About Sri Lanka

A diverse and multicultural country, Sri Lanka is home to many religions, ethnic groups, and languages. In addition to the majority Sinhalese, it is home to large groups of Sri Lankan and Indian Tamils, Moors, Burghers, Malays, Kaffirs and the aboriginal Vedda. Sri Lanka has a rich Buddhist heritage, and the first known Buddhist writings of Sri Lanka, the Pāli Canon, date back to the Fourth Buddhist council in 29 BC.

Sri Lanka is a republic and a unitary state governed by a semi-presidential system. The legislative capital, Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte, is a suburb of the commercial capital and largest city, Colombo.

Sri Lanka has had a long history of international engagement, as a founding member of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), and a member of the United Nations, the Commonwealth of Nations, the G77, and the Non-Aligned Movement. Along with the Maldives, Sri Lanka is one of the two countries in South Asia that are currently rated among high human development on the Human Development Index.

Capital Colombo
Largest city Colombo
Official language and national language Sinhalese and Tamil
Area 65,610 km2 (25,330 sq mi)
Total Water (%) 4.4
Population 21,203,000
Currency Sri Lankan rupee (LKR)
Time zone SLST (UTC+5:30)

The Do’s and Don’ts of Traveling to Sri Lanka

After spending a few weeks traveling in Sri Lanka, I predict that Sri Lanka is going to blow up as the next hot destination in very near future. Along with Northern Spain, they are my favorite ‘discoveries’ of 2014. The food, the deserted beaches, and the pristine countryside left me utterly impressed by this tiny island off the coast of India. Not to mention the Sri Lankans themselves who gave me many memories of warm encounters (and one awkward one).

DO’s

1. DO: arrange your visa in advance
Since 2012, almost all nationalities have been required to purchase a 30-day double entry visa known as an Electronic Travel Authority, or ETA to enter Sri Lanka.

2. DO: take the train through hill country
Averaging around 20mph, this is certainly no commuter train but if it’s scenic splendour you’re after, Sri Lanka’s highlands will keep you gazing out of the window for hours. Clickety-clacking from the country’s highest railway, descend through cloud forests into undulating tea plantations before eventually arriving in Bandarawela – a small town virtually untouched by tourism.

3. DO: cover up when required & dress appropriately
Keep your shoulders covered when visiting sacred sites in Sri Lanka
Sri Lankans are incredibly friendly and welcoming of tourists in their country. However it is a very conservative nation and you will be expected to dress as such in public, and sacred, sites. For women, it’s a good idea to keep a scarf in your daypack to cover up your shoulder when sightseeing and visiting temples. Men should always wear a shirt or t-shirt in public areas, and will sometimes be required to wear trousers. You may have to remove your shoes at certain sacred sites too.

4. DO: try the tea
We do, however, highly recommend drinking plenty of Sri Lanka’s most famous beverage – tea!

5. DO: climb Sigiriya
Don’t let the several hundred steps put you off heading up Sigiriya – the beautiful frescoes, rock carvings and staggering views from the top are well worth the climb. It’s easily achievable for anyone with reasonable level of fitness. The metal steps can be slippery when wet, so do wear sensible walking shoes during your visit.

6. DO: take sterling
Changing your currency in Sri Lanka is a pretty straightforward affair, with a favourable exchange rate on sterling. Your local leader can advise which ATMs to use and where best to exchange money.

DON’T

1. DON'T: take pictures of people without permission
This rule isn’t exactly exclusive to Sri Lanka, many nationalities would be offended by insensitive, camera-wielding tourists invading their space with a lens. If you ask politely, and at an appropriate moment, you’ll find most people will be more than willing to have their portrait taken. It’s nice to share the moment and show your model the photo you took too.

2. DON'T: ride elephants
Here at Exodus we like wildlife to be just that…wild. We are staunchly against the domestication of elephants. In 2014 we removed elephant riding from all of our itineraries. Culturally, Sri Lanka has a very different stance and it is fairly common to see working elephants here and throughout Asia. We strongly encourage our travellers not to support any local business exploiting elephant welfare.

3. DON'T: drink the tap water
It may be perfectly fine for the locals, but it could wreak havoc with an unfamiliar constitution! Stick to bottled water and double check the seal around the cap has not been tampered with prior to drinking. Also be wary of having ice in your drink when you’re drinking outside the larger resorts.

4. DON'T: take a selfie with Buddha
It is considered highly offensive in Sri Lanka to have a picture taken with your back facing towards Buddha, so leave the selfie stick at home and pay your respects to Sri Lanka’s holiest icon face-to-face. A number of temples and cultural sites forbid photography in certain indoor areas. Please adhere to your guide’s instructions and look out for any warning signs.

