Sri Lanka has more than 2,500 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 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) also they have two more kingdoms Kandian Kingdom and Jaffna Kingdom . Then British came and connected all three kingdoms into one for the administrative purpose and left as one country in 1948.
Occupied by the Portuguese in the 16th century and by the Dutch in the 17th century, the island was ceded to the British in 1796, and became a crown colony in 1802. As Ceylon, it became independent in 1948; the name was changed to Sri Lanka in 1972.
With end of the 30 year prolonged bitter separatist war in the May 2009 it seems this island nation is on a new chapter of 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; mountains in south-central interior.
Highest point: Pidurutalagala 2,524 m
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. 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
Dozens of nationalities, including Japanese, Koreans, Australians, New Zealanders, North Americans and virtually all Europeans, receive a tourist visa upon entry, valid for 30 days. It is sometimes possible to obtain a visa for longer than 30 days in your home country; this is more often the case at Sri Lanka’s bigger overseas missions, in London and Washington for example. The latest regulations are given at www.immigration.gov.lk.
Extensions can be made at the Department of Immigration (011-532 9300; www.immigration.gov.lk; 41 Ananda Rajakaruna Mw, Col 10; 9am-4.30pm Mon-Fri), in Punchi Borella, Colombo. The last payments are received at 3.30pm. 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 Rs 10, 000. Extensions beyond this are at the discretion of the department, and incur a Rs 15, 000 fee plus the extension fee.
See above for fees for the first 90-day extension.
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.
Starting 1 Jan 2012, all travelers are required to apply for an ETA before they enter the country. Tourist ETA is valid for 3 months, starting from the day it is 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. For most countries, it is US$20 per applicant. For nationalities of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal and Pakistan, the fee is US$10 each.
New visa rules have been imposed with effect from 1st January 2012 where online visa must be applied for countries except Singapore and Maldives. Visa charges are US$ 10 for SAARC countries and US$ 20 for others.
SriLankan Airlines  (flight code UL) is the national flagship carrier operating to and from Colombo-Bandaranayake International Airport (ICAO: VCBI, 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.
Indian carrier Kingfisher Airlines started operations on the Bangalore-Colmbo route in early 2009, enabling easy links to Sri Lanka via India. Kingfisher Airlines has ceased the operation of direct flight from Bangalore to Colombo. Now Kingfisher fliers have to fly through Chennai. 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 and Jakarta.
The budget airline Air Asia  now operates from Kuala Lampur, 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).
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.
An Airport Express Luxury Train Service operates between Airport Station (Bandaranayake International Airport) and Colombo Secretariat Station (Near Colombo Hilton) . Currently the ticket is prices at Rs 500 for a journey.
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 Atlanta, Chicago, Newark, New York City, or San Francisco.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,IAH, 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.
The Tuticorin-Colombo ferry service, suspended for years due to the civil war, has commenced services from June 2011. The service though is a little erratic and services can be cancelled with just a few days notice.
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 via a three-wheeled automobile appropriately referred to as a three-wheeler (Tri-Shaw). Also known as Tuk-Tuks from the noise of their motors. These operate in a manner similar to taxis, and is a highly cost-efficient way to get around. However, three-wheelers have been linked to many illegal and criminal activities, But not common.
While it may be the most novel way to get around Colombo, it may not be the most cost efficient. Most Three-wheel drivers tend to over price foreigners, so never agree to the first estimate. The best price you can get is about Rs. 50 - 75 per Km for short jouneys and about Rs. 30 - 50 for long journeys ( more than 15 km). If you do come across a metered Tri-Shaw make sure the meter is switched on. But Taxi's are generally the same price and possibly 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.
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.
Tour Operators are happy to get you a van and a driver who will take you all over the island but beware, the roads are bumpy and slow. 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 specialising in Sri Lanka are easily found and have greatly increased the choice that is readily available to independent travellers 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.
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 USD 40.
They will also take you outstation for around USD 0.30-0.35 per km with no waiting charges. You can also set up your own itenary and travel around that way as opposed to whatever the tour operator tells you.
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.
(see warning in the stay safe section) Trains also run in some places - these can be slower than buses, depending if you are on a line that offers an express train or not, but more comfortable and picturesque and even less expensive than buses.
Sri Lanka has an extensive railway system serving all major towns and cities in the island except for the North. There are special Observation cars for tourists that like to take in the scenery.
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 travelling to Central Srilanka 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. Its safe, respect the locals and preferably choose the express trains.
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
Go to Kandy to see the Sri Dhalada Maligawa and Peradeniya Gardens.
Go to Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa to see ancient temples which are very beautiful.
Go to Nuwara Eliya to see beautiful villages which look like England. There are many tea estates and Hakgala gardens too.
Go to Unawatuna, Galle and north areas to see beautiful beaches.
Go to Mirissa and Kalpitiya and watch whales.
Go to Yala National Park & Wilpattu for the best wildlife Safari experiance. Udawalawe to see elephants and Kumana (Yala East) for birdwatching.
There is nothing that you ""Can't Do"" in Sri Lanka and there is variety of things that you can do depending on your preference.
The currency is the Sri Lankan Rupee. The exchange rates are approximately 115Rs/ USD, 159Rs/ EUR or 183Rs/GBP(The exchange rate for dollar everywhere is 110LR/USD, hotels its 109/USD and only in casinos they give 115/USD which generally they give in the form of chips in the play tables). 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 10- 2000 rupees. Coins that are more than a few years old are typically in quite bad condition.
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 jewelery, all exquisite hand made treasures.
Credit cards and ATMs
ATMs are located in many places (especially at bank branches) in the cities and suburbs, less so in the countryside. Be careful of using credit cards, as fraud is on the rise in Sri Lanka. You can withdraw from debit cards too (Cirrus, Maestro, Visa Electron etc) where the logos are displayed. Mostly your card will be replaced by your bank once you go back to your country
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 & Kitibath.
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.
In Sri Lanka Water from the tap is not considered to be safe to drink in the country. However if you are using bottled water please make sure SLS(Sri Lanka Standard Institute) label is present. 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. 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 ginger beer. 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.
With the end of the civil war and the defeat of the Tamil terrorists 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.
Sri Lanka's lengthy and bloody civil war was ended in May 2009, when the Sinhalese forces finally wiped out the Tamil Tigers. 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 Tamils 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.
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.
Con artists and touts are a serious problem throughout all tourist areas. Using the services of a tout for accommodation, local travel, etc. will most likely increase the price. First time travelers to Sri Lanka may find themselves the victim of scams, however seasoned travelers to Sri Lanka are very rarely scammed and it is simple to avoid becoming a victim of scammers by taking precautions:
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 frequent 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.
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.
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.
Visitors should avoid drinking water from the tap. It is best to stick to bottled water for both drinking and teeth brushing.
There are several customs that (for Westerners) take a bit of getting used to.
The country code for Sri Lanka is 94. Remove the '0' from a Sri Lankan number beginning with '0' (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 cellphones is widespread and the coverage is good.
Dialog and Mobitel are two 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 + network. Mobitel also has a 3G/HSPA+ network. 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.
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.
Dialog is the Vodafone Roaming Network in Sri Lanka and offers the best range of Value added services for Roamers and the rates are cheaper. Etisalat and Airtel also provide cheap roaming rates specially to India.
Mobile Phones are cheaper and widely available.
Embassies, high commissions and consulates