The tear-drop shaped island of Sri Lanka is located in the Asian continent, in the Indian Ocean. It is just below the southern tip of India, to the south west of the Bay of Bengal and to the south east of the Arabian Sea. It is separated from India by the Palk Strait, a 50 kilometre stretch of ocean. Sri Lanka lies 880 kilometres north of the equator, between 5°55' and 9°55' north latitudes and between 79°42' and 81°52' eastern longitudes.
Visitors to Sri Lanka will be completely fascinated by the unusual climate of the country. It is possible to come across hot and humid tropical weather, cool and misty conditions and dry, parched areas all within the same day.
Seasonal changes are based solely on the monsoons - the South West Monsoon and the North East Monsoon. The former blows in from the Indian Ocean, bringing with it heavy periods of rain which may last from May to September. This season usually starts with a month of heavy rain followed by periods of shorter showers. At this time of the year the seas are rough and the coastal tides are rather dangerous; swimming in the sea should be strictly avoided during this time. The North East Monsoon blows in from the Bay of Bengal, but does not bring much rain and that too is generally to the north-eastern parts of the island.
Thunderstorms are witnessed throughout the country during October and November when the inter-monsoon period is in effect. These short bursts of heavy rain generally take place late in the evenings after rather sunny, warm and humid days and may bring with them a degree of freshness and coolness. The small lakes which have been filled to their brims with this water and the sweet fragrance of damp soil and the myriad flowers littering the roads and valleys are a welcome sight after these thunderstorms. An umbrella is a must for locals or foreigners alike; this can protect you from the lashing rain as well as the scorching sun and searing heat.
The warmest temperatures are normally witnessed in the low-lying southern and western coastal regions - with Colombo averaging 27 degrees Celsius (81 degrees Fahrenheit). The sea is a warm and inviting 27 degrees Celsius throughout the year. The temperatures drop noticeably as you move up into the central highlands, and it could get quite chilly towards the night. Kandy, located 305 metres above sea level, records an average temperature of 20 degrees Celsius while Nuwara Eliya, at an altitude of 1,890 metres, can reach 16 degrees Celsius.
Sri Lanka has a recorded history dating back to over 2,500 years. The Mahavamsa provides a detailed historical account of the island; which includes the many trade and cultural links it had established with several other ancient civilizations.
Sri Lanka has been known by different names to different people of the world. To the Greeks it was Taprobane, to the Arabs it was Serendib, to the Portuguese it was Ceilao, to the Dutch it was Zeylan, and to the British it was Ceylon. Sri Lanka is an ancient name meaning 'The Resplendent Isle'.
Sri Lankans are friendly, helpful and courteous by nature and you are likely to be welcomed with a smile in any part of the country. You are expected to behave accordingly; they will not take kindly to loss of temper or raised voices on your part and such behaviour may work to your disadvantage. Life is generally laid-back and relaxed although this may be different in Colombo and some of the main cities. People are just as concerned about enjoying life as about working hard and making money. In certain villages, people still have special roles assigned to them and some professions are specially confined to some villages.
Asking very personal questions from strangers, whether local or foreign, is not considered intrusive here. You may find total strangers asking your name, country, age, marital status and the number of children you have. Although such inquisitiveness is considered unwelcome in western cultures, this is not so in most parts of Asia and only reflects their friendliness and honesty. Foreigners also have to be prepared to be stared at; every one from the tiniest tot to the ageing grandmother will stare at you, especially in rural areas. This is not considered rude here as it is in western societies and has to be taken in its stride. The elderly and children are treated well; elderly parents are well looked after by their grown up children in extended families, and the western practice of placing elderly parents in elders' homes is looked down upon although this is now a growing trend. The divorce rate is also one of the lowest in the world, with about one divorce per 10,000 people per year.
Sri Lankans generally have a relaxed attitude to informal European dress styles. However, religious and cultural sensitivities should be taken into account by all visitors who are in the country. Always remove your shoes and any headgear when entering sacred places such as Buddhist and Hindu temples and shrines, and walk barefoot. When entering temples, you should be dressed appropriately; women should wear long skirts or loose trousers and modest blouses or loose dresses, while men should wear long trousers or sarongs. Exposing the skin, bare backs or shoulders are not accepted at religious sites. The proper mode of dress and behaviour which should be followed inside religious premises is printed and displayed outside most such places and all visitors, whether local or foreign, are expected to follow suit. These customs apply even in ancient ruined archaeological sites; they are still considered as sacred and should be treated as such.
Swimwear is not acceptable in public places. Neither is nudism or topless bathing by females. Sri Lankans are conservative by nature so extreme modes of behaviour of whatever kind may not be accepted.
Festivals and the rituals associated with culture play a major role in the lives of Sri Lankans. They are generally colourful gatherings of family and friends and sometimes whole villages gather for events like peraheras (processions), devil-dancing ceremonies and various events held at temples and kovils. Some of these events are even decided on by astrologers based on horoscopes and the movement of heavenly objects. The rich, vibrant and colourful dance heritage of the country is an integral part of the culture.
