"How is it that such a small country can offer such an incredible wealth of things to see and do, in such spectacular surroundings?"
"Sri Lanka is a tiny little country but don’t let that fool you. It has a myriad of breathtaking cultural highlights – the hilltop fortress of Sigiriya, the Buddhist caves at Dambulla, the ancient cities of Anuradhapura and Pollonaruwa, to name just a few, and the scenery is superb. There are the palm-fringed sandy beaches that encircle the island, the steep tea-clad slopes of the mountains in the Hill Country, and the lush paddy fields of the lowlands. Add to this a mouthwatering cuisine (come prepared for the spices), people so friendly that you will make more friends in a day than you usually would in a year, and a sensational climate, and you have one of the world’s best holiday destinations."
Liddy Pleasants, Head of Operations – The Imaginative Traveller
Official Language: Sinhala, Tamil and English
Religions: 69% Buddhist, 15% Hindu, 8% Muslim, 8% Christian
Voltage: 230-40V. Power cuts are common in more remote regions and occur occasionally in major cities too.
Most Nationalities (including EU, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Hong Kong) do not need to obtain a visa before travelling as these are issued free of charge on arrival.
The monetary unit in Sri Lanka is the Sri Lankan Rupee (Rs).
Approximate exchange rates (as at April 2003) are as follows:
The Imaginative Traveller Recommends: During your stay in Sri Lanka, you may notice a general lack of small change. We recommend maintaining a small supply of coins and small denomination notes (e.g.10 & 20 Rs notes).
XE.com is a useful site for currency conversion.
Travellers' cheques can easily be changed at most major banks where they will earn a slightly better rate than cash. US dollars are probably the best currency to bring but all major currencies are accepted and can be easily exchanged. ATMs are becoming a common sight in the major cities like Colombo and Kandy but are still uncommon elsewhere so you should not rely on this as your primary means of obtaining money.
The Pre Departure Booklet contains general information about the things you will need to consider when budgeting for your holiday. Below are some specific notes relevant to our tours in Sri Lanka.
Our Traveller trips include entrance fees to all sites specified in the itinerary. There are very few additional sights for you to visit and entrance fees to these are minimal so you do not need to allow more than approx. US$20 for this.
Breakfast if provided on each day of the tour but no other meals are included.
Approximate costs for meals and snacks are shown below:
For a guide to the type of food you will find in Sri Lanka see the Local Food & Drink section of this dossier.
Tea and coffee is always provided with breakfast on Traveller tours. All other drinks (i.e. bottled water, soft drinks) are at your own expense.
Approximate costs for drinks bought in a shop in the street are shown below.
Note: Prices in restaurants and hotels can be as much as double those specified.
It is not recommended that you drink the local tap water in Sri Lanka however bottled water, carbonated soft drinks and fruit juices are widely available throughout the country.
Getting from A to B in Sri Lanka usually involves a taxi or auto rickshaw. Taxis are the most comfortable method of local transport, and are recommended for longer journeys but they are more expensive than rickshaws. Auto rickshaws usually take 2-3 people (although the driver will tell you that your party of 6 can all fit in!) and are great for shorter journeys and nipping through the traffic within a city
In Sri Lanka, taxi and auto rickshaw meters are for show only and you will find yourself engaging in a bit of haggling with the driver to agree upon the fare you will pay. This can be fun, but it is a good idea to find out, from your Tour Leader or the hotel receptionist approximately how much the fare should be for the journey you propose. You will probably have to accept that you will pay more than the locals do.
The Pre Departure Booklet that you will receive once you have booked your tour contains a comprehensive list of items that you should consider bringing with you. Check your Trip Dossier for any special requirements.
As a general guideline, clothing should be lightweight, loose fitting, hard-wearing and easily washed. In Sri Lanka’s hot summer months, cotton clothing is much more comfortable than man-made materials like nylon. It doesn’t usually get that cold in Sri Lanka but during the winter you may need some warmer clothes for the Hill Country.
Sri Lankans generally do not have particularly conservative attitudes towards dress compared to other countries in the region. Shorts are acceptable on both men and women in the main tourist areas.
The Imaginative Traveller Recommends: A sarong is an invaluable item to carry as it can be used to instantly cover any exposed areas (i.e. head, legs) in temples and also if you feel that you are getting sunburned – easily done in the hot Sri Lankan sun !
In certain areas and religious sites your Tour Leader may ask you to dress conservatively. Out of respect for local values, we ask that you follow your Tour Leader’s advice at all times.
Whilst few of our tours can be described as physically demanding you will find all activities more enjoyable if you are reasonably fit and active.
