Read all about the best travel time, the climate, the currency, the time difference and the history of Sri Lanka. Want to be well-prepared for your trip? Start here.
Sri Lanka is an island in the Indian Ocean and lies southeast of India. The country is known for its vast plains and impressive mountain tops, tea plantations, and beautiful temples. The island was formerly known as Ceylon, a name which is still used for the tea that comes from Sri Lanka. The country is relatively rich compared to nearby India. Regardless, one fifth of the population lives below the poverty line. The economy of Sri Lanka is primarily centered around the export of tea, coffee, clothes, rubber and coconuts. In recent years, tourism has become an increasingly important source of income. More and more tourists are discovering the beauty of the island. This is in part due to the falling prices of flight tickets, but also to better facilities for tourists.
Facts and numbers
|Language||English, Tamil and Senegalese|
|Capital||Official: Sri Jayewardenapura Kotte|
De facto: Colombo
|Time difference||4,5 hours (summer) or 5,5 hours (winter)|
|Travel time||11 hours|
|Electricity||230 Volt, 50 Hz|
|Plugs||Type D, M and G (travel plug required)|
|Tap water||Not safe to drink|
|Visa||Sri Lanka visa is required|
|Safety||Read the Sri Lanka travel advisory|
Map of Sri Lanka
Most holidays start in the southwest part of the map of Sri Lanka; in Colombo. This city offers a view into the history of Sri Lanka; there are pre-colonial buildings, as well as colonial buildings from the times of the Dutch and the British. The modern skyscrapers show that the economic progress was not stunted by decolonisation. This port town has existed since the beginning of the era and became the capital of the country in 1815. In 1982, Sri Jayewardenapura Kotte (Kotte) was declared the new capital of Sri Lanka. These days, Colombo functions as the commercial capital of the country, while Kotte is the official, administrative capital, where the parliament is also situated.
Sri Lanka has been inhabited since prehistoric times. The oldest human remains found there date from roughly 125,000 years ago. In prehistoric times, the island was inhabited by the Weddas. During the European Middle Ages, the Tamil gradually made their way from South India to the north of Sri Lanka, where they established a kingdom in the 11th century. It is likely that the ancestors of the Singalese, the largest ethnic group in Sri Lanka, came to Sri Lanka from North India around the 5th or 6th century B.C. They lived alongside the Tamil, although relations between the two groups were complex and not always peaceful.
The first Europeans to arrive in Sri Lanka were the Portugese in 1505. They stayed until 1658. In 1602, the Dutch Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie (VOC) was created, and the Dutch also sailed to Sri Lanka. In 1638, the king of Kandy asked the VOC for help: he wanted the support of the Dutch against the Portugese. The VOC provided this support in exchange for an exclusive trade contract.
The influence of the VOC quickly spread, and by 1658 the whole of Sri Lanka was under Dutch rule. However, the agreed upon deals were not respected by both parties. A large amount of modernisation took place in the country, such as the construction of canals for the transport of good, but this was done in part through oppression. The Protestant Dutch did not bother the Buddhist, Hindu and Muslims parts of the populations, but the Catholics and the remaining Portugese colonists were persecuted. Additionally, the population was forced to pay the Dutch colonists higher taxes compared to the old Portugese rulers.
In 1796, the British invaded Sri Lanka and in 1802 Sri Lanka became a British colony known as Ceylon. On 4 February 1948, Sri Lanka became independent under the name Dominion Ceylon, and in 1972 this name was changed to Sri Lanka. From 1983 until 2009, a violent civil war occured in Sri Lanka between the Tamils and the Singalese, causing the deaths of tens of thousands of people.
The island of Sri Lanka has many beautiful palm tree beaches
The independence in 1948 allowed the name to be turned back to Sri Lanka. Between 1983 and 2009 a civil war erupted, with the goal of expelling the Tamil. After the Tamil surrendered in 2009, the country started to focus on economic growth. A growing part of the export consists of services. The economy has been steadily growing with roughly 5% a year.
Climate and optimal travel time
The climate in Sri Lanka can be divided into two regions; the west and the east.
Climate in the west of Sri Lanka
The climate in western Sri Lanka is quite constant; the average temperature throughout the year hovers around 30 to 32 degrees Celsius. At night, this drops to 22 to 25 degrees Celsius. However, the chance of rain can differ wildly. To determine the best travel time to Sri Lanka, it is therefore wise to avoid the rainy season. The western part of the country has two rainy seasons a year; from April to June, and from September to December. In between (so from July to August) it’s a bit more dry, but more rain falls then in January, February and March. The most optimal travel time for the west of Sri Lanka is therefore January to March.
Climate in the east of Sri Lanka
The eastern part of Sri Lanka also has a stable maximum temperature, between 27 degrees Celsius in January to 33 degrees from March to August. The rainy season in the the east of the country falls on a different date than in the west, from October to January. This makes February to September the most optimal time to travel to the eastern part of Sri Lanka.
Visiting the whole country?
Travellers that would like the visit both the eastern and the western parts of the country can simply combine the optimal travel times of both parts. The best time to visit the whole of Sri Lanka would then be February to March.
Currency: the Sri Lankan rupee
Sri Lanka uses its local currency, the rupee. The value of this currency fluctuates somewhat. In past years, one euro equaled around 150 rupee. But in March 2015, one euro was only worth 140 rupee, while today that same euro is now worth 180 rupee. It is therefore wise to check before departure what the current exchange rate of the rupee is, to make a proper assessment of the costs that will be made along the way.
Sri Lanka has about 6000 wild elephants, this number is rising
Paying cheaply in Sri Lanka
It is not advised to get your Sri Lanka rupees before departure at your local bank. They almost always use unfavourable exchange rates. This is because the banks want to cover for themselves should the rupee lose value. A cheaper alternative is to, once arriving in Sri Lanka, withdraw money from an ATM. This can almost always be done without problems with a debit card or credit card. Debit card are generally the cheaper option. It is not always possible to pin in Sri Lanka, and for each transaction an added fee is charged. The cheapest option therefore is to regularly withdraw cash rupees and pay with those.
Sri Lanka has only one timezone, and does not observe daylight saving time. This means that during the summer, the time difference between the UK and Sri Lanka is +4.5 hours, and in the winter +5.5 hours.
Apply for Sri Lanka visa
Sri Lanka requires a visa to travel to. This means that only those travellers that possess a valid Sri Lanka visa will make it past the passport check on arrival. There are different types of visa, but almost all tourists use the so-called ETA, the Electronic Travel Authorization. This can be easily acquired online through this website, and it is not necessary to visit a consulate or an embassy.
Submit a visa application for Sri Lanka
Safety and health in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka is a safe country for tourists that are well prepared. The country generally has good hygiene and proper healthcare. Regardless, it can be wise to closely read the travel advisory before departure.