Country Facts - Sri Lanka

Formerly known as Ceylon, Sri Lanka, officially the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka is an island nation in Asia, near south east India. Sri Lanka shares its maritime borders with India to the northwest and the Maldives to the Southwest.

Nicknamed as ‘The Pearl of the Indian Ocean’ this paradise island is well known as a top tourist destination in the world. It is one of the few countries in the world with a documented history of over 3000 years with evidence spanning to pre-historic human settlements. Its significant geographic location and natural harbours has made it a strategic point from the time of the ancient Silk Road to the Second World War.

A diverse and multicultural country, Sri Lanka is home to many religions, ethnic groups, and languages. In addition to the majority Sinhalese, it is home to large groups of Sri Lankan and Indian Tamils, Moors, Burghers, Malays, Kaffirs and the aboriginal Veddas. Sri Lanka has a rich Buddhist heritage, and well known Buddhist writings such as, the ‘Tipitaka’, dates back to the Fourth Buddhist council in 29 BC. The country's recent history was marred by a thirty-year terrorist war which decisively ended when Sri Lankan military defeated Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in 2009. The legislative capital, Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte, is a suburb of the commercial capital and the largest city, Colombo.

Sri Lanka has a long history of international engagement, as a founding member of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), a member of the United Nations, the Commonwealth of Nations, the G77, and a prominent member of the Non-Aligned Movement. Among the South Asian countries, it is rated "high" on the Human Development Index.


Sri Lanka is a country with a unique and a proud historical record of a great civilization, a culture of achievements, spanning over a period of several centuries before and after the birth of Christ, which by comparison cannot be second to any contemporary civilization that existed in the world.

The pre-history of Sri Lanka goes back to 125,000 years. The era spans the Paleolithic, Mesolithic and early Iron Ages. One of the first written references to the island is found in the Indian epic Ramayana, which provides details of a kingdom named Lanka. Early inhabitants of Sri Lanka were probably ancestors of the Vedda people, an indigenous people numbering approximately 2,500 living in modern-day Sri Lanka.

According to the Mahāvamsa, Sinhalese history traditionally starts in 543 BCE with the arrival of Prince Vijaya or Singha, a semi-legendary prince who sailed with 700 followers to Sri Lanka. According to tradition, Buddhism was introduced to Sri Lanka in 260 BC by a priest named Mahinda. It soon became an integral part of Sinhalese culture. The capital of the first Sri Lankan kingdom was at Anuradhapura. In the 2nd, 3rd and 4th centuries AD, Sri Lanka became a rich kingdom. She traded with India, China, Persia and Ethiopia.

In 993 the Cholas captured northern Sri Lanka and they made Polonnaruwa the capital. In 1070 the Sinhalese ruler Vijayabahu recaptured the north. Following weakened leaderships, kingdoms moved to Dambadeniya, Yapahuwa, Gampola, Seethawaka and Kotte when Portuguese colonialism began in 1505.

In 1517 they sent an expedition to Colombo and asked permission to build a fort there, gradually expanding their control over the coastal areas. In 1597 the Portuguese annexed Kotte and Seethavaka, leaving Kandy as the only independent territory. The Portuguese made several attempts to conquer Kandy, in 1594, 1603 and 1629, without success.

In 1658, the Dutch invaders defeated the Portuguese to occupy the coastal areas of Sri Lanka. In 1796 the Dutch colonialism gave away to the British who occupied the entire island, including the last kingdom, Kandy in 1815. After 133 years of British rule, Sri Lanka gained full independence in 1948.

Geography and Climate

Sri Lanka lies on the Indian Ocean, southwest of the Bay of Bengal. Sri Lanka is separated from the Indian subcontinent by the Gulf of Mannar and Palk Strait. The island consists mostly of flat to rolling coastal plains, with mountains rising only in the south-central part. The highest point is Pidurutalagala or Mount Pedro, reaching 2,524 metres (8,281 ft) above sea level.

The country has 103 rivers. The longest of these is the Mahaweli River, extending 335 km (208 mi).These waterways give rise to 51 natural waterfalls of 10 meters or more. The highest is Bambarakanda Falls, with a height of 263m (863 ft). Sri Lanka's coastline is 1,585 km long. It claims an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) extending 200 nautical miles, which is approximately 6.7 times the country's land area. The island is also rich in minerals such as Ilmonite, Feldspar, Graphite, Silica, Kaolin, Mica and Thorium.

