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Travel Guide To Sri Lanka

  • Sri Lanka
  • Colombo
  • 65,610 km²
  • 31°C, Wind
  • + 5:30
  • SLR
  • Sinhala,Tamil
  • 20.2 million
  • This small group tour is a superb introduction to the wildlife and beautiful scenery of Sri Lanka. A treat for the animal enthusiast with the chance to see elephants, sambhur, bear monkeys.

    Sri Lanka Wildlife Tour
  • This is the Sri Lanka tour; the one that takes you from north to south and from east to west, with everything in between. Combining culture, history, nature and beach.

    Definitive Sri Lanka
  • This is an active tour which includes plenty of manageable activities such as treks, safaris, bicycle tours and white water rafting yet with adequate time at leisure to explore or relax.

    Trails of Sri Lanka

Before you visit Sri Lanka.

Travel time between tourist areas is much longer than one anticipates. This reflects a combination of poor roads (especially outside the main A designated highways), heavy traffic (watch out especially for the fast, frequent, 'Monarch of the Road' inter-city busses and the slow moving, stinky heavy goods and agricultural vehicles) plus the general lack of vehicle and pedestrian discipline and/or, outside Colombo, traffic lights. Even travelling with car and private driver, average travel times of only 30-40 kms per hour are common; exception are the two Expressways.

Because travel is tiring, and constant packing/unpacking a bore, base your holiday planning around travel centres. For example, Dambulla (or Kandalama if you're prepared to spend money in one of the world's most beautiful hotels) is the perfect centre for the so-called cultural triangle (Dambulla, Sigiriya, Polonnaruwa and even Anuradhapura) and Nuwara Eliya is good for both the high hill country and Horton Plains (World's End). However generally Ohiya, Haputale and Ella are deemed to be better bases for the hills, as their climate is superior to Eliya and they have impressive vistas.

It's hotter - and stickier - than you probably imagine (even in winter) which adds to the exhaustion of travel. It also means that you need to be careful in the sun (so you're not among the bright red Westerners on the return flight). Because of the climate, bugs, insects and other creepy crawlies are not unusual. You can learn to happily co-habit rooms with ants and geckos - but mosquitos are an occasional menace. Prepare well against them, as in many areas diseases like Dengue Fever are transmitted by mosquitos and not all of these diseases have vaccinations possible.

Sri Lankans are charming, friendly and welcoming - and the country is well worth the effort of a visit. But beware approaches from people purporting to be from your hotel who offer local travel advice. Unscrupulous locals pick up westerners with promises of "elephant festivals" and the like, which prove to be non-existent and located far away from their hotel. Once stranded, the unlucky traveller will find themselves handing over money to get back to safety.

Changing Money - There are lots of Western Union Money transfer places where you can change any currency. They particularly dont ask for your passport at these places. The rates however is at the whim of the person sitting at the counter. You can negotiate a better rate. The best rate for any currency was at the counter in Negombo market near airport. Next to this ATM's accepting Maestro/Cirrus cards are widespread in all bigger towns, but compare the cost with TC/cash as many Western banks add withdrawal fees. Tipping: have plenty of very small notes at all times, tipping is normal and everyone expects to be tipped. Guide prices are: 20rupees loo attendants; 50rupees porters, etc; 500rupees a day for a driver (where it is part of a package holiday). Others at your discretion but you might feel pressurised to tip.

Traveller cheques - are a nightmare; many banks do not want to change; others take 20 minutes to check passport and personal details on many forms.use your credit cards more often.. Travelling inside Sri Lanka - There are various modes of travel that can be used like local buses, AC buses and private taxis. For buses the rates are fixed and you can travel around easily. For taxi, it is better to check around the town for a better travel agent. Hotels usually charge a lot more for the same distance.

