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About Sri-Lanka
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About Sri-Lanka
For a small island, Sri-Lanka has many nicknames: Serendib, Ceylon, Resplendent Isle, Island of Dharma, Pearl of the Orient. This colourful collection reveals its richness and beauty, and the intensity of the affection it evokes in its visitors.

Head for the rolling hills to escape the heat of the plains in the cool of tea plantations. The entire island is teeming with bird life, and exotics like elephants and leopards are not uncommon. To top it all off, the people are friendly, the food is delicious and costs are low.

Marco Polo considered Sri-Lanka the finest island of its size in all the world, and you'll likely agree after exploring the country's fabled delights. What takes your fancy? Beaches? The coastal stretch south of Colombo offers palm-lined sandy expanses as far as the eye can see. Culture? Try the Kandyan dances, a procession of elephants or the masked devil dances. Ruins? You'll find enough ancient and inspiring architecture in the cities of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa to satisfy that inner archaeologist.

Time Zone: GMT/UTC +6

Dialling Code: 94

Facts for the Traveler


Visas: Visitors from the USA, most western European countries, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Israel, Japan, Singapore and Hong Kong do not require visas. Automatic entry for between 30 and 90 days is given on arrival.

Health risks: cholera (This diarrhoeal disease can cause rapid dehydration and death. Cholera is caused by a bacteria, Vibrio cholerae. It's transmitted from person to person by direct contact (often via healthy carriers of the disease) or via contaminated food and water. It can be spread by seafood, including crustaceans and shellfish, which get infected via sewage

When to Go


Climatically the driest and best seasons are from December to March on the west and south coasts and in the hill country, and from May to September on the east coast. December to March is also the time when most foreign tourists come, the majority of them escaping the European winter.

Out of season travel has its advantages - not only do the crowds go away but many airfares and accommodation prices go right down. Nor does it rain all the time. Reefs may protect a beach area and make swimming quite feasible at places like Hikkaduwa, which during the monsoon can be quite pleasant.

Sri-Lanka Attractions


Colombo
Colombo, the island's largest city, is noisy, frenetic - and just a little crazy. Thankfully, the breakdowns, snarled traffic and power cuts are received with a shrug and a smile. While the city holds less obvious interest than many other parts of the island, it's still colourful and worth a look.

To the north of the centre is the Fort district, the country's business centre. South is Galle Face Green, a seafront expanse of occasional green graced by cricket games and trysting lovers. Cinammon Gardens, further south, is the most fashionable neighbourhood, with mansions and tree-lined streets.

Anuradhapura

Anuradhapura is Sri-Lanka's first capital, a potent symbol of Sinhalese power, and the most extensive and important of Sri-Lanka's ancient cities. It became a capital in 380 BC and for over 1000 years Sinhalese kings ruled from this great city.

The Sacred Bo-Tree is the city's holiest site, and was grown from the tree under which Buddha achieved enlightenment. The Thuparama Dagoba, the oldest of the many temples in Anuradhapura, is believed to contain the right collar-bone of Buddha.

Galle

The port of Galle, thought by some to be the Biblical city of Tarshish, splendidly illustrates the solidity of the Dutch presence in Sri-Lanka. The 36ha (89ac) Dutch Fort, built in 1663, has withstood the ravages of time. Its massive ramparts surround the promontory that forms the older part of Galle, and shelters within its walls sturdy Dutch houses, museums and churches. The New Oriental Hotel, built for Dutch governors in 1684, is a colonial gem with a wonderfully atmospheric bar. Nearby is a tiny sliver of a beach suitable for a dip, though most travellers prefer to head along the coast to the fine beaches at Unuwatuna, Weligama and Tangalla.

Hikkaduwa

Hikkaduwa has been severely affected by the Indian Ocean Tsunami of 26 December 2004. The area has suffered extensive damage and loss of life. Infrastructure is slowly being rebuilt and services restored but check with the relevant authorities before travelling to the area in the immediate future.

Hikkaduwa is the island's most developed beach resort. It has a range of accommodation, good restaurants and pleasant cafe-lined beaches. There's good snorkelling at an attractive and easily accessible coral sanctuary, scuba diving at a number of wrecks in the bay, tours by glass-bottomed boats and pretty good surfing. It's a relaxed place, similar to many Asian beach resorts popular with Western travellers. There are also plenty of handicraft shops catering to tourist whims, a Buddhist temple, a nearby lake with abundant birdlife and some pretty dangerous traffic hurtling down the main road.

Kandy

The laidback 'capital' of the hill country, and the historical bastion of Buddhist power, is built around a peaceful lake and set in a picturesque bowl of hills. It has a distinctive architectural character and the town centre is a delightful compendium of old shops, buses, markets and hotels.

Its standout attraction is the octagonal Dalada Maligawa, a temple which houses Sri-Lanka's most important religious relic - the sacred tooth of Buddha. There are daily ceremonies of homage to the Tooth Relic, each attracting white-clad pilgrims carrying lotus blossoms and frangipani.

Sigiriya
The spectacular rock fortress of Sigiriya is an impregnable fortress, a monastic retreat, and a rock art gallery. Built in the 5th century AD to fend off a feared invasion, it is situated atop a 200m (656ft) high rock, and at the height of its glory must have been akin to a European chateau plonked on top of Uluru. There are water gardens, 5th century rock paintings of well endowed damsels, a 1000-year-old graffiti wall recording visitors impressions of the pin-ups, a couple of enormous stone lion paws and tremendous views.

To get to Sigiriya from Colomba, hop on a bus that stops at Dambulla, and from there catch any of the hourly buses going to the rock fortress, a total of 191km (118mi) away.

Adam's Peak

From December to April, pilgrims converge to climb the 2224m (7295ft) Adam's Peak. At the top is a huge 'footprint', claimed by Muslims to belong to Adam, who stood there in expiation of his sin in the Garden of Eden. Never mind that Buddhists believe it to be the mark of Buddha or that Hindus hold the print to have been made by Lord Shiva, the fact remains that it is has been a place of pilgrimage for over 1000 years. The view from the peak at dawn is enough to shock the most cynical agnostic into a state of reverie. It takes about four hours to climb to the top from the town of Dalhousie.

Nuwara Eliya

Once the favourite hill station of the British, Nuwara Eliya still retains the vestiges of Empire: a blend of Tudor and Georgian architecture, gabled roofs, immaculate lawns and moss-covered gravestones. Soak up the quaint atmosphere by visiting the Hill Club - by jove, there's a golf course, tennis courts, even copies of Country Life here - or visit the botanic gardens and tea plantations in the surrounding hills.

Yala West
Though it sustained some damage due to the 2004 tsunami, Yala West is one of the few Sri-Lankan national parks still open to travellers. It has scrub, lagoons and rocky outcrops, and is in the country's southeast; it's a particularly good place to see elephants
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