Sri Lanka has more than 2,550 years of continuous written history by means of the Mahawansha, and was also mentioned in several ancient Indian texts. One of the most famous is the Ramayana, in which the island, which was referred to as Lanka, was the island fortress of the king Ravana, who captured the wife of Rama an incarnation of the Hindu God, Vishnu. Legend has it that Hanuman the monkey god flew over to Lanka and destroyed the capital by setting it on fire, while Rama and his remaining troops later crossed over from the mainland by building a land bridge across the sea.
The Sinhalese arrived in Sri Lanka late in the 6th century BC, probably from northern India. Buddhism was introduced beginning in about the mid-3rd century BC, and a great civilization developed at such cities as Anuradhapura (kingdom from c. 200 BC to c. 1000 AD) and Polonnaruwa (c. 1070 to 1200). Other notable but relatively more recent kingdoms are Dambadeniya, Yapahuwa, Gampola, Kandy and Jaffna Kingdoms.
Partially occupied by the Portuguese in the 16th century and by the Dutch in the 17th century, the coastal parts island was ceded to the British in 1796, and became a crown colony in 1802. The entire island was ceded to the British in 1815. As Ceylon, it became independent in 1948; the name was changed to Sri Lanka in 1972.
In May 2009 government military forces defeated the Tamil Tigers' separatist movement and ended a brutal 26 year-long war that began in 1983, thus opening up a new chapter in its history.
Since Sri Lanka is a tropical country, you can expect the rain anytime of the year in most parts. However, the two major rainy seasons are North-East monsoon (October to January) and South-West monsoon (May to July).
Being an island, the climate of Sri Lanka changes dramatically from one part of the country to another. For example at Nuwara Eliya, in the hills of Central Sri Lanka, has a temperature around -5-20°C throughout the year, whereas Hambanthota, located in the dry zone, has a temperature consistently around 30-35°C.
Mostly low, flat to rolling plain with mountains in the south-central interior rising to 2,524m at Piduruthalagala.
Sinhala, spoken by the majority Sinhalese, and Tamil, spoken by the minority Tamil and Muslim groups, are Sri Lanka's two official languages. English is commonly used in most cities, especially Colombo, Kandy and Galle, and by government and tourism officials. But while most of the people in Colombo can speak English, don't expect everyone, everywhere to be able to speak it fluently. In the beach and tourist areas you will have no problem with English. Most people in rural villages, however, cannot speak any English, beyond a few simple words.
Sinhala writing is much more curved than Tamil. After a while, you'll learn how to distinguish between the two.
See also: Sacred sites of the Indian sub-continent
If you are planning to visit Sri Lanka, understand that those people who have images of the Buddha as tattoos on their bodies may be turned away. Even a passenger on a transit flight had a bad experience for having such a tattoo on her body. There are no issues with other non-religious tattoos.
This is nearly a smoke free country and smoking in public places is prohibited including inside buses and trains. Violators can be prosecuted.
Photographing with your back to statues of the Buddha or posing in an inappropriate manner next to them are prohibited. Violators will be booked.
Online visa should be applied for by citizens of all countries except Singapore and Maldives before entering. This "Tourist ETA visa" is valid for 3 months, starting from the day it has been approved. The visa is double entry which means you can enter the country twice during the three months' time. In each entry, your maximum length of stay is 30 days. A visitor wishing to stay more than 30 days in Sri Lanka may apply for an extension. The short visit visa may be extended up to 90 days from the date of arrival at the first instance and further 90 days at the second instance. Note that even with ETA visa, you still need to fill the Immigration Form which asks the very same questions again.
In the event of a rejection, the system will send a referral notification to the applicant and he/she needs to contact the nearest Sri Lanka Overseas Mission for necessary assistance. If your country doesn’t have a Sri Lanka Overseas Mission please contact the 24 hour emigration hotline on 0094 719 967 888. However, The Department maintains a no refund policy on your visa application fees.
You can also apply for visa on arrival but be warned that it can take long and there may be problems.
Visa charges are USD15 for SAARC countries (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal and Pakistan) and USD30 for others.
IMPORTANT: As of February 2015, immigration authorities at Colombo airport are very demanding with respect to the accuracy of the passport number on your electronic travel authorization obtained online. A single digit mistake is taken as a reason to force you to buy a new visa and refer you to some obscure government office in Colombo for refunds of your online payments. Be careful about 1 vs. I and zero vs. O. The number should exactly match the machine-readable section of your passport, and not anything else (for example, Russian passports have a non-alphanumeric number sign that should be completely excluded).
Extensions can be made at the Department of Immigration (011-532 9300; 41 Ananda Rajakaruna Mw, Col 10; M-F 09:00-16:30), in Punchi Borella, Colombo. The last payments are received at 15:30. (14:30 as of 01/16) The department sets the cost in US dollars, but you pay in rupees. A visa extension gives you a full three months in the country and you can apply for your extension almost as soon as you arrive (the 30-day visa given upon entry is included in the three months). A further three-month extension is possible, but you must again pay the extension fee plus another LKR10,000. Extensions beyond this are at the discretion of the department, and incur a LKR15,000 fee plus the extension fee.
