10 Curious Fun Facts about the “Glorious Island” of “Sri Lanka”

famous blue train in sri lanka

Nestled in the north part of Indian Ocean, Sri Lanka is a tiny, but densely populated country-island that for centuries had played a central role in the maritime trade between the west and the east thanks to its strategic location.

Today, the economy of the the island has been converted widely from trade to tourism, making it one of the most attractive and well-spoken destinations to visit these days.

If you’re also thinking about visiting Sri Lanka anytime soon, this article is exactly for you: here you can find 10 Fun Facts about this country’s history, nature, geography, religion and culture, which will hopefully enrich your visit and make you see the country from another, higher perspective 😉

Let’s dive right in!

1. Sri Lanka, formerly “Ceylon”,

changed a handful of names through-out its history!

yacht with family

Sri Lanka changed names so many times during history: basically every time it has been invaded!

In the pre-colonial era, it was called “Lanka” (meaning: island) by the Hindu, “Salike” by the Greeks, “Eelam” by the indigenous Tamils, and “Serendip” by the Arabs and Persians.

Then, the colonial era started, and under Portoguese rule (1597-1658 A.C.), the island was renamed “Ceilão(the meaning of this word has been lost in time!).

After the Portoguese came the Dutch, which ruled over Sri Lanka from 1640 – 1796 A.C. while “dutchifying” its previous name into “Zeylan“.

Then, after the Dutch came the British empire, which maintained full control over Sri Lanka from 1815 – 1948, renaming it once more “Ceylon” (which came from Zeylan, which came from Ceilão… like in the wireless phone game!).

The island retained the named Ceylon until 1978, when after turning into a republic changed its name to the current one: Sri Lanka.

If you’re wondering what is means:

  • Sri: is a respectful title in Sanskrit/Hindu, which gives a sense of radiance and splendor to the word that follows
  • Lanka: is the ancient hindu word for “Island”

So, after millenials of debates, the name has been finally set (for now): Sri Lanka, meaning the “Radiant Island“.

2. On a map, Sri Lanka looks like

a “Teardrop” of India

sri lanka draw by me as a teardrop of india

That’s a funny one!

When starring at a world map, most people can point out large countries such Russia, America, India or Brazil, but most people  tend to forget smaller countries (there are just so many after all!).

Well… worry not about Sri Lanka, because after seeing this map you will never forget its position ever again: Sri Lanka is an drop-shaped island, placed right under India, which seems ready to fall in the middle of the Indian Ocean.

If you can recognize the Indian Ocean (which most people can do!), you cannot miss India and Sri Lanka.

Fun fact: because of its geographical shape, Sri Lanka is often also nicknamed as the “teardrop of India“.

3. On top of Sri Lanka’s holy Adam’s Peak,

there is said to be a footprint of Buddha!

adams peak sri lanka

Adam’s Peak is one of the holiest mountains in Sri Lanka and one of the most visited landmarks of the entire country.

With a total height of 2242m, steep sides and a whooping 5500 steps to reach the summit, Adam’s Peak is a challenge for both pilgrims and curious tourist alike.

On top of the mountain, for the adventurous ones that dare to reach it, there is a shrine called Sri Pada Temple (which translated to “Sacred Footprint Temple“.

What is so special about this place that make it worth the steep hike in the scorching heat?

Apart from the astonishing nature and view (which are incredible per se!), inside the temple there’s also 170cm-long and 46cm-wide hollow that resembles the print of a human foot and gives the name to the temple itself.

The Sri Pada (“sacred footprint”), is venerated by Buddhist as the “footprint of Buddha“, while Christians believe it to be of the doubting apostle St. Thomas before his martyrdom in Madras (Chennai).

The Muslim instead, believe the Sri Pada to be the first footprint left by the prophet Adam once landed from paradise (that’s why the mountain is named like this!).

Personally, from my traveler’s eyes I find it extremely curious and interesting how religions so different from one another ended up worshipping the same stoney footprint while giving three so different meaning to it!

All in all, the hike is a marvelous experience, and even for non-believers I would suggest it as one of the best attractions in Sri Lanka!

4. Sri Lanka’s Flag is extremely unique,

and one of the easiest to Recognize!

peak of luxury

The current flag of Sri Lanka is a concentrate of symbolism.

Trick to remember it?

If there’s a big lion, it is the Sri Lanka’s flag: easy to notice and to remember!

While there are other national flags containing lions (Spain, Montenegro, Paraguay and Fiji), in those flags the lion is always a small and almost-invisible detail within larger drawings; impossible to get confused!