Sri Lanka has a population of 20,926,315 with a population growth rate of 1.3%. This multi-ethnic population comprises:
Sinhalese - 74%
Tamils - 18%
Muslims - 7%
Burghers - (descendants of Dutch and Portuguese)- 1%
(A small population of Veddas /indigenous people still live in forests in areas like Mahiyangana.)
The four major religions in the country are: Buddhism (followed by about 70% of the population), Hinduism (about 15% of the population), Christianity (7%) and Islam (7%). Most Sinhalese are Buddhist although there is a small number of Christian-Sinhalese. The majority of Tamils are Hindu although there is a significant number of Tamil-Christians as well. You can find places of worship throughout the island.
Gangarama Temple, 61 Jinaratana Road, Colombo 2
Tel.: 011 232 7084 Fax: 011 243 9508 Isipathanarama Temple, Isipathana Road, Colombo 5
Vajirarama Temple, Vajira Road, Colombo 5
For more information on Buddhist places of worship, contact:
Buddhist Research & Information Centre
380/10 Sarana Road, Colombo 7
Tel.: 268 9388
Cathedral of Christ the Living Saviour, Bauddhaloka Mawatha, Colombo 7
Tel.: 269 6383
St. Luke's Church, Colombo 8 (Borella)
Tel.: 269 1543
St. Peter's Church (Mission to Seamen), 26 Church Street, Colombo 1
Tel.: 242 2510
Bambalapitiya Dutch Reformed Church, Galle Road, Colombo 4
Tel.: 232 3765
St. Andrew's Church, Galle Road, Colombo 3
Tel.: 222 3765
Baptist Church, 331 Grandpass Road, Colombo 14
Baptist Manse, 120 Dharmapala Mawatha, Colombo 7
Tel.: 269 5153
Methodist Church, 6 Station Road, Colombo 3
Tel.: 232 3033
Roman Catholic -
St. Philip Neri's Church, 157 Olcott Mawatha, Colombo 11
Tel.: 242 1367
St. Lawrence's Church, Galle Road, Colombo 6
Tel.: 258 1549
St. Mary's Church, Lauries Road, Colombo 4
Tel.: 258 8745
New Kathiresan Temple, Galle Road, Bambalapitiya, Colombo 4
Sri Muthuvinayagam Swami Kovil, 221 Sea Street, Colombo 11
Sri Samankodu Kadirvekanda Swami Kovil, Main Street, Colombo 11
Bambalapitiya Mosque, Buller's Road, Colombo 4
• Jamiul Alfar Mosque, 2nd Cross Street, Colombo 11
• Kollupitiya Mosque, Colombo 3
Sinhalese and Tamil are the most commonly spoken languages in Sri Lanka. In the main cities, English is widely spoken as well. As most hotels aim at catering to foreign tourists, almost all hotel staff will be able to speak English, and many hotels will also have staff members who are able to speak German, French, Russian and other languages.
Although Sri Lanka's economy has been relatively stable in the recent past, its future depends primarily on political stability, maintaining peace and continued policy reforms. Sri Lanka needs economic growth rates of 7-8% and investment levels of about 30% of GDP (Gross Domestic Product) for a sustainable reduction in unemployment and poverty. In the past ten years, investment levels have averaged around 25% of GDP. The island depends on a continued strong global economy for investment and expansion of its export base. The government must have an ambitious infrastructure development programme to boost growth.
The service sector is the largest component of GDP at around 60%. There is continued growth and strong expansion, fuelled primarily by strong growth in the Telecom, trading, transport, and financial services. There is a growing information technology sector, especially information technology training and software development. Since the volatile security situation has ended in Sri Lanka, the tourism sector is a leading contributor and is rapidly growing on the island. Industry accounts for around 28% of the GDP. Manufacturing is the largest industrial sub-sector, accounting for 18% of the GDP. The construction sector accounts for 6% of the GDP. Mining and quarrying account for 2% of the GDP. Electricity, gas and water account for 2% of the GDP. Within the manufacturing sector, food, beverage, and tobacco are the largest sub-sectors in terms of value addition, accounting for 46%. Textiles, apparel, and leather is the second largest sector with 24% of value addition. The third largest sector in value added terms is chemical, petroleum, rubber, and plastic products.
Agriculture has lost its relative importance to the Sri Lankan economy in recent decades. It employs 31% of the working population, but accounts for only about 12% of the GDP. Rice, the staple cereal, is cultivated extensively. The plantation sector consists of tea, rubber, and coconut. In recent years the tea crop has earned Sri Lanka a well deserved reputation. It has made significant contributions to export earnings. In fact, Sri Lanka is one of the largest tea exporters in the world, with the Middle East being one of its major markets.
There are over one billion Sri Lankan rupees of annual remittances from Sri Lankan expatriate workers who contribute in a major way to keeping the country's economy afloat. Most of them are situated in the Middle East.
The Head of State is the Executive President and is elected for a six year term. The current President is Mahinda Rajapaksa who was elected in November 2005. The country has a multi-party system and a 225 seat parliament, to which members are elected by a modified form of proportional representation. Although members of parliament are generally elected for a six year term, political volatility in the country as of late has kept the terms of recent parliaments rather short. The parliament is headed by the prime minister who represents the party which obtains the highest number of votes at a general election and there has been an instance where the president and prime minister have been from opposing sides of the political spectrum. The three main parties in the country are the People's Alliance, which is in power at the moment, the United National Party which has held power in the past, and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna which is the third force in Sri Lankan politics.
