Sri Lanka Travel Guide
Our Travel Guide will introduce you to Sri Lanka. You can find where to go, what to do (and not to do), what to see, what to eat, local etiquette and much more information.
Table of Contents
- 1 Sri Lanka: An Introduction
- 2 Historical Names of Sri Lanka
- 3 Location & Time Zone
- 4 Area and Topography
- 5 Climate, Temperature and Weather
- 6 Sri Lankan History
- 7 Demographics
- 8 Sri Lankan Culture
- 9 Flora and Fauna of Sri Lanka
- 10 Business and Economy
- 11 Banking & Finance
- 12 Government and Politics in Sri Lanka
- 13 Administrative Divisions
- 14 Media: Print, Radio & Television in Sri Lanka
- 15 Telecommunications
- 16 Sports in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka: An Introduction
Sri Lanka (Sinhala:ශ්රී ලංකාව, Tamil: இலங்கை), is a beautiful island located off the Southern coast of the Indian Sub Continent. Sri Lanka shares maritime borders with India to the North West and Maldives to the South west. Located at the crossroads of ancient East-West maritime trade routes Sri Lanka was known by the Indic, Chinese, Persians, Arabs and Western civilizations.
Historical Names of Sri Lanka
Due to her rich history and international interactions, Sri Lanka was known by many names. However, most simply called the island “Lanka“. Prior to 1972 Sri Lanka was called Ceylon. In 1972 the country’s name was changed to “Free, Sovereign and Independent Republic of Sri Lanka”. The present official name of Sri Lanka was registered in 1978 as The Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka. The name comes from the root Sanskrit words ‘Sri’ (island) and ‘Lanka’ (venerable).
- Sinhaladvipa – An old Sanskrit name which meant the “Island where Lions Dwell”. Sinhala (or Sinhalese) is the country’s national language. Almost 75% of the population are ethnic Sinhalese. Sinhala (Sinhale) also means the “Blood of the Lion”
- Lankadweep – The name for Lanka in the Indian Hindu epic the Ramayana
- Alengko - An ancient Javanese (present day Indonesia) name for Lanka describing it as Ravana’s Kingdom
- Tâmraparnî ( or Tambaparni) – Means “Copper colored sand”. It is the name used by the Indian Prince Vijaya who conquered Lanka and later became the first recorded King of Lanka.
- Serendip - is a Persian name for Sri Lanka which is a corruption of the Sanskrit “Sinhaladvipa” (“The Three Princes of Serendip” is a Fairy Tale by Persian poet Amir Khusrau in 1302. )
- Serandives – Is the name used by ancient Romans for Sri Lanka
- Taprobanê - Is the name used by Alexander the Great, this is the corruption of the name Tâmraparnî
- Sarandib (or Serendib) – A name used by early Arabs. Incidentally, this was the root word that Horace Walpole coined the English word Serendipity, in 1754.
- Sailan, Tilaan and later Cylone – Names used by later Arab traders
- Early Western Names for Sri Lanka are Selan (Latin), Ceilão (Portuguese), Ceilán (Spanish), Selon (French), Zeilan, Ceilan and Seylon (Dutch), and of course the famous colonial English name “Ceylon“.
Dvipa, dweep, dives – all mean “Island”
Location & Time Zone
The name ‘Pearl of the Indian Ocean’ was most befitting to Sri Lanka as it is situated in the crystal blue depths of the Indian Ocean, southwest of the Bay of Bengal. The Gulf of Mannar separates the island from the main Indian Subcontinent, and this close proximity to India has influenced Sri Lanka in a myriad ways from culture to religion.
Sri Lanka Time or SLT is 5 ½ hours ahead of GMT/UTC, and is the same for the entire island. Furthermore, Daylight Saving Time is currently not observed in Sri Lanka.
Area and Topography
The various weather conditions that affect Sri Lanka has had immense bearing on Sri Lanka’s landscape, and the island is therefore very rich in terms of topographic features. It can be roughly divided into three on account of the variance in elevation.
The Central Highlands
A high plateau forms the core of this area and some of the country’s famous mountains can be found here, such as Pidurutalagala which is the highest, and Namunukula, Hatton and the Knuckles Range. Sri Lanka is world-renowned for its lovely gushing rivers which are visually stunning as well as an essential element of the local agriculture-based economy. Most of these rivers originate in the Central Highlands and flow down to the sea. The longest river is the Mahaweli Ganga, and during the latter part of the last century it was dammed in several places and the water harnessed into large-scale projects.
