Sri Lanka is a small miracle partly due to the compact physical diversity of this pearl-shaped island - but, as we shall see, this diversity extends to virtually every aspect of life. Fringed by variously-shaped sublime beaches, from straight expanse to rocky cove, the island possesses a coastal plain containing a host of geographic features such as lagoons, wetlands, rivers and various types of wildlife-rich jungle. Sri Lanka is a multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-cultural society, a reflection of the island’s encounter with successive foreign immigrants. The main ethnic groups are the Sinhalese and Tamils, Muslims, Malays, Chinese, Kaffirs from Africa and an assortment of European traders, the Burghers.
Sri Lankans possess a warm and friendly nature reflected in persistent smiling faces and eagerness to help those unfamiliar with aspects of local life. You’ll find that Sri Lankans are very hospitable and take pride in inviting people to their homes. So don’t be surprised if a driver or guide, or indeed virtually anyone encountered, gets into a conversation with you – cricket is their favourite topic though a lot of them know quite a bit about rugby as well.
The need to conserve the environment was deeply ingrained in traditional Sri Lankan society: in the 3rd c. BC, the country’s first Buddhist monarch established the world’s first wildlife sanctuary. Today, this tradition continues with 13% of Sri Lanka conserved as national parks, reserves, sanctuaries and jungle corridors. Sri Lanka possesses a high degree of biodiversity. The Sinharaja Forest Reserve, the country’s last viable area of primary tropical rainforest has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
A safari in one of the 14 national parks offers the chance to see some of Sri Lanka’s 91 mammals - elephant, leopard, sloth bear, sambhur, spotted deer, hog, barking-deer, wild boar, porcupine, ant-eater, civet cat, loris, giant squirrel, and monkeys such as the macaque, purple-faced leaf monkey and grey langur. With over 1,600 kms of coast, Sri Lanka is an ideal location for wind-surfing, water-skiing, surfing, sailing, scuba-diving (including wreck-diving), and snorkelling, speed-boating and banana-boating. Varied landscape, wildlife, and archaeological sites offer excellent opportunities for trekking. Nature trails of exceptional interest include the Sinharaja rainforest, the cloud-forests of Horton Plains, the Knuckles (mountain range), and Hakgala Strict Natural Reserve. In addition, para-gliding, rock climbing, cave treks and mountain biking are possible.
Sri Lanka has always been a place that refreshes not just the mind and body, but also the soul and spirit. And for thousands of years, the most popular method used to restore and rejuvenate tired bodies and weary souls has been Ayurveda – the oldest and most holistic medical system available in the world. Ayurvedic programmes consist of a range of herbal treatments and various types of baths and massages, together with cleansing and revitalization techniques such as yoga, meditation and special diets. Shopping in Sri Lanka can take many forms: haggling with a handicraft-seller while sunbathing on the beach; choosing fruit from the traditional village store, the kadé,while side-stepping sacks of rice; or checking out the bargain-priced latest international fashions..
In general the threats to personal security for travellers in Sri Lanka are remarkably small. It is more pleasant to travel with a companion as it is advised not to travel alone especially after dark. The island including the North and East is safe to visit. You may sometimes be overwhelmed by crowds of people in public places (railway stations, markets, bus stands, temples or simply busy streets). "Touts" and hawkers may jostle and push and clamour to show you a hotel and sell you things. Taxis and three - wheelers are often there when you do not need them.
This information has been compiled for your reference in good faith but please use this only as a general guide. We advise you to check with relevant authorities with regard to the latest requirement for passport, visa, travel advisory, entry restrictions, health requirements, local currency etc as these are subjected to change with without prior notice and our information given below may not be as updated.
Best time to go: Sri Lanka is a year-round destination, typically tropical, generally warm and humid in plains and a bit cooler in the highlands. Monsoon is expected between December and March in North and Eastern parts and between June and October in South & West of Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka was the first country in the world to have a democratically elected head of state who was a woman.
Visa:Effective 01 Jan 2012, Sri Lanka Immigration have introduced the Electronic Travel Authority or ETA for holders of foreign passports entering the country for business or leisure. Foreign nationals should have an approved ETA in order to enter the country. ETA can be applied and paid online at www.eta.gov.lk and it takes about 24 hours to process. Entry is permitted to foreign national only with valid ETA.
