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10 interesting facts about Sri Lanka

10 interesting facts about Sri Lanka

The Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka took us by surprise.

We came here completely unprepared with no expectations and left with fond memories of stunning treks in the hill country at Ella Rock, the very tasty food, some stunning train journeys and exciting safaris spotting leopards.

Here’s our top 10 favourite memories, interesting facts and observations about Sri Lanka.


The Sinhalese (mainly Buddhists) make up around 75% of the 21.2 million Sri Lankan population and the Sri Lankan Tamil (mainly Hindu) are the largest ethnic group, comprising around 11%.

There’s been a long drawn out civil war in the past, which formally ended in 2009. Despite this messy history, most signs are in both languages and sometimes in English as well.

Seb posing by the triple language Slave Island road sign in Colombo

Our favourite road sign in Sri Lanka (!) the first line in Sinhalese, the second line in Tamil and the third in English.

Stefan was particularly touched by this because his roots are also from a former British island colony (Cyprus), which unlike Sri Lanka is still in conflict between its Greek majority and Turkish minority.

Whilst Cyprus has a long long way to go, Stefan couldn’t help see Sri Lanka as a positive sign of the future for his motherland…

The Sri Lankan and Cypriot flag

The Sri Lankan and Cypriot flags – both countries had a lot in common for Stefan


When you arrive at Colombo international airport, you are met with this sign at the immigration desk:

Drugs death penalty sign at Colombo airport

This sign at the immigrations desk at Colombo airport is one of the first things you’re greeted with

We do not support drug consumption, but growing up in western Europe, we are so used to seeing the death penalty as an inhumane and degrading punitive measure. So this sign was a bit strange for us when we saw it at Colombo airport.

If a death penalty sentence was to be put into action, the death is carried out by hanging as initially set out in the 1883 Penal Code legislation introduced under British Colonial rule.

But, there have been no executions since 1976 in Sri Lanka and any death penalty sentences passed by the courts since were converted to life imprisonments.

Sri Lankan hanging gallows

Sri Lankan hanging gallows – no one has been executed since 1976

Another draconian law we encountered in Sri Lanka were the homophobic laws from the British colonial era, criminalising gay sex.

This has allowed open discrimination of the LGBT community by the police and government authorities as we found out when we met local gay boy, Kaluu.

Gay Sri Lanka flag

Gay Sri Lanka: a country not yet ready to embrace its LGBT community


In May 2013, British tourist, Antony Ratcliffe was deported because he had this Buddha tattoo on his arm:

Antony Ratcliffe with his Buddha tattoo

Antony Ratcliffe with his Buddha tattoo, which caused offence and led to his deportation in May 2013

In 2012, three French tourists were arrested in Galle for having their photo taken posing by a Buddha statue and pretending to kiss it.

Kissing a Buddha can get you arrested

Kissing a Buddha can get you arrested in Sri Lanka as three French tourist found out in 2012

The singer, Akon, was refused a visa to Sri Lanka in 2010 because one of his videos (“Sexy Chick” by David Guetta featuring Akon singing) had scantily clad women dancing around a Buddha statue.

Did you spot it? We struggled, but this is the offensive split second moment at 01:22 into the video:

Akon's offensive video clip at 01:22

The offensive split second video clip featuring a Buddha at 01:22 got Akon banned from Sri Lanka

The UK foreign office guidelines for Sri Lanka local laws and customs has since been amended to state:

“The mistreatment of Buddhist images and artefacts is a serious offence and tourists have been convicted for this. British nationals have been refused entry to Sri Lanka or faced deportation for having visible tattoos of Buddha.

Don’t pose for photographs standing in front of a statue of Buddha.”

The FCO for UK

The FCO for UK advises caution and respect for Buddha in Sri Lanka


Sri Lanka is a shining beacon to other malaria risk countries. It is the first tropical country to be in the position to shortly announce it has completely eradicated malaria and receive the certification of this from the World Health Organisation.

The Anti Malaria Campaign of the Sri Lankan government confirmed a reduction of 99.9% of malaria cases since 2000 from 210,039 cases to just 23 cases in 2012 as a result of government investment, global funding and strong support from the WHO.

Unfortunately though, Dengue fever remains a problem in Sri Lanka so care against mosquitos should still be taken when travelling here.