Now that we’ve seen how to tell the flag apart, let’s get down to its very curious symbolism:

The Colours of the Flag, represent the ethnicities of the country:

  • Red: represents the Sinhalese People (75% of the population),
  • Orange: represents the Tamil ethnicity of 21% of the population,
  • Green: represent the Muslim faith held by roughly 10% of the population,
  • Yellow borders: represent all cultures and symbolizes peace and inclusion among groups

The lion, inserted in the red portion of the flag, is a symbol of the Sinhalese people as well, and it holds a sword to symbolize its power. 

The power of the lion is not untamed though, as it’s sided by four bo leaves, that represent the four virtues of Buddhism: loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity 🙂

 

5. Sri Lanka, despite its small size,

hosts 8 UNESCO World Heritage Sites!

sri lanka unesco sites

In Italy, we have a saying that goes “in the small barrel, you find the best wine“, and that’s exactly the feeling I had about Sri Lanka!

Despite its small size, this island holds a whooping 8 UNESCO World Heritage sites, which are:

1. The Sacred City of Anuradhapura: it’s the ancient capital of Sri Lanka; well-preserved ruins of Sinhala civilization, with impressive dagobas, monastic buildings, and large reservoirs. Entrance: around 25 USD.

2. Ancient City of Polonnaruwa: a site that showcases the remains of a flourishing medieval city and is known for its well-preserved architectural relics and sculptures. Entrance: around 25 USD.

3. Ancient City of Sigiriya: famous site for its towering rock fortress, ancient frescoes, and extensive network of gardens and reservoirs. Entrance: around 30 USD.

4. Sacred City of Kandy: Kandy is home to the Temple of the Tooth Relic, one of Buddhism’s most sacred shrines, and is known for its religious festivals and rich history.  Entrance: around 5 USD.

5. Old Town of Galle and its Fortifications: A well-preserved colonial town, Galle is known for its Dutch-era fortifications and for a blend of European and South Asian architectural styles. Entrance to the city is free, the museum costs around 4 USD.

6. Golden Temple of Dambulla: a cave temple complex renowned for its remarkable series of murals and statues, depicting various aspects of Buddhist art and history. Entrance: around 5 USD.

7. Central Highlands of Sri Lanka: Comprising the Peak Wilderness Protected Area, Horton Plains National Park, and Knuckles Conservation Forest, this region is notable for its unique biodiversity and endemic species. Entrance to the Area is less than a dollar, with overnight staying too!

8. Sinharaja Forest Reserve: Sinharaja is a biodiversity hotspot, home to a vast array of endemic species of birds, mammals, amphibians, and plants, representative of Sri Lanka’s rich natural heritage. Entrance: around 8 USD.

6. Sri Lanka is one of the hottest Destinations on Earth,

with an Average Temperature of 28/29°C ! 

tangalle beach sri lanka - unknown beaches in sri lanka

Have you ever dreamt of a place of eternal summer? If yes, you might have dreamt about Sri Lanka!

Yes, because Sri Lanka is located only 640km away from the equator line!

Its geographical position confers to the island average temperatures that are hot and pleasant all-year round.

The lowest temperatures are registered in January, after the moonson season (Oct-Dec) when the average lingers between 19-23°C, while the hottest temperatures are usually reached in April May when average temperatures reach peaks of 28-31°C.

Said that, don’t forget to bring an umbrella with you, especially if you’re travelling from October to January: in Sri Lanka you never know when a downpour can happen! 😉

 

7. On the Southern Coast of Sri Lanka,

Stilt Fishing is still a thing!

stilt fisherman in sri lanka

With 22 million people living on an island the size of Ireland (which has only 5 million people to give you an idea), the high population density has been a problem for decades in Sri Lanka.

While of course there’s still plenty of space for everyone on land, back in the days where intensive fishing was not a thing,  the most popular fishing spots of the island were getting so crowded that there wasn’t enough physical space for everyone.

That’s why, according to legends “stilt fishing” was born! 

Stilt fishing is simply the art of fishing while sitting on a pole, usually sticked in the coral reef below.

Using the stilts, fishermen could go fishing further away from the coast in less crowded areas 🙂

While due to the modernization of fishing techniques very few locals still use stilt fishing for catching food, stilt fishing has not entirely disappeared as it has been partially “preserved” for touristic reasons.

As a matter of facts, today there are still places on the Southern coast of Sri Lanka where it is possible to encounter stilt fishermen.

They don’t fish for fish though, they fish for tourists (in a good way! eheh).

