Sri Lanka

Known as the ‘Pearl of the Indian Ocean’, Sri Lanka offers travellers palm-studded beaches, rolling plantations and sacred sights steeped in spirituality. With charming people, mysterious ruins and some of the best cuisine in the world, Sri Lanka’s hypnotic essence will remain with you long after you come home.

Sri Lanka Tours & Travel

Top deals in Sri Lanka

Departing Days Price AUD
16 Jan 2015 Circle Sri Lanka 15 $1975

All our Sri Lanka trips

Secrets of Sri Lanka

12 days from

Explore the ancient sites, lively culture and gorgeous beaches of Sri Lanka on a trip that takes you through Colombo,...

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Real Food Adventure - Sri Lanka

15 days from
USD $1,985
CAD $2,115
AUD $2,195
EUR €1,525
GBP £1,315
NZD $2,600
ZAR R19,980
CHF FR1,880

From spicy curries and fresh seafood to tasty hoppers and the sweetest of desserts, Sri Lanka has a delectable...

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Sri Lanka Family Holiday

15 days from
USD $1,970
CAD $2,035
AUD $1,995
EUR €1,375
GBP £1,155
NZD $2,220
ZAR R19,970
CHF FR1,660

Enjoy close encounters of the wild kind in Sri Lanka. Take a safari, camp under the stars and absorb the island’s...

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Sri Lanka Family - Elephant Paradise

15 days from

Enjoy close encounters of the wild kind in Sri Lanka. Take a safari, camp under the stars and absorb the island’s...

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Real Food Adventure - Sri Lanka

12 days from
USD $1,675
CAD $1,730
AUD $1,695
EUR €1,165
GBP £985
NZD $1,885
ZAR R16,965
CHF FR1,395

From spicy curries and fresh seafood to tasty hoppers and the sweetest of desserts, Sri Lanka has a delectable...

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Circle Sri Lanka

15 days from
USD $1,950
CAD $2,010
AUD $1,975
EUR €1,370
GBP £1,140
NZD $2,195
ZAR R19,735
CHF FR1,660

From Anuradhapura city to the Polonnaruwa ruins, Sigiriya rock to Mirissa and Galle to Colombo – this fun, relaxing...

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Treasures of Sri Lanka

15 days from
USD $2,355
CAD $2,430
AUD $2,385
EUR €1,640
GBP £1,380
NZD $2,655
ZAR R23,875
CHF FR1,985

Travel across Sri Lanka to learn about the origins of local Buddhism, witness the breathtaking vistas of World’s End...

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Sri Lanka trip reviews

Our Sri Lanka trips score an average of 4.48 out of 5 based on 56 reviews in the last year.

Circle Sri Lanka, June 2014

Circle Sri Lanka, June 2014

Articles on Sri Lanka

Travel fit: 8 of the best physical activities in Sri Lanka

Posted on Fri, 3 Oct 2014 by Amanda Linardon

Cycling, rock scrambling, rafting and snorkelling. You don’t necessarily think of all these activities when you start planning your travels in Sri Lanka. More likely than not, you’ll conjure up [...]

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How to get a real taste of Sri Lanka

Posted on Fri, 27 Jun 2014 by Sue Elliot

Staying in local guesthouses and sharing family meals is the secret to enjoying the real Sri Lankan cuisine.

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The Perennial Plate video location winners

Posted on Thu, 9 May 2013 by Sue Elliot

Please join us in applauding Daniel and Mirra. Their trophy cabinet is filling-up and it's turning into a huge year for them...

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Bruno wins gold

Posted on Thu, 20 Oct 2011 by Sue Elliot

Intrepid's Bruno Dawsan has been heralded as the world's greatest tour leader at the 2011 Wanderlust World Guide Awards!...

Read more

Transport

Intrepid believes half the fun of experiencing a new country is getting there, and getting around once there! Where possible, Intrepid uses local transport options and traditional modes of transport - which usually carry less of an environmental impact, support small local operators and are heaps more fun.

Depending on which trip you're on while in Sri Lanka, you may find yourself travelling by:

Accommodation

Travelling with Intrepid is a little bit different. We endeavour to provide travellers with an authentic experience to remember, so we try to keep accommodation as unique and traditional as possible.

