Before travelling to any country, just as it is important to organize your accommodation, flights and other documentation, it is just as important to familiarize yourself with the cultural norms and traditions of the location you are visiting. Remember to respect the ways of life of the people in that country regardless of your personal beliefs; you are after all just a visitor and failure to comply can result in being deported and in extreme cases, banned from ever entering the country again. It makes everything a lot easier and more pleasant to stay on track and be well-learned before you fly. Here are some things to bear in mind when visiting the beautiful island of Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka uses a range of sockets, so your full range of travel adaptors may come in useful. Specialised Sri Lankan adaptors can be bought in major hotels and many shops. US sockets tend to be used, although older hotels, especially in the hill country, may use UK sockets.
All airport tax is built into the price of your flight tickets. Sri Lankan departure tax is no longer paid on departure.
We believe that you will discover Sri Lankans to be among the most courteous and friendly people in the world. But Sri Lanka will not be rushed and a genial, relaxed service is not always a rapid one. There is no advantage in deliberately causing people to lose face. Remember that this is not the West. Allow a little more time for checking out of hotels, ordering food, travelling, paying bills, enjoying yourself.... in fact, anything at all.
Please do 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, although you should be sensitive to the fact that a tip may sometimes be expected. If you do take a photo including local people, especially children, do share the picture with them if you have a digital camera as it is often greatly appreciated.
Sri Lanka generally offers warmth and sunshine throughout the year. Temperatures average between 27-30C in Colombo and on the coasts, and peak in April. They average about 10C cooler in the hill country. Sri Lanka lies 400 miles north of the equator and is affected by two South-East Asian monsoons. The south-west monsoon (Yala) brings most rain to Colombo and the south and west coasts in May/June and the inter-monsoon affects October/early November, although at all times of year sunshine can be plentiful and most of the rain falls in heavy bursts at night. The north-east monsoon (Maha) affects the north and east between December and February. Rainfall is becoming increasingly unpredictable. Sri Lanka averages about 240cms a year, slightly above the UK national average. The north and east are dryer, while the western slopes of the central highlands are wettest. Humidity ranges between 70-90 percent in Colombo, lower in the highlands and cultural triangle. Key advice: Protect yourself from the sun with creams, hats and sunglasses, drink plentiful bottled water to avoid dehydration and stay safe in the event of a thunderstorm.
Pack for heat and humidity. Long-sleeve shirts might be advisable after dusk because of mosquitoes. Daytime coastal temperatures generally range from 27-32C, slightly cooler in the hill country, especially Nuwara Eliya, where a light sweater is frequently required at night. Topless sunbathing is officially illegal. The use of bikinis is generally considered acceptable while on the beach. When swimming inland, in rivers or lakes, ask for local advice regarding swimwear as covering with a sarong may be necessary. Away from the beach, be aware that dress standards are comparatively conservative and it is respectful to wear loose, long and lightweight clothing. Shorts should always be knee-length. Be especially careful about modest dress when visiting religious sites.
Consider buying a Sri Lankan SIM card and top-up cards for your mobile phone -- Sri Lankan mobile phone call rates are relatively cheap, both for local and international calls, and are recommended. Tourism Ceylon can supply Dialog SIM cards at excellent rates. Sri Lanka Telecom shops (eg Colombo World Trade Center) sell scratch cards for immediate Internet access -- they are good value and simple to use. IDD facilities are available in the vast majority of tourist hotels. To contact a BT operator from Sri Lanka, for chargecard or reverse-charge calls, dial 432999. Some hotels will block this number. Hotel fax lines are plentiful. Hotels increasingly offer Internet wi-fi, and cyber cafes exist in Colombo and some tourist areas, although connection speeds can be slow outside Colombo.
