Sri Lanka FAQ

To take full advantage of a holiday destination, especially to a richly diverse country as Sri Lanka – the small miracle – you need to know some basic facts. To help you understand what to expect, below are the answers to frequently asked questions by tourists who book a holiday in Sri Lanka. What’s more, there is a complementary list of tourist information.

Sri Lanka lies between the northern latitudes 5 55’ and 9 55’ and the eastern longitudes 79 42’ and 81 52’ 650km north of the equator. It comprises 65,610 sq. km and has 1,330km of coastline. There is a 30km divide between the island and India. 1,215km to the west are the Maldives, and to the south nothing but thousands of kilometres of ocean until Antarctica.
Yes. Under British rule the country was called Ceylon. The name was retained after independence in 1948 until 1972, when it changed to Sri Lanka – “Resplendent Land” in Sanskrit. The name Ceylon is sometimes applied – “Ceylon tea” for instance.
Anytime is a great time to visit Sri Lanka! As an year-round destination, it has two monsoons that occur in different halves of the island at different times. So if you wish to enjoy the western and southern coastal resorts when the weather is best, come between December and April. However, even during the monsoon, sunny, warm days are common, although occasional evening showers can be expected.
Whatever accommodation-type you seek is available in Sri Lanka. Five-star hotels, resort hotels, boutique properties, villas, guest houses and home stays can be found, especially along the western and southern coasts and Kandy and the hill country. In a category of their own are government-run rest houses, originally used by British colonists. As a result, many are colonial buildings, set in peaceful locations.
Sri Lanka is a very child-friendly country. People make a special effort to fuss and entertain children: when it comes to foreign children the effort is doubled. Hotels and guest houses often have family rooms. Children are well-catered for in restaurants. Baby food and nappies are available in supermarkets, though baby bottles are harder to find. Bring mosquito repellent and sunscreen. The main highlight for children is, inevitably, the beaches and all the delights that go with them. However, there are other attractions: A winding train journey into the hill country, the elephant orphanage in Pinnawela and the Dehiwela Zoo in Colombo. If you want your children to play safely while you eat or shop in Colombo, there are play areas in Odel, Urban Kitchen, and Cheers Pub, Cinnamon Grand.
Sri Lanka’s 14 National Parks offer the chance to see some of the country’s 91 mammals (16 endemic) – elephant, leopard, sloth bear, sambur, spotted deer, hog, mouse and barking-deer, wild boar, porcupine, ant-eater, civet cat, loris, giant squirrel, and monkeys such as the macaque, purple-faced leaf money and grey langur. The largest of the parks is Yala, where jeep safaris provide close encounters with leopards and also abundant bird-life. The best park to see elephants is Uda Walawe.
Every full moon day is a Buddhist public holiday, a Poya. The most important is in May Vesak Poya – a festival that marks the Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and death, worth seeing are the illuminated pandals (bamboo frameworks) hung with pictures depicting events in the Buddha’s life. Sri Lanka’s best-known traditional festival is the Kandy Esala Perahera, held in Kandy over 10 days in late July to early August. Perahera means “procession” and that’s exactly what occurs nightly – a magical passing-by of drummers, dancer’s whip-crackers, acrobats and robed elephants. A caparisoned tusker carries the reason for the festival, the Sacred Tooth Relic of the Buddha for the people.
Yes. Ayurveda is practiced more widely than Western medicine. Many hotels offer Ayurvedic treatment for guests and have qualified practitioners to advise you on how to improve your health or give various types of baths and massages.
With common sense precautions it is easy to stay healthy in Sri Lanka. Minor health problems can be treated by doctors with practices in the resorts and elsewhere in the country. If you have a serious problem, Colombo boasts well-equipped private hospitals offering the latest in conventional medical and surgical techniques.
- Never drink tap water and avoid ice and juices in places where bottled water isn’t used.
- Keep hydrated by drinking plenty of safe, clean water, or king coconut
– a cheap, healthy alternative.
- Always use sunscreen with a sun protection factor of at least 15. Remember you are just 600km from the equator.
- Do not pet or play with stray dogs – they may have rabies.
