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Wildlife in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka’s wildlife is as varied as the island itself, ranging from elephants and leopards to marine life and a vast number of different birds, and Sri Lanka is now one of the best places in the world to see whales, including the mighty blue whale. With 12% of the country designated for wildlife protection, it is easy to get a taste of Sri Lankan wildlife: safari parks and sanctuaries, particularly in the southern and central zones, offer the easiest way to see animals in their natural habitat. Stay alert for a sighting of the endangered leopard; take your time as you watch the elephants feeding and washing in a tank or lagoon, or walk quietly along the beaches of the west and south coast near to marine turtles as they lay their eggs.

Birds of Sri Lanka
Birdwatching in Sri Lanka is a delight for birders. The island’s isolation and tropical climate are responsible for attracting an incredibly diverse range of birds of more than 400 species. Almost 200 migrant species descent on the country each year having flown south for the winter, and there are 33 endemic birds in Sri Lanka. For more information, see our page on birdwatching in Sri Lanka.

Mammals
102 terrestrial mammals have so far been discovered on the island. 90 of them are indigenous species, of which 14 are endemic to Sri Lanka. Mammals are extensively distributed in the country due to the diverse climate, vegetation, altitude and geographic history of the island. Many travellers come to Sri Lanka hoping to see elephants, the island’s most iconic animal – visit one of the national parks and see them moving in herds in the wild, or visit the Millennium Elephant Foundation to learn more about the role elephants play in Sri Lankan culture. Sri Lanka’s elusive leopard can be seen at many national parks, most notably Yala National Park, which has the highest population density of leopards in the world. Go to tranquil Wilpattu for a sloth bear sighting, or see toque macaque, grey langur and purple-faced leaf monkeys when you meet the monkeys of Polonnaruwa.

Don’t miss:
The Elephant Gathering at Minneriya National Park (June – September)
Otters and Sambar Deer at Horton Plains National Park
Seeing a leopard at Yala National Pak
Large herds of elephants at Uda Walawe National Park
Watching sloth bear in Wilpattu National Park
Meeting the monkey population of Polonnaruwa

Marine Life
Sri Lanka’s oceans also boast a wide range of spectacular creatures, including whales and dolphins, dugongs, sting rays, eels, whale sharks and five species of endangered marine turtle, as well as various colourful tropical fish and intricate, mesmerising corals. Go on a whale and dolphin watching expedition in search of the mighty blue whale, or watch as a turtle lays its eggs in the sand before returning to the sea.

Why not try a wildlife holiday in Sri Lanka? The island’s astonishing diversity of landscape and the incredible range of animals that have made their home here means that there are wildlife events happening all year round. Red Dot have put together several wildlife-focused itineraries which highlight Sri Lanka’s main wildlife attractions and take you to some of the most beautiful areas of the island. These itineraries can of course be altered in any way that you wish, and our knowledgeable sales consultants will be only too happy to advise you on creating the ultimate Sri Lanka wildlife holiday.

 

Yala National Park

Wilpattu National Park

Whale Watching in Mirissa

Culture and History in Sri Lanka

The history of Sri Lankan civilisation can be traced back to the 3rd century BC, the point at which Buddhism was introduced to Sri Lanka by Mahinda, the son of Emperor Asoka of India, and the first ancient kingdom of Sri Lanka was created – Anuradhapura. From this moment on, Buddhism became an integral part of Sinhalese culture and had a profound effect on the development of civilisation and literacy in the island – it was in Sri Lanka that the oral teachings of Lord Buddha (the Tripitaka) were committed to writing for the first time, and the language of these scriptures (Pali) influenced the development of the Sinhala language.

