Sri Lanka Travel Tips – 13 Things You Need To Know

Sri Lanka Travel Tips – 13 Things You Need To Know

Sri Lanka Travel Tips article is a must read for your Sri Lankan adventure.

If someone asks me to describe Sri Lanka in just one word, I’d say “green”. It doesn’t matter where you go but you will surely see a lot of green. The entire country feels like one massive national park and you’re guaranteed to see a wild elephant or two if you spend more than a few weeks here.

You must have noticed a lot of “green” pictures from Sri Lanka on our Instagram account, now it’s time we share more details with you. We spent close to a month here and we have some useful tips to share with you. If you’re wondering where to go for your next vacation, you must consider visiting this beautiful island country. If you end up booking your tickets, here are 13 important travel tips that you should keep in mind before visiting Sri Lanka.

Travel Tips for Sri Lanka –

01 | Visa for Sri Lanka

Unlike many other Asian countries, Sri Lanka doesn’t offer a visa on arrival. Instead, there is a very easy process to apply for an electronic visa or eVisa. An eVisa is a double entry visa for 30 days, which is usually enough for most of the travelers. The fee for an eVisa is $35 for all the countries but is only $20 for SAARC countries. Yes, India is a part of SAARC so I had to pay only $20 while San paid $35. Although we did get our visa confirmation within a few hours, I’d recommend you apply at least a week in advance. You can click here to apply for your eVisa to Sri Lanka.

Please be very careful in filling up the eVisa application because even a single wrong digit will impact your entry and you will be forced to apply again at the airport. If you’re a citizen of Maldives, Singapore or Seychelles, you don’t need a visa to enter Sri Lanka. For a longer stay visa, you can apply directly at the embassy.

 

02 | Do you have a Buddha Tattoo? Hide it!

Sri Lanka has a zero tolerance for tourists with Buddha tattoos. In fact, there have been cases in the past wherein tourists with Buddha tattoos have been arrested and deported. A few weeks back, a friend of mine was stopped by the police at Kandy railway station for carrying a bag with Buddha face but luckily she escaped trouble. Oh, and also, one of the pop musicians Akon was also barred an entry to Sri Lanka because one of his music videos featured a Buddha statue next to skimpily clad women. Back in 2012, three French tourists were sentenced to 6 months in jail for clicking pictures of them kissing a Buddha statue.

I’m not religious but it makes sense to me because some countries regard the usage of religious objects and symbols in ornaments or fashion as disrespectful. Don’t be an asshole while traveling and respect Sri Lanka’s culture. In fact, don’t disrespect any country’s culture and religion. If you have a Buddha tattoo, please hide it while you’re in Sri Lanka.

 

03 | Negambo vs Colombo

Negombo Beach - Sri Lanka Travel Tips

Negombo Beach – Sri Lanka Travel Tips

Wondering why this point is even on the list? Well, because when you book your flight to Sri Lanka, your ticket will say that you’re flying to Colombo. In reality, it’s not Colombo but the suburb area of Negombo, which is a different place entirely and is an hour away from Colombo. Maybe it’s good this way because I didn’t particularly like Colombo but I definitely enjoyed Negombo. It is less stressful and has a massive strip of uninterrupted beach. Moreover, for your journey to other parts of Sri Lanka, it doesn’t make a difference whether you’re in Negombo or Colombo because they are both well connected by a network of trains and buses.

On a side note, it was pretty funny because San booked our hotel in Negombo and for the first few hours that I was in Negombo, I thought I was in Colombo. It happened because I suffer from a selective hearing disorder and assumed that Colombo is massive and Negombo is a part of it.

Read: That one time we slept in a tree house in the middle of Sri Lankan forest

04 | Tuk Tuk Scams

Living in India, I have faced more scams than most of the people and because of this, I am not easily “scammable”. Despite a lot of pre warnings, we were scammed on our very first day. Every tuk tuk driver quoted 5x the rate as we landed in Sri Lanka. How do we know it was 5x? Well, because we asked a few locals what should be the normal price for reaching our hotel. At last we finally found a tuk tuk driver who agreed to a lower cost, which was still double of what the locals told us. However, within a few minutes he stopped the tuk tuk mid way even though, he had agreed that he would drop us at our hotel. He started yelling and after a while, we gave up and ended up paying extra because we were very tired and just wanted to reach our room.

