Just off the Southern tip of India lie two of the most beautiful tropical paradises on the planet. Situated in the Indian Ocean, on one-side rests the magnificent Maldives islands and on the other Sri Lanka – an island that the great traveller Marco Polo described as ‘undoubtedly the finest of its size in the world’.
Despite being a tropical island of the coast of India, with the majority of people not Hindu but Buddhist,Sri Lanka is totally different from its neighbouring country. Once visited it is hard not to agree with Marco Polo because of its many delights. Sri Lanka offers culture, historic sites, beautiful scenery, stunning wildlife, surfing and great food. If beaches take your fancy, the coastal stretch south ofColombo offers palm-lined sandy beaches as far as the eye can see. There’s also the natural wealth for which Sri Lanka is renowned; escape to the hills where you’ll find gorgeous rolling hills often coated with tea plantations. The island is surrounded with exotic bird life and animals, most common being elephants and leopards.
About 400 miles southwest of Sri Lanka are the Maldives, a large group of islands that have become a dream destination for many holidaymakers. The 1190 unique islands spread across the Indian Ocean and circle into 26 natural atolls. They boast beautiful white beaches and breathtaking underwater scenery. Travellers can stay on only 87, which have been developed as tourist resorts. The airport is on one of the islands, its capital city Male is on another. There’s a boat taxi called a ‘dhoni‘ that takes you between the two and costs about a dollar. International Tour Operators offer package holidays to the Maldives, many focusing on diving and tropical luxury.
Quite different to Sri Lanka, there are fewer independent travellers, but it is also one hundred percent Muslim and all other religious paraphernalia are confiscated at the airport. People pray up to five times a day and there is no alcohol except at the tourist resorts. Fish are still caught here by rod and line so as not to deplete stocks. Fishing used to be the country’s main source of industry but slowly it’s giving way to tourism.
The Maldives has gained a reputation for being one of the best diving destinations in the world. With hundreds of breathtaking dive sites and colorful fascinating underwater worlds, it has perfect conditions throughout the year and a visibility every photographer dreams of. It’s certainly not a place for low budget backpackers or amateur anthropologists.
Warning: Since 1983 Sri Lanka has been at war on and off between the government forces and the Tamil rebels, who are fighting for a separate state which they call Tamil Eelan. A Fraction of that group is called the Tamil Tigers who have committed hundreds of hard core terrorist acts against Muslims, the Sinhalese and even against other Tamils. Despite peace talks, much of Sri Lanka is still considered quite dangerous. The north and east of the island have been rendered off limits. In Colombo and other southern tourist’s resorts, theft and violent crime are often aimed at foreigners. Southwestern Sri Lanka is safer now that it was, the rest of the country may re-open to tourism in the near future. Check the latest situation with your embassy before you leave.
he driest and best time to visit is from December to March on the west and south coast and from May to September on the East Coast. Out of season has its advantages; less crowds, cheaper airfares and accommodation. There is also very little rain.
Dry season is from December to April, this is high season so resorts are very busy and prices are higher than normal. The Christmas-New Year period is the busiest and most expensive part of high season. Between May and November it’s still warm, but the skies can be cloudy, humidity is higher and rain is more likely. This is the low season, and there are fewer tourists and prices are lower. The transition months of November and April are said to be associated with increased water clarity and better visibility for divers.
The population in Sri Lanka has risen to 19 million in the last few years. About a third are under 15 years of age. Of course it is difficult not to notice the ethnic problems that overlook Sri Lanka at the moment. The Sinhalese and the Tamils have been fighting for over 2000 years. They claim to be ‘natural’ enemies; however there was little trouble between them during the colonial years and in the first years after independence. From appearances it is very difficult to tell who is Sinhalese or Tamil, Sri Lankan’s claim they can make the distinction. Language and religion are two important aspects in which the groups differ.
Sri Lanka – 74% speak Sinhala, which is the official national language. Tamil is spoken by 18%. 8% other. English is spoken by about 10% of the population, especially in tourist resorts.
Maldives – Maldivian Divehi is the national language, although English will be widely spoken in tourist resorts.
Currency is Sri Lankan rupee (LKR). Approximate conversions of 2002:
UK£1 = Rs 125.
Euro 1 = Rs 80.
US $1 = Rs 90.
The currency in the Maldive is the Rufiya (Rf).For up to date currency information, check theCurrency Converter.
Travellers’ cheques can be changed at most major banks. However, have some cash for times when you can’t get to a bank (there are plenty of money changers in Colombo andHikkaduwa). US dollars are best. Cash machines are becoming a common sight, especially in major cities, but other than in Colombo and Kandy, they’re unlikely to accept international cards. Credit cards are widely accepted; Visa and MasterCard cash withdrawals are possible at major banks.