Sri Lankan culture developed significantly over the next few hundred years: see the majestic dagobas of Anuradhapura; visit the ruins of ancient Buddhist monasteries, such as Ritigala and Kaludiya Pokuna; marvel at the ceiling murals of the 2000-year-old Dambulla Cave Temple, and climb to the top of Sigiriya Rock Fortress, an astonishing feat of engineering constructed in 5th century AD. You can also discover the medieval history of Sri Lanka – explore the well-preserved remains of the Kingdom of Polonnaruwa, or lesser visited sites such as Yapahuwa, and visit the famous Temple of the Tooth in Kandy which houses a sacred relic believed to be the tooth of Lord Buddha, a relic which has been kept safely in Sri Lanka for over 1,500 years.

In later years, Arab traders and invading European powers who came to colonise Sri Lanka also impacted significantly on the island’s culture, bringing with them new religion, traditions, languages and food. Explore the many forts that were built around Sri Lanka’s coastline, which were first constructed by the Portuguese before being fortified by the Dutch in the 17th century: these are predominantly found along the east coast, although they can also be seen in Colombo and most famously in Galle, which is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The introduction of Christianity is evidenced by old churches, which can be seen in areas including Colombo, Negombo and Jaffna.

The arrival of the British in the mid-1800s transformed the culture of Sri Lanka still further. The introduction of tea into the country quickly led to the establishment of Sri Lanka’s tea industry, which permanently changed the shape of the island’s hill country and led to Sri Lanka becoming the 4th largest exporter of tea worldwide. The British also constructed a railway line to transport the coveted product to Colombo, the island’s main port, which is still used today and is now revered as one of the most beautiful train journeys in the world.

Sri Lanka’s modern day culture is, as a result, a wonderful melting pot of different religions and traditions, old and new, drawing from many different aspects of the island’s complex heritage. Go on our Slave Island Walking Tour, a guided tour of a historic district in the heart of Colombo which clearly portrays Sri Lanka’s modern day multiculturalism, or just explore the capital city at your leisure and see some of the country’s latest cultural developments, from the construction of modern buildings to the arrival of various international brands and types of cuisine from across the globe.

 

Architecture in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka has an impressive architectural legacy that dates back to the 3rd century B.C. Ruins of ancient kingdoms provide evidence of a sophisticated civilization on the island which possessed advanced knowledge of science and technology, town planning and design, and valued the aesthetic beauty of the arts: marvel at the remarkable engineering of 5th century Sigiriya Rock Fortress; admire the spectacular paintings and statues at Dambulla Cave Temple, and see the towering dagobas at Anuradhapura, which were once some of the largest man-made structures in the world, second only to the pyramids of Egypt.

The later influences of the Portuguese, Dutch and British during their periods of colonial rule can be seen most prominently in the architecture of the churches, forts and homes in the coastal areas, especially the UNESCO World Heritage Site Galle Fort, as well as in the hill country’s tea planter bungalows and the railway line that connects the Sri Lanka’s tea country with Kandy and Colombo, the main sea port.

Geoffrey Bawa, Sri Lanka’s most influential modern architect, was responsible for linking the ancient architecture of this island with that of the modern world and is also renowned as the creator of the architectural style ‘tropical modernism’. Discover his spectacular works through our Bawa Gems tour: explore Lunuganga, his country home and gardens; stay at a hotel he designed, such as Heritance Kandalama which he envisioned as ‘an austere jungle palace’, and visit Paradise Road in Colombo, Bawa’s old design studio which now sells a range of arts and crafts and houses The Gallery Café, one of the capital’s best restaurants.

Nine Arch Bridge

Sri Lanka Waterfalls

The Life of Geoffrey Bawa

Negombo Architecture

Dhowa Rock Temple

Brief Gardens

Dutch Reformed Church

Sport and Adventure in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is a fantastic holiday destination for those who like to stay active, whether you want to indulge in some exhilarating water-sports or climb a mountain. The island’s diverse landscape means that there is a wide range of adventure options available: trek through Sinharaja Rainforest; go white water rafting down the rapids at Kitulgala; explore Sri Lanka’s ancient ruins by bike or on foot; climb Adam’s Peak, Sri Lanka’s sacred mountain, or take the train into the island’s stunning hill country.

