Sri Lanka travel advice

Culture tips
John Beswetherick, Managing Director of our supplier Tikalanka (UK) Limited:

Culture tips

“Everyone knows about the Esala Perahera Festival in Kandy, but the Navam Perahera in Colombo at the full moon in February is not so touristy. The other one is the big Hindu Kataragama Festival in July and August, near the Yala National Park, which is a great experience.”
Trip planning tips
Ishara De Silva Managing Director of our supplier Srimal Plantation and Ayurveda Hotel:
"Do try and move beyond the tourist strip because everything here, from the shops to the people are all simply tailoring to that market and that is not real Sri Lanka. In the tourist strip people can get very opportunistic, and I want tourists to know that not all Sri Lankan people are like that at all."
Tips on tips
John Beswetherick, Managing Director of our supplier Tikalanka (UK) Limited :

Tips on tips

"Westerners seem to have a real issue about tipping. Sri Lanka is a tipping culture, and it’s naďve of westerners to go out there and get indignant about being asked for money all the time. You just have to accept it, and be pleasant about it if you don’t want to give a tip, or use a service. 99% of the time the person will then go away, so I don’t understand why westerners get so uptight and aggressive about it. Yes, a lot of them are trying to get an extra buck from tourists, but some of them are also on the breadline. So, I just like to educate people that this is the way of life, so just be relaxed about it."
Beach tips
Liddy Pleasants is Managing Director at our supplier Stubborn Mule Travel:

Beach tips

"If you are going to Sri Lanka for a cultural vacation but want to have a few days at the beach at the end, choose your beach carefully. On the southwest coast a lot of the beaches look idyllic in the pictures, but are actually crammed full of charter beach trippers, and completely in contrast with the rest of your time in Sri Lanka."
Wildlife tips
Ishara De Silva Managing Director of our supplier Srimal Plantation and Ayurveda Hotel:

Wildlife tips

“Some safari guides think they will get a bigger tip if they take you really close to the animals. There is no control over this, and animals get disturbed and distraught and sometimes chase the jeeps. If a tourist vehicle gets damaged by an elephant, that elephant will get shot. So, given the lack of regulation around it, it would be good if the tourists tell the driver that they do not want to go too close to the animals, and to drive with respect for the animals.“
Food tips
John Beswetherick, Managing Director of our supplier Tikalanka (UK) Limited:

Food tips

“People don’t appreciate that when they have rice and curry in Sri Lanka, it isn’t like going to an Indian restaurant back home, with one big portion of pasanda or something. A traditional Sri Lankan curry is like six different curries, with a sambal or chutney, rice and bread. The choice of curries is myriad. Wherever you are there will be local differences, depending on the vegetables, meat or fish they are using. It’s a stunning place to do a cookery course in fact, because of the amazing variety”.
Activity tips
Patricia Weismantel Product Manager at our supplier Spice Roads:

Activity tips

Sri Lanka is a perfect place to cycle as there are all these dirt roads that go past all the water basins that were created hundreds of years ago, and we cycle along the roads going through tea plantations which are beautiful. On cycle tours we make a big issue about drinking lots as you can get really dehydrated in Sri Lanka and our tours are supported so the cyclists don’t have to carry their own water, but just stock up from our vehicle.

Health & safety in Sri Lanka

HEALTH

The National Emergency telephone number is 119 and 110 if you want an emergency ambulance. During the rainy season use mosquito repellent, with Dengue fever being the predominant problem and no vaccination available. Malaria is a risk, although Colombo, Kandy, Galle, Gampaha, Kalutara, Matara and Nuwara considered safe. But do take precautions, covering up in the evenings, using repellents and sleeping under a mosquito net. See NHS site Fit for Travel for more details, and it is always good to keep an eye on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) for up to date details or risks. Many medications may not be widely available in Sri Lanka so bring a basic medical kit, plus any prescription medicines along with a copy of your prescription. Health care in the major towns is adequate for minor injuries and illnesses, but you may need to travel to receive more specialised care. Ensure your travel insurance covers medical evacuation and emergency repatriation, as well as any adventure activities you may be taking part in on your trip. To avoid stomach upsets, look out for under-cooked fish or meat, salads which have been washed in unclean water, already peeled fruit if you don’t know who has peeled it, and sometimes ice cream from street vendors. Although snake bites are extremely rare among tourists, always seek immediate medical attention if you are bitten. Altitude sickness can occur in certain regions, so let your bodies adjust to the elevation slowly, and drink plenty of water. Tap water is unsafe to drink - also be wary of ice in drinks, as well as fruit and veg unless you are peeling them yourself.

