Quick Guide: Refreshing Sri Lanka

2017-07-02 17:27
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Set in the Indian Ocean in South Asia, the tropical island nation of Sri Lanka has a colourful and rich history dating back centuries.

Visitors will find the original soul of Buddhism reverberates through its abundant and unspoilt natural beauty, offering a remarkable combination of stunning landscapes, pristine beaches, captivating heritage and unique experiences within its compact location.

Across a mere area of 65 610 kilometres lie 8 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, 1 330 kilometres of coastline - much of it pristine beach - 15 national parks showcasing an abundance of wildlife, nearly 500 000 acres of lush tea estates, 250 acres of botanical gardens, 350 waterfalls, 25 000 water bodies.

With its culture extending over 2 500 years, Gem island has been known as Serendib, Taprobane, the Pearl of the Indian Ocean, and Ceylon.

You'd do well to explore the attractions beyond the main cities. Visit the Central Province of Sri Lanka, with its famous palace ruins in Sigiriya. While surf and water sport fans need to base themselves in Hikkaduwa -  also prime for diving. 

Sri Lanka is fast becoming a popular destination for its low cost of living and fantastic, diverse attractions, which can be less crowded than those of other countries around the world.

SEE: Sri Lanka: An affordable Asian surprise

Here’s what you need to know if you go:

Visas: South Africans qualify for a short stay e-visa.

- The 30-day visa is issued electronically by the Department of Immigration and Emigration of Sri Lanka via on-line application system with a processing fee of about $10 or R130 at R13.10/$.

- No passport copies, documents or photographs are required. You must have your passport with you at all times in Sri Lanka and it needs to be valid for at least six months after your return date.

Click here to apply

SEE: Warning: Your passport 'expires' three months before it expires!

Medical: A yellow fever vaccination is required.

- Other recommended vaccinations for Sri Lanka include for childhood diseases of Tetanus, Diphtheria and Poliomyelitis, Measles, Mumps and Rubella as well as cover against the food and water borne diseases of Typhoid and Hepatitis A.  

Flights Route Access:  There are no direct flight routes to Sri Lanka from South Africa.

- Air Malaysia offers a one-stop flight via Hong Kong to Colombo. Other well-known airlines also offer multiple stop route, including Qatar, Emirates Turkish  Airlines and KLM.

National Carrier: Sri Lankan Airlines

Airport Hub: Colombo International Airport (code CMB) is a hub for Cinnamon Air, Expo Air, Lankan Cargo, Mihin Lanka, Millennium Airlines and Sri Lankan Airlines.

PLAN AHEAD: Click here to search flights 

Time Zone: South Africa is just over three hours behind Sri Lanka.

Travel Adaptor: Standard plug Type D and G for South Africa’s type M plugs.

Public transport: Sri Lanka as a small island brings its own challenges when travelling its narrow roads, which can be congested with pedestrians, cyclists and trishaws.

- Beyond the hustle and bustle of Colombo, you can enjoy a number of day-trips and scenic drives around the coastal line or in the hill country.

- Expect to travel by bus, tuk tuk or train, with go-slows at certain points.

- Uber is available in Colombo as well as other urban areas of Sri Lanka.

- Trains connect Colombo with all tourist towns, but first-class carriages, air conditioning and dining cars are available on only a few. New fast services operate on the principal routes, including an intercity express service between Colombo and Kandy. 

- The Viceroy Express is the only passenger steam train still in operation in Sri Lanka, with all journeys  hauled by a vintage, British locomotive, at least 50 years old.  

WHERE TO STAY: Search Top Pick Stays for Sri Lanka


Climate: Sri Lanka has a maritime tropical climate with average temperatures ranging from 16 °C in the highlands to 32 °C along the coast throughout the year. The island has two monsoon seasons from May to October and December to March.

Best time to go:  The high season along the west and south coasts and hill country of Sri Lanka is from December to March. Sri Lanka's position close to the Equator sees constant year-round temperatures. Low Season is between May–August, known as the Yala monsoon with the North and Eastern parts of the country being best at this time during this time.