See above for fees for the first 90-day extension. (The fee varies greatly. $20-30 for many most countries listed, $54 for UK passport holders, $100 for US passport, and $200! for Tanzanian passport holders. 01/16)
The whole process takes about an hour. First, go to the 1st-floor office and pick up a visa-extension application form from the person closest to the door. You then work your way along the counter, through six or seven stages of stamps and receipts. Then you wait 30 minutes or so while your passport works its way back down the counter and is returned to you.
You will need your passport, an onward ticket and either a credit card or foreign exchange receipts.
Tourist visas for India can be obtained at the High Commission of India (242 1605; email@example.com; 36-38 Galle Rd, Col 3). The cost of a six-month visa depends on your nationality, and you’ll need to supply two photos. It takes at least five days to process a tourist visa, but only one day if you are a foreign resident in Sri Lanka. Lines tend to be very long. You can also obtain an Indian visa in Kandy at the Assistant High Commission of India (081-222 4563; firstname.lastname@example.org; Box 47, 31 Rajapihilla Mawatha). Kandy makes a good alternative to Colombo because it’s not as busy.
SriLankan Airlines (flight code UL) is the national flagship carrier operating to and from Colombo-Bandaranayake International Airport (IATA: CMB). Flights are available from cities throughout Europe, Southeast Asia, China, Japan, the Middle East, India, and Pakistan. SriLankan Air also flies to the nearby destinations such as Chennai, Trivandrum, Mumbai, Delhi, Cochin, Bangalore and the Maldives.
Emirates Airlines connects many major European cities and others worldwide to Colombo with several flights daily from Dubai and Singapore to Colombo. The airline operates 777-300ER wide body aircraft on these routes.
Other options are Jet Airways or its offshoot Jetlite.
Mihin Lanka, Sri Lanka's first (and only) low-cost airline started operating in 2007. They fly to Dubai in United Arab Emirates and Tiruchirapalli and Buddhagaya in India. Mihin Lanka now has non-stop services from Colombo to Dhaka, Medan and Jakarta.
Air Asia now operates from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to Colombo, Sri Lanka. This opens ups cheap flight for visitors from South East Asia as well as those who are visiting South Asia and then heading to South-East Asia (or vice-versa).
Singapore Airlines flies daily between Colombo and Singapore.
Turkish Airlines offers direct flight from Istanbul to Colombo.
Oman Air has announced flights to Colombo via Muscat and Male, they seem to have special prices for their new destinations' start (Frankfurt, Munich, Paris, Male, Colombo).
Other airlines such as Singapore Airlines, Malaysia Airlines, Thai International Airways, Cathay Pacific, Saudi Arabian, Condor (Germany), Spicejet (India), Meridiana (Italy), and JetAirFly (Belgium) operate to Colombo-Bandaranayake from their respective home bases.
There are no direct flights that reach Sri Lanka from cities outside Asia, the Middle East and Europe. From the American West Coast, the distance is almost half the globe. Depending on your preferences and how much spare time you have, you can consider a stopover in Europe or SE Asia or take a non-stop flight over the North Pole to New Delhi or Mumbai from Chicago, Newark, New York City (JFK), or Toronto. In many cases, this may be the fastest route, but check if an Indian transit visa is required. Another fast and easy idea is to use Middle Eastern Airlines from the US with stopovers in either Qatar, Bahrain, or the UAE (no transit visa required). For example Dubai based airline Emirates offers daily flights from SFO, LAX, Houston (IAH),SEA (Seattle) and Toronto (YYZ) with a very short stopover before the short flight to Colombo. Emirates Airlines offer non-stop service to Colombo two to three times daily from Dubai. In 2013, SriLankan Airlines joins the Oneworld alliance which will allow through passage with American Airlines, as well as several Asian, European, and Middle East airlines.
The Tuticorin-Colombo passenger ferry service, suspended for years due to the civil war, commenced services in June 2011, but this service is currently suspended. The Scotia Prince ran twice a week until November 2011 when the ferry was discontinued indefinitely. The company has yet to announce an official date for resumption of the service. 
If you would like to travel via cargo ship, please note that according to the customs office in Tuticorin it is considered illegal for a cargo ship to transport passengers from the Tuticorin Port to Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka has been included in its destinations list for 2011 by American cruise operator Zegrahm Expeditions . The line plans four voyages that stop in Sri Lanka in 2011.
The most common mode of transport in Sri Lanka is a three-wheeler (Tri-Shaw). Also known as Tuk-Tuks from the noise of their horns. These operate in a manner similar to taxis, and in many situations are a convenient and highly cost-efficient way to get around. Safety is a concern however, as none of them have seat belts and they are open to the sides.
Three-wheelers are ubiquitous in Sri Lanka. On any given street, you'll hardly have to wait more than a couple of minutes without one going by that you can wave down. If you're travelling with luggage, there are slightly larger three-wheelers with more space for your bags that you can look for.
Some are metered and some are not. If available then always prefer the metered and make sure they turn the meter on. This trip will cost you much less than an agreed price. If metered are not available (specially in countryside or smaller places) then agree a total price (which will be a few times more than normal if you are a tourist).