The spice cinnamon originated in Sri Lanka and was discovered by the Egyptians.
Currency: The local currency is the Sri Lankan Rupee, divided into 100 cents (you rarely come across cents today). Currency notes are Rs2,000, Rs1,000, Rs500, Rs100, Rs50, Rs20 and Rs10. Beware of mistaking the Rs500 note for the somewhat similar Rs100 one. Coins are in the denominations up to Rs10. Make sure you have plenty of lower denomination notes (Rs50, Rs100, Rs500), especially when travelling and you need to buy small items, fruit, and eat cheap meals, because change is often hard to come by apart from at hotels and big shops. Credit cards are accepted by Hotels, most restaurants and souvenir shops but you will need cash Rupees for petty expenses outside the Hotels
In Sri Lanka, when someone shakes their head from side to side with a slight wiggle, it actually means “yes.”
Health: Conditions in Sri Lanka are very different from here and you need to be prepared in advance for a comfortable trip. It is advisable to consult your doctor well in advance as you may experience major change in climate, environment, food and water and general hygienic conditions. Your doctor will be able to help you prepare better. There is no general threat of a particular illness but it is advisable to carry a bug-repellent spray or cream, considering the tropical conditions in Sri Lanka. Minor health problems can always be treated by doctors with practices in the resorts and elsewhere in the country. If you have a more serious problem, Colombo has modern, well-equipped private hospitals offering the latest in conventional medical and surgical therapies.
Although cricket is the most popular sport in Sri Lanka, the national sport of the country is in fact volleyball.
Food and drinks: Sri Lanka has a fabulous variety in cuisine. Most of the Sri Lankans eat vegetables. The specialty in Sri Lankan food is that same food is differently made in different regions. With a large community of farmers the Rice and curry is the main food in Sri Lanka. An average Sri Lankan meal always consists of leaves and dry fish and several vegetable curries. The curries come in many verities of colours and flavours blended in Sri Lankan hot spices. Most of the species has a great ayurvedic value when used in curries.
Mineral water is recommended but please ensure that its properly sealed before you buy it. Popular alcoholic beverage is beer and there is a good variety of quality beer available in Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka is the world’s largest tea exporter.
Safety & security: Like in any other part of the world, a few precautions need to be taken to avoid any problems. Please do not leave your bags unattended at any times. Please use safe deposit in your hotel room or Reception to keep your money or valuables including passport. When you leave the room, it is recommended that you lock your suitcase. It is also recommended to carry a copy of your passport including the visa page.
92% of people living in the country are literate which means that they boast the highest literacy rate in the whole of South Asia.
Clothing: Cotton clothes are useful at any time of the year but you will need light woollens for the hills and waterproof clothing or an umbrella. Modest dress for women is advisable especially off the beach and when visiting religious sites. Don't forget comfortable shoes, sandals or trainers.
Language: Sinhala and Tamil are national languages but English is commonly spoken by majority of the population.
The national flag of Sri Lanka, the Lion Flag, is considered to be one of the oldest flags in the world.
Gratuities: Most of the restaurants include service charge in the bills, hence you do not need to tip the waiters. Hotel Bell Boys, guides and your driver would expect some gratuities. Tipping is not mandatory but it is highly appreciated by the people who serve you.
It’s believed that up until 1480 AD, Sri Lanka was connected to the Indian mainland
Airport tax: Generally your international air ticket should include airport tax on international departure.
Internet: Internet is common in hotel rooms and a lot of hotels also have internet facilities at their Reception or Business Centre for use by guests at a small fee. Cyber cafes are available in the city in main shopping streets at very reasonable costs.
There are nearly 4,000 elephants in Sri Lanka, but 200 years ago there may have been as many as 20,000.
Telephone: Sri Lanka has a dialing code of +94 from New Zealand. Telephone numbers of Hotels arranged by us will be supplied to you in your itinerary. While calling New Zealand from Sri Lanka, you will need to dial +64. Calling from Sri Lanka is cheap and it is advised to buy a local SIM card for your mobile as Sri Lanka has a good mobile coverage is most places.
Sri Lanka was formed, according the Ramayana, when Hanuman the Monkey King lifted a mountain and tossed it into the sea.
