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Frequently Asked Questions

Climate and Traditions

When Is The Best Time To Travel To Sri Lanka?

Sri Lankan climate is tropical, consisting of the distinctively dry and wet seasons differing from one side of the country to another, making the island an excellent year-round with the ‘right’ season to be somewhere on the island. On the western and southern coasts and up in the hills, the driest season is from November to March, but the weather on the eastern coast is at its finest between May and September. Keep in mind however, that apart from the arid northern area of the country, tropical showers can be expected at any time.

The average annual temperature in the country as a whole ranges from 28 - 32°C, with the temperature varying from as low as 16°C around Nuwara Eliya in the central highlands to as high as 32°C in Batticaloa on the East Coast.

What Is The Sri Lankan Landscape Like?

Sri Lanka is a combination of many sights, scenes and sounds that are charmingly packed into its compact 65,610 sq. km of delightful island. We have it all - lush forests, virgin jungles, mangrove swamps, dry zones, rugged mountains and highlands and pristine beaches that are home to a magnificent variety of fauna and flora. The majestic past and present uniqueness that make up the country provide an array of travel experiences that are too tempting to miss out on. The 86 species of mammals include the majestic elephant, elusive leopards, the shy yet adorable sloth bear and many varieties of deer and monkeys. The abundant birdlife and various endemic species make the island a paradise for bird watching as well.

What Are The Official Languages Spoken In Sri Lanka?

The three official languages are Sinhala, Tamil and English, with Sinhala being spoken by more than 80% of the population. Tamil, which is a Dravidian language of southern India, is mainly spoken by people living in the northern and eastern provinces. English is widely used in many activities and businesses throughout the island.

What Are The Main Religions Observed In Sri Lanka?

Buddhism is the principal religion and is practiced by 70% of Sri Lankans. It was introduced to Sri Lanka in the 3rd century BC and exhibits elements of both Hindu and Islamic traditions.

Hinduism was brought from South India to northern Sri Lanka by Tamil kings and their followers. Today, there are Hindu communities (representing 13% of the population) in several parts of the country including Colombo, Kandy and the tea planting regions in the hill country.

Introduced by the Arab traders in the 8th century, Islam is the 3rd largest religion. The majority of the 2 million Muslims (10% of the population) are Sunnis; however communities of Shiites have recently migrated from the Indian subcontinent.

Christianity arrived in Sri Lanka in the 16th century with the Portuguese who brought Roman Catholicism to the island. The Catholic Church remains strong (6% of Sri Lankans), particularly on the West Coast. Amongst the Christian communities, there is also a small number of Protestant and Evangelist Churches, introduced by the Dutch and the British.

What Kind Of Cultural And / Or Religious Aspects Should A Visitor Keep In Mind?

As in many Asian countries, dress modestly at religious sites and remember to remove your shoes and hats before entering a Buddhist or Hindu temple.

In Sri Lanka, the misuse of the Buddha’s image is considered a serious offence for which tourists have been convicted. Visitors may be refused entry to Sri Lanka or face deportation for having visible tattoos of Buddha. Also, never pose for photographs standing with your back towards a statue of Buddha.

What Are The Festivals And Public Holidays In Sri Lanka?

Poya Days

Full Moon days (known as Poya days), are of religious significance to Buddhists and devoted to prayer and meditation. In keeping with its significance as a religious day abstinence is practiced. As such, places selling liquor (including hotel bars) and meat shops closed. Places of entertainment such as cinemas, discos and casinos are closed as well.

Sinhala and Tamil New Year

Sri Lankan Sinhala and Tamil New Year, generally known as Aluth Avurudu, is celebrated on the 13th and 14th of April. For Sri Lankans, Aluth Avurudu marks the end of the harvest season, and also coincides with one of two instances when the sun is directly above Sri Lanka. Many of the traditions and rituals portray the beliefs and thoughts of these people whose lives revolve around agriculture.

Kandy Esala Perahera

For centuries, the cracking of whips signals the arrival of the Perahera festival. The Kandy Esala Perahera, featuring dancers, acrobats, jugglers, drummers, fire-breathers and lavishly decorated elephants, is one of the most colourful, enchanting and fascinating parades in the world. The festivities take place on the streets of Kandy for 10 days, starting from an auspicious time prescribed by astrologers.

National Festival of Kites

The National Festivals of Kites is held annually to encourage the creativity of Sri Lankan children and adults. Every September, large crowds gather to admire the sky filled with kites made from colourful sarees and dried leaves.

