The island of present-day Sri Lanka was well known to the indigenous peoples in South Asia even in ancient times. It is assumed that the first settlers arrived here about 30,000 years ago. However, the first Europeans discovered the island relatively late, in the first decade of the 16th century. In 1505, the ship of the famous Portuguese explorer Lorenzo de Almeida reached the shores of the island. In the same year Almeida founded the first Portuguese settlement, and the colonial period began. But Sri Lanka was too attractive to be ignored by the other powerful European nations.
Sri Lanka remained under the rule of the mighty empire from 1802 to 1948. For a long period of time the island was named Ceylon. Actually, even today in some countries such as the United States the name Ceylon is more widely used.
Sri Lanka is an emerald green island. The greater part to the south is covered by dense tropical jungle, and to the north there are wide savannas.
The island boasts a great diversity of species of plants, and only the species of palm trees are more than 200! Because of the dense vegetations and numerous climbing plants, the rainforests of Ceylon are very difficult to pass.
Some amazing native species such as Sri Lankan leopards and sloth bears lurk among the dense vegetation.
Near some bodies of fresh water can be seen large flocks of Asian elephants. Vast areas of Sri Lanka are covered with fresh and fragrant tea plantations.
The majority of the country is occupied by swampy lowlands. Reaching 2,524 meters at Mount Pidurutalagala, the Central Highlands are situated in the interior of southern Sri Lanka and are the highest mountain in the country.
Numerous rivers originate from the flat and eroded mountains and crossing the coastal marshy lowlands reach the Indian Ocean. By the way, some of them form beautiful waterfalls in the middle of the green and impenetrable rain forest.
The coasts of Sri Lanka look like a Paradise on Earth. For the most part they are occupied by romantic golden sandy beaches. Dense forests of coconut palms almost reach the warm and clear emerald waters of the Indian Ocean.
Extremely colorful coral reefs and an amazing variety of sea creatures live under the water surface along the coast.
In 2012, the population of Sri Lanka (Ceylon) reached approximately 20,277,597 people. As the living conditions throughout the island are quite favorable, the population is relatively evenly distributed, although in the capital Colombo and its suburbs there is a large concentration of people.
The large capital metropolis on the west coast of the island is home to more than 5 million people. Sri Lanka has a rapidly growing economy with a relatively low unemployment rate and an average standard of living.
The country is a world leader in the producing and export of spices. It is known for its Ceylon tea, cinnamon, cloves, vanilla, pepper and huge deposits of graphite.
The country is among the leading producers of rubber in the world. The service sector, especially when it comes for tourism, becomes more and more important year after year.
Food. Strongly influenced by the proximity of India, the cuisine of Sri Lanka is among the most spicy and tasty in the world. The country is well known for its huge variety of strong and rich flavors.
Most traditional dishes are too spicy and therefore hard to eat, especially if you are accustomed to the European or American way of eating. For this reason most restaurants offer menus with less spicy dishes for foreign guests.
The basis of the traditional Sri Lankan cuisine consists of an impressive variety of tropical fruits, chicken and rice as well as fish and other seafood. In cooking most people use large quantities of fragrant coconut milk, bananas and cayenne pepper.
Sri Lanka’s dishes are grouped under the generic name “curry”. Usually most meals are served with a kind of special fragrant local sauce called “sambol”.
What to try? While in the country do not miss to try the famous Sri Lankan coconut pudding, which locals call “watalappan”. This traditional sweet temptation is cooked with coconut milk, cardamom, local kinds of nuts and other products.
Try also a portion of curry with chicken or shrimp as well as one of the national dishes called “kotu”. Be sure to drink a cup of “toddy” – a kind of traditional local palm wine.
Climate. Sri Lanka is situated in two climate zones – subequatorial to the north and equatorial to the south. The average daytime temperature is high and constant throughout the year, mostly in the range between 30 and 32°C.
The nighttime temperature is traditionally quite warm and ranges between 22 and 26°C. The only exceptions with relatively fresh and cooler weather are the high-lying mountain areas in the south.
In the north of Sri Lanka, in the subequatorial climate zone, there are two quite different seasons – dry and rainy.
The dry season lasts from February to August. Unlike other parts of the world, the north of the island does not experience too long, severe or extreme periods of drought.
Moderate rains fall even at the height of the dry season. The rainy season lasts from October to January with maximum rainfall in November – up to 380 mm.
The climate in the south is more humid with heavy rainfalls throughout the year, but the largest quantities fall during the periods April-May and September to November.
The average sea surface temperature off the coast of Sri Lanka is always warm, and it varies mostly between 28 and 30°C.
What not to miss while in Sri Lanka? Among the biggest attractions in Sri Lanka is the old capital of the country, Anuradhapura, with its beautiful Buddhist temples and monasteries.
Do not miss Sigiriya, which is under the auspices of UNESCO. Sigiriya is famous for its old architecture and 200-meter-high rock that rises impressively above the spectacular surroundings.
The Buddhist religious center of Kandy itself boasts the most spectacular event of Ceylon – the Esala Perahera Festival. The colorful event takes place every year in July or August.
The city is known as the last capital of the ancient kings and the place where you will find the famous “Temple of the tooth”. Another worth visiting landmark is the ancient city of Polonnaruwa.
It is one of the most beloved tourist destination and is well known among visitors for its archaeological wealth. The old town of Polonnaruwa is under the auspices of UNESCO. Enjoy the beautiful tropical Sri Lankan scenery.
Visit the golden beaches of the resort town of Mirissa on the south coast of Sri Lanka, and do not miss Yala National Park, one of the most famous preserved territories in the country.
Here you will find leopards, elephants, buffalo, monkeys as well as a great variety of species of exotic birds and reptiles.
What is the best time to go to Sri Lanka? It all depends on what part of the island you are planning to visit.
If you want to visit the south of Sri Lanka, the best season to travel are the winter months between late December and late March. This is the period with the scarcest amount of rainfall.
However, if you are planning to travel around the northern half of the island, the months of February, March, June, July and August offer the best weather conditions.
How to get to Sri Lanka? Sri Lanka is an easily accessible tourist destination. Bandaranaike International Airport in the capital Colombo handles international flights to various countries in Asia, Europe and others.
Another alternative is to travel from India to Sri Lanka by ferry. The ferry line connects the cities of Tuticorin and Colombo.
Internal conflicts. Sri Lanka is for decades an arena of endless conflicts between the Sinhalese Buddhists and Tamil Hindus. The reason is that the Tamils want to form their own independent state in the north of the island.
The Sinhalese themselves are against the division of Sri Lanka. In 1983, the internal conflict turned into a civil war that lasted more than 25 years.
On May 1, 1993, ten years after the civil war began, a suicide bomber killed the President of Sri Lanka. This bloody conflict finally ended in May 2009.
Hazards. Though Sri Lanka is considered to be generally peaceful and safe destination, you should avoid places with eventual protests or demonstrations.
Also, be especially careful about how much you pay for various goods and services. Note that sometimes the prices for tourists are few times higher than the usual prices.
Take care of your health at least one or two months in advance. In some parts of the country there is an increased risk of hepatitis A, typhoid fever and malaria.
Your doctor will tell you exactly what vaccinations are required. Anyway, before you travel is desirable to find an effective mosquito repellent.
Thus you will reduce the risk of some infectious tropical diseases traditionally transmitted by blood sucking insects.