Time Difference: Sri Lanka is 7h30m behind New Zealand from April to September and 6h30m from October to March.
Photography: Taking photos of airports, government buildings and military establishments are prohibited. 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.
The 17th-century Temple of the Tooth (Sri DaladaMaligawa) is believed to house the left upper canine tooth of the Lord Buddha himself.
Electricity: Voltage supply in Sri Lanka is 220 volts and 2-pin or 3-pin (round pins and square pins) are used. Few Hotels have adapters available which you could borrow free of charge during your stay but it might be a good idea to carry one from home. Please visit this website for more information on plugs:http://kropla.com/electric2.htm
Because the country has lots of waterfalls, most of Sri Lanka’s electricity is powered by hydro-powered energy.
Cities of Interest
Colombo-the capital of Sri Lanka-is the largest city and it is the main financial, commercial and industrial center, although the official administrative capital is Sri JayawardenepuraKotte just 10km (6 miles) away. It is also the commercial and financial center of Sri Lanka. Colombo is a bustling and noisy, the city is an attractive blend of old and new. In the downtown area, modern skyscrapers tower over snarling three-wheeled taxis; smart businessmen jostle side by side with street vendors and Buddhist monks walk silently past expensive shops begging for alms. It has the lazy charm of the bygone era combined with the verve and vivaciousness of a modern city. The city blends together with old colonial type building, high-rise commercial buildings and hotels. It is filled with shopping malls, airline offices bazaars and interesting tourist attractions. Some of the finest structures built during the colonial times still preserved in one part of the City.
Colombo city is full of popular tourist attractions such as National Museum, Galle Face Green, Beira Lake,Cargills& Millers building, Independence Square, Viharamahadevi Park, Colombo Fort, Pettah bazaar, Beach Waadiya, Churches, Mosques and Temples of Colombo City,Railway museum and Mount Lavinia beach. Colombo is an ideal location to start the Sri Lanka sojourn.
Quiet and homely, residents cluster around the economic hub that buzzes a bazaar atmosphere. Life moves sedately, though not with inactivity. Away from tourist trappings, Kandy is filled with hidden thrills.
Passing the spice gardens, Pinnawela elephant orphanage, Mahaweliriver and the famous Peradeniya Gardens - Lord Mountbatten's WWII headquarters - you arrive in Kandy, home to the Royal Palace and the sacred Temple of the Tooth (known as the DaladaMaligawa).
The last King who transformed Kandy into a celestial city, designed the white stone parapet that runs on the north shore of the artificial Kandy Lake. The cloud-like drift on the walls and wave-like swells thus appears to make Kandy, a city floating in the sky in the lake's reflection.
Undoubtedly the greatest attraction of the city is this building, the Temple of the Scared Tooth Relic or the DaladaMaligawa. It is one of the most sacred places for the Buddhists all over the world. The temple is visited by thousands of devotees every day. Especially famous for its Sinhalese style architecture, the most dominant feature of the building is the Octagon (Pattirippuwa).
The city could be called the cultural capital of the island for its heritage - old place buildings are just beside the Temple of the Tooth. Among them are the old royal palace, quarters of the royal concubines; queen's chambers the council chambers and the armoury. Gadaladeniya Temple is a 14th century temple situated about 15 kms from the town. The structure of the temple is influenced by the South Indian architecture and built on a rock. The stupa is on a high stone platform.
Sri Lankan architectural tradition is well displayed at Sigiriya, the best preserved city centre in Asia from the first millennium, with its combination of buildings and gardens with their trees, pathways, water gardens, the fusion of symmetrical and asymmetrical elements, use of varying levels and of axial and radial planning.
Sigiriya, the spectacular 'Lion rock' fortress, stands majestically overlooking the luscious green jungle surroundings, and is one of Sri Lanka's major attractions.The Complex consists of the central rock, rising 200 meters above the surrounding plain, and the two rectangular precincts on the east (90 hectares) and the west (40 hectares), surrounded by two moats and three ramparts.
The beautifully and elaborately landscaped water gardens, contain a complex network of underground water distribution system, which provides water to the Royal baths, the many little moated islands & fountains, some fountains still work during the rainy season! A superb view of the Gardens could be had from halfway up the rock.