When travelling with us in Sri Lanka you may find yourself staying in a:

About Sri Lanka

At a glance

Trips Available: 3
Capital city: Colombo (population 2 million)
Population: 21.5 million
Language: Sinhalese, Tamil
Currency: LKR
Time zone: (GMT+05:30) Sri Jayawardenepura
Electricity: Type D (Old British 3-pin) Type G (Irish/British 3-pin)
Dialing code: +94

Best time to visit Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is blessed with a tropical climate, with temperatures remaining in the high 20s throughout most of the year. To soak up some sunshine, be sure to come during the dry seasons (September - October and December – March). The rest of the time it's the monsoon season, so expect rain during this time.

Colombo weather chart

Culture and customs

Monkey sits pirched upon the bright Mihintale Buddha statue in Sri Lanka Fisherman at sea in Sri Lanka
As an important stop on ancient trade routes, there’s a great mix of cultural influences present in modern day Sri Lanka. The majority of Sri Lankans are Sinhalese Buddhists, followed by Tamils (who are mostly Hindu) and a small amount of Christians and Muslims. Various religious festivals and holy times are celebrated regularly in Sri Lanka, from large nationwide holidays to local village celebrations. As a fairly conservative nation, most locals dress modestly and displays of affection are not considered appropriate in public. While consuming alcohol isn’t forbidden at most times, being publicly intoxicated is generally frowned upon.

The influence of the British is still evident in Sri Lanka’s culture, cuisine and buildings. Drinking tea and playing cricket are the most obvious remnants of British colonial rule, although you’ll also find country cottages dotted throughout some rural regions with some serving traditional English fare like roast chicken and beef. Travellers will find that most Sri Lankans, despite having little, are quick to share their food and friendship. Known for being hospitable, generous and kind, when being offered tea or food in someone’s home, it is considered impolite to decline.

Eating and drinking

Traditional Sri Lankan Dhal Curry and Roti bread

Intrepid believes that one of the best ways to experience a country is by eating! Whether you're sampling street food, savouring a cheap eat or indulging in a banquet, there are endless options to choose from wherever you are in the world.

Things to try in Sri Lanka

1. Curry

Sri Lankan curries are among the hottest in the world, but don’t let that put you off. Fragrant, coconut-based curries packed with chilli, garlic, turmeric and coriander will give your tastebuds a treat.

2. Seafood

Being an island, Sri Lanka has access to an amazing array of seafood. Feast on fresh crab, swordfish, lobster and squid - or choose a fiery seafood-based curry.

3. Hoppers

These egg-filled crepe-like wonders can usually be found at breakfast buffets. Usually made from a rice flour and coconut milk batter, they are a Sri Lankan twist on the traditional pancake.

4. Tea

With miles of tea plantations, Sri Lankans have grown accustomed to drinking their popular home-grown cash crop. Tea is served with milk and sugar almost everywhere in Sri Lanka, mainly at breakfast and during the day.

Geography and environment

Waterfall in Sri Lanka. Image by Perennial Plate
Situated in the Indian Ocean, the island of Sri Lanka lies just under the Indian subcontinent, to the southwest of the Bay of Bengal. Much of Sri Lanka receives a high level of rainfall during the monsoon season, with the dry northern areas being the exception. Due to the high level of rainfall, tropical evergreen forest proliferates around the country. Despite extensive land clearing for agriculture, there are still pockets of national parks and biosphere reserves around the country that hold much flora and fauna, including herds of wild elephants, deer and a wide range of birds. Sri Lanka’s remaining forests and protected areas are rich in biological diversity and remain popular with tourists looking for wildlife and adventure.

Sri Lanka’s main cities are typically built up, busy and increasingly becoming more multicultural and cosmopolitan. In comparison to Sri Lanka’s fast-paced, city-dwelling residents, many Sri Lankans still live in villages with simple housing and work predominantly in the agriculture and fishing industries.

History and government

Native man in bright orange robe

Recent History

Sri Lanka (Ceylon) was officially granted its independence in 1948, but continued to maintain relatively good relations with the British. By 1960, Ceylon had the world’s first female prime minster and in 1972, the name Ceylon was replaced with Sri Lanka, which had just become a republic (but remained a member of the Commonwealth). These changes in government and moves towards independence were largely Sinhalese-centric, which created some tension with parts of the Tamil population.

