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Home > Sri Lanka Travel Guide

Sri Lanka Travel Guide

When to Visit

Climatically speaking, the driest (and best) seasons in Sri Lanka are from November to March for the west coast, the south coast and the Hill Country, and from April to September for the Cultural Triangle region (ancient Kingdoms & Heritage sites) and the east coast.

The peak tourism season of the island is mid December to mid March when most of European tourist visit, the majority of them escaping the European winter.
There is a mini peak season again in July and August when festivals (pageants) mainly in Kandy & in Kataragama are held.

During the Christmas to New Year holiday season and Festival season in July /August in particular accommodation anywhere on the island can be tight due to the huge influx of foreign visitors and hotel rates usually double or treble up. So travelers are advised to book their accommodation in advance prior to the arrival during those periods.

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Visas & Immigration

The new electronic Travel Authorization System was introduced to grant prior approval for Visa online for foreign nationals instead of the on arrival Visa system.
Visitors must apply for the Electronic Travel Authorization via www.eta.gov.lk established in the Department of Immigration and Emigration.

Before visiting Sri Lanka you should do the following to obtain a 30 day visa.

  • Visit the Sri Lanka Electronic Travel Authorization System (www.eta.gov.lk) several days before arriving.
  • Follow the online application process and pay with a credit or debit card. Once approved
  • Print out the visa confirmation

You can still obtain visas at Sri Lankan embassies abroad and there is a counter at Bandranayake International Air port for people who arrive without a Visa, although you’ll have to wait with the other visa-less masses and pay a small penalty.

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 entitled to a free visa. India and other countries from the South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation (SAARC-countries) will be charged a reduced visa admin fee of USD $10 and for other countries USD $ 20.

For further details :
Department of Immigration and Emigration,
Ananda Rajakaruna Mawatha,
Maradana,
Colombo 10.
Tel: +94-11-5329000, +94-11-5329316/20/21/25
www.immigration.gov.lk

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What to Wear

Pack for heat and humidity. Cotton clothes are useful at any time of the year but you will need light woolens for the hills and waterproof clothing or an umbrella. 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.

Modest dress for women is advisable especially off the beach and when visiting religious sites. 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.

Don't forget comfortable shoes, sandals or trainers and cotton socks. If you are planning to trek and climb go prepared with suitable gear. Water sports enthusiasts would do well to take their snorkels and diving equipment along.

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Where to Stay

Sri Lank offers visitors an excellent range of accommodation facilities to suit all budgets from luxury hotels to low budget accommodations. In the peak season (mid-January and during Easter) bookings can be heavy so it is best to reserve accommodation well in advance through your travel planner.

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Custom Formalities

Custom Imports

You are allowed to bring into the country duty free 1.5 L of spirits/alcohol, two bottles of wine, 0.25 L of toilet water/Perfume, and souvenirs with a value not exceeding US $250. The import of personal equipment such as cameras and laptop computers is allowed but must be declared on arrival. However, personal equipment must be taken out of the country upon the visitor’s departure. The import of non-prescription drugs and pornography of any form is an offence.

Sri Lanka Customs: www.customs.gov.lk

Custom Exports

On leaving the country you are allowed to export up to 10kg of tea duty free.

No antiques (antique defined as anything more than 50-years-old - rare books, palm-leaf manuscripts and anthropological material) can be exported without permission from the Director, National Archives, 7 Reid Avenue, Colombo 7. Tel: +94-11-2694523, +94-11-2696917 www.archives.gov.lk and the Director General, Department of Archaeology, Sir Marcus Fernando Mw, Colombo +94 11 2692840/1 Tel. +94-11-2694727, +94-11-2667155 (www.archaeology.gov.lk).

Purchase and export without license of any wild animal, bird or reptile, dead or alive also the export of parts of animals, birds or reptiles, such as skins, horns, scales and feathers is prohibited. Occasional exports are, however, permitted exclusively for bona fide scientific purposes. It is prohibited to export of 450 plant species without special permits. The export of coral, shells or other protected marine products is also strictly prohibited.

Applications for special permission to export fauna should be made to the Director, Department of Wildlife Conservation, 382 New Kandy Road, Malabe (+9411 25060380 , http://www.dwlc.lk ) and flora should be made to the Director, Forest Department, 82 Rajamalwatta Road, Battaramulla, ( +011 94 28666 16/ 2866632 , www.environmentlanka.com)

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Excess Baggage

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.

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Embarkation Tax

Is currently Rs 1500/= at air port, included in the ticket (subject to Change).Sri Lankan departure tax is no longer paid on departure.

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Foreign Currency Regulations

Visitors to Sri Lanka bringing in more than US$10,000 should declare the amount to the Customs on arrival. All unspent rupees converted from foreign currencies can be re-converted to the original currency on departure as long as encashment receipts can be produced.