SAFETY

All kids will want a ride in a tuk tuk, a three-wheeled vehicle which works a bit like a taxi. Just be warned that they don’t have seat belts. For longer journeys taxis are often cheaper anyway. Although the far north is only now opening up since the end of the war, it is still developing its infrastructure, so unless you are used to roughing it as a family, or going with an experienced tour operator, maybe watch this space for a while. For water activities, make sure the provider is accredited, and that there are helmets and buoyancy aids available. When you are on the south and southwest coast, be aware that there is a very strong rip, and so best to keep to the small, enclosed bays when swimming. Buses don’t have a great reputation for safe driving in Sri Lanka, so stick with the train or taxi if you are a nervous passenger. Unexploded landmines still sadly exist in some parts of the north, so do not stray from paths and marked trails in these regions, ideally with a local guide.

Sri Lanka tips from our travelers

At Responsible Travel, we think the best people to advise our travelers are often... other travelers. They always return from our tours with packing tips, weather reports, ideas about what to do - and opinions about what not to.

We have selected some of the most useful Sri Lanka travel tips that our guests have provided over the years to help you make the very most of your vacation - and the space inside your suitcase.
Eat local food, it's amazing and the western dishes offered are disappointing
- Kelly Geoghegan
"Read up about the country before your visit and try to understand something about their religion. We were amazed by the temples but felt very ignorant and therefore discourteous because we knew so little about what they believed." - Ian Womersley

"If you have any problems during the stay, i.e. health wise, report those to the hotel you are staying. Don't try to manage on your own." - Heli Aru

"The driving is terrible, so be prepared to be quite shaken after even an hour or two on busy roads." - Ruth and Dave Dawson

"Take protection from the heat. Make sure you cover up your shoulders as a woman in the temples to avoid any stares or the wrath of the locals. Always take the time to say hello to those helping you as they are very friendly people and try to tip well in local restaurants. You should not be too worried about crime, but remember to be firm to those who are trying to sell you trinkets if you do not want them to. Once you have made it clear, they will leave you alone unlike other countries." - Alastair Francis
Read up about the country before your visit and try to understand something about their religion
- Ian Womersley
"Having travelled extensively in Asia I would rate Sri Lanka as the safest and easiest SE Asian country to travel in...Eat local food, it's amazing and the western dishes offered are disappointing." - Kelly Geoghegan

"Journeys by road are interesting but distances can be long, be prepared for this." - Alex Buck

"Don't overdo sight seeing in the heat (we saw 3 temples in one day and then I got sunstroke)." - Kate Mills

"First and foremost - LISTEN to the guide! He has so much local knowledge; he saved us money, time and hassle and his advice was worth its weight in gold! Take plenty of insect repellent. Don't feel obliged to buy goods, but tip well for good service." - John Dodson
Written by Catherine Mack
Photo credits: [Page banner: chuvipro] [Culture tip: Shehal Joseph] [Trip planning tips: Oliver Sjostrom] [Beach tips: Rowan Heuvel] [Wildlife tips: shankar s.] [Food tips: Charlie Marchant] [Activity tips: Amila Tennakoon] [Health & safety: Michal Bocek] [Reviews introduction: Fredrik Ohlander] [Review 1 - food: Patty Ho] [Review 2 - temples: Marco Lazzaroni]
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