5. DON'T: forget to pack insect repellent
Sri Lanka is a tropical country with a hot and humid climate that attracts plenty of insect life, including a few with a taste for tourists! Make sure you pack a tropical strength (ideally DEET-based) repellent, and exercise the standard bite avoidance precautions – wear trousers and long sleeves in the evenings, avoid wearing perfume and order a G&T at the bar!

6. DON'T: own up if you don't like cricket!
Sri Lanka is a passionate cricketing nation. If you’re not a fan, it’s probably best to keep it to yourself!

Demographics

Sri Lanka is the 57th most populated nation in the world, with 20,277,597 people, and an annual population growth rate of 0.73%. Sri Lanka has a birth rate of 17.6 births per 1,000 people and a death rate of 6.2 deaths per 1,000 people. Population density is highest in western Sri Lanka, especially in and around the capital. Sinhalese constitute the largest ethnic group in the country, with 74.8% of the total population.

Sri Lankan Tamils are the second major ethnic group in the island, with a percentage of 11.2%. Sri Lankan Moors comprise 9.2%. Tamils of Indian origin were brought into the country as indentured labourers by British colonists to work on estate plantations. Nearly 50% of them were repatriated following independence in 1948. They are distinguished from the native Tamil population that has resided in Sri Lanka since ancient times. There are also small ethnic groups such as the Burghers (of mixed European descent) and Malays from Southeast Asia. Moreover, there is a small population of Vedda people who are believed to be the original indigenous group to inhabit the island.

Largest cities or towns

1. Colombo 2. Kaduwela
3. Maharagama 4. Kesbewa
5. Dehiwala-Mount Lavinia 6. Moratuwa
7. Negombo 8. Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte
9. Kalmunai 10. Kandy

Languages

Sinhalese and Tamil are the two official languages of Sri Lanka. The Constitution defines English as the link language. English is widely used for education, scientific and commercial purposes. Members of the Burgher community speak variant forms of Portuguese Creole and Dutch with varying proficiency, while members of the Malay community speak a form of Creole Malay that is unique to the island.



Religion

• Buddhism 70.2%
• Hinduism 12.6%
• Islam 9.7%
• Christianity 7.4%
• Other/None 0.1%

Culture

The culture of Sri Lanka dates back over 2500 years. It is influenced primarily by Buddhism and Hinduism. Sri Lanka is the home to two main traditional cultures: the Sinhalese (centred in the ancient cities of Kandy and Anuradhapura) and the Tamil (centred in the city of Jaffna). In more recent times, the British colonial culture has also influenced the locals. Sri Lanka claims a democratic tradition matched by few other developing countries.

The first Tamil immigration was probably around the 3rd century BC. Tamils co-existed with the Sinhalese people since then, and the early mixing rendered the two ethnic groups almost physically indistinct. Ancient Sri Lanka is marked for its genius in hydraulic engineering and architecture. The rich cultural traditions shared by all Sri Lankan cultures is the basis of the country's long life expectancy, advanced health standards and high literacy rate.

Festivals

Sri Lankans celebrate the Buddhist and Hindu new year festival. Esala Perahera is a symbolic Buddhist festival consisting of dances and decorated elephants held in Kandy in July and August. Fire-dances, whip-dances, Kandian dances and various other cultural dances are integral parts of the festival. Christians celebrate Christmas on 25 December to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ and Easter to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. Tamils celebrate Thai Pongal and Maha Shivaratri, and Muslims celebrate Hajj and Ramadan.



Climate

The climate is tropical and warm, due to the moderating effects of ocean winds. Mean temperatures range from 17 °C (62.6 °F) in the central highlands, where frost may occur for several days in the winter, to a maximum of 33 °C (91.4 °F) in other low-altitude areas. Average yearly temperatures range from 28 °C (82.4 °F) to nearly 31 °C (87.8 °F). Day and night temperatures may vary by 14 °C (25.2 °F) to 18 °C (32.4 °F).

Rainfall pattern is influenced by monsoon winds from the Indian Ocean and Bay of Bengal. The "wet zone" and some of the windward slopes of the central highlands receive up to 2,500 millimetres (98.4 in) of rain each year, but the leeward slopes in the east and northeast receive little rain. Most of the east, southeast, and northern parts of Sri Lanka comprise the "dry zone", which receives between 1,200 and 1,900 mm (47 and 75 in) of rain annually.

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