Don’t get me wrong, Sri Lankans are very nice, humble and honest but many tuk tuk drivers are not. Another scam that I encountered was how the drivers tried to convince us at many bus stops that there was no bus that was going to our destination in an attempt to get us to spend on a tuk tuk instead. By then, I had done enough research to know that they were fooling us. These scams are highly prevalent if you travel to touristy places.

 

05 | The Best way to travel internally is by Train

Picture this – you’re sitting in a cute train coach and everywhere you look, you see tea estates, forests, waterfalls, hills, monkeys.. and maybe even an elephant if you’re lucky. From time to time, you can walk around and even sit by the door and get lost in the beauty (but please hold the door handle firmly if you do).

Me enjoying a scenic train journey - Sri Lanka Travel Tips

Me enjoying a scenic train journey – Sri Lanka Travel Tips

San and I sat by the door all the time and didn’t want to leave. We even bought a few snacks on the train and ate them as we sat by the door. I was such a “tourists” here and couldn’t stop clicking and making videos for my Instagram. Trust me when I say this, but this was the BEST thing we did in this beautiful country. Oh, and I must tell you that it was dirt-cheap. We traveled on a third class coach, which was comfortable and clean.

Nothing can match the experience of riding a slow moving train through Sri Lanka’s scenic hill countryside. It may not be the fastest way, but it is the most beautiful way to travel internally. Alternatively, you can travel by buses too, but you will not be as comfortable as compared to the train because the bus seats in Sri Lanka are very small. Oh and you should know that the train ride from Kandy to Ella is supposed to be the most scenic one.

06 | Where to go in Sri Lanka

Most of the people think that Sri Lanka is mostly about the beaches, but no they couldn’t be more wrong. In fact, my favorite places here were very far from the beaches. Broadly speaking, Sri Lanka can be divided into four zones – the beaches, the hill country, forests and historical places. The beaches are pretty but it is the middle area that made us fall in love with Sri Lanka. Our favorite was the hill country, (Nuwara Eliya, Haputale, Elle, etc.) where everything was greener than the color green. We also enjoyed the forest area around Sigiriya and Pottuvil, where we saw a lot of elephants and a few crocodiles at a safe distance. Lonely Planet markets Sri Lanka as a “beach lovers paradise” but I think it is more of a nature lovers’ / forest freak’s haven. Anyway, I will soon write a post about a suggested itinerary which can help you plan your trip.

07 | Tap Water in Sri Lanka

In Sri Lanka, the locals were mostly drinking tap water but we stuck to bottled water. Although it is safe for them, but it may not be for you because it may contain micro-organisms that your body is not used to. Don’t take a health risk while traveling and please stick to bottled water. In my experience, the cost of bottled water was a little higher if you compare it to most of the Asian countries.

08 | Costs can be extreme (Low and High both)

Travel costs in Sri Lanka - Sri Lanka Travel Tips

Travel costs in Sri Lanka – Sri Lanka Travel Tips

When we first arrived in Sri Lanka, we got a shock because everything was expensive in Negombo. Maybe it was because we were comparing it to India but even basic things at supermarkets were expensive. We did eventually find a few affordable eating options but there were not too many. Beach Towns like Arugam Bay, Negombo were definitely more expensive than the hill towns. On our train to Ella, we spotted a cute village called Haputale with breathtaking views, and decided to jump off here. It ended up being our favorite and the most affordable place in Sri Lanka for us. If you’re traveling on a budget, then you should consider spending more time away from the beach towns.

Read: 20 Travel Mistakes that can ruin your trip

09 | ATMs and Banks

After traveling to many countries, Sri Lanka was the first country where my ATM card refused to work in most of the ATMs. I tried many, but the only ATM where my card worked was at Bank of Ceylon ATM. I met a few people who faced the same issue, even after alerting their banks that they were going to Sri Lanka.

I suggest you carry a few US Dollars or Euros to be safe if such a situation arises.You can always head to a bank to exchange currency in case your card doesn’t work. Another important point to note is that most of the banks in Sri Lanka shut at 3 pm, which is quite early as compared to international standards.

