Tourism in Sri Lanka

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Stilt fishing is one of the traditional fishing methods in Sri Lanka. It cannot be found in any other part of the world.
Tourists in Ravana Falls

Tourism in Sri Lanka is growing rapidly. For centuries, Sri Lanka has been a popular place of attraction for foreign travelers. The Chinese traveler Fa-Hien visited Sri Lanka as early as the 410's AD/CE, and in the twelfth century, Italian explorer Marco Polo claimed Sri Lanka to be the "best island of its size in the world".


Sri Lanka's capital city of Colombo was the world's fastest growing tourist city in 2015.[1]
The Samadhi statue at Polonnaruwa Gal Vihara

The government initiatives in development of tourism date back to 1937 when the Ceylon Tourist Bureau was established.[2] However, it was closed down in September 1939 due to World War II. After Sri Lanka's independence the promotion of tourism was again considered by re-establishing the Ceylon Tourist Board which took over the function of the Tourist Bureau. More formal recognition for the country's tourism sector was given with the enactment of Act No. 10 of 1966.[3] This provided the legislation for the establishment of Ceylon Tourist Board. Since then the Ceylon Tourist Board has functioned as the state agency, responsible for development and promotion of the tourism sector in Sri Lanka.

In October 2007 according to Section 2 of the Tourism Act No. 38 of 2005, the Sri Lanka Tourist Board (Act No 10 of 1966) was replaced by the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA).[4]

Currently Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority has classified Sri Lanka into several resort regions suitable for tourism development.[5]

Tourist arrivals[edit]

Overseas visitors to Sri Lanka 2002–2018
Data from the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA)

When the government decided to develop the tourism sector as a separate sector of the country's economy by establishing the Ceylon Tourist Bureau in 1966, there were 18,969 foreign tourist arrivals in Sri Lanka. There was an upward trend of tourist arrivals until 1982, with the exception of 1971. Between 1976 and 1982, tourist arrivals had increased 24% per year. The tourist traffic in 1982 showed that there was a remarkable growth in number of tourists, with 407,230 arrivals.[6] However, with the beginning of the civil war in 1983, the growth of tourist arrivals declined and stagnated to around 300,000 - 500,000 arrivals annually.

The civil war that had lasted over 25 years was ended in 2009 as LTTE separatists were defeated by government forces. In 2009 the tourist arrivals numbered 448,000, and in 2015, 1,798,380, showing over 300 percent growth in six years.[7]

Most visitors arriving to Sri Lanka on a short term basis in 2018 were from the following countries:[8][9]
Rank Country 2016 2017 2018
1  India 356,729 384,628 424,887
2  China[10] 271,577 268,952 265,965
3  United Kingdom 188,159 201,879 254,176
4  Germany 133,275 130,227 156,888
5  Australia 74,496 81,281 110,928
6  France 96,440 97,282 106,449
7  Maldives 95,167 79,371 76,108
8  United States 54,254 57,479 75,308
9  Russia 58,176 59,191 65,497
10  Netherlands 41,373 51,148 57,160
Total Foreign Arrivals 2,050,832 2,116,407 2,333,796

Domestic tourism[edit]

There is a significant domestic tourist segment making excursions in Sri Lanka. In 2014 six million Sri Lankans traveled within the country as domestic tourists.[11] The main purposes of travel by the domestic tourists are pilgrimage, family holiday, study works, and sightseeing. The main destinations of domestic tourists are Anuradhapura, Kataragama, Nuwara Eliya, Kandy, Sri Pada, Polonnaruwa, Sigiriya and Dambulla. Domestic tourism is noticeable during school vacations and on weekends.


Tourist attractions are classifiable as natural or anthropogenic. Natural attractions include nature spots, flora and fauna, and places with a pleasant climate. Geotourism sites may also be included in this category. Anthropogenic attractions include archaeological and cultural attractions, historical and religion sites, performing arts and folklore, handicrafts and artifacts.


Yala National Park has the world's highest concentration of leopards per square kilometer.[12]
The world's largest gathering of wild Asian elephants at Minneriya park is commonly known as The Gathering.[13][14][15]

Despite its small size, Sri Lanka possesses a high level of biodiversity and wildlife resources, and is rated among the 34 biodiversity hotspots in the world.[16] Many species of flora and fauna are indigenous to Sri Lanka. This has made the island a country with the highest rates of biological endemism in the world.

