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Visiting Sri Lanka: general information

The key things you'll need to know if you're visiting Sri Lanka for the first time

Written by
Time Out editors

Planning on visiting Sri Lanka? It would seem wise to be aware of a few, general facts about Sri Lanka in order to avoid any surprises and be more familiar with the new and exotic environment that you will find yourself in. Read through to find out a little about the beautiful island nation.

Currency: Rupee. 

Coins: Rs1, Rs2, Rs5, Rs10. 

Notes: Rs20, Rs50, Rs100, Rs500,

Rs1,000, Rs2,000, Rs5,000.

Electricity: 230 volts AC 

Time: GMT plus 5 hours 30 minutes 

International Dialing Code: + 94

Official name: Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka 

Area: 65,525 sqkm

Location: Sri Lanka lies in the Indian Ocean, southwest of the Bay of Bengal.

Ethnic groups: Sinhalese 74.5%, Sri Lankan Tamils 11.9%, Indian Tamils 4.6%, Moors 7.2%, other 1.8%

Time zone: GMT +5 1/2. Daylight saving time is not observed

Climate: No marked seasons—two monsoons; Northeast monsoon occurs from December to March and Southwest monsoon occurs from June to October. A tropical climate is observed throughout most of the island, whereas the hill country is cooler

Languages: Sinhala, Tamil and English (English is widely spoken throughout Sri Lanka)

Capital: Sri Jayawardenapura Kotte

Commercial capital: Colombo

Administrative divisions: Nine Provinces; Central, North Central, North, North Western, Sabaragamuwa, Southern, Uva, Western and Eastern Province

Religions: Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity and Islam

Independence day: February 4

Holidays: Saturdays and Sundays are generally non working days. Shops and restaurants are open on weekends. Poya is a religious holiday in the Buddhist calendar and is a monthly public, bank and mercantile holiday for all. Most places (all liquor outlets including hotel bars)are closed on Poya Days

Major exports: Tea, textiles, gems, rubber, and coconut products

Highest peak: Pidurutalagala (Mt Pedro) at 2,524m

National bird: Jungle Fowl (Gallus)

National tree: Ironwood - Na tree (Mesua nagassarium)

National flower: Blue water lily (Nymphaea stellata)

Voltage requirements: 230/240 volts AC, 50Hz (Round three-pin plugs are common, with bayonet lamp fittings)

Keep in Mind;

        Credit cards: Accepted in main cities

        ATM: Common in larger towns

        Tipping:  A service charge of 10% is included in         restaurant and hotel bills. A tip above that is appreciated, but it is not compulsory and when tipping drivers use your discretion

  • Travel

Sri Lankans are known for their hospitality towards visitors. However, to make your holiday more enjoyable, here are a few things to remember.

Religious places
When visiting religious places remove hats and shoes. Dress with decorum. Shoulders should be covered and long pants or skirts should be worn rather than shorts.

Religious statues
Religious statues at temples or any other place of worship are greatly revered. For this reason, make sure that you do not climb, sit or pose with the statues.

Drive safe
Drive within the speed limits: in the cities it’s 50kmh, out of the cities it’s 70kmph and on the Expressways it’s 80 kmh to 100 kmh. Mobile phone usage while driving is banned. Don’t drink and drive.

Smoking is prohibited in public places. However most hotels, bars and eateries have designated smoking areas.

Be cautious when you are up close with wildlife. Don’t approach them and don’t feed them. When you see wildlife while driving try not to disturb them. Speak to your guide or locals for advice. 

Before swimming in the sea and rivers check if the area is not a danger zone or if it’s too deep. Beware of crocodiles along the rivers; check with guides and locals before you dip in.

Before exploring speak to locals about the area and check with information centres. It is better to have a local accompany you.

Historical sites and National Parks
These are protected sites therefore treat them with respect and do not litter. Avoid touching artefacts. Don’t disturb the wildlife.

Rest stops
Need to make a pit stop on the road from Colombo to other hotspots? Here are some tried and tested spots along popular routes, which will surely satisy your taste buds or relax you with its welcoming ambience. Boost your energy before getting on the road!

Heading to the Eastern and Southern coasts through Pelmadulla, Ratnapura Silver Ray Restaurant, Dippitigala Elpitiya, Waddagala

Southwards bound through Hambantota Hela Bojun Hala, Ambalantota

Cruising South via the Awissawella Highway (A4) - Fresh Way Bakers, Main Street, Puwakpitiya, Avissawella

Travelling along the Colombo – Kandy Road Ambepussa Rest House, Main Street, Warakapola

Hela Bojun Hala, Peradeniya

Heading further centralHela Bojun Hala, Kundasale

On route to Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa along the Trincomalee Highway Hela Bojun Hala, Pelwehera. 

  • Travel
  • Public transport

Getting around in Sri Lanka shouldn't be too hard for anyone, regardless of age and gender. Sri Lanka has domestic flights to various parts of the island as well as international flights going and coming from all over the world. You can also make your way through the busy streets and rural terrains via buses, trains, cabs and tuk-tuks.

Taxi: Taxis and chauffeur driven minivans can be hired directly or through hotels. Taxis can also be hailed directly or through hotels. Taxis can also be hailed directly from the roads. Auto-rickshaws (called tuk tuks) charge (before 9pm) Rs50 for the first kilometre and Rs40 for additional kilometres. Negotiate before boarding if there is no working metre. 

Aviation: IWS Aviation operates helicopters taking you around the island. 

IWS Centre, 451, Kandy Road, Kelaniya; 011 594 9999

Tip: For surfers and beach lovers heading to the East and South coasts as well as those travelling to the central hills, the Mattala International Airport is quite convenient. 

BusAir conditioned long distance luxury buses and city point-to-point non-AC buses operate throughout.

Central Bus Stand, Pettah, Bodhiraja Mawatha and Olcott Mawatha, Colombo 11; 011 232 8081, 011 232 9606

Rail: Trains with 1st, 2nd and Economy Class carriages serve 164 stations and 155 substations. Private luxury carriages operating on some lines have seats bookable in advance online.

Fort Railway Station;
011 243 4215;

Vehicles for rent: Luxury to comfortable budget cars, vans, SUVs and buses are available for hire on self-drive and with-driver basis with guaranteed safety. Ameri Rent-A-Car; School Lane, Colombo 3; 077 731 2848

Mal-Key Rent-A-Car; 58, Pamankada Road, Colombo 6; 011 236 5365 

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