Sri Lanka is almost a malaria free country

Sri Lanka has almost become a malaria free country


Sri Lanka is quite a small country (a bit bigger than Norway and a little smaller than Ireland). In fact it’s the 122nd smallest country in the world.

But despite this, it’s one of the world’s top exporters of tea (along with China, India and Kenya), accounting for over 19% of the world’s tea exports.

Stefan's tea factory selfie

Stefan shocked to discover Sri Lanka’s impressive tea facts, taken at the Pedro Tea Factory in Nuwara Eliya

In 1824, a tea plant was brought to Ceylon (the colonial British name for Sri Lanka) by the British from China and this massive industry took off from there.

The Ceylon tea industry was so significant that it led to the construction of the current railway system from 1864, to bring the tea from the hill country in the centre of Sri Lanka to its capital, Colombo on the west coast to be exported abroad.

Today, these train journeys through the tea plantations of Sri Lanka are some of the most incredible you will ever take with stunning views over the tea plantations and hill country of Sri Lanka.

Tamil worker in the tea plantations near Nuwara Eliya

View from the train: Tamil lady working in the tea plantations

We visited the Pedro Tea Factory in Nuwara Eliya where we enjoyed several fresh brews…

Our tea selfie

Trying a freshly brewed cup of tea at the Pedro Tea Factory in Nuwara Eliya



An interesting (but pornographic) fact. The Sri Lankans are the world’s number one nation who googles the word “sex” according to Google Trends (India, Ethiopia, Bangladesh and Nepal follow).

And, in 2015, Sri Lanka topped this ‘chart’ for its fifth consecutive year…!

Sri Lanka google the word sex the most

Sri Lanka is the number 1 nation who googles the word ‘sex’ the most


The Jaya Sri Maha Bodhiya (or the Bo Tree) is over 2,500 years old and is the world’s oldest living human planted tree with a known planted date located in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka.

This fig tree was planted in 288 BC by King Devanampiya Tissa and is one of the most sacred Buddhist relics because it is believed to be the southern branch of the tree under which Buddha gained enlightenment.

The Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi tree in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka

The Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi fig tree is the world’s oldest human planted tree with a known planting date: 288 BC


Another fun fact we found when we touched down at Colombo airport was the large numbers of shops in the airport selling, pretty much everything, particularly fridges, washing machine, ovens…!

Correct us if we’re wrong, but to date this has been the only airport in the world we’ve encountered where you can buy an oven or a fridge freezer.

Duty free shopping at Colombo airport

Buy a fridge freezer, oven or washing machines at Colombo airport


This is the nickname commonly given to Sri Lanka because it is shaped like a pearl or a drop of tear.

Another nickname given is the “Pearl of India” because of its proximity to the south east Indian coast:

In this Google map image above, did you spot Antarctica? It’s quite far away…but around 300 million years ago when all the continents were linked as “Pangea”, Sri Lanka was not only joined to India, but also to Madagascar, Mozambique and…Antarctica!

In the map of Pangea below, Sri Lanka is the small cream coloured country on the left of red India, on the right of brown Mozambique, beneath green Madagascar and above white Antarctica:

Map of old Earth: Pangea

Map of old Earth: Pangea – Sri Lanka used to share borders with Antarctica


On 20 July 1960, Sirimavo Bandaranaike (1916-2000) became Sri Lanka’s first female prime minister and also the modern world’s first female head of government.

She became Prime Minister of Sri Lanka 3 times: 1960-65, 1970-77 and 1994-2000.

Sirimavo Bandaranaike the world's first female prime minister

Sirimavo Bandaranaike the world’s first female prime minister held office 3 times in Sri Lanka

Her government was responsible for declaring Sri Lanka a republic and for changing the name from Ceylon to Sri Lanka in 1972.

She died on election day on 10 October 2000, after casting her vote for her last time. Her daughter, Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga became Sri Lanka’s fifth President from 1994 to 2005 and first (and only) female President.

The role of President was introduced in 1978 and over time replaced the role of Prime Minister as the head of state figure; the Prime Minister is now subordinate to the President in Sri Lankan politics.

Kumaratunga is now one of the important figures and advisors in President Sirisena’s newly elected government.

Kumaratunga with President Sirisena

Kumaratunga playing a major role in President Sirisena’s government

Watch our travel video diary of our adventures through Sri Lanka as we ate our way through this tropical island, took some beautiful train journeys and enjoyed excellent safaris spotting leopards at Udawalawe and blue whales at Mirissa.

