About Sri Lanka

A whole continent can be experienced on this beautiful island of Sri Lanka, where English to varying degree is widely spoken. Wherever you are based there is much to see and enjoy and transport can be readily obtained. You could wake up on the east coast, visit an ancient city in the Dry Zone, and pick tea in the hill country all in a day if you like.

Sri Lanka has a variety of forest types and some of the world’s best wildlife spotting, whether on land, in the air, in its lakes, or in its reefs. Sri Lanka has excellent diving, snorkelling, and safari. Its many festivals, held across the island, are amongst the most vibrant in Asia. Whilst here you could watch a cricket tour, learn martial arts, or how to carve wood, and cook. Buy sapphires and moonstones mined in Sri Lanka – have them made into jewellery – buy hand carved wooden figures, practise yoga, and meditation; discover Ayurvedic medicine, and learn how to use medicinal plants and ancient arts and crafts.

Food and Drink

The cuisine changes across the country, its flavours influenced by the cultures and traditions of its people. Fresh fruit, grown at home or picked from the forests, along with vegetables and medicinal plants are sold at the road side and in markets. Fish, of which Sri Lanka has 72 fresh water species, along with sea fish, are sold across the nation, to complement the rice and vegetables grown by many on their land.

The food is as fresh as the sights, and as a guide to prices, a pint of beer from the off licence is about £1.00 and cocktails in a 5* hotel, under £5. You can eat a lunch from £1  – £2, or go to a 5* hotel and two can eat for the price of an English gastro pub. The variety tempts the tourist; the opportunity engages the Volunteer and Intern.

The Wildlife

Bill Oddie, writing the foreword of Wild Sri Lanka, considers Sri Lanka to have a ‘strong claim to be the best wildlife destination in the world’, and GAF Volunteering’s well-travelled directors agree. Sri Lanka’s ‘staggering biodiversity’ -350 species of reptile and amphibian, and 449 species of bird – means that there is always something to see. Sri Lanka is the world’s number 1 destination for spotting sperm whale (super pods swim off the coast), Asian elephant – Sri Lanka boasts the largest gathering of wild elephants in the world at Minneriya (see Events Calendar), the world’s largest leopards, sloth bear, and is in the top 10 for blue whale sightings. You can go on night safaris to spot the rare grey slender loris, and visit cloud, montane, mangrove, rain and dry zone forest. Don’t forget to bring your camera with you when you come.

Heritage and Culture

Sri Lanka boasts 8 UNESCO World Heritage sites, ancient cities, and historic sites from the different periods of settlement, invasion, and rule. Stupas, temples, palaces, and sacred baths, Portuguese forts, Dutch churches, English post offices can be found across the island. Beautifully painted panels are in Buddhist temples and caves and painted Hindu temple carvings decorate the highway.

Sri Lanka is a treasure waiting for you to discover, whatever your age, no matter who you are with.

Climate

Due to its location in the Indian Ocean, and its topography of central highlands and coastal lowlands, Sri Lanka boasts a variety of climates creating rain forests, cloud forest and a dry zone. In one day you could travel from dry to rain, from heat to cold. Each area has its unique flora and fauna, geology, endemic wildlife and habitat – all good reasons to move around.

Sri Lanka has 2 monsoons a year, which are on opposite coasts at alternate times of the year, which ensures you can have good weather somewhere in Sri Lanka whatever the month. GAF Volunteering’s main base is sited in Anuradhapura for a number of reasons – its good weather and 9 months of clear skies being one of them; it also has good transport links to each coast, it is surrounded by National Parks, its culture is obvious, and although a city, it has a small town, pollution free atmosphere.

Celebrations

Sri Lanka is famed for its festivals that take place across the island throughout the year. Music, processions, dancers, deities on vehicles, caparisoned elephants – each of the 4 main religions as well as important secular highlights are commemorated in festivals. Each full moon is marked by a Poya Day holiday, and Tamils and Sinhalese mark the new year on 13-14th April. Galle hosts a literary festival around January/ February, the Hikkaduwa beach festival takes place in July / August, where you can ‘party’ on the beach; in December, the Electric Peacock Music festival takes place.

The Buddhist, Christian, and Hindu festivals are vibrant and colourful. Buddhist Perahera festivals take place all over the island at various times of the year – look out for a number July-September, the biggest and most famous – and said to be the most vibrant in Asia – being the 10 day Esala Perahera at Kandy, where the Temple of the Tooth is located. In the south around June, Kataragama hosts a widely attended Hindu festival, whilst in Jaffna the 25 day Nallur Kandaswamy Kovil festival in August/ September attracts hundreds of thousands of pilgrims from Sri lanka, India, and elsewhere and is an incredible experience immersed in Hindu and Tamil culture. Poson in June sees a 1½ million Buddhist pilgrims descend on Anuradhapura to commemorate the introduction of Buddhism to Sri Lanka at nearby Mihintale – and people of all faiths flock to the Christian festival at Our lady of Madhu, Mannar , the church hosting 9 other festivals through the year. As you travel around, you may well chance upon other festivals taking place in towns and villages.

Sri Lanka offers a truly unforgettable experience for so many reasons, and the vibrant festivals are just one of them.