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Sri Lanka Country Guide

visiting-sri-lanka-travel-tips

With more than 2000 years of culture, numerous UNESCO world heritage sites, beautiful beaches, delicious food, and variety of wildlife, visiting Sri Lanka offers an unforgettable experience. Known as the 'pearl of the Indian Ocean' it is home to some of the world's most ancient cities.

Located in southeast Asia, it hasn't been overrun with tourism in comparison to its neighboring countries. It remains affordable and largely uncrowded. Though prices are still cheap, they are also rising quickly, so now is the best time to discover Sri Lanka.

It is simply amazing how a small island nation can contain so much beauty. The population is 21.2 million but many travelers say it feels much bigger than it actually is because there are countless things to do in Sri Lanka.

The capital city of Sri Lanka is Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte (Kotte), though this is actually a suburb of Colombo, the largest city. With its boutiques, jazz clubs, rooftop bars and reputable restaurants, Colombo is a lively, interesting city to visit.

What to do in Sri Lanka?

What is there to do in Sri Lanka? Visiting its temples and timeless ruins is a must as Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, and Digamadulla are some of the oldest cities in the world. Sigiriya, the 200m-high ancient rock fortress known as 'the eighth wonder of the world', and the Golden Temple of Dambulla, the atmospheric network of cave temples, are particulary popular tourist attractions in Sri Lanka.

Safaris in Sri Lanka offer the opportunity to see elephants, leopards, water buffaloes and innumerable species of birds and primates. Sri Lanka has the densest concentration of leopards in the world and is inhabited by around 5,800 wild elephants. You can also swim with dolphins and dive with blue whales at certain times of the year.

Endless beaches and rolling waves make Aragum Bay the perfect location for surfing in Sri Lanka. Hiking the Knuckles Mountain Range, white-water rafting in Kitulgala and cycling holidays are also becoming increasingly popular activities. With an abundance of coral reefs and tropical fish, it is also a world-class destination for snorkeling and scuba diving.

Sri Lanka was formerly known as 'Ceylon', which is where the name of its world-famous tea derives from. Sri Lanka is the fourth biggest producer of tea in the world and its lush green plantations make for stunning scenery, you can also see how it's made first-hand and try some samples too.

The distances are much more manageable than in neighboring India and Sri Lanka's slow pace of life makes it the perfect place to relax. If you want to visit southeast Asia, but want a less hectic and stressful experience, Sri Lanka is the ideal destination for you.

Sri Lanka Basic Information

  • Country: Sri Lanka
  • Capital: Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte
  • Population: 21
  • Currency: Sri Lankan rupee
  • Language: Sinhala, Rodiya
  • Time Zone: GMT+5:30

When to Go

The temperatures in Sri Lanka remain fairly constant all year round (26-30°C) as it lies close to the equator. The main consideration is avoiding rain, there are two separate monsoons which affect the weather in Sri Lanka:

  • Southwest ‘Yala’ monsoon: hits the west and south-west coasts from April to June.
  • Northeast ‘Maha’ monsoon: affects the east coast from November to March.
  • Inter-monsoonal period: an unsettlled period of weather in October and November when storms and rain can occur at any part of the island.

This rain pattern does vary each year, and with global warming, it’s even more unpredictable. When is the best time to visit Sri Lanka? Thankfully there’s normally always a part of the island which has good weather at any time of the year. The best months to visit Sri Lanka are December to March for the South and West coasts, and May to September for the east.

Sri Lanka is a good destination for:

Sri Lanka Entry Requirements

On entry to Sri Lanka, visitors should have a valid passport with six months, and a blank page for a stamp, remaining.

It is also necessary to obtain a visa, which you can apply for online before you go. You can apply on arrival (using US dollars or credit card) but you could be subject to long waits, so it is recommended to apply before you go.

The cost of the visa will depend on the length of the stay and whether it is a single or multiple-entry visa. The standard Sri Lankan visa lasts either 30 or 90 days and normally takes two days to process, after the initial application, though for good measure it is recommended to allow for at least four days.

Visas can be extended by applying to the Department of Immigration and Emigration.

Sri Lanka Country Atractions

For an island of its size, there is a surprising amount of things to do in Sri Lanka. The diversity of its wildlife, range of landscapes and ancient temples mean that there is something for everyone.

Things to see and do in Sri Lanka

  1. Sigiriya. This huge ancient rock fortress juts out of the northern Matale district. Standing 200m high, this UNESCO world heritage site is wondrous to behold. Its vertical walls rise to the summit that contains the ruins of an ancient civilization.
  2. Yala National Park. The most visited park in Sri Lanka covers 978 square kilometers and is best known for its variety of wildlife and its role in the conservation of Sri Lankan elephants and leopards. It contains a range of ecosystems including misty forests, freshwater lakes, and coves.
  3. The Golden Temple of Dambulla. This world heritage site is the biggest and best-preserved of the Sri Lankan cave temples. Ancient and atmospheric, it’s are filled with relics such as Buddha statues and cave paintings which will take you back in time.
  4. Surfing in Sri Lanka. The south-east of the island is known for its perfect waves and long barrels, particularly Arugam Bay with its golden sand, beach parties, and its friendly and easy-going atmosphere. Never been surfing before? Why not take some classes there?
  5. Snorkeling and scuba diving. Sri Lanka is a world-class destination for snorkeling and scuba diving and is sometimes referred to as the ‘pearl of the Indian Ocean’. Get ready to see an abundance of tropical fish and coral reefs. The best places are mainly located on the south coast.
  6. Tea plantations (Ella Rock). Sri Lanka is famous for its Ceylon tea so why not walk through the lush green tea plantations on a four-hour trek up to Ella Rock where you can enjoy some of the best views the island has to offer and try some of the world-famous tea.

 

Travel Tips

  • Traveling around Sri Lanka is slow, though the distances are not vast,  due to the heavy traffic combined with the basic infrastructure. This is improving but it worth factoring in extra time for traveling when planning your trips.
  • Change your money before you go! There are many places to get Sri Lankan rupees though you are often at the mercy of the person behind the counter, you can haggle to get a better exchange rate though it’s better to get them before you go. Don’t take travelers’ cheques to Sri Lanka as a lot of places don’t accept them. There are plenty of ATMS in Sri Lanka, it is best to let your bank know before going so that they don’t block your card. What is the exchange rate for Sri Lankan rupees? One US$1 is approximately 150LKR.
  • Explore the unspoiled north of Sr Lanka. This part of the country has only recently been opened up to tourists as is untouched. Southeast Asia is largely overrun with tourism but here you can discover a region which few others have.
  • Treat yourself! Prices are low in Sri Lanka (though they are rising), so you can afford to splash out and enjoy some of the luxuries the island has to offer. Whether it be shopping, high-end hotels, or gourmet food, why not take advantage of your time there?
  • Where to book accommodation in Sri Lanka? As traveling around Sri Lanka is slow, you should try and book places close to points of interest. This will make your days more manageable and let you pack more into your holiday.
  • Be prepared for creepy crawlies! The hot, sticky climate of Sri Lanka means that insects are everywhere. You are likely to encounter many different species and this includes mosquitoes. For this reason, it is important to get vaccinations before going to Sri Lanka.