While it may be the most novel way to get around, it may not be the most cost efficient in every situation. Public transport is cheaper by far, and most three-wheel drivers tend to over-price foreigners, so never agree to the first estimate. The best price you can get is about LKR50-75 per km for short journeys and about LKR30-50 for long journeys ( more than 15km). If you do come across a metered Tri-Shaw make sure the meter is switched on. Taxis are slightly more expensive but surely a lot safer. Having said that, you probably have not experienced everything Sri Lanka has to offer until you travel in one.
Rented cars usually turn out cheaper than three-wheelers, and are less prone to road accidents--and are recommended by most hotels.
With Driver: Rented cars often come with their own drivers. Often the automobile itself is free, whereas the driver will charge a fee for his services. Some drivers/guides are government-licensed; some are extremely knowledgeable and multi-lingual, specializing in historical and cultural knowledge, and environment/natural history for your visits to the ancient sites and the natural reserves. Some of them may charge extra money, if you want switch on the A/C. You can book good cars from most of the Colombo hotel reception counters or from special counters located next to it. They will provide hotel Logo marked cars for rental with their own drivers. They are good for airport drops or moving within the city. Check the price first before you book it.
Self Drive: First of all you need to have your international licence from your own country with you and also you must get it validated in Sri Lanka licencing centre. You may not drive in Sri Lanka without it! All rental companies will direct you to the right place or even take you there with their driver to help you through the 15 minute process.
There are several rental companies at the airport before you go out but its cheaper to get another company from town. Insurance is included (just in case check with your company) and your own responsibility is around 300 EUR. Driving in Sri Lanka is on the left side and traffic is quite hectic - recommended only for confident and experienced drivers. There seems to be no rules other than bigger vehicles have the right of way. Dont be surprised to have a big bus coming at you on your side of the road so you have to get out of the way. Honking is common as a friendly "here I come" warning everywhere. Note that central Sri Lanka has a lot of steep mountain roads and difficult to reach hotels so if you plan to have a fully loaded car and drive in central areas then at least rent a vehicle with a minimum of 1,5L engine.
You can rent motorbikes or join a motorbike tour from several places in Negombo. The roads are generally good, the distances not too far and you have the freedom to go where you want to. The locals are always helpful with directions. Its better to have an existing motorbike license for insurance.  offers good bikes in Negombo. If you want to ride motorbike in Sri Lanka, you must have a valid motorbike driving license along with valid third party insurance and must wear helmet including the pillion passenger. It is against the law to ride more than 250 cc capacity motorcycles on the public roads. Also local police requires you to switch on the head light even on day time. Don't give your passport to the rental service providers, just give them the photocopy of it.
Another cheap and good idea to go around Sri Lanka is to ride a Scooter, if you are familiar to ride it and have a license to ride it. It is available for rent in Negombo  and mount Lavania areas. It can be rented on daily basis with unlimited kilometers.
Tour Operators are happy to get you a van and a driver who will take you all over the island but most of roads are narrow and slow, Be aware when you are calculating times because you cant drive as per the Navigator time-frame .eg black coral travels. Also remember max speed limits for highways 100kmh, Main Roads 60kmh (70kmh allowed only if clearly mentioned on the road) and 50kmh city limits. If you book off-the-cuff when you arrive, ask to be shown on a map where you are going before agreeing to any 'tour' of the island and research before you arrive so that you have a clear idea of where you might like to travel. Senseless backtracking to lengthen the trip and increase the cost is a real danger, as is a driver's wish to take you on unwanted shopping expeditions in an effort to gain commission. Travel websites specializing in Sri Lanka are easily found and have greatly increased the choice that is readily available to independent travelers seeking tailor-made tours. The best of them will produce clearly-stated travel itineraries and some are flexible enough to make late changes to itineraries. Ask to see their Booking Conditions and anti-fraud policies.
Ecotourism is a form of alternative travel that aims to tackle social and environmental issues thanks to national and international tourism. As Sri Lanka is a developing country, many communities are glad to benefit from the tourism incomes.
The Sri Lanka Ecotourism Foundation is a national non-profit organization that is creating a very complete and trustworthy ecotourism network throughout Sri Lanka. They provide ecotourism certifications for local companies and make sure the environment conservation issues and respect for the cultural heritage are managed efficiently. The foundation has received Presidential Tourism Awards For Sri Lanka Tourism 2010 'Outstanding Contribution for Tourism Sri Lanka'. That is possible to make affordable ecotours with the foundation, but also to make "voluntourism" projects (travelling throughout the island while directly helping the local communities).
Several tourism websites such as Responsible Travel, which was established with Body Shop Founder Anita Roddick's support, also promote responsible trips to various countries including Sri Lanka. Several villas and hotels are listed on the site, for example, Templeberg Villa and Sigiriya EcoLodge Tree Houses and Fair Trade and Wildlife Conservation Tours.
Taxis are a better way of getting around Colombo than three wheelers as, due to the metering, they often turn out to be cheaper. Rates are about USD0.55 and they have full day packages (approx 8 hours and 80km) for around USD40.
They will also take you outstation for around USD0.30-0.35 per km with no waiting charges. You can also set up your own itinerary and travel around that way as opposed to whatever the tour operator tells you.