 

10 | About Sri Lankan Food.. and restaurants are called Hotels

Sri Lankan Rice and Curry - Sri Lanka Travel Tips

Sri Lankan Rice and Curry – Sri Lanka Travel Tips

One word: delicious! Sri Lankan food is similar to South Indian food but with very a mild difference. I fell in love with Rice and Curry meal combos, which were usually served with more than one curry, daal, beetroot salad and “Sambal”. Sambal (or sambhal) is a dry preparation of shredded coconut with red chilies, curry leaves, and a few herbs that Sri Lankans eat with their food. Sri Lankan roti is like India’s Malabari Parotta, which is my favorite kind of Indian bread. This roti can be shredded and mixed with spices, egg, meat or fish to form a delicious meal called “Kothu”. In fact, Kothu (or Kottu) is what Pad Thai is for Thailand – an affordable meal that is popular with backpackers. I also enjoyed egg samosas in Sri Lanka, which are very spicy and way different than Indian’s samosas. In smaller towns, a meal can cost around 100 LKR (less than $1), but can go as high as 500 LKR in bigger towns. I experimented a lot with Sri Lankan food and will try to write a full blog post about it.

 

11 | Drinking Sri Lanka’s Local Brew – Arrack & Lion lager

San and I always make it a point to try a new country’s local brew, so Sri Lanka was no exception. If you compare the costs with the neighboring countries, drinking in Sri Lanka is expensive. Arrack is Sri Lanka’s local spirit, which is like rum and is made with coconut flowers. (I didn’t even know that coconut trees had flowers!). We saw a lot of price and quality variations when we bought Arrack. At one time we spent 1200 LKR (around $7) but 2000 LKR (around $13) on another occasion.

The most popular local beer in Sri Lanka is Lion Lager and it costs 250 LKR ($1.5) if you buy it from alcohol shops. Of course it costs double or even triple when you buy it in bars and restaurants.

 

12 | Plug Points and electrical sockets in Sri Lanka

In most of the hotels in Sri Lanka, I saw two kinds of plug sockets – one with round holes (type D / M) and the other with rectangular prongs, which can easily fit UK plugs (type G socket). We didn’t carry a universal adapter and didn’t even need one in Sri Lanka. We were able to use our Indian as well as European plugs (both plug type C) in Sri Lanka without a problem. Yes, our Indian and European plugs had two spikes but could fit the Sri Lankan plugs without a problem. It is obviously recommended that you carry a good quality universal adapter so that you don’t end up harming your gadgets.

 

13 | Is Sri Lanka safe for solo women travelers?

Is Sri Lanka safe for solo female travelers - Sri Lanka travel tips

Is Sri Lanka safe for solo female travelers – Sri Lanka travel tips

I don’t have a one-word-answer for this. Although I traveled with San but I often met women who were traveling solo and didn’t face any issues. Sri Lankan people are polite and extremely helpful but I did see several instances of local men persistently trying to befriend international women tourists. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with being friends but please be careful when they invite you for parties because there are enough horror stories on the Internet. Just like India, you will need to appear confident and at times intimidating to ward off trouble. As a rule of thumb, dressing sensibly, befriending other travelers for company and trusting your sixth sense will go a long way in keeping you safe.

 

Is Sri Lanka safe for Solo Female Travelers - Sri Lanka travel tips by Drifter Planet
Train Ride in Sri Lanka - Sri Lanka Travel Tips
Negombo Beach - Sri Lanka Travel Tips by Drifter Planet

Do you have any points to add in this post about Sri Lanka travel tips? Let me know in the comments.

Sleeping in a tree house in Sri Lanka.. in the middle of the forest!

Sleeping in a tree house in Sri Lanka.. in the middle of the forest!

You must have noticed pictures of a cute tree house in Sri Lanka on my Instagram page and noticed how I couldn’t stop raving about it. Well, it’s time to share more details because seriously, that tree house was the BEST place that I ever got to sleep. If you have visited Sri Lanka or have seen pictures, I’m sure by know by now how amazing the forest area is! Well, we wanted to experience it firsthand and wanted to stay in the middle of the jungle. After days of searching for the perfect place, we eventually found it on a website called Glamping Hub. Wait, what is Glamping Hub?

About Glamping Hub

Glamping Hub is a website that has a collection of thousands of tree houses, tipis, caravans, luxury tents and unique outdoor accommodations all over the world! In fact, I was shocked to see that this website also has luxurious forest stays near my own Delhi!

