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
All our Sri Lanka trips
Articles on Sri Lanka
The Perennial Plate video location winners
Posted on Thu, 09 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...Read more
Sri Lanka Highlights
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:
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:
- Capital city:
- Colombo (population 2 million)
- 21.5 million
- Sinhalese, Tamil
- Time zone:
- (GMT+05:30) Sri Jayawardenepura
- Type D (Old British 3-pin) Type G (Irish/British 3-pin)
- Dialing code:
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.
Culture and customs
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
Beer = 200-250 LKR
Simple lunch at local restaurant = 300 – 400 LKR
Seafood dinner = 1,000-1,500 LKR
For more information on insurance, please go to: Travel Insurance
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
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:
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 New Zealand?
Go to: http://www.voyage.gc.ca/
Go to: http://travel.state.gov/
Go to: http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/
The World Health Organisation
also provides useful health information:
Go to: http://www.who.int/en/
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.
|At the Water’s Edge||Pradeep Jeganathan|
|Running in the Family||Michael Ondaatje|
|When Memory Dies||A Sivanandran|
|Tea Time with Terrorists: A Motorcycle Journey into the Heart of Sri Lanka’s Civil War||Mark Stephen Meadows|