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. However, you can 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. I’d recommend you apply at least a week in advance. You can click here to apply for your eVisa to enter 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. I highly recommend you apply for your visa through iVisa to make things simple. 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
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.
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).
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)
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.
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
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?
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.