Visas and Money

Will I Need A Visa?

Since the 1st of January 2012, all travellers must be in possession of a visa when arriving in Sri Lanka. Citizens from Singapore and The Maldives are the only exception. Visitors can apply for the official Electronic Travel Authorization (visa) via www.eta.gov.lk or upon arrival at the airport. There is a small fee charged and you must have at least six months left on your passport at the time of travel to obtain one.

What Is The Currency Used In Sri Lanka?

The Sri Lankan currency is the Rupee (Rs), divided into 100 cents. Notes come in denominations of 20, 50, 100, 200, 500, 1000 & 2000. Breaking down larger notes is advisable as finding change can sometimes be inconvenient.

Can I Use Other Currencies During My Trip?

US$ and Euro€ are accepted in most large hotels and other tourist establishments, but not in outlets catering to locals. Fees for entrance to cultural and historical sights need to be paid in Rupees. We would recommend bringing in US$/Euro € and change some of your money into local currency when needed for tipping, shopping and other miscellaneous expenses.

Where Can I Exchange Money?

The exchange of foreign currency is only permitted at banks, money changers and hotels.

When Are Banks Open?

Normally, all state and private commercial banks are open from 9 am to 3 pm Monday to Friday. Some city banks close at 1500 hours, while some are open on Saturday mornings.

Are There ATMs’ Available?

ATMs’ are available at many banks throughout the country and you can withdraw cash on Visa and MasterCard from most them. Sometimes American Express and Diners Club are accepted as well. To avoid unpleasant surprises, we advise you to inform your credit card company of your intention to travel in Sri Lanka and use your credit card here.

Are Credit Cards Widely Accepted?

MasterCard and Visa are widely used and accepted by many local shops, restaurants and hotels, but it’s always better to double check. Other major cards such as American Express and Diners Club are also accepted often.

Safety

The whole island including the North and East, are safe to visit and in general, threats to personal security for travellers are remarkably small. In Sri Lanka, exercise the same amount of caution you would when traveling in any unfamiliar area. Mind your belongings in crowded areas and be careful when walking near busy roads. On the beaches, always ask locals for advice before venturing in the water anywhere that is not a popular spot for swimming. Also, note that conditions can vary radically and currents get strong even within a short distance from one end of the beach to another.

Communications

What Is Sri Lanka’s Country Code?

The international dialling code for Sri Lanka is +94. When making international telephone calls from Sri Lanka, dial 00 + country code + area code + telephone number.

All mobile operators support the GSM technology on GSM 900/1800 bands.

How Can I Obtain A Local SIM Card?

Local mobile operators (e.g. Dialog, Etisalat and Mobitel) have counters at the Bandaranaike International Airport and you can purchase a local SIM card upon arrival. Top-up cards are widely available island-wide.

Health

What Health Issues Do I Need To Take Into Consideration?

Medical facilities in small towns outside of the main cities are not always of a good standard and it is recommended that you take out adequate health insurance covering evacuation. All necessary precautions should be taken and it is always best to check the current situation and any vaccination requirements with a doctor when planning your trip.

It is required to have yellow fever vaccination certificate, if you have visited yellow fever endemic countries in Africa or Latin America. Consider getting inoculations against typhoid, polio, hepatitis A and Japanese encephalitis as well.

In Sri Lanka, every town has a pharmacy selling common medicines. However, the availability of medical supplies may vary and therefore, we advise you to carry any special medication you may require.

Is There A Malaria Risk In Sri Lanka?

Malaria was formerly a serious problem, but the World Health Organization declared Sri Lanka malaria-free in 2016. Doctors presently advise that anti-malarial drugs are not necessary.

What Is Dengue Fever?

It is a mosquito-borne tropical disease caused by the dengue virus. Since there is no vaccine against dengue, avoiding mosquito bites is the only way to prevent it. The common symptoms include high fever, severe headache and body ache, and sometimes a rash and diarrhoea. For typical dengue, the treatment is purely concerned with relief of the symptoms by rest, fluid intake and Paracetamol. Do not take aspirin or ibuprofen as it increases the likelihood of haemorrhaging. Make sure you see a doctor to be diagnosed and monitored.

How Can I Prevent Mosquito Bites?