Sri Lanka is still a pleasantly economical country to travel around. Budget travelers can survive comfortably on less than US$20 a day by staying in basic share or double rooms, getting around by bus and not eating out at high-priced restaurants. Up the scale, add US$5 or $10 for kipping down in delightful rest houses, or plan on around US$100 a day if you want the full five star treatment.
A 10% service charge is added to nearly every accommodation or eating bill in the middle and top ranges, so there’s no need to tip, even though those serving you are unlikely to see much of it. Nor is there any need to top up taxi or three-wheeler fares. Hotel porters normally get Rs 10-20 per heavy bag. On the whole, prices are very negotiable in Sri Lanka, but bargaining shouldn’t be seen as a battle to the death. Find out what the approximate cost is and then come to a mutually acceptable compromise.
If you stay in Malé, the capital of the Maldives on a budget, you could get by on around US$35 per day if you shared a room. The cheapest resorts start at around US$50 per day in the low season, for a standard double room with full board. At most resorts, for most of the year, a double room with full board will cost around US$100 a day or more.
Diving costs vary from resort to resort but keen divers expecting to undertake about 10 dives a week should allow about US$350 per week if they have their own equipment or US$500 per week if they rent everything. On a dive safari, the costs can be anywhere between US$60 to US$160 per day, depending on the luxury, plus another US$70 or so for diving. Unless you’re content to bask on the beach all day, expect to spend around US$30 per day hiring windsurfs, snorkel gear, tennis courts, etc.
If you stay at a resort, you don’t need to carry money at all since everything will be billed to your room and you can settle up when you leave with travellers’ cheques or credit cards (American Express, Visa and MasterCard are best). It’s best to carry money in US dollar denominations, but British pounds, German marks and Italian lira are all pretty acceptable. You won’t need Maldivian rufiya unless you’re using local shops and services.
Sri lanka daily living Costs:
· Budget: US$0.50-3
· Mid-range: US$3-6
· Top-end:US$6 and upwards
· Budget: US$4-15
· Mid-range: US$15-30
· Top-end: US$30 and upwards
Maldives – daily living costs are at least double that of Sri Lanka.
Travel lightly if you are going to spend all your time at the beach. There is plenty of Western-style beach ware available to buy if staying in Hikkaduwa or Colombo. If visiting a temple or other holy sites, remember to cover your legs and shoulders.
The Maldives is hot throughout the year. Together with its relaxed pace of life light, informal, summer cotton and linen wear is ideal. A wide brimmed beach hat and sunglasses are recommended for those who tan or burn easily. Most of the larger resorts would prefer guests to “dress appropriately” when visiting the bar or restaurants, especially at evening and night. This normally means smart casual dress instead of beachwear.
When visiting Male and other inhabited islands, visitors should bear in mind that, in this Islamic society, some modesty and decorum is appreciated. Remember to remove footwear when entering mosques.
Most nationalities, including Australians, New Zealanders, British, French, German and Americans, receive a tourist visa upon arrival in SriLanka, which is valid for 30 days. If you want to apply for an extension, they can be made at the Department of Immigration, Station Road, Bambalapitiya.
A 30-day holiday visa is granted free of charge on arrival. You may be asked where you are staying. Most arrive in the Maldives with a prior booking at one of the resorts. At Port Health, immediately after Passport Control, you may be required to produce a certificate of inocculation if you have recently passed through a country in which contagious diseases have been reported. If you need an extension of your visa you will have to apply to the Department of Immigration and Emigration in Male.
The only domestic flights are between Jaffna and Colombo. Public transport is therefore a choice between buses and trains. Both are cheap. Try to avoid travelling around poya (full moon) holidays and their nearest weekends as transport gets very busy.
It is recommended you seek travel advice at least 6 weeks before you travel. Discuss your requirements with your doctor, but vaccinations you should consider include the following: Diphtheria and Tetanus, Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B (for those on long trips). Japanese B Encephalitis (if in a high-risk area), Polio, Rabies (particularly if handling animals). Tuberculosis (usually very low), Typhoid (if travelling for more than a couple of weeks in most parts of Asia, Africa, Central and South America). Yellow Fever (if coming from an effected area such as Central Africa and parts of South Africa). Travellers visiting isolated, high-risk areas may like to carry a treatment dose of malaria medication for use if symptoms occur.
By Sally Delf
Sri Lanka & the Maldives
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