Wherever you go to the toilet remember to place your toilet paper in the rubbish bin provided – DO NOT flush it down the toilet as this may block the sewerage system. You will almost always find a rubbish bin next to the toilet however you may find it useful to carry a supply of small plastic bags to put your toilet paper in if a rubbish bin is not provided. You may also want to carry your own toilet paper as not all toilets will supply it.
Travellers should respect that religion is an inherent part of Sri Lankan life. We encourage travellers to experience religious festivals and visit temples and shrines but ask that you follow religious rules such as removing your shoes and refraining from taking photographs at certain sites. Your Tour Leader will be on hand to advise you of local sensitivities.
In most cases your Tour Leader will brief you on etiquette; however there are a couple of good points which are worth noting. For most rural Sri Lankans cutlery is an alien concept and all food is eaten with the right hand (as the left is associated with washing after visiting the toilet). Therefore you should remember to use your right hand for giving, receiving, shaking hands or eating (if there is no cutlery). You should also note that public displays of affection (such as kissing and holding hands) are generally not acceptable even though you will see Sri Lankan men holding hands (this is a sign of friendship rather than sexuality). You should also avoid pointing the soles of your feet at anyone. This may seem unlikely to happen but you could inadvertently do this while laying down or sitting with your feet up.
You should always ask permission before taking anyone's photograph and respect their decision if they say no.
You may encounter some beggars in Sri Lanka although this is not nearly as much of a phenomenon as in neighbouring India. Ultimately donations are a traveller’s personal choice, however in line with initiatives and government policy in many of our destinations, our recommendation is NOT to give money, pens, gifts or sweets as this encourages a begging mentality and is largely ineffectual. If you do want to help it is probably better to give to a recognised charity. If you choose not to give simply say no with a smile and keep walking. If you learn nothing else of the local language, learn ‘no thank you’!
Haggling is also a way of life in Sri Lanka. In the shops there is no fixed price so the shop keeper will start with a high price which you are then expected to haggle down until you reach a fair price. Haggling should always be relaxed and can be a lot of fun – you will find most shop owners are very friendly and will probably invite you in for a cup of tea to break the ice before the haggling starts!
Colombo airport is subject to heavy security, and is very well organised. No one is allowed in the airport building except travellers and airport staff. So, once you have cleared Customs, Immigration, collected your bags and changed some money leave the building. Just beyond the exit doors are several travel agency booths. At this point our representative holding a sign with your name and/ or The Imaginative Traveller will meet you.
If you cannot see any sign, please make your way to Counter 10 where there is a representative from our local office (Lanka Sportreizen) available 24 hours.
The Meeting Point for your tour should be clearly marked on your travel vouchers.
As you leave the terminal building at Colombo International Airport you will find a 24-hour taxi service booth. Here you can pay in advance for a taxi voucher to your destination. Hand the voucher to the taxi driver at the end of the journey. The cost to the centre of the city or to the hotel area in Negombo is approximately (US$12)
Public buses also serve the airport but these are very crowded and not recommended to those carrying luggage.
Most people find that Sri Lanka is a very friendly and hospitable country and feel quite comfortable wandering around alone during the day. However, as with any country you are not familiar with (and in particular in large cities such as Colombo and Kandy), it is recommended that you exercise more caution at night and generally take taxis rather than walk especially if you are a lone female.
Your Tour Leader's role is to ensure all aspects of the trip run smoothly. He/she will share their local knowledge, advise on how to fill your free time and co-ordinate the day to day running of the tour – although occasionally he/she may need your understanding if things do not go according to plan. If you have any problems on the tour, please let your Tour Leader know so that steps can be taken to put it right. Tour Leaders are supported by our regionally based office staff and, in most cases, a locally based manager.
Please note that some styles of trip, such as Imaginative Escapes or Imaginative Honeymoons, do not have a Tour Leader. However, there will be representatives on hand who will be able to assist you in arranging any excursions that you wish you take.
Our main criterion for choosing hotels is cleanliness. Hotels on Traveller tours are generally "medium range" and can vary from a business class hotel in one city to a family run guesthouse in a smaller town. All Traveller hotels have private bathrooms and generally air conditioning and/or a ceiling fan and bar / restaurant facilities. Please bear in mind that all levels of hotels can sometimes suffer from minor problems and technical difficulties.
At each hotel your Tour Leader will try to organise the rooming arrangements to suit everyone's requirements. If you are travelling alone you will be allocated a room with another group member of the same sex (unless you have paid a single supplement*). If you are travelling as a couple please note that we cannot guarantee the availability of double beds.
*Note: Single supplements are only applicable to single travellers who wish to have their own room. Single supplements are also only available on Traveller tours and are not applicable on overnight boats, trains and while camping.
