Did you know?
- The traditional salutation is ‘Ayubowan’ (may you have a long life). Use it as a “hello” and a “good-bye.”
- The world-famous writer Michael Ondaatje comes from Sri Lanka.
- Sri Lanka is one of the world’s largest tea exporters.
- Sri Lanka was the first country in the world to democratically elect a female as head of state.
- Sri Lanka’s national flag is one of the oldest flags in the world.
- There are eleven universities located in Sri Lanka.
- The most common meal in Sri Lanka is a spicy curry served with rice and a small side dish of vegetables.
- Sri Lanka was known as Ceylon before 1972.
- Every full moon day is a public holiday in Sri Lanka!
- The 1957 Oscar-winner for best picture, Bridge on the River Kwai, was filmed in Sri Lanka.
- The blue sapphire used in the engagement ring of Diana, the former Princess of Wales, came from the gem mines of Ratnapura.
- It is nicknamed as the Pearl of the Indian Ocean and teardrop of India.
- Cinnamon originated in Ceylon (Sri Lanka( dating back to 2800 BC when it was discovered by Portuguese traders.
Visas & Passports
Australian passport holders travelling to Sri Lanka do need a visa at this time.
We require that your passport is valid for travel for at least six months from the date you are planning to return to Australia. Your passport must be valid to travel internationally and must be machine-readable. You also need to carry a valid return ticket on you.
Whether travelling on an Australian passport or the passport of another country, all travellers require visas for a number of countries, and it is your responsibility to secure what may be required before departing Australia.
You can consult with your travel agent, but it is also recommended that you check the foreign embassy website for your respective destination as it can also provide you with useful information.
The Australian Embassy in Sri Lanka:
Australian High Commission, Sri Lanka
21 Srimath RG Senanayake Mawatha
Ph. +94 11 246 3200
Fax. +94 11 268 2311
The official currency of Sri Lanka is the Sri Lankan Rupee (LKR; symbol Rs). Notes come in denominations of Rs2,000, 1,000, 500, 200, 100, 50, 20 and 10. Ensure you change a small amount into small denominations.
Advise your bank of your travel plans so that they can make a note of it, otherwise they may cancel your credit card as a safety measure due to the overseas transactions. Also make a note of the 24-hour emergency contact number of the bank or building society which issued your credit card in the unlikely event that your card is lost or stolen.
Whenever possible use ATMs when the banks are open (Mon – Fri) so that if a machine ‘eats’ your card you can then deal with it straight away. It is always advisable to carry a supply of cash in addition to your credit card.
If you don’t have Sri Lankan Rupee with you on arrival, we advise you to exchange some money into the local currency at the airport even if the exchange rate is not the best, this way you’ll have money to get a drink, snack or give a tip during those first few hours of arrival. Your guide will be able to advise you on the best places to exchange money.
Small change is also useful for paying for toilets while on tour which is customary in many places outside of Australia.
- The price of a cappuccino in Colombo is approximately Rs450
- The price of an inexpensive lunch is approximately Rs300
- The price dinner in a moderate restaurant is approximately Rs1,250
- The price of a beer in a local pub is approximately Rs400
The national dish is rice and curry, which consists of a mound of rice and several small bowls of curried vegetables or occasionally meat. You mix the curries and the rice to your own taste, but be warned, Sri Lankan curries can be very spicy, but they are absolutely delicious! Excellent seafood can be enjoyed along the coastal areas, including crab, prawns and tuna. Sri Lanka’s fertile landscape produces an astonishing variety of tasty fruit also. In addition to tropical favourites such as mango, papaya, passionfruit, pineapple and banana, unique South Asian treats such as mangosteen, durian and rambutan. String hoppers, palm-sized medallions of tangled steamed noodles, are a popular breakfast, (you dip them in dhal, a lentil paste). Hoppers, bowl-shaped crepes of coconut flour (usually with an egg cracked over them), are another local favourite. Curd and treacle (a kind of yoghurt drizzled with palm syrup) is a common dessert.
Sri Lanka grows some of the finest tea in the world. Your best chance to get a good cup is in the hill country, where tea plantations and hotels serve the best of the local crop. The best and most common local beer is Lion lager. Arrack, made from fermented coconut sap, is the only liquor made in Sri Lanka and it is reminiscent of dark rum and tequila. Restaurants such as Paradise Road Cafe and Number 18 in Colombo draw the local people and tourists in search of quality cuisine. If you choose to eat in places not accustomed to serving travellers, be prepared to eat as the Sri Lankans do – with your fingers. Eating at local restaurants is generally fine and it can be a great, fun experience. Choose restaurants that are busy as the turnover of food is likely to be higher. Take care with seafood, undercooked meat, ready peeled fruit and raw salads.