From 1983 to 2009 Sri Lanka endured an intermittent civil war, which resulted in some displacement of people and human rights violations. More recently, parts of Sri Lanka were devastated by the 2004 tsunami, yet Sri Lanka has rebounded with an increasingly stable economy based on agriculture, tourism and telecommunications. With one of the best performing stock exchanges in the world, Sri Lanka has emerged from conflict, natural disasters and colonisation to become a rising tourist and economic hotspot.

Early History

Sri Lanka was occupied by hunter-gatherers for thousands of years before the arrival of Sinhalese tribal groups in the 6th century BC. Buddhism arrived on the island sometime during the 3rd century BC and as a result, the city of Anuradhapura became the capital and centre of Buddhism. This Buddhist Kingdom endured years of Tamil raids until Anuradhapura was abandoned in favour of Polonnaruwa in the south. By the 12th century, Tamil rulers had a permanent presence in the north, where Hinduism still flourishes today.

The harbours of the south soon became important trading centres for Arab traders but by the 16th century a new wave of foreign influence began with the arrival of the Portuguese, then the Dutch. Sri Lanka’s wealth of cinnamon and geographic trading advantage appealed to the Portuguese, who slowly took over the island until the Dutch drove them out in the early 17th century. Remnants of this time can still be found in modern-day Sri Lanka, with colonial forts, cannons and other ruins dotted throughout the country, especially along the coast. By 1795, the British arrived and captured the island from the Dutch. Sugar, coffee, tea and rubber plantations were soon established by the British, along with Western schools, churches and colleges.

Top Picks

Sigiriya (Lion’s Rock) in Sri Lanka The ancient ruins of Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka Dambulla Cave Temple in Sri Lanka Polonnaruwa Ruins in Sri Lanka

Top 10 Spiritual Spots in Sri Lanka

1. Bodhi Tree

Located at the ancient site of Anuradhapura, this sacred fig tree is said to have grown from a sapling of the Bodhi Tree that Buddha was sitting under when he became enlightened. This holy spot has long been a pilgrimage site for Sri Lankans and is now becoming a place of spiritual interest for visitors too.

2. Dewatagaha Mosque

One of the oldest mosques in Sri Lanka, this prayer place for worshippers of Islam has stood in Colombo for hundreds of years. The striking domes and minarets stand out in the Colombo skyline and provide a spiritual epicentre for Sri Lanka’s Muslims.

3. Temple of the Tooth

This Buddhist temple, located in Kandy, is named for the holy relic (said to be Buddha’s tooth) that is housed inside. It's a World Heritage site that has survived bombings and the ravages of time - visit here to see worshippers deep in prayer under the elaborate golden roof.

4. Dambulla Cave Temple

This well-preserved series of cave temples is brimming with paintings and statues that date all the way back to the 1st century. With colourful depictions of Buddha, Sri Lankan kings and various Hindu gods and goddesses, this is one of the most elaborate cave complexes in Asia.

5. Adam’s Peak

Sacred to Buddhists, Hindus, Christians and Muslims, Adam’s Peak is arguably Sri Lanka’s most popular pilgrimage spot. Surrounded by wildlife reserves, the walking trail leading to the mountain is a stunning walk regardless of religious persuasion. Watching a stirring sunrise from the holy summit is nothing short of magnificent.

6. Polonnaruwa Ruins

These impressive ruins of an ancient kingdom are home to massive palaces, huge statues, imposing temples and an artificial lake. Although historically and culturally important, witnessing orange-robed monks praying at Gal Vihara (a Buddhist rock temple) is a spiritual moment you won’t soon forget.

7. Sigiriya (Lion’s Rock)

This magnificent UNESCO World Heritage site was once a mountain monastery many centuries ago. The rock inscriptions, paintings and ancient ‘graffiti’ show insight into the lives of the monks who lived within the caves and grottoes before King Kasyapa took to the throne and established a capital there.

