An island nation with a diversity of cultures, Sri Lanka is sometimes described as the pearl earring hanging from the southern tip of India. Roughly 200km wide and 400km north to south, the terrain varies from idyllic beaches and lush tropical lowlands to steep highlands and a central plateau.
Settlement on the island of Sri Lanka dates back to prehistoric times, and various kingdoms were established by the 4th century BC. Buddhism was introduced in the 3rd century BC and it became the dominant religion.
In 1505 the Portuguese established control over the valuable spice trade, they were dislodged with help from the Dutch, then the British moved in. By 1815 the whole island, then called Ceylon, was under British control and English was introduced as the national language.
In 1948, Ceylon became an independent member of the British Commonwealth, but tensions arose between the majority Sinhalese population and the Tamil minority. Ethnic and religious conflicts persisted for decades, marked by civil unrest, terrorism, social dislocation and slow economic development.
A series of peace negotiations between 1985 and 2006 failed to find a lasting solution to the conflict. In 2009, a new government under Mahinda Rajapaksa launched a major military offensive against the Tamil forces, finally forcing their surrender in a brutal end to the 26 year conflict.
Since the end of the insurgency, the economy has grown strongly and tourism has boomed. Most of the country is now open to visitors, including the highlands and all the beautiful beach areas on the east and south coast.
A 30-day tourist holiday visa is granted free on arrival.
Avoid drinking tap water and take care with what you eat. Consult your doctor about vaccinations and malaria precautions – do it well before your planned holiday as some vaccination treatments take time.
Over exposure to the sun and infection from coral cuts are the two main hazards for surfers. For very serious injuries evacuation may be necessary and it is essential to have adequate travel insurance to cover this possibility.
Visitors can bring 1.5 litres of spirits and 200 cigarettes.
Dress & Etiquette:
Dress & Etiquette: Remember to remove your shoes and hat when you enter a Buddhist or Hindu temple, and wear a shirt and shorts or a skirt of at least knee length. Ask permission before taking photos of monks, Buddhist images or temples.