An inexpensive laundry service is available in most of the hotels we are use (especially in cities and sizable towns).
Sri Lanka is blessed with fertile soil, rich seas and a tropical climate in which delicious fruit, fresh vegetables and sensational spices grow abundantly. That abundance is reflected in the country's cooking, which also shows the influences of the many races who have settled the island of Sri Lanka in past centuries.
No traditional meal in Sri Lanka is complete without rice, usually served plainly boiled or steamed and accompanied by any of dozens of different curry dishes. Usually, a main meal comprises one central curry dish - chicken, lamb, beef, fish or prawn, with a selection of vegetable and dhal (lentil) dishes. Along with these are side dishes of chutney and pickle. Some of these are cooling (such as mango chutney), while others are fiery. Among the spiciest of all Sri Lankan side dishes is sinbol, a potent paste blended from onion, coconut, chilli, lime juice and dried fish and served with rice.
Coconut milk is a major ingredient in all Sri Lankan curries, which are generally lighter and less rich than the curry dishes of northern India, and have much in common with the cooking of the Indian south.
The spices which first drew Europeans to the island - cloves, cardamom, nutmeg, cinnamon and pepper - still grow in great abundance in Sri Lanka. They lend richness and zest to many dishes, often in proportions that depend on availability and the chef's personal taste rather than on any fixed recipe.
If you do not want a full meal you might want to try ‘short-eats’. This is similar to the Chinese dim sum in that you choose from a variety of snacks such as spring rolls, samosas, meatballs, vegetable patties, etc. You eat as many as you like and are charged accordingly. Another dish to try is ‘hoppers’. These come in different forms, resembling either noodles or a pancake, and can be served with savoury or sweet accompaniments. Particularly good for breakfast!
Fruit juices are widely available but should be treated with caution as they may not have been blended with water that is safe to drink. Tap water may be contaminated, particularly during the monsoon season. You should be able to trust fruit juices in main resort hotels, but those sold in smaller restaurants and roadside stands are best avoided. Bottled water and soft drinks are widely available.
Grapes are among the few fruits that will not grow in Sri Lanka, so all wines are imported and are therefore relatively expensive and often of indifferent quality. Lion lager, the country's main brand of beer, is relatively expensive in Sri Lankan terms, but like almost everything else in Sri Lanka, is cheap by international standards. Imported beers and Guinness stout brewed under license, are also available in bars and restaurants in the main tourist areas.
Sri Lanka is a fantastic place for vegetarians! Many Sri Lankans, both Hindu and Buddhist, follow a vegetarian diet at least part of the time, and Sri Lanka is an excellent destination for vegetarians, with many delicious meat-free dishes to choose from on the menu.
If you have food allergies or preferences, please make them known to your Tour Leader who will do their best to ensure that your requirements are met.
Please note: Unfortunately we can give no guarantee that special requirements can always be met.
Internet cafes can now be found in most cities and sizable towns. Finding a café is not usually a problem, but speed can be. Connection times are often painfully slow although this does vary from city to city. The average cost for an hour is approx. US$1.
The Sri Lankan phone system is reasonably good but it can be expensive to call overseas, especially from hotels. Your tour leader will be able to advise you on the best places to call from.
The postal service is fairly good and stamps are available everywhere. An overseas stamp will cost approx. US$0.3.
Camera fees are not usually levied at tourist sites in Sri Lanka.
Availability of Film
Camera film can be found in all cities and sizable towns but it is best to bring your supply from home to be sure of the quality.
Sri Lanka's weather is affected by two different monsoons. In the southwest part of the island the monsoon arrives in May-July while the northeast monsoon arrives December-January. During the monsoon, it will usually rain heavily for a few hours but there is often blue skies and sunshine afterwards. Humidity is high year round, and it does sometimes rain outside the monsoon seasons. Sri Lanka is also warm throughout the year, with year round temperatures of roughly 25 degrees in the coastal region. It is much cooler in the hill country, however, and you will find yourself in need of a warm layer in the evenings, even in the middle of the summer.
The following chart shows average daytime temperatures (in Degrees Celsius):
|City / Temp||Jan||Feb||Mar||Apr||May||Jun||Jul||Aug||Sep||Oct||Nov||Dec|
Sri Lanka has many Buddhist, Hindu, Christian and Muslim festivals, and nearly 30 public holidays a year! Many of these holidays are based on the lunar calendar so they vary in date from year to year. Every full moon day is a holiday when no alcohol is sold.
Some fixed holidays are:
The most well known festival is the Kandy Esala Perahera, which takes place around the Esala full moon, usually in July or early August. Unfortunately for travellers, the exact dates are not known more than a week or two in advance.