Uber is now available in Sri Lanka around Colombo providing uberx. Base fair SLR 100/= and SLR 50/= per KM and SLR 2/= per minute.
You may use Pickme Sri lankan Taxi service, you may download the apps from major app stores. It's cheap and safe,you may order tuktuks and mini cars too.
For those on a budget, buses are everywhere. They're sometimes crowded and uncomfortable, but they get you around for almost nothing; it costs about a dollar to get half-way across the island. If you're planning on splashing out, AC buses run most routes for twice the price, which offer air-conditioning and a guaranteed seat. However, they're still uncomfortable. Bus stations are confusing places, especially the big ones, but almost everyone will be delighted to practice their English and help you. Also, when travelling by bus, it is local etiquette in most buses to provide or give up the very front passenger seats to members of the clergy such as monks or priests if they are present.
The buses, branded Lanka Ashok Leyland, come in three flavours. Red and blue buses are government owned, the colorful buses are privately owned. Red government buses travel vast distances across the country. Blue buses will stay in the region. Both of these are somewhat punctual and generally state their route in Singalese, Tamil and English. Keep in mind that a bus displaying a static "Colombo - Galle" sign, might well be on it's way to Colombo instead of Galle. The colorful buses are privately owned. They are more expensive but also generally more comfortable, as well as less punctual.
Sri Lanka has an extensive railway system serving most major towns and cities in the island. There are special Observation cars for tourists that like to take in the scenery.
Trains can be slower than buses, depending if you are on a line that offers an express train or not, but more comfortable and even less expensive than buses.
You can look up train schedules on the official site:  or using one of the two Android Apps available:  . Be advised, however, that these will only give you results for direct connections between stations.
There are 3 classes of railway cars, although 1st and 2nd class are only available on some Intercity and Express trains. Travelling 3rd class is not as bad as it may sound. Often the difference between 3rd and 2nd class is only a missing arm rest between seats.
Trains are generally crowded, especially in the morning and late afternoon. Also, observation car seats for the lines popular with tourists (like the Colombo-Kandy line) are often booked out several days in advance in the peak season. So whenever possible you should get a reservation beforehand: see  and  for more information
The Railway system in Sri Lanka is very picturesque when entering the hill country because of the winding tracks along the mountains especially on the Badullu-Nanu Oya line. Make sure, if you can, to sit on the right side of the train, as it offers the better view.
Travel by Train is itself a journey to remember, be it traveling to Central Sri Lanka or travelling on the coastal line is just amazing.Highly recommended to travel by train if you are travelling outside Colombo. The Hill train to Badulla is a amazing journey. Preferably choose the express trains, and try to get a reservation beforehand, if you can. The newly renovated Jaffna railway line is expanded up to Palai station in the North. So you can travel in comfort over to the Jaffna town by booking a seat from Colombo Fort. A second class seat can be reserved for just LKR600 in the 06:50 Intercity train and it will reach Palai around 13:00 same day. Palai to Jaffna by bus nearly one hour journey will cost LKR70. Return journey you have to book at Mobitel office in Jaffna town and it is not available from Colombo Fort. A fully A/C journey in the luxury Express train between Palai and Colombo Fort is priced at LKR1,400. Colombo - Jaffna bound train service is started now. This luxury Express A/C train is started from Mt. lavinia at 5.10 AM.
Sri Lankan Airlines operates small Seaplane service to destinations such as Nuwara Eliya, Kandy, Galle and many more locations. This is perfect for Photography trips because you can get a bird's eye view of the island and takes less time to get to a destination than using the road. Also the seaplanes land on picturesque lakes and tanks around the island.
Aero Lanka operates domestic flights between Colombo City Airport - Ratmalana, Jaffna and Trincomalee
Please be aware that to get into many of the tourist sites in Sri Lanka, you, as a foreigner will be charged up to x10 more than locals. But still those charges are not so high relative to USD. For members of SAARC countries, the price is less than/half for "foreigners".
Go to Kandy to see the Sri Dhalada Maligawa and Peradeniya Botanical Gardens. Also don't miss out on the traditional Sri Lanka dance performance held every day at 17:00 in the city hall.
Go to Matale and climb the Sigiriya or Pidurangala Rock, see the ancient frescoes and enjoy a panoramic view of the area.
Go to Raththota, Matale and climb Riverstone, see the Mini Worlds' End and directly travel to Wasgamuwa.
Go to Nuwara Eliya to see beautiful villages which look like England. There are many tea estates and Hakgala botanical gardens too.
Go to Mirissa and Kalpitiya and watch whales and dolphins with privately operated boat tours.
Go to Jaffna to see the Portuguese built Fort (1618) it was later expanded by the Dutch (1795), Nallur Temple, Keerimalai natural fresh water pond just 10 feet from the sea and the islands in the Northern Province (Delft, Kayts, Leyden, Middlburg and many more) to see unexplored Sri Lanka.
Go to Yala National Park , Wilpattu , Wasgamuwa for the best wildlife Safari experience. Udawalawe to see elephants and Kumana (Yala East) for birdwatching.
Go to Kithulgala for white water rafting in the Keliniya River.