Public Holidays and Festivals
Due to the country's multi-racial, multi-religious nature, Sri Lanka enjoys one of the highest counts of holidays per year among all countries.
The Full Moon (Poya) Day of every month is a public, bank and mercantile holiday. The Poya dates change every year as they are based on the monthly lunar cycle.
The Muslim holidays of Id-Ul-Fitr (Ramadan), Id-Ul-Allah (Hajj) and Milad Un Nabi (Holy Prophet's Birthday) are national holidays and are held on different days each year according to the cycles of the Muslim calendar.
National Holidays, which are on fixed dates, are:
National Day - February 4
May Day - May 1
Christmas Day - December 25
Many activities in the country come to a complete standstill during these holidays and festivals. Travelling during Poya holidays can be very difficult and time consuming since trains and buses are packed with commuters who are travelling to their hometowns. Restrictions exist on alcohol and meat sales on Poya days. Other holidays occur in the following months, although the dates may change every year according to the moon and government decree:
Tamil Thai Pongal
Two days associated with the Sinhala/Tamil New Year
Two days associated with the Vesak Poya
Sri Lanka is rich not only in terms of its diversity, culture and natural beauty, but also in terms of its cuisine. Its own indigenous varieties of food vie for attention with many other dishes influenced by Indian, Portuguese, Dutch, British, Malay and Arabian food.
Rice and curry is the staple food of the country, and curries are made in a hundred different ways. Meat, fish, seafood, vegetables and pulses are made into curries with the addition of thick coconut cream and a host of spices such as coriander, chillies, mustard, cumin, pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, cardamom and garlic; these are combined in different proportions to give the curry either a fiery hot or more subtle flavour. Incidentally, Sri Lanka has always been famous for its rich spices; they were one of the prime magnets which drew the colonial powers as well as other merchants to the country's golden shores. Rice is sometimes consumed three times a day to the accompaniment of several curries, made spicier with the addition of sliced onions, garlic and green chillies. Mallung, or finely shredded leaves mixed with grated coconut, onions and a dash of lime juice, poppadom and various chutneys and pickles complement the main dishes.
Hoppers (appa) are a breakfast or dinner item made with a batter of flour fermented with a little palm toddy. It is fried in a round cast-iron pan in such a way that it ends up with a soft, fluffy, well-risen centre and a golden brown crisp border. Sometimes, an egg is baked into the centre. Hoppers are delicious with hot sambols (a hot sharp 'relish' of ground chillies, grated coconut, onions and dried fish), curries, or for those with a sweet tooth, with jam or a little sugar.
Milk rice (kiribath) is included in the menu during all special occasions. This is rice cooked in thick coconut cream and eaten with a chilli relish called lunumiris, hot curries or with a coconut and treacle confection called Panipol.
Light and lacy, string hoppers (indiappa) resemble little bird nests and are made from a dough formed into strings and steamed. They make a mouthwatering meal with curries and sambol.
Pittu is believed to have arrived in Sri Lanka with Malay regiments, but has now taken root in the island as a completely naturalised Sri Lankan staple. It is a mixture of fresh rice meal, very lightly roasted and mixed with fresh grated coconut. It is then steamed in a bamboo mould. It has a soft crumbly texture and is eaten with fresh coconut milk and lunumiris or curries.
Kolakenda is taken for breakfast as a nutritious and balanced porridge of brown rice mixed with coconut cream and the juice of green herbs such as Polpala, Hathawariya, Gotukola or Elabatu. It is delicious served on its own or with some brown sugar.
Roti is made with wheat, rice or brown millet flour mixed with fresh grated coconut and a touch of oil and baked on a hot griddle in thin flat cakes. They are equally good with chilli relish or with butter and jam or a sprinkling of sugar.
Thosai, of Tamil origin, has now become another favourite item and is consumed for both breakfast and dinner. The base for this lentil pancake is ulundu, a black-skinned pulse of delicate flavour which is soaked and ground to a smooth batter, which is later flavoured with shallots, curry leaves, fenugreek and cumin and cooked on a hot griddle greased with oil. The tortilla- like thosai is eaten with a gravy and finely ground coconut and chilli sambol.
Vadai - Often accompanying thosai at mealtimes, are small savoury cakes made of ground ulundu or dhal. The lentil paste is mixed with minced shallot, green chillies, curry leaves and a dash of cumin and red chilli powder, fashioned into flat cakes and deep fried in coconut oil.
Being surrounded by the Indian Ocean, Sri Lanka has access to a wide variety of fish and seafood. Tuna, seer, mullet, crab, lobster, prawns and cuttlefish are plentiful.
Tea is the most common beverage on the island and is drunk several times a day. Ceylon Tea is famous around the world and continues to be one of the biggest foreign exchange earners for the country. Iced tea and teas flavoured with various spices, ginger and fruits have been gaining in popularity among the younger generation.
