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SRI LANKAN TRAVEL GUIDE



SRI LANKA AT A GLANCE

Country The Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, formerly Ceylon. It became Sri Lanka- and a republic – in 1972 ,with the addition of ‘Sri’ meaning ‘Resplendent’, to an ancient name for the island ‘Lanka’.

Location An island off the southern tip of India, 880km north of the Equator; latitude 5.55 to 9.50’N, longitude 70.42’ to 81.52’E

Area 65,525 km2 (25,229 square miles)

Topography Flat on the coastal areas and northern half of the island with the central and south – central parts being the hilly and mountainous

Climate Tropical in lowlands with average temperatures of 27.C. Cooler in hill country with average of 16.C

Capital Sri Jayewardenepura. Commercial capital Colombo; population of Colombo district is approximately 2.8 million

Government The executive consists of an elected president who is head of state, Commander-in-chief of the armed forces and head of the cabinet of ministers drawn from a parliament of 225 elected members

Population 21.5 million (2021 estimate), of whom 74.9% are Sinhalese, 11.2% Sri Lankan Tamil, 4.2% Indian Tamil, 9.2% Moors, with the balance being Malays, Burghers (descendants of Dutch colonists) and other

Population distribution Urban 21.5%, rural 72.2%, estate 6.3%

Literacy rate 92%

Life expectancy at birth Males 69 years; females 74 years

Economy Main foreign – exchange earners: emigrants’ remittances, tea, tourism (2.3 million tourist arrivals in 2018) and locally manufactured garment exports

Gross domestic product (GDP) 8% real growth

Gross national product (GNP) 14.5 million (2020)

Average per capita income US$ 3,682.5 (Dec 2020)

Languages Official languages are Sinhala and Tamil, with English as the official link language

Religion Buddhists 69.3%, Hindu 15.5%, Christian 7.6%, Muslim 7.5%, others 0.1%

Currency Sri Lankan Rupee (LKR or Rs)

Rate of exchange USD 01 = Rs 205, EUR 01 = Rs 235, GBP 01 = Rs 275 (June 2021)

International dialing code +94

Time GMT +5 hours 30 minutes

Electricity 230 volts AC

Weights and measures Metric

Flag Two equal stripes of green and yellow alongside the Lion Flag of King Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe

WHEN TO VISIT

The rule used to be that October to March was the best time to stay on the west coast (the sea is calm and the beach broad). April is the spring season in the hill country, and May to September is the best time to be on the east- coast beaches north and far south Trincomalee when the sea there is at its best. Now the seasons are not so predictable, the rule can be broken. Visit whenever possible for you and you might find the climate that suites you somewhere on the island.
If the cost is the main factor, then consider the so called ‘off season’ of May to September which – except for August- will yield cheaper west–coast hotel rates.

The rainy season? Well, that’s why May to September is cheaper on the west coast, but it seldom rains monsoon- style for the whole day, so it’s worth a chance. This is a tropical island after all.

Another plan would be to visit when hotels are cheaper on the east coast, which is from October to March, and stay there with tours inland. August happens to be the most expensive month of the year as the world-renowned ‘Kandy Esala perahera procession’ is held during August month. People come to witness this wonderful ceremony from every corner of the world. If you plan on visiting in August, you might want to secure your accommodation with driver and car as early as possible. We get asked to book holiday for August at least six months prior arrival.

Apart from beach seasons, in other areas’ weather stays the same all year around but for some parts, Monsoons starts from mid-October to end of November.

To Sri Lanka’s comfortable and moderate climate, rich biodiversity of flora and fauna, tropical rainforests and botanical gardens, add its varied land of forms, with mountains, valleys, lakes and waterfalls contrasting with sandy, palm-fringed beaches and blue seas with coral reefs to explore.

GETTING HERE AND AWAY

BY AIR Colombo airport (CMB) is served by almost all the major airlines in the world. The largest carriers are Sri Lankan airlines (UL – the only one with direct flights from London, Melbourne, Sydney, Dubai, Chennai, New Delhi, Dhaka, Muscat, Frankfurt, Hong Kong, Singapore, Dammam, Bangkok, Shanghai, Zurich, Tokyo, Jakarta, Kathmandu etc).