. - Mosquito repellent is essential since malaria exists throughout the country apart from the districts of Colombo, Kalutara and Nuwara-Eliya.
Sri Lanka’s compact size and the accessibility of most major attractions means that even a week will allow you to visit a number of different areas. But to experience the island properly, a two-week stay is advisable.
Sri Lanka’s cultural depth is recognized by UNESCO, which has declared six archaeological World Heritage Sites. The remains of the ancient cities of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa feature enormous dagobas (dome-shaped structures) and statues of the Buddha. Dambulla has an awesome enormous stairway, while Sigiriya is a rock with the remains of a palace on the summit and sensual frescoes. In the hill country lays the royal capital of Kandy, home to the Dalada Maligawa, which houses the Sacred Tooth Relic of the Buddha. In contrast, experience the colonial heritage of the country by heading south to the mid-17c. Dutch Fort at Galle, the best preserved in Asia. There is a seventh World Heritage Site – an ecological example, The Sinharaja Forest Reserve. Similar sites include the Knuckles mountain range and Horton Plains. Sri Pada (Adam’s Peak) is a holy mountain climbed by pilgrims – join them and appreciate the stunning views from the peak. The famous National parks (Yala, Minneriya, Udawalawe, Bundala seasonal)
The island, with a constant sea temperature of 27 C, is an ideal location for wind-surfing, water-skiing, jet-skiing, surfing, sailing, scuba-diving (including wreck-diving), snorkelling, speed-boating and banana-boating. In addition, there are freshwater opportunities in rivers and ‘tanks’ (reservoirs), such as kayaking and canoeing, and adrenaline-pumping white-water rafting, Whale & dolphin watching trips. Fishing tours.
Yes. There’s rock-climbing, caving, mountain biking and paragliding for the daring. For those who enjoy golf there are three courses across the country – Colombo Golf Club, Nuwara-Eliya Golf Club and Victoria Golf Club near Kandy. There are excellent opportunities for trekking. Nature trails of interest include the Sinharaja rainforest, the cloud-forests of Horton Plains, the Knuckles mountain range and Hakgala Strict Natural Reserve. White water rafting in Kithulgala and Seethawaka Kandy. Hot Air Balloon trips in the Cultural (Oct to April) and in down south during the season (Dec to March).
In the low country, loose cotton skirts or trousers and tops, and a long-sleeved blouse for visiting temples, are ideal for women. Men should wear cotton trousers or shorts and a T-shirt, or even the local sarong. Take a sunhat and sandals, slippers or open shoes that are easy to slip on and off. Being a conservative society, especially in rural areas, very short skirts and short should be avoided. For hill country trips pack a light sweater, and if you intend to sample nature trails, bring a pair of walking shoes or trainers. If you are traveling with children, a sunhat, loose cotton shorts and tops, including long-sleeved tops to protect them from mosquito bites, will be needed.
Rice is consumed with curries (eggplant, potato, green banana, chicken, and fish) that range from delicately-spiced to near-dynamite. There are also hoppers (a pancake-like snack), string hoppers (steamed rice noodles) and pittu (four and coconut mixture). Lamprais- rice and accompaniments baked in plantain leaves – is a legacy of the Dutch. Fresh fish, prawns, crab, squid and crayfish are readily available. Desserts include buffalo curd topped with palm-honey, and the caramel-like Wattalapam. Tasty snacks known as short eats are excellent for trips. Fruit includes mango, pineapple, banana and papaya, and the lesser-known but distinctive sapodilla, Mangosteen, Rambuttan, Woodapple custard apple and beli. Colombo has an impressive range of restaurants specializing in international cuisine.
Souvenirs often combine traditional designs such as makara (a mythical animal, lion, swan, elephant and lotus), evident in brass work (boxes, trays, vases) and silverware (ornately carved and filigree jewellery, tea-sets). In addition, ritual masks, lacquer ware, batik and handloom textiles, lace, and wood carvings are popular. More importantly, Sri Lanka has the widest variety of precious stones among the world’s gem producing countries – blue sapphires, star sapphires, rubies, cat’s eye, garnets, moonstones, aquamarines and topazes being just a dazzling handful that can be purchased – with care.