Sri Lanka travel guide
The island of Sri Lanka lies off the southern tip of India in the Indian Ocean, a verdant paradise that is the cradle of the Buddhist faith. Apart from hundreds of miles of the world's most beautiful palm-fringed beaches, Sri Lanka boasts seven World Heritage Sites listed by UNESCO, ranging from sacred cities, palaces and cliff-top citadels to colonial strongholds, spanning nearly 3,000 years of history. To complete the picture of perfection, Sri Lanka is situated just three degrees north of the Equator, meaning the weather is constantly hot, humid and tropical. Sunny skies are the order of the day; even in the brief monsoon season there is always a daily spell of sunshine.
Adventurous visitors who enjoy some mystery and wonderment will marvel at the ancient sites of Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Sigiriya, Dambulla and Panduwasnuwara, where the remains of a great civilisation are to be seen. The cities of Colombo and Kandy show the influence of the foreign colonial powers that fought for control over the strategic, lush island in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. Dutch-inspired buildings stand cheek to jowl with Victorian British mansions and Portuguese fortifications.
There has been some trouble in paradise, with northern Sri Lanka experiencing some indigenous terrorism, but most visits to Sri Lanka are trouble free and the beautiful beaches and towns of the south and southeast coast have always been largely unaffected.
Sri Lanka offers leisure and pleasure opportunities at a gentle pace; this is no package holiday destination but rather one to be savoured by discerning travellers who enjoy the excitement of discovering what a country has to offer independently.
The unit of currency is the Sri Lanka Rupee (LKR), which is divided into 100 cents. Major credit cards are widely accepted in major cities. ATMs are becoming more common, but outside the main cities they are unlikely to accept international cards. Credit cards should be used with caution due to the potential for fraud. Foreign currency can be exchanged at bureaux de change, banks and hotels. Banks are closed on Sundays.
Language : Most people speak Sinhala, which is the national and official language. Tamil is also spoken, and English is spoken at most tourist establishments.
Electricity : Electrical current is 230 volts, 50Hz. Round, three-pin plugs are used.
Entry Requirements :
US nationals require passports valid for at least six months on arrival. A visa is required and can be purchased by tourists on arrival for a stay of 30 days. Extensions are possible.
UK nationals require passports valid for at least six months on arrival. A visa is required and can be purchased by tourists on arrival for a stay of 30 days. Extensions are possible.
Canadian nationals require passports valid for at least six months on arrival. A visa is required and can be purchased by tourists on arrival for a stay of 30 days. Extensions are possible.
Australian nationals require passports valid for at least six months on arrival. A visa is required and can be purchased by tourists on arrival for a stay of 30 days. Extensions are possible.
South African nationals require passports valid for at least six months on arrival. A visa is required and can be purchased by tourists on arrival for a stay of 30 days. Extensions are possible.
Irish nationals require passports valid for at least six months on arrival. A visa is required and can be purchased by tourists on arrival for a stay of 30 days. Extensions are possible.
New Zealand nationals require passports valid for at least six months on arrival. A visa is required and can be purchased by tourists on arrival for a stay of 30 days. Extensions are possible.
Passport/Visa Note :
Most travellers can purchase visas on arrival. These must be paid for in USD but the amount varies. Visitors should be able to show the immigration officials proof of sufficient funds for their stay in Sri Lanka. Passengers must also hold return or onward tickets and all documents needed for the next destination. Those who prefer to arrange visas in advance can do so online or at a Sri Lankan embassy. Most travellers require an ETA (Electronic Travel Authorization) filled in prior to travel to Sri Lanka - this can be done online at www.eta.gov.lk. It is highly recommended that passports have at least six months validity remaining after your intended date of departure from your travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.
Travel Health :
Food and water borne diseases are the primary cause for ill health in Sri Lanka. Visitors should only drink bottled water, avoid ice in drinks, and take care to eat well-cooked food. Hepatitis A and hepatitis B vaccinations are recommended for all travellers to Sri Lanka. Typhoid is only really a problem in rural areas, but travellers should consider a vaccination depending on their itinerary. Yellow fever vaccination certificates are required by travellers coming from infected areas. Malaria, Chikungunya fever, Japanese encephalitis and dengue fever are a risk and protection against mosquito bites is essential. Prophylactics for malaria are also strongly recommended for all regions, except the districts of Colombo, Kalutara, Galle and Nuwara Eliya.
Travellers are strongly advised to take out good travel insurance, and seek medical advice at least three weeks before leaving for Sri Lanka. Quality medical attention may be difficult to find outside of Colombo and other big cities and medications are often in short supply in Sri Lanka. Travellers should being any medication they may require with them.
A 10 percent service charge is added to most restaurant and hotel bills. Tipping is a customary way to show appreciation for almost all services and small amounts are sufficient, otherwise 10 percent of the amount due is standard. There is no need to tip taxi drivers.
Safety Information :
The vast majority of trips to Sri Lanka are trouble free. However, there is some risk of terrorism in Sri Lanka, and although foreigners have not been the targets of previous attacks, there is a risk of being caught up in incidents. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) suffered a defeat by the Sri Lankan government in 2009, but there have been scattered attacks since then. Visitors should keep themselves informed of developments and remain vigilant.