Find a tree house on Glamping Hub

Find a tree house on Glamping Hub

If you’re looking for a tree house too, you can visit this website and click on “Collections” and put your country of preference in location section to see a collection. I found 65 in India; let me know how many you find in your country of preference.

About Back of Beyond, Dehigaha Ela

The name of the place where we stayed is Back of Beyond, Dehigaha Ela and it’s near Sigiriya in Sri Lanka. Sigiriya is perhaps one of the most famous destinations of Sri Lanka. An image of Sigiriya Rock is used as a cover page of most of the travel books and articles about Sri Lanka. Sigiriya is famous for its ruins that are on top of a massive “Lion Rock” with lion like paws at the base.

View of the famous Sigiriya Rock from Pidurangala rock

View of the famous Sigiriya Rock from Pidurangala rock

If you’re visiting Sri Lanka, chances are you’re going to want to visit Sigiriya. If you do, I strongly suggest you stay at Back of Beyond, Dehigaha Ela because there is a lot to do here and you will not want to get out. It’s a nature retreat that’s secluded with unspoilt wilderness around. Yes, it’s completely off the grid!

Read: 13 Essential Travel Tips for Sri Lanka

The Forest around Back of Beyond, Dehigaha Ela

Honestly, I have seen many places that claim to be in forest but are just jungle themed resorts. I was so happy to see that the area around Back of Beyond Dehigaha Ela is a real forest. Its 30 minutes drive away from main Sigiriya and on our way here, we spotted a few wild elephants because it’s in the middle of dense rainforest. The drive from Sigiriya town to this place felt like a jungle safari.

Inside Back of Beyond, Dehigaha Ela

Streams, calcium deosits and waterfall - all inside Back of Beyond Dehigaha Ela

Streams, calcium deosits and waterfall – all inside Back of Beyond Dehigaha Ela

I have never seen a property that’s as big as this. They have 7 acres of land in the middle of the forest and they have barely utilized 1 acre. Its very beautiful because inside there are a few ponds with lotus flowers, two streams, little waterfalls and a few huge boulders that are so big that you can climb them like hills. If you hike around the streams, you can also see calcium deposits. Needless to say, we did spot a few exotic birds, colorful butterflies, and iguanas inside. Oh and don’t forget that we saw elephants just right outside while we were on our way here! We did however see fresh elephant footprints here but never saw them inside during the day.

Our Tree house

Our tree house in Sri Lanka that was booked through Glamping Hub

Our tree house in Sri Lanka that was booked through Glamping Hub

Nothing can compare to the experience of sleeping in a tree house in the middle of a jungle. We could hear the sounds of the forest at night and wished we could record those. In fact, what’s even better is waking up to the sounds of birds chirping and singing their sweet songs.

We stayed in the oldest tree house at this property – the Kon tree house. It was build by the locals many years back when they wanted to sleep safely and away from the path of wild elephants. This tree house is very cute, cozy and romantic. We had to climb three flights of wooden stairs to reach it. Inside this tree house, was a large bed with mosquito net, bedside drawer and electricity plug socket.

Inside our tree house in Sri Lanka at Back of Beyond, Dehigaha Ela

Inside our tree house in Sri Lanka at Back of Beyond, Dehigaha Ela

Yes, its open from all the sides which made the experience of sleeping here truly memorable. The only thing that was protecting us from the wilderness was the height of this tree house and the mosquito net around our bed.

Listening to the sounds of forest at night in our tree house in Sri Lanka

Listening to the sounds of forest at night in our tree house in Sri Lanka

Right under this tree house was our massive room with a sitting area and an open-air bathroom. While the tree house had a very simple and “real forest” feel; the room under it was elaborate and luxurious. We were only two, but an entire family of 5 – 6 people can stay here considering the size of our tree house and attached room.

The tree houses at Back of Beyond, Dehigaha Ela are sturdy and were built way before “tree house themed resorts” became a fad. All the tree houses here appeared to be different and we even saw one that had their own living room.

Natural Fish Spa – free!

Natural Fish Spa in Back of Beyind, Dehigaha Ela

Natural Fish Spa in Back of Beyind, Dehigaha Ela

Ever tried a fish spa? If you have tried one in Thailand where you have to put your feet in the middle of a tub full of hungry fishes, then I bet you would have hated it. I did too! Trust me when I say this but the experience is very different and pleasant when the process is natural. In Back of Beyond, they have several streams and there are spots where you can sit and put your feet in water while these “spa fishes” gently nib your skin!