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Health Precautions

The health risks in Sri Lanka are different to those encountered in Europe and North America. Watch out for bowel diseases such as diarrhea and amoebic dysentery, vector borne diseases such as malaria and dengue fever, and a variety of fungal infections. Sri Lana’s physicians, though, many of whom have trained in the West, are particularly experienced in dealing with locally occurring diseases.

You are strongly advised to contact your own GP or vaccination centre in respect of required vaccinations for Sri Lanka. Check on recommended inoculations as least a month before travel. Malaria tablets, plus inoculations for tetanus, typhoid, hepatitis A & B 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 diarrhea, pack body-salt replenishment powder, such as Dioralyte, as well as Imodium 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: sun creams (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.

When you are there

Upset stomach
As most stomach upsets are due to the unsanitary preparation of food, it is useful to know what to watch out for. Under-cooked fish (especially shellfish) and meat (especially pork and mince) can be hazardous. Salads can be risky unless purified water has been used to wash the various vegetables. Fruit that has already been peeled should be avoided. Be careful of ice cream, in particular the varieties sold by street vendors and served at cheap restaurants. Sometimes there are power outages Sri Lanka, especially away from urban centers, so it pays to be suspicious of all refrigerated foods if you know there has been a recent outage in your area.

Water
Tap water is not safe to drink, and boiling and filtering is sometimes done too hastily in some hotels and restaurants, so the best solution is to drink bottled water. There are now many brands available, mostly using spring water from the highlands of the island. Make sure that the bottle carries an SLS certification and that the seal is broken only in your presence. Beware of ice unless you are satisfied it has not been made from tap water, and remember the tap water you may be tempted to use to rinse out your mouth after brushing your teeth is unsafe. Keep a bottle of water in your bathroom for this purpose.

Sunburn
When you flop onto the beach or poolside lounger for a spot of sunbathing, always remember to apply a sunscreen product with a sun protection factor of at least 15. Remember you are just 600km from the equator: even with sunscreen, your sunbathing should be limited in time. If you don’t apply sunscreen you are liable to become so sunburn that it will be painful to move, your skin will peel, you will have to start afresh to get that tan, and most importantly you put yourself at risk of serious dermatological disease.

Heatstroke
Sometimes those who have spent too long in the sun suffer what is termed heatstroke, the most common form being caused by dehydration. This condition can occur if the body’s heat-regulating mechanism becomes weakened and the body temperature rises to unsafe levels. The symptoms are a high temperature - yet a lack of sweat - a flushed skin, severe headache, and impaired coordination. In addition, the sufferer may become confused. If you think someone has heatstroke, take that person out of the sun, cover their body with a wet sheet or towel, and seek medical advice. To avoid heatstroke, take plenty of bottled water to the beach, or buy a thambili (king coconut) from an itinerant seller.

Prickly heat
Prickly heat rash occurs when your sweat glands become clogged after being out in the heat for too long or from excessive perspiration. The rash appears as small red bumps or blisters on elbow creases, groin, upper chest or neck. To treat it, take a cold shower, clean the rash with mild soap, dry yourself, apply hydrocortisone cream, and, if possible, a product that contains salicylic acid. Repeat every three hours.

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Local Health Care

Minor health problems can always be treated by doctors with practices in the resorts and elsewhere in the country. If you have a more serious problem, Colombo now boasts a selection of modern, well-equipped private hospitals offering the latest in conventional medical and surgical therapies. A growing number of foreigners are taking advantage of affordable, high quality private healthcare in Sri Lanka, and combining it with the chance to take a holiday. Though the medical tourism industry in Sri Lanka is still in its early days, a number of private hospitals in Colombo are geared to provide advanced surgery and other treatment to international clients.

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Insurance

A travel or health insurance policy is essential. You may require extra cover for adventure activities such scuba diving. If your normal health insurance doesn’t cover you for medical expenses abroad, get extra insurance and bring a copy of the policy as evidence that you are covered.

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Travellers with Special Needs

Travelers with special needs, especially if they visit Sri Lanka without a companion, should note that the country has relatively few facilities for disabled people, although greater awareness and improvements are evolving. There’s no need to worry at Colombo's airport as wheelchairs and assistance in boarding and disembarking are available. Buildings, offices, and banks are becoming better-equipped with wheelchair ramps and suchlike. If you aren’t travelling with a companion, you’ll find that Sri Lankans will be only too eager to assist.

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Time Difference

Sri Lanka Standard Time is five and a half hours ahead of GMT. (Allowance should be made for summer-time changes in Europe.)