Sight seeing: Places of interest are far off from each other and located all over the country. So it is better to book hotels likewise. It is advisable to book hotels near to the places of interest so that you can spend time enjoying the place. Dont miss Sigiriya and (if you are in season, December-May) Adam's peak. Water sports facilities are also good and well maintained in Bentota Children - will love the animals - highlights are the elephants bathing and riding, releasing turtles in the sea and firewalking in Kandy. Do not try second class trains. Sigiriya is difficult for some of the children.

Drivers & Guides Most roads were still not in good condition making self driving slow and treacherous. An abundance of three-wheelers (tuk tuks) and overloaded trucks trying to pass at every opportunity makes things especially dangerous. Outside the few new Expressways opening, improvements are slow in coming. Its best to leave any driving in the hands of experts.For short trips, hotels can arrange a car and driver between two points but for a longer stay its better to engage the services of a driver who will travel with you. An ordinary driver may not speak much English but will get you from A to B. A driver/guide who speaks English or your own language is a better option as he can recommend places to see and give you basic information. If you need detailed information special driver/guides with an accreditation from the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau are also available but are more expensive. Drivers travel with you although they have separate accommodation provided by hotels and may eat separately depending on the restaurant. They will also handle payments for you of entrance fees and tips if you give them some money in advance for these purposes.

There are all sorts of ways to calculate the cost for their services but the best way is to give your suggested itinerary and ask for an all up package price that covers the driver’s fee, gas, meals, accommodation and mileage. If you suspect you might do lot of driving additional mileage fees can range from US $ .50 per kilometre so request unlimited mileage in your package price. A standard all-up cost with unlimited mileage for a driver/guide is US $60 per day. A deposit of 50% in case of accomodation being included in the package is also standard before you arrive in Sri Lanka.

Homestay Homestay tourism in Sri Lanka is getting more popular every year. Homeowners are realy friendly and you support the local economy.

Sports Played in Paris

Sri Lanka’s unspoilt environment and variety of landscapes offer all sorts of possibilities for outdoor and activity holidays. Water-based activities like diving and surfing are well covered, while there are plenty of other ways to get active, ranging from mountain biking and trekking to ballooning and yoga. As for spectator sports, if you’re lucky enough to coincide with a match, a trip to watch Sri Lanka’s cricket team in action – always an occasion of huge national excitement – is an absolute must.

Of all the legacies of the British colonial period, the game of cricket is probably held dearest by the average Sri Lankan. As in India and Pakistan, cricket is undoubtedly king in the Sri Lankan sporting pantheon. Kids play it on any patch of spare ground, improvising balls, bats and wickets out of rolled-up bits of cloth and discarded sticks, whilst the country virtually grinds to a halt during international matches, with excitable crowds clustered around every available radio or television set.

Although the national team is a relative newcomer to international cricket – they were only accorded full Test status in 1982 – they’ve more than held their own since then. It’s in the one-day game, however, that Sri Lanka has really taken the world by storm, capped by their triumph in the 1996 World Cup, when their fearsomely talented batting line-up – led by elegant left-hander Aravinda da Silva and the explosive Sanath Jayasuriya – blasted their way to the title (a feat they almost repeated during the 2007 and 2011 World Cups, when they reached the final).

Not surprisingly, the success of the Sri Lankan team has proved an important source of national pride and cohesion. Although Sinhalese players have traditionally dominated the squad, the Tamil population has provided perhaps Sri Lanka’s finest ever player, Muttiah Muralitharan (or “Murali”, as he’s often popularly known). One of the world’s most lethal spin bowlers, Muralitharan retired in 2010 after capturing an astonishing 800 wickets in test cricket, a record which is unlikely to be broken for many years. Other star players include world-class batsmen Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara, both of whom currently average over fifty in test matches.

Watching a match If you get the chance, it’s well worth taking in a cricket match, particularly a one-day or Twenty20 – the vociferous crowds and carnival atmosphere are a world away from the rather staid ambience of most English cricket grounds. The island’s principal Test-match venues are the Sinhalese Sports Club in Colombo, Pallekele International Cricket Stadium in Kandy and the cricket ground in Galle. One-day and Twenty20 internationals are mainly held at Kandy, Galle, the Premadasa Stadium in Colombo, and the new cricket stadiums in Dambulla and Hambantota. Tickets for matches are available from the relevant venues. Note also that many of the tour operators we recommend, Red Dot Tours in particular, offer cricketing tours to Sri Lanka. For more on Sri Lankan cricket.

