HISTORYLegend has it that Adam’s Peak in the central highlands was the place where Adam first set foot on earth but Sri Lanka’s recorded history dates from 543BC. Sri Lanka was ruled by a succession of kings until the arrival of Portuguese in the early 16th century. The island at the time was divided into three main kingdoms; Jaffna in the north, Kandy in the central highlands and Kotte in the south west.
The King of Kotte granted the Portuguese a monopoly of the important spice and cinnamon trade. The Portuguese took over all the lowland areas of the island but they were unable to subdue the remote and inaccessible highlands and the Kings of Kandy were able to drive them back to the coast on more than one occasion.
When Kandy attempted to use the Dutch to expel the Portuguese they only succeeded in substituting one colonial power for another. The Dutch also failed to bring Kandy under their control but their principal focus was on expanding trade rather than extending their physical control.
The shake-up in Europe at the time of the French Revolution meant the British could easily replace the Dutch and in 1815 they took control of Kandy to rule the entire island. Sri Lanka became a Crown Colony with its own unified administration. Coffee, cinnamon and coconut plantations flourished as a new network of roads and railways was constructed.
The coffee plantations were virtually wiped out by disease in the 1870s and they switched to tea, making Sri Lanka now the world’s second largest tea exporter. In 1948 Sri Lanka became an independent member of the British Commonwealth.
CLIMATESri Lanka has a typical monsoon climate. In the lowlands temperatures remain high throughout the year, around 27°C, with high humidity but on the coast this modified by afternoon sea breezes. The altitude of the hills reduces the temperature to about 14°C to give a pleasant year round climate.
Rainfall is well distributed throughout the year with the north east drier than the south west. The SW monsoon runs from May to July while the NE monsoon is most pronounced in December and January. The monsoons are not such abrupt transitions as are found on the Indian subcontinent.
Daily sunshine varies from six to eight hours but in the monsoons rain may last for two to three days. In many parts of the country much of the rainfall occurs as thundery showers in the afternoons.
LANGUAGESThe Sri Lankan languages are Sinhala and Tamil but English is widely spoken except in remote areas.
CURRENCYSri Lanka uses a decimal system of Rupees and cents. In late 2007 the rate of exchange was approximately 225 Rupees to 1 pound sterling. Please consult your bank for an up-to-date conversion.
DIVINGThe wide, broken coral shelf surrounding the Sri Lankan coast provides excellent dive sites with a fascinating variety of corals and fish. Among those that can be seen are rays, eels, Clown Fish, Moorish Idols and Moorish Angels, while amongst the corals are staghorn, brain and flower corals.
AQUATIC LIFEIn the world today there are only eight species of marine turtle of which five regularly visit Sri Lanka to nest on the sandy beaches. They are best observed at night.
There are sea expeditions to see dolphins and whales offshore including at least eight different types of whale and six dolphins.
Sri Lanka’s unspoiled seas hold an abundance of game fish for keen sea anglers. Species caught include marlin, sail fish, wahoo, benito, queen fish barracuda, grouper and tuna.
TRAVELVisas are not necessary for UK passport holders.
Bandaranaike International Airport is around 30km north of Colombo with taxi and bus services to connect with the capital.
WHAT TO TAKEThe tropical climate means that light cotton garments are ideal. Slightly warmer clothing may be required in the hill country. A sun hat is also useful.
ENTERING PLACES OF WORSHIPTravellers should be aware of the dress codes for entering places of worship.
Visitors to Buddhist temples should have their bodies covered fully.
Swimwear, shorts, bare backs or bare shoulders are not acceptable.
When entering both Buddhist and Hindu shrines footwear and headgear should be removed.