About the country

Sri Lanka cannot be described in a nutshell. It is an island that is constantly changing faces: through the years, the great travellers have succumbed to its charm, have sung its praises with delirium, and many have given up everything to live within it. The history of Sri Lanka is primarily rich in explorers who after arriving by chance have fallen in love with it.

The world knew Lanka, but under various names: Serendip, Traprobane, Ceilao, Ceylon. Lanka was in one of the two existing trade routes between East and West- the silk road was one of them and the most dangerous by sea across the Indian Ocean, including Ceylon as a necessary landing place.

Island washed by the Indian Ocean, north of Ecuador between latitude 5 and 10, southeast of India and covering an area of 62,336 km² (excluding inland waters).

Sri Lanka is shaped like a pearl, a mango or a tear shed by India. A tear containing all the riches of Eurasia. Countless animals (from elephants to over 300 varieties of birds) and plants (coconut trees, palm trees, colourful flowers, fruit trees, etc.), paddy fields, tropical jungles, forests, semi-desertic zones, swamps, rivers, lush rivers (the Mahaveli river being the longest with 331Km), impressive waterfalls (Bambarakanda in the central area being the highest with 240 m), mountains, summits that melt with the clouds (including Sri Pada or Adam’s Peak, 2,238 m high and a holy mountain worshipped by Buddhists, Muslims, Hindu and Christians), tea estates, and some of the world’s most beautiful beaches.

The total population of Sri Lanka is about 20 million inhabitants with a population density of 308.4 inhabitants per km².

Ethnic distribution in this small island is as follows:

  1. Sinhalese: 74%
  2. Sri Lankan Tamils or Jaffna Tamils: 12.7%
  3. Indian Tamils 5.5%
  4. Muslims: 7%
  5. Other: 0.8%

The 14 million Sinhalese, present in the centre and south, have an identity based on language, Sinhala, of Indo-European origin, and religion, Buddhism. Tamils in Jaffna speak Tamil, of Dravidian origin, and live mainly in the north and along the east coast to Batticaloa. Indian Tamils, also speak Tamil, but are the direct descendants of the first tea planters that the British brought from India to Sri Lanka and that still live and work there. Both groups mostly practise Hinduism.

Christianity in its various forms counts amongst its followers both Sinhalese and Tamil.

The Muslim community is still formed by the descendants of the house of Hashim expelled from Arabia in the eighth century and the descendants of ancient Arab sailors who settled in Lanka, an obligatory stop on their trading trips. At this time many Tamils converted to Islam and hence the Sri Lanka Muslim culture is tinged with Tamil culture.

Other ethnic groups include the so-called Burghers, descendants of Dutch and a minority of Portuguese and even British. They are a mixture of east and west, speak English, dress European style and are Christian. After independence and when English stopped being the official language, the Burghers, who held important administrative and political posts, were relegated. This fact, together with the recently ended civil war that erupted in the country in 1983, forced most of them to emigrate especially to Australia and Canada.

It is impossible to refer to the country’s history and its ethnic groups without talking about religion.

69.3% of the population is Buddhist, 15.5% Hindu , 7.7% Christians, 7.6% are Muslim and 0.1% belong to other religions.

The Sinhalese are mostly Buddhist and the rest Christian of different confessions. Only a Tamil minority is Christian, the rest are mostly Hindu and devotedly follow countless religious daily rituals.

Muslims are loyal to Islam and follow their religion as regards their uses and customs, rites and prayers.

Sri Lanka is a predominantly rural country. 80% of the population lives in rural areas. Colombo, the capital, with 37.25 million km² and a population of one millions inhabitants (and more than 500,000 daily commuters) is located along the Indian Ocean, and is a large city and commercial and business hub.

The main wealth of the country includes tea, rubber, coconut-related products, gems and spices. Tourism is also an important source of foreign income. Currently, 45% of the population works in the service sector, 38% in agriculture and 17% in the industry.