Another popular beverage, which is a great thirst-quencher, is the sweet and nutritious water contained in the golden King Coconut (known locally as thambili).
Certain parts of plants, such as the roots, bark and leaves, are boiled and the extract drunk for their therapeutic properties. Other popular beverages are juices made with a variety of fruit which are found throughout the island.
Sri Lanka is famous for its traditional sweets and some of the most popular are kevum (oil cakes), kokis (a crispy fried delicacy), aluwa, dodol, aasmi and athiraha. Palm treacle is the main traditional sweetener and one of the favourite desserts of the islanders is curd and treacle. Watalappam, though of Malay origin, has become a local favourite. This rich pudding is made with coconut milk, eggs and brown sugar mixed together and steamed.
Getting There & Around
By Air -
The international airport in Sri Lanka is the Bandaranaike International Airport at Katunayake, which is located 34 kilometres north from the capital Colombo, close to Negombo. The national carrier, Sri Lankan Airlines (flight code UL) flies to 45 destinations in 25 countries in Europe, the Middle East, South Asia, South-east Asia, and the Far East. Some of its major destinations include London, Paris, Frankfurt, Tokyo, Rome, Hong Kong, Beijing, Bangkok, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, New Delhi, Chennai, Mumbai and Dubai. Sri Lankan is one of the largest foreign carriers operating to India, with 90 weekly flights to 11 destinations. It is also the largest carrier to the Maldives with direct flights from Europe. Some other international carriers serving Colombo are Biman Bangladesh Airlines, Czech Airlines, Cathay Pacific Airways, Emirates, Expo Aviation, Gulf Air, Indian Airlines, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, Kuwait Airways, Malaysian Airlines, Oman Air, Qantas Airways, Qatar Airways, Royal Jordanian Airline, Royal Nepal Airlines, Saudi Arabian Airlines, Singapore Airlines and Thai Airways.
Car Rental and Driving -
Renting a car and driving yourself around Sri Lanka is exciting and leisurely since you have the freedom to roam about as you please. Traffic in the city can be overwhelming so be sure to take necessary precautions. Always carry an updated map and familiarise yourself with Sri Lankan traffic laws.
Sri Lankans are very friendly and will not hesitate to give you directions if asked. Although they only want to be helpful, they might sometimes give you wrong directions if they themselves do not know. To be on the safe side, always ask two or three different people as you go along. If the directions vary, you may have to try another approach.
To drive in Sri Lanka, you need an International Driving License or a temporary Sri Lankan license. This can be obtained from the Automotive Association of Ceylon (Tel.: 011 242 1158), 40, Sir Mohamed Marcan Markar Mawatha, just off Galle Face Green in Colombo.
Transportation from the Airport -
Package tours usually include transfers from the airport to the hotel. Plenty of taxis are also available for independent travellers.
Chauffeur-driven cars -
This may be the most comfortable way of getting around in Sri Lanka. Many reputed agencies offer both air-conditioned and non air-conditioned vehicles. While some car-hire companies also provide long distance chauffeur-driven services, this may not be more expensive than self-drive. Make sure you fully understand who is responsible for the driver's food and lodging before you start your travels.
Almost all parts of the country can be accessed by bus. Though the fares are rather low, travelling by bus is a slow process; they stop frequently, can get rather crowded, and might by uncomfortable for tourists. Bus services are operated by the government and private bus operators. The sizes of the buses vary.
Semi-express and express buses also ply the roads; they make fewer stops and therefore may reach their destinations a little faster. The fastest buses on the road are those identified as something similar to 'inter-city express'. These may be smaller in size with air-conditioning, tinted windows and padded seats.
Sri Lanka's railway system offers a charming way of getting around the country. Although fares are low, the downside to train travel includes overcrowded carriages and delays. There are 2nd class seats and observation saloon seats on the Kandy trains, both of which can be reserved in advance. Colombo Commuter Trains offer stopping and semi-express services from Colombo to destinations such as Aluthgama, Rambukkana, Puttalam and Avissawella. Local trains offer stopping services for commuters between Aluthgama, Galle, Matara, Kurunegala, Polonnaruwa or Matale.
For more information, call train Inquiries on 011 243 4215.
The most convenient way to make short journeys on the island, and even longer journeys where public transport services are not available, is by trishaw. Trishaws are also known as motorised rickshaws, tuk-tuk's, three-wheeler's and taxi's. They are found all over the country and are willing to travel to almost any destination. With no 'doors', you may find travelling by trishaw an exciting, fun experience or a scary one. Some trishaw drivers may try to trick foreigners with regard to the fare, so always be prepared to bargain and agree on the fare before you start the journey. A reasonable rule of thumb is to count around Rs. 30 per kilometre, perhaps a bit more in busy cities such as Colombo and Kandy, and slightly less in rural areas. The charges may be higher in popular tourist destinations. Take plenty of small notes to avoid being overcharged due to lack of change for your fare once you reach your destination.
Numerous metered taxi services operate in Colombo and other major cities and can be booked by calling up their telephone numbers. They may operate cars, vans or minivans and are generally reliable, comfortable and not much more expensive than trishaws.