There are also many different sports on offer in Sri Lanka, most popular being the thrilling water-sports available around the country’s coastline: go surfing in Arugam Bay, one of the top ten surf spots in the world; try kite-surfing and windsurfing on Kalpitiya Lagoon; go scuba diving in the south coast, or snorkel at Pigeon Island near Trincomalee. There are also opportunities for walking – mostly in the cool climate of Sri Lanka’s spectacular hills – and cycling, such as exploring the beautiful inland areas around Galle by bike.

Adam’s Peak

Boats and Bikes

Cricket General Information and Supporter Tours

Explore Sri Lanka’s Village Life

Hike in the Knuckles

Hot Air Ballooning

Kitesurfing in Sri Lanka

Pidurangala Rock

Pigeon Island

Sailing in Trincomalee or Pasikudah

Scuba Diving in Sri Lanka

Surfing in Sri Lanka

Tuk Tuk Tour

Train journey Kandy to the Hill Country

White-Water Rafting and Canoeing

Windsurfing

Walk with the Veddas

Birdwatching in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is a birder’s delight. Its tropical climate, relative isolation and astonishing biodiversity is responsible for the amazingly varied birdlife which comprises more than 400 species. Almost 200 migrant species descend on the country each year, having flown south for the winter – some, like the sandpipers and plovers, come from as far north as the arctic tundra. Within a two-week birdwatching holiday in Sri Lanka, you can easily see all 33 endemic birds along with at least 200 species. Whether bird watching is your passion, or you merely fancy a dabble, pick up a pair of binoculars, a guidebook and a notepad and join us in this birdwatcher’s paradise.

The best times to visit for birdwatching is between October and April, when the migrant birds have landed. The weather is best from January to March. Watch as the storks, spoonbills, cormorants and kingfishers feed off the tanks in the dry regions and flamingos come in their hundreds to line the lagoons and water holes of Mannar and Jaffna in the Northern Province. If birding is your passion, take a look at our specialist itinerary ‘Birds of Sri Lanka’.

 

Weddings in Sri Lanka

Why Sri Lanka?
Sri Lanka’s seductive mix of beautiful landscapes, tropical beaches, rich culture and friendly, laid-back people have lured many romantics over the years. It is no surprise that the island is an increasingly popular wedding and honeymoon destination. It is an idyllic location setting for those in love and starting a new life together.

The perfect location for your wedding is a tough choice in Sri Lanka as there are numerous possibilities: A wedding on the coast with swaying palms and the shimmering waters of the Indian Ocean; in the hill country amidst luminous green tea plantations, misty mountains and gushing waterfalls; or by an ancient reservoir in the north central province surrounded by untouched wilderness and sounds of birdcall. Once the setting is decided upon, then comes the selection of venue: options range from beachside villas, refurbished colonial bungalows, boutique hotels to eco retreats – all offering a unique service to make your wedding a memorable one.

A wedding in Sri Lanka is like no other. Horoscopes, auspicious times and rituals are blended with colourful dancers and drummers, followed by a feast to be shared by family and friends in celebration the coming together of two lives. The island’s vibrant mix of ethnic communities means that Sri Lanka is home to various religious groups – Buddhists, Hindus, Muslim, and Christians – all of whom follow different rituals, yet share an underlying tradition.

Couples can choose a non-denominational service conducted by a Registrar of Marriages, a church ceremony or a traditional Buddhist ‘Poruwa’ ceremony. Wedding ceremonies are conducted Monday to Saturday excluding bank holidays. There is a requirement of a minimum period of residency of five days in Sri Lanka prior to the wedding ceremony. The minimum age requirement for marriage is 18 years. If under 21 years, parental consent is required. All the ceremonies are performed in accordance with British law and are legally recognised as binding. If you aren’t British we recommend you seek advice regarding the requirements of your marriage abroad.