This area forms a large part of the island’s terrain, and constant soil erosion has wrought many changes in the appearance of this section.
The coastal Belt
Rises to around 30 metres above sea level and is made up of Sri Lanka’s famous golden beaches and lagoons. In the newly freed Jaffna Peninsula, one can see low cliffs in certain areas which are actually limestone beds exposed to the ocean. In some other areas the coastline consists of rocks, cliffs, little offshore islands and bays, which have brought into existence two of the world’s best natural harbours in Trincomalee and Galle. These natural formations also provide the perfect setting for Water Sports such as Surfing and Snorkelling, which are a major boon to the spiralling tourism industry in Sri Lanka.
Climate, Temperature and Weather
For an island so small, Sri Lanka has an amazing diversity of climatic and weather patterns. Sri Lanka has a typical tropical climate with sunshine and warmth the norm, in other words – there is nothing that can be called an ‘off season’ in the land. The average temperature is around 27 C, but cool and misty conditions can be found in the hilly areas (approx. 16 C). May is considered the hottest period as it comes just before the start of the Monsoon rains. The country is affected by two seasonal monsoons – the south-west monsoon (May – July) where rains are concentrated in the western, southern and central regions, and the north-east monsoon (December & January) bringing rains to the northern and eastern parts. These are brought on by Monsoon winds blowing in from the Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean.
Whether it is a glowing sun tan that you yearn for, or the glorious sight of the hills rising out of the mist, you will have it – somewhere in Sri Lanka.
Sri Lankan History
Pre Historic Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka has a very ancient history dating back as early as 300,000 BP, where evidence discovered in Iranamadu indicates the colonization of people known as the Balangoda Man, who were Mesolithic Hunter Gatherers. This name has come about because of the human remains of this tribe that were found in the Balangoda area.
The earliest evidence of anatomically modern humans (at ca.34,000BP) has been found in the Fa Hien Cave, and artefacts found therein and in the Batadombalena Cave make it almost certain that they can be considered the first modern people of this island.
There is further evidence of salt having been brought from the coast even before 27,000 BP.
There is a tribe of people living in the Central, Uva and North-Eastern areas of the country called the Veddas or Wanniyala-Aetto, who are possible descendants of the Balangoda Man.
Ancient & Medieval Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka was ruled by a monarchy in ancient times, the Sinha Royal dynasty in particular, which reigned for over 2000 years. Anuradhapura was the first capital of the Sinhala Kings. Probably due to its close proximity to India, the country was invaded on a few occasions by South Indian Kingdoms, so that some areas were ruled by the Chola, Pandya, Pallaya and Chera dynasties. There were invasions by the Kalinga kingdom as well.
A momentous happening was the bringing of Buddhism from India in the 3rd Century BCE, by a Bhikku named Mahinda, which would greatly impact the future of Sri Lanka. Even today the island is considered one of the foremost Buddhist countries in the world. A sapling of the Bo Tree under which the Lord Buddha attained enlightenment is planted in Anuradhapura and is called the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi.
Located in the middle of the Indian Ocean, Sri Lanka was a very popular trading post and port centuries ago. Merchant ships from Persia and the Middle East, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia found the island very useful for their commercial purposes.
In 1505, a colonial mission from Portugal, led by Lourenco de Almeida landed in Sri Lanka. There were three local kingdoms then – Kandy in the hills, Kotte in the West and Yarlpanam in the North. The Portuguese colonization lasted from 1505 – 1658.
In 1638, the then king of Kandy joined forces with the Dutch to overthrow the Portuguese and by 1660 the entire island was under the Dutch with the exception of the Kandyan kingdom. The Protestant Dutch hounded the Catholics but left the non-Christians to pursue their religion in peace.
In 1802, all areas ruled by the Dutch came under British rule, which meant the entire country other than the hill capital. The 1st Kandyan War took place in 1803 with the British invading the hill capital only to be brutally repulsed. But the year 1815 saw the Kandyan kingdom finally succumbing to the British, ending the country’s independence.
