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Sat, 13 Apr 2024 Today's Paper


UK’s revised travel advisory boosts confidence in Sri Lankan tourism

8 April 2024 04:26 am - 7     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

is sri lanka open for tourism

Sri Lanka’s tourism sector is expecting a multiplier effect across all key source markets following United Kingdom’s recent update on the travel advisory for Sri Lanka, which will immediately result in a significant boost in tourist arrivals in the upcoming summer season.

The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) updated its Travel Advisory for Sri Lanka last week, with effect from April 5, after holding on to it since the economic and political crisis. 

The President’s Media Division asserted that this update encompasses various aspects including access to emergency medical services, security entry requirements, road safety, overall security situation, and health facility accessibility.

The revised advisory no longer includes previous concerns regarding shortages of food, fuel, and medicine. In addition, the previously mentioned risks related to limitations in health services including the lack of medical equipment, have been omitted.

“Many countries are guided by the UK travel advisory and this update will have a positive, multiplier effect across all our generating markets.  I have had a dialogue with the British High Commissioner and his intervention too would have helped in the recent update,” Tourism Minister Harin Fernando told Mirror Business yesterday.

“Unfortunately, our politics are such, they always try to fish in troubled waters for petty gains and with no understanding of the economic requirements. We need to work together and not jeopardise national interest,” Fernando added.

Echoing the views of the Minister, Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA) Chairman Priantha Fernando said that the update is a notable endorsement of the destination from a tourism perspective. “We are delighted with the latest update of the UK travel advisory. On policy we do not interfere with advisories unless it gives an inaccurate account of the current status within the country. All governments have a responsibility to protect their citizens when on foreign soil and that’s why they review and update travel advisories,” he said.

The tourism industry players also sounded upbeat on this development leading to a strong summer season with the impact on prospective UK travellers looking to visit Sri Lanka on holiday. 

“This will no doubt augur well for the upcoming ‘summer season’ where we see families from the UK travelling to Sri Lanka during their summer vacation,” SLAITO President Nishad Wijetunga said.

Sri Lanka attracted record 254,176 travellers from UK in 2018 before the industry fell into multiple crises. Despite the travel advisory on Sri Lanka, tourist arrivals from UK doubled to 130,088 last year from 85,187 recorded In 2022.

Wijetunga emphasised that efforts made by various parties played a key role in convincing UK authorities to update the travel advisory in reflecting  more accurate and current realities of Sri Lanka. “This matter was taken up by a member of the Association of Independent Tour Operators (AITO) UK, with support from our Minister (Harin Fernando), SLAITO and several leading industry stakeholders and prominent Sri Lankan personalities, with the FCDO UK. So we are very glad it has finally borne fruit,” he said.

Up to April 3 this year, UK ranked as the third largest source market for Sri Lanka tourism with 60,942 British visiting the country. During the first three days of this month, UK was the second largest source market accounting for 14 percent of tourist arrivals during the period.

  Comments - 7

Raven Monday, 08 April 2024 08:57 AM

I fear all this positivity will vanish if this government changes.

Reply 0       0 0       0 -->

Ganesh Monday, 08 April 2024 10:47 AM

Most Brits are finding it hard to survive. Let alone travel thanks to its economy. Moreover Sri Lanka ain’t a cheap destination anymore. Transportation costs are an absolute killer.

Sambo Monday, 08 April 2024 02:14 PM

Why is it that many guests don't select Sri Lanka their tourist destination in South East Asia but select other countries.

Sambo Monday, 08 April 2024 02:21 PM

Very proud faces of their achimenes.

Man Monday, 08 April 2024 02:40 PM

But no boost for wildlife conservation particularly elephants and leopards which are tourist attractions to boost tourism further.

Tissa Fernando Tuesday, 09 April 2024 09:43 AM

Anura Kumara during his visits abroad has been giving a bleak picture of tourism sector in Sri Lanka basically saying there is nothing for tourists to experience apart from staying at hotels. So he basically is sending a message that tourists should not come here. Challenge this if it is not true.Analyse his speeches with an open mind.

Shera Tuesday, 09 April 2024 03:06 PM

The type of tourist that come are backpackers, hippies, solo travelers, travel vloggers and bloggers, young and restless tourists looking for cheap fun. Nothing wrong with that. But they don't spend. All these categories base themselves in Galle and Hikkaduwa where they rent a cheap room from someone's house, eat cheap local food, party in local bars, and spend time on the beach. I have watched many videos on YT and this is the running theme. It does not help the economy though local businesses in those areas benefit. Another fact is the double standard when tourists who are willing to spend visit Sri Lanka. Everything is double for non-SL passport holders. This is a huge turn off for tourists. You will not find this level of discrimination in any other destination. Last but not least, there isn't much to do in Colombo other than eating. Shopping is poor quality or too expensive. Places are dirty, men are creepy, it's too hot to do anything outdoors and no clean public restrooms.