The best general map of the island is the Rough Guides Sri Lanka map, which is printed on indestructible waterproof paper. The Nelles Sri Lanka map has detailed town maps of Colombo, Kandy, Galle and Anuradhapura. Good detailed maps are also available from the Survey Department at Kirula Road, Colombo 5/ Tel.: 011 258 5111 (Take your passport).
The Insight Fleximap Sri Lanka combines clear cartography with informative text and photos illustrating the destination's top sights. Its easy-to-fold laminated finish makes it ideal in any weather.
Maps of Sri Lanka can be purchased in the UK from Stanford's, 12/14 Long Acre, Covent Garden. London WC2E 9LP, Tel.: 020 7836 1321; www.stanfords.co.uk. They have branches in Bristol and Manchester.
What to do in Sri Lanka
706, Galle Road, Colombo 3 / Tel.: 011 258 0114 / www.barefoot.lk
A treasure trove of art and artefacts, this wonderful shop is the ideal place to buy handicraft, ethnic wear, traditional jewels, Sri Lankan books and other local items. The beautiful courtyard at the back of the shop, which is an art gallery in its own right, is the venue for many different art, sculpture and photography exhibitions.
2 Alfred House Gardens, Colombo 3 / Tel.: 011 258 2162
The former offices of world famous architect Geoffrey Bawa; this superb building hosts exhibitions by local artists and photographers.
Lionel Wendt Theatre
18 Guildford Crescent, Colombo 7 / Tel.: 011 269 5794
Colombo's main performing arts venue hosts occasional displays of photography and paintings by local and international artists.
National Art Gallery
101 Ananda Coomaraswamy Mawatha, Colombo 7 / Tel.: 011 269 3965
Open daily except on Poya days from 8am - 5pm.
The National Art Gallery displays an extensive collection of 20th century Sri Lankan art.
34/2 Barnes Place, Colombo 7 / Tel.: 011 269 5731 / www.theserendibgallery.com/sapu-found
The Sapumal Foundation has an absorbing selection of Sri Lankan visual arts from the 1920s to the present, particularly focusing on work of the artists of the '43Group (of which the members laid the foundation for modern art in Sri Lanka).
36 1/1 Rosmead Place, Colombo 7
Tel.: 074 710 002
A wide selection of Sri Lankan art and artefacts, from antiquity to the present day, are displayed here.
Mainstream Hollywood and other English films are shown at the Majestic Cinema (Tel: 011 258 1759), on the fourth level of the Majestic City shopping mall on Galle Road in Colombo 4. Some English language blockbusters are also shown at Liberty Cinema (Tel.: 232 5265), at 35, Dharmapala Mawatha in Colombo 3, while the British Council occasionally screens art-house movies.
Sri Lanka is not the ideal venue for those seeking raucous, after-dark entertainment but it does have its fair share of midnight fun. Most of the night-life that is available is centred in and around Colombo. You can also dance the night away in outstation beach resorts such as Hikkaduwa, Unawatuna and Negombo.
R.A. De Mel Mawatha (Duplication Road), Colombo 4 / Tel.: 011 2492492
This Latin themed venue has earned a name for itself over a relatively short period of time thanks to its colourful decor, groovy Latin music, relaxed and friendly atmosphere, free salsa lessons on Thursdays and one of the only Mexican food outlets.
Clancy's Irish Pub & Restaurant
29 Maitland Crescent, Colombo 7 / Tel.: 011 537 8017
Although not very Irish as the name may denote, this continues to be one of Colombo's most unpretentious and popular drinking venues. It contains live music played regularly, a number of pool tables and pub food of a reasonable standard.
Cricket Club Cafe
34 Queen's Road, Colombo 3 / Tel.: 011 250 1384
This cafe is a popular venue with both locals and expatriates and gets packed at most evenings. Its bar is one of the biggest draws especially with cricket enthusiasts.
42 Sir Mohamed Marcan Markar Mawatha, Colombo 3 / Tel.: 011 471 4788
One of Colombo's hottest venues, this open-air rooftop bar features a comprehensive drinks list, good live music performed on most nights, impressive views of the city and a chic local crowd.
Rhythm and Blues Bar
Daisy Villa Avenue, R.A. De Mel Mawatha (Duplication Road), Colombo 4 / Tel.: 011 536 3859
This live music venue, which had been established a long time ago, features various acts most nights of the week.
The city of Colombo contains many casinos which provide alternative night-life venues for those who want to try their luck at the gaming tables. All of them offer roulette, blackjack and baccarat. Free drinks and snacks are available to players at these clubs while some casinos offer buffet dinners and live music too. All casinos are closed on Poya days.
14, Dharmapala Mawatha, Colombo 3 / Tel.: 011 257 3497
430, R.A.de Mel Mawatha, Colombo 3 / Tel.: 011 257 5271
MGM Grand Casino
772 Galle Road, Colombo 4 / Tel.: 011 259 1319
4 Galle Face Terrace, Colombo 3 / Tel.: 011 234 1496
Star Dust Club
5th Lane, Galle Road, Colombo 3 / Tel.: 011 257 3493
Sri Lanka has a wide and varied cuisine where a host of local ingredients combine to provide gastronomic delights with their own distinctive and delicious blend of flavours. Rice and curry is the staple diet in the country and Sri Lankans would gladly eat it three times a day, of course with a different combination of meat, fish and vegetables flavoured with a heady blend of coconut cream and fragrant spices such as cinnamon, cardamom, chillies, lemon grass, cumin, curry leaves, coriander and tamarind.
