Sri Lanka Tours
Sri Lanka adventure tours offer the perfect opportunity to explore the jewel of the Indian Ocean. Sri Lanka has it all - endless white sandy beaches, UNESCO World Heritage sites, wildlife, religious iconography and ancient cultures. Huge Buddha statues litter your journey throughout. During your Sri Lanka adventure tour, you’ll visit the ancient cities of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa, whose extensive ruins are well preserved, and can be explored on foot and on bike.
Your reward for scaling the 200 metre rock fortress at Sigiriya (Lions Rock) is a visit to the stunning cave temples of Dambulla. A Sri Lanka adventure tour wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Kandy, where you can barter for arts and crafts at the bazaar, view traditional dancing, relax by the lake and visit the Temple of the Tooth Relic (legend has it Buddha’s tooth is kept here). Close up encounters with orphaned elephants at Pinnawala will be a memory that will stay with you for a lifetime, and trekking in Horton Plains National Park to ‘World’s End’ - where the 2,000 metre-high plateau plunges 700 to 1,000 metres to the valley floor, will leave you in awe of Sri Lanka.
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Top ten tours for 2016
Sri Lanka was our number one best-selling destination for 2016! Packed with a huge amount of included excursions, it's no surprise that Jewels of Sri Lanka came out on top. See the full list of destinations that were on everybody's lips in the past year. Read more
Jewels of Sri Lanka
I have just returned from your FABULOUS tour of Sri Lanka. As I do on many of my holidays, I wrote a poem about our experiences and read it to the group on the last night. We came to Sri Lanka to see the land,
Experience the culture, learn it all first hand.. Read more
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Sri Lanka Travel Guide
Sri Lanka Travel Guide
Travel in Sri Lanka offers a beguiling mix. While its beaches and coastal resorts may attract sun worshipers from all corners of the globe, it has much more to give travellers than just tan lines. The cultural triangle that makes up the central region of the country is an archaeologist's dream, with the ruins of Sri Lanka's past capitals offering a window into the past. Ancient rock fortresses and sacred cave temples at Sigirya and Dambulla continue this historical journey which culminates in the vibrant city of Kandy, the last capital of the Sinhalese kings. But culture isn't the only thing on offer here, as an eco-travel destination Sri Lanka is home to thousands of species of birds, mammals, plants and fish. Elephant sanctuaries allow you to visit with the majestic beasts up close, while safaris into the country's national parks offer the chance to spot leopards and more in their natural habitat. The hill country's tea plantations and hill stations provide respite from the heat and oddly British-style club houses. For such a small nation, Sri Lanka certainly packs a punch.
The currency in Sri Lanka is the rupee (symbol: Rs) which is divided into 100 cents. Notes come in 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, 500, 1000 and 2000 denominations and coins in 1, 2, 5 and 10 denominations.
Travellers cheques are a viable means of carrying money and they offer competitive exchange rates. The most common travellers cheques are pounds sterling or US dollars. The flipside to this is that it is unlikely you will be able to change them outside of Colombo or major tourist resorts. ATMs are prevalent in major towns and cities, less so in the countryside, and most should accept international debit cards such as Visa or Mastercard. For security, only use ATM machines that are attached to banks or major hotels. Ensure you have enough cash on your person for emergencies should there be any problems with your card. Ensuring you get some notes in small denominations when you change money will help when paying for taxis, entrance fees, snacks and temple donations.
Sri Lanka can vary in cost depending on your style of travel, but is considered a relatively low-cost destination. Meals can start from as little as Rs 150-400 (US$2-3) for local curry and rice up to US$20 + for top end restaurants.
Tipping is fairly established in the tourism industry in Sri Lanka. A 10% service fee will likely be added to your bill in restaurants. With low wages and inflated cost of living, small tips in the local currency will go a long way for the recipients. Usually RS 100 for porters or waiters and 10% for drivers and guides (depending on your satisfaction with the service provided, of course).