At first I couldn’t stop giggling because it was ticklish but soon I relaxed and let myself get lost in the beauty of nature. San and I ended up sitting here for hours watching the waterfall, trees and everything around. Never in my life I thought something like a foot spa could be a romantic experience, but it was. Needless to say, our feet were looking very pretty by the end of our stay, haha.

Nature Trail Hike

This cute little yellow bird sand beautiful songs every morning

This cute little yellow bird is called Black-Hooded Oriole. It sang beautiful songs for us every morning

I can’t stress enough how big this property is and there is a lot do here that will keep you busy and you will not want to get out. We did multiple hikes on our own along the stream but decided to do a nature trail hike on one of the mornings. The hike started at 7:30 am and was led by Kasun.

He told us a lot of history about the area and Back of beyond. We were amazed to know that Back of Beyond has taken an initiative for reforestation in Sri Lanka. Their conservation efforts are outstanding and in all of their properties, they take great care to learn the ways of the land before they start building cottages and tree houses to minimize disruption to any of the existing natural patterns of the land and its life. They also practice rainwater collection and have created mini lakes for storing excess rainwater that provides water to the wildlife during dry seasons. They also have solar powered electricity for each cottage at the property. Moreover, they really know the area well and have also published a book called “Sigiriya and Beyond” with pictures and information of places in and around Sigiriya that no guidebook will tell you about.

We were also amazed to know that in this same property, a few things of archeological importance were found that are currently in Sigiriya museum. In fact, at the end of the hike we climbed on a boulder and saw markings of treasure that was hidden here but was dug out many years back. From this boulder, we also saw an amazing bird’s eye view of the forest around us. San and I jokingly called it “Mini World’s End”.

San and I at the end of our nature trail hike

San and I at the end of our nature trail hike

Apart from learning about the history and the environment, we also got to see many interesting species of insects, birds and trees which made our hike both fun and educational at the same time.

Other Activities

Hiking along the stream at Back of Beyond, Dehigaha Ela

Hiking along the stream at Back of Beyond, Dehigaha Ela

There is so much to do in and around this property, that you can easily spend a week here without getting bored. We hiked along the stream, swam in the water, saw calcium deposits, spotted a massive water monitor lizard and ended up reaching an open field with peacocks!

San swimming in a natural pool in the middle of the forest

San swimming in a natural pool in the middle of the forest

Sadly we were not at this place for as long as we wanted and couldn’t be a part of every single activities that they offer. You can also hike through a nearby village where you eat with the locals. Moreover, they can also arrange bird watching trips and cycling trips to the main Sigiriya city where you can visit the famous Sigiriya Rock and Pidurangala rock.

Delicious Food

Back of Beyond may be in the middle of the forest, but is a luxurious retreat. They have a massive dining area that overlooks the ponds. We have memories of spending hours here and eating delicious meals. The quantity is surely more than we could handle but San took it as a challenge to finish everything on his plate, haha!

Our breakfast at Back of Beyond, Dehigaha Ela

Our breakfast at Back of Beyond, Dehigaha Ela

For our first breakfast, we had an elaborate fruit salad, eggs, toast and sausages. On our second day, we got to eat South Indian breakfast of Dosa and sambar. Of course the meals were served with coffee and tea. I really like the Sri Lankan coffee here, which reminded me of Turkish coffee. Our dinner was excellent too and the portions were massive. We ate curry, rice, dal, chicken, fried rice and a unique dessert that was a mix of yogurt and a maple syrup kind of a liquid.

The staff is very attentive and sweet. They really pampered us and made us feel like royalty.

If you’re visiting Sri Lanka, then please do yourself a place and spend a few days at Back of Beyond Dehigaha Ela. To know more or to book your own tree house, you can click on the link. If you’re lucky, you may just spot a few elephants and won’t have to spend on expensive national park entry fee plus the jeep safari costs. You can get a lot of Sri Lankan bucket list activities checked off by just staying here!

 

Swimming in the stream around our tree house in Sri Lanka
Sleeping in a tree house in Sri Lanka
That one time we slept in a tree house in Sri Lanka

So, have you stayed in a tree house too? Let me know in comments!

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