When I started planning to go to Sri Lanka, I had kept most of my research to figuring out what to do and where to stay. I gave little thought to tips before traveling to Sri Lanka, and had wished I would have known a bit more. The country is beautiful, wildly underrated, and seems to not have had the biggest wave of tourism hit it yet (though there is a lot of visitors.) Sri Lanka has a lot to offer in terms of scenery and a wide range of experiences, but a bit of preparation ahead of time will help make the trip that much better.
Best tips before traveling to Sri Lanka
Getting around Sri Lanka takes time.
There is no expressway, or at least most won’t take the few highways there are. Everything takes time and the traffic can be horrendous. One transfer of 30 miles took 2.5 hours. The trains are equally slow as well. It’s part of the process of traveling to Sri Lanka.
Tourism is still in the process of being developed.
It’s good to set standards early that the level of tourism is not like its neighboring countries. This can be in your favor and not, pending the circumstances. Keep it in mind when going to negotiate and booking tours.
Don’t drink the tap water.
Be sure to drink all water from a certified-clean bottle, which most hotels or stores have or sell.
You need a visa to enter Sri Lanka.
Be sure to check online here the visa requirements, as I did mine in advance. Always print out copies of your return ticket as they can and will ask for it. I did mine a week or so in advance and was approved in 24 hours. I would budget at least 1-2 weeks in case.
Arrive with some USD or currency as ATM machines can be hit or miss.
Don’t count on the ATM machines being usable as many don’t accept foreign cards. I was lucky to pull most of my cash at the airport but it is advisable to carry some USD in case you can’t find an ATM.
Transportation options range from tuk tuks to busses, to private taxis to trains.
Pending your budget, you can tailor the trip however you want. I wanted to use the train but tickets were sold out a month in advance and from a storm they were down. So private taxis which ranged from $40-60 USD were the best options. I opted out of busses after seeing how they drove, though it’s a much cheaper way of getting around.
Train tickets sell out far advance, or at least this is what they tell you.
We went to book tickets almost a week in advance, and the tickets in all classes were sold out. Our driver let us in on a secret that you can always buy non-reserved the day of and either stand it out or probably get a seat that doesn’t show up. Ideally book your ticket with a reputable agent before hand or have your hotel arrange, or go with the non-reserved option.
When a storm hits, be prepared for the wildly unprepared.
I was lucky to be there during an “unseasonable” typhoon that hit and we showed up to a hotel that had no power, hot water, back-up generators, or anything else of the sort. I was thankful for my extra bateries, my sweater and a pair of rubber flip-flops that stayed dried. Be prepared always that things like back-up generators don’t exist at smaller hotels, and of course, that it’s part of the experience.
There’s a wide range of experiences, from the ocean to the mountains.
I think an optimal trip would do a bit of everything. The country is so diverse, where you can do safaris and see wild animals, or be exploring tea plantations. Plan for a diverse trip and you’ll see how much this island has to offer.
It is safe to travel to.
Of course common sense like dark alleys by yourself is a no-go, but generally speaking, the country is very safe to travel to. Sri Lankan people are known for the hospitality and warm welcome, and everywhere I went I felt very safe. Dress conservatively and you’ll find the unwanted attention doesn’t happen.
English is widely spoken.
Almost everyone speaks English and you’ll find it very easy to communicate while there. It was rare that this didn’t occur.
It’s not cheap by Asia-standards.
One of the biggest misconceptions is that Sri Lanka is a cheap country. Don’t get me wrong, you can do it cost-affordably by comparison to Europe/US, but it’s not cheap like Thailand or Vietnam. Some meals will run easily $15-25 a person at a nicer restaurant, and the budget hotels tend to run closer to $40 a night.
Be prepared to be surprised in the best kind of way.
Sri Lanka is an island full of surprises and worth at least two weeks to see a decent chunk. Learn to take in the ride no matter how slow it is, and this country will show you some incredible experiences.