About halfway up the rock is a sheltered gallery of frescoes painted on the sheer rock face. The 'Heavenly Maidens' are similar in style to the paintings of Ajantha in India. Some of them are still in remarkably good condition. Only 22 out of an estimated 500 pictures now remain.
Beyond the fresco gallery, the pathway circles the the sheer face of the rock, and is protected by a 3m high wall. This wall was coated with a mirror-smooth glaze, in which visitors over 1000 years ago noted their impressions of the women in the gallery above. The graffiti was mostly inscribed between the 7th and 11th Century AD. 685 of them have been deciphered and published. The graffiti are a great source for the scholars to study the development of the Sinhala language and script.
The Northern end of the rock the pathway emerges to a platform, from which the rock derives its name Sigiriya (the Lion Rock). At one time a gigantic brick lion sat at the end of the rock, and the final ascent to the summit was between the lions paws and into it's mouth! Today the lion has disappeared, only the paws and the first steps are visible.
Covering an area of around 1.6 hectares, the remains of the foundations show that the summit would have been completely covered with buildings. The design, layout and magnificent views that it still enjoys to this day, suggest Sigiriya would have been more of a royal palace of pleasure than a fortress. A smooth slab of flat stone, often referred to as the kings stone throne, faces the rising sun.
NuwaraEliya is a mountain station at 1,868 m, in a splendid landscape and surrounded by lush tea plantations. NuwaraEliya is the main hill resort of Sri Lanka and the heart of the tea industry. The city pretends to be particularly well-kept and neat, and the always green grass gives to the locality an aspect of “colonial British style". NuwaraEliya was built entirely during the 19th century and its architecture mimics that of an English country town, with red-brick walls, country house like hill club and mock-Tudor half-timbering. Even modern buildings are built in the same fashion to preserve NuwaraEliya's unique atmosphere.
Once a pleasure retreats of the European planters the town is still very much an English town with many English style bungalows and buildings. NuwaraEliya is decidedly English in some way (houses, gardens and places names) and was actually planned to be an English village by a pioneering Englishman, Sir Samuel Baker in the mid 19th century.
Blessed with salubrious climate, breathtaking views of valleys, meadows, mountains and greenery; it's hard to imagine that NuwaraEliya is only 180 Km from the hot and humid Colombo. Temperatures are 14C-21C (Jan- April) 16C-18C (May-Aug) 15C- 18C (Sept-Dec).NuwaraEliya offers many activities for tourists including visits to tea plantations golfing, horse riding, boating, hiking and of course exploring the beauty of the landscaped gardens, waterfalls and plateaus.
Sri Lanka is one of the world's largest exporters of tea. Since the introduction of tea to Sri Lanka in mid 19the century NuwaraEliya has been the capital of the tea industry. For many miles prior to reaching NuwaraEliyafrom either direction you will find acres and acres of tea plantations, in fact nothing but tea estates. There are many factories open for visitor's which also have tea sales outlets.
A century ago, Dambulla was a mere collection of wattle-and-daub huts and ‘native shops’ that extended for no more than 200m. True, it was the location of a spacious and comfortable rest-house, but that was about all the place had to offer the 19th century tourist, except, of course, the experience of a visit to the famous cave temple on the massive rock that provided the backdrop to the village.
Today, many things have changed. Dambulla is now an extensive and modern market town, a commercial hub of Sri Lanka’s North Central Province. The streets are full of shops displaying bicycles by the dozen, a bewildering array of agricultural implements, household utensils, and much, much more. Dambulla is also the location of the country’s newest international cricket stadium, which means that overseas fans of the sport periodically descend on the area.
As importantly, however, some things haven’t changed. The surrounding area - in particular Kandalama - has seen the emergence of several expansive new hotels. The richly painted cave temple – one of Sri Lanka’s seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites - attracts a multitude of travellers and pilgrims alike.At the top of the list of things to do in Dambulla is the Dambulla Cave Temple, also known as the Golden Temple ofDambulla. Comprised of 5 caves and a picturesque facade carved into the side of a steep rock face, the Dambulla Cave Temple houses ancient statues and paintings depicting the Buddha and his life. Very close to Dambulla are the picturesque Amaya Lake and Kandalama, which are now developed as tourist areas with spectacular Hotels and facilities.