Thereafter land belonging to the Kandyan people was taken away from them by the Wastelands Ordinance. It was also found that the up-country area was perfectly suited to the cultivation of Coffee, Tea and Rubber. This is how the famous ‘Ceylon Tea’ came about and a great population of Tamil workers was imported from South India to work on these Plantations.
The State Council leader, D. S. Senanayake was the one chosen to conduct the all-important negotiations regarding Sri Lanka’s independence, during the time of World War II. The historic Ceylon Independence Act of 1947 was the result of these
negotiations and ruling power was transferred to the locals. Mr. Senanayake founded the United National Party which went on to win the election held in 1947 and on the 04th of February 1948 a new constitution was brought into effect. This made Sri Lanka a dominion and the following 10 years was a time of United National Party rule.
The Civil War
The civil war in Sri Lanka began on the 23rd of July 1983 and took the form of regular insurgency by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), who were agitating for an independent state in the North & East. This state was to be named Tamil Eelam, but it never became a reality because the separatists were defeated by the Sri Lanka military in May 2009, ending almost 3 decades of turbulence.
Post Civil War
With peace finally coming to beautiful Sri Lanka, the Government and people are striving to rebuild the island nation, with major scale development projects going ahead at a brisk speed. With military expenditure at a minimum, more funds are being allocated for advancements in sectors such as Tourism and Harbours which will benefit the country immensely.
Sri Lanka’s population is estimated at approximately 20 million people with an annual population growth of 0.79% and occupies the 53rd position on the world population charts. For 1,000 people, the birth rate is 15.63 and the death rate is 6.49. The Western part of Sri Lanka, especially within and close to the capital, is the most densely populated.
The indigenous people of Sri Lanka are called the Wannila Aththo or Vedda People and believed to be the original inhabitants of the island.
The majority of Sri Lankans are Sinhalese, accounting to 74% of the population in the country. Proud of a rich and long history, dating back to over 2000 years, the Sinhalese community mainly inhabits in the central, west and south of the country. The old Sinhalese Kings are known to have built master irrigation systems and lived self-sufficiently. Buddhism is the religion of the Sinhalese people and was introduced to Sri Lanka in 3 rd century BC. The rich culture, art and architecture derives essence from Buddhism.
The Tamils are the second largest community and accounts for 14% of the population. Divided between Ceylon Tamils and Indian Tamils, this community mainly inhabits in the North, Northeast and Central provinces. The Indian Tamils have migrated to Sri Lanka during the time of the British rulers to work on tea plantations etc and have settled in the Central Province of the country in the tea estates. The Ceylon Tamils have a 1000 year long history in Sri Lanka and are mainly living in the Jaffna peninsula. The two communities are largely Hindu devotees and have a similar culture and caste system different from the Sinhalese.
The Moors (Muslim) community which accounts for 7% of the population practice the Islam religion and have settled in the east coastal belt of Sri Lanka. With a history dating back to about 1000 years, the Muslims first arrived from Arabia to Sri Lanka for trade purposes and later settled in the coastal area.
Other minority communities are the Burghers and Malays. The Burghers are descendants of Portuguese or Dutch who came during the European colonial period. Spread around the west coastal belt, this community is either Roman Catholic or Christian (Dutch Reformed Church). The Malays (Muslims) came from South-East Asia, from former Malay peninsula which included Java and Sumatra (present day Indonesia). The first wave came with the retinue of the king of Java who was exiled to Sri Lanka by the Dutch. The second wave came as employees to fill in the ranks of the Dutch army, police, fire brigade & prison staff, and were later absorbed by the British services.
Sri Lanka has two official languages – Sinhala and Tamil, while English is spoken with considerable fluency by 10% of the people and used for business and educational purposes.
Sri Lankans are multi-ethnic and therefore multi-religious. The main religion is Buddhism which is followed by approximately 70% of the people and that too mainly the Theravada school. Sri Lanka is one of the foremost Buddhist countries in the world and it was introduced by Venerable Mahinda (son of Emperor Ashoka of India) in the 2nd Century BC. Sri Lanka’s ruler then was King Devanampiyatissa and a sapling of the Bo Tree under which Lord Buddha gained enlightenment was brought here and planted in Anuradhapura. With this the first Buddhist monasteries were founded.
Hinduism has the second highest number of followers (mostly Tamil) in this country, and this religion too came from India.