Go to Dehiwala Zoo. Located in the Colombo district. It will take nearly 8 - 10 hours to view all the animals, Aquarium, butterfly park, elephant Show, sea lion show and the snake farm. You have to purchase entrance ticket. Also has to pay for your camera/video.Ticket prices may vary for foreigners and SARC citizens from the locals. When you get in side the compound follow the guide number posted there, starting 1 and it is nearly 60 routes there. 176 route bus pass this place or on the Galle road, get down at the Dehiwala junction. Agree for LKR100 and Jump in a Trishaw to get in front of the entrance (10 Km from Colombo Fort). It is strictly prohibited to take polythene bags with you. Good restaurant available inside the compound. Sundays are crowded day specially on school holidays there may be around 5,000 visitors in a day.
Go to Galle Face Terrace. It is located next to Colombo center and next to the old parliament complex on the Galle road near to the sea. It is a place for locals to gather to spend their evening. At the end of the terrace is 150 years old Galle face hotel. In the morning it is a place for walking and jogging. (0.18Km). In the evening it is a place for to see the fantastic sun setting with different colors. Street vendors sale local food, Coca Cola, Pepsi and mineral water. During season you can view different kinds of kites being flown over there. Also you can purchase one of them and can fly it. There is a viewing stage built in to the ocean you can walk up to the guard railing at the end. Also there is a flag post and in the sun rising and setting time you can watch colorful flag ceremony by the armed force. t is a nice place to capture different kinds of images.
Go to Independence square arcade, Colombo. Fine dining, entertainment and shopping for International brands.
Go to Floating market at the Bastian Mawatha (Close to Fort Railway Station), for local products shopping and dining on a floating restaurant.
Surfing from November to April you can surf in the western and southern coast. Best place for the beginners is Weligama and Hikkaduwa on the southern coast. You can rent a board for LKR1500 per day or LKR400 per hour. Lessons cost LKR2500 for 1h, but bargain.
Kitesurfing from April to September and from December to March you can kitesurf eastern coast. Best place for the beginners is Kalpitiya (Sethawadi and Kappaladi lagoons), where you can find kite schools: Wind4Love KiteSurfing center Sri Lanka and best conditions in Asia.
Diving Scuba Diving can be carried out in Sri Lanka's South coast from Nov - April and April till October in the East coast.There are many diving stations and schools that offer equipment hire and lessons. Divers can explore many sites with ship wrecks, marine life, coral garden and caves.
Hot air ballooning Hot air ballooning is available in the Dambulla area. It is seasonal one. Sri-Lankan-certified pilots operates them during the morning time.
Bentota beach is famous for its sea turtles farm and hatchery along with lot of water sports activities.
Elephant Ride Elephant ride is mainly available at Pinnawala close to the elephant orphanage, Sigiriya, Minneriya, and Habarana areas.
Elephant sanctuary If you want to see happy elephants who are absolutely not being ridden by tourists you can visit the Elephant Freedom project . They aim to give captured elephants the best life possible.
Whale and Dolphin Watching. Sri Lanka has become a major spot for watching Whales and Dolphins. Sri Lanka is situated within international whaling commission’s protected zone in Indian Ocean. West coast in locations from Alankuda beach in Kalpitiya, Mirissa or Dondra Point of down south, east coast of Trincomalee is the main ports of Whale and Dolphin watching in Sri Lanka. US$150-800. edit
The currency is the Sri Lankan rupee.
Although you will locally often see it symbolised as "Rs" (with and without a full stop and placed both before and after the amount) together with "රු" (and sometimes even "SLRs." in tourist oriented areas), partly for consistency and partly to avoid confusion with other rupees, we use the international symbolisation of LKR placed before the amount with no intervening space in our guides.
There are coins for 25 and 50 cents (bronze), 1 rupee (old version is big and silver, new version is small and gold,) 2 rupees (silver,) and 5 rupees (gold,) as well as banknotes ranging from LKR10-5000. Coins that are more than a few years old are typically in quite bad condition.
In July 2015:
Credit cards and ATMs, banking services
ATMs are located in many places (especially at bank branches) in the cities and suburbs, less so in the countryside. You can withdraw from debit cards too (Cirrus, Maestro, Visa Electron etc) where their logos are displayed.
Be careful of using credit cards, as fraud is on the rise in Sri Lanka. Mostly your card will be replaced by your bank once you go back to your country. Not every ATM accepts international cards, try Commercial Bank they accept international cards.
You can't send money by Western Union or Money Gram from Sri Lanka abroad. One can only receive money via international money transfer while in Sri Lanka.
Handicrafts Of Sri Lanka. For reed, cane, cotton, paper, leather, wood, clay, metal, and gemstones have been transformed and re-expressed in a array of batiks, toys, curios and jewellery, all exquisite hand made treasures.
Sri Lanka and South Indian food share a lot in common, and many local restaurants will describe their menus as Sri Lankan & South Indian. There are a number of regional variations though, the different types of hopper, devilled prawns/cuttlefish/chicken/etc. and the common fiery addition to any curry, pol sambol made of grated coconut, red chilli powder and lime juice.