8. Anuradhapura

The ancient ruins of Anuradhapura are a significant holy place for Sri Lanka’s Buddhists. As one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, there are many monasteries surrounding this area of supreme veneration.

9. Munneswaram Temple

This elaborate Hindu temple complex is known for its vibrant festivals in celebration of Navaratri and Sivaratri. During this time, the complex is filled with the buzz of devotees who come to attend daily pujas and bath in the nearby holy river.

10. Mihintale

If you choose to climb the thousand or so steps to the top of Mihintale’s hill, you’ll be rewarded with panoramic views and a deeper understanding of Buddhism, as this is the site where Buddhism is said to have originated in Sri Lanka.

Shopping

sri lanka shopping craft stall hand carved local market

Known for it’s fragrant spices, vibrant fabrics, stunning silver jewellery and one-of-a-kind antiques, it’s difficult to leave Sri Lanka without a backpack full of mementos. From far-flung rural marketplaces to the boutiques and galleries of Galle and Colombo, shopping in Sri Lanka has something for everyone at a relatively low cost.

It's a good idea to check with your local customs officials to ensure that you are able to bring certain items back into your home country. Australia and New Zealand generally have strict quarantine laws.

Things to buy in Sri Lanka

1. Handicrafts

Although available all over the country, Kandy is one of the best places to buy locally made handicrafts. Choose from handmade brass and silver jewellery, vibrant fabric bags and scarves, and batik wall hangings.

2. Spices

Home to a multitude of plantations and spice gardens, it’s no wonder some of the world’s best spices come from Sri Lanka. Perhaps buy some saffron, cloves, cinnamon, turmeric and cardamom to take home a taste of Sri Lanka with you.

3. Gem Stones

If you’re after a low-cost gemstone, Sri Lanka is a top place to pick up a stone at great price. Birthstones are popular, as are girls' best friends – diamonds! As always, buy from a licensed gem store to guarantee authenticity.

Festivals and Events in Sri Lanka

Vesak Festival

People all over Sri Lanka commemorate Buddha’s birthday by visiting temples, giving alms and singing devotional songs. Simple, luminous paper lanterns are hung outside homes and food is freely distributed to the public via roadside stalls.

Esala Perahera

Expect to see bedazzled elephants, fire-eaters, processions of people and animated parades of drummers, dancers and torchbearers in this colourful festival. Held over 10 days, Kandy comes alive for this historic event rich in Buddhist tradition and Sinhalese arts. It’s loud, extravagant and very crowded – an atmospheric Sri Lankan spectacle.

FAQs on Sri Lanka

Sri Lankans work hard and typically receive a low wage, so tipping drivers, porters, maids and other service staff is a good idea. A small amount should suffice. When in restaurants, add 10% to the bill as a tip.
Internet access is growing in Sri Lanka. Internet cafes are easily found in large cities, but the speed may be slower than what you’re used to.
Mobile phone coverage is generally good in urban areas, but can be patchy and less reliable in rural areas. Ensure global roaming is activated on your phone before you arrive.
Squat toilets are the most common toilets in Sri Lanka. Always carry your own toilet paper and soap as they are usually not provided. Western-style flushable toilets can be found in upmarket restaurants, five-star hotels and in some tourist areas.
Soft drink = 100 LKR
Beer = 200-250 LKR
Simple lunch at local restaurant = 300 – 400 LKR
Seafood dinner = 1,000-1,500 LKR
It's not recommended to drink the tap water in Sri Lanka. Filtered water is a better option; try to use a refillable canteen or water bottle rather than buying bottled water. Remember to avoid ice in drinks and peel fruit before eating.
Credit cards are usually accepted by modern hotels, restaurants and medium-large shops in tourist areas. Smaller shops, cafes, market stalls and places in remote areas probably won’t have facilities that support credit cards, so ensure you have enough cash to cover expenses while in rural areas or when visiting smaller vendors.
ATMs are becoming more common in Sri Lanka’s large cities, so finding one shouldn’t be a problem. Smaller towns and isolated areas will have very few, or none at all, so have enough cash to cover purchases as ATM access may not be available.
Absolutely. All passengers travelling with Intrepid are required to purchase travel insurance before the start of their trip. Your travel insurance details will be recorded by your leader on the first day of the trip. Due to the varying nature, availability and cost of health care around the world, travel insurance is very much an essential and necessary part of every journey.

