Sri Lanka uses a range of sockets, including European and UK plug styles, so an international travel adapter may come in useful. Specialised Sri Lankan adaptors can be bought in major hotels and many shops.
An airport tax is built into the price of your flight tickets; Sri Lankan departure tax is no longer paid on departure.
Allow Enough Time
We believe that you will discover Sri Lankans to be the most courteous and friendly people in the world. However, Sri Lanka will not be rushed, and a genial, relaxed service is not always a rapid one. Allow a little more time for checking out of hotels, ordering food, paying bills, travelling etc.
Please ask permission before taking photographs of people and respect their wishes if they refuse. Minority groups in particular are often unhappy to have their photo taken. Photographing Buddhist Monks is not taboo but can create awkwardness, so assess the situation and if in doubt ask. We do not recommend paying for the right to take a photo.
Pack for heat and humidity. Long-sleeves might be advisable after dusk to protect against mosquitoes. In the hill country, where it is cooler, a light sweater is frequently required at night.
On the Beach:
Topless sunbathing is officially illegal. The use of bikinis is generally considered acceptable while on the beach. When swimming in rivers or lakes ask for local advice, as covering up may be necessary.
Away from the beach/pool, be aware that dress standards are comparatively conservative and it is common practice to wear loose, long and lightweight clothing. Be especially careful about modest dress when visiting religious sites, where knees and shoulders are often required to be covered.
Consider buying a Sri Lankan SIM card for your mobile phone - Sri Lankan mobile phone call rates are relatively cheap, both for local and international calls. There is a Dialog GSM shop outside airport arrivals.
Most hotels offer free internet access, as do some cafes, particularly in areas such as Galle Fort. Sri Lanka Telecom shops (e.g. Colombo World Trade Center) sell scratch cards for immediate Internet access, which are good value and easy to use. IDD facilities are available in the vast majority of tourist hotels and hotel fax lines are plentiful. To contact a BT operator from Sri Lanka, for charge card or reverse-charge calls, dial 432999 (but be aware that some hotels will block this number). Cyber cafes exist in Colombo and some tourist areas, although connection speeds are slow outside Colombo.
Customs and Cultural Difference
Sri Lanka’s genuine hospitality to tourists is renowned. Take care to avoid religious offence, however. In particular, respect the Buddhist faith: do not touch a monk, do not pose for photographs on religious statues and remove shoes and socks when entering temples. We recommend that you are as informed as possible about the island before you arrive: read about the religion and culture and learn about local rules and values. Be sensitive to cultural difference. Patience, friendliness and courtesy are highly valued virtues that will win you the respect of many.
Before you go, email yourself a copy of all the important information – airline numbers, phone numbers and passport and driving licence numbers. If your documents and/or wallet is lost or stolen, you can still access all your details.
Sri Lanka celebrates several religious holidays each year, including a Poya (full moon day) each month which is categorised as a Public, Bank and Mercantile Holiday. These holidays are referred to as ‘dry days’, as the sale of alcoholic beverages at shops, hotels and restaurants is prohibited. Wine stores, taverns and bars are also closed on these days. Your travel consultant will be able to advise if your holiday dates include a dry day, and your chauffeur-guide can assist you with purchasing alcohol in advance if you wish to consume alcohol on a dry day.
- Police: 011 2433333
- Fire: 011 2422222
- Hospital: 011 2691111
- Colombo Tourist Information: 011 2252411
- Kandy Tourist Information: 081 2222661
- Department of Motor Traffic: 011 2694331
- Automobile Association: 011 2421528-9
- Department of Immigration: 011 2503629
Entertainment is predominantly, but not exclusively, based around the top hotels, which offer: a range of restaurants and bars; sports facilities, from swimming pools to floodlit tennis courts; health facilities and spas; nightclubs, and traditional Sri Lankan entertainment. However, do not automatically limit yourself to the hotel – in Colombo especially, and in other major tourist areas, there are smaller, independent alternatives. Casinos are sanctioned for tourists.
