Top events in Sri Lanka

December
01

Starting on poya day in December and running until the Vesak festival in May, the pilgrimage season sees thousands of visitors make the long trek...

February
01

Colombo’s most famous festival draws thousands of visitors and locals for a two-day display of pomp and circumstance. Featuring parading elephants...

February
06

This colourful event celebrated its tenth anniversary in 2013, and continues to provide a high-profile showcase for Sri Lankan designers. During...

Ruins on top of Sigiriya Rock, Sri Lanka
Pin This
Open Media Gallery

Ruins on top of Sigiriya Rock, Sri Lanka

© 123rf.com / Valery Shanin

Sri Lanka Travel Guide

Key Facts
Area

65,610 sq km (25,332 sq miles).

Population

21.7 million (2013).

Population density

330.4 per sq km.

Capital

Colombo.

Government

Republic. Gained independence from the UK in 1948.

Head of state

President Mahinda Rajapaksa since 2005.

Head of government

Prime Minister D M Jayaratne since 2010.

Electricity

230 volts AC, 50Hz. Round and square three-pin plugs are used.

Combining pristine jungle, palm-fringed beaches and an incredible array of wildlife in one pint-sized package, Sri Lanka offers the perfect introduction to the Indian Subcontinent. The 26-year civil war that tore the island in half finally came to an end in 2009, opening up new areas of the north to curious visitors and driving tourism across the whole country.

The Indians, Portuguese, Dutch and British have all left their marks here, making for a delightful mish-mash of historic architecture. The romantic remains of lost cities lie scattered across the country: some preserved as visitor attractions; others hidden and forgotten in the depths of the jungle. In the Hill Country, the centre of British occupation, colonial-era trains still wind their way through tea plantations and lush paddy fields. Those who make the long trek to the village of Meemure in the Kunckles Range will find that life has barely changed in hundreds of years.

But this highly populated little island is hardly frozen in time. Colombo is a thriving modern capital - fast-paced, forward thinking and bursting with boutiques, bars and nightclubs. The devastation created around the Sri Lankan coastline by the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami has been almost completely cleared. In its place, shiny new beach hotels and restaurants now look out over the Indian Ocean.

One of Sri Lanka’s greatest boasts is its biological diversity. Monkeys, leopards and thousands of colourful bird species haunt the central jungles, while the coastlines of the south are a haven for egg-laying turtles. Blue whales, sperm whales, flying fish and dolphins live in the seas around Dondra Head, and giant flocks of pink flamingos gather in the wetlands of Bundala National Park. But the biggest highlight for most tourists is the elephants. See them wild in Yala and Udawalawe national parks, or visit the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage to feed tiny newborn babies.

While tourism in Sri Lanka has traditionally concentrated on the country’s cultural attractions and its wildlife-crammed national parks, a fledgling adventure industry is beginning to attract serious adrenaline junkies. Surfers have been coming to the island for decades, drawn by the mammoth waves of the east and south coast. Now kayakers, divers, white-water rafter, climbers and mountaineers are catching on to the myriad opportunities offered by Sri Lanka’s inner jungles and mountain ranges.

But a trip to this enticing little island needn’t be all about thrillseeking and sightseeing. As a major centre of Ayurveda, blessed with balmy weather and beautiful beaches, it’s no surprise that Sri Lanka is fast being populated with luxury spas. If you like your holidays to focus around sun, sand and serious relaxation, you certainly won’t be disappointed.

Whether it’s a trail elephant crossing the highway, a literary festival in Galle, leopard sighting in Yala National Park, tasting an exceptional cup of tea at a plantation, stumbling upon vast ancient ruins in the middle of the jungle or discovering a deserted beach, this vibrant island offers a series of unexpected delights. From its lush mountainous regions, to its perfect beaches, from its incomparable wildlife population to its peerless historical monuments, it's clear to see why Marco Polo proclaimed Sri Lanka to be one of the best islands in the world.

Travel Advice

Last updated: 02 September 2014

The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. 'We' refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.

You need a visa to enter Sri Lanka.

There were violent disturbances in Aluthgama (near Bentota) and Beruwala (about 60km south of Colombo) in mid June which resulted in 4 reported deaths and many injuries, as well as damage to buildings and local businesses. Both areas are near to tourist resorts on the coast. There have been isolated incidents and disturbances elsewhere around the country. You should take care and avoid demonstrations.

On 21 March 2014, the Sri Lankan government designated 16 organisations and 424 individuals, including the British Tamils Forum and Global Tamil Forum, for purported links to terrorism.

Foreign nationals, with the exception of media crews, no longer need permission from the Sri Lankan Ministry of Defence before travelling to the northern districts of Jaffna, Kilinochchi, Mannar, Mullaittivu and Vavuniya. Military activities are ongoing and you should obey orders from the security forces and signs warning of the danger from land-mines.

Political rallies in Sri Lanka have sometimes turned violent. You should avoid any political gatherings or rallies.

There is an underlying threat from terrorism.

Most visits to Sri Lanka are trouble-free, but you should be aware of the risk of credit card fraud, road accidents, drownings and dengue fever which is transmitted by mosquito bites.

Sri Lanka can be affected by severe weather like tropical cyclones and monsoon rains.

The Overseas Business Risk service offers information and advice for British companies operating overseas on how to manage political, economic, and business security-related risks.

Newsletter