Other religions prevalent in Sri Lanka are Islam and various denominations of Christianity, both brought in by foreigners in the centuries gone by.
Sri Lankan life in general is greatly influenced by religion and monthly Buddhist Poya Days (based on the Lunar Calendar) are strictly observed as holidays. Hindu Temples, Mosques and Christian Churches too are scattered all over the country.
As at the year 2006, the life expectancy was as follows:
Males – 69
Females – 76
The Government spends around US$ 105(PPP) and the country has 48.9 Physicians per 100,000 citizens. The Medicins Sans Frontier organization is also very active locally.
Ayurveda the indigenous form of traditional medicine is widely practiced in Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka’s population enjoys the status of being one of the most literate among other developing nations, and boasts of a literacy rate of 92%. Furthermore statistics show that 83% of the people have had Secondary Education.
The country employs a system of free education, implemented in 1945, and the schools follow the British College structure. Most schools have classes from Grades 1 -13, and students read for the GCE Ordinary Level Examination in Grade 11, followed by the GCE Advanced Level Examination in Grade 13. The Government Department of Examinations conducts these exams.
A large percentage of the schools are public, with a number of Private Schools and International Schools offering good education.
Sri Lankan Universities number around 16, some of which are the University of Peradeniya, the University of Colombo, the University of Moratuwa, the University of Jaffna, etc. In addition there are a few Private Universities such as the Institute of Technological Studies and the Sri Lanka Institute of Information Technology.
Sri Lankan Culture
Sri Lanka is an island with a population of over 20 million people with a multi ethnic & multi cultural background. Buddhism is the main belief in Sri Lanka owning to a rich history which is to explain for the large temples and magnificent life-size statues of the Lord Buddha still to be seen among the ruins of the ancient Kingdoms of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa. Hindus, Christians and Muslims are among other important ethnic groups sharing this wonderful Island.
Food and Drink
An explosion of Spices … Sri Lankan cuisine is a fusion of vibrantly colored spices cooked with fresh local produce. Rice & curry was and will always be the main staple food in Sri Lanka and Coconut milk is a must have in all Sri Lankan household.
The staple food of Sri Lankans is Rice (red or white) along with an assortment of curries, which is eaten at midday for lunch and sometimes dinner as well. The curries include vegetable, fish or meat (chicken, beef, mutton, pork) a sambol or mallum (which is a slightly cooked salad of finely chopped leaves) along with optional accompaniments like chutney or pickle. The traditional local dessert is fresh Curd and Treacle (honey).
A traditional Sri Lankan breakfast will include “Kiri Bath” also known as milk rice, Pittu – Coconut steamed rice, Rotti – a thick pizza like dough mixed with chopped green chillies, onions and shredded coconut or String Hoppers – rice noodles along with a spicy curry of “Ambul thiyal” (rich thick fish curry) and “Pol sambol” (Shredded coconut infused with spices).
Other forms of food eaten in this country are String Hoppers, Hoppers, Pittu and Rotti (all made of flour), which are eaten with a sambol and curry. Kiribath is a form of Rice Pudding eaten on festive occasions accompanied by a chilli sambol called lunumiris and other sweetmeats such as Kavum, Kokis, Asmi, Mung Guli, etc., all made of rice flour and honey mixed together, formed into shapes and fried in hot oil.
Sri Lankan cuisine has been influenced a great deal by the foreigners who lived here and various foods and sweetmeats that are still enjoyed today bear the mark of its country of origin. Watalappam is one such dessert which is made of Coconut Milk boiled with jaggery and other ingredients and is of Malay origin.
The Arab influence is to be found in traditional Muslim fare such as Biriyani, while Lamprais (rice boiled in stock, wrapped in a banana leaf and baked), Breudher (Dutch Christmas Cake) and the Portuguese layer cake Bolo Fiado are examples of foreign influence.
Of course fresh fruits are in abundance grown in many regions of the island and among them would be the famous Pine apple, Rambutan, variety of Mangoes, Mangustin, Passion fruits, Avocados and even the famous Durian whilst not forgetting the refreshing juice of the Orange colored “King Coconut” found mostly along the coastline of the island.
Festivals and Holidays
The most important festival in Sri Lanka is the Sinhala and Tamil New Year, which symbolizes the dawn of a new year according to the astrological calendar. Several age-old traditions and rituals connected with this are adhered to, all according to auspicious times. The highlight of the festival is the traditional family meal with all the lovely sweetmeats, which is followed by games and the visiting of relatives and neighbours. Even the colour of the garments one must wear on this day are decided according to the astrological signs.