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Why Sri Lanka Needs to Tell the World It’s Open for Tourism

Peden Doma Bhutia , Skift

March 16th, 2023 at 7:15 AM EDT

Sure, you may have the best tourism products, but what good is a destination if it doesn’t engage with its audience to communicate that?

Peden Doma Bhutia

Having battled political instability and economic crisis, a resilient tourism industry in Sri Lanka now waits for the government to do its bit to communicate to the world that the country is open to tourists.

But not exactly in the critical manner that was deployed by Sri Lankan Tourism Minister Harin Fernando at the recent ITB Berlin conference, where he called Maldives “boring,” without much to offer to tourists, compared to Sri Lanka.

"Visit Sri Lanka, You will not regret" Sri Lankan Tourism Minister @fernandoharin 's message to German tourists at ITB, Berlin pic.twitter.com/u5mCpkzrCl — NewsWire 🇱🇰 (@NewsWireLK) March 11, 2023

Sri Lanka’s last real tourism promotion campaign was 16 years ago.

Through March 13, Sri Lanka welcomed 264,022 visitors this year , with 53,838 visitors arriving in the first 13 days of March.

The country plans to attract 1.55 million visitors in 2023, a target which many feel isn’t a particularly high number given the capacity and potential of the destination.

Rocked by a series of bomb blasts in 2019, Sri Lanka welcomed a little less than 2 million tourists that year, 18 percent lower than its 2018 arrivals of 2.3 million tourists.

Battling an Economic Crisis

Last year from April onwards, the country witnessed a spate of anti-government protests against worsening shortages of food, fuel and medicines and declaration of a state of emergency, in what is said to be the worst economic crisis in the country.

While business has returned in 2023, Malik Fernando managing director of Sri Lanka-based luxury hotel collection Resplendent Ceylon, rued that the country’s inability to market itself has ensured that the number of tourists and the spend are still way lower than usual.

Sri Lanka’s usual core market over the winter season is Europe with longer stays and higher spend.

However, as European travelers are more sensitive to the negative press that the destination received last year, Fernando said the state promotion agency should’ve done more to communicate the return to normalcy.

“Sri Lanka’s last global promotion campaign was in 2007,” Fernando said, while adding that a comprehensive consumer campaign, which was painstakingly finalized during 2021, was then again shelved.

“Since then, the focus has reverted to age-old trade shows without awareness of the need for consumer engagement,” he added.

Travelers Unaware of Sri Lanka’s Tourism Recovery

While the tourism industry in Sri Lanka was the first to be affected by the pandemic and last year’s economic crisis, Gayangi Wirasinha, managing director of Abercrombie & Kent Sri Lanka, said the industry was also the first to recover.

A recovery message that Fernando thinks the country hasn’t been able to communicate as travellers are unaware that normalcy returned as far back as July 2022.

“In Sri Lanka, the tourism sector is predominately driven by private investments with the government authority mostly focused on regulations and marketing in select foreign markets,” Wirasinha said.

Calling rebuilding a communication problem even for the private sector, Fernando said private stakeholders focus more on trade outreach whereas consumer marketing is critical to allay fears after the negative media in the second quarter of 2022.

“A debilitated private sector cannot adequately compensate for a non-performing state marketing agency,” he said.

However, he mentioned that the Sri Lanka Tourism Alliance, founded in 2019 by a group of private sector leaders, has started a marketing campaign with limited budget in European markets.

“The pickup we are starting to see could have started long before had we communicated,” said Fernando.

The Elusive Tourism Marketing Campaign

Utilising the marketing levy collected from private stakeholders, the travel industry in Sri Lanka had expected a digital and marketing campaign to start months ago.

Given the importance of tourism to the economy and livelihoods of 15 percent of the population, Fernando said in future, this “critical function” should be outsourced to a professional outfit.

Tourism has been Sri Lanka’s third-largest foreign exchange-earner in 2019 bringing in an estimated $3.6 billion.

The Sri Lanka government had been planning to launch a $1.3 million-worth global tourism campaign to bring back travellers to the country, according to reports last year.

However, the campaign is yet to see the light of day.

Wirasinha too acknowledged that the campaign that has been under discussion for the past 2-3 years, is long overdue, especially since the funding for such programs comes from the tourism development levy charged to all private stakeholders.

“Careful planning and execution are required to share compelling stories and timely news for travel professionals that will inspire prospects,” she said.

Now, in a recent development, the government said that Sri Lanka would launch tourism promotional campaigns in nine key markets .

The campaigns that are expected to start from April, would include India, Russia, UK, Germany, France, Australia, Middle East, Scandanavia and China.

Markets in Focus

While Russia and India have been key markets in the last couple of months, the low spend has been a talking point in the industry, said Fernando.

Talking about specific markets where Sri Lanka has an enduring appeal and can command a longer length of stay and rewarding spend, Fernando named UK, Europe, U.S, Gulf and Australia.

For Wirasinha, the low-hanging fruit for Sri Lanka would be travelers coming from neighboring Maldives, which is a 60-minute plane ride away.

