in major international events the whole island is watching or listening. Players are major stars, and probably the most popular public figures in the country. Any patch of relatively flat wasteland or village square is likely to have its complement of small boys playing an improvised game and no matter how crude or aged the equipment, the players will be as deadly serious as any World Cup final team. If you are a cricket fan, you may want to watch a game at the Kettarama Stadium in North Colombo or at Asgiriya, in Kandy, where cricket is played from January to April.
Sri Lanka also abounds in water sports, with some excellent scuba diving excursions offered by qualified dive shops.
Gemstones and Rivers
Geologically, Sri Lanka is composed of gneiss, schist, granite, quartzite and crystalline limestone-an agglomerative, quartzite rich gemstone deposits, washed by streams and rivers from the central highlands in to lowland valleys. For more than 2000 years Sri Lanka has been a noted producer of rubies, sapphires, and semiprecious stones such as amethyst, alexandrite and topaz. From a coastal plain, the island rises to an area of South-Central highlands, which reach their highest point at Pidurutalagala (2524m/ 8281ft. Two major rivers flow out of the highlands – the Mahaweli, which flows North-East to reach the Indian Ocean near Trincomalee, and the Walawe, which joins the ocean near Hambantota on the South coast. A third, the Aruvi, flows out of the Northern fringes of the highlands and the dry zone which surrounds them, emptying into Palk Bay on the Northwest coast.
Harbors and Beaches
Sri Lanka’s natural harbours have made the island a magnet for mariners throughout its history, from the legendary Sindbad the Sailor to the Portuguese navigator Vasco de Gama and the others who followed in search of the untold wealth of the fabled Orient. Modern visitors are as likely to be drawn by some 1600km of sandy beaches, warm Indian Ocean waters and coral reefs.
Nationals from 80 countries who visit Sri Lanka for tourist purposes are exempt from visa requirements and automatically receive a free 30-day visa on arrival. Those from these countries who visit for purposes other than tourism should obtain prior visas from a Sri Lankan Consular Office. For nationals of other countries there is a varying fee for the 30-day visa.
The 30-day visa can be extended up to 90 days on the payment of a fee. You’ll need to show a return or onward airline ticket out of Sri Lanka, along with proof of funds, such as traveler’s cheques or credit card, and provide a copy of the bio-data page of your passport and 02 photographs.
Department of Immigration and Emigration,
Ananda Rajakaruna Mawatha,
Tel: +94-11-5329000, +94-11-5329316/20/21/25
When to visit Sri Lanka?
Sri Lanka is a year round destination with an abundance of sunshine all year round. The average temperature is around 27°C – 30°C in most parts of Island. The temperature gradually drops as the land rises towards the hill country, with some parts of the highland as low as below 10°C.
The island has two wet monsoon seasons; briefly between May and July in the south-west region and between December and January in the north-east. However, Sri Lanka has no off season per se as clear blue skied bright sunny days are the general rule even during the wet season.
Sri Lanka is 5 hours ahead of GMT (Greenwich Median Time), 2½ hours behind Singapore and 4½ hours behind Australia EST (Eastern Standard Time).
What to pack?
Sri Lanka has a tropical country and cotton clothes are the most ideal to wear and of course your bathing suits are a must if you are visiting the beaches. Sun tan lotion could be very handy as it can be very hot sometimes.
If you are visiting the cultural and religious sites, it is a must that you wear appropriate clothing. Gents are required to wear trousers to cover their knees or a “sarong” with a shirt or T-shirt. Ladies should ideally wear decent attire such as a trouser or a skirt to cover the knees and a blouse or T-shirt. It may not be advisable for ladies to wear deep necked or a sleeveless top.
Organizing your trip
If you are interested in booking a Round Trip program, the flight times is an important component when making the maximum use of your stay. Most travellers prefer to stay near airport in the first night (if they arrive in evenings). However most European and Middle East carriers arrive early morning to Sri Lanka which is ideal for most travellers to start the tour in the same day.
Currency/ Money Exchange
Foreign currency and Traveller’s Cheques may be changed at any hotel, although commercial banks offer better rates. Converting Sri Lankan rupees back to a selected foreign denomination could be done at the airport bank which is open 24 hours of the day. Please retain your money changing receipts.
Currency notes are in 10s, 20s, 50s, 100s, 200s, 500s, 1000s,2000s ,5000s.
Hotels and shops accept most international credit cards. No surcharge is required for their use. Cash advances may be acquired against credit cards at certain bank ATMs. Most widely accepted cards are American Express, Visa and MasterCard.
It is advisable to enquire if your card type is accepted by the establishment before the use of any services.
