Sinhalese. Tamil and English are also widely spoken, and newspapers are printed in all three languages.
All foreign nationals staying in Sri Lanka must have an ETA (Electronic Travel Authorisation).
The ETA is issued online and no passport copies or photographs are required. To apply please visit www.eta.gov.lk.
The ETA is only valid for six months from the date of issue so please do not apply too early.
The cost to obtain an ETA is US$35 for tourists staying up to 30 days. This fee is payable online using Visa, MasterCard or American Express. A minimum of 24 hours prior notice is required.
Transit passengers and children under 12 do not need to apply for a visa.
Should you be travelling on honeymoon, the name you arrange your ETA in must match the name on the valid passport you are travelling on.
• As well as restaurants and cafés serving traditional Sri Lankan curries, and in some areas you’ll find familiar fast food outlets like Nandos and Domino’s.
• After a spicy curry, try curd (from buffalo milk) with treacle, an indigenous sweetener, or wattallapam, baked custard.
• Pani pol is a small coconut and honey cake.
• Jaggery, a chewy sweet, is made with crystallized palm sap.
• Fresh fruit includes passion fruit, guava, mango, papaya, pineapple, custard apple and rambutan. The delicious, purple-skinned mangosteen is at its best in June.
• Don’t drink the tap water. Most hotels offer boiled and bottled water, so stick to this instead.
• Bargain for the best price on anything you buy.
• Kandy is known for its antiques, but anything made earlier than this century cannot be legally exported.
• Sri Lanka mines sapphires, rubies, garnets, aquamarines, zircons and alexandrites, but has no diamonds or emeralds. Ratnapura is the country's gem centre, with several museums where you can watch polishing and buy unset stones. Be careful when buying gems. The State Gem Corporation will examine gems purchased elsewhere free of charge, but if they're fake it can't help you get your money back.
• Buy masks in Ambalangoda on the southwest coast.
• Basketware made from coir (coconut fibre) is good for carrying home all your other buys like lacquerware, dolls, casual clothing and beautiful saris.
• Tea from the highlands is a refreshing reminder of your stay.
Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism and Christianity.
Typically a 10% service charge is included in the bill, even in markets. If not, tip 10-15%.
The island is settled by colonists from India around 500 BC. The Indian emperor Ashoka (269-232 BC) sends his son Mahinda as a Buddhist missionary. King Tissa is converted.
2nd century AD
King Mahasena refines and expands the vital irrigation system.
The kingdom experiences its greatest prosperity under Parakramabahu, who makes Polonnaruwa his capital.
The Portuguese fleet is blown into Colombo harbour in 1505 and courteously received. The Portuguese move in on the island's three kingdoms: Jaffna, Kandy and Kotte (near Colombo). Portugal takes formal control of the island in 1597. Kandy continues to hold out and turns to the Dutch for help.
The British make the island a Crown Colony in 1802 and call it Ceylon. Despite the British promise to honour Kandy's independence, Kandy falls (1815) and the king is exiled to India. In 1876, entrepreneur Henry Wickham smuggles rubber seeds from the Amazon to London's Kew Gardens to cultivate trees for transplanting in Ceylon. Tamil labourers are brought in from India to help work the coffee and tea plantations.