The Kandy Esala Perahera too is a much looked forward to event, given that Sri Lanka is a Buddhist country. Taking place every July / August, it is a long and colourful procession that parades the streets of Kandy with the Tooth Relic casket carried on the back of a beautifully adorned and lit up Elephant. The Perahera consists of thousands of drummers, Kandyan dancers, fire dancers and several other Elephants.
Sri Lankan Literature
Sri Lankan literature is made up to a large extent of Sinhala works, with English and Tamil works constituting a very small part. Works by all these writers include short stories and poetry in addition to some very famous novels, Sinhala novels in particular. Some of these novels have been made into award-winning films.
Arts and Crafts
Sri Lanka is known for its beautiful handicrafts and other art forms, some of which have originated centuries ago. It is apparent that Buddhism has influenced local art and the Temples scattered around the country contain some stunning paintings and sculptures. In addition the frescoes found on the walls of the Sigiriya Rock Fortress are world-famous.
Where handicrafts are concerned, Sri Lankan devil masks are extremely valuable and intricate, and the city of Ambalangoda is the centre of the mask industry.
Foreign art and craft forms have also come to stay in Sri Lanka, brought in originally by immigrants. Beeralu Lace work from Portugal and Indonesian Batik are some of these.
Music in Sri Lanka
The open-air theatre of the olden days, called Sokari, Kolam & Nadagam, were the earliest venue for music in this country. Sri Lanka’s first Radio Station was called Radio Ceylon (now the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation) and music came to be introduced through the English Service.
Around the middle of the last century, Sri Lankan music was influenced to a large extent by the music of Indian films. Later on many local artists became extremely popular and gave local audiences memorable hits which are played even today.
The Baila type of music which originally came from the Portuguese is also very popular in Sri Lanka, and an almost integral part of any local party or Wedding.
Sri Lankan Cinema
Sri Lanka can boast of an award-winning film industry, which gives audiences films based on love stories and family relationships. Recently however, the civil war has been a basis for many a movie story-line.
Most films are in Sinhala and Tamil, with a handful of Sri Lankan English films being produced as well. Many of the films produced here have won prestigious awards at International Film Festivals, including the Cannes Film Festival.
Flora and Fauna of Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka is a land where life thrives everywhere, be it in the southwestern ‘wet zone’ or the more arid ‘dry zone’. The newest addition to the country’s places of interest – the Jaffna Peninsula (a very dry area) has some species of flowering Acasias, and in other dry zone forests, one can see very valuable varieties of timber such as Satinwood Ebony, Mahogany, Ironwood and Teak.
The lowland vegetation is dominated by a large tropical forest, with the typically lush trees, creepers, vines and dense undergrowth.
- In 1996, the Na Tree (Ironwood), which originated right here, was declared the National Tree of Sri Lanka.
- The beautiful ‘Nil Mahanel’ or ‘Nympheae Stelleta’ has been the National Flower of Sri Lanka from 1986. This flower can be seen blooming in ponds and streams all over the country.
Animals and Birds
Sri Lanka is probably most famous for the Elephants that have made this island home and play such an important part in all aspects of life – from religion and culture to transportation. The Elephant that is endemic to this country is the Asian Elephant, different to the African Elephant, being smaller with a more rounded back and 4, instead of 3 nails on its hind feet. It also has shorter ears, an easily distinguishable feature and its trunk has only a single ‘finger’ at the end. The personality of the Asian Elephant is tamer and more compliant than its more fierce cousin, the African Elephant.
There are two Elephant species here – The Ceylon Elephant and the Ceylon Marsh Elephant, both listed by the World Conservation Union as endangered.
Other animals to be seen in Sri Lanka are the Sri Lankan Leopard, Golden Jackal, Sambar Deer, Wild Boar, Red Faced Macaques, Swamp Cocodile, Land Monitor and many more.
The bird life is exceptionally diverse with thousands of species to be seen all over the country, some only during a particular season, others a common everyday sight. Examples of bird species to be found in Sri Lanka are the Common Myna, White Throated Kingfisher, Brahminy Kite, Indian Pitta, Rose Ringed Parakeet, etc.