Major Cities and Towns in Sri Lanka
Colombo on the west coast, is the nation's capital and has a fort area, historic monuments, parks and religious sites. On the south coast, Galle is a popular historic sea town and the coast offers beach and sea-based activities such as diving. Inland, the hill country region offers both a different clime and a very different ambiance with the hill station at Nuwara Eliya and the surrounding wilderness including the Horton Plains and World's End having a distinctly English air about it. Head north from Nuwara Eliya and Kandy offers a cultural kaleidescope with temples, museums, nearby craft villages and the popular Peradeniya Botanical Gardens. To the north and north-east of Kandy, the most famous ancient city ruins are found at the World Heritage Sites of Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Dambulla and Sigiriya (lion rock).
Electricity in Sri Lanka runs on 230-240 volts and the most common plug type are round, three pin plugs such as those found in India. Some upmarket hotels may also have square three prong outlets as is found in the United Kingdom. Adaptors are cheap and readily available.
Etiquette and Culture
Around 74% of Sri Lankans are Sinhalese, 12.6% Lankan Tamils and 5.5% Indian Tamils. Of the remainder, most are Moors who are descended from Arab settlers. Owing to its colonial history, it also has a smattering of Dutch, and Portuguese as well as Malaysian and Chinese. The aboriginal population are called Veddah and there are very few left.
The most widely spoken language is Sinhala, although officially Sri Lanka has two national languages – Sinhala and Tamil. English is also widespread with most in the tourism and hospitality industry speaking English. Theravada Buddhism is the main religion and has been present on the island for over 2000 years. Alongisde Buddhism, other religions present include Hinduism, Islam and Christianity.
Eating is done with the right hand. You should also use your right hand to shake hands and to pass things to others as the left hand is reserved for cleaning oneself. If visiting temples it is important to adopt a modest style of dress, covering shoulders and legs to at least the knee. Footwear and headwear should be removed before entering a temple and posing next to a religious statue is not permitted (especially where you have your back to the statue).
This island nation is roughly half the size of England, making it a compact destination. It is separated by India by a stretch of water called the Palk Strait, a mere 48 kms (30 miles) wide. The majority of the island is flat lowlands except for the central-southern region which is mountainous with several peaks reaching over 2000m high. It has many rivers, the longest is the Mahaweli Ganga at 335kms. It also has many waterfalls, the tallest an impressive 263m high. Along its coast, Sri Lanka has a number of picturesque beaches and more than 100 islands dotted off the coast.
Sri Lanka's recorded history began around 2500 years ago where Buddhist texts speak of the arrival of the Sinhalese people to the region. It was a trading nation with the ancient Greeks and the Roman Empire. In the third century BC Tamils begin to migrat across from India.
The kingdom was invaded by the Cholas, led by Rajaraja the Great (985-1018) replacing Hinduism as the island's religion until the invaders fell to forces led by Vijayabahu I who restored Buddhism. His heir and nephew, Parakramabahu (1153-86) was a famous ruler, credited with reunifying the country and for the many splendid building works he commissioned. After his death, the island fractured into various independent states with their own capitals. A powerbase grew at Kotte, near Colombo which is still the nation's capital to this day.
The Portuguese arrived in 1505, with the King of Kotte attempting to divert and distract the invaders by taking them on a roundabout route to reach Kotte, fearing invasion should they realise how close his kingdom was to Colombo. This was to no avail and the Portuguese discovered the ruse. They were initially interested only in trade and taking control of the export of camphor, sapphires, elephants and cinnamon. However, internal dissent among the Sinhalese led to local leaders attempting to use the Portuguese presense to their advantage, allowing them to settle and build defendable forts along the coastline.
The kingdom of Kandy was one notable exception. The Kandyan king signed a treaty with the Portuguese, but when this led to incursions into Kandyan ports, King Rajasinghe II forged an alliance with the Dutch to protect themselves against further Portuguese encroachment. The Dutch had their own agenda of course, with an interest in extending their already substantial control over the spice trade. They took the Kandyan ports back for the kingdom of Kandy, but then seized control of the ports of Galle and Negombo as well. The continued to push the Portuguese back, eventually wresting control in 1658 bring the Portuguese occupation to an end.
The Dutch had no intention of leaving and remained in control for a further 138 years. When relations between the Dutch and the British soured during the Napoleanic wars, Dutch settlements in the east of the country were annexed by Great Britain. The British then invaded Colombo which the Dutch surrendered, ceding their possessions in Ceylon to the British in 1796.