The food is very cheap generally, with a cheap meal costing about a dollar. The most expensive, tourist-orientated places seldom charge more than ten dollars. The staple food of Sri Lankans is rice and curry - a massive mound of rice surrounded by various curries and delicacies. If you want to eat a cheap lunch you can follow the Sri Lankan crowds and duck into any of a million small cafes, confusingly called 'Hotels'. These normally sell a rice and curry packet, as well as 'short eats', a collection of spicy rolls. This is ideal for backpackers and those who want to get past the touristy hotels selling burnt chicken and chips - you're charged by how much you eat, and unless you're absolutely ravenous it probably won't cost over a dollar.
If you are taking road trips outside Colombo, there are endless options for places to stop on the road for lunch. Rest houses and hotels along major roads throughout Sri Lanka have good restaurants, and will offer both Sri Lankan and Western menus. If you are less adventurous, you can easily get good sandwiches and soups at these restaurants. These places have excellent rice and curry plates, and you will be served many different types of curries over an extremely generous portion of rice. These meals are extremely delicious and will leave you full and happy at the end of the meal. Eating will definitely be a memorable experience in Sri Lanka.
Sri Lankan food is generally spicy. But you can always ask for less spicy options when you are ordering your food.
Other food that you should try are String Hoppers , Hoppers, Pittu & Kiribath.
Note that Sri Lankans eat with their right hands - this isn't a major problem, because everywhere will be able to provide cutlery if you can't eat otherwise. But try the Sri Lankan way (tips of fingers only!), it's harder than it looks but strangely liberating.
There are many upscale restaurants to choose from in the city of Colombo. There are several fine dining restaurants at the 5 star hotels which offer both Local and International cuisine. These establishments are found largely in western Colombo (along Galle Road), though more are located around Colombo and other major cities.
Fast-food outlets such as KFC, Pizza Hut etc. can be found in major cities.
Most locals drink tap water, but the governments travel website states that it is not safe. Should you choose to drink bottled water (1.5 litre for 60-70 LKR in March 2012) please make sure (essentially) that the Health Ministry registration number which would not have a date of registration more than 3 years or SLS (Sri Lanka Standard Institute) label is present. Some bottles are refiled with tap water and then sold again. Also in some parts of the country you'll find hard water due to the high presence of lime in the soil. Fresh milk, due to the climate, spoils easily, and so is often very expensive. Powdered milk, however, is safe and is often substituted.
Thambili the juice from King Coconut, is very refreshing. It's sold at the side of streets throughout the island, you know it's clean as the coconut is cut open in front of you and it's cheaper than bottled drinks at about R30/- each.
Soft drinks are available almost everywhere, normally in dusty-looking glass bottles. The local producer, Elephant, make a range of interesting drinks - try the ginger beer and cream soda.
"Coca Cola" and "Pepsi" also available in large and small sizes (plastic bottles) including several local soft drink brands - all available at rapidly multiplying supermarkets all across the country and grocery shops.
The most common local beer is Lion Lager (140 LKR in "wine shops" or 200-300 LKR in restaurants in March 2012). For something a bit different try Lion Stout. It is characterized by it's tar-like oiliness of body and chocolate finish. Other brews include Three Coins, which is brewed by the Mt Lavinia hotel chain, allegedly to a Belgian recipe.
The traditional spirit is Arrack, which costs about 4 USD for a bottle, and is often drunk with club soda. The quality can vary depending on how much you want to pay. However, widely recommended brand would be "Old Reserve" and worth paying 7.5 USD for it.
Accommodation in Sri Lanka has been transformed in recent years. What would be recognized as the modern tourist industry began in the 1960s with traditional beach hotels built on the west coast which were aimed primarily at the package holiday crowd and traditional travel operators. But the past decade has brought a major change, with the growth of villas, boutique hotels, and small independent and individualistic properties offering a huge array of choice. If you are a backpacker, don't try to sleep in the railway stations or parks. Some time you may lose your belongings. Ask the station master to provide a cheaper room for you to sleep or find a youth hostel or private hostel. In Colombo Fort YMCA is a good place.
With the end of the civil war and the defeat of the LTTE separatists in May 2009, tourist arrivals have been going up,and as there still aren't a great many decent hotels it's probably better to book early. Thought, the economy of tourism is growing fast and many villas are being constructed to be rented.
The dangers and annoyances listed in the following are sorted in the order of possible occurrence.
As a foreigner avoid talking with strangers about religion, race, Sri Lankan politics or cricket as these are very sensitive topics.
If you are victim of any of the below mentioned scams don't hesitate reporting to the police ,it may help prevent another person from getting scammed.
Con men, touts & pretenders First time travelers to Sri Lanka may find themselves the victim of scams. Therefore, if you are a first time visitor to Sri Lanka, don't admit it, and ignore all unnecessary approaches and unsolicited advice from strangers strolling around and offering their help to tourists. They may approach you by saying "You remember me?" or by telling you they work at your guest house or hotel, or they introduce themselves as police, some high official, a professional (e.g. airline pilot) or in charge of a location (like a bus terminal). This is of course all bushwa and just a conversion starter to trick you into buying something or taking an overpriced tour with them. Using the services of a tout for accommodation, local travel, etc. will most likely increase the price steeply. Don't give away money to people on the street. Con men using children to beg for cash from tourists is prevalent in some tourist spots. Some people may approach by saying they have a grievance and ask for monetary help. Don't entertain unnecessary questions and offers, just ignore them without making any eye contact and go along. Don't trust in fake IDs and certifications. Remark: When seeking advice, address your question to local women, who generally are happy to help.