The climate is tropical and warm. Mean temperatures range from 17 °C (62.6 °F) in the central highlands, where frost may occur for several days in the winter, to a maximum of 33 °C (91.4 °F) in other low-altitude areas. Average yearly temperatures range from 28 °C (82.4 °F) to nearly 31 °C (87.8 °F). Day and night temperatures may vary by 14 °C (25.2 °F) to 18 °C (32.4 °F).

Rainfall pattern is influenced by monsoon winds from the Indian Ocean and Bay of Bengal. The "wet zone" and some of the windward slopes of the central highlands receive up to 2,500 mm (98.4 in) of precipitation each month. The "dry zone" receives between 1,200 and 1,900 mm (47 and 75 in) of rain annually. The arid northwest and southeast coasts receive the least amount of rain at 800 to 1,200 mm (31 to 47 in) per year. Periodic squalls occur and sometimes tropical cyclones bring overcast skies and rains to the southwest, northeast, and eastern parts of the island. Humidity is typically higher in the southwest and mountainous areas and depends on the seasonal patterns of rainfall.


This small 65610 sq km island is no short of diversity when it comes to culture and lifestyles.

The cuisine of Sri Lanka is influenced by that of India as well as colonists and foreign traders. Rice is usually consumed daily, and it can be found at any special occasion, while spicy curries are favourite dishes for lunch and dinner. Rice and curry refers to a range of Sri Lankan dishes. Sri Lankans also eat hoppers which can be found anywhere in Sri Lanka.

Much of Sri Lanka's cuisine consists of boiled or steamed rice served with spicy curry. Another well-known rice dish is "milk rice". Curries in Sri Lanka are not just limited to meat or fish-based dishes; there are also vegetable and even fruit curries. A typical Sri Lankan meal consists of a "main curry" (fish, chicken, or mutton), as well as several other curries made with vegetable and lentils. Side-dishes include pickles, chutneys and "sambols" which can sometimes be fiery hot. The most famous of these is the coconut sambol, made of scraped coconut, chili peppers, dried Maldivian fish and lime juice. This gives extra zest to the meal and is believed to increase the appetite. Coconut milk is found in most Sri Lankan dishes and it gives the cuisine its unique flavor.

Sri Lanka’s street food culture is dominated by multi-cultural aspects. Foremost among them is ‘Kottu’, a mouthwatering meal made out of rotti, local spices and your favorite meat. Savoring a kottu is among the bucket list of any traveller.

With a population composed of many a races and religions, Sri Lanka is never short of festivals and celebrations. Every month brings a celebration, either of religious or cultural importance.

The Sinhala-Tamil New year festival in April is the most important cultural festival in the country. The festival marks the beginning of the New Year and the end of harvesting season. A lengthy holiday and a table full of oily delicacies and sweets make the New Year festival one of the long awaited festivals in the country.

The May full moon poya day or Vesak is the most important religious celebration in Sri Lanka, where Buddhists celebrate the nativity, enlightenment and passing away of Lord Buddha. Sri Lankans of every religion, crowd the roads to enjoy Vesak decorations including pandals and lanterns and many a makeshift alm houses that line the roads offering every food item from beverages, dessert to main meals.

In August are the Esala festivals in Kandy and Kataragama. The Kataragama Esala Festival is a multi-religious festival where devotes use fire walking and extreme self-penance to shows their piety to Lord Kataragama. The Kandy Esala Perahera or the Dalada Perahera is the largest cultural parade in the world and showcases the best of Sri Lankan dancing and music and the best of the domesticated tuskers in the country.

Sri Lankan music is mainly influenced from Buddhism and Portuguese colonizers. With them came, cantiga ballads, the ukulele, and guitars, along with African slaves, who further diversified the musical roots of the island. These slaves were called kaffrinha, and their dance music was called Baila. Today Sri Lankan parties and sports events rarely function without Sri Lankan Baila music. Traditional Sri Lankan music includes the hypnotic Kandyan drums and is very much a part of music in both Buddhist and Hindu temples in Sri Lanka. Most western parts of Sri Lanka follow western dancing and music.