Once again, the kingdom of Kandy defied this foreign rule and the British attempted unsuccessfully to bring them under their juristiction by military means in 1803. When that didn't work they employed a strategy of diplomacy and deception signing a convention with rebellious Kandyan chiefs which ousted the king. Even with the agreement the Kandyans rebelled against the British in 1817-18 which was ruthlessly put down. By 1883 the country was governed under one power for the first time in over 600 years.
The British set about colonising the country, creating coffee and tea plantations and bringing immigrants from their home soil, particularly Scotland, as well as Tamil workers from India to work the plantations. This British control remained until 4 February 1948 when Ceylon was given its independence.
Following independence was decades of nationalism by government, making Sinhala the sole national language and promoting Buddhism as the predominant religion. Many Tamil workers were refused citizenship and Tamil protests against the one-sided rulings led to anti-Tamil rioting causing death and displacement in the Tamil community.
This gave birth to the separatist and liberation movements by the Tamil and the well-known 'Tamil Tigers' eventually descending into civil war and terrorism. In 1972 the country was renamed from Ceylon to Sri Lanka, The Tamil Tigers were eventually defeated by the Sri Lankan army in 2009 after many failed peace talks and ceasefires. The United Nations condemns both sides of being guilty of war crimes and has called for an international investigation.
Best time to travel in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka is very close to the Equator making seasonal variations minimal. It has a tropical monsoon climate. The Yala monsoon season is from May to August affecting the west and south coasts as well as the hill country. However it rarely rains for the whole day and the advantage to this time of year is that sites are much quieter and travel may be cheaper. The dry season from December to March is also the peak season for tourists and beaches and resorts are very busy. Between these two seasons are the shoulder seasons in April and September-November which may offer travellers the best of both worlds.
When to travel
Weather and tourist seasons aside, there are several festivals observed throughout the year which you may want to enjoy or avoid depending on your preference. April 13-14 is the Sinhalese and Tamil New Year which coincides with the end of the harvest and is marked with games, the casting of horoscopes and rituals.
Poya holidays are on the day of each full moon and are Buddhist days of worship and consequently a day when no alcohol is available for purchase. There are several important poya days in the calendar. Navam Poya in February commemorates the Buddha annoucing his death at age 80 and is one of the island's biggest celebrations with processions of elephants in the street. Sri Lanka's Independence Day is celebrated on February 04 with parades and games.
In May, Vesak Poya is the most important poya of the year celebrating Buddha's birth, elightenment and death. Houses, buses and trucks are decorated and free food is handed out from streetside booths. The sale of alcohol, meat and fish in public restaurants is banned over the six days around this festival.
Esala Perhera is a great festival held in Kandy each year in July and August, celebrated with many traditional dances and great processions. It is to pay homage to the Sacred Tooth relic of Lord Buddha.
Guide to food in Sri Lanka
The staple diet in Sri Lanka is rice and curry, with a large mound of rice making the centrepoint of the meal and a number of curries served alongside. Some curries can be exceptionally hot, some not so much so and crushed chillies may be offered for diners to season to their liking. Contrastingly coconut milk may be added to tone down the heat. Curries are made from a fragrant mix of curry leaves, cinnamon, garlic and 'Maldive' fish (cured, dried tuna). These can be found in the many local cafes, sometimes bizarrely called 'hotels'.
Light snacks (called 'short eats') are another feature of Sri Lankan cuisine. These may include hoppers (a kind of pancake) or string hoppers (a sort of nest of rice noodles), deep-fried, hard-boiled eggs with the yolk replaced with a lentil mix, vegetable-stuffed, battered rolls and roti.
Sri Lanka has many influences in its food from a history of colonial occupation and its proximity to India. Rice is the most important ingredient and coconut milk also features prominently. Curries may be made with fish, chicken, pork, beef, mutton or goat. Dishes are often accompanied by pickled fruit, chutney or sambal, particularly coconut sambol, a sauce of ground coconut, chillis, Maldive fish and lime juice.
A spicy stir fry of chopped roti, vegetables and meat of your choice. It can be made by street vendors or eaten at speciality restaurants.
Steamed cylinders of ground rice layered with coconut. This is mot commonly served at breakfast
Literally translated in Sinhala it means 'milk rice' and it is a type of rice pudding where the rice is cooked in coconut milk.
