Traveling Luck for Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is located in Southern Asia, island in the Indian Ocean, south of India.

Land in Sri Lanka is mostly low, flat to rolling plain; mountains in south-central interior.

Sri Lankan land covers an area of 65610 square kilometers which is slightly larger than West Virginia

As for the Sri Lankan climate; tropical monsoon; northeast monsoon (December to March); southwest monsoon (June to October).

Sri Lankan(s) speak Sinhala (official and national language) 74%, Tamil (national language) 18%, other 8%
note: English is commonly used in government and is spoken competently by about 10% of the population.

Sri Lankan National Map

Sri Lankan Map

Regions of Sri Lanka

The Sinhalese arrived in Sri Lanka late in the 6th century B.C., probably from northern India. Buddhism was introduced beginning in about the mid-third century B.C., and a great civilization developed at the cities of Anuradhapura (kingdom from circa 200 B.C. to circa A.D. 1000) and Polonnaruwa (from about 1070 to 1200). In the 14th century, a south Indian dynasty seized power in the north and established a Tamil kingdom. Occupied by the Portuguese in the 16th century and by the Dutch in the 17th century, the island was ceded to the British in 1796, became a crown colony in 1802, and was united under British rule by 1815. As Ceylon, it became independent in 1948; its name was changed to Sri Lanka in 1972. Tensions between the Sinhalese majority and Tamil separatists erupted into war in 1983. Tens of thousands have died in an ethnic conflict that continues to fester. After two decades of fighting, the government and Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam formalized a cease-fire in February 2002, with Norway brokering peace negotiations.


Sri Lanka Country Profile

In 1977, Colombo abandoned statist economic policies and its import substitution trade policy for market-oriented policies and export-oriented trade. Sri Lanka's most dynamic sectors now are food processing, textiles and apparel, food and beverages, telecommunications, and insurance and banking. In 2003, plantation crops made up only 15% of exports (compared with 93% in 1970), while textiles and garments accounted for 63%. GDP grew at an average annual rate of about 5.5% in the 1990s, but 2001 saw the first contraction in the country's history, by 1.4%, due to a combination of power shortages, severe budgetary problems, the global slowdown, and continuing civil strife. Growth recovered to 5% between 2002 and 2005. About 800,000 Sri Lankans work abroad, 90% in the Middle East. They send home about $1 billion a year. The struggle by the Tamil Tigers of the north and east for a largely independent homeland continues to cast a shadow over the economy. In late December 2004, a major tsunami took about 31,000 lives, left more than 6,300 missing and 443,000 displaced, and destroyed an estimated $1.5 billion worth of property.

Sri Lankan natural resources include limestone, graphite, mineral sands, gems, phosphates, clay, hydropower

strategic location near major Indian Ocean sea lanes

Sri Lankan religion is Buddhist 69.1%, Muslim 7.6%, Hindu 7.1%, Christian 6.2%, unspecified 10% (2001 census provisional data).

Natural hazards in Sri Lanka include occasional cyclones and tornadoes.

Travel Advice on Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka

This advice has been reviewed and reissued with an amendment to the Summary and Political Situation section (increased security in Colombo), and Terrorism section.  The overall level of the advice has not changed.

SUMMARY

  • We advise against all travel to the north or east of Sri Lanka.  If you are in the north or east, you should leave.  For the purpose of this travel advice we consider the north to be all areas north of the A12 road (which runs from Puttalam in the west to Trincomalee in the east) including the Jaffna peninsula; and we consider the east to be the districts of Trincomalee and Batticaloa, as well as coastal areas of Ampara district north of Pottuvil and east of the A25 and A27 roads.

  • There are reports of continuing fighting between the Sri Lanka government forces and the Liberation Tigers Eelam (LTTE) throughout the north and east.  This has included the use of ground forces, artillery fire, mines, air and naval attacks.  Further fighting could occur with little or no warning.

  • There is a high threat from terrorism in Sri Lanka and a risk of British nationals and other foreigners becoming indiscriminately caught up in attacks.  Terrorist attacks against government and civilian targets have taken place throughout the country, including in areas and on travel routes popular with tourists.  Please see the Terrorism section of this travel advice for more details.