The beaches are some of the finest in the world, but before you swim consider dangerous currents and cleanliness. Sri Lanka also offers: game parks; activity holidays; bird-watching sanctuaries; hill-walking and outstanding historical and religious sites. There is a wide range of shopping options in the country, including gems, spices, linen and batiks, art galleries and hand-made carvings.
Sri Lanka’s terrorist conflict ended in 2009 after a 20-year guerrilla war by the Tamil Tigers was defeated by government forces. Even at the height of the conflict, the vast majority of the island was violence-free. There has been no renewal of terrorism since the end of the war and Sri Lanka has experienced a large rise in tourist numbers. The conflict touched many lives with sadness and should not be regarded as a topic for casual conversation.
Beware of breaking baggage limits; your flight tickets should clearly state the maximum baggage weight. Additional charges may be levied, or equipment left behind. Requests for a higher limit can be made on your behalf, but success is not guaranteed. You can ship excess baggage to your final destination through the excess baggage counter, which offers better rates than similar airline-run services. This counter is located prior to the check in desks at the farewell area. Expect any unaccompanied excess baggage to reach your final destination 3-5 days after the day of departure.
Food and Drink
Rice and curry is the Sri Lankan staple, but a wide range of international dishes are available throughout the island. Bear in mind that purchasing local food and drink supports the locals rather than promoting costly imports. When eating, consider the old advice: ‘boil it, bake it, peel it or ignore it’. Be particularly wary of salads and unpeeled fruit and ensure your meat is thoroughly cooked.
Most importantly, drink and clean your teeth in bottled water only. This can be bought more cheaply from local shops than top hotels, but check that the seal is unbroken. Top hotels also supply flasks of boiled and filtered water. Coconut water is renowned as a settler of a queasy stomach, although some may prefer to take their medicinal coconut in the form of arrack, the local firewater.
Sri Lanka has more public holidays than anywhere else in the world, the most common being Poya Day, which occurs every full moon and is important to Buddhists for religious observances. Generally shops and businesses are closed on Poya days, the sale of alcohol and fresh meat is forbidden and entertainment can be restricted.
April is a festive month in Sri Lanka, when Buddhists and Tamils celebrate the New Year or ‘Avurudhu’, in line with the Sun’s astrologi- cal movements from the house of Pisces to the house of Aries. The whole island joins in these festivities which include religious ceremonies, games, family get-togethers, traditional food and fireworks. With the buzz of activity, there is likely to be large crowds of local shoppers hunting for gifts and new clothes all throughout the country, so remember to factor in some extra time when heading out. This will also be a great time to sample some of Sri Lanka’s traditional sweetmeats as well as some fun games fit for all ages. It is good to keep in mind also that during the 13th and 14th of April, all wine stores, taverns and bars will be closed. Consumption of alcohol will be possible within your room and we recommend purchasing your requirements in advance.
For the dates of upcoming of national holidays, visit: www.srilanka.travel/srilankan_public_holiday
You are strongly advised to contact your own GP or vaccination centre in respect of required vaccinations for Sri Lanka. Check the recommended inoculations at least a month before travel – these usually include tetanus, typhoid, hepatitis A / B and polio. For further information, see our Travel and Health section.
We advise you to pack:
- Sun cream, insect repellent, sting and bite relief cream and antiseptic cream.
- Body-salt replenishment powder, such as Dioralyte, and Imodium or similar, to be used for cases of diarrhoea.
Top hotels can advise on reputable local doctors, or private hospitals in the event of serious illness.
The HIV rate is rising throughout Asia, so if you might be sexually active, pack condoms and practice safe sex. Discourage any trishaw drivers or hawkers who act on behalf of any illegal prostitution racket.
Language and Religion
Sinhala (spoken by more than 80% of the public) and Tamil are the national languages. English is widely spoken and understood in all but the most remote areas. Buddhism is the predominant religion, although Hindus, Muslims and Christians are also present.
All the top hotels offer a one-day laundry service, although prices vary widely. Cheaper launderettes are available in most towns, although quality is inconsistent.