Most hotels will provide you with a plug-in mosquito repellent which will usually be switched on during turn down. You can buy the mats (small repellent tablet inserted to the plug-in unit), from most local supermarkets. Mosquito nets in hotels are a rarity. You can also buy the burning coils or citronella candles from the supermarket. It would be advisable to apply some mosquito repellent lotion if you plan to have dinner in an outdoor/ Al fresco setting. The locally available ‘Siddhalepa’ balm is quite effective to take the itch out of mosquito bites.

What about Leeches?

Leeches might look ugly, but apart from little itchiness, their bites are harmless. During treks and nature trails, we recommend the use of leech socks that are pulled over the trousers and prevent leeches from reaching the skin.

If you find a leech sucking on your leg, do not pull it off forcibly, but wait for it to fall off after feeding. Otherwise, its teeth might remain embedded in the wound and cause local irritation. Else, you can apply soap, salt or lime juice to exposed areas. This will make the leech release its hold and fall off.

How About Drinking Water?

You are advised not to drink tap water unless it is purified. Bottled water is widely available throughout the country, but make sure the bottles are sealed before you buy them. Most hotel rooms have boiled water in thermos flasks, which is safe to drink.

What To Wear, and Where Can I Do My Laundry?

Long sleeves and hats will keep you protected from the sun. Also, some warm, rain and windproof clothes are needed if you are travelling in the mountain areas, where the weather may change several times a day and the nights tend to get chilly. All top-end and mid-range hotels provide laundry services, and the majority of guest-houses will make arrangements for you if you so wish

Sightseeing, Shopping and Transport

How to Get Around?

Public Buses

The best thing about buses in Sri Lanka is that there are a lot of them, so there’s never much waiting around. There are two kinds in Sri Lanka – CTB (Central Transport Board) buses and private buses. Most are basic with bench type seats and no air-conditioning. There are also private air-conditioned buses – by far the most comfortable option for long journeys. Be prepared for large crowds – it’s not unusual to have some passengers hanging out the doors within city journeys!

Trains

The railway system in Sri Lanka is a fascinating way to travel and explore the country. However, they are slow, unpredictable and often late. For some of the longer journeys, you may take an overnight sleeper train (with actual sleeping berths) or a First Class ‘observation’ service. The Third Class service is the cheapest, but generally over-crowded and not particularly comfortable. Second Class is adequate, with padded seats (and sleepers with fold-down chairs), fans and less crowds than the Third Class option.

Three Wheelers

These funny looking vehicles, known in other parts of Asia as tuk-tuks, Bajajs’ or auto-rickshaws, are everywhere. For short distances, they are the most convenient way to travel, but a little uncomfortable for longer journeys. To avoid any hassles, make sure the driver uses a meter, or agree beforehand on the fare before you hop in. Some of the hotels can advise you on the ‘going-rate’ for your journey.

 

Motorbikes

For the most intrepid travellers, hiring a motorcycle is a good option for exploring the quieter hill country and beautiful coastline. Keep your safety in mind, stay off the main highways and watch out for the roaming buses!

Car and Driver Hire

Sri Lankan road conditions are somewhat challenging and, especially in the highlands, short distances take a long time. What we highly recommend is to hire a car with experienced chauffeur-guide, who helps you to make the most of your journey and ensures your safety.

What Kind Of Souvenirs Can I Buy In Sri Lanka?

Sri Lankan artisans have a history that runs back millennia, and a traveller will find a wide variety of beautiful handicrafts on sale. The most popular buys include Sri Lankan masks, batiks, handloom textiles, pottery, wood carvings, gemstones, lacquer-work, hand-made brassware and the famous ‘Ceylon Tea’ of course! Due to environmental and ethical reasons, we highly recommend you to avoid purchasing any items made from tortoise shells, ivory and ebony.

What Should I Take Into Consideration When It Comes To Photography?

Always ask permission before taking photographs of people and respect their wishes if they refuse, especially in sacred places. Never pose beside or in front of a Buddha statue as it is considered extremely disrespectful. Please also note that you are not allowed to use the flash on murals as it can damage them.

Who And How Much Should I Tip?

Tipping is generally expected in Sri Lanka, and a customary way of showing your appreciation for services rendered.

A 10% service surcharge is usually added to food and accommodation bills in larger establishments. However, the waiter/waitress will expect a small tip for good service. At the hotels, it is recommended that you tip 100-300 rupees for the hotel’s services - bar staff, waiting staff and cleaners.

In temples, you should leave money in donation boxes, particularly if you have been taken on a tour by a resident monk. Also, the man who looks after your shoes at temples will expect a small tip. With the taxi cabs and tuk-tuks that run on a fixed price tipping is not required, but you can always round it up to the nearest Rs 100 or Rs 150.