Surfing Many of the waves that crash against the Sri Lankan coast have travelled all the way from Antarctica, and not surprisingly there are several excellent surfing spots. The outstanding destination is Arugam Bay on the east coast, the one place in Sri Lanka with an international reputation amongst surfheads. Other leading surf spots include the south coast village of Midigama, nearby Medawatta (on the edge of Matara), and Hikkaduwa. Boards are available to rent at all these places. Various places in Arugam Bay and Hikkaduwa arrange surfing trips around the coast, sometimes combined with visits to other attractions. The surfing season runs from April to October at Arugam Bay, and from November to April at Midigama and Hikkaduwa.

Whitewater rafting and other watersports The island’s premier spot for whitewater rafting is around Kitulgala, where the Kelani Ganga river comes tumbling out of the hill country, creating boulder-strewn grade 3–4 rapids. You can either arrange trips locally or plan something in advance – reputable local operators include Jetwing Eco Holidays (w jetwingeco.com), Action Lanka (w actionlanka.com) and Adventure Asia (w ad-asia.com), all of whom can also arrange kayaking and canoeing.

Sri Lanka’s watersports capital is Bentota, whose lagoon provides the perfect venue for all sorts of activities, including jet-skiing, speed-boating, waterskiing, inner-tubing and banana-boating – windsurfing is also particularly good here. You can also arrange watersports in Negombo through the Jetwing Beach hotel and various other ad hoc operators. Kitesurfers head either to Negombo or to Kalpitiya peninsula, which offers superb wind conditions and a mix of sea and more sheltered lagoon. Wakeboarding is also beginning to take off. Negombo is one of the main centres, along with Hikkaduwa.

Diving and snorkelling Sri Lanka isn’t usually thought of as one of Asia’s premier diving destinations, and although you probably wouldn’t come here specifically to dive, there are enough underwater attractions to make a few days’ diving a worthwhile part of a visit –w divesrilanka.com offers a handy overview of what’s available. Sri Lanka is also a good and cheap place to learn to dive, with schools in Bentota, Beruwala, Hikkaduwa, Unawatuna, Weligama and Uppuveli – see the relevant Guide accounts for details. Diving packages and courses are good value compared to most other places in the world. A three-day Open-Water PADI course goes for around $375, and single dives for around $30.

The west coast has a well developed network of schools and dive sites. Marine life is plentiful, while there are also some fine (and often technically challenging) underwater cave and rock complexes, and a string of wrecks. Diving on the east coast remains relatively less developed, although that is changing rapidly with the opening up of new sites and some superb wrecks, including that of the Hermes, near Batticaloa, a 270m-long aircraft carrier sunk during World War II and lying at a depth of 60m.

The diving season on the west coast runs roughly from November to April, and on the east coast from May to October; pretty much all the island’s diving schools shut up out of season, although if you’re really keen and don’t mind diving in rough seas with poor visibility you might be able to find someone willing to take you out.

There’s not a lot of really good snorkelling around Sri Lanka: little coral survives close to the shore, although this lack is compensated by the abundant shoals of tropical fish that frequent the coast. The island’s better snorkelling spots include the beach at Polhena, Pigeon Island ant Uppuveli and, if you don’t mind the boats whizzing around your ears, the Coral Sanctuary at Hikkaduwa.

Trekking Sri Lanka’s huge trekking potential remains largely unexploited. The hill country, in particular, offers the perfect hiking terrain – spectacular scenery, marvellous views and a pleasantly temperate climate – while trekking through the wildlife-rich lowland jungles can also be a deeply rewarding experience. A few of the tour operators we’ve listed offer walking tours. Alternatively, good local guides include Sumane Bandara Illangantilake and Ravi Desappriya in Kandy, and Neil Rajanayake in Nuwara Eliya. In addition, shorter guided walks are often organized from eco-lodges and eco-oriented hotels, some of whom have resident guides to lead guests on walks.