Banks are generally open from 9.00am to 1.00pm from Monday to Friday. Some city banks close at 3.00pm, while others offer night banking facilities. Banks are closed on Saturdays, Sundays, all public holidays and special bank holidays on June 30th and December 31st. ATMs are most found adjoining bank branches island-wide.
Most shops open at 10.00am and close at 6.00pm. Shops are usually closed on Sundays and Full moon (Poya) days. The full moon poya day has religious significance for Buddhists and alcohol is not served in hotels, bars and public recreational areas on this day.
You may be required to open your baggage for inspection. Refrain from carrying prohibited or restricted goods. Certain types of animal products, antiques and gold are not allowed to be taken out of the country.
Important Retain your shopping receipts, especially for gems.
Embarkation forms are available at the airport check-in counter and need to be filled and handed over to the immigration desk prior to departure.
Filtered, mineral and bottled drinking water is available at most retail shops. Avoid drinking water from the tap.
220 Volts/50 Hz Ac. Two and three pin plugs are used mostly.
A list of embassies is given in the local telephone directory which is provided in most hotel rooms. If not, one may be obtained at the hotel concierge’s desk. Please contact us if further assistance is required.
If you need a doctor, please contact the hotel reception. The hotel will have a doctor within the hotel premises or nearby. Pharmacies can generally be found at the commercial centre of most towns.
International Direct Dialling (IDD) facilities are available at all city hotels, resorts, post offices and telecommunication centres. Postal services are provided at most hotels and at the local post office or authorised sub-post offices. Telegrams and faxes can be handed over to the hotel reception for transmission.
It is customary to tip drivers, guides and hotel housekeeping/restaurant staff if the service is satisfactory. This is solely at your discretion. The average tip is 100 rupees for Housekeeping and 10% of your meal bill for restaurant staff.
Food & Drink Tips
Your hotel provides safe and high quality food and we, as a policy do not recommend restaurants outside the hotel. Always wash and peel fruit before consumption. Drink plenty of water during the day to avoid dehydration.
On leaving the country you are allowed to export up to 10kg of tea duty free.
Purchase and export without license of any wild animal, bird or reptile, dead or alive . also the export of parts of animals, birds or reptiles, such as skins, horns, scales and feathers is prohibited. Occasional exports are, however, permitted exclusively for bona fide scientific purposes. It is prohibited to export of 450 plant species without special permits. The export of coral, shells or other protected marine products is also strictly prohibited.
Applications for special permission to export fauna should be made to the Director, Department of Wildlife Conservation.
Foreign currency regulations
Visitors to Sri Lanka bringing in more than US$10,000 should declare the amount to the Customs on arrival. All unspent rupees converted from foreign currencies can be re-converted to the original currency on departure as long as encashment receipts can be produced.
Banks are open from 0900 hrs to 1300 hours Monday to Friday. Some city banks close at 1500 hrs, while some are open on Saturday mornings. It’s easy to withdraw money across the island at ATMs using international credit cards or debit cards.
Sri Lanka Standard Time is five and a half hours ahead of GMT. (Allowance should be made for summer-time changes in Europe.)
Sri Lanka has two official languages . Sinhala and Tamil – with English as a link language. Most people have some knowledge of English, and signboards are often in English.
Photography: Restrictions & Permits
Sri Lanka is a tremendously photogenic island, so it’s hardly surprising that most tourists bring a camera of some kind when they visit the country. The stunning landscapes, the captivating fauna and lush flora, and the stupendous archaeological remains provide great opportunities: a bonus is that Sri Lankans love to be captured on film. So it’s easy to capture the traditional rural lifestyle. You’ll find villagers, farmers, fishermen and tea pluckers will readily stand in front of your viewfinder. Your subjects will often ask to have a copy of picture sent to them. This may be laborious, but it is a reasonable courtesy as many may never have seen a picture of themselves. It is also understandable that many will also expect a token recompense for allowing themselves to be photographed.
There are some important restrictions that apply to photography regarding Buddhist imagery. 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.
Usually all visitors to Sri Lanka travel by air; flights arrive at the Bandaranaike International Airport, 35 km north of Colombo, and 6 km of Negombo.
Mobile phones have been made so affordable in Sri Lanka that almost everybody has one, and coverage has extended beyond the major cities. There are four main network operators on the island; Dialog GSM , Mobitel, Etisalat, Airtel and Hutch. If you’d rather not use your own mobile phone on roaming but still want to be contactable, the cheapest alternative is to get a mobile phone connection with one of these major companies. All these phone companies have a pay-as-you-go plan where you can buy a local SIM card for around Rs.300 (that will work in GSM phones from Europe, the Middle East and Australasia) and keep adding money to the connection as you require it. You will find recharge cards at any corner store throughout the island.