We all know the restorative powers of a good cuppa, and Sri Lanka's lush plantations and aromatic Victorian factories are like a pilgrimage for tea lovers. We love driving to the central hill stations, stepping into the scenic green landscapes of Nuwara Eliya, and watching the skilful fingers of the women in the tea plantation, plucking the youngest shoots for you to enjoy Ceylon's finest cup of tea.
1,000 miles of palm-fringed beaches are waiting to welcome you to this exquisite island, from the golden swathes of Negombo and the beautiful lagoons of Bentota to the pristine coral reefs of Unawatuna in Galle. Wherever you choose to lay down your beach towel, a swim in the warm Indian Ocean will relax you in an instant. The coconut palms seem to think so too, leaning in towards those turquoise blue waves. Beneath the warm waters of the Indian Ocean, Sri Lanka's underwater world is mesmerising, with vividly colourful corals inhabited by marine life such as pretty angel and butterfly fishes. Diving and snorkelling are great all around the coast, but Bentota and Hikkaduwa are two of the best spots, with reefs just metres from the shore. You can also see below the surface on a glass-bottomed boat trip.
This ancient rock fortress, built on and around a towering 200-metre-high rock, is just one of Sri Lanka's World Heritage Sites. Discover the astonishing remains of a palace, surrounded by lush gardens, pools and fountains. Hundreds of square metres of the rock were once covered with frescoes, many of which you can see today. Picture the huge lion's mouth that once surrounded the entrance to the palace was built in the shape of a lion's mouth, and the paws which stood either side still remain. The view from the top is spectacular.
Picturesque Kandy is Sri Lanka's cultural capital. In a land of temples, the most sacred of them all is the Temple of the Tooth, which shelters a tooth belonging to Buddha himself. Head to the bustling market to buy local arts and crafts and immerse yourself in the Kandyan way of life. Another UNESCO World Heritage Site, the historic city of Galle is all Dutch fortifications, colonial villas and atmospheric streets.
There are a number of carriers to offering flights to Sri Lanka from the UK.
Direct Carriers: Sri Lanka Airlines offers the only direct service to Colombo wit up to eight service per week from London Heathrow.
Indirect Carriers: Emirates and Qatar Airways offer indirect services to Sri Lanka.
Departure Taxes: There is no departure tax currently in Sri Lanka.
All visitors to Sri Lanka, even those transitting, will need to purchase a travel visa. Applications can be made advance on-line (US$30) or on arrival (US$35). Please contact your local embassy for up-to-date information.
Your passport must be valid for at least six months beyond your intended stay in Sri Lanka. Please contact the Sri Lanka Embassy for up to date country and visa information on 0207 262 1841.
The official currency is the Sri Lankan Rupee. As you can only take 5,000 Sri Lankan Rupees in and out of the country, they can be hard to find in the UK and you will need to buy them when you get to Sri Lanka. Banks and exchange bureaus can be found in airports and tourist centres, and will change major currencies from cash and traveller's cheques (which can generally be exchanged at better rates). Remember to change Sri Lankan Rupees back into UK Pounds at the airport before you return home, as you may not be able to do so in the UK.
Credit cards are accepted at some mid-range and most top-end hotels and restaurants. MasterCard and Visa are the most widely accepted, followed by Amex, American Express, and Diners Club. Cash machines are widely available in towns and cities, although not all will accept international cards. If you wish to use cash machines while on holiday in Sri Lanka, it is best to inform your bank before you go. Try to break larger notes down into smaller cash where possible, as many small businesses will not accept them.
Most hotels and restaurants automatically add a 10 percent service charge to the bill. Often though, this goes straight to the owner rather than the waiter or waitress, so you may want to add extra in change if the service was good. Around 50 Sri Lankan Rupee is fine for hotel porters, and you should tip taxi drivers 10 percent of the total fare.
May - December on the West coast and December - April on the East coast.
No special vaccines are required or recommended for travel to Sri Lanka. All travellers should be up to date on routine immunizations. Please contact your GP for further information.
With its humid, tropical climate, Sri Lanka is always hot (hotter still in March and April), so you will need all your beach holiday essentials. Remember a waterproof jacket for pesky showers, and pack a jumper if you plan to visit the cooler central highlands. Sri Lanka is a religious country, so take modest clothing or cover-ups for visits to temples and shrines.
High factor sunscreen;
Cool, lightweight clothing in natural fabrics like cotton or linen;
A wide-brimmed hat to keep the sun off your face;
Warmer clothing for visiting the highlands;
Long sleeved cover-ups for evenings and temples;
An electrical adapter (the power supply in Sri Lanka is 230 volts at 50 hertz);
Comfortable walking sandals for exploring;
An underwater camera for snorkelling.
If you like your curry, holidays in Sri Lanka are probably calling you already. Likened to South Indian cuisine, Sri Lankan flavours are dominated by spices, coconut, and chillies, with the island's dishes considered among the worlds hottest. While standard foods are spicy, many restaurants tone the chilli content down for tourists. Being an island, Sri Lanka has plenty of seafood to tempt you, with spicy barbecued fish and coconut shrimp curry just two of the options on the menu.