The sport of Cricket is a ‘religion’ which unites this heterogeneous land. Being crowned World Champions twice, the national Cricket team of the island is a dominant force in world Cricket. The ‘Mecca’ of this cricket-crazy nation, the symbolic venue of RPS is nestled in Central Colombo amidst the hustle and bustle of the big city. On match day, the boisterous reverberation by the ‘papare bands’ and the ardent fans not only eclipse the sounds of the city, but also reflects the unique identity of Sri Lankan Cricket.


Sri Lanka is a democratic republic and a unitary state which is governed by a semi-presidential system, with a mixture of a presidential system and a parliamentary system. Most provisions of the constitution can be amended by a two-thirds majority in parliament. However, the amendment of certain basic features such as the clauses on language, religion, and reference to Sri Lanka as a unitary state require both a two-thirds majority and approval in a nationwide referendum.

The current head of state is President His Excellency Maithripala Sirisena.


Ceylon Tea

“The tea fields of Ceylon are as true a monument to courage as is the lion at Waterloo" – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Ceylon Tea is the world’s finest. Once, when the world’s first man in space Yuri Gagarin was felicitated, he was asked to name his favourite drink. Without hesitation he replied, ‘Ceylon Tea’.

The magic of land, sun and rain presents the ideal climatic conditions for cultivation of tea. Ceylon Tea brings a fresh dimension by producing variations in taste, quality, character and appearance. Ceylon tea with its distinct taste and character has now become every consumer’s elite choice.

Tea was introduced by planter James Taylor in 1867 during the British rule when he began his first estate in Loolecondera and in 1873, the first shipment of Ceylon tea, a consignment of some 23 lb (10 kg), arrived in London. Thomas Lipton, a millionaire in United Kingdom visited British Ceylon in the 1890s, during his journey to Australia, and met Taylor. They discussed the business of exporting tea from British Ceylon. Lipton's company became interested and started buying Ceylon tea.

In 1980 Sri Lanka was the official supplier of tea at the 1980 Moscow Summer Olympic Games, in 1982 at the 12th Commonwealth Games in Brisbane and again in 1987 at Expo 88 in Australia.

Today, Sri Lanka exports tea to more than 140 countries. Its highest buyers are former Soviet Bloc members, Russia, Syria, Turkey, Iran, Iraq, UK and Japan. In 2013, Tea production was recorded at 340 million kgs.

World’s only Tea Museum is located in Hantane, Kandy.



Sri Lankan people are known for their beautiful smiles and warm welcomes. This multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-cultural society is a reflection of the island’s encounters with successive foreign immigrants. The people of Sri Lanka possess a warm and friendly nature reflected in persistent smiling faces and eagerness to help those unfamiliar with aspects of local life. They are very hospitable and take pride in inviting people to their homes, however modest they may be.


According to the International Monetary Fund, Sri Lanka's GDP in terms of purchasing power parity is second only to the Maldives in the South Asian region in terms of per capita income.

Sri Lanka is famous for the production and export of cinnamon, rubber and Ceylon tea, which remains a trademark national export. While the production and export of tea, rubber, coffee, sugar and other commodities remain important, industrialization has increased the importance of food processing, textiles, telecommunications and finance. The country's main economic sectors are tourism, tea export, clothing, rice production and other agricultural products.

The per capita income of Sri Lanka has doubled since 2005. During the same period, poverty has dropped from 15.2% to 7.6%, unemployment rate has dropped from 7.2% to 4.9%, market capitalization of Colombo Stock Exchange has quadrupled and budget deficit has doubled. Over 90% of the households in Sri Lanka are electrified. 87.3% of the population have access to safe drinking water and 39% have access to pipe-borne water. Sri Lanka's cellular subscriber base has shown a staggering 550% growth, from 2005 to 2010. Sri Lanka was the first country in the South Asian region to introduce 3G, 3.5G HSDPA, 3.75G HSUPA and 4G LTE mobile broadband Internet technologies.