Thirteen percent of Sri Lanka's land surface has been designated as Wildlife Protected Areas (WLPAs), which at present exceed a total area of 8500 km2.[17] Approximately 7% of the area is national parks, the areas allowed for the public to see and study wildlife. Sri Lanka's national parks have been become popular tourist destinations.

National parks
Adam’s Bridge · Angammedilla · Bundala · Chundikkulam · Delft · Flood Plains · Gal Oya · Galway's Land · Hikkaduwa · Horagolla ·  · Horton Plains · Kaudulla · Kumana · Lahugala Kitulana · Lunugamvehera · Madhu Road · Maduru Oya · Minneriya · Pigeon Island · Somawathiya · Udawalawe · Ussangoda · Wasgamuwa · Wilpattu · Yala


The Unawatuna beach at southern coast of the island was named as the World's Best Beach for 2004 by Discovery Channel.[18] In 2013 it was ranked in among the world's 100 best beaches list by CNN.[19]

Sri Lanka possesses nearly 1600 km coastlines with tropical beaches which are popular among both local and foreign tourists.[20] Most of the coastlines of the country are studded with varying coastal features such as bays, lagoons, sandbanks, and rocky headlands. Marine recreation activities, such as sea bathing and swimming, surfing, boating, snorkelling, deep-sea fishing, underwater photography, and scuba diving, can be seen at most of these beaches and related resort areas. Beaches at Tangalle, Beruwala, Mirissa, Bentota, Unawatuna Arugam Bay, Pasikudah, Hikkaduwa, Uppuveli and Negombo are considered as famous tourist beaches in the country.

Related attractions
Hummanaya · Stilt fishing

Natural scenic beauty[edit]

Sri Lanka has numerous tourist attractions with areas of natural scenic beauty, primarily including mountainous terrains, agricultural landscapes, waterfalls, places with diverse climatic conditions, reservoirs (wewas), and rivers.

Related attractions
Waterfalls of Sri Lanka · Mountains of Sri Lanka · Rivers of Sri Lanka

Botanical/zoological gardens[edit]

Herd of elephants at Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage

The country has six botanical gardens and four Zoological gardens. The botanical gardens are maintained by the Department of National Botanical Gardens,[21] and the zoological gardens are maintained by the Department of National Zoological Gardens.[22] The gardens have become attractive places among local and foreign visitors.

Botanical Gardens
Royal Botanical Gardens · Hakgala Botanical Garden · Henarathgoda Botanical Garden · Mirijjawila Botanical Garden · Seetawaka Botanical Garden · Ganewatta Forest Medicinal Herbal Botanical Garden

Zoological Gardens
National Zoological Gardens · Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage · Pinnawala Open Zoo · Ridiyagama Safari Park


Sigiriya the ancient stone fortress considered by many to be the eighth wonder of the world.[23]

Heritage tourism involves visiting historical sites. Sri Lanka is very rich in pre-historic, proto-historic, and historic monuments, which bespeak its ancient civilization and culture. Mainly Buddhism has influenced in moulding the cultural heritage of the country. The historic period of Sri Lanka proper starts at circa 236 B.C. with the introduction of Buddhism to the country by the missionaries sent by the Indian empire Asoka.

The UNESCO has declared six archaeological and two ecological World Heritage Sites in the country.[24] Beside the world heritage sites the government of Sri Lanka has declared a number of archaeological protected sites and monuments within the country.

World Heritage Sites
Anuradhapura · Central Highlands of Sri Lanka · Dambulla cave temple · Galle · Polonnaruwa · Sigiriya · Sinharaja Forest Reserve · Temple of the Tooth

Archaeological Protected Monuments
Nuwara Eliya District · Matale District · Kandy District · Ampara District · Trincomalee District · Batticaloa District · Anuradhapura District · Polonnaruwa District · Kurunegala District · Puttalam District · Kilinochchi District · Mannar District · Mullaitivu District · Jaffna District · Vavuniya District · Kegalle District · Ratnapura District · Galle District · Matara District · Hambantota District · Badulla District · Monaragala District · Colombo District · Kalutara District · Gampaha District


The mountain of Sri Pada is one of the places where people of four major religions worship together.[25]

