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Sri Lanka Overview

Sri Lanka officially the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka and Known as "Serendip" to Arab geographers, the island fell under Portuguese and Dutch influence and finally came under British rule when it was called Ceylon before 1972. This is an Island country in South Asia, located about 31 kilometers (19.3 mi) off the southern coast of India. The country has catered for travelers for centuries with its palm-fringed beaches, diverse landscapes and historical monuments.

As a result of its location in the path of major sea routes, Sri Lanka is a strategic naval link between West Asia and Asia. It has also been a center of Buddhist religion and culture from ancient times as well as being a bastion of Hinduism. The Sinhalese community forms the majority of the population; Tamils, who are concentrated in the north and east of the island, form the largest ethnic minority. Other communities include Moors, Burghers, Kaffirs, Malays and the indigenous Vedda people.

The country is famous for the production and export of tea, coffee, coconuts, and rubber and cinnamon - which is native to the country. The natural beauty of Sri Lanka's tropical forests, beaches and landscape, as well as its rich cultural heritage, make it a world famous tourist destination. The island also boasts the first female Prime Minister in the world, Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike.


After over two thousand years of rule by local kingdoms, parts of Sri Lanka were colonized by Portugal and the Netherlands beginning in the 16th century, before control of the entire country was ceded to the British Empire in 1815. A nationalist political movement arose in the country in the early 20th century with the aim of obtaining political independence, which was eventually granted by the British after peaceful negotiations in 1948.



Sri Lanka is tropical, with distinct dry and wet seasons. The seasons are slightly complicated by having two monsoons. From May to August the Yala monsoon brings rain to the island’s southwestern half, while the dry season here lasts from December to March. The southwest has the highest rainfall – up to 4000mm a year. The Maha monsoon blows from October to January, bringing rain to the North and East, while the dry season is from May to September. The North and East are comparatively dry, with around 1000mm of rain annually. There is also an inter-monsoonal period in October and November when rain can occur in many parts of the island.


Colombo and the low-lying coastal regions have an average temperature of 27°C. At Kandy (altitude 500m), the average temperature is 20°C, while Nuwara Eliya (at 1889m) has a temperate 16°C average. The sea stays at around 27°C all year.


When to come

Climatically speaking, the driest (and best) seasons in Sri Lanka are from December to March for the west coast, the south coast and the Hill Country, and from April to September for the ancient cities region and the east coast. December through March are also the months when most foreign tourists visit, the majority of them escaping the European winter. During the Christmas to New Year holiday season, in particular, accommodation anywhere on the island can be tight due to the huge influx of foreign visitors.

July / August is the time of the Kandy Esala Perahera, the 10-day festival honoring the sacred tooth relic of the Buddha, and also the time for the Kataragama festival in the South. In both towns accommodation just before, during and immediately after the festivals is very difficult to come by, and rates usually double or triple. Be sure to book rooms well in advance.

Sri Lanka’s climate means that it is always the ‘right’ beach season somewhere on the coast. The weather doesn’t follow strict rules, though – it often seems to be raining where it should be sunny, and sunny where it should be raining. Rainfall tends to be emphatic – streets can become flooded in what seems like only minutes.

Out-of-season travel has its advantages – not only do the crowds go away but many air fares and accommodation prices drop right down. Nor does it rain all the time during the low season.

Getting there & away

Travel documents


You must have your passport with you all the time in Sri Lanka; it is the most basic travel document. Before leaving home, check that it will be valid for the entire period you intend to remain overseas.

The plane ticket will probably be the most expensive item in your trip budget. Some of the cheapest tickets have to be bought months in advance and popular flights sell out quickly.

The airport no longer charges a separate departure tax.

Plans to resume ferry services between Mannar and India come and go with the tide. Any schemes to relaunch the route must wait until the ports are repaired, however, so check with the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (www.slpa.lk) for the latest information.

A passenger-ferry service between Tuticorin (Tamil Nadu) and Colombo has also been on the drawing board for some years, but has still not materialized. There has also been talk of ferry services between Chennai and Colombo, and Kochi and Colombo, but no plans have yet come to fruition.

Entering the destination

Entering the country

Immigration at Bandaranaike International Airport is a straightforward matter of handing your passport over to officials, who will check your visa and stamp your passport with an exit date.


Airports & airlines
The only international airport in Sri Lanka is Bandaranaike International Airport (airport code CMB; 011-225 2861) at Katunayake, 30km north of Colombo. There are 24-hour money-changing facilities in the arrivals and departures halls. There are also bank counters, duty-free shops and a cafeteria in the departures lounge.

Most of the airlines flying between Europe and Sri Lanka are from the Middle East. A better range of airlines flies between Sri Lanka and Asia (with connections elsewhere).

It’s worth reconfirming flights 72 hours in advance in Sri Lanka, as the country is a turning point for flights. Sometimes if a 200-seat plane is scheduled to fly to Sri Lanka but only 80 seats are full, an airline will send a 120-seat plane instead. If there are 200 or so passengers waiting to leave Sri Lanka on that plane, difficulties arise. The passengers who have reconfirmed stand a better chance of leaving Sri Lanka as planned.

Social Conventions
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. Informal, Western dress is suitable, except when visiting Buddhist temples, where modest clothing should be worn (eg: no bare legs and upper arms). Visitors should be decently clothed when visiting any place of worship, and shoes and hats must be removed. Jackets and ties are not required by men in the evenings except for formal functions when lightweight suits should be worn.

Getting there & away

» Full name: Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka.
» Head of State: President  Mr. Mahinda Rajapakse since November 2005.
» Head of Government: Prime Minister Mr. D. M. Jayarathne
» Population: 20.2 million (Year, 2009)
» Geographic Location: Southern Asia, Island in the Indian Ocean, South East of     India
» Climate: tropical monsoon; northeast monsoon (December to March); Southwest     monsoon (June to October).
» Capital: Colombo (commercial), Sri Jayawardenepura (administrative).
» Largest city: Colombo.
» Area: 65,610 sq km (25,332 sq. miles).
» Major languages: Sinhala (official and national language) 74%, Tamil (national    language) 18%, other 8%. English is commonly used in government and is    spoken    competently by about 10% of the population.
» Major religions: Buddhist 70%, Hindu 15%, Christian 8%, Muslim 7% (1999).
» Ethnic Groups: Sinhalese 74%,Tamil 18%,Moor 7%,Burgher,Malay and Vedda 1%.
» Independence: 4 February 1948 (from UK).
» National holiday: Independence Day, 4 February (1948).
» Life expectancy: 70 years (men), 78 years (women) (UN).
» Currency: Sri Lankan Rupee.
» Currency Code: LKR.
» Time: GMT+5.5
» Main exports: Clothing and textiles, tea, gems, rubber, coconuts.
» GNI per capita: US $1,780 (World Bank, 2007).
» Electricity: 230 volts AC, 50Hz. Round three-pin plugs are usual, with bayonet     lamp  fittings.
» Internet domain: .lk
» International dialing code: +94

Special Events
Kandy Perahera is one of the biggest Buddhist celebrations of the year. The festival is held every July / August for 10 nights culminating with the midsummer full moon in the hill capital of Kandy. (Read more)
Srilanka's surf beaches, where first-class waves for all levels of surfing abilities. Peaceful surroundings and un-crowded beaches are some of the assets of the Sri Lankan coast. (Read more)