The majority of Sri Lanka is an incredible friendly and relaxed country which welcomes tourists eager to explore Sri Lanka’s wonders. There are miles of beautiful sandy beaches stretched along the coast which draw its fair share of package holiday makers but there is also plenty of ancient ruins, wildlife, the rolling vistas of the foothills and cheap, delicious food. Sri Lanka is rightly considered a tourists paradise in many corners of the world.
Due to a long standing dispute between the Sri Lanka government and the LTTE (Tamil Tigers) the FCO advises against travel to the North and Eastern parts of the country, despite a ceasefire which has reduced risks dramatically. The Southern area, particularly the South-Western tourist area is safe although visitors should remain vigilant against both terrorist threats and criminal activity (pick pocketing and the like). Travellers who insist on travelling to the Northern area of the Island should be aware that some areas, particularly the A9 road to Jaffna are still heavily mined from the political conflict.
- Currency: Sri Lankan Rupee (SL Re; Rs (plural) ) = 100 cents
- Time Zone: GMT + 5.3
- Language: Sinahala, Tamil and English
- Telephone Services: Country code +94, International access code 00
- Emergency Numbers: All services 1 691096 / 699935
Sri Lanka benefits from a tropical climate making it an ideal beach destination. High lying areas are cooler and more temperate although the coastal areas can be cooled by incoming sea breezes. There are two monsoon season, one around May and the other around January. At other times of the year you can expect hot, dry weather for the most part.
Things to see and do
Colombo is Sri Lanka’s largest and most popular city and is both busy and lively. Cheap accommodation and restaurants are abundant here and this makes a good base for exploring some of the surrounding regions. Sites of interest include the clock tower, the presidents residence and plenty of colonial remnants. The eastern part of the city is home to the Pettah bazaar district which is an experience in itself and a good place to do a spot of souvenir shopping as well as brush up on your haggling skills. The cities other main attraction is the Dehiwala Zoo which has a particularly good daily elephant show. Those looking to brush up on some culture should check out the Art Gallery and the National Museum which both contain some very worthwhile exhibits. The nearest beach is about 20 minutes away at Mt Lavinia although it is not as good as some of the more southern beaches.
One of the islands most unique sites is the spectacular Sigiriya fortress. Situated about 3 hours from Colomba this mighty rock foretress has in the past also been a monastic retreat and now houses a rock art gallery. It is perched on the top of an enormous 200m tall rock outcrop and is known for its spectacular 5th century water gardens. There are hourly buses to the fortress running from Dambulla which can easily be reached by bus from Colomba.
Another less known and more colourful attraction unique to Sri Lanka is the enigmatic Adam’s Peak. The 2224m tall mountain is situated near Dalhousie and can be reached by bus from any major city during the period from December to April. This peak is a major site of pilgrimage for many of the major religions due to the huge “footprint” at the top of the peak. Christians and Muslims believe that this is the footprint of Adam after he was cast out of the Garden of Eden, Bhuddists believe it is the print of Bhudda and Hindus tell that it is the mark of the god Shiva. As a result it has drawn pilgrims for over a thousand years from all kinds of different religious backgrounds. Climbing the peak takes about 5 hours but is well worth the effort.
The rail network is relatively sparse but connects Colombo with most of the tourist areas of the Island. The network is operated by Sri Lanka Railways although they do not at the moment seem to have a web presence. Rail travel is quite cheap and is much more comfortable than travelling by bus and is to be recommended where possible as the best mode of transport.
Buses are run by a plethora of local companies and range from ancient and rickety old buses right through to state of the art modern coaches. Buses are always crowded and generally uncomfortable although they are incredibly cheap and sometime the only way of getting to some destinations. The Sri Lanka Central Transport Board is one of the larger and more reputable operators.
Sri Lanka has a wide variety of accommodation available ranging from beachside tourist hotels to guest houses and B&B’s. Quality ranges from luxury 5 star facilities right down to unrated facilities.
There are not many youth hostels in Sri Lanka although there are some in Colombo, Galle, Hikkaduwa, Kandy and Pottuvil. There is at present no centralised source of information on youth hostels in Sri Lanka.
A vaccination for polio and typhoid is recommended to all visitors to Sri Lanka. These vaccinations can be obtained from your local GP and shouldn’t cost more than �40. The standard of healthcare in Colombo is quite good although emergency medical care is not available on all parts of the island. The standard is generally not as high as can be expected in western Europe and the cost of treatment can be expensive. Further to this option for repatriation are limited. For these reasons it is essential you have ample travel insurance cover from a reputable supplier.
The water in Sri Lanka is untreated and is not safe to drink, dairy products should be avoided since they are not pasteurised. Fruit and vegetables should be washed and peeled before consumption and caution should be observed when buying food from street vendors.
The Sri Lanka Tourist Board offers general travel advice for visitors to Sri Lanka.