GoNOMAD Sri Lanka Destination Guide
GoNOMAD DESTINATION MINI GUIDE: Sri Lanka
By Tim Taylor
Sri Lanka is located off the southern tip of India. An independent country, Sri Lanka was formerly a British colony under the Raj, Ceylon.
Lush jungles, abundant wildlife, cool mountains and glorious beaches make an ideal island. Remnants of the spice trade, tea plantations, and elegant colonial hill stations add history.
WHEN TO GO
There are two monsoons (the South-West from May to July affecting South/West/Central areas and the North-East from Sept to Nov affecting North/East areas). Sunny and warm days are the rule even during the height of the monsoons, and Sri Lanka has no off-season.
GETTING THERE AND AROUND
There are direct flights from the U.K. and other European countries and regular connections from Southeast Asian hubs like Singapore, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Bombay and New Delhi as well as Middle Eastern countries. There are flights from Los Angeles and New York via Bangkok or Singapore.
Sri Lanka has good road and rail networks. Public and private bus services (including luxury and semi-luxury intercity buses) operate from most towns. Many visitors find that the best option is to join an organised tour or hire a driver and vehicle. Self-drive is not recommended unless familiar with Sri Lanka’s complex and sometimes chaotic road practices.
BEST MAJOR ATTRACTIONS
National Parks and Reserves
Sri Lanka’s extensive network of National Parks and Forest Reserves — especially Sinharaja F.R. and Uda Walawe N.P. — offers abundant wildlife including wild elephants, buffalo, boar, crocodiles, monitor lizards, leopards, sambhur and jackals along with a remarkable diversity of birds. Both are within easy driving of miles of sunny, golden sandy beaches.
BEST UNUSUAL ATTRACTIONS
The hot springs at Mahapalessa, the Madunagala ruins and jungle hermitage, and tallest rock-cut Buddha statue at Buduruwagala, all within easy reach of Embilipitiya.
BEST ACTIVITY AND TOUR
Why limit yourself? Take it all in — hiking, beaching and animal observation.
- Gecko Travel’s “Southern beaches, jungle adventures and hill retreats,” offers a 15-day small group tour that takes in primeval rainforest, unspoilt beaches, stunning National Parks and spectacular tea country scenery with an optional extension to snorkel on a remote and unspoilt coral reef.
- Or try a tailor-made itinerary for one or two persons from Jetwing Travel with driver and guide Chandragupta Wickramesekera (aka Wicky).
- Find more options for intrepid tours in Sri Lanka.
- Buddhist Studies
There are hermitages where you can learn or practice meditation and study Buddhism throughout Sri Lanka, notably around Kandy. Contact the Buddhist Publication Society in Kandy (Tel: 08-223 679) or the Buddhist Cultural Centre in Columbo (Tel: 734-256). Further information also available from Jetwing Travel.
Various NGOs have volunteer programmes in Sri Lanka. Contact Voluntary Service Overseas vso.org.uk, which currently has 33 volunteers working in two main areas: the disability and mental health sector and education.
BEST LOCAL HAUNT
Early evening drinks in the grounds of the charming Rest House set above the village of Rakwana. Don’t expect to meet up with any other tourists.
It’s a toss up between the abundant seafood and the humbler rice and curry available everywhere. For the latter try the Alu-Vihara Kitchen near Matale to sample from the 35 curries served for lunch. The white linen and calm of the Tangalle Rest House is also pretty hard to beat.
The Kandy Esala Perahera, the most spectacular festival in Sri Lanka and the climax of ten days and nights of increasingly frenetic activity. Usually held in July/August, this Buddhist festival includes a huge parade of dancers, drummers, temple chieftains and decorated elephants. The fire walking, body skewering and other masochistic rituals of the Hindu festival at Katagarama are not for the faint-hearted.
Sri Lanka is excellent for gems, jewellery, spices, woodcarvings and other handicrafts, clothing of all types and batiks. Alternatively, there are the department stores and stylish boutiques of Columbo if you are looking for some modern Sri Lankan chic.
VISAS AND DOCUMENTS
Nationals of more than 25 countries don’t need visas to enter Sri Lanka. These include tourists from the USA, Canada, U.K. and other Commonwealth countries and most European nations. You may be refused entry if your passport expires within less than three months.
HEALTH AND SAFETY
Sri Lanka is a healthy country and with common sense there is no reason why you should become unwell during your visit. It is essential, however, that your take out adequate health insurance for the duration of your stay and you seek proper medical advice in advance. Most people ensure that they are immunized for tetanus, diphtheria, polio, typhoid, and hepatitis A and B. You may also wish to consider anti-malaria pills.
There is a continuing conflict in Sri Lanka but this is largely restricted to the North and East of the country. It is not recommended that you attempt to visit these areas. Tourists are not targets of the LTTE (aka Tamil Tigers) and, other than military road checks, you are very unlikely to be made aware of the conflict. As a precaution, get an update from your Government’s information services in advance of travelling.
MONEY AND COMMUNICATIONS
Currency exchange presents few problems with most towns having a least one bank where you will be able to change cash and travelers’ checks. Many hotels will also do this for you, but at slightly inferior rates. You will get slightly better rates on travelers’ checks, and it is best to take US dollars. Upon arrival, the airport banks will all try to get your exchange. They all give the same rates. You cannot purchase rupees (Rs) outside of Sri Lanka and you are not allowed to take rupees out of the country. Major credit cards are widely accepted, and there are a growing number of ATMs that accept foreign cards.
It is relatively easy to make international telephone calls and send e-mails in the main cities, towns and tourist resorts, but it can be expensive and Internet access can be patchy and unreliable. Outside of these centers, it is a different picture. Telephone calls within Sri Lanka are relatively cheap and easy to make. The postal service is reasonably reliable and most villages have a sub-post office.
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