Sri Lanka travel advice

Tips from our friends in Sri Lanka

Culture tips

John Beswetherick, Managing Director of our supplier Tikalanka (UK) Limited:
ďEveryone 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.Ē

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 :
"Westerners seem to have a real issue about tipping. Sri Lanka is a tipping culture, and itís naÔve 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 donít want to give a tip, or use a service. 99% of the time the person will then go away, so I donít 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:
"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:
ďSome 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.ď

Food tips

John Beswetherick, Managing Director of our supplier Tikalanka (UK) Limited:
ďPeople donít appreciate that when they have rice and curry in Sri Lanka, it isnít 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. Itís a stunning place to do a cookery course in fact, because of the amazing varietyĒ.

Activity tips

Patricia Weismantel Product Manager at our supplier Spice Roads:
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 donít have to carry their own water, but just stock up from our vehicle.

Health & safety in Sri Lanka

Travel safely in Sri Lanka


  • 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 donít 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.


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 donít have seat belts. For longer journeys taxis are often cheaper anyway.

Although the north is 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 donít 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

Recommendations from those who have been there

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.
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

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

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

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

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

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
Photo credits: [Culture tip: Shehal Joseph] [Wildlife tips: shankar s.] [Activity tips - cycling: Spice Roads] [Review 1 - food: Patty Ho] [Review 2 - temples: Marco Lazzaroni]
Written by Catherine Mack
Sri Lanka vacations, tailor made

Sri Lanka vacations, tailor made

Independent tailor made vacations to Sri Lanka

From £1975 15 Days inc UK flights
Sri Lanka family vacation

Sri Lanka family vacation

A fabulous family vacation including the best of Sri Lanka

From US $1965 15 Days ex flights
Sri Lanka highlights vacation

Sri Lanka highlights vacation

An exciting mix of culture, nature, wildlife and beaches

From £1598 14 Days ex flights
Small group vacation to Sri Lanka

Small group vacation to Sri Lanka

Explore Sri Lanka's natural paradise

From US $2135 15 Days ex flights
Wildlife vacation in Sri Lanka, private departure

Wildlife vacation in Sri Lanka, private departure

Wildlife vacation to see Sri Lanka's 'Big Four'

From £2195 15 Days inc UK flights
Sri Lanka small group tour, a food adventure

Sri Lanka small group tour, a food adventure

A delicious adventure through this provocative country.

From US $1900 12 Days ex flights
Beach vacation & tour in Sri Lanka

Beach vacation & tour in Sri Lanka

Beach vacation and wildlife tour of Sri Lanka

From £2495 15 Days inc UK flights
Sri Lanka vacation, island explorer

Sri Lanka vacation, island explorer

Sri Lanka - its wildlife, culture and people

From US $2000 15 Days ex flights
Grand tour of Sri Lanka, tailor made

Grand tour of Sri Lanka, tailor made

A bespoke customised Sri Lanka Vacation

From US $2799 14 Days ex flights
Family vacation to Sri Lanka

Family vacation to Sri Lanka

Explore Sri Lanka with the family

From US $2125 13 Days ex flights
Adventure vacation to Sri Lanka

Adventure vacation to Sri Lanka

Now is the time to discover this magical land

From US $2265 15 Days ex flights
Photo credits: [Page banner: chuvipro]
Convert currencies