She added, “The U.S., UK and Europe are all good source markets for family travel, especially now with the strength of the U.S. dollar.”

Sri Lanka was also one of the 20 countries included in the first list of China’s outbound tourism pilot programme for group tours, announced in January.

And even as Sri Lanka attracts a significant number of mid-to-budget-Chinese travellers, Wirasinha said lack of ultra-luxury products has kept the Chinese luxury market away from the destination.

“We see this changing in the next five to seven years as the China Port city project begins operating,” she said.

Change indeed is what the travel industry in Sri Lanka is looking forward to.

And while the country looks to bring back its days of tourism glory, Fernando observed, “A state agency is woefully geared to conduct modern tourism marketing, competing with destinations that have sophisticated strategies outsourced to professionals.”

Skift India Report

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Tags: asia monthly , coronavirus recovery , economic downturn , india outbound , maldives , marketing strategy , sri lanka

Photo credit: Sri Lanka targets to welcome 1.55 million visitors this year. vined mind / pixabay

Sri Lanka Sees No Need for Talks With India on Island It Ceded Decades Ago


Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister Ali Sabry speaks during a meeting with Sri Lanka's Foreign Correspondent Association to discuss the current economy situation in the country, in Colombo, Sri Lanka July 10, 2023. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte/File Photo

COLOMBO (Reuters) - Sri Lanka does not see any need to re-open talks on a contentious island ceded to it by New Delhi 50 years ago, the foreign minister has said, after the low-key territorial squabble turned into a hot-button election issue in India.

The party of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is expected to win general elections that start on April 19, has flagged the issue of Indian fishermen discontented after a 1976 pact between the neighbours barred them from the waters around the island.

"This is a problem discussed and resolved 50 years ago and there is no necessity to have further discussions on this," Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Ali Sabry told the domestic Hiru television channel on Wednesday.

"I don’t think it will come up," he said, adding that no one had yet raised the question of a change in the status of the island, located 33 km (21 miles) off India's coast in the Palk Strait that divides the neighbours.

His comments came after Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party made the 285-acre (115-hectare) island an election campaign issue by accusing the opposition Congress party of having "callously" given it away.

The BJP seeks to make election inroads in the coastal state of Tamil Nadu facing the island after failing to win any of the southern state's 39 seats in India's 545-member parliament in the last election.

Tamil Nadu goes to the polls on April 19 in the first of seven rounds of voting set to end on June 1.

India ceded the island to Sri Lanka in 1974, followed by the pact on the fishermen in 1976, but unhappiness over the transfer and the abridged rights spurred two as yet unresolved Supreme Court challenges in the last 20 years.

The fishermen of both countries have occasionally violated the pact on the waters around the uninhabited island, called Katchatheevu.

On Monday, Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said Sri Lanka had detained more than 6,000 Indian fishermen and 1,175 fishing vessels over the last 20 years, following the no-fishing pact.

(Reporting by Uditha Jayasinghe; Editing by YP Rajesh and Clarence Fernandez)

Copyright 2024 Thomson Reuters .

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Tags: Sri Lanka , India , international trade

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18 of the best things to do in Sri Lanka

Oct 14, 2023 • 12 min read

is sri lanka open for tourism

Experience the best of the island nation of Sri Lanka with these top things to do © Nick Brundle Photography / Getty Images

Sri Lanka may only be small, but thanks to its jungle-clad mountains, golden sandy beaches , abundant wildlife in their natural habitats, and spice-laden cuisines, the island nation ensures visitors are never bored.

From remarkable train rides and fine dining across the capital Colombo to world-class surfing and chic beachside cafes in the south of the country, here are 18 of the best things to do in Sri Lanka.

A man stands on a peak looking towards another distinctive hill in a lush green region

1. Watch sunrise over Little Adam’s Peak 

Not to be confused with Adam’s Peak, the sacred mountain near Hatton that involves an arduous 5000-step climb, Little Adam’s Peak is a popular, easy-to-do hike for those visiting the tourist hub of Ella . Start your one-hour hike early in the morning when it’s dark outside so you don't miss the sunrise from the summit. Hikers wanting more can then trek Ella Rock and follow a path leading to Nine Arch Bridge.  

Ella itself is a laid-back place. Many stay outside the town, but travelers should immerse themselves in the cafe scene at Cafe Chill . Adventure buffs can go ziplining. While Ella deserves the hype, there are other quaint mountain towns that are also worth visiting: Ohiya, Idalgashinna, Haputale, and Wellawaya. 

2. Taste the world's best cinnamon on Ganduwa Island

Southern Sri Lanka produces some of the world's best cinnamon, a lighter, more sweeter variety than is found in Indonesia and Vietnam. Travelers can learn about the highly prized Ceylon cinnamon by visiting Ganduwa Island on Koggala Lake , just south of Galle , by boat.

