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Provinces/Districts/Cities

Sri Lanka consists of 9 provinces, subdivided into 25 districts. Below also the main city within each province is listed.

Central Province

Kandy

Kandy District, Matale District, Nuwara Eliya District

Eastern Province

Trincomalee

Trincomalee District, Batticaloa District, Ampara District

North Central Province

Anuradhapura

Anuradhapura District, Polonnaruwa District

North Western Province

Kurunegala

Puttalam District, Kurunegala District

Northern Province

Jaffna

Jaffna District, Killinochchi District, Mullaitivu District, Vavuniya District, Mannar District

Sabaragamuwa Province

Ratnapura

Kegalle District, Ratnapura District

Southern Province

Galle

Galle District, Hambantota District, Matara District

Uva Province

Badulla

Badulla District, Moneragala District

Western Province

Colombo

Gampaha District, Colombo District, Kalutara District

 

Events and Festivals

The major festivals in Sri Lanka:

  • Thai Pongal festival – A harvest festival celebrated by Hindus on January 14.
  • Milad-un-Nabi – Birth of Prophet Mohammed.
  • Maha Sivarathri – Hindu festival in March.
  • Good Friday in April.
  • New Year for the Sinhalese and Tamils – usually comes around April 12 – 14.
  • Vesak Poya Day – day of birth, enlightenment and death of Buddha on the May full moon day.
  • Esala Perahera – celebrated during the July full moon time at the Dalada Maligawa (Temple of the Tooth) in Kandy.
  • Deepawali – festival of lights and celebrating triumph of good over evil (usually around October/ November).
  • Id-ul-Fitr – End of holy fasting in the month of Ramadan.
  • Christmas.

Other major events:

  • February 4: Independence Day (from the English in 1948)
  • May 1: Labour Day
  • Full moon day each month is a Buddhist religious public holiday to allow practicing Buddhists to observe ‘Sil’ (the 5 Buddhist precepts)

 

Weather

Sri Lanka has a tropical climate, meaning hot and humid weather year round. Temperatures average around 30 °C during the day and around 20 °C at night, slightly more at the coast, slightly lower more inland. In the mountains it can get a bit chilly though. Rainfall is possible year round, but is higher during the April to June and September to December period. January-February and July-August are somewhat drier.

 

Getting There

By Plane

Bandaranaike International Airport (CMB), also known as Katunayake International Airport and Colombo Bandaranaike International Airport, is the main gateway to Colombo and in fact of Sri Lanka as a whole.

Sri Lankan Airlines is the national airline of Sri Lanka. It operates international flights to and from Abu Dhabi, Bangalore, Bangkok, Beijing, Chennai, Coimbatore, Doha, Dubai, Delhi,Dammam, Frankfurt, Goa, Hong Kong, Hyderabad, Kuala Lumpur, London Heathrow, Male,Paris Charles de Gaulle, Karachi, Kuwait, Singapore and Tokyo Narita. Other airlines serving the country are Emirates, Qatar Airways, Royal Jordanian Airlines, Saudi Arabian Airlines, Martinair, Condor, Cathay Pacific and lowcoast airlines Air Arabia from Sharjah.

Expo Aviation operates many charter service to and from the following destinations: Abu Dhabi, Australia, Bangalore, Bangkok, Beirut, Cairo, Kozhikode, Chennai, Chittagong, Kochi, Dhaka, Dubai, Hyderabad, Islamabad, Jakarta, Jeddah, Karachi, Kathmandu, Kuala Lumpur, Lahore, Malé, Manila, Mumbai, Muscat, several cities in Africa and Europe, Sharjah, Singapore, Tiruchirapalli and Thiruvananthapuram. Domestically, Expo Aviation and Aero Lanka offer scheduled flights to Jaffna and Trincomalee from Colombo. Chartered flights are also available.

Mihin Lanka is a lowcost airline which focuses on providing low cost flights from Colombo to Dubai and a number of cities in India. Its future base would have been Weerawila International Airport (WRZ), which would have been ready in 2009. However, the project faced significant environmental concerns, and was eventually scrapped. The site of the proposed airport was moved to Mattala, Hambantota, and a new Hambantota International Airport/Mattala International Airport is currently under construction there.

 

By Boat

There are shipping lines you could use between the Indian city of Trivandrum and Sri Lanka, but no regular passenger services exist. Ask around in the port in India or Sri Lanka.

 

Getting Around

By Plane

Expo Aviation and Aero Lanka offer scheduled flights to Jaffna and Trincomalee from Colombo. Chartered flights are also available. Deccan operates flights by plane or helicopter to the major tourist locations and can save hours in road transport but is very expensive.