Money and Security
Local currency is Sri Lankan Rupees. Currency can only be exchanged in Sri Lanka, so you would be best to bring US Dollars, British Pounds or Euros. The bank booths in the airport arrivals hall generally offer the most competitive rates and quick service. Debit cards and credit cards can be used in most restaurants and shops. We advise against Traveller’s cheques, which are rarely accepted. ATM machines are widely available in major cities. Beware credit-card frauds whenever you pay direct. We offer a strict anti-fraud policy for your maximum protection.
Passport and Visas
Since 1st January 2012, all travellers arriving in Sri Lanka must have a visa. Visitors must apply for the official Electronic Travel Authorisation via www.eta.gov.lk. There is a small fee for the visa, and you must have at least six months left on your passport at time of travel in order for the visa to be approved. Citizens from Singapore, The Seychelles and The Maldives are exempt. It is also possible for tourists to complete their Arrival Cards online up to three days before their flight. This can be done at: https://eservices.immigration.gov.lk/emb/eEmbarkation. For more information, see our Visa section.
Travelling in Sri Lanka is extremely safe, but caution should always be exercised when visiting a new country, particularly if you find yourself in an unfamiliar environment. Your personal safety is your own responsibility. Please take extra care when in an area where there may be wild animals and keep a safe distance away should one cross your path. Be mindful of any signs stating that an area is restricted or dangerous due to the presence of wild animals, but be aware that not all unsafe areas are marked as such – if in doubt, always check.
Our chauffeur-guides will provide you with safety briefings before you do any activities which carry potential risks such as trekking, safari drives and water-sports. These briefings include a step by step outline of the activity and any advisable precautionary measures. Much of the information included in these briefings is common sense, and we would never recommend any activities that would put our clients in danger. These briefings also include recommendations of what to wear / take along for the activity, an approximate duration and background information. Should you have any concerns about the activities included in your holiday, please speak to your sales consultant.
Water conservation is especially important in Sri Lanka. Water is a precious resource needed for personal use, industry, farming and power generation (the island is heavily reliant on Hydro Electric Power). Avoid excessive use of water: consider taking a shower rather than a bath, or shorten the length of your shower, and consider asking for towels to be folded rather than washed each day.
Electricity conservation is essential in Sri Lanka. Power is a precious resource at present and the demand for electricity places an enormous strain on the economy. Try to conserve electricity where possible: make sure you turn off your lights etc. when you leave your bedroom, and consider limiting your use of air-conditioning – for example, cool down the room and then switch to an overhead fan.
Waste pollution is a serious problem in Sri Lanka. Disposal systems are often inadequate, whilst the recycling of many products is rare. The plastic bag is a particular blight, and will be offered for almost every purchase, so try to take your own bags when shopping. Cotton bags are also readily available.
The sexual exploitation of children is a problem faced in many parts of the world. As we conduct our business, we are careful to avoid any kind of sexual exploitation of children and request travellers to not support the sex industry. We vehemently refuse to deal with any partners found to encourage or engage in such activities.
Sri Lanka is recognised as an amphibian hotspot, with 116 species, 90% of them found nowhere else on earth. A recent IUCN Red List assessment revealed that 72 of the amphibians in Sri Lanka are under the threat of extinction. We urge travellers to take extra caution when visiting delicate ecosystems such as the Sinharaja Rainforest in order to protect their habitats. Take extra care while climbing Adams Peak, as the trail overlooks the habitats of several endemic amphibians, threatened by pollution.
Be wary while shopping to ensure you are not encouraging the wasteful destruction of important natural resources and/or endangered species. Avoid hard wood products likely to have been produced in an unsustainable manner, shells from beach traders or ancient artefacts.