National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries
Sri Lanka as a country has played a big part in conserving endangered animal and bird species in addition to maintaining natural habitats for all wildlife. The country has several National Parks and Sanctuaries that are a big draw card for both tourists and locals. For this reason, camping and lodging facilities are available in almost all these locations, giving visitors the opportunity to spend a vacation close to the animals in their natural environment.
Yala National Park
One of Sri Lanka’s oldest national parks, Yala covers approx. 100,000 hectares and is located 200 miles outside Colombo, close to places of historical interest such as Magul Maha Vihara, Sithulpahuwa and the famous Kataragama.
Uda Walawe National Park
Uda Walawe National Park is located outside Colombo, approx. 100 miles south-east, and covers over 70,000 acres. During excursions into the park visitors can have a close view of herds of Asian Elephant and other animals such as the Jungle Cat, Crocodile and Langur Barking Deer. These animals share their home with a wide variety of birds – Pulgaswewa, Kiri Ibban, Indian Darters, Hawks, etc.
This park is a haven for over 400 varieties of birds, and other animals like Elephants, Crocodiles, Buffaloes and Leopards.
Bundala National Park
Situated in Sri Lanka’s Hambantota district, Bundala is spread across 6216 hectares, and houses a variety of plants, 32 species of animals and an assortment of birds. Special mention should be made of the migratory Waterfowl that can be found here.
Horton Plains National Park
Perched on Sri Lanka’s highest plateau, Horton Plains comprises of 10,000 hectares of grassy hills that are inhabited by an array of flora and fauna. Visitors might be able to glimpse Leopard, Hare, Porcupine and Giant Squirrel on excursions across the plains. There are other interesting places to visit in the reserve such as Bakers Falls, the famous World’s End and Chimmini Pool.
Wilpattu National Park
Wilpattu is the country’s largest park and was re-opened in March 2010. Wilpattu comprises of dense dry zone forest, with several lakes flanked by soft white sand banks. The forest boasts of an array of plant life, and there is plenty of wildlife with Elephants, Deer, Sloth Bears and Leopards inhabiting the area.
Business and Economy
The currency used in Sri Lanka is the Sri Lankan Rupee. One Rupee is made up of 100 cents, with coins coming in denominations of 5, 10, 25, 50 cents and 1, 2, 5 and 10 Rupees. There are no coins of higher value, only notes of 10, 20, 50, 100, 500, 1000 and 2000 Rupees. It is possible to exchange Travellers Cheques and foreign currency in commercial banks and hotels, with banks charging a varying handling fee and commission on Travellers Cheques.
Credit cards are widely used and accepted as well, with the exception of some rural and remote regions of the country.
With the estimated economy (in 2010) of $43.323 billion and a per capita GDP of approximately $5,300 (PPP) the country has recorded a very strong rate of growth in recent years. This means that the island is further ahead of the neighboring South Asian countries like Pakistan, India and Bangladesh, a very encouraging fact indeed.
The main sources of income for the Sri Lankan economy are the export of Tea, tourism, apparel, rice production, textiles and the production of other crops. Another major foreign exchange earner for the country is employment overseas for local workers. The countries that provide a very high percentage of these jobs are Korea, Australia and the Middle East countries where labor is either unavailable or too expensive.
This island has however had to suffer a few disasters that have adversely affected its economy in some way. The civil war that lasted almost three decades was one such debacle that drained the economy of funds that could otherwise have been used for development, and cast a shadow of fear and uncertainty over the entire nation. This was a deterrent to tourists as well as potential investors, which thankfully has been removed with peace reigning once again.
Another natural disaster that rocked the Asian region was the 2004 Tsunami which caused much devastation and loss of life. Sri Lanka has recovered to a great extent from it with the help of foreign aid, and major reconstruction projects.
The year 2001 saw Sri Lanka on the verge of bankruptcy with a debt rate of 101% of the GDP. This crisis was avoided thanks to a ceasefire between the Government and the LTTE which paved the way for foreign loans. Thereafter from 2004, the Government focused on producing large quantities of Rice, grain and other crops for domestic consumption.
Banking & Finance
The core of Sri Lanka’s banking system is the Central Bank of Sri Lanka, which came into being in 1949 and is the sole bank for issuing of money. It also administers and monitors the local banking and monetary system.
