Sri Lanka - At a glance


Sri Lanka at a glance

Country The Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, formerly Ceylon. It became Sri Lanka – and a republic – in 1972, with the addition of ‘Sri’, meaning ‘resplendent’, to an ancient name for the island, ‘Lanka’.

Location An island off the southern tip of India, 880km north of the Equator; latitude 5°55’ to 9°50’N, longitude 70°42’ to 81°52’E

Area 65,525km² (25,299 square miles)

Topography Flat on the coastal areas and northern half of the island with the central and south-central areas being hilly and mountainous

Climate Tropical in lowlands with average temperatures of 27°C. Cooler in hills with average of 16°C. Monsoon in southwest May–July; in northeast, December–January.

Capital The official administrative capital is Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte, an otherwise rather obscure satellite of the commercial capital and largest city, Colombo

Government  The directly elected president serves as head of state, commander-in-chief of the armed forces, and head of the cabinet of ministers drawn from a parliament of 225 elected members

Population 21 million (2017 estimate), of whom 74.9% are Sinhalese, 11.2% Sri Lankan Tamil, 4.2% Indian Tamil, 9.2% Moors, with the balance being Malays, Burghers (descendants of Dutch colonists) and others

Population distribution Urban 21.5%, rural 72.2%, estate 6.3%

Literacy rate 92.6%

Life expectancy at birth Males 71 years; females 78 years

Economy Main foreign-exchange earners: emigrants’ remittances, tea, tourism (2 million visitors in 2016) and locally manufactured garment exports

Gross domestic product (GDP) US$80 billion

Average per capita income US$1,100 per annum

Languages Official languages are Sinhala (spoken by 74% of the population) and Tamil (18%). English as the official link language

Religion Theravada Buddhist 70.2%, Hindu 12.6%, Muslim 9.7%, Christian 7.4%

Currency Rupee (Rs) (for up-to-date rates, go to www.xe.com)

International dialling code +94

Time GMT +5 hours 30 minutes

Electricity 230 volts AC

Weights and measures Metric

Flag Two equal stripes of green and yellow alongside the Lion Flag of King Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe 

Back to the top

Sri Lanka articles

View all

Sri Lanka by rail

Sometimes travelling is about the journey more than the destination. This is especially true when taking a train trip through scenic Sri Lanka.

Read more...

What not to miss in Sri Lanka

Whether you're a history lover, safari-goer or simply want to top up your tan, Sri Lanka has plenty to offer. Here is our pick of what not to miss. 

Read more...

Sri Lanka’s ‘Big Four’

Just as Africa has its Big Five, so can Sri Lanka claim a Big Four. 

Read more...

Related guides and other books

View all