Sri Lanka’s genuine hospitality to tourists is renowned and the British are as popular as at any time since the country won independence in 1948. Take care to avoid religious offence, however. In particular, respect the Buddhist faith: do not touch a holy man, do not pose for photographs on religious statues and remove shoes and socks when entering temples. We recommend that you are informed as possible about the island before you arrive and try to learn some local language, read about the religion and culture and learn about local rules and values. Be sensitive to cultural difference. Note that patience, friendliness and courtesy are highly valued virtues that will win you the respect and confidence of many people.
Police: 011-2433333. Fire: 011-2422222.
Predominantly, but not exclusively, based around the top hotels, which offer nightclubs, a range of restaurants, bookshops, bars, sports facilities ranging from swimming pools to floodlit tennis courts, health clubs, as well as traditional Sri Lankan entertainment. But do not automatically limit yourself to the hotel – in Colombo especially, and in other major tourist areas, there are smaller, independent alternatives. The beaches are some of the finest in the world, but when swimming consider dangerous currents and cleanliness. Casinos are sanctioned for tourists, primarily in Colombo, and English race meetings are avidly followed in tiny bookmaking shacks. Sri Lanka also offers game parks, activity holidays, bird-watching sanctuaries, hill-walking and outstanding historical and religious sites. Shopping: consider gems, spices, clothing, including linen and batiks, art galleries and hand-made carvings. Check our online Colombo guide for entertainment in the capital.
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). In recent years, despite heavy rains in the west, there have been droughts and severe water shortages in some parts of the island. So please do avoid excessive use of water. A few options for saving water include:
(i) Consider taking a shower rather than a bath;
(ii) Consider shorter showers;
(iii) Consider asking for your towels to be folded rather than washed each day;
(iv) Don’t leave the tap running when brushing teeth.
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. A significant segment of the energy demand is supplied by Hydro Power projects in the hills. However, an increasing amount of electricity is also produced by burning non-renewable fuels. Try to conserve electricity where possible. Make sure you turn off your lights, TV etc. when you leave your bedroom. Consider avoiding the use of air-conditioning – cool down the room before sleeping and then switch to an overhead fan
Waste pollution is a serious problem in Sri Lanka and disposal systems are often inadequate while recycling of many products is rare. The plastic bag is a particular blight, littering streets and the countryside. They will be offered for almost every purchase so do try to take your own re-used bags when shopping. Cotton bags are also readily available and very cheap.
Endangered species and natural resources -- Be wary while shopping to ensure you are not encouraging the wasteful destruction of important natural resources and endangered species. Avoid hard wood products likely to have been produced in an unsustainable manner, shells from beach traders or ancient artifacts.
Sri Lanka’s terrorist conflict ended in 2009 after a 20-year guerilla war by the Tamil Tigers was defeated by government forces. Even at the height of the conflict, outside the north and east, apart from sporadic targeted attacks in the capital, Colombo, the vast majority of the island remained violence-free. There is no history of tourists being targeted for political gain. 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 has touched many lives with sadness and should not be regarded as a suitable topic for casual conversation.
Beware of breaking the 20kg baggage limit (plus one piece of hand luggage). 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. Red Dot automatically requests 30kgs for all cricket tours.
Rice and curry, and fresh fish, are the Sri Lankan staples, but a wide range of international dishes are available in all the main tourist centres. Bear in mind that by eating local food and drinks your money supports the locals rather than promoting costly imports. As a leading tourist venue, Sri Lanka has one of the best hygiene records in Asia and stomach complaints are uncommon. Nevertheless, you might like to comply with the following guidelines. Most importantly, drink (and clean your teeth in) bottled water only. This can be bought much more cheaply from local shops than top hotels, but check the seal has not been tampered with, and ensure you have adequate supplies at all times. Top hotels also supply flasks of boiled and filtered water. Ensure you do not become dehydrated, especially after strenuous exercise. 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. When eating, consider the old advice: `boil it, bake it, peel it or ignore it.' Be particularly wary of salads and unpeeled fruit. Ensure your meat is thoroughly cooked. If you have any doubts, overlook the buffet and order freshly-cooked... even if it takes a little longer. Wash your hands thoroughly before each meal. You may even follow local customs and eat without cutlery if you wish.
