Visitors to Sri Lanka will be completely fascinated by the unusual climate of the
It is possible to come across hot and humid tropical weather, cool and misty conditions
dry, parched areas all within the same day.
Seasonal changes are based solely on the monsoons- the South West Monsoon and the North
Monsoon. The former blows in from the Indian Ocean, bringing with it heavy periods of
which may last from May to September. This season usually starts with a month of heavy
followed by periods of shorter showers. At this time of the year the seas are rough and
coastal tides are rather dangerous; swimming in the sea should be strictly avoided
this time. The North East Monsoon blows in from the Bay of Bengal, but does not bring
rain and that too is generally to the north-eastern parts of the island.
Thunderstorms are witnessed throughout the country during October and November when the
inter-monsoon period is in effect. These short bursts of heavy rain generally take place
late in the evenings after rather sunny, warm and humid days and may bring with them a
degree of freshness and coolness. The small lakes which have been filled to their brims
this water and the sweet fragrance of damp soil and the myriad flowers littering the
and valleys are a welcome sight after these thunderstorms. An umbrella is a must for
or foreigners alike; this can protect you from the lashing rain as well as the scorching
and searing heat.
The warmest temperatures are normally witnessed in the low-lying southern and western
coastal regions- with Colombo averaging 27 degrees Celsius (81 degrees Fahrenheit). The
is a warm and inviting 27 degrees Celsius throughout the year. The temperatures drop
noticeably as you move up into the central highlands, and it could get quite chilly
the night. Kandy, located 305 metres above sea level, records an average temperature of
degrees Celsius while Nuwara Eliya, at an altitude of 1,890 metres, can reach 16 degrees
As in many parts of the world, a vertical nod of the head means 'yes' (positive) and a
horizontal nod means 'no' (negative). However, the famous 'waggle' of the head (a cross
between a nod and a shake with the chin pointed outwards) seems to be a feature common
the Indian subcontinent. It can be baffling to foreigners but it usually means a simple
'yes' or 'okay'.
Never shake hands with a Buddhist monk or Hindu priest. The traditional and courteous
greeting them is to join your hands as if in prayer and raising them to your forehead.
offering something to a monk, an elderly or other exalted person, offer it with both
to show that you honour and respect that person. Gifts of money to religious persons
be placed directly in the temple box/till provided for that reason. When seated in the
company of a Buddhist monk, try to sit at a lower level than him and never point your
in his direction which is considered as a mark of disrespect.
Most Sri Lankans do not use cutlery unless they are attending a special function at a
like venue. They eat directly with their fingers but food is always handled with the
hand. The same theory applies when handing things over to another person; either the
hand or both hands are used.
Festivals and the rituals associated with culture play a major role in the lives of Sri
Lankans. They are generally colourful gatherings of family and friends and sometimes
villages gather for events like peraheras (processions), devil-dancing ceremonies and
various events held at temples and kovils. Some of these events are even decided on by
astrologers based on horoscopes and the movement of heavenly objects. The rich, vibrant
colourful dance heritage of the country is an integral part of the culture.
Cottons and light natural fabrics such as linens are ideal for the heat of the lowland
areas. Skimpy skirts and brief shorts should not be worn outside tourist areas as these
not considered as respectable. Clad in such garments, you may find yourself attracting
unnecessary stares, and women may even find themselves being harassed. While visiting
temples, the ideal mode of dress is loose and long cotton skirts or trousers with loose,
long-sleeved blouses or long frocks for women, and trousers or traditional sarongs with
modest shirts or t-shirts for men. A sun-hat, a good pair of sunglasses, and sandals,
slippers or open shoes which are easy to slip on and off are also items that you should
Now that the war has ended, Sri Lanka is a safe destination for tourists. Petty crimes
not that frequent and violent crimes against tourists rarely take place. However, it is
always wise to practise caution. Always use your common sense when getting around the
country. Some points to keep in mind: Never accept lifts from strangers; keep away from
and deserted places such as beaches at night; never flash valuables or leave them lying
The security situation in Sri Lanka may have improved but if you plan to travel to the
or the east of the country, always check with the relevant authorities and seek
permission; avoid these areas as much as possible. The traffic situation poses one of
most serious safety hazards in the island. Be at a high level of alert when you are on
road, whether in a vehicle or on foot. You have to be extra careful of the buses on the
road. Be extremely cautious around bus stops as bus drivers would suddenly cut in front
you without any prior indication if they see passengers ready to board the bus at the
Passengers would also run across the road with no regard for traffic on the road when
see their bus arriving. Take extra caution if you are cycling on the road.