Generational peelers spend their days here skillfully shaving thin layers of the tree’s inner bark to create quills of cinnamon. You can buy them alongside small packets of cinnamon powder and cinnamon oil at a cost of about US$2. The boat then takes passengers to some of the other islands. Grab a glass of fresh kirala (mangrove apple) juice from a local vendor on the jetty as you leave.

3. Bird-watch in Bundala National Park

Home to nearly 200 species of native and migratory birds, Bundala National Park is a Ramsar-recognized wetland in the south of the country. Bird-watching tours start at 6am and run for 3–4 hours as the park comes alive with brahminy kites, hundreds of storks, families of whistling wild ducks, Asian green bee-eaters, dancing peacocks, and resting crocodiles. Come the afternoon, wild Asian elephants, spotted deer and wild boar roam amongst the Weera, Neem and Palu trees.

Planning tip:  For the best chance of spotting wildlife, arrange a 4WD safari with a tour operator. Look for offices just outside the park in Bundala Junction.

People follow a path approaching a huge rocky outcrop, perfect for climbing

4. Climb Pidurangala to see the sunrise over the jungle

No trip to Sri Lanka is complete without visiting the Sigiriya , a massive rock fortress with ruins of an ancient palace, water gardens, and frescos near the giant rock Pidurangala . Early birds should buckle up their hiking shoes and climb up Pidurangala at 5am for sunrise, but if you are not a morning person, head here for sunset before the ticket office closes at 6pm.

Planning tip:  The entrance fee is US$30 for this 45-minute climb. The summit overlooks the majestic lion-shaped Sigiriya rock surrounded by tropical jungles and artificial lakes. To reach the top you’ll pass through a Buddhist temple, so carry a shawl or a sarong to cover up.

5. Go kitesurfing on the remote Kalpitiya Peninsula

With numerous flatwater lagoons and plenty of steady wind, Sri Lanka’s northwestern coast offers some of the best kitesurfing in the world. A 3.5-hour drive north of Colombo is the lesser-explored Kalpitiya Peninsula, which is still relatively new to many overseas tourists. The region is home to sandy beaches and small fishing hamlets with droves of wild donkeys strolling around large grasslands.

Stop in Kappalady on the Indian Ocean for kitesurfing lessons with local instructors at Kite Center Sri Lanka . The kite school can arrange kitesurfing safaris (tours) to nearby spots such as Donkey Point, Dutch Bay and Vella Island for more experienced kiteboarders. Other activities in Kappalady include exploring the lagoons by kayak and ethical dolphin-watching tours where large pods of spinner dolphins swim in their hundreds. Good operators will only charter small boats, keep their distance from the pods, and avoid feeding the animals. There are also a few accommodation options by the beach in Kappalady.

6. Camp in the Haputale mountains

An hour by bus from Ella are the misty mountains of Haputale , a region dotted with tea plantations and icy-cold streams. Stay in a local family-run campsite, such as the Eco Lodge Haputale  run by the Dias family. After a few cups of sugary milk tea at their home, they will walk you through a tea garden to their campground made up of several tents with a small kitchen and a dining area that opens up to the Haputale mountains. Wake up to the sound of birdsong and enjoy the sunrise – it’s the highlight of a stay here.

A smiling woman looks out from a train window as it travels through a hillside location covered in greenery

7. Take a train ride from Colombo 

When it comes to experiences in Sri Lanka, taking a train journey is a must . For mountain views coupled with tea gardens, British colonial-era railway stations, and gushing water bodies, take the Colombo to Ella train journey, which also passes through the Instagram-famous Nine Arch Bridge. There are several trains that pass through the route, but since it’s quite popular among travelers, make sure you reserve your tickets beforehand.

But don't just stop there. Hop on a coastal train heading south towards Galle from Colombo for the views of the Indian Ocean and swaying palms. Next, board a train riding up north to Jaffna  – you will notice changing landscapes as you go past Anuradhapura when green rice fields and coconut trees are replaced by palmyra palms, shrubs, and barren soil. 

Planning tip:  Other than local families, travelers, and daily commuters, you'll find plenty of vendors on the trains selling cups of tea, instant coffee, chili-sprinkled fresh fruits, roasted peanuts, yogurt, and even mobile top-up cards. 

8. Feast on Sri Lankan crabs

Sri Lankan crabs sell fast in Singapore’s fine-dining restaurants, and rarely make it to the menu back home. But that’s starting to change: for an upmarket taster in Colombo, head to the Ministry of Crab inside the Dutch Hospital Complex . For something more local, you can’t beat the Mayura Hotel in Pettah Market . 

Planning tip:  If you’re in the north of the country, you must try the Jaffna crab curry from Cosy Restaurant near the Jaffna Railway Station, which comes with a punchy, spicy kick.

9. Look for the elusive Sri Lankan leopard at Wilpattu National Park

Most visitors to Yala National Park want to see the endangered Sri Lankan leopard. However, overcrowding is common and safari 4WDs have been known to scare the animals away.