Airlines with scheduled flights include Cathey pacific (CX), Austrian (OS), Etihad (EY), Air India express (IX), Qatar airways (QR), Emirates (EK), Gulf air (GF), Fly Dubai (FZ), Saudi Arabian (SV), Singapore airlines (SQ), Turkish airlines (TK), Thai airways (TG), Royal Jordanian (RJ), Condor (DE), Air Arabia (G9), Kuwait (KU),
Air Asia (AK), China Eastern Airlines (MU), British Airways (BA), Qantas (QF) etc.

Air Fares The availability of low-priced air tickets to Sri Lanka depends on demand and seasons. this can best be researched through the travel agencies or online platforms. Or if you can go through travel advertisements in newspapers of the country from which you are flying to Sri Lanka. Colombo used to be a great place to buy air tickets for cheap prices but it’s not the same now so it is highly recommended to get your return tickets (as required by the immigration anyways).

Arrival On the plane you should be given an arrivals card prior to disembarkation. If not, you will find one in the arrivals hall and have to fill it out while passengers with ready filled cards get ahead of you in the queue. The main international airport is at Katunayake, about 35 Km away from capital Colombo.

The peak time for arrivals is 05.00 to 10.00 with Sunday being the quietest day. For the long hike along the corridor to the terminal there are moving walkaways, as well as toilets at strategic points. There is a mall of duty-free shops for arriving passengers after the immigration desks. These cater for returning Sri Lankans, which is why there are domestic appliances like refrigerators and televisions on sale. There are also two bright supermarket- style stores side by side stacked with duty-free alcohol and perfumes but no cigarettes since the importation of duty-free cigarettes, cigars and tobacco is officially prohibited.

There are some (free) luggage trolleys available on this level but most of them are to be found in the ground floor baggage hall. Luggage is delivered on one of the carousels and if it doesn’t turn up, there are counters to register reports of lost baggage.

From the baggage/ customs hall you emerge into a hall where there are bank counters and money exchange counters located. This is where you will find your representatives from travel company or hotels waiting to welcome with your name on a board. Off you go!

VISA

Entry to Sri Lanka has been streamlined for the cyber age. Whatever your nationality you can get an Electronic Travel Authorisation, otherwise known as ETA online that guarantees you an entry permit as a tourist for 30 days upon arrival. The details and the current cost (payable by online credit card) are shown on the website www.eta.gov.lk. An ETA is required by every visitor. If you haven’t gotten an ETA (it’s a document you must download and print to show at the immigration counter) then you will have to join a tiresome queue at a special desk upon arrival to pay your fee and get one there.
If you intend to stay longer than 30 days, you must obtain a visa for the required period from Sri Lankan consulate abroad before arriving. However, extensions up to 90 days from the date of arrival are possible upon application in Colombo.

GETTING AROUND

There is a saying that when you visit a Third-World country, you should travel the way locals do. The idea is that you will experience the life of in the raw, as the locals do. In Sri Lanka, FORGET IT. You are here on your holiday and why subject yourself to the horrors of the cheapest local public transport?

If you do try to use the public transport, you might be depriving a Sri Lankan who cannot afford any other method of travel, of a place on that bus, or a sear in that third – class carriage. The argument that travelling by public transport helps the economy is spurious. You would be contributing more, and more effectively to the local economy by hiring a car with a driver for a private tour. Convenience is the main reason why you should do this. You will be able to stop anywhere you want or change the sights and you will be able to see all you want in the short time available for you. If you are on public bus and you see a pretty spring bridge or a couple of copulating porcupines and you want a photograph, you haven’t got a chance.

