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What you should know when you travelling to Sri Lanka

Updated: Aug 9, 2023

-Ashan D Traveller, Wild Ceylon Journeys

For a relatively tiny nation, Sri Lanka displays significant diversity. Sandy beaches transform into forested national parks, temple-filled plains, and jungle-covered highlands, with the added advantage that no location is too far from the shore.


Located in tropical waters off India's southern tip, Sri Lanka is characterized by its serene Buddhist culture, awe-inspiring natural beauty, diverse landscapes, and friendly locals who always greet you with a smile and a wave (remember to reciprocate with a smile). Despite its turbulent recent history, the island maintains a laid-back way of life. A little knowledge can make your journey to this Indian Ocean paradise much smoother.


Size | 25,330 square miles

Population | 21.7 million

Languages | Sinhala, Tamil, English

Capital city | Colombo

Currency | Sri Lankan Rupee (LKR)



Visas*

  • You'll need a visa in the form of an Electronic Travel Authority to enter Sri Lanka.

  • Sri Lanka has introduced Digital Arrival & Departure Cards, which can be completed three days prior to travel.

  • Entry and exit conditions can change at short notice. You should contact the nearest high commission, embassy or consulate of Sri Lanka for the latest details.

  • Airlines may require proof of certain vaccinations to travel. Check requirements with individual airlines prior to travel.

  • Curfews may be implemented and travel restrictions imposed at short notice.

  • The local currency is the Sri Lankan Rupee (LKR). Exchange Australian dollars at the airport or commercial banks in major centers. Most major towns and cities have ATMs, but not all accept international cards. Hotels and major shops accept credit cards.

Local laws**

  • Public Emergencies can be declared, and curfews imposed at short notice.

  • Carry relevant travel and photo identification documents with you at all times. If you don't, officials may detain you. It's illegal to cover your face in a way that prevents identification. Follow the advice of local authorities.

  • Public demonstrations can occur throughout Sri Lanka.

  • The legal drinking age is 21. It is illegal to drink alcohol or smoke in public.

  • Be careful when taking photos. You must not photograph or video inside High-Security Zones (HSZs). These include military sites, some government buildings and official residences. HSZs aren't always marked.

  • Respect the local culture. It's illegal to mistreat Buddhist images. This includes posing for photos with Buddha statues or wearing tattoos, clothing or jewelry associated with Buddhism. Get local advice before photographing places of worship.

  • Sri Lanka has conservative dress and behavior standards. Take care not to offend.


Health**

  • Dengue fever is a risk in Sri Lanka, with increased cases during the monsoon season. Use mosquito repellent. If you have a fever, seek medical help.

  • Other insect-borne diseases include chikungunya, Japanese encephalitis and filariasis. Use mosquito and insect repellent. Get vaccinated for Japanese encephalitis before you travel.

  • Foodborne, waterborne and other infectious diseases include typhoid, hepatitis, and leptospirosis. Drink only boiled or bottled water. Rabies is present in dogs, monkeys and bats.

  • Medical services in Colombo are below Australian standards. Outside Colombo, they're limited. If you're seriously ill or injured, you'll need medical evacuation. Ensure your travel insurance covers this. Import delays may impact access to some medicines.

Safety***

  • Public demonstrations can occur throughout Sri Lanka and may become violent. Avoid areas impacted by demonstrations. Demonstrations can lead to disruptions to traffic and public transport. Follow the advice of local authorities and monitor the media for updates.

  • Public emergencies can be declared, and curfews imposed at short notice. Carry relevant travel and identification documents with you at all times.

  • Terrorism can occur anywhere at any time. Terrorists may target areas visited by tourists. Follow the advice of local officials.

  • There are shortages of some imported food and medicines in Sri Lanka.

  • Always carry travel and identification documents. Allow additional time to clear security checks, especially at airports.

  • There are marked and unmarked minefields and unexploded weapons in the Northern Province and parts of the Eastern Province. Stay on the main roads. Pay close attention to landmine warning signs.

  • Crime, including sexual assault, harassment and robbery, can occur. If you're traveling alone, arrange travel through a reputable company.

  • Scams and fraud are common, including credit card fraud, overcharging and fake goods. Be alert to fake goods, especially jewelry and gems which are sold by the side of the road. Check your bank statements often.

  • Potential Flooding and landslides occur during the monsoon season, from December to March in the northeast and May to October in the southwest. Be prepared to change your travel plans. And luckily we don't have Volcanoes, Tornados, Hurricanes, and big Earthquakes.


English is Super Widely Spoken*

Although Sinhala is the official language, communicating in Sri Lanka is rarely an issue since most people have at least a basic understanding of English, which is also the second official language. If you encounter someone who doesn't understand you, they will likely go out of their way to find someone who does, so there's no need to worry.


Right Clothing***


Pack appropriate attire for Sri Lanka's hills and religious sites. The country's mountains reach elevations of over 2500m (6560ft), resulting in lower temperatures in the highlands compared to the coast. Consider bringing a light jumper for cooler nights and early mornings, especially between December and March. Carry a sarong, which can serve as a beach blanket, towel, shawl, or skirt when visiting temples and even as a warm layer on air-conditioned buses.


For jungle trekking, wear leech socks over long pants and sturdy shoes or boots. When going on a safari or bird watching, opt for earth-friendly colors and wear long sleeves. Don't forget to bring sunglasses and masks or scarfs in case of dusty seasons. In lowland areas, the weather is soothing and hot during noon hours, so pack breathable and convenient clothing, including flip flops.


Dress respectfully, keeping Sri Lankan traditions in mind.

Despite the country's developed tourist industry, many Sri Lankans hold conservative values and are deeply religious. While swimwear is acceptable at the beach, avoid wearing revealing clothing when exploring town. Nudity or toplessness is not allowed on any Sri Lankan beaches. When visiting religious sites, avoid clothing that exposes the legs, upper arms, and shoulders. Public displays of affection, loud or brash behavior, and losing your temper in public are discouraged.


Plan ahead for the hill country trains*

Sri Lanka Railways operates the nation's trains, including the breathtaking Main Line that passes through the highest mountains, cloud forests, and tea estates, offering stunning mountain landscapes, distant waterfalls, and cloud-covered vistas. The Kandy to Ella section is particularly popular among tourists and locals alike. To secure a seat on the renowned Odyssey Train, book tickets in air-conditioned first-class or fan-cooled second class well in advance. You can contact your local travel provider to help you with ticket reservations. Once booked, changes to dates or refunds are typically not allowed.


Tip like a Sri Lankan

Tipping is a common practice in Sri Lanka, and many restaurant workers depend on it for additional income. Most larger hotels and restaurants include a 10% tip as a standard charge. You can use this as a guide for tipping in places that don't include a service charge.


For you to get a rough idea on the Sri Lankan general food and beverage rates,


Beer in a bar = USD 3

Lunch in a local restaurant = USD 2–4

Short Tuk-Tuk trip = USD 1–2

Western-style lunch = USD 6–8

Classy seafood dinner = USD 10–15


Now enjoy your Trip to Sri Lanka!!


Ashan D Traveler

Wild Ceylon Journeys

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