Cycling So long as you avoid the hazardous main highways, cycling around Sri Lanka can be a real pleasure, and the island’s modest dimensions and scenic diversity make it great for touring, especially the hill country, with its cooler climate, relative lack of traffic and exhilarating switchback roads. The major caveat is safety: as a cyclist you are extremely vulnerable – bus and truck drivers consider cyclists a waste of valuable tarmac, and as far as they’re concerned you don’t really have any right to be on the road at all: be prepared to get out of the way quickly (in fact, it’s generally safest to get off the tarmac completely and ride along the dirt shoulder). You are at risk not only from traffic coming from behind, but also from oncoming vehicles overtaking another vehicle, who will think nothing of forcing you into the ditch, even though they’re on what is technically your side of the road.

Bikes are available for hire in most tourist towns (alternatively, just ask at your guesthouse – they’ll probably have or know someone who has a spare bike knocking around, or who will be prepared to surrender their own to you for a small price). In some places it’s also possible to hire good-quality mountain bikes. Costs vary wildly, but will rarely be more than a few dollars a day, often much less.

A number of the operators we’ve listed offer cycling or mountain-biking tours, usually including a mixture of on- and off-roading and with a backup vehicle in support. Other good options include Ride Lanka (w ridelanka.com), Jetwing Eco Holidays (w jetwingeco.com), Action Lanka (w actionlanka.com) and Adventure Asia (w ad-asia.com).

Yoga and meditation Yoga isn’t nearly as established in Sri Lanka as it is in India, although many of the island’s numerous Ayurvedic centres now offer classes as part of their treatment plans, and it’s sometimes possible to enrol for them without taking an Ayurveda course. Otherwise, your options are pretty limited. Serious students of yoga might consider signing up for a stay at Ulpotha (w ulpotha.com), a wonderful rural retreat in the Cultural Triangle near Embogama (not far from the Sasseruwa and Aukana Buddhas), attracting leading international yoga teachers; prices start at around $1300 per person per week inclusive of accommodation, meals and tuition.

Meditation courses are mainly concentrated around Kandy.

Other activities Balloon trips are offered by various companies, offering a spectacular bird’s-eye view of the island. Most flights are around the Cultural Triangle, particularly in the Dambulla and Sigiriya area, though flights are also sometimes offered in other areas, particularly the south coast. Flights generally last roughly an hour and cost around $165 per person. The leading operator is Adventure Asia (w ad-asia.com), who pioneered ballooning in the island. Other operators include Air Magic (w airmagic.lk) and Sun Rise Ballooning (w srilankaballooning.com).

Horseriding day-trips and longer tours can be arranged through Sri Lanka Horse Safaris (w horsesafarissrilanka.com) at various locations around the island, including Dambulla, Sigiriya, Nuwara Eliya, Tissamaharama, Kalpitiya and Bentota. Prices are around $200 per person per day.

Sri Lanka has three gorgeous golf courses, at Colombo, Kandy and Nuwara Eliya; a number of operators offer special golfing tours.

Sri Lanka Culture and History

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


The culture of Sri Lanka mixes contemporary elements with traditional aspects, and is known for its regional diversity. Sri Lankan culture has long been influenced by the heritage of Theravada Buddhism passed on from India, and the religion's legacy is particularly strong in Sri Lanka's southern and central regions. South Indian cultural influences are especially pronounced in the northernmost reaches of the country. The history of colonial occupation has also left a mark on Sri Lanka's identity, with Portuguese, Dutch, and British elements having intermingled with various traditional facets of Sri Lankan culture


Sri Lanka boasts of a documented history of over 2000 years, mainly due to ancient historic scriptures like Mahawamsa, and with the first stone objects dating back to 500,000 BC. Several centuries of intermittent foreign influence have transformed Sri Lankan culture to its present form. Nevertheless, the ancient traditions and festivals are still celebrated by the mostly conservative Sinhalese and Sri Lankan Tamil people of the island, together with other minorities that make up the Sri Lankan identity.The Tamils, primarily Hindus, claimed the northern section of the island and the Sinhalese, who are predominantly Buddhist, controlled the south.


