While tour operators in Sri Lanka are always happy to plan your trip, there are a few do’s and don’ts in Sri Lanka that you must keep in mind
1. Visa-On-Arrival? Not happening!
Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA) is the term used in Sri Lanka for obtaining online visa prior to arrival. Apart from Singapore, Seychelles and Maldives, visitors from any other country were required to obtain an ETA from www.eta.gov.lk before arriving in Sri Lanka. Before the pandemic struck, there were several countries that were exempted from the ETA fee – EU, Australia, Canada, China, India, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Thailand, UK, Ukraine, USA are just some of the countries in that list. Due to the ongoing pandemic, entry permission for all foreign nationals was restricted until January 2021. Now, in an effort to promote tourism, the country is accepting foreigners via a strict procedure of PCR tests and document submissions in order to obtain an ETA. This online method is convenient for all, with minimum time consumption of going to the embassy for visa instead. For a nominal fee, eVisa to Sri Lanka usually permits a 30-day double entry visa.
2. Don’t hop into a tuk tuk until you’ve agreed on a price
When tuk tuk drivers in Sri Lanka recognize a tourist, they tend to overcharge. As a rule, all three-wheelers are supposed to run on a meter, but you may come across tuk tuks that have a broken meter. In that case, make sure you ask around to figure out how much is the average fare to reach your destination and if your tuk tuk driver quotes higher, remember to negotiate politely. Tuk drivers often get hyped up when you are rude and trying to bargain because for many, this is their only means of living.
3. Handicrafts? Trust only Govt Certified Stores
Handlooms, wooden carvings, masks, lacquer (clay) work, batik, pottery and handmade jewellery are a few things that are popular as handicraft souvenirs that tourists often like to take back home as memory for themselves and their friends. When shopping for handicrafts, make sure you visit only government certified stores such as Laksala, Lakpahana, Lakpura, Lak Medura and Ceylon Handicrafts.
4. Plan in the right season
Sri Lanka experiences two monsoons that effect the southwest and the northeast coast. Depending on which area you’d like to focus your tour on, you can plan your dates accordingly. November to March are the best months to visit Sri Lanka’s south-west coast and the hill country. The equally beautiful east coast can be explored during the months of April to September. However, do keep in mind that Sri Lanka is a tropical country and has holiday-friendly weather throughout the year. It is very unlikely that you will experience heavy rains for one or two whole weeks at a stretch. Rains usually last for a few hours each day, hence you are sure to catch some sunshine everyday even during the monsoons.
5. Watch what you wear inside Buddhist Temples
Sri Lankans are very friendly, warm and welcoming people, particularly towards tourists in their country. However, it is a very conservative nation, hence you have to dress modestly to show respect and decency in public areas and sacred sites. Light and loose clothing is recommended. While covering your head is not allowed in Buddhist places of worship, showing your shoulders and legs above the knee is considered disrespectful. Women can carry a scarf in their backpack to cover up shoulders when visiting temples. Men should wear a decent shirt or t-shirt in these areas and may require a full-length pants too. You may also be requested to remove your shoes at certain sites.
6. Budget Stay? Luxury Resort? Backpacker Hostel? Lanka Got It All
Whether you are looking for a budget holiday or an exclusive luxury resort, Sri Lanka offers all kinds of accommodation, and that too in all parts of the country. For the luxury seekers, a few options are Chena Huts and Wild Coast Tented Lodge in Yala, 98 Acres Resort and Spa in Ella, The Golden Ridge Hotel in Nuwara Eliya, Ulagalle in Anuradhapura, Heritance Kandalama in Dambulla, Anantaya Passikudah and Karpaha Sands on the east coast, Kodev Kalpitiya and Anilana Chilaw on the west coast, The Fortress Resort and Spa, Marriott Weligama, Shangri La Hambantota, Riff Hikkaduwa and a whole lot more on the southwest coast!
Backpackers and budget holiday-ers are sure to find more economical accommodation options in all parts of Sri Lanka as well. There are also several low-cost camping travel tips for adventure seekers in destinations such as Meemure (Kandy), Knuckles Mountain Ranges, Yala National Park, Wilpattu National Park, and so on.
7. Packing Advice
Sri Lanka has a varied climate and packing light may be slightly tricky. But as a tropical country that is close to the equator, average temperatures are hot and humid, about 27-30 degrees Celsius, with the hills being slightly colder – about 10 to 20 degrees Celsius. Thin, loose-fitting clothes are ideal for the most part, and a warm sweater may be needed if you want to cover hill country and tea plantations such as Haputale and Ella.
In the pandemic world, you must not forget to keep face masks and hand sanitizers in your purse at all times. Sri Lankan authorities have the right to fine you if you are not wearing face masks in public areas. Also, keep in mind that your adventures are the biggest highlight of your tour. Hence you must not forego your hiking gear, sneakers, sports wear and any other accessories that you may need for the activities you want to take part in. If you are going to be visiting religious sites, appropriate clothing to cover your shoulders and legs will be required, and comfortable slip-on footwear is advisable as you may have to remove them on and off. Throw in a strong mosquito repellent to avoid too many bites from mosquitos and other insects.
8. Network Connection
For most convenience in terms of staying connected, it is best to purchase a local sim card at the airport with a data package for internet use. Mobitel, Dialog, and Etisalat are some popular local networks and new sim connections are very pocket friendly in Sri Lanka.
9. More about the Locals
- Over 70% of Sri Lankans are Buddhists, majority of them practicing the more conservative version of Buddhism.
- Locals believe Lord Buddha visited many sites in Sri Lanka and view Buddhism more as a way of life rather than a religion.
- Physically touching a monk is considered disrespectful.
- Turning your back on a Buddha statue at any point in time is on the list of don’ts in Sri Lanka.
- Every full moon Poya Day (once a month) is a public, bank, and mercantile holiday. No alcohol and raw meats can be purchased from anywhere on those days.
The remaining ethnic backgrounds of Sri Lankans comprise of the Christian, Islamic, Tamil, Hindu, Burger, and Malay races.
10. Ask before you click!
When on holiday, the best way to take back memories are through photographs. But in Sri Lanka, when clicking with locals or clicking at religious/cultural sites, always ask if it is allowed before you capture. Particularly with locals where their poverty and misfortune is highlighted, while that may not be your intention, they may be offended. More often than not, Sri Lankans are delightful and accommodating. So, just take that little extra step and ask politely before you take a picture with them. Of course, this does not include broad shots of this beautiful country that capture a site or landscape where people are included; that is understandable.
11. Tropical fruits are a feast!
- Bananas in different varieties
- Passion Fruit
- Raw Jackfruit
We encourage you to try all these local fruits to enjoy a completely different taste in each!
12. Local foods are a must-try.
Sri Lankan food is amazing and diverse. Rice and curry is the staple dish which includes a meat curry, a portion of rice, accompanied by some vegetable curries and a green salad. Sri Lankans prefer using their hands to eat – particularly the right hand (which is considered clean). Here are a few foods you must try when in Sri Lanka.
- Ambulthiyal (Fish curry)
- Brinjal Modju
- Chicken curry
- String Hoppers
- Pol Sambol (coconut salad)
- Gotukola, Mukunuwenna, Kankun (local green leaves salad)
- Kottu Rotti