In Sri Lanka, mealtimes usually consist of a main meat or fish curry and several other curries made with vegetables, lentils, and even fruit. Distinctive flavours include coconut milk, onion, chilli, cumin, coriander, and aromatic spices such as cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, cardamom, and saffron.
Rice and Side Dishes
All that curry needs something to help take the heat, and most curry dishes are served with boiled or steamed rice. Other more flavoursome side dishes include chutneys, pickles and sambal, a spicy chilli-based paste. The most famous, coconut sambal, is made of ground coconut, chillies, dried fish and lime juice. Also served on the side is mallung, a blend of chopped leaves, grated coconut, and red onion.
A bit like a Sri Lankan créme caramel, this steamed custard dessert uses some of the island’s best ingredients. Aromatic and sweet, wattalapam is made from coconut milk, eggs, jaggery (fudge made from the sap of the kitul palm) and cashew nuts, softly spiced with cardamom, cinnamon, and nutmeg.
From beachfront shacks and little stalls on the roadside, to market sellers and food carts attached to bicycles, authentic Sri Lankan street food is easy to find. Line up with the locals to sample island snacks and spicy favourites. Be careful to only order street food from vendors whose food is clean, fresh, and cooked right in front of you.
These wafer-thin, bowl-shaped pancakes are cooked in small rounded pans to give them a crispy outside and a soft, spongy centre. A blend of rice flour, coconut milk and toddy (palm wine), this iconic Sri Lankan snack is popular at breakfast time, especially with a baked egg on top.
This tasty street dish has become a popular midnight snack for partygoers in Sri Lanka. Shredded pieces of paratha bread are stir-fried with a blend of spices like ginger and curry powder, as well as other ingredients like garlic, leeks, onions, chillies, eggs, cheese and/or meat, all served with curry sauce to moisten the dish.
Shaped like a small doughnut, this savoury snack is made from chickpea flour, mashed or diced potatoes, and/or dhal lentils. Vadas are seasoned with mustard seeds, curry leaves, onions, chillies, ginger, and black pepper, then shaped and deep-fried. Eat them dipped in tangy chutney while they are still hot and crunchy.
Budgets for holidays in Sri Lanka cross a spectrum all the way from backpacking to five-star luxury. On average though, a three-course meal in a mid-range restaurant will set you back around 2,200 Sri Lankan Rupees, with a bottled beer about 500 Sri Lankan Rupees. When you are thirsty, a 1.5 litre bottle of water is usually around 70 Sri Lankan Rupees.
Sri Lankan fashion is a mix of both western and traditional wear. Men often dress in a collarless, long-sleeved, knee-length shirt over a sarong. Most women wear a sari; a long, draped piece of silk worn over a petticoat. The Kandyan style (or osaria in Sinhalese) also includes a full blouse, partially tucked in at the front and covering the midriff completely, although these days most wearers bare their midriff.
With its history of immigration, trade, and colonial invasion, Sri Lanka's rich culture has been touched by South Indian, Portuguese, Dutch, and British influences. This religious country is predominantly Buddhist, with Hindu, Muslim, and Christian minorities. Conflicts between the Buddhist Sinhalese and Hindu Tamils have led to Sri Lankan Tamil rebels fighting for an independent nation in the northern and eastern parts of the island. Until the 1970s, Sri Lanka was known as Ceylon.
When it comes to etiquette, try to remember the following:
• Shaking hands is the normal form of greeting, although men greeting women should wait for her to extend her hand first, if at all.
• Remove shoes and hats and cover your legs and upper arms when visiting any place of worship. It is also common to take off your shoes before entering people's homes, and even certain shops and businesses. If you see shoes left by the door, take yours off as well.
• Use your right hand to eat, shake hands, and give or receive objects. The left hand is considered unclean.
• Public displays of affection such as kissing are considered offensive.
• Avoid touching people, or moving objects, with your shoes.
• Try not to touch any images of the Buddha.
• Keep your swimwear to the beach or pool.
• Never sunbathe topless. Public nudity is illegal.
Despite its relatively small size, Sri Lanka is home to a hugely diverse collection of wildlife, many of which are only found on the island. Its sanctuaries and national parks are must-sees, with brilliant bird-watching, leopard spotting, and elephant experiences. Monkeys are often seen around towns and villages, including the grey langur, a long-tailed primate with grey fur and a black face. Other local creatures are bears, porcupines, bats, wild boar, buffalo, and deer. Reptiles and amphibians include snakes like the cobra, lizards, geckos, chameleons, crocodiles, tortoises, frogs, and turtles, five species of which nest on Sri Lankan beaches.
Yala National Park
Go on safari with an experienced guide to discover the open landscapes and watering holes of Yala National Park, the perfect setting for wildlife-viewing. Spot sloth bears, reptiles, birds, herds of elephants, and the world’s densest population of leopards in this relatively untouched habitat on Sri Lanka’s southeast coast.
With over 250 species to keep an eye out for, Sri Lanka is famous for its colourful, darting butterflies. Visit the Peradeniya Royal Botanical Gardens close to Kandy to see Indian red admirals, metallic ceruleans, plumbeous silverlines, common blue bottles, and common banded peacocks lingering around the rare orchids, with wings as fabulous as their names.