GUIDED TOURS As one of the well reputed local tour operators, we have standard tours that make discovering Sri Lanka much easier. You may customize any trip or a package with the help of our experienced destination specialists.
For a first-time traveller, a good organized tour is the best introduction to the country as it gives a chance to visit, without hassles, a lot of the country and one can return independently to any place that seems worth a second look. Standard tours commence with pick up of the guests at the airport and then a few days’ touring they are dropped off at a beach hotel to relax and recover. This will obviously can be changed according to client’s needs. This has the advantage of a guest being met on arrival and, thanks to the presence of a Sri Lankan tur guide, includes lectures on wheels of all that’s intriguing. When booking a tour do consider the shape of you will be on arrival in Sri Lanka. If you are arriving on a long-haul flight you would want to rest close to the airport, rather than set out on gruelling seven-hour drive at the start. This will put you in a bad mood from which you will never recover during your holiday, and won’t leave you in a fit state to appreciate the ruins, the scenery….and the traffic.
If your time is limited and you are eager to tour, then spend the first night somewhere in Negombo. Or head for a beach resort to spend a few days getting over jetlag before exploring the island. This will not only help you to acclimatise but will also introduce you to Sri Lanka’s very different culture and mindset, so you will become familiar with the lifestyle. Most importantly this will help you appreciate and enjoy your vacation to the fullest.

ACCOMMODATION

Sri Lanka used to one of the holiday destinations where you do not want to book your hotels/ resorts in advance but this is not the case anymore. With the booming success with tourism and large popularity as one of the best holiday destinations in the world, Sri Lanka has achieved a lot for the past ten years. You might struggle a bit if you didn’t already plan the accommodation. Most of the time tour operators get the lowest rates from hotels/ resorts as they have a special DMC (destination management company) contract will all level one accommodation. A local tour agent will make your life easier with your holiday.

There are many places to stay. You can find any type of accommodation according to your budget. From $20 homestays to $1000 luxury boutique properties with private butler services, most of the hotels are well built and cater for mass – market tourism.

Most hotels are located close to a significant tourist attraction or in the centre of a city as guests are keen to book something where they can move from place to place without wasting much time. This way you can you will have more time to spend in each place you visit. If you are looking to explore a lot you must book a hotel in the middle of each city, otherwise you will be spending much time on the road with all the typical traffic in all Asia. Also, there are many beautiful properties when you can stay away from hustling bustling city.
When in Sri Lanka, do not forget to stay in a homestay and interact with a local family. Cook a traditional meal with them at their home and enjoy the real Sri Lankan food.

Do good research with past reviews when booking a hotel always and specially when you are booking a 03-star rated hotel. Most 05 star and luxury properties usually deliver what clients require and that is a very comfortable stay with good food or as everyone calls “value for money”.

WHAT TO TAKE

For a destination like Sri Lanka, really a hand luggage – that you can carry on the plane with you is enough. People often make the mistake of carrying way too much under the principal of ‘just in case’. In reality you don’t even have to carry much clothes too.

There is an appealing habit that you will leave all your own belonging and try all the local items because of the quality and the prices. You can get practically everything you need in here but it is recommended to bring all your sanitary items as you might find them more expensive here and the brand you require might not be available. Sun cream will be the most important item you can bring here. Books and notebooks, can be purchased in local shops; so can a torch. However, a penknife with a bottle opener is handy, but will be removed by airline security if it’s packed in your hand baggage. Take whatever gadgetry you would feel lost without, though be warned the sea breeze is corrosive and sensitive equipment may seize up. Bring prescription medicine and if you wear spectacles, it would be advisable to carry a spare pair in case of loss, although computerized eye testing is available so you could have a replacement pair made up.

Remember to bring some white clothing if you are visiting temples. Specially for Kandy ‘The temple of the Tooth telic’ as you can not enter if you do not have proper attire.

EATING AND DRINKING

The main diet is rice and curry. This is not a misnomer (for curry and rice) since rice is the centrepiece and main item of the meal, with a number of different curries offered in dishes to go with it. The Westerner might prefer curries and a little rice, but for the Sri Lankan a heap of rice is must. Not all the curries are spicy hot since the word ' curry ' refers to the sauced accompaniment rather than to something fiendishly fiery. Devilled is the word for that, as in devilled fish, which is fish smothered in chilies and served with chopped leeks, tomatoes and flame - red chili sauce. Curries are actually best savored when they are not hot in temperature, which makes them ideal for buffet service, or when the dishes are allowed to remain on the dining table to cool before you are called to eat.