For a better and more conscientious safari experience, head to Wilpattu National Park in the northwest of the island and book with a responsible operator like Leopard Trails . Their guides don't chase after possible sightings, but they do turn off their vehicle engines near animals. They will also whisper near any sighting so as not to disturb the animals. As well as leopards, the park is also home to Asian elephants, sloth bears, and bark deer all in their natural habitats.

Alternatively, Kumana National Park , in the eastern part of Yala, is a good place for bird-watchers. If luck prevails, you may just come across a leopard napping on a rugged boulder too.

Two tourists take photos of elephants in the distance out the top of a safari van

10. Witness the largest wild Asian elephant gathering in the world

Sri Lanka is home to an estimated 4000 wild Asian elephants, best seen in their natural habitats, the country’s national parks . During the dry months from July to September, the large reservoirs in Kaudulla and Minneriya National Parks draw herds of wild Asian elephants where they graze on grass, bathe and play together. Hot days see elephants sheltering in the nearby jungles, but in the afternoon, around 4pm, they slowly emerge. This is your chance to see hundreds of the creatures hanging out by the lakes, the largest gathering of wild elephants in the world.

Planning tip:  Skip places where elephants are held in captivity – except for the Elephant Transit Home in Udawalawe . Run by the government wildlife department, with support from the Born Free Foundation , this halfway house takes in abandoned and injured elephant calves and returns them to the wild once they have recuperated. 

11. Eat traditional Sri Lankan rice and curry in Unawatuna

Sri Lankans enjoy curry and rice for at least one meal a day – sometimes for all three – and while there are plenty of great places to try the national dish, Mettha's Home Cooked Meals, sandwiched between the cafes and souvenir shops of Unawatuna, in the south of Sri Lanka is among the best. Freshly prepared onsite by Aunty Mettha herself (with a little support from her family), the creamy Sri Lankan dal in coconut milk is a must.

Planning tip:  If you fancy learning how to cook curry dishes, head over to the family-run Sea Waves Restaurant in Unawatuna , but don’t leave without trying the whole butterfish cooked in a secret umami-rich homemade sauce.

12. Learn the life of Sri Lanka's indigenous people

The Vedda are the indigenous people of Sri Lanka. Originally forest-dwellers, their numbers have dwindled over the years due to migration, habitat loss, and assimilation into the nation's dominant Sinhala-Buddhist culture. Now scattered across the island in small numbers, some Vedda families still preserve their native language, cuisines and rituals in places like Dambana, an indigenous village and museum in the southern part of Maduru Oya National Park.

Planning tip:  For a more immersive experience, head east to Gal Oya where you can take tours with the Vedda to see their ancient caves and hunting grounds. Wild Glamping Gal Oya works closely with the Vedda community to organize ethical encounters. 

A close up of a chef preparing street food on a griddle

13. Try  kottu roti  street food

No other meal captures Sri Lanka quite like kottu roti . This popular street food is a carb-heavy mishmash of fresh vegetables, leftover roti (flatbread), and eggs, plus a choice of meat or seafood. Thrown together onto a metal griddle and chopped into tiny slices using two metal blades, you can often hear the distinct clink-clink-clink of metal on metal from a few hundred feet away.  Kottu roti is available across the island, but try it in Colombo from Hotel de Pilawoos or Hotel de Plaza (note: Sri Lankan restaurants are often named "hotels").

Planning tip:  Don’t get deceived by any Pilawoos or Hotel de Plaza, though – there are numerous holes-in-the-wall with the same name – the originals are on Galle Road in Colombo 03. Order yours with a glass of iced Milo (a popular chocolate malt drink), which goes perfectly with a sizzling hot kottu .

14. Explore the quirky lanes of Galle Fort

Galle Fort is an eccentric mix of Portuguese, Dutch and British architectural influences surrounded by spas, luxury hotels, souvenir shops, ice cream parlors and gem boutiques. Come in the morning hours when the Fort lanes slowly open up. First, eat a hearty Sri Lankan breakfast at National Tea Rooms, which is the oldest existing cafe in Galle Fort run by a friendly Sri Lankan family since 1932. 

Shop for postcards and wall posters with funky Sri Lankan graphics, tuk-tuks and vintage maps at Stick No Bills . For lunch, don’t miss the peppery black pork curry at Church Street Social . The view from the ramparts is a must-see, especially during sunset. 

15. Chase the waves with Sri Lanka’s first local female-run surf club

Surfers of all levels head to Arugam Bay on the east coast. During the season from April to August, this curl of soft, ocher sand comes alive at night with parties, booze and live music. It also has a laid-back surf scene, including the Arugam Bay Girls Surf Club , the first all-women club in Sri Lanka, which holds swimming, surfing and yoga lessons for the community.

Planning tip:  The beach shacks that dot the shoreline serve delicious Sri Lankan roti stuffed with chocolate, banana, chicken, cheese and vegetables for a post-surf pick-me-up.