 

Food and Drink

What Is Sri Lankan Food Like?

Though Sri Lankan food has some similarities to South Indian fare, it remains distinctly unique. Since Sri Lanka is a tropical island, coconuts and fish are the most important ingredients in the country. Fish is made into curries and coconut in some form or another, is a dominant component in cooking.

Rice and curry is the Sri Lankan staple, and most of the locals have it every day. A basic rice and curry meal consists of one curry (fish, beef or chicken) with spicy gravy, two or three different vegetable stews, a portion of crispy ‘papadam’ and a ‘mallum’ of chopped leaves and coconut. The hot and spicy flavours come from sliced onions, green chillies, black pepper, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, nutmeg and saffron.

How Much Will I Need To Pay For A Meal?

Local rice and curry: Rs 150-350

Meals at hotels and restaurants: Rs 1000-3000

Meals at any high-end eateries: Rs 3000 upwards

Is It Easy To Find Vegetarian Fare?

In Sri Lanka, vegetarian and vegan travellers have a plenty of delicious options available. Most large hotels and restaurants have a ‘vegetarian section’ in the menu. At small local ‘rice and curry’ restaurants, they may say the food is vegetarian, but it could possibly include a serving of fried fish or sprats (anchovies). At the ‘South Indian’ vegetarian restaurants you can be 100% sure the food is vegetarian.

What Kind Of Drinks Will I Find?

Sri Lanka is one of the biggest tea-producing countries in the world and tea is one of the most common drinks among the locals. At restaurants and supermarkets, you can find a huge variety of bottled soft drinks from both local and international brands. King coconut water (thambili) is a safe and refreshing option. Local beer and spirits are widely available, but note that alcohol is not sold on Poya (full-moon day of the month) days.

Plugs and Electricity

Sri Lankan hotels have two types of plug bases; either the UK (Type G) or India (Type D).

Plug type

Pins

Amps

Plug base compatibility

UK (Type G)

3 rectangular pins

13 Amps

Accepts Type C (by tricking Earth socket). Need an adapter to accept Type D

Euro plug (Type C)

2 round pins

5 Amps

Compatible with Type G and Type D (by tricking Earth socket).

India (Type D)

3 round pins*

5 Amps

Accepts Type C (by tricking Earth socket). Need an adapter to accept Type G

 

If you have a Euro plug (Type C), you can stick a pen into the Earth socket (either UK Type G or India Type D) to open the shutters and insert the plug. But do NOT forget to switch off the power before you do this! Alternatively, adapters are freely available in supermarkets/ hardware shops.

 

Our policy in discouraging Animal Cruelty, Tourist Traps and Staged Tourist Shows

Animals Are Friends Too: Discouraging Animal Cruelty, Tourist Traps and Staged Tourist Shows

We at ExJ stay away from tourism experiences that are staged and involve animal cruelty and shopping traps that are contrived to exploit and deceive clients.

Even though some of the popular ‘attractions’ are not included in our programmes due to the above reasons, we have no objections in our clients making their own arrangements with our Drivers to visit these places.

 

Why we do not promote following attractions

 

Turtle Hatcheries

As this concept has serious negative aspects in terms of conservation, we do not encourage our visitors to patronize the turtle hatcheries, as not all of them are really turtle-friendly. We instead encourage them to observe turtles in their natural habitats.

Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage

When we became aware that the animal welfare standards there were questionable, we stopped encouraging our clients to visit the orphanage. We are pleased to observe that the Born Free Foundation has now adopted similar measures.

Elephant back rides – Habarana

There’s uncertainty surrounding the attitude of this place towards animal welfare. There may be a few ethical operators, but in general, we are not in agreement with how the place is run. We all would love a photo of us riding an elephant, but is a lifetime of pain caused to these magnificent mammals really worth a few fleeting likes on social media?

Traditional Village Tour with a Canoe Trip and Bullock-Carts – Habarana

This is a tourist trap where a lot of the trip is ‘staged’ for commercial purposes. Such fake touristic experiences will not give our visitors an idea of what life in the country is really like, so join us as we show you the real side of Sri Lanka. And at the end of every vacation, always ask yourself, “Did you feel that your holiday was ethical, eco-friendly, and reduced environmental impacts?”


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Address: No: 20/68, Fairfield Garden, Colombo 08, Sri Lanka