Sri Lanka is well known for its rich Buddhist culture as well as other religions. Being a religious country, Sri Lanka has many places with religious and historic significance, which attract tourists from all over the world. Anuradhapura, Temple of the Tooth, Sri Pada, Shrine of Our Lady of Madhu and Kataragama, are a few famous religious sites in the island that attract a large number of tourists.[26]

The foot pilgrimage called Pada Yatra, which is one of Sri Lanka's oldest traditions, has been practiced for centuries, where the local people from Jaffna come along the East Coast to Kataragama shrine.[27]

Related attractions
Buddhist Vihara in Sri Lanka · Hindu temples in Sri Lanka · Atamasthana · Solosmasthana

Sports and adventure[edit]

Sports tourism is defined as either people being involved in, observing or participating in a particular sporting event for leisure.[28] Sri Lanka is also a destination for sports such as cricket, rugby, golf and surfing. Except for cricket, the contribution to the tourism sector from other sports are still at a very low level. Apart from mainstream sports events, adventure sports are also included in sports tourism. Trekking, hiking, diving, rock climbing, deep sea fishing, whale watching and hot air ballooning are some of the adventure sports those can be found in Sri Lanka.[29]

Related attractions
Whale watching in Sri Lanka

Culture and other[edit]

National Museum of Colombo, established in 1877
Tea tourism is a relatively new concept, which is already practiced in Sri Lanka.[30]

Cultural tourism includes tourism in urban areas, particularly historic or large cities and their cultural facilities such as museums and theatres.

Museums and theatres - Currently four national museums[31] and 26 archaeological museums[32] have been established in Sri Lanka. National museums are maintained by the Department of National Museums and archaeological museums by the Department of Archaeology. Beside the museums a large number of theatres also can be found in Sri Lanka.

Festivals - Sri Lanka is a multi-cultural country with several different festivals celebrated by various communities. Sinhala and Tamil New Year celebrations, Vesak Festival, Christmas, Ramadan festival, Thai Pongal, and the Galle Literary Festival are a few of the major festivals.

Performing arts - There are three main traditional dance forms in Sri Lanka: Kandyan dancing, low country dancing, and Sabaragamuwa dancing. Though not unique to Sri Lanka, 'Bharatanatyam', which originated from India is also popular in Sri Lanka particularly among the Tamil community.

Food - The cuisine of Sri Lanka has been influenced by many historical, cultural, and other factors. Rice is the main staple diet of the country. Other staples include hoppers, string hoppers, and pittu.[33]

Being one of the largest producers of tea in the world Sri Lanka is best known for the production of unorthodox tea. Tea was introduced to the country by the British who called the country "Ceylon". Pure Ceylon tea is considered some of the finest tea produced anywhere in the world.

Handicrafts - Handicrafts available in Sri Lanka include wood carving, silverware, brass castings, ceramic ware, bamboo products, pottery, batiks, lace works, cane works, costume jewelry, lacquerware, wooden masks, coir goods, handlooms, and ivory products.

Related attractions
Museums in Sri Lanka · Theatre of Sri Lanka · Festivals in Sri Lanka · Esala Perahera · Dances of Sri Lanka · Sri Lankan cuisine · Sri Lankan sweets and desserts


AEC Routemaster used as a tour bus in Colombo
Cinnamon Air seaplane in Colombo

Tourist accommodations in Sri Lanka consist of graded hotels, supplementary establishments, guest houses and limited scale camping sites. More informal accommodation is available on a paying guest system in private houses and hill-country tea estate bungalows.


The tourist industry makes a significant contribution to the national economy by directly contributing to the government budget, foreign-exchange earnings and employment generation. It contributes both directly and indirectly, in the provision of goods and services to the tourist sector.