The crumbling brick walls and columns of a ruined temple with a buddha figure sat in the center

16. Cycle through the ancient kingdom of Polonnaruwa

Following the fall of Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa became the second capital of Sri Lanka from 1070 to 1232, and the ruins of this ancient city are now a Unesco World Heritage Site. Don't miss the Vatadage, a circular relic house with a large Buddha statue. Beyond that, cycle through the ancient city and pay a visit to the ancient Royal Palace .

Other impressive archaeological relics, including the standing Buddha in Lankatilaka Vihara and a series of Buddha statues carved out of granite in Gal Vihara . You can see the South Indian influence in some of the remains – this is because the ancient kingdom faced several South Indian invasions back then.

Planning tip:  Arrive early in the morning to beat the sweltering sun and get the best of this wonderful archaeological park to yourself. The Polonnaruwa ruins are crowded during weekends, school holidays, and on the full moon.

17. Get close to nature with a stay in a treehouse

Nature lovers will enjoy the experience of sleeping in a treehouse. Surrounded by the nearby jungle, these houses are built on a wooden platform up the tree. Book one of the treehouses at Back of Beyond in Sigiriya if you don’t mind visiting lizards and monkeys. 

For those who are in the far south of Sri Lanka, Tangalle is a mix of rugged sandy beaches, lagoons and shrublands. Here, Jaywa Lanka has a treehouse next to the mangroves; you’ll only hear the faint hum of crashing waves and twittering of birds. Occasional visitors include wild peacocks trying to charm their peahens. 

18. Snack on hoppers

If there’s one thing to try before you leave Sri Lanka, it’s hoppers ( aappa in Sinhala; appam in Tamil), bowl-like pancakes made from rice flour batter. With crispy edges and fluffy centers, plain hoppers are eaten with curries or a spicy sambal (chili paste) called lunu miris made with onions and dried red chili. 

Walk into a street joint in the evenings and you’ll often find plain hoppers topped with an egg. If you are in Colombo, head to Palmyrah Restaurant  in Renuka Hotel for some Sri Lankan fine dining; the dinner menu includes both savory and sweet hoppers with milk or jaggery. Or, if you don’t mind long lines, try some hoppers from Aunty Radhika in the Wellawatta neighborhood. Walk past the bank on WA Silva Mawatha to find this small, but popular, hopper stall.

This article was first published February 2022 and updated October 2023

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Sri Lanka's Economy Shows Signs of Stabilization, but Poverty to Remain Elevated

COLOMBO, April 2, 2024 —Sri Lanka’s economy is projected to see moderate growth of 2.2% in 2024, showing signs of stabilization, following the severe economic downturn of 2022. But, the country still faces elevated poverty levels, income inequality, and labor market concerns, says the World Bank's latest bi-annual update.

Released today, the Sri Lanka Development Update, Bridge to Recovery, highlights that Sri Lanka saw declining inflation, higher revenues on the back of the implementation of new fiscal policies, and a current account surplus for the first time in nearly five decades, buoyed by increased remittances and a rebound in tourism.

However, poverty rates continued to rise for the fourth year in a row, with an estimated 25.9% of Sri Lankans living below the poverty line in 2023. Labor force participation has also seen a decline, particularly among women and in urban areas, exacerbated by the closure of micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs). Households are grappling with multiple pressures from high prices, income losses, and under employment. This has led to households taking on debt to meet food requirements and maintain spending on health and education.

“Sri Lanka’s economy is on the road to recovery, but sustained efforts to mitigate the impact of the economic crisis on the poor and vulnerable are critical, alongside a continuation of the path of robust and credible structural reforms,” emphasized Faris Hadad-Zervos, World Bank Country Director for Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka . “This involves a two-pronged strategy: first, to maintain reforms that contribute to macroeconomic stability and second, to accelerate reforms to stimulate private investment and capital inflows, which are crucial for economic growth and poverty reduction.”

Looking forward, the report projects a modest pickup in growth of 2.5% in 2025, with a gradual increase in inflation and a small current account surplus. However, high debt service obligations are expected to exert pressure on fiscal balances. Poverty rates are anticipated to remain above 22% until 2026. Risks to the outlook remain, particularly related to inadequate debt restructuring, reversal of reforms, financial sector vulnerabilities, and the enduring impact of the crisis. The report emphasizes that strong reform implementation will be fundamental to fostering a resilient economy through continued macro-fiscal-financial stability, greater private sector investment, and addressing risks associated with state-owned enterprises.

The Sri Lanka Development Update  is a companion piece to the  South Asia Development Update ,  a twice-a-year World Bank report that examines economic developments and prospects in the South Asia region and analyzes policy challenges faced by countries. The April 2024 edition, Jobs for Resilience , projects South Asia to remain the fastest-growing region in the world, with growth projected to be 6.0% in 2024- driven mainly by robust growth in India and recoveries in Pakistan and Sri Lanka. But this strong outlook is deceptive, says the report. For most countries, growth is still below pre-pandemic levels and is reliant on public spending. At the same time, private investment growth has slowed sharply in all South Asian countries and the region is not creating enough jobs to keep pace with its rapidly increasing working-age population. The report recommends a range of policies to spur firm growth and boost employment as well as help lift growth and productivity and free up space for public investments in climate adaptation.

