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Sri Lanka Travel Tips for First Timers

Sri Lanka Travel Tips

Things You Need to Know When Planning a Visit to Sri Lanka

Nothing is more exciting than a first time, especially when it’s travelling to Sri Lanka! Just hearing the name and it will immediately create breathtaking pictures of calming beaches, artistic temples, and green forests in your imagination. It’s also a great place to relax and unwind. It’s a paradise—who would want to miss that? Definitely not you, nor would I.

That said, your first encounter in the country is the most special thing. Unfortunately, first times can give you worries, too. It’s normal, but you can overcome it. Board your airplanes prepared mentally, emotionally and physically by reading my Sri Lanka Travel Tips to keep you at ease for your visit to Sri Lanka

1.Sri Lanka Travel Tips No 1: Do I Need a Visa for Sri Lanka?

The first thing you have to secure is your e-visa/ETA. Processing your visa is done online via www.eta.gov.lk. Just this August 1, 2019, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) issued fee waiver program to 48 countries including the Philippines. This program is good for six months, which means it should be valid only until January 2020 (or until further notice). The aim is to allow you to be exempted with visa fee upon Electronic Visa Authorization or ETA registration. To know more about getting an e-Visa for Sri Lanka, read the article 9 Steps Closer to Sri Lanka: How to Apply for an E-Visa (ETA)’.

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Hep! There’s another thing you need to bring—a return ticket (or at least a tentative booking of a return ticket). Unlike in other countries, immigration officers in Sri Lanka are more flexible and don’t usually ask for this upon your arrival. But in some cases, they do (which is their job). So to save yourself from the dilemma, make sure to secure yours.

2. Is Sri Lanka Safe for Female Travelers?

Sri Lankan people are really nice. In fact, they are friendly in nature. This also means that it’s pretty normal for a local to approach you and talk to you, so just keep your cool and do not show your intimidation.

There is nothing to worry, too, even when you are a woman and traveling solo. Of course, you still have to be cautious, just like we would always do even in the Philippines, but you all have the reason to be stress-free. Certain Sri Lankan men might try to get your attention but you can just walk past them.

The whole time I was in Sri Lanka as a solo female traveler, I felt safe. I took the bus, the train and most public transportation and  not once did I feel unsafe.

3. How Should I Dress?

Things-to-do-In-Dambulla-Karlaroundtheworld

As the heart of Theravada Buddhism, Sri Lanka has a strong regard to its culture and traditions. That’s why when dressing up, you have to consider which place you will be going, and what particular culture is accepted in a certain place.

For instance, when going to ancient cities such as Kandy, Dambulla, Anuradhapurna, Jaffna (or to less touristy areas), it is recommended for women to wear less revealing clothes. You would not want to make the locals feel that their sacred places are disrespected by wearing something that shows your cleavage or your thighs. And speaking of sacred places, you have to cover up more when planning to enter their temples. Your dress should be below the knee, and your shoulders should be covered as well (do not wear sleeveless). This is also applicable to male tourists. So, do not wear shorts or sando in this places. And of course, remember to take your shoes or slip-ons off before entering any temple.

In beaches with lots of tourists, however, it’s totally fine to wear pretty much whatever you like such as short skirts or shorts and sleeveless tops.

4.Weather in Sri Lanka and Best Time to Go There

Weather in Sri Lanka is determined by monsoons. There are four (4) climate seasons which are as follows: first inter-monsoon season (March-April), southwest monsoon season (May-September), second inter-monsoon season (October-November), and northeast monsoon season (December- February). When a monsoon hits the country, a part of it experiences winds and rains. Some parts, however, would be sunny and tourists will more likely enjoy their vacation there (unless you are a rain-person).

Tourist Attractions in Jaffna
My cool Group in Jaffna

From March to October, the monsoon affects the southwest part of the country including the Hill Country. Because of this, it is best to visit places such as Jaffna, Trincomalee, Ballicaloa, Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa. Arugam Bay is at its finest waves from the months of May to September. Meanwhile, October and November are the months with the heaviest rains, especially in the southwest. Because of this, the more that it is recommended to visit the mentioned places during these months.

Meanwhile, places like the Hill Country (Kandy, Ella, Nuwara Eliya), Negombo, Colombo, Galle, and Tissamaharama can be best visited from the months December to February. During these months, rain showers the northeast part of the country. So as much as possible, plan your itinerary with landmarks in the southwest (which I already just mentioned).

