There are so many wonderful experiences in Sri Lanka, so don’t waste precious time sorting out practicalities and searching out amenities when you’re there – go prepared. Here are some tips to help you plan smart for a different culture and climate in advance.
Before you travel and Once you get there sections below
BEFORE YOU TRAVEL
- It is still possible to get a visa on arrival, but you could face delays at the airport. Get it in advance via website: eta.gov.lk/slvisa/
- Vaccinations: not compulsory, but recommended are typhoid, hepatitis A, poliomyelitis, tetanus. Ask your doctor or medical centre for up to date advice.
- Buy the following must- haves at home – it’s not easy to find suitable shops for these in most of Sri Lanka, so stock up in advance
1) Sun cream (needed daily)
2) Mosquito repellent suited against dengue fever (needed daily)
3) Travel sickness pills – for boat trips in open seas (Whale & dolphin watching) and hill country roads (very windy, many get car sick)
4) Diarrhoea tablets – eat safely and you won’t need these. Ask for local herbs and aryuvedic products for natural alternatives
5) re-hydration tablets – if you get diarrhoea, replenish lost fluids immediately. King coconut is an excellent alternative
6) Hand wash disinfectant/sanitizer
7) Feminine hygiene products (particularly tampons are not widely available yet)
8) Headache pills – the high humidity can cause serious sinus problems
- Remember to pack: sun hat, swim suit, flip flops, walking shoes (trainers), light long sleeve shirts and long trousers for walks in sun and temple visits, sunglasses, back pack for day trips.
- Currency: Sri Lankan Rupees and US Dollars. More Rupees can be drawn from cash machines in bigger cities (Colombo, Galle, Kandy). Many hotels are out of town, so currency exchange facilities maybe available but cash machines need to be sought out
ONCE YOU GET THERE
At Colombo Airport
- Buy a local sim card in the arrivals area. There are a few provider stalls – useful for local calls and non-wifi internet connections
- Get free maps and travel information at several stalls in arrival area
- Book a taxi or arrange a driver, bus and train tickets, hotels in arrivals area
- Buy duty free products (or a washing machine!) after passport control and before exiting through to arrivals area
- Very strong undercurrents in the ocean, so only swim in locations deemed safe
- Lakes are home to crocodiles. DO NOT swim in these, however sweltering it is or even if you see locals doing it
Eating & Drinking
- Local food is generally hot (chilli). Hotel buffets usually have selection of menus
- Don’t risk consuming disease carrying water: watch-out with uncooked street food – tap water, peeled fresh fruit and vegetables, ice. Carry bottled water and check it is sealed. Good quality, hotels and restaurants can be trusted, so no worries there. Just take care with uncooked street food.
- Carry hand wash disinfectant/sanitizer with you, to use before eating if washing not possible. Useful during mid sight-seeing snack breaks
- Local currency is Sri Lankan rupee but trading is in US dollars. If haggling price on something (products, tuk tuks, tour guides), agree price up front and confirm which currency they refer to – especially with touts and guides at tourist spots!
- Tipping is expected, but no rules on amount. Tip for hotel bag carrying, tour guides, tour chauffeurs and if you wish at bars and restaurants. Pay in Sri Lankan Rupees, though dollars, Sterling & Euros often appreciated
- In tourist places, some come to ‘help’ show you the way or assist when climbing etc but they expect payment and can bother you until you pay. Politely say ‘no thanks’ or that you have no money up front.
- Cash versus credit card payments: Cash for local shops (e.g. buying water), small tips. Credit cards can be used at large hotels, larger shops and supermarkets in bigger cities. Safer to pay tourist site entrance fees in cash (Rupees or US Dollars) – credit card machines may not be working, exchange rate can fluctuate dramatically, reduces risk of credit card fraud
- Cash machines available in large towns and cities, not common in smaller holiday villages. Top up when you pass through a city or large, commercial town
- Car seats and even seatbelts are rare here! However, speed limits are too
- Avoid hiring and driving yourself – 2, 3, 4 and more wheeled vehicles combined with animals and wildlife coming from all directions will shatter your nerves
- As a passenger, try to enjoy the passing sites rather than fixating on road madness – this is not a sane place for backseat drivers
- Keep away from stray cats & dogs – there are many, could carry disease
- Wear sunscreen every day. Very close to equator with direct sun all year. Don’t under-estimate the effect
- Use mosquito spray day and night (over sunscreen), also to avoid dengue fever prevalent in the tropics
- Keep hydrated: Drink plenty of water. Straight-from-the-fruit coconut water (thambili or king coconut) contain lots of nutrients to re-hydrate after sweating all day and it’s delicious
- Wear long sleeves, legs and covered shoes or long sun exposure: close to equator, you’ll fry quickly and sunstroke danger
- Sun sets at 17:30 and gets very dark very quickly – don’t be caught if you are out and about.
- Don’t walk through paddy fields, high growing grass or stagnant ponds – there are a lot of poisonous snakes about
- Watch your bags and possessions – petty theft is rife here. Only leave bags and personal items in a vehicle with a highly trusted driver
- Stay somewhere with access to a pool, even if near sea – it gets extremely hot, you’ll need it after dark
- Find accommodation with air conditioning and/or fans otherwise sleeping in this extreme heat will be unpleasant or impossible
- Temperatures in most of the country are 25oC ++ all year round. Wear light clothing
- Hill country can get cool during the northern hemisphere winters. Take extra layers for the evening
- Air conditioning is used in up-scale restaurants, bars and hotels so it can get quite chilly indoors. Take an extra layer (shawl, long sleeved top, light jacket) if you are susceptible to the cold
Customs and etiquette
- Visiting Buddhist & Hindu Temples: a) You will need to remove shoes before entering the premises. The ground can be muddy, dusty, very hot etc. Take water/wipes to clean feet with before putting shoes on again, best to wear flip-flops. Shoes left outside entrance, usually safe but if concerned, take bag to carry them in b) clothing should be modest and respectful but rarely total coverage. Cover shoulders, below knee length for women and often no shorts for men. Carry a shawl and buy a cheap sarong to use in these places rather than over-dressing
- Buddhist Temples: do not turn your back on a religious statue or image, even if large, outdoor statues – walk away backwards or sideways out of respect.
- Full moon days each month are holy days for Buddhists – and national holidays. Tourist sites will be busy at these times. Alcohol may not be served at hotel on these days or only served in private areas (room service) out of religious respect. Buy your own drinks in advance and drink in your own room or balcony
- There are many beggars in places and touts maybe pushy but they are just trying to make a living – say ‘no’ politely and don’t get hung up
There are 2 monsoon seasons in Sri Lanka, each covering a different part of the country. Between these periods, there are inter-monsoon seasons when the weather can be unpredictable.
Get more tips here: When to go