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Money, Banking, Credit Cards & Security

Sri Lanka’s Currency is the Sri Lankan Rupee, divided into 100 cents (you rarely come across scents today). Currency notes are Rs5, 000, Rs 2,000, Rs1, 000, Rs500, Rs100, Rs50, Rs20 and Rs10. Beware of mistaking the Rs500 note for the somewhat similar Rs100 one. To check whether notes are genuine when not given at a bank, look for a lion watermark. Coins, should you have receive them, will be in denominations up to Rs10.

Make sure you have plenty of lower denomination notes (Rs50, Rs100, Rs500), especially when travelling and you need to buy small items, fruit, and eat cheap meals, because change is often hard to come by apart from at hotels and big shops.

Credit cards: Most hotels, restaurants and shopping centers accept credit cards. There are AT machines in major centers & it’s easy to withdraw money across the island at ATMs using international credit cards or debit cards. Travelers 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. Sri Lanka remains one of the safest tourist destinations to walk around at night.

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Electricity / Adapters

The Electric current: 230- 240 volts, 50 cycles AC. Plugs come in a bewildering range of variations. Beside the primary plug type, you may well find US.EU and British-style plugs in your room.

Adaptors: As Sri Lanka uses a range of sockets, so your full range of travel adaptors may come in useful. Specialized 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.

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Communications

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.SIM cards are available at the arrival lobby of Bandaranayake Air Port. 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 charge card 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.

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Language & Relegions

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. Signboards are often in English.
Buddhism is the predominant religion, although Hindus, Moslems and Christians are also present. Back To Top

Customs & Cultural Difference

Sri Lanka’s genuine hospitality to tourists is renowned. 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.

Gay and Lesbian Travelers
Homosexual activity is illegal in Sri Lanka and the subject is not discussed publicly.

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Photography : Photo Permits & Entrance Charges

Photography: Sri Lanka is a tremendously photogenic island, so it’s hardly surprising that most tourists bring a camera of some kind when they visit the country. The stunning landscapes, the captivating fauna and lush flora, and the stupendous archaeological remains provide great opportunities: a bonus is that Sri Lankans love to be captured on film. So it’s easy to capture the traditional rural lifestyle. You’ll find villagers, farmers, fishermen and tea pluckers will readily stand in front of your viewfinder.

Though, Sri Lanka is a photographer’s delight. However, permits are required before you can take photos at certain sites. 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.

Restrictions: There are some important restrictions that apply to photography regarding Buddhist imagery. When you visit a temple or other religious site, remember that photography should not be carried out in a manner causing disrespect. For instance, it is strictly forbidden to be photographed in front of or beside any statues and murals. Note that flash photography can damage old murals.

Entrance charges: Tourists who wish to visit the principal ancient monuments in Sri Lanka,  are required to purchase a ticket from the Central Cultural Fund, 212/1 Bauddhaloka Mawatha, Colombo 7 Tel: +94-11-2587912, +94-11-2500733, +94-11-2581944 ( gen_ccf@sri.lanka.net ) or Central Cultural Fund offices at Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Sigiriya and Kandy.

The ticket fee will entitle you to visit and photograph historic monuments such as Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa,Sigiriya, Nalanda, Ritigala, Medirigiriya, Dambulle cave Temple And there are separate charges at each site: Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa (US$ 25-Full/US$ 12.50-Half) Sigiriya (US$35-Full/US$ 15-Half),Dambulle cave Tempe(US$ 10) Nalanda US$5, Ritigala US$8, Medirigiriya US$5.

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Getting There & Travel

Usually all visitors to Sri Lanka travel by air; flights arrive at the Bandaranaike International Airport, 35 km north of Colombo, and 6 km of Negombo.

Travel
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 Rs100 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.Back To Top

Be aware & Be patient

You may sometimes be overwhelmed by crowds of people in public places (railway stations, markets, bus stands, temples or simply busy streets). "Touts" and hawkers may jostle and push and clamor to show you a hotel and sell you things. Taxis and three - wheelers are often there when you do not need them.

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.

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Safety

In general the threats to personal security for travellers in Sri Lanka are remarkably small. It is more pleasant to travel with a companion as it is advised not to travel alone especially after dark. The island including the North and East is safe to visit. If you have anything stolen, report it to the tourist Police, (a special tourist police set up to look after the needs of the tourists. Contact tel: Number + 94 11 2382209

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Food & Drink

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 centers. Bear in mind that by eating local food and drinks your money supports the locals rather than promoting costly imports.

Sri Lankan ‘Ceylon’ tea is prepared as in the West and coffee too. There are a huge variety of bottled soft drinks, including well-known international brands. Thambili  ( king coconut water is a safe and refreshing option). Local beer and spirits are widely available. Please note: Alcohol is not sold on Poya (full-moon day of the month) days.

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 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.

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Entertainment

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 considers 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.

Note: 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. Back To Top

Tips

Taxi drivers, hotels and restaurants: 10 % is common. If you hire a car and driver, please also consider tipping your driver for good service.

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Ethnic Conflict

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.

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