Sri Lanka has many cities and towns. Below is a selection of the most important to travelers.
See also: Sacred sites of the Indian sub-continent
Tropical monsoon; northeast monsoon (December to March); southwest monsoon (June to October)
Mostly low, flat to rolling plain; mountains in south-central interior. Highest point: Pidurutalagala 2,524 m
The Sinhalese arrived in Sri Lanka late in the 6th century B.C., probably from northern India. Buddhism was introduced beginning in about the mid-3rd century B.C. and a great civilization developed at such cities as Anuradhapura (kingdom from c. 200 B.C. to c. 1000 A.D.) and Polonnaruwa (c. 1070 to 1200).
In the 10-11th century, the Cholas, a south Indian dynasty seized power in the north and established a Tamil kingdom. 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; its name was changed in 1972.
Tensions between the Sinhalese majority and Tamil separatists erupted in violence in the mid-1980s. Tens of thousands have died in that violence. Since late 2001 there has been a ceasefire and slow-going peace talks, and even war-torn parts of the island are now open for travel.
Since the outbreak of hostilities between the government and armed Tamil separatists in the mid-1980s, several hundred thousand Tamil civilians have fled the island; as of mid-1999, approximately 66,000 were housed in 133 refugee camps in south India, another 40,000 lived outside the Indian camps, and more than 200,000 Tamils have sought refuge in the West (July 2002 est.)
There is air service to and from Colombo-Bandaranayake, provided by Sri Lankan Airlines . Flights are available from origins throughout Europe, United States, Southeast Asia, China, Japan, the Middle East, India, and Pakistan. Sri Lankan also code shares with Emirates Airlines of the United Arab Emirates. This allows for connections from places SL doesn't fly to itself such as North America. Other airlines include Singapore, Malaysia, Thai, Cathay Pacific, Qatar, Saudi Arabian, and LTU (Germany). SL also flies to the nearby resort areas of Goa, India and the Maldives
From the west coast of the USA/Canada, the distance is almost half-way around the world. Depending on your preferences, and how much spare time you have, consider a stopover in Europe or SE Asia. Another option (for both coasts) is the non-stop flights over the north pole to New Delhi, India from Chicago and Newark. In many cases, this may be the fastest route, but check if an Indian transit visa is required.
Sri Lankan Airlines also 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 pictureseque lakes and tanks around the island.
Aero Lanka operates flights between Colombo-Ratmalana, Jaffna and Trincomalee.
The most common mode of transport in Sri Lanka is via a three-wheeled automobile appropriately referred to as a three-wheeler. 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. Other modes of transport include renting cars (which often come with their own drivers). Often the automobile itself is free, whereas the driver will charge a small fee for his services. Some chauffeur/guides are government-licensed; some are extremely knowledgeable and multi-lingual, specialising in historical and cultural knowledge, and environment/natural history for your visits to the ancient sites and the natural reserves.
For those on a budget buses are everywhere. They're ridiculously crowded and massively 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.
Trains also run in some places - these are slower than buses but more comfortable and picturesque. 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. Sri Lanka has an extensive railway system serving all major towns and cities in the island except for the North and the East. There are special Observation cars for tourists that like to take in the scenery.
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. Ask to be shown on a map where you are going before agreeing to any 'tour' of the island. Senseless backtracking to lengthen the trip and increase the cost is a real danger. Again, insist on seeing a day-to-day planned tour map before agreeing to a tour operator's idea of seeing Sri Lanka.
The majority of Sri Lankans speak Sinhala, with Tamil a distant second. English is commonly used by government and tourism officials but almost everyone will know a few words.
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 jewllery,all exquisite hand made treasures.
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.
Kottu (Kothu) Roti (a medley of chopped roti, vegetables and your choice of meat) is a must-have for anyone - tourist or otherwise - in Sri Lanka. It is uniquely Sri Lankan and tastes best when made fresh by street vendors.
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 many fine dining restaurants at the 5 star hotels which offer both Local and International cuisine.
Credit cards and ATMs
Most stores and shops accept major credit cards (Amex, Master Card, Visa).
ATMs are located in many places (specially 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 the logos are displayed - so no need to carry wads of US dollars when entering the country.
Water is not always healthy for unseasoned travelers, and so it is recommended that either purifying tablets or bottled water be used whenever possible. Fresh milk, due to the climate, spoils easily, and so is often very expensive. Powdered milk, however, is safe and is often substituted.
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.
"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 local beer is Lion Lager, and the traditional spirit is Arrack, which costs about four dollars for a bottle.
Accommodation is very cheap. Guesthouses normally don't offer a single rate, but you can always try bargaining.
The Galle Face Hotel  in Colombo is a romantic colonial pile on the Indian Ocean. The terrace is a great place to have a drink and watch the sun go down, and the sea breeze is a blessed relief after the heat of the city.
Violent crime is not a serious problem for tourists in Sri Lanka. As in most tourist locations, beware of pickpockets, and don't leave valuables unguarded. Women should not be alone at night on the beach or streets. There has been a slight increase in violent crimes involving tourists in the past few years, but it is still rare.
The Tamil Tiger (LTTE) rebels do not target tourists, although in very rare instances, a few tourists have been wounded (mostly minor) by terrorist actions, while a somewhat larger number have witnessed and been frightened by them. Historically, the Tamils have had a close relationship with the British, and are not anti-Western. It's believed that the Tigers would prefer to have no Western or foreign casualties, and they have planned their operations accordingly. In general, traffic accidents should be a much greater concern than terrorism. There is heavy security in all sensitive locations, and together with the country's long experience in dealing with it would probably make any radical Islamist or foreign terrorism less likely than elsewhere. In addition, Sri Lanka has good relations with all nearby countries (who aren't always at peace with each other) and internationally as well. One block on the inland side of Galle Road in Kollupitiya (across from the US embassy & British High Commission) is closed to pedestrians in front of the Prime Minister's residence (called The Temple Trees). This may not be well marked on the southern side.
It's advised that tourists not travel to areas under control of the Tamil Tiger (LTTE) rebels. Some areas may contain land mines, and the facilities in cities and towns are war torn. Military action by the government is also possible. It is highly unlikely, though, that someone could inadvertently go into a war zone due to the large number of government checkpoints. Such areas are far distant from places tourists normally visit. Note though, it is common to see well-armed soliders on the streets, main highways and airport.
Con artist 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. Do not believe anyone who claims to be a professional (e.g. airline pilot), or in charge of a location (like a bus terminal) without proof. Scams involving gemstones are common. Do not buy with the intention of selling them in your home country for a profit. 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 (mostly male) are very adept at talking tourists out of their money, and generally prefer this method over violence.
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.
There are several customs that (for Westerners) take a bit of getting used to.