Currency: 1 South African Rand11.73 Sri Lankan Rupee OR 1 US Dollar equals 153.36 Sri Lankan Rupee.

Here is a look at a few basics according to costs as per Expatistan.com, which states that food in Colombo  is 11% cheaper than in Cape Town but expect to pay a lot more for alcoholic beverages:

  • Basic lunchtime menu (including a drink) in the business district - 459 ? (R 39)    
  • Basic dinner out for two in neighbourhood pub - 2,689 ? (R 229)  
  • 1 litre (1 qt.) of whole fat milk - 209 ? (R 18)              
  • 2 litres of Coca-Cola - 206 ? (R 17)  
  • 2 tickets to the theatre (best available seats) - 2,209 ? (R 188)      
  • 1 cocktail drink in downtown club - 886 ? (R 75)     
  • Cappuccino in expat area of the city - 585 ? (R 50)
  • 1 beer in neighbourhood pub (500ml or 1pt.) - 483 ? (R 41)
  • 1 litre (1/4 gallon) of gas - 112 ? (R 10)      

Food to try:  

Sri Lankan cuisine is well-known for its "rich uniqueness. The culinary delicacies of Sri Lanka are very aromatic and healthy". The most common food to try in Sri Lanka is fish curry and mixed Rice. Other standouts include Dhal, young Jackfruit Curry and Gotukola Sambol.


Language: Sinhala, Tamil, English.

Useful phrases:   

Hi or Hello is widely understood.

Sthu-thi - Thank You

Oyage nama mokakkda - What is your name?

Keeyada - How much? 

Wathu Ra - water.

Kan Na - eating.

Bon na - drink.

Ga nang vedi - too expensive. 

SEE: Get your tongue rolling: 4 Free Language Apps everyone can use 

Capitals: Colombo, Sri Jayewardenepura Kotte.

Background: Sri Lanka has an administrative capital and a commercial capital. Colombo is its commercial capital with a population of just over 750,000. The entire country’s population is just over 20 million.

Sinhalese make up almost 75% of the population, followed by Tamils of both Indian and native origin and Arabs. There is a small group of people of mixed European descent and Malays from Southeast Asia living in Sri Lanka, and finally an even smaller population of Vedda – the indigenous minority in threat of extinction

In South Asia, Sri Lanka’s economy is predicted to continue growing and in addition to tourism, its major industries include rubber, tea, coconut and tobacco plantations. 

While it might be known for its beautiful beaches and great surfing, it is less known for its many other gems. The country is home to eight inscribed UNESCO World Heritage sites; Ceylon (former name of Sri Lanka) tea plantations; thunderous waterfalls in tropical rainforests; diverse wildlife – including the largest animal on earth; plentiful reefs; unique architecture; lush landscapes; friendly people; great food; and actual gems.

Top Read: Visa-free travel: Where your South African passport can take you


Key Tips to keep in mind: 

- Be Respectful, be civilized. In a place of worship especially or ancient places visitors are expected to behave with respect.

- Be sensitive in terms of noise, words, behaviour, and dress.   

- It is illegal to smoke or consume liquor in public spaces - Do it privately in your guest house or room

- Compared with many other countries it is relatively easy and safe for women to travel around Sri Lanka, even on their own. Although travelling with at least one companion is advised. Women can experience harassment at some beaches and tourist centres.

- It is best to dress modestly when away from the tourist spots, as Sri Lanka’s society is conservative and many Sri Lankans will judge ladies by their dress style.  

Highlights to check out: 

Yala : "The highest density of leopards in the world" A wild and untamed Sri Lanka filled with natural wonders

Arugambay: "The surfing capital of the world" Adventures from the tops of the mountains to the depths of the oceans

Sigiriya: "Eighth Wonder of World" Enter a time when men tamed the rocks, filled oceans & built cities in the sky

Ceylon Tea: "The World's first ethical Tea produce" Discover a country filled with the essence of a paradise

Unawatuna: "The World's best beaches - National Geographic" Golden beaches a washed with aquamarine waves & eternal sunshine

Ayurvedha: "Rejuvenate with Ayurvedhic medicine" For a mind free of its cankers and a body free of its pains