Sri Lanka has more public holidays than anywhere else in the world. The most common holiday is Poya Day, which occurs every full moon. As a general rule, no alcohol is served and entertainment is restricted.
You are strongly advised to contact your own GP or vaccination centre in respect of required vaccinations for Sri Lanka. Check on recommended innoculations as least a month before travel. Malaria tablets, plus innoculations for tetanus, typhoid, hepatitis A and polio are all recommended. Top hotels can advise on reputable local doctors, or private hospitals in the event of serious illness. In case of diarrhoea, pack body-salt replenishment powder, such as Dioralyte, as well as Immodium or a similar product. Malaria tablets are also advised if visiting areas in the east or far north. Among the items you might pack are: suncreams (factor 12 and above), insect repellent, sting relief cream, antiseptic cream, a lightweight hat and sunglasses. 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.
Sinhala (spoken by more than 80 per cent of the public) and Tamil are the national languages. English is widely spoken and understood in all but the most out-of-the-way areas. Buddhism is the predominant religion, although Hindus, Muslims and Christians are also present..
All the top hotels offer an on-day laundry service, although prices vary widely. Large cricket tour parties might like to try to negotiate discounts for laundering of kit. Cheaper launderettes are available in most towns, although quality is inconsistent. Try to choose delivery options that limit unnecessary use of packing materials.
Credit cards are widely accepted and there are ATM machines in major centres. Scottish and Northern Irish notes are NOT accepted. Travellers cheques are still widely used, but not as direct transactions. Sterling, Euros and US dollars are all equally advisable. Guard your tc’s and money carefully, use hotel safes where possible, and do not flaunt unnecessarily large amounts of money, as casual thieving can occur. The bank booths in the airport arrivals hall generally offer the most competitive rates and quick service. Beware credit-cards fraud whenever you pay direct. Tourism Ceyon offers a strict anti-fraud policy for your maximum protection. Sri Lanka remains one of the safest tourist destinations to walk around at night.
Sri Lanka has introduced a compulsory online visa system for all travellers arriving in Sri Lanka from January 1, 2012. Visitors must apply for the Electronic Travel Authorization via www.eta.gov.lk. established in the Department of Immigration and Emigration. There is a small fee for the visa. Children under 12 need a visa but it will be free of charge. Foreign nationals from the Maldives and Singapore are also entitled to a free visa.
Bartering over the price of goods is widely expected for a variety of transactions, including the hire of trishaws and the purchase of handicrafts. Note though that not all sellers will quote you a price that is inflated 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. 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 and courteous manner. Aggressive haggling will offend the seller and ultimately 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. Red Dot makes no official recommendations about casual shopping.
The simplest and cheapest way to travel around Sri Lanka is by trishaw, or three-wheeler. Good-natured price bartering is widespread. In towns, work on a rough guide of about Rs40 a mile and agree the price before you set off. Taxis are good value for longer journeys and operate on set charges – although taxis operating from 5-star hotels are dearer. Buses are cheap and plentiful, at least during the day, but they are often overcrowded and unreliable. Train journeys from Colombo-Nuwara Eliya and beyond, or Colombo-Matara are a peaceful way of enjoying some spectacular scenery. Prices are cheap, so the luxury of booking first-class in advance is advised. Sri Lanka's roads will seem chaotic to all but the most experienced traveller in Asia. Independent car hire is possible upon production of credit card and driving licence, but chauffeur-driven cars can be arranged for similar cost, and are generally strongly advised. Bicycle hire is also available, although not to be recommended on anything but the quietest roads, as accident rates on busy roads are high.
GMT +6 hours.
Taxi drivers, hotels and restaurants: 10 per cent is common. If you hire a car and driver, please also consider tipping your driver for good service.