Things-to-do-in-Galle

5.How to Get Around in Sri Lanka

There are a lot of good places to visit, but you cannot just go there by foot. Don’t be discouraged, there are actually so much ways to visit your destinations. Here are some of your options.

Ride on a tuk-tuk


If we have jeepneys, Sri Lanka has tuk tuks (also called three-wheelers and trishaws).  You might already see one after stepping out of the airport. When talking about short distances, you might give this a try. Riding one is like experiencing a part of Sri Lanka’s culture, too. A tuk tuk usually has a meter. In some cases, it can be broken, but in touristy places, drivers prefer to use none. Some drivers might give you a headache though, because they have the tendency to charge you way more times higher than the usual fare. So before calling for a tuk tuk, ask a local about the regualr price to pay for the ride at a certain destination. Do not forget to negotiate with the driver, too, before riding. Also, make sure to always bring smaller bills and pay just the exact amount. That way, you will not be outsmarted by certain drivers. Lastly, you may use apps such as Pick Me which lets you book a tuk tuk (a car, too) on which you can be informed with the price prior to your interaction with the driver.

Things-to-do-in-Galle

Book for a taxi or rent a car

Booking a taxi also works when you need a car. You can use apps like Uber and Pick Me to do so. The price may be almost similar to what you pay for a tuk tuk ride so you don’t have to spend much. If not, you may post your need for transpo on Facebook groups such as Sri Lanka Taxi Drivers or Sri Lanka Taxi Share In this group, taxi drivers from around the country, especially near you, will try to make a bid at your service request. You just have to mention in your post where you will be going and where you are at.

Want a whole day transportation service? Rent a private car instead. You can even hire a driver if you like. It’s a bit costly, but you will be saved from having to constantly switch for rides, or crowded public vehicles. If you are really on a budget, there are groups, too, in Facebook where travelers in Sri Lanka look for people they can share the car with (and the expenses of course). One example of this group is the Sri Lanka Backpackers. May be a backpacker or not, they can welcome you if you both agree on the terms.

Go get a bus or train.

Need a ride for farther destinations? Bus and train can take you there. Not just that, it can give you quite a unique experience. By experience, I mean both good and bad. For instance, trains will let you see the local life of Sri Lanka. The most popular scenic train ride in the country is the KandyNuwaraya EliyaElla route. You can also book train tickets in advance and reserve for a first class and observation compartment. If you are on a budget, then you may choose the second or third class. Although these tickets are usually issued on the spot, for this route, it is popular to still book yours in advance. Why? Because it is one of the sought-after scenes in Sri Lanka. Also, trains can be pretty crowded, so brace yourself.

Things-to-do-in-Galle
Bus station in Galle

When I say ‘crowded,’ I mean the bus, too. Especially during rush hours, buses are swarmed with passengers and you might not get a decent seat. The advantage, on the other hand, is that you got to go to your destination at an affordable price.

Things-to-do-in-Kandy

 

6. Traveling in Sri Lanka takes awhile, Enjoy it. 

‘Patience is virtue.’ I bet you already heard that, and it is an essential word of wisdom when touring around Sri Lanka. Just like in Manila, India, Thailand and Nepal , traffic in the country can get really bad. This is something you have to deal with especially if riding on a bus, car or tuk tuk. You have to consider the time, too, since traffic is beyond our control. The best way to resolve this is to strategize your time and resources or just like us, we used our van travel time to edit photos. Find something productive to do. 

7. Currency in Sri Lanka

‘How much Rupee do I need to get around Sri Lanka?’ you might ask.  Well, you need a lot. Most of the times, you will be paying by cash so it is definitely a need. Sri Lanka uses Rupee (Rs) as their currency. When converted, your one peso is around Rs 1.39.

There are six (6) coins and eight (8) banknotes in Sri Lanka. The lowest denomination for coins is 25 cents; highest is Rs 10. The lowest denomination of Rupee banknotes is Rs 10; the highest, on the other hand is Rs 5000. Why be familiar with that? You have to make sure that you have enough of them, especially the notes with lower denominations. Again, this is what you need to pay for whatever transaction you will be doing in Sri Lanka. It is recommended to pay for the exact amount especially in transactions in markets, shops and transportation.