Travelers can today learn from locals how to fish the traditional way, trying the stilts for themselves, and take cool pictures in the process! 

Personally, I found it super-interesting to notice how the “aesthetic coolness” of this tradition combined with international tourism contributed to save such an old fishing techniques and maintaining it profitable for locals.

 

8. In Sri Lanka there are Several beaches

dedicated as “hatcheries” to Turtle Conservation

baby turtle

Sri Lanka is strongly involved in the conservation of sea turtles and there are several beaches segments organised as “hatcheries” for turtle protection.

One of the most famous is located in the coastal village of Kosgoda on the Southern coast, established in 1981 in response to the rapid decline of sea turtle population in the late 20th century.

The KSTCP institution managing the place, not only protects turtle eggs by transferring them to safe, controlled environments, but also rehabilitates injured turtles and educates tourists and the community about the conservation of the marine environment.

As travelers, it is possible to get involved in the program also only for a one-day tour, learn about the turtle’s life cycle, and have a chance to witness the memorable experience of the baby-turtles hatching and running to the sea!

All in all, in Sri Lanka it is possible to find five major species of sea turtles: Green Turtles, Loggerhead Turtles, Hawksbill Turtles, Olive Ridley Turtles, and Leatherback Turtles.

Each of these species has distinct characteristics and plays a unique role in the marine environment, from maintaining the health of seagrass beds to controlling jellyfish populations!

9. The Economy of Sri Lanka is mainly based

on Ceylon Tea and Tourism

ceylon tea in sri lanka

Before the Brits came to Sri Lanka, there weren’t barely any tea plants on the island.

Actually, the island has been covered during the 16-18th centuries by coffee plants brought by the Portuguese and the Dutch.

Then, as we’ve seen before, the Brits took control of the island in 1815, renaming it Ceylon.

British love tea, and so they converted all the plantations”  is the first thought that probably come to your mind!

And yes, that indeed is correct, but the reason why the “Ceylon” tea production skyrocketed so suddenly in the 19th century is not only because of the Brits, but also because of what is called the “coffee rust”.

In 1869, an aggressive fungus (baptised “coffee rust” because of the yellow colour it was leaving on the leaves) emerged on the island and started killing coffee plants. 

Rapidly switching the agricultural production from coffee to tea was then a necessity to sustain the local economy in face of adversity.

Fast-forward to current days, the “Ceylon Tea” of Sri Lanka remains one of the largest source of income for the country, with the other one being tourism).

Fun fact: Sri Lanka, despite its small size, is the 4th largest tea producer in the world with 340.000 tons/year (just behind China, India and Kenya).

 

10. The are two very unique Official Languages,

and English is recognized as a “semi-official” language.

trilingual sign in sri lanka

The official languages of Sri Lanka are Sinhala (spoken by the Sinhalese majority – 75%) and Tamil (for the 25%).

Both languages sound so strange and write so different from any Latin/European language, that also for me that I fluently speak 6 languages look like a complete mess! 🙂

Reading local cartels is impossible without the help of a local! 

Said that, English is considered a semi-official language in Sri Lanka and is still spoken by roughly 24% of the population. 

So, you can always find someone that can translate for you, while in touristic places the cartels are mostly translated in three languages: Sinhala, Tamil and English too! 🙂

Conclusion

colorful village in sri lanka

And here we are at the end of this long article! 🙂

In this post, we have seen 10 Fun Facts and Curiosities about the “radiant” island of Sri Lanka! ;D

The weather, the many boat options, the tasty cuisine, the warm hospitality, the possibility to map your route, the historical sites, the secluded beaches, the proximity to the Greek islands, the watersports, and the exclusivity of the experience are all that make yachting in Turkey an experience to remember!

From the tea plantations, to the turtle hatcheries, the fishermen on stilts, the hidden beaches , the UNESCO ancient sites and the summit of Adam’s peak, Sri Lanka is a land full of curiosities and marvels and an awesome destination for a trip!

I hope you learned something new in this article, and I hope this will help you to see Sri Lanka with new eyes on an eventual upcoming trip! ;D

Before going I would like to ask you:

  • Did you enjoy the read?
  • Have you been to Sri Lanka before? 🙂
  • Do you know any other curiosity or fun fact that could make it to this list?

LET US KNOW IN THE COMMENTS BELOW! (We always love receiving feedback and exchanging a chat 🙂

Last but not least, before going, I will leave you here some articles you might want to check out too:

As always, thank you for reading,

And see you in the next article! 😀

 

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