The definitive guide to Sri Lanka 2012

New hotel and resort developments, the latest domestic and international air routes, improved roads and new trains as well as wildlife and surfing tours.


Ampersand Travel, the expert Sri Lanka tour operator, validates why there is so much hype about the country being THE place to visit in 2012.



Tourist arrivals to Sri Lanka in 2010 numbered 654,477 people, compared with 447,890 in 2009. In the first ten months of 2011, tourist arrivals jumped 34.2% to 667,569 and that figure is expected to rise to 780,000 by the end of the year. The government’s target is to welcome 2.5 million visitors by 2016 generating an annual revenue of $2.75 billion. The government aims to achieve this by doubling the number of hotel rooms to 45,000 by 2016 as well as by developing new areas of the island.



This will virtually revolutionise internal travel in Sri Lanka from the capital to the popular tourist area around Galle.

-        Colombo airport to Galle was a 4.5 hour drive and will now be 2 hours.

-        Colombo airport to Tangalle was a 6.5 hour drive and will now be 4.5 hours.

The motorway will be extended to Matara though dates for completion of this stretch of road have not yet been released.


A new deluxe compartment has been launched on the intercity service between Colombo and Kandy. There are plans to extend this service to other train lines.  The new compartments have air-conditioning, free Wi-Fi, comfortable airline style seating and modern washrooms.



Sri Lanka’s second international airport is opening in Hambantota in the south of the island in December 2012. This will act as a gateway to the east and south coasts. Sri Lankan Airlines, Emirates, Qatar Airways, Etihad and Jet Airways provide a very good service currently between London and Colombo and there are rumours that BA may start flying this route as well.


Domestically, SriLankan Airlines’ Air Taxis are now operating to the more popular tourist destinations in the south and the hill country and connect Colombo to Bentota, Kogalla (Galle), Dikwella (Tangalle), Dambulla, Kandy and Nuwara Eliya. Flights are inexpensive starting from £56.00 per person (one way); private charter of the 15 seater aircraft is also surprisingly cost effective even for groups as small as four adults.


Deccan Aviation Lanka have a 4 seater helicopter (Bell 206 B3 Jet Ranger) and a fixed wing plane (GA 8 Airvan) that are available for private charter.



The Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority plans to expand tourism development into areas where tourism is underdeveloped at present in a sustainable manner. Some of the key/ priority areas that are earmarked for development under the project include:

  1. The Development of the East Coast
  • Kuchchaveli (3000 - 5000 rooms): Apart from the hotels, this area will include other facilities to turn it into a self-contained village for tourists, including a theme park and land and water based hotels.
  • Nilaveli: a stunning beach with safe swimming, good diving nearby and excellent snorkelling around Pigeon Island. At present the best resort in the area is the Nilawli Beach which was built in the 60’s to a very high spec and has huge grounds.  Most of the beach on either side of the property is in pristine condition and has been divided into large plots for development.
  • Trincomalee: This is the 5th largest natural harbour in the world. At present there is the upbeat and colourful 4 star Chaaya Blue which is a delightful property built in the 70’s and recently refurbished taking full advantage of the return in popularity of this iconic style. The beach is huge and has is scattered with low level buildings but there is still scope for development.
  • Passekudah (3000 – 5000 rooms): This beautiful and shallow bay has some of the safest swimming in Sri Lanka. The first new hotel to open here in May 2011 was Malu Malu which was named one of the world’s top 100 hotels by Sunday Times Travel Magazine. The beach has been split into large plots most of which are still to be built on. Uga Resorts who own the stunning Ulugalla will be opening a property in Pasikudah late 2012.
  • Arugam Bay: Sri Lanka’s best surfing beach and only a short 4x4 drive from the buffer zone of Yala National Park with excellent wildlife sightings. At present all accommodation is basic but this will change fast especially as many luxury travellers are keen on surfing options.
  1. Kalpitya, West coast
  • This is the SLTDA’s largest and most ambitious project and will consist of 5,000 rooms.  Kalpitiya is 150km north of Colombo and is one of the most beautiful coastal areas located in the Western Province. The peninsula separates the Puttalam lagoon from the Indian Ocean and is a marine sanctuary with a diversity of habitats ranging from bar reefs, flat coastal plains, saltpans, mangroves swamps, salt marshes and vast sand dune beaches. There are 14 islands in the area that have been selected for development. In addition to building 17 resorts (many along the lines of those in the Maldives) there are also plans to build an 18-hole golf course, underwater amusement park, camp sites, observation towers and domestic airport. The first new property to be names in Kalpitiya is 'Dutch Bay Resorts', an 80-villa luxury resort recently under development which will be managed by Six Senses Group. An underwater visitor centre has also been proposed.



