Sri Lanka holidays

Experience Sri Lanka

Best Places to Visit

Much of Sri Lanka's attraction - apart from its coastal waters - is based on its wildlife, and the island's various sanctuaries are popular destinations for all tourists during their stay. The Elephant Sanctuary is one such venue and a great - and ethical - chance to see elephants that have the best possible quality of life. This is all part of the Elephant Freedom Project, which releases captive elephants into the sanctuary to live happily. Please note, unlike elsewhere in Sri Lanka, that means that you will not have the opportunity to ride an elephant, but it's a fantastic place to observe them in their natural habitat.

If you do want to ride an elephant, there are plenty of opportunities to do so. Pinnawala is one location where this is often an option, so head to the elephant orphanage and you might find one is available to ride in the nearby area. In a country where elephants are often kept as pets, this is a popular photo opportunity for many visitors from overseas, and you will be helping to support the upkeep of the elephant itself in the process.

The Kosgoda Sea Turtle Conservation Project is another popular wildlife sanctuary, this time for sea turtles, and has been a pioneering initiative since its inception several decades ago. The principle is quite straightforward - the village of Kosgoda is the sea turtles' prime nesting site, and residents have decided to do all they can to protect their aquatic friends. An international effort has developed over the years, and if you ask in advance, or have the relevant skills and knowledge of turtles, you might find you can play a part in the conservation efforts too.

Finally, an ever-increasing draw for tourists from outside of Sri Lanka is the island's opportunity for whale watching. Due to its location in the Indian Ocean, the waters surrounding Sri Lanka are a haven for whales, which are not permitted to be hunted there. You can set out from various points on the west, south and east coasts to see if you can spot these gentle giants of the ocean. If you are lucky, you might not only see whales but dolphins too.

Top Landmarks

Many of Sri Lanka's top landmarks have two prices of admission - one for locals, and another much higher price for tourists. Try not to be put off by this, as exchange rates often mean the higher ticket price is still very affordable in your home currency. Dehiwala Zoo in the Colombo district is worth a full day of your trip, as it can take at least eight hours to see all of the animals in any detail. If you want to take photos or video footage, you may be asked to pay extra to take your camera equipment to the zoo. With attractions ranging from a snake farm and sea lion show, to yet another elephant show, it might be worth paying the extra to record your visit.

Galle Face Terrace, also in Colombo, is a meeting place for local residents and worthy of a visit by tourists too. Soak up the atmosphere of this bustling area adjacent to the sea and close to the old parliament buildings. The evening is the best time of day to head down here, as people congregate to watch the sun set. Alternatively, in the mornings, it is a much more active area, with joggers and sightseers parading up and down its length - perfect if you have a regular morning routine you want to keep up during your Sri Lankan vacation.

Entertainment

The Coast is a hugely important factor in Sri Lankan entertainment, with plenty of water sports on the agenda as part of an active vacation. Surfing and diving are two of the most popular pastimes; you can also go kite surfing and enjoy excellent conditions and the support of local tutors from a kite surfing centre, who will help you master the basic skills if it is your first time. For adults (although not recommended for children) there is also the chance to go white-water rafting in the rainforests, which is likely to prove a memorable experience, as well as a unique way to take in some of the scenery.

For souvenirs, spend some time browsing the local shops in the area where you are staying. You may want to find a market for unique items and to find something truly distinctive to give as a gift. Alternatively, at the Bastian Mawatha, there is the highly unusual Floating Market, which is accompanied by a floating restaurant too.

Dining Out

Sri Lanka is a former British colony and, as such, certain home comforts can be found with widespread availability while you are there. The British rule began in 1802 until Sri Lanka gained its independence in 1948, so it is little surprise that some of the remaining British customs are a little old-fashioned. For example, you may find yourself enjoying a traditional afternoon tea, complete with finger sandwiches with their crusts removed and a variety of familiar fillings. If you are craving a taste of home, nothing could satisfy that urge more than a delicious selection of sandwiches and pastries.

Aside from the British influence, Sri Lanka's cuisine is very similar to that of neighbouring South India, even to the extent that many of the dishes on the two regions' menus are completely interchangeable with one another. Rice and curry are the staples and very affordable, and it is wise to see where the locals eat and then follow their lead for the best food. Try not to be too confused by the fact that these small restaurants that serve up their curries from as little as a dollar per dish are often referred to as 'hotels' in the local dialect.

Need to know

Language

Sri Lanka has two official languages - Sinhalese and Tamil. However, English is defined as a link language in the Sri Lankan Constitution, and as such it is very widely spoken, if not universally. English is used in education and in business, and this naturally means that the UK tourist market is extremely well catered for too. The UK, USA and Canada all rank among the top ten tourist markets for Sri Lanka, with the UK second only to India. Together, the English-speaking countries send very nearly as many tourists each year as India does overall.

Currency

If you’ve been thinking about holidays to Sri Lanka, it’s worth bearing in mind that obtaining currency here can be more difficult than most other places. Don't take Northern Irish or Scottish banknotes - they will not be accepted. Travellers' cheques generally can't be used either. The major towns and cities generally have ATMs, but not all of them accept all cards, especially from international visitors. If all else fails, head to a bank. Most of them will authorise a cash withdrawal from one of the major global credit and debit card providers.