For more information on insurance, please go to: Travel Insurance
Jan 1 New Year's Day
Jan 14 Tamil Thai Pongal Day
Jan 24 Milad un-Nabi (Birth of the Prophet)
Jan 27 Duruthu Full Moon Poya Day
Feb 4 National Day
Feb 25 Navam Full Moon Poya Day
Mar 10 Mahashivrati
Mar 27 Medin Full Moon Poya Day
Mar 29 Good Friday
Apr 25 Bak Full Moon Poya Day
May 1 Labour Day
May 25 Vesak (Buddha Day)
Jun 23 Poson Full Moon Poya Day
Jul 22 Escala Full Moon Poya Day
Aug 8 Eid al-Fitr (End of Ramadan)
Aug 21 Nikini Full Moon Poya Day
Sep 19 Binara Full Moon Poya Day
Oct 15 Eid al-Adha (Feast of Sacrifice)
Oct 18 Vap Full Moon Poya Day
Nov 3 Deepavali
Nov 17 Il Full Moon Poya Day
Dec 17 Unduvap Full Moon Poya Day
Dec 25 Christmas Day

Please note dates are for 2013. * Dates are approximate only. Hindu, Muslim and Buddhist festivals are timed according to local sightings of the phases of the moon so dates differ each year.

For a current list of public holidays go to: http://www.worldtravelguide.net/sri-lanka/public-holidays
SRI LANKA:
Australia: Yes - in advance
Belgium: Yes - in advance
Canada: Yes - in advance
Germany: Yes - in advance
Ireland: Yes - in advance
Netherlands: Yes - in advance
New Zealand: Yes - in advance
South Africa: Yes - in advance
Switzerland: Yes - in advance
United Kingdom: Yes - in advance
USA: Yes - in advance

Foreign passport holders are required to obtain a visa prior to entry into Sri Lanka. This can be done on-line at the following website:
www.eta.gov.lk

Detailed information and application forms are provided here. The process is simple and the cost is US$20 for most countries.

Health and Safety

Intrepid takes the health and safety of its travellers seriously, and takes every measure to ensure that trips are safe, fun and enjoyable for everyone. We recommend that all travellers check with their government or national travel advisory organisation for the latest information before departure:

From Australia?

Go to: http://www.smartraveller.gov.au/

From New Zealand?

Go to: http://www.safetravel.govt.nz/

From Canada?

Go to: http://www.voyage.gc.ca/

From US?

Go to: http://travel.state.gov/

From UK?

Go to: http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/

The World Health Organisation

also provides useful health information:
Go to: http://www.who.int/en/

Responsible Travel

Sri Lanka Travel Tips

Intrepid is committed to travelling in a way that is respectful of local people, their culture, local economies and the environment. It's important to remember that what may be acceptable behaviour, dress and language in your own country, may not be appropriate in another. Please keep this in mind while travelling.

Top responsible travel tips for Sri Lanka

1. Be considerate of Sri Lanka’s customs, traditions, religions and culture.

2. Dress modestly and respectfully. Shoulders to knees should be covered, especially when entering places of worship.

3. For environmental reasons, try to avoid buying bottled water. Fill a reusable water bottle or canteen with filtered water instead.

4. Always dispose of litter thoughtfully, including cigarette butts.

5. When bargaining at markets, stay calm, be reasonable and keep a smile on your face. It's meant to be fun!

6. Learn some local language and don't be afraid to use it - simple greetings will help break the ice.

7. Shop for locally made products. Supporting local artisans helps keep traditional crafts alive.

8. Refrain from supporting businesses that exploit or abuse endangered animals.

9. Please ask and receive permission before taking photos of people, including children.

10. When on community visits or homestays, refrain from giving gifts or money to locals.

Further reading

Recommended reading

Title Author
At the Water’s EdgePradeep Jeganathan
Running in the FamilyMichael Ondaatje
SerendibJim Toner
When Memory DiesA Sivanandran
Tea Time with Terrorists: A Motorcycle Journey into the Heart of Sri Lanka’s Civil WarMark Stephen Meadows