Social and environmental impacts[edit]

Tourism in Sri Lanka, despite its benefits for the local economy (it is one of the main foreign income sources of the country), has its critics. Some studies indicate that quick modern tourism development would not cater to the specific needs of the local people.[34] Also, the high biodiversity of Sri Lanka seems to be threatened by the development of mass tourism which has already affected several natural reserves. Some endangered animal species seem to be seriously threatened by the rise of tourism in some areas; that is the case with the Keerthisinghe’s Rock Frog, which is endemic in Sri Lanka.[35]

An alternative kind of tourism, called ecotourism, sustainable tourism or responsible tourism, enables travelers to participate in tourism throughout Sri Lanka while contributing on the well-being of the local communities and making sure their environmental impact is limited.[36] The Sri Lanka Ecotourism Foundation is the national organization that created an official ecotourism network through the island, allowing to develop sustainable tourism with wide options of travel. In 2010, the foundation won the presidential awards for "Outstanding Contribution for Tourism in Sri Lanka".[37]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "10 most popular cities for travelers in 2015". CNN. Retrieved 6 November 2016.
  2. ^ "Overview". Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority. Retrieved 9 November 2016.
  3. ^ "History at SLTDA". Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority. Retrieved 5 November 2016.
  4. ^ "Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority". Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority. Retrieved 5 November 2016.
  5. ^ "Key Development Projects". Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority. Retrieved 6 November 2016.
  6. ^ "Overview of Tourism Industry In Sri Lanka". Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority. Retrieved 9 November 2016.
  7. ^ "Post-civil war, Sri Lanka's tourism industry having one great run". The Hindu. 30 April 2016. Retrieved 9 November 2016.
  9. ^ Tourist Arrivals by Region - December 2016 & December October 2018
  10. ^ Including Hong Kong and Macau.
  11. ^ "Six million tourists travel within Sri Lanka". The Sunday Times. 14 December 2014. Retrieved 9 November 2016.
  12. ^ "Yala's giant leopards". BBC. 13 October 2014. Retrieved 12 November 2016.
  13. ^ "Minneriya National Park". Retrieved 12 November 2016.
  14. ^ "The Gathering: Sri Lanka's great elephant migration". CNN. 3 October 2014. Retrieved 12 November 2016.
  15. ^ "'Spectacular' coverage for The Gathering". The Sunday Times (Sri Lanka). 17 July 2011. Retrieved 12 November 2016.
  16. ^ "Wildlife tourism in Sri Lanka". 12 September 2012. Archived from the original on 13 November 2016. Retrieved 12 November 2016.
  17. ^ "Overview". Department of Wildlife Conservation. Archived from the original on 24 October 2016. Retrieved 12 November 2016.
  18. ^ "Could Unawatuna enter the record books as the World's Best Beach once again?". Retrieved 12 November 2016.
  19. ^ "World's 100 best beaches#Unawatuna, Sri Lanka". CNN. 28 May 2013. Retrieved 12 November 2016.
  20. ^ "Pristine". Archived from the original on 2 November 2016. Retrieved 12 November 2016.
  21. ^ "Department of National Botanical Gardens". Ministry of sustainable development and wildlife. Retrieved 12 November 2016.
  22. ^ "Department of National Zoological Gardens". Government Information Center. Retrieved 12 November 2016.
  23. ^ "Eighth wonder of the world ?". 17 January 1999. Retrieved 13 November 2016.
  24. ^ "Cultural Heritage". Retrieved 13 November 2016.
  25. ^ "Sri Pada Mountain (Adams Peak) – ශ්‍රී පාදය (සමනල කන්ද)". Amazing Lanka. Retrieved 13 November 2016.
  26. ^
  27. ^ "Pilgrimage". Retrieved 13 November 2016.
  28. ^ "Sports Tourism is worth $600 billion and Sri Lanka enters with Golf and Surfing". 18 August 2015. Retrieved 13 November 2016.
  29. ^ "Adventure Sports". Retrieved 13 November 2016.
  30. ^ "Promoting tea tourism". Sunday Observer (Sri Lanka). 26 September 2010. Retrieved 14 November 2016.
  31. ^ "Department of National Museums". Department of National Museums. Retrieved 14 November 2016.
  32. ^ "Museums". Department of Archaeology. Retrieved 14 November 2016.
  33. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2017-10-31. Retrieved 2017-10-17.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  34. ^ Evan Due (1980). "Tourism and Development: Examining the Case of Sri Lanka". Open Access Dissertations and Theses.
  35. ^ Gazala Anver. "Tourism Threatening Endangered Species". The Sunday Leader. Archived from the original on 2011-12-19.
  36. ^ J. Thumira Gunasena. "Tourism in Sri Lanka and its Impact on Social Political and Natural Environment" (PDF). Cite journal requires |journal= (help)

External links[edit]