Taxi & Tuk tuk scams Tell the driver where you want to go and always agree on the price (for the whole ride, not per person) before the journey and make sure he understands it. Do not allow any stranger(s) to sit at the passenger seat along with you. Many drivers overcharge tourists by collecting entire trip cost from each passenger, just like in a passenger bus. Beware of drivers that offer you to take you to the "best thing in town", which is "too far away to walk" or an alternative to where you want to go because "today yours is closed", dangerous, non-existent etc. Generally, any such (travel) advice is wrong and directions are unsolicited. If you have been told your hotel is closed or full, give them a call. If you want to get out of town, the local buses are a good option - just go to the bus station and ask at the counter or one of the bus guys. While availing the services of taxi companies or freelance drivers make sure that all the your belongings inside the car are safe( make sure things are not missing ,locks are not tampered with.. etc).
Gem, jewelery shop scams Tuk tuk drivers take tourists to gem and jewelery shops while on the way to the requested destination, they will encourage you to take a look because they are paid by the owners of the shop. You may be taken to the workshop to view the process of grinding and polishing. Do not buy with the intention of selling them in your home country for a profit. Unless you are expert on gems don't consider buying. There is a possibility of color altered or heated treated gemstones being sold to you. Purchasers of gems can verify the quality at many centres of Sri Lankan National Gem & Jewellery Authority without paying any fee.
Spice garden & Ayurveda medicine scam You may be taken around for visit to a spice garden and afterwards to a shop selling natural products, most of the shops sell these spurious products at inflated prices. Mostly the ride there is for free, but be prepared to find yourself in the middle of nowhere just to be presented with these expensive products. The ayurvedic oils may contain recycled engine oil and other harmful substances which may cause irritation to the skin.
Ayurveda massage scam Many ayurveda massage centers are run by poorly trained staff working in dirty environment, drivers working in tandem with touts take gullible tourists to these centers operating without any license ,Firmly reject such approaches as they are total rip offs.
Safari scams Many international tourist operators rely on the freelance safari tour operators at the national parks. Sometimes tourists are coerced into paying a larger amount upon arrival at the park gates.
Fake ticket scams Tickets for visiting cultural attraction sites should only be purchased from the authorized selling counters, do not give your tickets to your guide, driver or anyone else after exiting the sites. These tickets may be resold to other gullible tourists with the connivance of corrupt officials.
Credit card scams Be very careful when you use credit cards in hotels and stores. Always pay in cash if possible and use credit cards only in emergencies. Withdrawing cash at ATM is much safer and cash can be withdrawn from ATMs in all major towns. Avoid ATM machines situated in isolated areas ,as there is a possibility of card skimming.
e-Visa scams Many websites offer e-visa to Sri Lanka at exorbitant prices. Make sure that you are applying at the original government website, which is http://www.eta.gov.lk.
Solo females traveling on the island frequently face harassment from tuk tuk drivers, on public transport and near beach areas. Thus, solo female travel is not recommended. Rape/sexual assault against female tourists is sharply increasing.
Also, beware of single males who wish you to accompany them after a religious service. First, ask other members if the person is honest and reliable. Dishonest Sri Lankans, although rare, (mostly male) are very adept at talking tourists out of their money, and generally prefer this method over violence. They are frequent at the Galle Face Road area surrounding the tourist hotels, Galle Face Hotel and the Holiday Inn. Their "modus operandi" is to tell you upfront that they don't want anything from you, only to talk. There may be an auspicious day occurring in Sri Lanka and they will use this to coerce you to accompany them to a temple or church. They will wine, dine, and pay for everything, and then, after two days, will begin to extort money from you. This does not happen commonly but there have been a few cases - so beware.
Religious tattoos and images
Tattoos or other images (t-shirt) of religious figures may be considered disrespectful or even illegal. Sri Lankan police will arrest and may deport people sporting tattoo of Buddha or any other tattoos which can be interpreted as having religious significance.
War & Terrorism
Sri Lanka's lengthy and bloody civil war ended in May 2009, when the government forces finally wiped out the LTTE. However, there might be one or two land mines, which can be troublesome, and the facilities in northern (and some parts of the east) cities and towns are war torn. These were the areas where the LTTE lived. The Sri Lanka Army is currently engaged in rapidly clearing landmines laid out by LTTE separatists. It's a long and difficult process.
Bombings and assassinations were a firm part of both sides in the conflict, and there is heavy security in all sensitive locations. While the separatists have never targeted tourists there have been deaths, notably in a landmine explosion at Wilpattu National Wild Park in 2006, and some have been wounded by terrorist actions. War is, after all, dangerous. In general, though, traffic accidents kill more people than terrorism (although according to statistical estimates, in the year 2005 for example, approximately 2300 people died in Sri Lanka due to road traffic crashes, and while the road traffic death rate in Sri Lanka is considered low when compared with other low-income countries, it has been steadily rising for several years).
