Visitor Information

About Sri Lanka


Sri Lanka officially the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka is an island country in the northern Indian Ocean off the southern coast of the Indian subcontinent in South Asia. Known until 1972 as Ceylon, Sri Lanka has maritime borders with India to the northwest across the Gulf of Mannar and Palk Strait, and the Maldives to the southwest.

PEOPLE

Sri Lanka's total population is approximately 21.5 million. Nearly three-quarters, 73.8%, are ethnic Sinhalese. Sri Lankan Tamils, whose ancestors came to the island from southern India centuries ago, make up about 12% of the population, while more recent Indian Tamil immigrants, brought in as agricultural labor by the British colonial government, represent 5%.

Another 7% of Sri Lankans are the Malays and Moors, descendants of Arab and Southeast Asian traders who plied the Indian Ocean monsoon winds for more than a thousand years. There are also tiny numbers of Dutch and British settlers, and aboriginal Veddahs, whose ancestors arrived at least 18,000 years ago.

LANGUAGES

The official language of Sri Lanka is Sinhala. Both Sinhala and Tamil are considered national languages; only about 18% of the population speaks Tamil as the mother tongue, however. Other minority languages are spoken by about 8% of Sri Lankans. In addition, English is a common language of trade, and approximately 10% of the population is conversant in English as a foreign language.

RELIGION

Sri Lanka has a complex religious landscape. Almost 70% of the population are Theravada Buddhists (mainly the ethnic Sinhalese), while most Tamils are Hindus, representing 15% of Sri Lankans. Another 7.6% are Muslims, particularly the Malay and Moor communities, belonging primarily to the Shafi'i school within Sunni Islam. Finally, about 6.2% of Sri Lankans are Christians; of those, 88% are Catholic and 12% are Protestant.

GEOGRAPHY

Sri Lanka is a teardrop-shaped island in the Indian Ocean, southeast of India. It has an area of 65,610 square kilometers (25,332 square miles), and is mostly flat or rolling plains. However, the highest point in Sri Lanka is Pidurutalagala, at an impressive 2,524 meters (8,281 feet) in altitude. The lowest point is sea level.

Sri Lanka sits at the middle of a tectonic plate, so it does not experience volcanic activity or earthquakes. However, it was heavily impacted by the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, which killed more than 31,000 people in this mostly low-lying island nation.

CLIMATE

Sri Lanka has a maritime tropical climate, meaning that it is warm and humid throughout the year. Average temperature ranges from 16 °C (60.8 °F) in the central highlands to 32°C (89.6 ° F) along the northeast coast. High temperatures in Trincomalee, in the northeast, can top 38 °C (100 °F). The entire island generally has humidity levels between 60 and 90% year-round, with the higher levels during the two long monsoonal rainy seasons (May to October and December to March).

ECONOMY

Sri Lanka's economy today is mainly based on the service and industrial sector; however agriculture plays an important role as well. The major industries in Sri Lanka include rubber processing, telecommunications, textiles, cement, petroleum refining and the processing of agricultural products. Tourism and the related services industries are also growing in Sri Lanka. 

HEALTH PRECAUTIONS

Water

Tap water is not safe to drink, and boiling and filtering is sometimes done too hastily in some hotels and restaurants, so the best solution is to drink bottled water. There are now many brands available, mostly using spring water from the highlands of the island. Make sure that the bottle carries an SLS certification and that the seal is broken only in your presence. Beware of ice unless you are satisfied it has not been made from tap water.

Food

Under-cooked fish (especially shellfish) and meat (especially pork) can be hazardous. Salads can be risky unless purified water has been used to wash the various vegetables. Fruit that has already been peeled should be avoided. Be careful of ice cream, in particular the varieties sold by street vendors and served at cheap restaurants.

Sunburn

When you flop onto the beach or poolside lounger for a spot of sunbathing, always remember to apply a sunscreen product with a sun protection factor of at least 15.

SRI LANKA'S CURRENCY

The local currency is the Sri Lankan Rupee, divided into 100 cents (you rarely come across scents today). Currency notes are Rs. 5,000, Rs. 2,000, Rs. 1,000, Rs. 500, Rs. 100, Rs. 50, Rs. 20 and Rs. 10. Beware of mistaking the Rs. 500 note for the somewhat similar Rs. 100 one. To check whether notes are genuine when not given at a bank, look for a lion watermark. Coins, should you have receive them; will be in denominations up to Rs. 10. Make sure you have plenty of lower denomination notes (Rs. 50, Rs. 100, Rs. 500), especially when travelling and you need to buy small items, fruit, and eat cheap meals, because change is often hard to come by apart from at hotels and big shops.

Banks

Banks are open from 0900 hrs to 1300 hrs Monday to Friday. Some city banks close at 1500 hrs, while some are open on Saturday mornings. It is easy to withdraw money across the island at ATMs using international credit cards or debit cards.

Credit Cards

Most hotels, restaurants and shopping centres accept credit cards. Some establishments may try to add a surcharge, which is illegal.

TIME DIFFERENCE

Sri Lanka Standard Time is five and a half hours ahead of GMT. (Allowance should be made for summer-time changes in Europe.)

ELECTRICITY

230 . 240 volts, 50 cycles AC. If you travel with a laptop computer bring a stabilizer.

LANGUAGE

Sri Lanka has two official languages. Sinhala and Tamil, with English as a link language. Most people have some knowledge of English, and signboards are often in English.

SAFETY

In general the threats to personal security for travelers in Sri Lanka are remarkably small. It is more pleasant to travel with a companion as it is advised not to travel alone especially after dark. The island including the North and East is safe to visit. If you have anything stolen, report it to the tourist Police, (a special tourist police set up to look after the needs of the tourists. Contact Tel. Number +94 11 2382209

TRANSPORT

Buses are the principal mode of public transport. Bus services are provided by the state-run Sri Lanka Transport Board (SLTB) and by privately run buses. Colombo has an extensive public transport system based on buses. The Central Bus Stand in Pettah functions as the primary hub for bus transport in Colombo.

Train services can be used as another mode of transport. The main railway lines cover hill country, coastal area and the northern part of the country. Special Service for tourists and others is being provided by Sri Lanka Railways by introducing a special coach to intercity and other express trains. This air-conditioned coach consists of very comfortable seats with television and Wi-Fi as services. Catering too has been included.

Cabs/taxis and three wheelers (Tuk Tuk) are available for short distance travel. Metered taxis and budget cabs are preferred. These services are available at the airport and can be arranged through hotels. Online cab services also operate within Colombo . http://www.onlinecabslk.com

Area:
65,610 sq km (25,332 sq miles).
Population:
21.9 million (2014).
Population density:
333.3 per sq km.
Capital:
Colombo.
Government:
Republic.
Head of state:
President Maithripala Sirisena since 2015.
Head of government:
President Maithripala Sirisena since 2015.
Electricity:
230 volts AC, 50Hz. Plugs with three round or three square pins are used.