Food and Drink in Sri Lanka

Sri Lankan cuisine is very distinctive, an exotic blend of tastes and aromas enriched by ethnic diversity and centuries of interaction with outside settlers. From early Arab traders to the European colonisers, Sri Lankan food has a wide range of international influences and is rich in flavour and variety. From rice and curry – a meal with a deceptively simple name that incorporates seven separate dishes, from curries to sambols – to the ever-popular string hoppers served hawker-style on the streets, something to please everyone can be found here.

Sri Lanka has long been known for its spices, which Sri Lankan people use liberally in their dishes. Visit a spice garden and see how some of them are grown and processed, including clove, cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, mace and pepper – and other favourites such as chocolate and vanilla.

Tea is also widely cultivated on this fertile tropical island, especially in the cool hill country but also in the lowlands. Sri Lanka has been renowned for its tea since the 19th century and is now the world’s fourth largest exporter of the product. Take a tour of a tea factory and watch how the plant is processed from the leaves into this much-loved drink, or enjoy a tea tasting session with a local expert.

From bustling local markets bursting with tropical fruits and bizarre vegetables, vibrant aromatic spices and glittering fish to the delicious fresh crabs, prawns and other seafood found all along the coastline, there are many culinary delights to be seen and sampled. Your chauffeur-guide will be only too happy to help find you some tasty treats whilst you are on the road, or recommend a restaurant renowned for its excellent food.

Top Tip:
Motion sickness whilst driving? Try a stomach-settling thambili (the King Coconut, native to Sri Lanka) from the side of the road, or sip on a cold lime juice.
Foodies should look at our Flavours of Sri Lanka tour and see if it tickles their taste-buds…

Spas and Ayurveda in Sri Lanka

Ayurveda, literally translated as `the Science of Life’, is an ancient form of healing and well-being that dates back 5,000 years. This natural healing method seeks not only to cure disease, but also to rejuvenate the body by increasing immunity against disease. It can be effective in curbing stress and in promoting a positive and relaxed mental attitude.

Ayurveda spread to Sri Lanka from India around 6th century BC and would go on to become the main form of medical practice in the island. Sinhalese kings contributed significantly to the development of Ayurveda in Sri Lanka – King Dutugemunu built hospitals for the Buddhist monks and a maternity hospital as early as 173 BC, and King Buddhadasa (388 – 416AD) was a great Ayurveda physician and is credited with the compilation of ‘Saratha Sangrahaya’, which is read by Ayurvedic doctors to this day. Ruins of these ancient hospitals can still be seen in the ruined cities of the Cultural Triangle.

Ayurveda in Sri Lanka is today intermingled with Siddha (medicine from South India), Unani (Greko-Arabic system) and some aspects of acupuncture from China. Until the introduction of western medicine by the British in the 19th century, Ayurveda attended to the health of the people, and even today remains a part of Sri Lanka’s national healthcare system.

Ayurveda is a natural healing method, a complete and holistic healing system which promotes general wellbeing. The basis of Ayurveda treatment is a process of purification and rejuvenation. According to this philosophy, the accumulation of toxic substances in your body, coupled with poor diet, digestion, sleep and excess stress leads to the imbalance of the system and can lead to poor health. Herbs and natural medicines are used to eliminate toxins and balance the body’s energies, so restoring health and vitality.

You don’t have to be sick to enjoy the benefits of an Ayurveda massage or bath, and the benefits include: slowing the ageing process, prolonging lifespan, improving digestion and eyesight and correcting sleep disturbances. Ayurvedic therapies are also beneficial for a range of other medical conditions including reducing diabetes, cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity, arthritis, and a host of other medical problems.

If you are interested in exploring Ayurvedic treatments, why not try our ‘Ayurvedic Rejuvenation’ tour? After spending a week exploring the island, head to a specialist retreat for a two-week immersion in Ayurveda practices – after a consultation with an Ayurvedic doctor, follow a personal meal plan and enjoy a range of treatments tailored specifically to you. As always, we will be happy to tinker with the set itinerary to suit your needs: some may wish to dabble, whilst others may wish to undergo total mind and body relaxation through various Ayurvedic therapies.