Sri Lanka travel recommendations


Transportation: First, there is no need to stress about getting taxis around the capital. Uber is heavily used in Colombo airport as well as Colombo city and if you've never used it before, we give you your 1st ride for free using this link. To go to Kandy, Nuwara Elya or Ella, just take the train: the landscapes are stunning, tickets are cheap and it is an amazing adventure.

Travel insurance: Whether you go on a safari in Yala National Park, scuba diving in Unawatuna, hiking in Ella or just lay on the beach all day long in Negombo, you need travel insurance. We use World Nomads because they offer considerable coverage especially for adventure travellers. They also make it easy to make a claim as it’s all done online.

Flights: Flying domestically in Sri Lanka doesn't make much sense, you're better off taking the train. For international flights, flying to Sri Lanka can be expensive, Google flights can help you find cheap fares and Momondo is our favourite website to book airfares. In addition, flights from Sri Lanka to India and The Maldives are cheap so don't miss out on the opportunity.

Hotels: Sri Lanka has a huge diversity of accommodation options. Make sure you check out our Sri Lanka content for hotel recommendations first. Tripadvisor is also a good place to start researching places to stay and activities to do. Going to the hotel in person and negotiating the price face to face will most of the time result in cheaper prices compared to what you would get online. But if like us, you're a bit of a control freak and like planning ahead, we recommend using to find the best deals and book your accommodation online.


  1. Great post! I actually went to Sri Lanka(and southern India) because I learned Tamil in Highschool. It was interesting trying to pick up the dialect haha! I loved visiting, the food, the beaches, and the washers and dryers haha!

    • Thanks Joe!

  2. I’ve never been to Sri Lanka but it sounds like a unique place to explore. Interesting facts too, learned something new today!

    • Thanks Alyssa 🙂

  3. Fascinating facts! That warning of the death penalty for carrying drugs is terrifying weather you partake or not! I’m headed to Sri Lanka in a few months, and I found a lot of this information surprising. I do my best to be respectful when traveling, but I could see myself kissing Buddha without realizing the severity of that act… you guys may have saved me from being arrested! I think I’ll just stick to enjoying the beauty around me and googling sex instead.

    • Ha ha ha thanks Andrea!

  4. Wow, I struggled to see that Buddha behind Akon! Maybe if they allowed more scantily clad women to hang around they wouldn’t need to Google sex so often. I kid! Very interesting post. I enjoyed reading it!

    • Thanks Mia 🙂

  5. Hmm, not sure what to say. On one hand, these are just ten random facts, but on the other hand, they do portray Sri Lanka as a strange (for the lack of better world) country. Having the first female prime minister or virtually eradicating malaria is so admirable. Having homophobic laws do not make any sense. Would these facts stop me from visiting the country? I do not think so. They would, however, make me more cautious. Thanks guys for another great article.

    • Our pleasure – thanks for your comment Elena 🙂

  6. Yeah, I grew up (and still live in) Western Europe and am amazed by laws regarding drugs in other countries, especially Asian ones. I totally respect them, but it’s something that is so different than what I’m used to…

    • Agreed!!

  7. Amazing post guys! Seriously cool, I never knew any of this :). Specially loving that they had the first female prime minister (gotta love a bit of girl power!).

    I also never knew how strict Sri Lanka is about buddhas, that’s definintly something I’ll remember.

    I love these kinds of posts though, my favourite thing about travel is learning about the cultural differences 🙂

    • Thanks Maria

  8. Awesome facts (I honestly didn’t know a lot of them!!) Have you been to India? I’d be interested in hearing a comparison of the two countries. I actually laughed at the “googling sex” fact….considering how “against” open sexuality they are….pretty interesting insight that makes you go “hmmm”

    • Very true! If comparing Sri Lanka to North India, it’s totally different. It’s quite similar to Southern India which is like a whole different place.

  9. Love these little facts and very spot on since I am going to the North of Sri Lanka again in 3 weeks. I had no idea about most of them except for the buddha tattoos, a friend of mine was also not allowed because of a large one

    • No way?! What happened exactly?!!!

  10. Impressive! Sri Lanka isn’t on my travel radar just yet, but it’s good to know that tourists can get in plenty of trouble there! Some of those laws are pretty harsh by our standards here in the States!

    • Thanks Beth – so true!