As a result of the conflict much of the north and east remains heavily mined, particularly around the A9 road to Jaffna. Although terrorism has always been more of a concern in the north, attacks have also taken place in central and southern Sri Lanka, in areas popular with tourists, and civilians have been targeted. Attacks have also occasionally occurred in the south, including in the tourist town of Galle. Security has been increased in the south of the country, particularly in Colombo, and road check points are common. There have been recent bomb explosions on public transport in central Colombo.
Violent crime against foreigners is very rare, but there have been cases of sexual assault and robbery in rural areas and women are advised to take care when travelling alone. Credit card fraud is the most common form of crime against tourists in Sri Lanka.
Local Customs :
Photography near government or military buildings is prohibited in Sri Lanka. Homosexuality is illegal. Topless sunbathing is not allowed, and visitors, particularly women, should cover up when entering Buddhist sites. It is considered offensive to pose for photographs in front of a Buddha statue. Smoking and drinking in public are forbidden. Honour, or personal dignity, is extremely important to Sri Lankans and causing an individual to 'lose face' by public criticism or anger should be avoided.
In Sri Lanka, due to the warm climate, the dress etiquette may vary according to various sectors of business. In the more formal sectors, men will be expected to wear lightweight suits, but a more casual approach is acceptable during the warmer months depending on regulation. Appointments are to be made in advance and business cards to be swapped upon first meeting. It is considered rude to be late for meetings. Business hours are generally 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday with an hour taken at lunch.
The international country dialling code for Sri Lanka is +94. The outgoing code is 00, followed by the relevant country code (e.g. 0044 for the United Kingdom). City or area codes are in use, e.g. (0)11 for Central Colombo. International direct dial facilities are available in Colombo and other major cities. Mobile phone operators provide GSM 900/1800 frequency networks with coverage across all the main parts of the island. Internet cafes are available in the main towns and resorts.
Duty Free :
Travellers to Sri Lanka over 18 years do not have to pay duty on the following items: 2 bottles wine and 1.5 litres spirits; perfume up to 59ml and 250ml eau de toilette; and souvenirs to the value of US$250; 200 cigarettes or 50 cigars and 340g of tobacco. For family members travelling together free import applies for two members. Passengers must declare personal effects to ensure free export when they arrive in Sri Lanka. Restricted items include firearms, ammunitions, explosives and weapons, plants, fruits, birds and by-products, medication (unless it is for personal use), and goods for commercial purposes. Prohibited items include drugs or narcotics, pornographic material, and material that ridicules religious belief systems.
Bandaranaike International Airport
Location: The airport is situated 20 miles (32km) from the city of Colombo.
Time: GMT +5.30
Contacts: Tel: +940 (0)11 225 2861.
Getting to the city: Most hotels and tour operators offer transport from the airport; if possible confirm in advance. Buses and taxis are available, and there is a train station close to the airport, but visitors are advised to arrange their own transportation.
Car rental: Cars can be hired with a driver through most tour operators, otherwise there are several car rental agencies such as Abans and Nambo available.
Facilities: Facilities at the airport include a bank, post office, business lounge, restaurants, snack bars, a bar and a duty-free shop.
Parking: There are two main parking lots at Colombo Bandaranaike Airport: the terminal lot is more expensive, while the remote lot, located 300 metres from the terminal, charges substantially less. There are additional charges for vans, double cabs and jeeps.
Departure tax: None.
Sri Lanka has a tropical climate, characterised by distinct wet and dry seasons, but virtually no distinction between the seasons as far as temperature is concerned: Sri Lanka is always hot and humid. The island's weather is a little complicated, however, since it has two monsoon seasons: In the southwestern half of Sri Lanka, the Yala Monsoon brings heavy rain from May to August, with the dry season lasting from December to March; the Maha Monsoon, on the other hand, brings rain to the northern and eastern parts of the island from October to January, with the dry season lasting from May to September. Note that the southwest receives a lot more annual rainfall than the north and east, and that an intercontinental monsoon period can also see rain fall across the island in October and November. The average temperature in Colombo and other coastal regions is 81°F (27°C).
Generally, the best time to visit Sri Lanka is from December to March for the west and south coasts and the Hill Country; and from April to September for the ancient cities region and the east coast. Peak tourist season is from December to March, when many visitors head to Sri Lanka to escape the European winter.
Ministry of Tourism, Colombo: +94 11 242 6900 or
United States Embassy, Colombo: +94 (0)11 249 8500.
British High Commission, Colombo: +94 (0)11 539 0639.
Canadian High Commission, Colombo: +94 (0)11 522 6232.
Australian High Commission, Colombo: + 94 (0)11 246 3200.
South African High Commission, Colombo: + 94 (0)11 246 3000.
Honorary Consul of Ireland, Colombo: +94 (0)11 258 7895.
New Zealand High Commission, New Delhi, India (also responsible for Sri Lanka): +91 (0)11 2688 3170.
Sri Lanka Embassy, Washington, United States: +1 202 483
Foreign Embassies in Sri_Lanka
Sri Lanka High Commission, London, United Kingdom (also responsible for Ireland): +44 (0)20 7262 1841.
Sri Lanka High Commission, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 233 8449.
Sri Lanka High Commission, Canberra, Australia (also responsible for New Zealand): +61 (0)2 6198 3756.
Sri Lanka High Commission, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 (0)12 460 7679.
110 (Ambulance), 118 (Police)
Sri_Lanka Emergency Numbers
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