Source: World Bank, Poverty & Equity and Macroeconomics, Trade & Investment Global Practices. Emissions data sourced from CAIT and OECD.

Notes: e = estimate, f = forecast.

(a)    Components of GDP by expenditure for 2020-2022 are estimates, as the data published on March 15, 2024, by authorities only included GDP by production.

(b)    Calculations based on SAR-POV harmonization, using 2019-HIES. Actual data: 2019. Microsimulation that models sectoral GDP growth rates, inflation, remittances, employment, and cash transfers 2020-2022. Nowcast and forecast (2023-2026) use nominal GDP growth rates by sector and CPI inflation.

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World Bank raises Sri Lanka's growth forecast to 2.2% for 2024

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Why a Sri Lankan island is sparking an Indian election controversy

Indian Prime Minister Modi claims the former Congress government sneakily gifted Katchatheevu Island to Sri Lanka. But the truth is more complex, say diplomats and analysts.

is sri lanka open for tourism

New Delhi, India – Fifty years after India and Sri Lanka settled a long-simmering dispute over a tiny island, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has accused a former government of the now-in-opposition Congress Party of gifting Indian territory to its southern neighbour.

The allegation by Modi and his ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on the eve of national elections has sparked a heated debate in India over a key diplomatic relationship.

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At the centre of the controversy is Katchatheevu Island, for long an emotive issue in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, which votes on April 19 in the first phase of India’s seven-stage elections .

What’s the controversy about?

Ahead of the Tamil Nadu vote, on March 31, Modi shared a news report on social media with the headline, “RTI reply shows how Indira Gandhi ceded island to Sri Lanka”. Modi asserted that Congress “callously” gave Katchatheevu Island to Sri Lanka.

The issue originated from a Right to information (RTI) request by Tamil Nadu BJP President K Annamalai, who suggested that in the 1970s, the Congress Party under the leadership of then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, in consultation with Tamil Nadu’s Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), transferred ownership of Katchatheevu Island to Sri Lanka. The DMK was ruling Tamil Nadu at the time and is also in power there now.

“Eye-opening and startling! New facts reveal how Congress callously gave away #Katchatheevu. This has angered every Indian and reaffirmed in people’s minds—we can’t ever trust Congress! (sic),” Modi posted on X, sharing the report. “Weakening India’s unity, integrity and interests has been Congress’ way of working for 75 years and counting,” he added.

Soon after, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar reshared Modi’s tweet with the caption: “It is important that people know the full truth about our past. The facts brought out… should concern every citizen.” The foreign minister later echoed Modi’s allegations during two press conferences.

Modi has since repeated the allegations, including in a campaign speech in West Bengal on April 7 where he alleged that for the Congress Party, both Katchatheevu and the territory of Kashmir, which is contested by India and Pakistan, do not matter.

Many analysts believe the BJP’s decision to bring up Katchatheevu is aimed only at helping it in Tamil Nadu during the election. It is a state where the BJP has only a small presence and won no seats in the 2019 vote. There are 39 national constituencies in Tamil Nadu, with an average of 1.51 million voters in each.

“The fact the issue has been raised in the midst of the elections clearly shows it has been done in the hope of gaining some support in Tamil Nadu where the BJP so far has failed to gain any foothold,” said Sudheendra Kulkarni, a former BJP politician and current columnist, who served as a director of operations in the Prime Minister’s Office under the previous BJP Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, between 1999 and 2004.

Kulkarni said the BJP move was “neither good politics nor good diplomacy and certainly not good neighbourhood policy”.

He questioned how Modi and Jaishankar could claim to have unearthed the “full truth” about Kathatheevu in 2024, when they were in power for the past decade and had access to all the papers on the subject.

“All the facts that have come up have gone against the ruling party itself. Modi has been the prime minister for the last 10 years and for him to tweet that these are some new facts that have come up – how can the government be unaware of the facts when it has all resources at its disposal?” Kulkarni asked.

What and where is Katchatheevu?

Katchatheevu is a small, barren island spanning 115 hectares (285 acres) within Sri Lanka’s maritime boundary, located 33km (20 miles) off the northeast coast of Rameswaram in Tamil Nadu. It lies southwest of Sri Lanka’s Delft Island.

Katchatheevu was governed by the kingdom of Ramanad Raja from 1795 to 1803 during British rule. The island is also home to the 120-year-old St Anthony’s Church, which hosts an annual festival, drawing devotees from India and Sri Lanka.

Control of Katchatheevu has been a significant point of contention between India and Sri Lanka, particularly regarding fishing rights in the surrounding waters. In a news conference last week, Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said that Sri Lanka had detained more than 6,000 Indian fishermen and 1,175 fishing vessels in the past 20 years.