Learning to eat rice and curry with your fingers can be a nice experience; observe the locals to pick up some tips. There is an array of mouth-watering desserts, sweetmeats and snack foods in Sri Lanka. Do not neglect to try out some of these indigenous foods. String hoppers and hoppers are some of the favourites among locals.
Many foreigners have fallen in love with Sri Lankan food over the years. If you happen to fall into this category, there is the Ceylon Daily News Cookery Book of which you could obtain a copy to take home with you, so that you could try out some of the recipes after returning home. This is one of the best known cookery books in the island with a wide range of recipes and is available in a travel-friendly format.
86 Galle Road, Colombo 3 / Tel.: 011 258 4403
Banana Leaf is a cheap and cheerful cafe serving a decent range of Sri Lankan food including delicious crab. Banana leaves are used as plates to serve food.
3 Deal Place A, Colombo 3 / Tel.: 011 257 3433
One of the best restaurants in Colombo, Chesa Swiss is set in a charming colonial villa and offers a sumptuously prepared range of Swiss food, Australian steaks, and seafood and vegetarian dishes. It is open only for dinner and is closed on Poya days and Mondays.
89 Galle Road, Colombo 3
This lively food court is in the basement of the Crescat shopping mall. It is crammed full of stalls selling everything from pizza and ice-cream to Sri Lankan and Mongolian specialities. It is a fun place to have lunch.
34 Queen's Road, Colombo 3 / Tel.: 011 250 1384
Cricket Club is a popular cricket-themed bar/cafe/restaurant in an old colonial villa. Watch videos of famous matches and feast your eyes on the memorabilia plastered all over the walls as you tuck into one of the cafe's well-prepared international delicacies - the fare includes burgers, pasta dishes and sandwiches.
2 Alfred House Road, Colombo 3 / Tel.: 011 258 2162
One of the most beautiful cafes in Colombo, this is a place which offers good international cuisine. Drop in for a drink and you will come across the people of Colombo enjoying themselves.
453 Galle Road, Colombo 3 / Tel.: 011 228 8811
Excellent Sri Lankan cafe and a nice place to check out local cuisine and a wide variety of meals: rice and curry, lamprais and hoppers - is available at quite low prices.
27 Sir Ernest de Silva Mawatha (Flower Road), Colombo 7 / Tel.: 011 267 2888
Chinese restaurant situated in an old colonial villa with a range of well-prepared dishes at reasonable rates. This place has a significant number of local clientele too.
14 Rheinland Place, Colombo 3 / Tel.: 011 257 3877
Cute little Japanese restaurant with an informal cafe-like atmosphere, kitsch oriental decor and a surprisingly wide range of dishes covering a full spectrum of Japanese cuisine.
Sea Fish Restaurant
15 Sir Chittampalam A. Gardiner Mawatha, Colombo 2 / Tel.: 011 232 6915
Cosy and unpretentious seafood restaurant with a mainly local clientele and a fair range of moderately priced but well-prepared fish and seafood dishes.
What to buy :
Sri Lanka is an excellent shopping destination for clothes, household items, tea and spices. If you have foreign currency, you will be able to buy a whole cartload of goods at low rates. The conversion rate between the rupee and most foreign currencies will ensure that you are able to buy good quality items at a much lower rate. However, be careful when buying brand name items. Clothes with designer labels are a risk to buy as the country has a booming market for fake 'designer goods'. Fake labelled goods such as Armani, Gucci, CK Jeans and Tommy Hilfiger are sold on pavement stalls at prices which are a fraction of the real price. Invariably, these low quality goods are produced by unlicensed manufacturers and are not the authentic original product. Other goods that are worth buying are tea, spices, hand-looms, masks, carvings and gems such as moonstones. However, be aware of identifying good quality gems and jewels before you proceed with such purchases.
When travelling outside Colombo, opt for items which may be unique to a certain area. Some areas of the country might be well known for producing certain goods and such items may offer better quality and lower prices. Ex. Galle is famous for traditional hand-made lace. You would find elderly women selling their marvellous creations outside on the ramparts. Likewise, Veveldeniya on the Kandy Road is famous for handwoven reed ware such as reed baskets. Ambalangoda is the centre of traditional Sri Lankan mask-carving and although masks can be bought from anywhere in the island, this southern coastal town is where you would find the best available at more reasonable prices. Note that the export of antiques (defined as anything over 50 years old) and animal or marine products are illegal unless you can produce the relevant export licences. Contact the Sri Lanka Tourist Board for details.
704 Galle Road, Colombo 3 / Tel.: 011 258 9305 / www.barefoot.lk
Barefoot houses an exclusive range of stylishly simple garments in vivid cottons and linens created by Sri Lankan artist and designer Barbara Sansoni. A wide selection of other gifts and an excellent bookshop are available as well. There is also a courtyard cafe and an interesting gallery at the rear.