The 5 best hotels to have opened recently include:  

  1. Ulagalla Resort, Thirappane
  2. Bar Reef, Kalpitya
  3. Chaaya Blu, Trincomalee
  4. Maya Villa, Tangalle
  5. Adelphi, Bandarawela


Uga Resorts (the group behind Ulagalla) are opening 2 new properties: one in Kuchchaveli, Trincomalee planned for May 2012 called Jungle Beach, and another called Uga Bay opening in October 2012, situated right next door to the new Malu Malu resort in Passekudah.

The Shangri-La will be opening two new properties – one in Colombo in 2014 which overlooking Galle Face Green; and a beachside resort in Hambantota opening in 2013, which is in the south-east of the island where the new port and international airport will be opening in 2012.

A new Six Senses Resort & Spa will be opening in Ahungalla about 30 minutes north of Galle. It will be set on a 10.5 acre plot next to Heritance Ahungalla as well as a 27-acre island nearby and is due to open in 2012. Six Senses Group are opening another resort in Kalpitiya (details above).



Sri Lanka is now considered to be only second to Africa for big wildlife sightings. Where Africa has its ‘Big Five’ land mammals – the lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and Cape Buffalo – Sri Lanka has four counterparts: the Sri Lankan subspecies of leopard, Asian Elephant, Sloth Bear and Wild Asiatic Water Buffalo. In addition it offers a fifth giant, the Blue Whale (the biggest animal of all) out in the surrounding ocean. Sri Lanka is the best place in the world to see Blue Whales. It is also offers the best chance of seeing both Blue and Sperm Whales on the same sailing.


  1. Luxury surfing. Amanwella in Tangalle recently introduced it as an activity for guests and it now brings in more money than the spa! The island’s best surfing spots are Hikkaduwa and Tangalle on the south coast; Arugam Bay, Passekudah and Trincomalee on the east coast; and Bentota on the west coast. Kite surfing is also an up and coming trend.
  2. Eco Lodges and Mud huts. These offer a taste of the traditional Sri Lankan village lifestyle – our favourites include The Mudhouse in Anamaduwa, Galapita Eco Lodge in Buttala and Bar Reef in Kalpitya (though these are mock mud huts – actually made of concrete). Ulagalla Resort in Thirappane is a great example of the new trend for melding eco initiatives and extreme luxury (it is powered by Sri Lanka’s biggest solar farm).
  3. Family tourism. Gaining in popularity as Sri Lanka is seen as a safer destination since the end of the war in 2009, and due to the appeal of its family-friendly villas and soft adventure activities like whale watching and wildlife safaris.


From January 2012, visitors to Sri Lanka must apply for travel authorisation online prior to arrival, replacing the current ‘on arrival visa’ system. This new ‘Electronic Travel Authorisation’, or ETA, will be granted within 24 hours (it will generally be approved instantly) and the $50 fee is payable online.



Full name: Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka

Population: 20.4 million (UN, 2010)

Capital: Colombo

Area: 65,610 sq km (max length 432 km & width 224km) slightly smaller than island of Ireland which is 84, 431 sq km

Length of coastline: 1,700 kilometers (1,056 miles)

Highest peak: Mt. Piduruthalagala  2524m

Major languages: Sinhala, Tamil, English

Major religions: Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Christianity

Life expectancy: 71 years (men), 79 years (women) (UN)

Monetary unit: Sri Lankan rupee

Main exports: Clothing and textiles, tea, gems, rubber, coconuts

GNI per capita: US $1,990 (World Bank, 2009)

Locations inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List:
Cultural -

  1. Ancient City of Polonnaruwa (1982)
  2. Ancient City of Sigiriya (1982)
  3. Golden Temple of Dambulla (1991)
  4. Old Town of Galle and its Fortifications (1988)
  5. Sacred City of Anuradhapura (1982)
  6. Sacred City of Kandy (1988)

Natural -

  1. Central Highlands of Sri Lanka (2010)
  2. Sinharaja Forest Reserve (1988)

New locations currently on the Tentative List -

  1. Seruwila Mangala Raja Maha Vihara (2006)
  2. Seruwila to Sri Pada (Sacred Foot Print Shrine), Ancient pilgrim route along the Mahaweli river in Sri Lanka (2010) / 020 7289 6100

For more information please contact Julia Perowne or Paul Charles at PCC – Perowne Charles Communications / 020 7 349 7059