We recommend to drink water from bottles only, however, please ensure that bottle tops are properly sealed and avoid adding ice to drinks. Soft drinks and alcohol are not a problem.
Important: When dining at buffets (i.e. breakfast) please refrain from taking food away with you to ‘save’ for later! If you feel that you’ll need snacks between meals, pack some dried fruit, nuts, muesli bars etc.
If you have specific food allergies and/or preferences, we highly recommend you take every precaution before your tour, including carrying a small card with your food allergy listed in each language of every country you are travelling to show to table staff when ordering. Whilst we take all dietary requirements seriously, due to the serious nature of potential allergic reactions, it is your responsibility to be as prepared as possible.
Sri Lanka’s weather is affected by two different monsoons. The southwest part of the island gets soaked from May – July, and the northeast monsoon arrives in December – January. Humidity is high all year round and you can expect some rain just about every day. Inland temperatures are about 5-8 degrees cooler than temperatures along the coast. In the highest part of the country, around Nuwara Eliya, it gets surprisingly cool in the evening.
Want to get out and explore on your own?
When you are in Colombo, the best way to get around would be by taxi. Remember to agree on a fare before accepting the ride and ensure you have small change to pay otherwise you may end up paying more than you bargained for! If you are staying at the beach on the south coast, then the best way to get from A to B would be by tuk tuk. These small vehicles are abundant, and you shouldn’t have a problem being able to jump in one. In places such as Kandy and Nuwara Eliya, walking is the best way to explore all that these towns have to offer.
When catching taxis, make sure you have small change on you and choose one with a meter, if it doesn’t have one then negotiate the price before getting in. We recommend you ask your guide or hotel staff the names of reputable taxi companies.
So, you’d love to bring home a special souvenir from Sri Lanka…
Shop for gems, especially sapphires, moonstone, and cat’s-eye. Other items to look for include hand-woven textiles, sarongs, fabrics, brass ware, wood carvings, handmade lace (in Galle), ceramic drinking gourds, batiks, bronze items and tea.
Do not buy any souvenirs made of coral – creation of these items contributes to the destruction of the reefs and cannot be taken back into Australia. In Colombo, a store called Barefoot sells a huge assortment of products made from brightly coloured, hand-woven, naturally dyed fabric from an emporium on Galle Road. It’s expensive by Sri Lankan standards, but the quality of the work justifies the expense.
If a tout takes you into a shop, you will usually end up paying more. Shop owners raise their prices to pay the tout’s commission for taking you there.
Bargaining is expected, except in fixed price shops. Souvenir shopping in government-operated stores, using hard currency, is a tame experience. Go out and bargain with the local merchants, they are good-natured and sometimes loud, but the encounter is often a better souvenir than the item purchased. Bargaining is a fact of life in Sri Lanka at the stalls and markets. The rules of bargaining are simple. Play hard but be prepared to move up too. If they agree to your price, then you are obliged to buy. If after protracted negotiations they do not agree to your price then you know they have reached their limit and if you really want the item, you will have to offer a higher price. In some stores, the prices are fixed as tagged and bargaining is not acceptable.
The best places for browsing are the markets in Kandy where you can visit art and craft workshops and be able to buy well priced good quality pieces. Odel, a shopping mall in Colombo, is good for clothes shopping.
- The Sinhalese greeting is 'Ayubowan' with the hands pressed together at chest level. Tamils tend to greet with 'Wanakkam' and Muslims greet with the usual 'Asalam Wallekkum'. Ratio wise, the Sinhalese consist of 82% of the population. Therefore, the most used is 'Ayubowan' and is widely accepted as the Sri Lankan greeting.
- People generally avoid confrontation and being rude to one another, so speaking indirectly helps facilitate this.
- Saving face is paramount, so avoid outwardly criticizing people in public situations.
- It is common to remove one's shoes at places of worship, when visiting people's homes, and even in certain shops and businesses. A good rule to follow is if you see shoes arranged near the door, take yours off as well.
- Most people beckon one another by extending an arm and making a scratching motion with their fingers, palm facing down.
- One usually always eats with the right hand as the left hand is considered unclean. Same goes for giving and receiving objects and shaking hands.
- Lewd behaviour and even simple public displays of affection are frowned upon.
- Avoid touching people or moving/passing objects with your shoes.
- Avoid touching or sitting on any image of the Buddha.
- Ask permission before taking a photograph.
- No matter what time of year you visit, you can use an umbrella! Sri Lankans use them constantly – as parasols if it’s sunny or as umbrellas if it’s raining.