Bartering over the price of goods is widely expected for a variety of transactions, including the hire of tuk-tuks and the purchase of handicrafts. Note though that not all sellers will quote you an inflated price and that therefore requires bargaining. Modern shops, for instance, have adopted Western habits where bartering is not welcomed. We recommend you try to ascertain the guide prices for goods or services before purchasing, and remember that a small and inconsequential saving for you could be an extremely important amount to the seller. Bargaining is best carried out in a light-hearted, courteous manner; aggressive haggling will offend the seller and may increase the price. If you make a purchase, beware extra import costs for tax, handling charges, customs, and delivery fees. In Australia, for example, fumigation certificates may also prove a problem.
The Inland Revenue Department of Sri Lanka has now introduced the Tourist VAT Refund System (TVRS) for visitors to the country. Please read here for more details on this system which was been implemented from the 11th of September 2018.
Smoking in public areas in Sri Lanka is not allowed, but there are designated smoking areas for restaurants/pubs/cafes etc. Some establishments have a designated smoking area inside.
GMT +5.5 hours.
Whilst the recently built highway has helped to quicken many of the journeys, in particular airport transfers, travel around Sri Lanka often entails several long drives, sometimes on rough roads. Bathroom facilities during the drives can at times be very basic; give your chauffeur-guide plenty of warning if you would like to stop at a bathroom en route and they will take you to the most suitable facilities available.
An itinerary may call for a significant amount of walking on uneven paths, and you may encounter long and steep stairs at many of the sites you visit. Some of the historic sites have challenging climbs, which you should assess with your guide before attempting.
For taxi drivers, hotels and restaurants 10% is common. Often the service charge is included on your bill at hotels and restaurants. If you hire a car and driver, please also consider tipping your driver for good service. A good tip is anything upwards of $15 per day.
Trishaw or Tuk Tuk:
The simplest and cheapest way to travel short distances in Sri Lanka. Good-natured price bartering is widespread, although in Colombo this is often unnecessary, as many are fitted with a meter. In towns, work on a rough guide of about Rs50 a kilometre and agree the price before you set off. In certain locations, such as Arugam Bay, tuk tuks are available to rent: we advise only those familiar driving on Asian roads to consider hiring a tuk tuk.
Taxis are good value for longer journeys and operate on set charges. However, be aware that taxis operating from 5-star hotels are dearer.
Cheap and plentiful, at least during the day, but often crowded and unreliable.
Journeys from Colombo-Nuwara Eliya and beyond, or Colombo-Matara are a peaceful way to enjoy some spectacular scenery. Prices are cheap, so booking the luxury of first-class in advance is advised. See our Train Travel section for more information.
Sri Lanka's roads will seem chaotic to all but the most experienced traveller in Asia. Travellers should be prepared for disruption due to roadworks and traffic congestion, which can cause delays to your road journeys. The journey times that we provide are therefore only an estimate. Independent car hire is possible upon production of credit card and driving license but, as chauffeur-driven cars can be arranged for similar cost, they are strongly advised.
Often available, although not to be recommended on anything but the quietest roads, as accident rates on busy roads are high.
Scooters and Motorbikes:
Particularly in the main tourist destinations, scooters are a popular way to travel and are available for hire. However, they are rarely found in established vehicle hire shops: most often, scooter/motorbike rentals are offered by locals running an independent business. You may have to leave your passport with the vendor for the duration of the rental. We strongly advise that scooter/motorbike hire should only be considered by those with experience riding in Asia.
Helicopters and Sea Planes:
Helicopter and/or sea plane transfers are not only a luxurious and incredible way to travel round Sri Lanka, but are also extremely time-efficient. We use four Sri Lankan aviation companies, all of which offer a reliable and comfortable service: Senok Aviation, Cinnamon Air, Helitours and Simplifly. If you are interested in seeing the island by air, get in touch with your travel consultant for more information. Daily scheduled flights, charter flights and scenic flights are available.
Please note that each aviation company has its own terms and conditions which will apply to any domestic flight undertaken by you. Your travel consultant can share these with you upon request. The terms and conditions include information concerning: weight allowance; conduct, and cancellation. Each airline reserves the right, without notice, to cancel any flight, to substitute any aircraft for that which was originally scheduled, or to transfer you without notice to any other aircraft or flight.