Top Attractions and Highlights in Sri Lanka
Prominent in Sri Lanka's history, Kandy was the heart of the kingdom of Kandy which held firm against both the Portuguese and the English until finally succumbing to invasion at the end of the 19th century. It is home to the much-visited Temple of the Tooth and the nearby Royal Botanical Gardens in Peradeniya.
2. Yala National Park
A popular national park, actually comprised of two national parks alongside one another – Yala and Ruhunu. It is here that you may have the chance to see wild elephants, birds, monkeys, bears and crocodiles. It also has the island's largest population of leopards.
Home of the World Heritage Site of Galle Fort, the city of Galle is a perfectly preserved colonial town. It's brooding stone battlements overlook sedate streets with Dutch-era villas and courtyards.
A fabulously unique rock fortress with panoramic views across the landscape. This rock holds the remains of one of Sri Lanka's former capital cities and features ancient wall paintings and water gardens.
Comprising of five mystical cave temples with vibrant paintings depicting the facets of the Buddhist faith, Dambulla is a historic and cultural treasure. It was founded in the 1st century BC and still contains a fascinating array of statues, shrines and murals.
A ruined ancient city that flourished from the 5th century BC to the 10th century, making up part of Sri Lanka's 'cultural triangle'. This sacred city has at its heart, the Bo tree, believed to have been brought to Sri Lanka in the 3rd century BC making it the oldest living tree in recorded history.
7. Nuwara Eliya and the Hill Country
For the locals the hills in the southern-central part of the island offer a retreat from the heat of the plains. For visitors, charming hill stations provide old-world colonial elegance and decorum while the surrounding countryside offers picturesque hiking and adventure sport options.
The second capital of Sri Lanka after the destruction of Anuradhapura, this city ruins dates from between the 9th to the 14th century. This archaeological park has a delightful array of temples, tombs, statues and stupas and gives an insight into island life in times gone by.
Once a Portuguese and Dutch trading port, Negombo is a quaint colonial settlement home to many historic buildings such as the Old Dutch Fort. There are many fishing villages that surround the area, and there is also a beautiful unspoilt white sand beach.
The nation's capital city attracts mixed reviews of those passing through it, but although it does not have the instant allure of some of the world's more famous capitals, it is a vibrant, ancient maritime city with boulevards, colonial architecture and old fort ramparts. It has the famous Pettah bazaar district with its buzzing chaotic commerce and a selection of restaurants, galleries and museums.
10 Interesting Facts about Sri Lanka
1. Sri Lanka is one of the most population-dense countries in the world and yet has 13% of it land dedicated for wildlife and nature conservations.
2. Sri Lanka has is one of the most bio-diverse travel destinations in the world with over 200 species of butterfly, 92 secies of mammal and 435 recorded bird species.
3. Sri Lanka was also badly affected by the Boxing Day India Ocean tsunami that hit Thailand's coast with 35,000 people killed and 600,000 people displaced. There are still many abandoned buildings in the affected coastal areas.
4. Sri Lanka was the first country in the world to have a female prime minister.
5. Sri Lanka's aboriginals are called the Veddahs which translates literally to mean 'hunters'. They were originally hunter-gatherers, hunting game with bows and arrows and they also employ slash and burn farming techniques. Recently there has been concern that they are disappearing, along with their culture.
6. Sri Lanka gained its independence from Britain in 1948 and is a member of the Commonwealth.
7. Although cricket is very popular in Sri Lanka, the country's national sport is volleyball.
8. In 1995 Sri Lanka surpassed Kenya to become the world's leading exporter of tea. Other exports include clothing and textiles, rubber, gems and coconuts.
9. Sri Lanka has 8 UNESCO World Heritage Sites – five culture and two natural. They are: Polonnaruwa, Sigiriya, Golden Temple of Dambulla, Old Town of Galle and its Fortifications, Sacred City of Anuradhapura, Sacred City of Kandy, Central Highlands of Sri Lanka and Sinharaja Forest Reserve.
10. A government study in 2004 found that Sri Lanka had the most official days off work in the world with 26 public holidays. That's in addition to the 45 paid leave days workers get per year.