There are also a range of independent spas across the island – mostly in Colombo and along the south coast – which offer Ayurvedic massages, and many hotels also offer a range of treatments. Siddhalepa in Colombo is a good-value option for those seeking a traditional relaxing massage, whilst we also offer a more authentic experience in the Cultural Triangle where treatments are undertaken in a remote wattle-and-daub hut.

Arts and Crafts in Sri Lanka

The creative arts are an inherent part of Sri Lanka’s ancient cultural heritage: the dancer, drummer, musician, artist and the craftsman all continue to contribute significantly to Sri Lanka’s vibrant culture. There are many opportunities to explore the arts in Sr Lanka during your holiday: see a traditional dance show; purchase some authentic crafts; visit the art galleries in Colombo; explore the murals and paintings of historic temples, or attend the annual Galle Literary Festival which was listed by Harpers Bazaar as one of the six most appealing literary festivals in the world.

Sri Lanka’s art history dates back more than 2,000 years, stemming from ancient temple paintings and rock sculptures of Lord Buddha. Visit Dambulla Cave Temple and marvel at the ancient statues and colourful frescos which adorn the ceilings, or do the ‘Three Temple Loop’ in Gampola and see various stunning examples of Kandyan art. Contemporary Sri Lankan art can be explored in Colombo: wander round the National Art Gallery, and explore the abstract artwork displayed at the Saskia Fernando Gallery.

Traditional Sri Lankan crafts are vital industries in many parts of the island, and include: drum making; mat weaving; handloom; wood carving and mask making. Try your hand at mask making at a workshop with an artist in Galle Fort, or visit Barefoot, one of Sri Lanka’s most prominent arts and crafts shops, to explore a range of authentic and contemporary crafts which make beautiful souvenirs or gifts.

Traditional dance forms in Sri Lanka date back to the 4th century BC and were initially associated with rituals and ceremonies performed for purposes of expelling sickness and misfortune, or for blessings. Several classical dance types evolved over the centuries, slightly varying between each region of the island. Three main dance styles are now performed – Kandyan, Sabaragamuwa (central province) and Ruhunu (low country) – all of which differ in dress, drum rhythms, movements and songs, as they are based on local folklore. See a Kandyan dance show, or watch the Kandy Esala Perahera, a glorious procession with scores of elephants dressed in glittering cloaks, dancers and musicians, which is recognised as one of Asia’s best cultural pageants.

Shopping in Sri Lanka

From Arab settlers in the 8th century to the Portuguese, Dutch and the British up until the 20th century have all fought over Sri Lanka’s treasures including precious gems, scented woods, spices, and tea. The island remains a popular shopping destination within Asia: highlights include clothing – with many well-known European and American brands available at discounted prices – antiques and furniture, homeware and jewellery, craft shops and bazaars that are fun wandering around to get a feel for the real Sri Lanka. For a list of recommended shops, see our Booking Information.

Larger more established private and government shops across the island will have prices marked on each item for sale which is far easier for the customer. If you are browsing around antique shops, craft shops, bazaars and small shops in tourist towns like Unawatuna and Hikkaduwa, then you may be expected to bargain. You’ll also need to bargain in jewellery stores, so make sure you research prices before making a purchase. Your driver will be able to give you an idea of what the correct price should be for many different items, so do ask if you are unsure, and remember that it is typical for prices to be significantly inflated for tourists. However, if you bargain in a friendly manner then the prices will soon come down. Avoid being aggressive as this is likely to offend and will not secure the best price. When buying gemstones, ensure that you shop from a dealer that has a license from the government National Gem & Jewellery Authority.

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Avawia Tours and Travel is one of the pioneering Tour operators in Sri Lanka that affords memorable Holidays in Sri Lanka – a tropical island in the Indian Ocean with full of amazing rain forests, beaches, mountains and many wonderful locations for relaxation. That’s what Sri Lanka has been called “Paradise”, “The Pearl of the Indian Ocean”, “Heaven on earth” over the years and now the “Wonder of Asia”.

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