Take care when swimming in places which are not designated sites for swimming. Many
as well as the occasional tourist have drowned every year by swimming in dangerous spots
the island. Never swim in places where warnings have been fixed about the dangers of
swimming. If swimming off an unfrequented beach or isolated lake, always check with the
locals about the possibility of swimming there and make sure someone knows exactly you
Never swim under the influence of alcohol.
A few beggars can be seen on the streets of Colombo. They usually loiter around shopping
malls, train stations, temples and at other public venues. Some of these are genuine
but a hefty number of them operate as part of a larger begging racket. Such rackets
mainly in Colombo and even children are involved. Genuine beggars love to receive food
any sort as they can eat it on the spot. If you do not welcome the idea of giving money
beggars, it is better to carry some food such as fruit to be given to them.
Touts and Con Artists
Touts are quite common in most major towns and all tourist sites. You will find that
the time they are trying to get you to ride in their trishaw, book you into a guest
their choice or take you to a shop or eatery where they will get a commission for
guest. They can generally be gotten ride of with a firm, but polite refusal. One other
to keep in mind, sometimes touts may try to discourage you from visiting a certain place
staying at a certain hotel etc. by claiming that it is closed for renovations or not of
quality or standard. They may have an ulterior motive of doing this in order to promote
competitor from whom they get a commission. In such instances it is better to check out
place yourself rather than taking their word for it.
Worse than these are the con artists who are found hanging around places such as the
area in Colombo and Galle, Galle face Green and Kandy Lake. They will try every trick in
book to make you part with your money. Soliciting donations for charities that do not
taking you for a trishaw ride or to visit some 'festival' or the other and charging an
absurdly high price, various scams involving free or cheap tea or gems, taking you for a
drink and landing you with a massively inflated bill (in connivance with the barman,
whom they will share the 'profit'), requests for you to buy expensive tins of milk
for their starving or ailing family members or heart-rendering stories connected to the
civil war or tsunami catastrophe are some of these common schemes nowadays.
A ten percent service charge is generally automatically added to the bill by hotels and
restaurants, but since this goes to the establishment, you might add an extra ten
tip to the bill for the person who serves you. A daily tip is also expected by
and guides but there is no fixed amount here. This can range between five and ten
per day depending on their skills and helpfulness. Those showing you around sacred
such as temples will expect a small tip in the region of Rs. 50-100. One thing you
keep in mind is never to hand over money to monks, which is considered inappropriate.
the money in the donation box found at most temple premises. Tipping for other services
not generally expected, unless someone has really gone out of his or her way to help you
you feel that a tip is the least you can do.
Colour print film is widely available, although checking the sell-by date is always a
gesture. Also, avoid buying film which may have been sitting in bright sunlight,
over-exposure to sunlight may have damaged the film. Only specialist photographic shops
vendors stock slide film and black and white film. It may be difficult to locate these
outside Colombo so it is better to carry your own. There are quite a few specialist
shops in Colombo in case you want to get a camera repaired. Many places in Colombo and
main cities offer one-hour or overnight photo printing services – some of the best
are the photo labs at Cargills at Fort or in the basement of Majestic City, Colombo 4.
heat and humidity can damage the delicate mechanisms of camera and video equipment so
them in their cases along with the moisture-absorbent silica jell crystals when they are
Sri Lankans are generally sports-loving people and they are passionate about some sports
such as cricket and rugby. Foreign visitors can also get a taste of this passion as most
sports clubs and associations in the country accept foreigners as temporary members.
major hotels in the country also have swimming pools and tennis courts where visitors
indulge in sporting activities.