Sri Lanka has a documented history that spans over 3000 years. Its geographic location and deep harbours made it of great strategic importance from the time of the ancient Silk Road through to World War II. Sri Lanka is a diverse country, home to many religions, ethnicities and languages. It is the land of the Sinhalese, Sri Lankan Tamils, Moors, Indian Tamils, Burghers, Malays, Kaffirs and the aboriginal Vedda. Sri Lanka has a rich Buddhist heritage, and the first known Buddhist writings were composed on the island. The country’s recent history has been marred by a thirty-year civil war which decisively but controversially ended in a military victory in 2009.
Sri Lanka is a republic and a unitary state governed by a presidential system. The capital, Sri Jayawardenapura-Kotte, is a suburb of the largest city, Colombo. An important producer of tea, coffee, gemstones, coconuts, rubber, and the native cinnamon, Sri Lanka is known as “the Pearl of the Indian Ocean” because of its natural beauty. Sri Lanka has also been called “the teardrop of India” because of its shape and location, and “the nation of smiling people”. The island contains tropical forests and diverse landscapes with high biodiversity.
The country has had a long history of international engagement, being a founding member of SAARC and a member of the United Nations, the Commonwealth of Nations, the G77 and the Non-Aligned Movement. It is also the only country in South Asia that is currently rated ‘high’ on the Human Development Index.
An island of 65,610 square kilometres, Sri Lanka lies in the Indian Ocean, off the southern tip of India. It is between 5 55’ and 9 55’ north of the equator and between the eastern longitudes 79 42’ and 81 52’.
Over countless millennia, Mother Nature has produced a breathtakingly majestic work of art by bestowing a wide range of exquisite topographic features on this ancient island, making Sri Lanka one of the most scenic wonders of the world. Three zones are distinguishable by elevation. These would be the central highlands, the plains and the coastal belt.
20 million people of various ethnicities inhabit Sri Lanka. The prominent ethnic groups are by percentage, 74% Sinhalese, 18% Tamils, 8% Moors, Malays and Burghers.
Sunshine is in abundance all year round. The average temperature is around 27°C in Colombo. The temperature gradually drops as the land rises towards the hill country, with some parts of the highland as low as 10°C.
The island has two wet monsoon seasons; briefly between May and July in the south-west region and between December and January in the north-east. However, Sri Lanka has no off season per se as clear blue skied bright sunny days are the general rule even during the wet season.
Sri Lanka is 5 hours ahead of GMT (Greenwich Median Time), 2½ hours behind Singapore and 4½ hours behind Australia EST (Eastern Standard Time).
Communication is rarely a problem as English is widely spoken in most parts of the country. Place names and signboards are generally displayed in all three official languages of the country.
Official languages: Sinhala, Tamil and English.
Sri Lankans are predominantly Buddhist and the island is one of the last remaining Buddhist countries in the world. However, a large population of Christians, Hindus and Muslims give Sri Lanka its plural character.