Amongst other potential financial sources and sectors to be developed:

  1. Environment (water-related technologies, …)
  2. Telecommunications
  3. Tobacco
  4. Defence
  5. Leather
  6. Furniture (wood, wicker, etc.).
  7. Decorative and gift ornaments
  8. Spirits (arrack…)

Sri Lanka became independent on 4 February 1948 and it is a Democratic Socialist Republic. At present, the ruling party is SLFP (Sri Lanka Freedom Party) with Mahinda Rajapakse as President. During his mandate, he managed to put an end to more than 30 years of conflict with LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam), guerrilla that claimed the independence of the north and east.

Practical Information

Security

Sri Lanka is generally very peaceful and safe. However keep your valuables and bags very close while visiting tourist attractions or beaches, because most crimes are committed in these places. Tourists are rarely victims to crime, but one must be cautious and try to avoid travelling at night.

Business Hours

  • Banks: 09:00 to 13:00, Monday to Friday (some stay open until 15:00 and Saturday morning).
  • Post offices and government offices in general: from 09:00 to 16:00, Monday to Friday and some post offices on Saturday morning.
  • Shops: flexible and usally long opening hours.

Electricity

AC 230V, 50Hz, round three-pin plugs are standard

Climate

Thanks to the Indian Ocean the island enjoys a climate virtually unchanged all year round. In the lower regions, temperatures range between 23ºC/73.4ºF and 30ºC/86ºF and in the hills between 11ºC/51.8ºF and 23ºC/73.4ºF. The western area is warm and humid, the highlands are also wet but cooler. The rest of the country is hot and dry. There are two seasonal monsoons (May to August in the southwest and from October to January the northeast).

Health

No specific vaccinations are needed to enter Sri Lanka. It is however recommended that all travellers get vaccinated against hepatitis, tuberculosis and Japanese B encephalitis as well as tetanus and rabies. We advise you to request health information at the health centre for travellers nearest to your place of residence.

The greatest health risk in Sri Lanka comes from contaminated food and water. Most restaurants in urban areas and hotels comply with international hygiene standards. Avoid unwashed raw vegetables or unpeeled fruit. Consider tap water as non drinking water across the island. Limit yourself to previosly boiled or bottled water you can get everywhere.

The sun can be a potential hazard to health in Sri Lanka, so it is advisable to use sunscreen lotions and hats or umbrellas.

All travellers should take a travel health insurance. Should you overlook this recommendation and decide to travel without insurance to cover possible expenses in case of illness, hospitalization and/or medical evacuation/repatriation, Mayaliya is not liable for the consequences of such omission or bear any expense derived from it.

Languages

The official languages of Sri Lanka are Sinhala and Tamil, though English is considered the third language of the country. However, the latter is not as widely spoken as one might think.

Currency

Sri Lanka’s currency is the Sri Lankan rupee (LKR). There are 100 cents in a rupee. Except in large hotels, where USD and Euro (€), you will always have to pay in rupees.

The best places to exchange foreign currency into rupees are authorized currency exchange agencies such as banks and hotels. We recommend you to exchange your currency at the airport in any of the banks and agencies you will find after going through customs and exiting just before entering the arrival hall.

ATM machines are everywhere, they usually accept international debit/credit cards. Credit cards such as Visa, MasterCard and American Express are widely accepted throughout the country, albeit in small shops and cafes where you will have to use cash. Traveller’s checks are accepted at all banks.

Clothes & Manners

The dress code is casual in Sri Lanka, but when visiting temples you should cover your shoulders and legs and remove your hat/cap if you wear one as well as your shoes. One should never place one’s back to a statue of Buddha if you are close to it – pay special attention to this when taking photographs. Buddhist monks have special privileges, regardless of age – for example the right to always take a seat on public transport.

Others

Visitors to Sri Lanka must apply for an electronic visa as of December 31, 2011. Please for further information click here.

Every visitor over 18 years of age can take into the country two bottles of wine, 1.5 litters of spirits, and a small amount of perfume for personal use. Visitors are no longer allowed to enter tobacco in the country without incurring the payment of customs fees. While a few packets of cigarettes are allowed for personal use, a carton will cost Rs6.000 in customs tax. Also keep in mind that only two members of the same family may be eligible for duty-free items.

On arrival at the airport after passing through passport control and before entering the baggage claim area, you will be able to make some purchases, including perfume and spirits, at a duty free shop (where you will be informed of the maximum quantities you are entitled to take)

The only way to enter Sri Lanka is by air.