Violent crime is not usually any more serious a problem for tourists in Sri Lanka than it is anywhere. There has been an increase in violent crimes involving tourists in the past few years, but it is still very rare. Tourists should exercise the same care and attention as they would at home.
In June of 2009, the Sri Lankan government lifted travel alerts after the military defeat of rebel insurgents in the north of the country, though it is advisable to check with the local travel advisory bureau in your country if there is any doubt.
Vaccination are recommended for Hepatitis A+B and Tetanus. Also, the Typhus vaccination outside of tourist areas especially in the wet season. The CDC also recommends vaccination against Japanese encephalitis. Note the qualification that the CDC recommendation contains and decide accordingly:
"The overall incidence of JE among people from nonendemic countries traveling to Asia is estimated to be less than 1 case per 1 million travelers. However, expatriates and travelers who stay for prolonged periods in rural areas with active JEV transmission are likely at similar risk as the susceptible resident population (5–50 cases per 100,000 children per year). Travelers on even brief trips might be at increased risk if they have extensive outdoor or nighttime exposure in rural areas during periods of active transmission. Short-term (<1 month) travelers whose visits are restricted to major urban areas are at minimal risk for JE. In endemic areas there are few human cases among residents because of vaccination or natural immunity. JEV is often still maintained in an enzootic cycle between animal and mosquitoes. Therefore, susceptible visitors may be at risk for infection."
Dengue fever: During the rainy season use mosquito repellent. When head and joint aches occur get a blood check. There is no vaccination yet.
Malaria : Gampaha (e.g. Negombo), Colombo, Kalutara, Galle, and Nuwara Eliya districts are considered malaria free, as is the city (but not the entire district) of Kandy. Elsewhere, malaria exists and is most likely in Anuradhapura. In the dry season, using DEET repellent for a mid-day road or train trip to Kandy (including visits to the Peradeniya Gardens) or Nuwara Eliya should suffice. Risk increases after sunset. Malaria prophylaxis (anti-malarials) are warranted for trips to the north (especially Anuradhapura), east, and southeast (however some types are not available locally, and it may not be as effective as what you could obtain back home.)
Yellow fever: A yellow fever vaccination certificate is required from travelers over 1 year of age coming from infected areas.
Polio: Sri Lanka is considered Polio free.
Although snake bites are extremely rare among tourists (comparable to being struck by lightning), anyone bitten should seek prompt medical care. This is true even if the bite doesn't result in any pain and swelling. The National Emergency number is 119. In Colombo, dial either 119 or if you want an emergency ambulance - 110.
There are tiny little flies that live in the sand. Any contact with the dry sand usually results in bites and subsequent painful scratch. So avoid even a little sand on your skin, including legs.
Visitors should avoid drinking water from the tap. It is best to stick to bottled water for both drinking and teeth brushing. Leafy, raw vegetables and salads should also be avoided, as they are washed with tap water.
Toilet Paper cannot be taken for granted. In public restrooms, and even some houses you may visit may not have clean toilet paper. Locals tend to wash themselves after using the toilet using a shower head. However, towels to dry oneself afterward are not supplied either. As a result, travellers should either carry a roll of toilet paper or a towel depending on preference.
There are several customs that (for Westerners) take a bit of getting used to.
The country code for Sri Lanka is 94. Remove the intercity prefix (0) before the area code when dialling internationally into the country (ie, 0112 688 688 becomes +94 112 688 688) when dialling from abroad). The two next numbers after 94 represents the area code, they are different for every district for more information see Telephone numbers in Sri Lanka.
The use of GSM/3G/HSPA/4G LTE cellphones is widespread and the coverage is good.
Dialog, Mobitel, Etisalat and Airtel are four operators that have sales offices at the airport inside the arrivals lounge. Dialog Mobile (Market Leader) has the widest coverage in the country including rural areas and has the best quality GSM / 3G / HSPA + / 4G LTE network. Mobitel has 3G/HSPA+/ 4G LTE network where Etisalat,Airtel,Hutch also has 3G/HSPA networks. Sri Lankan networks use 900 MHz/1800 MHz for GSM while 2100 MHz for UMTS/HSPA/HSPA+/DC-HSPA+ networks. All the mobile operators are having same call rates due to floor rate tariffs. Therefore it is advisable to go to the network which offers you the best quality. All Mobile Operators offers cheap IDD Call rates. You can collect a FREE SIM from the Immigration Counters at the Bandaranaika International Airport.
If you want to surf internet, best way is to buy a HSPA dongle and a Mobile Broadband connection. Dialog Mobile, Mobitel and Airtel offers prepaid Mobile Broadband services which can be activated and used immediately. Internet access is also available with 4G LTE networks including Dialog(Mobile),Mobitel on FD-LTE 1800 MHz band 3 and Dialog(Fixed),SLT,Lanka Bell on TD-LTE 2300 MHz band 40.
Dialog is the Vodafone Roaming Network in Sri Lanka and offers a range of Value added services for Roamers.Etisalat and Airtel also provide cheap roaming rates specially to India.
Mobile Phones are cheaper and widely available.
Embassies, high commissions and consulates