There are airport taxis and vans in operation. They are cheaper for transporting you and your luggage to or from the airport.

 

By Train

There are trains connecting the major southern cities, the central, the east and Colombo. Popular routes include Colombo to Kandy vv. At present, there are no trains going beyond Anuradhapura to the northern places like Jaffna.

 

By Car

Travelling by car is the best option for getting around Sri Lanka. You have the freedom to stop when and where you want. Hiring a vehicle with driver is advisable, as it is best to go about with a driver familiar with the roads and you have a company that you can hold accountable for to ensure a safe drive for you. If you want to drive yourself, it is possible and several companies offer cars at the international airport and resort areas. Most roads are tarred, traffic drives on the left and you need an international driving permit.

Taxis, depending on the distance, can be reasonably cheap within Colombo city limits. There are numerous cabs now in service in the city. Some have a starting rate above which prices are added by the km and others start off from zero and go by the km. The latter is especially useful for shorter distances.

 

By Bus

Public buses are the cheapest mode of public transport. However, they can be quite crowded. As a tourist, if you don’t need to be travelling in the morning or evening or afternoon rush hours, then you can find that travelling during the in-between hours can be very cheap as well as giving a good glimpse of the city.

Intercity buses start and end in Colombo from the Fort area. You can get on one in-between but if you want a seat, better to go to the Fort bus stand. There are two stands: one for the inter-city buses that travel shorter distances, less than four hours and the the other for longer distances. Each city has a main bus stand where inter-city buses depart from or arrive at. 
Visit the Central Transport Board for more information about companies and fares.

 

Other public transport by land

A popular mode of transportation for both tourists and local residents is the three-wheeler/auto/ tuk-tuk. It is a convenient means of getting around within a city, when one does not want to go on the crowded public buses or more expensive taxis. Just be sure to agree on the price before you get onboard, as some drivers have a tendency to overcharge if you ask for the price at the end of the drive. It is usually also safer to get an auto from the stand that is usually located at the top of the streets, as that means that they are registered under the auto-drivers group of that area and should any misfortune befall, it will be much easier to locate the area and auto.

 

By Boat

There are no scheduled passenger services around Sri Lanka, but chartered a boat for diving and fishing is a popular way. Of course, you can also join a tour.

Three-wheeler

The most common mode of transport in Sri Lanka is via a three-wheeled automobile appropriately referred to as a three-wheeler(Tri-Shaw). Also known as Tuk-Tuks from the noise of their motors. These operate in a manner similar to taxis, and in many situations are a convenient and highly cost-efficient way to get around. Safety is a concern however, as none of them have seat belts and they are open to the sides.

Three-wheelers are ubiquitous in Sri Lanka. On any given street, you’ll hardly have to wait more than a couple of minutes without one going by that you can wave down. If you’re travelling with luggage, there are slightly larger three-wheelers with more space for your bags that you can look for.

While it may be the most novel way to get around, it may not be the most cost efficient in every situation. Public transport is cheaper by far, and most Three-wheel drivers tend to over-price foreigners, so never agree to the first estimate. The best price you can get is about Rs. 50 – 75 per Km for short jouneys and about Rs. 30 – 50 for long journeys ( more than 15 km). If you do come across a metered Tri-Shaw make sure the meter is switched on. Taxis are slightly more expensive but surely a lot safer. Having said that, you probably have not experienced everything Sri Lanka has to offer until you travel in one.

 

Citizens from the following countries do not require a visa to enter Sri Lanka for a stay of up to 30 days.

Albania, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belarus, Belgium, Bhutan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brunei, Bulgaria, Canada, China, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong (SAR), Hungary, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Iran, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Malaysia, Maldives, Moldova, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Oman, Pakistan, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Romania, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Seychelles, Singapore, Slovenia, South AfricaSouth KoreaSpain, Sweden, Switzerland, Tajikistan, Thailand, Turkey, Turkmenistan, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States of America, Ukraine, Uzbekistan

 

Language

Sinhala and Tamil are the official languages of Sri Lanka. English is a working language for most private sector enterprises based in Colombo but out of Colombo, the local languages are used. However, as a tourist, one can get by with English as usually basic words and phrases in English are generally known to all, as English is taught as a third language in local schools.

 

Respect

There are several customs that (for Westerners) take a bit of getting used to.

