in the middle
Sri Lanka is an island nation, formerly known as Ceylon, which lies off the southern tip of India. Known as the "Nation of Smiling People", it's truly a tropical paradise with astonishing biodiversity for such a small place. There are beautiful beaches all along the coast, as well as an interior filled with mountains and jungle.
Sri Lanka has long been on the backpackers' trail thanks to the idyllic beaches and cheap cost of living, but today it's even easier than ever to get cheap flights to Sri Lanka and make up your own adventure - backpack not required. You might choose to do nothing but bask in the sun by the sea, or you could venture inland where you'll find an abundance of hills and mountains - hidden amongst the clouds are ancient settlements that are definitely worth a day trip at least.
A wide variety of different cultures have called this island home, which has all combined to create the delightful melting pot you can see today when you arrive on a flight to Sri Lanka. A remnant of the British Colonial era and an obsession that the whole nation shares is that they don't like cricket, they love it!
All but the most expensive flights to Sri Lanka take upwards of 15 hours to arrive, although if you can afford to splash out on a direct Sri Lanka flight then you'll get there un just under 12. If you're looking into indirect flights to Colombo, which is the island's international airport, then be sure the check your stopover times thoroughly. Journeys of over 24 hours are not uncommon, but these tend to cost around the same as shorter indirect flights to Sri Lanka.
All flights to Sri Lanka land at Bandaranaike International Airport, and if you're on a package holiday on this beautiful island, you can expect to have your onward transport sorted out. There are not many options for onward travel, with connections restricted to taxis and hire cars if you're making it on your own. Once you get into Colombo, there will be much more to choose from.
Once your cheap flight to Sri Lanka has arrived and you're away from the airport, there will be a larger choice of transport options. To get around the cities and towns look for Tuk-Tuks, which are three-wheeled motor vehicles that operate much the same as taxis. So remember to haggle on the price and make sure you agree it before you embark on your journey! Taxis too are in operation and can often work out cheaper, especially if you get one with a meter that works.
If you want to head further afield then there are a range of public and private which can take you all over the island, including ones that offer dedicated tours, which can be useful for getting you to some of the more remote attractions. There are also trains which link the major cities, although if you think this will be measurably faster than the buses then think again!
It's definitely worth considering renting a car when you arrive in Sri Lanka on your flight. Prices are relatively very cheap, and with your own driver you will be able to plan your own itinerary. In fact, look out for government-licensed drivers and you'll get a knowledgeable guide with good English into the bargain.
Sri Lanka has long been a haven for a myriad of beach bums, surfers and sun lovers who have congregated around the area of Arugam Bay, where you'll find good waves and a relaxed hippy vibe. Recently, travellers have become more adventurous in general, so here are our top attractions in Sri Lanka to inspire you. Need more? Then try our Sri Lanka guide here.
Sinharaja Rainforest is both a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a Biosphere Reserve. A popular eco-tourism destination, the dense vegetation is home to deer, leopards, butterflies, birds and much, much more. Whether you want to spend half a day investigating, or give the majority of your holiday to spotting the rarest of creatures that lurk here, it's a stunning place to go.
Adam's Peak holds an astonishing place of reverence in not one but four of the major religions, making this rather remote sight a much sought-after one! Each of these interprets the meaning of the 'footprint' dent in the top of the peak differently - but anyone who wakes early enough to get to undertake the four-hour climb in time to see the dawn from the summit will certainly feel the sacred nature of this piece of ground. If this is on your must-do list then book your flight to Sri Lanka in December or January when you will find the best conditions for this hike.
Sigiriya Rock Fortress is often titled the 8th Wonder of the World, and whether it can claim that crown or not is debatable, but we're pretty sure anything with 1000 year-old graffiti is worth a look. This fortress is perched high up on a huge rock - and when we say high we mean 200 metres above the ground - protruding from the surrounding jungle. It's a stunningly beautiful place, with amazing engineering as well - modern science is still confounded by some of the contraptions that have been found in working order.
Yala National Park boasts the highest concentration of leopards in the world, as well as other pretty impressive animals as well. This huge park is divided into five sections, two of which are available to visit, and the best way to do this is on a safari with a proper tour guide. This may not be the cheapest way, but unless you've got weeks to spare, you'll have the best chance of seeing elephants, water buffalo and small primates if you go with a guide.
Plenty of airlines offer flights to Colombo-Bandaranayake International Airport, with some flights from the UK stopping over at an intermediate destination. There is only one international airport on the island, and flight times from the UK are around 11 hours.
Many holiday companies provide travellers with transfers to their accommodation upon arrival, which is the most relaxing way to start your holiday in Sri Lanka. There are plenty of other options though detailed below so don't worry if your transfer isn't included!
The quickest and most luxurious way to get around Sri Lanka is on the Sea Plane, which goes from Colombo to other towns around the island. Rented cars are also a great option and often come with their own driver which removes the hassle of navigating yourself. For the cheapest way to see more of the country, buses are ubiquitous and although the journey may take a while you can travel to virtually anywhere. Trains are also available, and serve most of Sri Lanka, but are more dangerous for foreigners. In towns, taxis and tuk tuks, three-wheeled motorbike taxis, are the best ways to get around.
Sri Lanka has a tropical warm climate, with two monsoon seasons, one in the summer, which predominantly affects the south and west and the other in the winter which tends to bring rains in the north and the west. Mountainous regions experience colder temperatures than the lowlying areas, with frost possible in December and January. Elsewere, temperatures hover around 30°C throughout the year, and rarely drop below 20°C. Humidity across the country ranges from 70% to 90% with higher levels corresponding to the monsoon periods.
The best time to holiday in Sri Lanka is between the summer and winter monsoons, with November to April being best for visiting south and west regions and between May and September much better for the east and north coast areas. The cheapest deals are available during the monsoons, when travel can become difficult, to get a great deal outside this time it's best to be flexible on dates and book well in advance.
Sri Lankan Rupee. ATMs are fairly prevalent in major towns and cities although some do not accept foreign cards. Exchange rates on travellers cheques are often better than for cash, and sterling or US dollars are the best currency to use for this. Banks are best for cash and cheque exchange and be sure to change our money back before you return home. Smaller vendors won't have change for larger notes so break them down when you can or ask for smaller bills when you change money.
Sinhala and Tamil are the two official languages but because of the ethnic diversity other languages such as derivations of Malay and Arabic are commonly spoken. English is widely used for commercial purposes and is generally well-known in towns and cities, although less so elsewhere.
Currently British nationals can get a free 30-day visa upon arrival in Sri Lanka so long as they have a passport valid for six months after their leaving date. However in August 2010 the Sri Lankan government announced that this visa on arrival system will soon be suspended. As yet they have no dates and no details about what will replace it. It is likely that in the near future visitors to Sri Lanka will need to apply for their visa in advance. Check the Foreign Office advice below for the most up to date information.
Sri Lanka is a tumultuous place with a variety of dangers from both the weather and the local populace so it's always best to check out the Foreign Office travel advice below before you book as well as before you travel.