Visas

Entry into Sri Lanka requires a visa, and although you can get one at the airport when you land, it's generally faster to obtain your visa before you leave the UK. You can do so online via Electronic Travel Authority, and bear in mind that your visa will typically last for a maximum of 30 days. Your passport should also be valid for at least six months after your arrival date into the country.

Climate

Sri Lanka has a tropical climate boosted by warming oceanic currents, making it the perfect package holiday retreat. Even in the highlands away from the coast, you're likely to see temperatures remain in the high teens Celsius. Closer to the coast and sea level, it can reach into the low 30s, and overall the annual mean temperature is typically close to 30°C. Be prepared for quite a large swing in temperature between day and night, so if you are planning to enjoy entertainment after dark, wrap up warm to resist the night chill.

Main Airports

If travelling from Europe, including the UK, there is good availability of flights into Colombo-Bandaranayake International Airport, from where you can transfer onwards to destinations throughout Sri Lanka.

Flight Options

Sri Lankan Airlines is the flag carrier and operates not just the European routes, but those to other countries around the world too. As always, check the frequency of flights particularly outside of the normal peak periods, as there may be fewer flights per week, and the time of day may be less desirable too, leaving you with a very early start or a very late arrival into Colombo.

Travel Advice

When you land, consider your options very carefully before setting off for your onward journey to destinations other than Colombo itself. Sri Lanka's road network is not of a consistently high standard, and this can make the going a little rough. Besides the obvious potential for discomfort that arises from this, it can also add substantially to your total journey time. If you were already late landing in Colombo, you could face a long and difficult drive on rough roads, and an eventual arrival in the small hours of the following morning. A possible alternative is simply to spend your first night in Colombo, and then set out to make your onward journey in the morning. You will have the chance to refresh yourself after a long flight while the drive itself will be much more pleasant in the daylight when you can clearly see the road ahead and the landscape around you.

Other Transport Options

Flying is by far the easiest way to reach Sri Lanka, but if you’re travelling from the nearby south of India, you may also be able to reach the island by boat.

Getting Around

If you're spending time in Sri Lanka and want to explore, car rental, which includes a driver, can be a worthwhile option. There are also internal flights and limited rail networks to help you get around the country. For short journeys, you should consider taking a Tuk-Tuk: these taxis are three-wheeled vehicles with open sides and no seatbelts, so you can be forgiven for being reluctant to rely on them too much. The good thing about Tuk-Tuks is that they are everywhere - you will never have to wait more than a few minutes for one to come along, and this is why for many people they are a convenient way to get around at all times.

Bus

There are two affordable, and reasonable quality bus services in Sri Lanka. The first is operated by the Sri Lanka Transport Board. The other option is private buses that depart from near the Central Depot, but the journey can be a little hair-raising as drivers often drive dangerously. Most buses run every half hour or less to the more central areas.

Car

Car rental is available, but it's important to realise that often you rent not only the car but also the driver. To drive yourself, you must have your licence validated in Sri Lanka itself, and it is often easier just to hire somebody else to take you where you need to go. The good news here is that you might find when you pay for the driver's services that the vehicle is effectively free.

SRI LANKA`S WEATHER TODAY

Mostly cloudy °C

AVERAGE TEMPERATURE (°C)

  • 31

    J

  • 32

    F

  • 33

    M

  • 33

    A

  • 32

    M

  • 31

    J

  • 31

    J

  • 31

    A

  • 31

    S

  • 31

    O

  • 30

    N

  • 30

    D

MONTHS

AVERAGE RAINFALL (mm)

  • 73

    J

  • 60

    F

  • 72

    M

  • 170

    A

  • 160

    M

  • 133

    J

  • 107

    J

  • 98

    A

  • 181

    S

  • 258

    O

  • 292

    N

  • 162

    D

MONTHS

MAP

FACTS

  1. Sri Lanka was severely affected by the tsunami in 2004, triggered by an earthquake in the Indian Ocean on December 26th of that year, and many buildings particularly along the coast of the island were destroyed completely or very badly damaged. However, there has been widespread redevelopment and most of the island is now fully recovered.
  2. Following the disaster, several cricket teams from around the world pledged their support to Sri Lanka, where cricket is one of the favourite pastimes, and special one-day matches were among the fundraising efforts used to help in Sri Lanka's relief.
  3. More than a decade on, reconstruction work has helped the island to get back on its feet, and the tourist trade remains a crucial source of income to ensure Sri Lanka can thrive again in the future.

FACTS

  1. Sri Lanka was severely affected by the tsunami in 2004, triggered by an earthquake in the Indian Ocean on December 26th of that year, and many buildings particularly along the coast of the island were destroyed completely or very badly damaged. However, there has been widespread redevelopment and most of the island is now fully recovered.
  2. Following the disaster, several cricket teams from around the world pledged their support to Sri Lanka, where cricket is one of the favourite pastimes, and special one-day matches were among the fundraising efforts used to help in Sri Lanka's relief.
  3. More than a decade on, reconstruction work has helped the island to get back on its feet, and the tourist trade remains a crucial source of income to ensure Sri Lanka can thrive again in the future.

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