  • There is heightened security, particularly in Colombo and southern Sri Lanka.  There have been widespread detentions, particularly of people of Tamil ethnicity.  You should ensure that you carry some form of identification with you at all times.  If you are a British national and are detained, you should ask the authorities to contact the British High Commission.  You are strongly advised to comply with government and security force instructions.

  • We strongly recommend that all British nationals who are resident and/or working in Sri Lanka, or visiting for over one month, should register with the British High Commission in Colombo.

  • About 90,000 British nationals visit Sri Lanka each year.  The main type of incident for which British nationals require consular assistance in Sri Lanka is replacing lost or stolen passports and ill health.

  • We strongly recommend that you obtain comprehensive travel and medical insurance before travelling.  You should check any exclusions, and that your policy covers you for the activities you want to undertake.  Please see:  Travel Insurance.


SAFETY AND SECURITY


Please read:  Security and General Tips and Risk of Terrorism when Travelling Overseas for further information and guidance.

Crime

Violent crimes against foreigners are relatively infrequent, although there have been reports of sexual offences and muggings.  When travelling around Sri Lanka, you should make arrangements through reputable travel companies (such as those identified in your guidebook or local listings information) and exercise appropriate caution.  Women should take care when travelling alone.

There has been an increase in the number of reported thefts from hotels and guesthouses.  You should take sensible precautions to safeguard your valuables, especially passports and money.  There are reports of credit card fraud.

Political Situation

Sri Lanka Country Profile.

There is political violence throughout the north and east of Sri Lanka, with attacks on the security forces and violence between different armed groups (see the Terrorism section of this travel advice for more details).

There is heightened security, particularly in Colombo and southern Sri Lanka.  The security forces are a visible presence on the streets of Colombo.  Road checkpoints are increasingly common.  The government of Sri Lanka's security legislation provides wide-ranging discretionary powers, which have recently been strengthened.  There have been widespread detentions, particularly of people of Tamil ethnicity.  You should ensure that you carry some form of identification with you at all times.  If you are a British national and are detained, you should ask the authorities to contact the British High Commission.  You are strongly advised to comply with government and security force instructions.  

There have been a number of “hartals” (widely observed general strikes) and curfews in the north and east.

You should avoid political gatherings or demonstrations.  You should also avoid military bases and buildings, which have been the most frequent target of attacks.  You should follow local developments closely, be aware of your surroundings and alert to changing situations.

Local Travel

We advise against all travel to the north or east of Sri Lanka.   For the purposes of this travel advice we consider the north to be all areas north of the A12 road (which runs from Puttalam in the west to Trincomalee in the east), including the Jaffna peninsula.  We consider the east to be the districts of Trincomalee, and Batticaloa as well as coastal areas of Ampara district north of Pottuvil, and east of the A25 and A27 roads.

Commercial flights in and out of Jaffna are not operating on a regular basis.  The A9 road, which runs east from Jaffna, is closed.  There has been civil unrest in the east, including in Pottuvil, Batticaloa and Trincomalee.  There are reports of heavy fighting throughout the north and east.  This has included the use of ground forces, artillery fire, mines, air and naval attacks.  Further fighting could occur with little or no warning.

Much of the north and east of Sri Lanka remains heavily land-mined, particularly around the A9 road from Vavuniya to Jaffna.  Travel off main roads should be avoided.  Always take notice of signs warning about the danger from landmines and do not step off metalled roads.

Road Safety

You should be prepared for the unexpected.  Erratic driving and bad road conditions contribute to frequent traffic accidents.

Buses are generally badly maintained and bus drivers often have little or no training.  Bus crashes are a regular occurrence.  In April 2005, 35 bus passengers were killed when a train hit a bus after the bus driver ignored a level crossing signal.  Alternative forms of transport should be used where possible.

Taxis and hire cars are inexpensive in Colombo and tourist areas.  Motorised rickshaws are readily available for hire in towns and villages, and most drivers are reliable.  Women, in particular, should be wary of travelling on their own in a rickshaw at night.

You should comply with instructions at all roadblocks and security checks.

Rail Safety

There have been a number of derailments affecting both tourist trains and commuter trains.

Sea Safety

There have been attacks against ships in and around Sri Lankan waters.