The two foremost banks in the country are the Bank of Ceylon and the Peoples Bank which are both state-owned.
There are several others in the banking system such as 14 foreign banks, 9 privately owned domestic banks, 6 rural development banks located in out stations, 2 development financial institutions of considerable size, a national savings bank, 13 merchant banks and a mortgage bank. American Banks operating locally are American Express and Citibank.
The Colombo Stock Market is operated by the Colombo Stock Brokers Association, conducting brisk transactions enhanced in no small way by the Tea Export boom in 1984.
Sri Lanka’s banking system survived the global financial crisis mostly due to early preventive action, but has still to overcome certain challenges in order to forge ahead.
Government and Politics in Sri Lanka
Politics in Sri Lanka operates on the basis of a presidential representative democratic republic, in which the President of Sri Lanka is the Head of both State & Government, while also heading a multi-party system. The elected Government exercises Executive power, while Legislative power is with the Government and Parliament.
The political scene in the island is dominated by the socialist Sri Lanka Freedom Party and the conservative United National Party, which both adopt democratic values and strongly encourage the local culture in addition to defying international alignment.
Sri Lanka’s Parliament comprises of 225 members elected for a term of six years, of which 196 are chosen from island-wide constituencies and 29 through a system of proportional representation.
The elected President has the power under the present constitution to summon, suspend or even bring to an end a legislative session and thereafter dissolve Parliament. Furthermore all laws that govern the country are made by Parliament.
The President of Sri Lanka is Mr. Maithripala Sirisena, who became Presidential January 2015.
Sri Lanka has been divided into Provinces since the 19th Century on an unofficial level. But the 13th amendment to the 1978 Constitution saw this being legalized in 1987, and Provincial Councils were established. This followed many years of demands being made to decentralize the Government of Sri Lanka.
During the period 1988 – 2006 the North-East Province was formed, which merged the Northern and Eastern Provinces temporarily.
Since the colonial era, whatever administration was dealt with by a civil service that was district based until 1987.
The country is partitioned into 9 Provinces and thereafter 25 Districts, which are all administered by an elected Provincial Council.
- Western Province
- Central Province
- Southern Province
- Northern Province
- Eastern Province
- North Central Province
- North Western Province
- Sabaragamuwa Province
- Uva Province
The above mentioned Provinces are sub-divided into 25 Districts, administered by a District Secretariat.
Once again each District is divided into Divisional Secretariats, and those into Grama Niladharis.
Disa is the name by which the Districts are referred to in Sinhala and Maawaddam in Tamil. The Districts are administered by the District Secretary or Government Agent.
The history of this system goes back to the feudal counties (Korale and Rata) and were called D. R. O. (district Revenue Officer) Divisions. It later came to be “Assistant Government Agent’ (AGA) and the Division was the A. G. A Division.
At present a Divisional Secretary administers these Districts which are known as D. S. Divisions. Those which are located in rural areas are also administered by an elected council called a Pradeshiya Sabha.
- Nuwara Eliya
Sri Lanka Travel – Top Destinations
Colombo is the business capital of Sri Lanka and is the closest big city to the Bandaranayake International Airport.
Kandy is hill capital and home to the Temple of the Tooth, which houses an actual tooth of the Lord Buddha. This relic is taken along the streets of Kandy for people to pay their respects in an annual procession held in July/August called the Kandy Esala Perahera.
Situated in the Southern Province on the coastline, Galle has a colourful history influenced by the Dutch colonial era. There is an ancient Fort and several quaint buildings dating back to that period. This city is very close to the Unawatuna beach.
The coastal city of Negombo has had a strong Dutch influence and is now a Catholic dominated area and a major fishing village. It is located 6km from the Bandaranayake International Airport.
Anuradhapura is a very ancient civilization that was already well established and advanced even several centuries before the birth of Christ.
Dambulla is home to the magnificent Golden Rock Temple that was erected by King Walagamba around the 1st Centuery BC. Dambulla stands on a rock over 160m higher than the surrounding land, and now boasts of the famous Rangiri Dambulla Cricket Stadium.
Polonnaruwa was a capital city in medieval times around the 11th Century AD and replaced Anuradhapura as the island’s capital after the South Indians’ invasion. It remained the capital for almost 2 centuries and there is still evidence of that opulent era in the ruins of buildings and palaces.
