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Travel Guide

  • Until 1972, the island nation was known as Ceylon
  • Despite its relatively small size and population, Sri Lanka exports more tea than any other country in the world
  • Sri Lanka was the first democracy to elect a female head of state--Sirimavo Bandaranaike in 1960
  • Sri Lankan cricketer Muttiah Muralitharan holds the world record for test wickets, with 800--nearly 100 more than his nearest rival

As a foreign visitor, you'll be greeted warmly by locals on your trip to Sri Lanka, which makes it all the more important to understand and respect what is and isn't acceptable in the local culture.

The country remains socially conservative, with traditional gender roles very much the norm, so make sure you address members of the opposite sex with respect and modesty.

By the same token, it's important to dress appropriately. T-shirts and shorts are fine, but revealing swimwear for women and tank tops for men can attract unwanted attention.

You should avoid discussing politics and the civil war--which only ended in 2009--during your Sri Lanka vacation, as the conflict remains a fresh and painful memory in many people's minds.

In keeping with the country's air of social modesty, greetings between people of different genders and ages should always be respectful. During your visit to Sri Lanka, you shouldn't hug or offer a kiss on the cheek to someone you've just met. Instead, a polite handshake and a friendly smile will suffice. Placing your hands together in a prayer-like position and bowing your head also serves as a respectful way to introduce yourself. Try saying "ayubowan" (hello) in Sinhala, the most widely spoken language in the country's south and central regions.

Sri Lanka's tropical climate ensures the weather stays hot and humid across the country throughout the year.Western Province and Southern Province experience by far the most rainfall in the country, with the majority of precipitation falling in the monsoon season between May and September.

Yearly average temperatures hover above 30 C (86 F) in the hotter, drier Northern Province, while the cooler hill country around Nuwara Eliya enjoys a much more temperate year-round average of 16 C (61 F).

For a comprehensive Sri Lanka itinerary focusing on the tourist-friendly areas in the southwest, you'll get optimal conditions between December and March.

Most of Sri Lanka's public transport network centers around Colombo, with an abundance of flights, buses, and trains originating from the largest city.

The country's poorly maintained road network means that getting around by bus on a Sri Lanka holiday takes far longer than you'd expect from looking at a map, and the often erratic driving of the locals creates some hairy moments along the way.

Trains serve as a scenic and cost-effective way to get between cities, but can be horrendously slow, hot, and overcrowded. You'll have a far more comfortable and flexible Sri Lanka vacation if you forego public transportation and instead hire a driver to take you from place to place.

As there's no ingrained set of rules or fixed expectations from locals, you can tip at your own discretion during your trip to Sri Lanka.

If you're particularly happy with a meal or the service from a taxi driver, round up to the nearest 50 or 100 rupees to show your appreciation. Private drivers or guides who deal regularly with tourists usually expect tips of around 500 rupees per day. It's also polite to offer a small tip to hotel staff.