  • It is customary to remove shoes and wear conservative attire (i.e. no miniskirts, tank tops, short pants etc.) when visiting temples. It is also the custom to remove shoes before entering a home, though this is not as strictly followed as in places such as Japan.
  • Never touch or pat the top of the head of Buddhist monks, including children who practice at a temple.
  • Do not turn your back to (or be alongside) a Buddha statue when within a reasonable distance (observe what others are doing). This includes posing for photos. It’s OK to photograph a statue, but all persons should be facing it.
  • Public nudity is illegal in Sri Lanka – nude/topless sunbathing and skinny dipping should be avoided, except in the private beach resorts which allow it.
  • Although much latitude is given to tourists, it is more polite to use your right hand when shaking hands, handing money and small objects, etc. Of course you can use both hands for something big and/or heavy.
  • Be respectful to monks. There’s no particular etiquette for Westerners – just be polite. Always give them a seat on a crowded bus (unless you’re disabled or very elderly).
  • It is highly controversial to discuss politics, particularly the Sinhalese/Tamil divide or the LTTE. The 26 year old civil war which ended in 2009 has seen thousands of attacks throughout the country, including suicide bombings and massacres which have killed scores of politicians and civilians on both sides alike.
  • No photography of sensitive locations (inside and outside), and inside of shopping malls and tea factories (outside OK). Be especially careful in Fort, Colombo (except on the beach). If soldiers are guarding something, it probably shouldn’t be photographed. Don’t rely on signs alone, as sometimes they are old or missing. For example, one end of a bridge may have a “No Photography” sign, but not the other.
  • Seemingly innocuous public displays of affection between lovers such as kissing and/or hugging may be culturally frowned upon as it is considered to be private behaviour but it is acceptable in functions and establishments designated for adults such as nightclubs, casinos and beach parties. Much lenience is given to foreigners and holding hands and public affection between parents and their children is not frowned upon.

 

Embassies, high commissions and consulates

  •  Australia, Australian High Commission 21, Gregory’s Road, Colombo 7, Sri Lanka.
    ☎ (94) 11 2463200 (fax: (94) (11) 2686453)
  •  Canada, Canadian High Commission 33A, 5th Lane, Colpetty, Colombo -03, Sri Lanka.
    ☎ (94) 11 5226232 (fax: (94) (11) 522 6296)
  •  China, Embassy of the People’s Republic of China, 381-A Bauddhaloka Mawatha, Colombo 7, Sri Lanka.
    ☎ (94) 11 2688610 (fax: (94) (11) 2693799)
  •  France, French Embassy, 89, Rosmead Place, Colombo 7, Sri Lanka.
    ☎ (94) 11 2639400 (fax: (94) (11) 2639402)
  •  Germany, German Embassy, 40 Alfred House Avenue Colombo 3, Sri Lanka.
    ☎ (94) 11 2580431 (fax: (94) (11) 258 0440)
  •  India, High Commission of India 36-38, Galle Road, Colombo 03, Sri Lanka.
    ☎ (94) 11 2327587 / 2422788 / 2421605 (fax: (94) (11) 2446403 / 2448166)
  •  Italy, Embassy of Italy, 55, Jawatta Road Colombo 5, Sri Lanka 
    ☎ (94) 11 2588388 (fax: (94) (11) 2596344)
  •  Japan, Embassy of Japan, No. 20, Gregory’s Road, Colombo 07, Sri Lanka 
    ☎ (94) 11 2693831 /2/3 (fax: (94) (11) 2698629)
  •  Malaysia, High Commission of Malaysia, No. 33, Bagatalle Road, Colombo 3, Sri Lanka
    ☎ (94) 11 7557711/ 7557712 / 7557713 (fax: (94) (11) 7557714)
  •  Russia, Embassy of the Russian Federaration, 62, Sir Ernest de Silva Mawatha, Colombo 7, Sri Lanka.
    ☎ (94) 11 2573555 / 2574959 (fax: (94) (11) 2574957)
  •  Norway, Royal Norwegian Embassy, 34 Ward Place, Colombo 7, Sri Lanka.
    ☎ (94) 11 2469611 (fax: (94) (11) 2695009)
  •  Thailand, Royal Thai Embassy, 46/46 Nawam Mawatha, 9th Floor, Green lanka Towers, Colombo 2, Sri Lanka
    ☎ (94) (11) 2302500-3 (fax: (94) (11) 2304511-2)
  •  United Kingdom, British High Commission 389 Bauddhaloka Mawatha, Colombo – 7, Sri Lanka.
    ☎ (94) (11) 5390639 (fax: (94) (11) 5390694)
  •  The Netherlands, 25, Torrington Avenue , Colombo – 7, Sri Lanka.
    ☎ (94) (11) 2510200 (fax: (94) (11) 2502855)
  •  United States, American Embassy 210 Galle Road, Colombo 3, Sri Lanka.
    ☎ (94) (11) 249-8500 (fax: (94) (11) 249-8590)
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