Sigiriya, known as the ‘Lion Rock Fortress’, towers above the countryside and forest and gives visitors stunning views of the Dry Zone and Central Highlands. It was built by King Kashyapa and contains some beautiful murals of damsels and a carving of Lion’s paws that are visible even today despite the ravages of time and natural elements. Sigiriya has been named the 8th Wonder of the World which is a tremendous achievement for this small isle.
Known as Little England due to its cold, misty climate and the quaint architecture of the town reminiscent of Britain, Nuwara Eliya is the highest major city in the island. Nuwara Eliya is a popular holiday resort where locals visit in droves during the ‘April Season’ each year.
Situated on the North-East coast, it is a natural deep water harbor. The area is accessible to visitors and one can see an extremely old Kovil (Hindu Temple) that stands on a cliff (Swami Rock) to the East of the town.
Media: Print, Radio & Television in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka boasts of the oldest operational Radio Station in the Asian region – the famous Radio Ceylon, established in the year 1923, only three years following the launch of broadcasting in Europe. Now known as the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation, it is very popular in Sri Lanka and the rest of Asia and airs shows in English, Sinhala, Tamil and Hindi.
There are now several privately owned and operated Radio Stations in the country, which are very popular and successful.
The Independent Television Network was the first TV channel in Sri Lanka and was launched in 1979. Since then both state controlled and private channels have joined in to give local audiences a variety of programmes in many languages. In addition, Satellite Television and Cable TV are also available.
Newspapers are printed in Sinhala, English and Tamil, with the Sunday papers leading in popularity and advertising revenue.
The national Telephone Company used to provide a basic, and often inadequate service. But service and quality has improved greatly since its privatization a few years ago. The concept of CDMA phones has caught the public attention, making it the current trend in the country. This has led to many more companies opening up to give the public good service and the latest technology at affordable prices.
Internet connections too are freely available, for either fixed line or mobile broadband. ADSL was introduced in 2003 to the country by Sri Lanka Telecom. Unlimited internet access at a speed of 512 kbit/s can be had at a fixed monthly rate. These facilities are freely available in the main towns and to a lesser extent in other areas. However the services are being speedily improved to cover the interior areas as well and cater to the ever-increasing demand for internet access.
Sri Lankan consumers have jumped on the cellular phone bandwagon with great enthusiasm, and at present most people posses at least one cellular connection. Rates are also at affordable levels due to the strong competition in the market, with plenty of extra benefits being offered to users.
The official tele-density level however remains low at 5.1 fixed lines per 100 persons, and 11.4 cellular connections per 100 persons.
Sports in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka’s official national sport is Volleyball, but Cricket is definitely the popular sport. Other sports that are widely played and followed are Rugby, Athletics, Tennis and Football / Soccer along with Water Sports.
Sri Lanka has produced many medal winners in the Athletics, Weight Lifting and other fields, and special mention should be made of Susanthika Jayasinghe who won an Olympic Silver Medal in the recent past for the 100m.
Sri Lanka’s Cricket team gained worldwide acclaim and became a force to contend with when they won the ICC Cricket World Cup in 1996. Sri Lanka has since reached the finals twice, losing to Australia in 2007 and to India in 2011. Sri Lanka were joint champions with India in ICC Champions Trophy in 2002. In the ICC World Twenty20 tournament, Sri Lanka reached the final twice in 2009 and 2012, before winning it in 2014.
Sri Lanka has reached every final (except 2012), of the ACC Asia Cup since the inaugural competition in 1986. Sri Lanka won the tournament 5 times and were placed runner-up 6 times.
The test team is a force in international cricket and considered a tough opponent to beat, especially in home conditions. During the span of 7 years (2007 – 2014 ) Sri Lanka Cricket played in a world record 5 ICC finals. Sri Lanka also holds the world records for the highest team totals in all 3 formats of Cricket – Test, ODI & T20.
Several Stadiums with ultra-modern facilities have been built-in order to stage Cricket matches, such as the Galle International Stadium, the Sinhalese Sports Club grounds, the Rangiri Dambulla Stadium among others.
The location of the island and its beautiful beaches are a paradise for Water Sports enthusiasts, with conditions ideal for swimming, boating, surfing and scuba diving. The southern and eastern coasts are famous locations for scuba diving and surfing.