House of Fashion
R.A. De Mel Mawatha (Duplication Road), Colombo 4
This huge and enormously popular multi-story emporium acts as a clearing house for Sri Lanka's garment industry. They sell vast quantities of clothes intended for the foreign labels at give-away prices.
5 Alexandra Place, off De Soysa Circus (Lipton Circus), Colombo 7 / Tel.: 011 268 2712 / www.odel.lk
The only department store of the city, Odel, houses an excellent selection of bargain designer clothing. They also offer books, tea and knick-knacks. There are several other branches in Colombo; at Majestic City and Crescat; at the Bandaranaike International Airport; as well in suburbs such as Kohuwela and Jaela.
Galle Road, Bambalapitiya, Colombo 4
Majestic City is a large and tourist friendly with lots of clothes, shoe and gift shops. It includes a couple of well set-up photo labs, a Cargills supermarket and food court, and the city's best English-language cinema.
Galle Road, Colombo 3
A shopping mall, with a series of upmarket outlets including a Vijitha Yapa Bookshop, Hameedia's, Mlesna teashop, a Keells supermarket and an excellent basement food court.
113 Dharmapala Mawatha, Colombo 7 / Tel.: 011 232 8900
Lakmedura is a large and pleasant shop which sells a wide selection of mainstream tourist souvenirs from wooden model rickshaws and masks to fine silver metalwork.
213 Dharmapala Mawatha, Colombo 7 / Tel.: 011 268 6043
One of Colombo's most fashionable shopping haunts, this attractive little emporium has an appealing range of fancy household items, decorative knick-knacks and stylish souvenirs. The Trans Asia Hotel and The Gallery Cafe also have branches of this delightful store.
704 Galle Road, Colombo 3 / Tel.: 011 258 9305 / www.barefoot.lk
One of the best bookshops in Colombo, this contains a fascinating selection of everything from mainstream western blockbusters to beautiful coffee-table books. They also provide a huge range of titles on Sri Lankan subjects.
430 Galle Road, Colombo 3 / Tel.: 256 5248
Bookland contains a decent selection of English titles.
Vijitha Yapa Bookshop
Unity Plaza, 376 Galle Road, Colombo 4 / Tel.: 259 6960 / www.vijithayapa.com
Vijitha Yapa Bookshop is Sri Lanka's only national chain of book stores, most of which stock a reasonable selection of English-language novels and a wide range of Sri Lanka related titles. There are several other branches in Colombo, at Crescat Boulevard and Thurstan Road plus branches in Negombo, Kandy, Galle and Matara.
|Gems and Jewellery
You need permits from the Controller of Exchange, Central Bank of Sri Lanka and the Controller of Imports and Exports, National Mutual Building, Chatham Street, Colombo 1 to export gems which you may have received as gifts.
Colombo Jewellery Stores
1 Alfred House Gardens, Galle Road, Colombo 3 / Tel.: 011 259 7584
229 Galle Road, Colombo 3 / Tel.: 011 232 5147
81 Galle Road, Colombo 4 / Tel.: 011 258 9090
34 Galle Face Shopping Village, Galle Face Hotel, Colombo 3 / Tel.: 011 242 2522
Tea and Spices
Mlesna, the main tea shop of the island, has branches throughout Colombo and are also available at the airport duty-free.
Sri Lankans are generally sports-loving people and they are passionate about some sports such as cricket and rugby. Foreign visitors can also get a taste of this passion as most sports clubs and associations in the country accept foreigners as temporary members. Most major hotels in the country also have swimming pools and tennis courts where visitors can indulge in sporting activities.
Cricket is much more than a passion in Sri Lanka; it is an obsession throughout the country and the exploits of the national team are religiously followed by almost every man, woman, boy and girl in the country. Whether rural or urban, almost everyone knows the rules of the game and how it is played.
Test matches are played usually at the Sinhalese Sports Club (SSC) in Colombo 7, Asgiriya Stadium in Kandy and at the Galle Stadium which was newly reconstructed after being devastated by the 2004 tsunami. One-day matches are played at the R. Premadasa Stadium in Colombo, Asgiriya Stadium in Kandy and the Rangiri Dambulu Stadium at Dambulla. Tickets for matches are available at individual venues.
Cricket clubs which accept temporary foreign members include:
Nondescripts Cricket Club (NCC)
29 Maitland Place, Colombo 7 / Tel.: 011 269 5293
Bloomfield Cricket and Athletic Club
Reid Avenue, Colombo 7 / Tel.: 011 269 1419
Department of Wildlife Conservation
18 Gregory's Road, Cinnamon Gardens, Colombo 7 / Tel.: 011 269 4241
The Ceylon Anglers Club
Chaitya Road, Colombo 1/ Tel.: 242 1752
Temporary members are accepted into this club which can provide a wealth of information regarding fishing throughout the country.
Rainbow Boat House, National Holiday Resort, Bentota/ Tel.: 034 227 5383
Three beautiful championship standard golf courses are located in Sri Lanka - in Colombo, Nuwara Eliya and Kandy. The green fee, the rate that is charged to play at the course, differs according to the course. Compared to most other countries, these greens fees are an absolute bargain.