Mariners are advised to take appropriate precautions.  The coastline and adjacent territorial sea of the Trincomalee, Mullaittivu, Jaffna, Kilinochchi and Mannar administrative districts in the north and east have been declared restricted zones by the Sri Lankan authorities and should be avoided.  The Sri Lankan navy has fired on unauthorised ships in these areas.  Entry into Sri Lankan waters, at any point, requires prior permission.


LOCAL LAWS AND CUSTOMS

You are subject to local laws in Sri Lanka and violating them may result in a jail sentence.

There are severe penalties for all drug offences and crimes related to the abuse of children.  Convicted offenders may face lengthy jail sentences.

Foreign nationals have been detained by the police after taking photographs of building or vehicles used by VIPs.  Use of video and/or photography is prohibited near military bases and government buildings.

Same sex relations are illegal.

Although Sri Lankan attitudes to informal European styles of dress are generally relaxed, you should consider religious and other sensibilities.  Do not enter a Buddhist temple wearing headgear or with bare legs or shoulders and always remove footwear.  You should avoid posing for photographs standing in front of a statue of the Buddha.

Nude or topless sun-bathing is generally not allowed.

You can be fined if you ignore instructions not to smoke or drink in public.


ENTRY REQUIREMENTS

Visas are required for Sri Lanka.  If you are a British national visiting for tourism for 30 days or less, you can obtain a visa on arrival, but this cannot be extended.  If you stay longer than your visa allows, you are liable to a fine and possible detention.  All other visas, including for those undertaking voluntary activity and paid or unpaid work, should be obtained at a Sri Lankan High Commission/Embassy before you travel.

Your passport should be valid for at least six months beyond the end of your intended stay.  Please contact your nearest Sri Lankan diplomatic representation for the latest information.


HEALTH

We strongly recommend that you obtain comprehensive medical insurance before travelling.  You should check any exclusions, and that your policy covers you for the activities you want to undertake.  Please see:  Travel Insurance.

Emergency medical treatment is not easily available outside main cities, and you may have to be brought to Colombo for treatment.  Medical facilities are not always of a standard expected in the UK, particularly outside Colombo.  Treatment in private hospitals can be expensive and the options for repatriation to the UK or neighbouring countries in an emergency are limited and very expensive.

Dengue fever, Chikungunya fever and malaria – all mosquito-borne disease occur in Sri Lanka.  More than three-quarters of British travellers who contracted malaria in 2005 did not take preventive measures, such as malaria prevention tablets.  However, malaria can occur despite appropriate prevention, and therefore you should promptly seek medical care in the event of a fever or flu-like illness in country or in the first year following your return from travelling to a malaria risk country.  Before travelling you should seek medical advice about the malaria risk in Sri Lanka.  There are no medicines to prevent dengue or Chikungunya.  It is therefore important that you should take precautions against being bitten by mosquitoes while in Sri Lanka.

You should seek medical advice before travelling and ensure that all appropriate vaccinations are up-to-date.  For further information on health, check the Department of Health’s website at:  www.dh.gov.uk.

Avian Influenza (Bird Flu)

There have been no reported cases of Avian Influenza (also known as Bird Flu) in Sri Lanka during the current series of outbreaks.  But the World Health Organisation (WHO) has confirmed cases elsewhere in the region.

You should read this advice in conjunction with the  Avian and Pandemic Influenza Factsheet on the FCO website.

NATURAL DISASTERS

The December 2004 tsunami killed more than 30,000 people and caused large-scale damage along the eastern, southern and south western coastline of Sri Lanka.  Most hotels and other tourist accommodation in the south and south-west have reopened.  If you are planning to travel to areas which may have been affected by the tsunami, check with your tour operators and/or hotel to make sure that tourist facilities are available.


GENERAL

If things go wrong when overseas, please see:  What We Can Do To Help.

You must be able to show some identity if requested by, for example, the police.

You should follow local advice e.g. from your hotel before bathing in the sea as in many areas there are dangerous undercurrents and strong riptides.

We strongly recommend that all British nationals who are resident, working in Sri Lanka, or visiting for over one month, should register with the British High Commission in Colombo.
Money

You cannot change Scottish or Northern Irish bank notes.  Most major banks will change US dollar travellers’ cheques as well as allow Visa and Mastercard cash withdrawals.  There are ATMs in major cities but some do not accept international cards.  Credit cards should be used with caution due to the potential for fraud and other criminal activity.