  11. Ha ha that did cross our mind but it seemed a tad too cheesy lol

    • I do enjoy good cheese

      • Ha ha ha – you’re good 🙂

  12. And we think the US drug policy is excessive! Also, I am saddened that you missed the opportunity for a play on words when the French tourists had the gall in Galle to kiss the buddha. Maybe next time!

  13. Love this completely random facts about Sri Lanka. Applicants for sale at the airport? Because you just never know, right?

    • Ha ha ha – exactly right? Thanks Erica.

  14. That was a fun read, and some interesting and rather unusual facts about a country that I have visited 3 times now (only stopovers on flights to the Maldives so I know the airport quite well) Im glad I only took photos of the giant Buddha in the airport and didn’t do any inappropriate poses. We had a 6 hour layover on one trip and got a really good foot massage from one of the many shops. Cant say I noticed the appliance shop but there are plenty of tea shops.

    • Thanks Sue

  15. Sri Lanka is recently one of the most popular destinations among my friends and I must say I know nothing about it! Thank you for this post, it was very educational and I learnt so much about this unknown to me place, really! Now I can pretend I know what my friends are talking about 😉

    • Super thanks Kami – glad to be of service 🙂

    • Of course lot to see and do ,we are still unexplored island and less known ,these guys are doing an amazing job with their travel in the island . Tourism is bringing lot of benefits to local people.thanks for updating info to outside world .

  16. Great post! It is interesting to see they google “sex” a lot,but the government views only straight couple intercourse as acceptable. Shame!

    • Thanks guys.

  17. This was fascinating! I was a bit taken aback about the illegal drug possession and the death penalty, but I guess they can’t say you weren’t warned. And I don’t think I’ve even seen an airport where you can outfit your kitchen before catching a flight. Maybe the prices are really good 🙂

    • Ha ha ha – right?

    • They are duty free shops for srilankan working aboard , they get a tax free purchases of goods at the airport according to the length of stay they have been outside the country .because they have helped the economy by bring foreign money while working aboard .mainly the domestic workers work in Arabic countries are from poor families so when they return home they like to purchase these stuff with their hard earned money .most of the goods they sell at these shops now is becoming essential items .

  18. Haha! What a random list of things to know about Sri Lanka. Great info though! It’s funny how some countries are still so closed up to change.

    • Thanks Anna – so true.

  19. I was researching about Sri Lanka just a few days ago! I’d love to see Colombo and some less touristy places in the hinterland. when is the best period to go?

    • Hmmmm good question. Apparently December the monsoon eases up and it’s good from then. But when we went in December in late 2014, the monsoon was late so we had heavy rain throughout. Fortunately, we were season for whale watching though.

    • January to April is the best month to vist. Since less rain fall and temperature stay up to 30c . But srilanka is year round destination served by two monsoons .since now east coast is accessible for tourists ,you can enjoy the east coast during rainy since in west coast . But sometimes rain can be also pleasing . Colombo is nice with lovely history and lot of interesting places and eateries to cover .

  20. Very interesting! How long did you stay there? Which itinerary would you suggest?

    • We were there almost a month. If like us you’re not into temples and more into nature, we’d recommend skipping Colombo, Kandy and the Cultural Triangle and head straight to Nuwara Eliya and take the awesome train journey to Ella and do some trekking there. Then safari in Udawalawe and/or Yala, whale watching at Mirissa (if it’s in season) and enjoy the beaches around there.

    • There are lot to see and do , the boys recommendations is good if you are not in to much culture , but learning and seeing some cultural things and history also good , like sigiriya and kandyan dance ,kandy is a nice city , in cultural triangle you get more ruins and historic monuments , polonnaruwa is my favourite , but if you visit there the thing is the cultural triangle is a different vegetation zone , so you will have good insight in to how different this small island ,most people take around two weeks holiday which will be good enough fir someone with short time.

  21. Sri Lanka sounds so progressive back also so draconian in ways as well. What a contradiction it must have been in places. Ha ha the porn cracks me up not one but continually voted number 1 in that category . maybe they should have put that sign up at the airport

    • LOL – good point 🙂

  22. Great post guys, I definitely learnt 10 new things today!

    • Thanks Sophia

  23. What an intense place. It would seem that Sri Lanka does nothing with minor intent. While we’re not ill-behaving folks, it’s a bit scary to know the risks of a mistake if you’re there and unknowingly do something…

    • Thanks Rob


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