The Global Competitiveness Report, published by the World Economic Forum, has described Sri Lanka's economy as transitioning from the factor-driven stage to the efficiency-driven stage, and that it ranks 52nd in global competitiveness. Also, out of the 142 countries surveyed, Sri Lanka ranked 45th in health and primary education, 32nd in business sophistication, 42nd in innovation, and 41st in goods market efficiency. Sri Lanka ranks 8th in the World Giving Index, registering high levels of contentment and charitable behaviour in its society. Sri Lanka ranks well above other South Asian countries in the Human Development Index (HDI) with 0.750 points.

Sri Lankans have a life expectancy of 77.9 years at birth, which is 10% higher than the world average. The infant mortality rate stands at 8.5 per 1,000 births and the maternal mortality rate at 0.39 per 1,000 births, which is on par with figures from the developed countries.


Already among the top tourist destinations in 2016, Sri Lanka is filled with cultural and natural treasures. Indians, Portuguese, Dutch and British have all influenced this heaven, making it a dazzling mix of ancient sites, monuments and grand colonial architecture. Palm-fringed beaches are never far away and lush mountainous greenery beckons further inland. It’s understood why Marco Polo claimed Sri Lanka as one of the best islands in the world.

The island offers so much in a very small area. Few places in the world have as many UNESCO World Heritage Sites (eight) packed into such a small area. Sri Lanka's 2000-plus years of culture can be discovered at ancient sites where legendary temples boast beautiful details. Safari tours of Sri Lanka’s pleasantly relaxed national parks encounter elephants, leopards, water buffaloes, all manner of birds and primates.

The central highlands of the island are filled with pictures of stirring mountains with lush green tea gardens, roaring waterfalls mingling with the clouds and landscapes in sunlight, disappearing under the rising mist. Sri Lanka’s fourth highest mountain, Adam’s Peak is said to be the very place where Adam set foot on earth, having been expelled from heaven. Meanwhile Buddhists claim it is Lord Buddha’s footprint itself on Sri Pada which was placed in his final visit to the island. For many, it’s an annual pilgrimage to summit the mountain and worship the footprint before enjoying the beguiling sunrise from the east.

Rampant tea plantations and peaks in central highlands is heaven for trekkers and those who just want to see it on a picturesque train ride. Kithulgala offers white water rafting and adventure sports for enthusiasts. The largest city in the hills, the buzzing town of Kandy is a World Heritage site. It is home to the world famous ‘Temple of the Tooth Relic’ or Sri Dalada Maligawa. The colourful Esala Perahera held in August attract tourists from all over the world.

And then there are the delightful beaches. Dazzlingly white and rarely traversed, they surround the island so that no matter where you go. It doesn’t stop there, many have considered the coast of Sri Lanka as an epitome for world class divers and surfers. Other than taking a dip in the oceans or snorkeling, scuba diving and surfing are the most popular beach sports in the country. Today the oceans filled with coral gardens, multitude of exotic fishes offers one of the best diving experiences in the world. Surfing too has made its mark in the Southern and Eastern coasts of the island.

In the cultural triangle, you find ancient kingdoms Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa, where you can discover 2000-year-old monuments, towering stupas and ocean like reservoirs, rich in culture and heritage. Sigiriya, the "Eighth Wonder of World" will open your world to a fascinating fortress in the sky.

Travelling further north the landscape changes drastically, North of Sri Lanka is a world apart from the rest of country. Colorful Hindu temples replace the white pagodas while sari clad damsels roam the streets on bicycles in Jaffna.

In the southern coast is another World Heritage city, Galle, known for its sparkling beach and the colossal Dutch fort which dates back to the 17th century.

On the western coasts of the country is Colombo, the capital city of the island, which displays a rich colonial heritage. A mix of races, religions and cultures, Colombo parades the lavish lifestyles in the island.

Famous Sri Lankans

  • List of Sri Lankan KingsWikipedia link

  • S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike – Former Prime Minister and University of Oxford alumni

  • Sirimavo Bandaranaike – World’s first female Prime Minister

  • Junis Richard Jayewardene – Sri Lanka’s 1st Executive President

  • Gamini Dissanayake – Initiator of the famous Mahaweli Project. Advocated for Sri Lanka’s Test Cricket status

  • Mahinda Rajapaksa – Former President who led the offensive to defeat the 30 year terrorist conflict in Sri Lanka

  • General Sarath Fonseka – Sri Lanka’s 1st........Read more