Celebrations & Public Holidays
Home to such diversity with four main religions, Sri Lanka has a long list of public holidays, 25 to be exact! Many of these days are spent celebrating with festivals, food, music and dancing and always plenty of colour. Each year you can join one of Bunnik Tours’ special departures in July/August to see the incredible parade through Kandy to honour Lord Buddha’s sacred tooth relic. The 10-day Kandy Esala Perahera festival illuminates the streets of Kandy with vibrant costumes, musicians, traditional fire dancers and a number of elephants decorated in stunning silks. Another interesting celebration is the Hindu festival of lights, Deepavali (also known as Diwali) held annually during October/November. Honouring Lord Rama’s defeat of Ravana, the conquering of light over darkness, this 5-day celebration sees homes and buildings decorated inside and out with lit clay lamps, and multicoloured folk art designs drawn on the floor of their shrine room. The final day is the most significant with locals donning their traditional dress and offering each other gifts, usually in the form of sweets!
Other national public holidays to be aware of include:
- Tamil Thai Pongal Day (January 14th)
- Duruthu Full Moon Poya Day (January 28th)
- National Day (February 4th)
- Navam Full Moon Poya Day (February 26th)
- Mahasivarathri Day (March 11th)
- Madin Full Moon Poya Day (March 28th)
- Good Friday
- Sinhala and Tamil New Year’s Eve & Day (April 13th & 14th)
- Bak Full Moon Poya Day (April 26th)
- May Day (May 1st)
- Eid al-Fitr (May 13th)
- Vesak Full Moon Poya Day (May 26th)
- Day after Vesak Full Moon Poya Day (May 27th)
- Poson Full Moon Poya Day (June 24th)
- Eid al-Adha (July 20th)
- Esala Full Moon Poya Day (July 23rd)
- Nikini Full Moon Poya Day (August 22nd)
- Binara Full Moon Poya Day (September 20th)
- Holy Prophet’s Birthday (October 19th)
- Vap Full Moon Poya Day (October 20th)
- Deepavali (November 4th)
- Il Full Moon Poya Day (November 18th)
- Unduvap Full Moon Poya Day (December 18th)
- Christmas Day
On top of a rock plateau overlooking dense jungle and a vast plain is Sigiriya, you will find the mysterious remains of the fifth-century fortress of King Kasyapa. When it was built, an impressive 5-acre fort sat astride the rock and a city nestled at its base, but now the city is gone and the fortress is in ruins. Be sure to brave the now-sturdy spiral staircase to see the 19 frescoes of female nature spirits (Apsaras) painted beneath an overhang about 90 metres up the rock. The frescoes are beautiful, still vibrant after 1,500 years. A wall covered with 1,000-year-old graffiti and poetry (left by visitors who recorded their impressions of the painted women) lies just above the frescoes. Near the top of the rock fortress is a pair of huge stone Lion’s Paws (all that remains of a giant stone lion). We recommend seeing the ruins in the morning – it’s much cooler. Photo by Annelieke Huijgens
This fascinating ancient city of the Sinhala kings, considered one of Sri Lanka’s most important archaeological sites, is where Buddhism was first introduced to the island in the third century BC. It contains large artificial lakes, temples, frescoes, dagobas (solid hemispheres topped with spires), 1,600 square stone pillars (which once supported a nine-storey monastery), several museums, royal baths and bas-reliefs of elephants. Anuradhapura is located inland. Photo credit: David Hein
Set in the scenic hill country around a pretty, man-made lake, Kandy was the last seat of the Sinhala kings. Today it is the site of Sri Lanka’s greatest annual spectacle, the Esala Perahera. The perahera (or “procession”) is a 10-day event – usually held in late July or early August – celebrating the sacred tooth allegedly snatched from Buddha’s funeral pyre, which now rests in Kandy’s Dalada Maligawa (Temple of the Tooth). Whether the tooth exists or not is unverifiable because no one actually sees it. The tooth supposedly rests inside a golden casket kept behind a glass wall in the Dalada Maligawa. You can see the casket at certain times of the day. Photo credit: Roy Bisson
Nuwara Eliya, meaning “the city in the open plain (table land) in the hills”, is at an altitude of 1,990 metres in the central highlands, and is considered to be the most important location for tea production in Sri Lanka. It is overlooked by Pidurutalagala, the highest mountain in Sri Lanka. Nuwara Eliya was popular with the British planters due to its cooler climate and became known as Little England. It developed into a country retreat where the British colonialists could hunt, play polo, golf and cricket. Although the town was founded in the 19th century by the British, the whole district is today visited by Sri Lankans, especially during the month of April - the season of flowers. Many of the buildings retain features from the colonial period and even new hotels are often built and furnished in the colonial style. Photo by Victoria Hearn
Small Group Tours
Traverse the Pearl of the Indian Ocean in style on this luxurious journey through one of Asia’s best kept secrets.