The best rice and curry meals are those that are home cooked, preferably in a rural kitchen in clay pots over a wood fire. The second best are those served in country rest houses for local guests. Of course, some curries are hot and if they are not hot enough, fried and crushed raw chillies will be provided to add more fire. The addition of coconut milk will tame them a bit. If they should be too hot for your palate, try a slice of pineapple to counteract the fieriness. (A desperate Sri Lankan will ask for a teaspoon of sugar to soothe the taste buds.) Or you could try a banana, which will remove the pieces of chilli where they have settled between your teeth. Water doesn't help. You will have a wonderful time trying to identify the ingredients of curries. You will be amazed not only at the different kinds of plants, tubers and leaves that can be eaten, but also how good it all tastes. The adventurous could try eating in village cafés, those shacks with a few tired cakes in a glass showcase, for a real rural rice and curry. Although such places sometimes call themselves hotels, they do not have rooms. The less adventurous should try a real hotel's rice and curry buffet; a little of and carry Although such places sometimes call themselves hotels, they do not have everything to find out what tastes good.

Another attraction of Sri Lankan cuisine is the light snacks, some of which a called short eats (little bites). These range from savoury patties to deep - fried hard- boiled eggs with a lentil mix where the yolk should be, battered rolls stuffed with vegetables or a bun with a fish stew baked in it. Add to this a kind of pancake called a hopper (or egg hopper if an egg is fried in it), string hoppers (like a nest of vermicelli) and all kinds of roti (pancake - style bread) and you have the ideal food for travelling, since it can be popped in a bag to eat on the way. On the sweet side there is a kind of crème caramel called wattalapam and something which will make yoghurt forever seem insipid: buffalo curd. This is eaten with treacle, the natural sweet sap from a kitul palm tree. Sri Lankan fruits are delicious, as well as unusual. They can be bought from street vendors or markets. A popular drink is Thambili, the golden - hued coconut you'll see on sale beside the coastal road to Galle. The vendor will chop off the top so you can drink the water from within. He'll even provide a straw. Ask him to cut open the nut when you've finished, so you can scoop out the flesh (it looks like the white of a poached to taste young coconut at its most succulent. There are several varieties of locally produced mineral water available from about Rs70 for a 1- litre bottle.

For easy carrying, so the bottle does not split, decant it contents into your own water bottle. Good soda water - at Rs100 (from a shop, over R200 in a hotel) for a 400ml bottle - is refreshing if you want to avoid sweet drinks like Coca - Cola (about Rs30 a bottle). A great local fizzy drink is Elephant House ginger beer, at about the same price. Sri Lanka's answer to Scotland's whisky or France's cognac is called arrack There are many brands available, ranging in price for a 750ml bottle from Rs2200. The purest is coconut arrack made with distilled toddy (the sap extracted from a coconut palm). Since there is not enough toddy, most brands of arrack only have percentage of the toddy distillate blended with neutral spirit. Connoisseurs drink arrack neat or on the rocks or perhaps with soda water. Others, to disguise its smell and taste drown it with cola or Sprite (like lemonade). Its alcohol strength is about by volume and Sri Lankans prefer to finish a bottle in a sitting rather than some for another time. on imported spirits are available everywhere although expensive because of the A bottle of imported whisky, gin, rum, vodka, etc, will cost from Rs8,000 but the airport duty - free shop for incoming passengers the price will be about half the tax-paid price. Hotels and bars sometimes add as much as 300 % mark - up the wholesale price to arrive at their list price for wines and spirits either by bottle or measure. it is impossible to buy locally produced spirits by the bottle and in bars at about a quarter of the price of imported spirits.

Bottom line is, when it comes to food and drinks, Sri Lanka has a lot to offer. Food tours in Sri Lanka has become very popular experience among the guests and there are some people who comes only to be a part of it. Hence locals have come up with great ideas with this subject to offer unique and authentic flavors to the modern-day traveler who seeks the same from a unique country like this.