The Royal Colombo Golf Club
Model Farm Road, Colombo 8/ Tel.: 011 269 5431/ www.rcgcsl.com
Nuwara Eliya Golf Club
Tel.: 052 223 4360 / Fax: 052 222 2835
Victoria Golf Club
Rajawella, Kandy/ Tel.: 081 2 376 376/ www.srilankagolf.com
Mountain biking expeditions are organised by most tour operators in the country. Adventure Sports Lanka (Contact No. 011 279 1584) is one of the leaders with the most experience and knowledge when it comes to operating the island on two wheels.
Sri Lanka Tennis Association
45 Marcus Fernando Mawatha, Colombo 7/ Tel.: 011 268 6174
The Women's International Club
16 Guildford Crescent, Colombo 7/ Tel.: 011 269 5072
Race Course Avenue, Colombo 7/ Tel.: 011 269 5068
Bentota is the main and the most popular venue for water sports on the island. A range of sporting activities are available by sport operators who offer everything from banana boating to jet-skiing and windsurfing. The best white-water rafting site is found at Kitulgala in the hill country; the Kitulgala Rest House and Plantation Hotel are some of the parties organising trips along the rapids there. For specialised kayaking and white-water rafting trips, contact Adventure Sports Lanka (011 279 1584).
Most hotels in the island have swimming pools which are available to non-guests for a fee. There are also many clubs
which offer membership and the use of their facilities such as swimming pools, tennis courts, squash courts and bars.
Otter Aquatic Club
380/1 Bauddhaloka Mawatha, Colombo 7/ Tel.: 011 269 2308
Sinhalese Sports Club (SSC)
35 Maitland Place, Colombo 7 / Tel.: 011 269 5362
Kinross Swimming Cub
10 Station Avenue, Colombo 6 / Tel.: 011 258 6461
Sea bathing, lifesaving skills and skin diving are also taught here.
Colombo Swimming Club
Storm Lodge, Galle Road, Colpetty / Tel.: 011 242 1645
Temporary membership is available here.
Colombo Rowing Club
51 Sir Chittampalam A. Gardiner Mawatha, Colombo 2 / Tel.: 011 243 3758
Only a five minute walk from the Trans Asia Hotel.
There are reputable and long standing diving operators found around the coast. They all offer PADI courses and individual dives for those of all standards. A three day Open-water PADI course will cost above $350 while an individual dive would cost above $30. The following are the most reputed diving operators in the island:
International Diving School
330 Galle Road, Hikkaduwa / Tel.: 072 223 1683
Submarine Diving School
Unawatuna / Tel.: 091 438 0358
Ypsylon Dive School
Beruwela / Tel.: 034 227 6132 / www.ypsylonsrilanka.de
The island's top surfing spot is the east coast village of Arugam Bay, while good waves are also found at Hikkaduwa and Midigama. The best times for surfing are from around May to October at Arugam Bay and from November to April at Hikkaduwa. All these areas have well equipped surf shops which rent out surfboards, carry out board repairs and arrange surf safaris to various spots around the coast. Several guest houses also rent out rooms.
Yachting and Coastal Cruising
Ceylon Motor Yacht Club
Indebedda Road, Bolgoda Road, Moratuwa
Sailing, windsurfing and swimming available here.
Kelani Yacht Co.
1a Dharmaraja Mawatha, Colombo 3 / Tel.: 011 258 7507
Kelani Yacht Co. is a good spot for coastal cruising.
National Park Tours
Many tour operators and hotels arrange guided tours of the country's national parks. The cost of the tour includes transport to and from the site. Admission to any national park is the same per person and there is an obligatory fee for the tracker who accompanies visitors into the park. For a guided tour in relative comfort and safety, a four-wheel drive could be hired for an additional fee. Disembarking from vehicles is strictly prohibited inside the parks unless at specially designated points. Around 6.30am or after 3.30pm are the best times of the day to view the wildlife in the park. It is also possible to stay inside the lodges or camps located within most of the national parks but you must book accommodation in these areas well in advance as they tend to get reserved. Lodging is best booked in groups of up to ten, and each person has to bring their own linen, dry rations and kerosene. Besides the charge per person per night, they also have a service charge per stay and the entry fee for the park.
Contact the Department of Wildlife Conservation.
18 Gregory's Road, Colombo 7/ Tel.: 011 269 4241/ email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Cultural Triangle Tours
The best way to visit the Cultural Triangle is to be a part of a guided tour. The tour operators will get the permits/ entrance tickets, etc. that are necessary for the visits. If you are travelling independently buy a round ticket which will cover entry to all the main sites in Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Sigiriya, Kandy, Medirigiriya, Nalanda and Ritigala. These round tickets are for one day's admission and must be used within 14 days of purchase. These tickets can be bought in Colombo from the Cultural Triangle.
11 Independence Avenue, Colombo 7/ (Tel.: 011 267 9921).
Ticket offices are also located at Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Nalanda and Kandy. Group tickets as well as individual tickets can be bought from them. Children under 12 get admission at half price.