Need to know – Sri Lanka

Gangaramaya Temple in Colombo.
Photographer: Gitika Saksena

In this extract from Lonely Planet India’s Sri Lanka travel guide, we look at some of the important information you will need while planning a trip to the country.

Languages: Sinhala, Tamil and English.
Currency: Sri Lankan Rupee (Rs).
Time: Same as Indian Standard Time.
Mobile Phones: International calls are expensive and if you plan on using your phone often, buy a local SIM card at the airport.
Internet Access: Internet facilities are available throughout Sri Lanka; wi-fi is becoming more common in Colombo’s hotels although some top-end places charge exorbitant rates.
Tourist Information: Sri Lanka Tourist Board (ph 011 2437059; www.srilankatourism.org; 80 Galle Rd, Colombo, Col 3; 9am–4.45pm Mon–Fri, to 12.30pm Sat).

When to Go
December–March (high season): The popular west and south-coast beaches plus the Hill Country are busiest – and driest. Hotel rates peak as demand grows in these regions. The Maha monsoon season (October to January) keeps the east, north and Ancient Cities wet.
April & September–November (mid season): April and September offer the best odds for good weather across the country, though Sinhala and Tamil New Year’s celebrations in mid-April cause trains and buses to fill beyond capacity.
May–August (low season): The Yala monsoon season brings rain to the south and west coasts plus the Hill Country. The weather in the north and east is best. Prices nationwide are at their lowest.

What to Pack
You can get most essentials in Colombo and tourist centres, but it’s safest to bring the following items:

  • Raincoat, waterproof jacket or umbrella.
  • A good pair of earplugs.
  • Sunglasses and sunscreen.
  • Bottle-opener – for beachside beer emergencies.
  • Mosquito repellent.
  • Camera and memory cards.

Getting Around

  • Air: A few domestic services operate from Ratmalana Air Force Base, 15km south of Fort, Colombo. Helitours (www.airforce.lk) conducts limited passenger flights, primarily between Colombo and Jaffna.
  • Bus: The cheapest and most well-connected option, with services across the country. However, the buses can be slow and crowded, with no room for luggage. Private buses are faster and more comfortable.
  • Train: Tickets for all classes are cheap (though second and third class can get overcrowded) and there are some beautiful routes. However, services are slow and not as frequent or well-connected as buses.
  • Car & driver: Allows for the greatest flexibility and comfort when travelling.
  • Autos & taxis: Within cities travelling by auto rickshaws or taxi is the fastest way to get around. However, you may need to haggle.

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