Things-to-do-in-Hikkaduwa

Where to exchange? There are counters at the airport which lets you exchange your money for rupees and you have to pay for fees. You can also exchange through banks and ATMs. They will also ask for fees. They will usually charge you with around Rs 200 to Rs 400 per transaction. I was charged Rs 400 and I used a Philippine bank. The fee may depend on your bank, so make it an assignment to know how much your bank will charge you for a money exchange in a certain currency. .

Do you have banks from United States or United Kingdom? Consider yourself lucky! If used to exchange your money to Rupees, you might enjoy fee-exemption.

8. WiFi and Internet Access in Sri Lanka

To get a connection, you might plan of getting a local sim or renting a wifi hotspot device. If you wanted to avail a sim, there are kiosks at the airport which is usually free, but data packages are to be paid. You can also buy from retail stores around the city. You can either choose Dialog or Mobitel. Dialog has the best network coverage in the country. Mobitel, on the other hand, provides similar experience but with a more affordable price.

Avani-Kalutara-Karlaroundtheworld

WiFi plans, on the other hand, offers unlimited internet access in 4G network and can be charged per day/week, depending on your needs. They can be booked online, such as through klook.com or kkday.com, and to be picked-up at the international airport on your arrival, or be delivered in your hotel.

On a tight budget? Then, I guess you can just avail the free WiFi’s offered in hotels, restaurants and cafes around the country. It might be slow, though, and is not always reliable.

To read more about getting sim cards and renting wifi hotspot devices in Sri Lanka, check the article: Keeping Connected in Sri Lanka: SIM Cards and Data Plans, Pocket Wifi and Rentals.’

9. Sri Lankan Food Can Be Spicy

Just like in India, Sri Lanka has strong palate for spices. You will be able to taste different aromatic flavors in one food, and it is always a good thing, especially for those who are fan of spicy delicacies. Yup, you read that right, Sri Lankan food can be really spicy. They love serving almost all kinds of curry, and almost everything they bring on the table is seasoned with chili.

Avani-Kalutara-Karlaroundtheworld
Breakfast options at Avani

Not a fan of spicy food? Always ask restaurant personnel (or its counterpart) whether the available food is spicy or not. At times, you can request for a milder version of the dish, or ask for a different food, but it might be a struggle to find a dish that is not added with chili. Just to share with you, a friend who is not big on spicy food went to Sri Lanka and lived with just boiled eggs, papadaaam (a local snack), fruits, pasta and paneer (fresh cheese common in India).

Regardless, do not go home without trying their delicacies. Here are some of the food you should not miss tasting when in Sri Lanka:

  • Kottu roti
  • Wood apple
  • Pol and gotu kola Sambol
  • Wambatu moju
  • Polos
  • Hoppers
  • Lamprais
  • Fish ambul thiyal
  • Kukul mas curry
  • Parippu

10. Have an Ayurvedic Massage

It would never be a Sri Lankan vacation if you haven’t had an ayurvedic massage. Although you might already have tried Swedish or Thai, it is always a one if a kind experience to have been treated with a kind massage that is based on thousands of years of Indian medication.

Ayuverdic massage uses herbs and spices, and is a little oilier than the massages you might already had. But rest assured that they will cater to your need and preference. In fact, they don’t just give a relaxing feeling, they also create an enlivening mood as they sculpt with the body’s mold.

11. Electric Plugs in Sri Lanka

I didn’t really need to bring an adaptor for Sri Lanka as most hotels had the universal sockets but still, it’s best for you to bring one just in case. 

11. Drinking in Sri Lanka

Beer in Sri Lanka can be a little bit more expensive but try their local drink, Arrack. It’s a local rum made of coconut flowers. Ask for it, they will be happy to serve you. Take note though that Sri Lanka is not a big party place, I moved around Sri Lanka for a month and mostly it was me drinking with some friends but it’s not a massive party country. That should be good though, you can enjoy a drink during sunset and not have massive noises late at night. 

12.Sri Lankan People are so Friendly

Things-to-do-in-Ella-Srilanka

Make your first time in Sri Lanka, a good and happy memory. The Sri Lankan people, ever yet so friendly and approachable, will no doubt offer you with kindness and a helping attitude in your stay in the country. They will always love to understand you and will do their best to help you to make your experience in Sri Lanka worthwhile. This same feeling was one of my driving force to keep coming back to the place. I went alone to Sri Lanka in 2018 and travelled back again this 2019. It’s the same love I felt the first time, and I still felt secure and safe even in my recent travel.

 

 

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