The influences of Buddhism and Hinduism as well as the caste system have created a culture that operated within a hierarchical system. Sri Lankans are conscious of social order and status. All relationships, whether in family life or at the office, to some extent involve hierarchies. At home the patriarch (the father or oldest male in the household) is considered the leader of the family. In the office, the boss/owner is seen as the source of ultimate responsibility in business. All relationships within these circles are then based on upon people's positions within the hierarchy.

Sri Lanka Nightlife

From chic relaxing cocktail lounges, and modern international restaurants – to lively pubs, tapas bars and sports bars boasting snooker tables and large-screen TV’s, there’s something for everyone.With ever-popular karaoke bars, nightclubs showcasing new musical talent, and pulsating discos - the choice is endless.

Sri Lanka Shopping

Sri Lanka has wonderful jewelry, handloom textiles, books and handicrafts and we find that most people like to a bit of shopping along the way and take something home. The following is a list of some of our favourite shops. This list has been carefully researched by Sri Lanka In Style and is based on personal taste, the quality of the products sold in these shops and the guarantees they give.

Important note: Important Note: We DO NOT recommend any shops we have not listed here and our Chauffeur Guides will not attempt to take you to other shops unless you particularly request them to do so.

As a general rule we think shopping in general is best left to the end of your trip particularly for handlooms, home ware and art. Having said this we find Kandy is probably the best place to buy jewelry from a price-quality perspective as there are many outlets in competition.


Waruna AntiquesCentre
Art & Antiques
Furniture, paintings and jewelry. (761 Peradeniya Road)
Tel. : +94 (0) 814470925
Kandyan Arts and Crafts Centre
Art & Antiques
Good for buying local craft items.
(Next to Queens Hotel)
A reliable jewelry shop.
(939 Peradeniya Road)
Tel. : +94 (0) 81 2387387
Another established and reliable jewelry shop.
(692 Peradeniya Road,)
Tel. : +94 (0) 81 2389789


Nishantha Wood Carving
Small gift items to take home as well as furniture. (No.3, 26th Post, Hathamunua Road) Tel. : +94 (0) 27 2222187


Henry Batiks
Interesting to see how batiks are made in a live demonstration. (Sigiriya Road, Inamaluwa)
Silk Gardens
Art & Antiques
Here you can find silk saris, scarves, T-shirts Trincomalee Road, Inamaluwa, Tel. : +94 (0) 66 2286644

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per person£3620.00
  • Experience Negombo’s fishing villages and catamarans
  • Lie on the palm-fringed beaches of Kuchchaveli
  • Stay in characterful boutique hotels and beach resorts
  • Take in the scenic views of Trinco’s natural harbour
  • Stay in characterful boutique hotels and beach resorts

Bangkok City & Phuket Holiday 29 Apr 2015 - 31 May 2018

per person£2.00
  • Visit Dambulla’s ancient cave temple
  • Experience Kandy’s Temple of the Tooth
  • Go whale and dolphin spotting in Mirissa
  • Explore Polonnaruwa’s ancient ruins
  • Stroll around Galle’s 17C Dutch Fort
  • Climb up the stunning Sigiriya Rock fortress

Birds of Sri Lanka 01 Jan 1970

per person£1250.00
  • Experience Negombo’s fishing villages and catamarans
  • Lie on the palm-fringed beaches of Kuchchaveli
  • Stay in characterful boutique hotels and beach resorts
  • Take in the scenic views of Trinco’s natural harbour
  • Stay in characterful boutique hotels and beach resorts