Pradip Chatterjee, the convener of India’s National Platform for Small Scale Fish Workers, told Al Jazeera that what fishermen needed was for India and Sri Lanka to avoid adopting nationalist positions and instead “amicably resolve this matter”.

Late last month, the Sri Lankan Navy confirmed in a statement that they had detained 23 Indian trawlers and 178 Indian fishermen in 2024 for allegedly fishing in the island nation’s waters. On April 4, 19 Indian fishermen were released by the Sri Lanka Navy and repatriated to India.

When did Katchatheevu become a part of Sri Lanka?

The spat between India and Sri Lanka dates back at least to 1921 and a survey that placed it within the maritime territory of what was then known as Ceylon, now Sri Lanka – a position that British India countered, citing the erstwhile rule of the Ramanad kingdom. The dispute continued after the independence of both countries.

In 1974, India acknowledged Katchatheevu as part of Sri Lanka’s territory in a maritime boundary agreement signed by Indian Prime Minister Gandhi and her counterpart Sirimavo Bandaranaike.

According to a copy of the agreement obtained by Al Jazeera, the pact allowed Indian fishermen and pilgrims to visit Katchatheevu without needing a travel document or a visa. However, the agreement did not specify the fishing rights of Indian fishermen in the waters around Katchatheevu.

Ashok Kantha, a former Indian ambassador to Sri Lanka, said that the 1974 agreement led to further agreements clarifying the maritime boundary with Sri Lanka. One such agreement in March 1976 recognised India’s sovereign rights over the Wadge Bank – a 10,300 sq km (4,000 sq mile) trawl fishery site – and its rich resources.

In comparison with Katchatheevu island, the Wadge Bank is considered one of the world’s richest fishing grounds, located in a much more strategically important part of the sea. The agreement also granted India the right to explore the Wadge Bank for petroleum and other mineral resources.

“The 1974 agreement placed Katchatheevu on the Sri Lankan side of the IMBL (international maritime boundary line) but it also paved the way for the understanding of 1976, which recognised India’s sovereign rights over the Wadge Bank and its rich resources,” Kantha said.

However, the 1976 agreement restricted both the countries’ fishermen from fishing in the other’s waters.

What do Tamil Nadu parties say on Katchatheevu?

The two largest parties in Tamil Nadu, the DMK and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), have long advocated for the retrieval of the Katchatheevu Island from Sri Lanka.

In 1974, after India ceded Katchatheevu to Sri Lanka, M Karunanidhi , the then chief minister of Tamil Nadu, wrote to Gandhi on how the land was historically a part of the Ramnad kingdom’s territory.

However, the BJP today blames the DMK government for being complicit with Congress in handing over the Island to Sri Lanka.

In 1991, the Tamil Nadu assembly adopted a resolution demanding the retrieval of Katchatheevu Island. In 2008, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa from the AIADMK approached the Supreme Court to nullify the agreements of 1974 and 1976.

But amid the current controversy, both the AIADMK and DMK have criticised the BJP for raising the Katchatheevu issue ahead of the general elections.

What have Modi and the BJP previously said?

In the wake of the controversy, Shiv Sena (UBT) MP Priyanka Chaturvedi alleged inconsistencies in the Modi government’s position on Katchatheevu, citing a 2015 RTI reply from the Ministry of External Affairs. Jaishankar, now foreign minister, was then the top career diplomat in the foreign office.

“This [1974 agreement] didn’t involve either acquiring or ceding of territory belonging to India since the area in question had never been demarcated,” Jaishankar’s ministry had said in 2015. “Under the agreements, the island of Katchatheevu lies on the Sri Lankan side of the India-Sri Lanka International Maritime Boundary Line.”

In 2014, after Modi came to power, Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi told the Supreme Court that Katchatheevu was given to Sri Lanka based on a bilateral agreement in 1974 and “to retrieve it now, we have to go to war”.

What are the implications for India’s relations with Sri Lanka?

Harsh V Pant, the vice president for studies and foreign policy at the Observer Research Foundation, said that while the controversy would not harm the India-Sri Lanka relationship, revisiting settled issues like Katchatheevu would not be in the interests of either side.

“Tamil Nadu is an important state now being contested by the BJP. So, it is very natural for the BJP to try to find space in a state where it has no presence, using all available issues that come its way and this issue is one of them,” Pant said.

“The BJP leadership seems to be highlighting the opposition’s past mishandling of the issue but I don’t think there is intent to change the way the dispute was settled decades ago. Therefore, I think this is unlikely to continue beyond the elections,” Pant added.

Other governments, he said, “understand the compulsion of electoral democracy and [that] many things are said during elections that are forgotten later. That’s why I think we have seen the Sri Lankan government not really intervening in the matter”.

On April 4, Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Ali Sabry told a local television channel that Colombo did not see any “necessity to have further discussions on” what he described as a settled matter.

Former Indian diplomat Kalarickal Pranchu Fabian said that as long as India does not try to renegotiate the Katchatheevu deal with Sri Lanka, the domestic politics surrounding the island would not affect bilateral ties.


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