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Train track in Ella, Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka Travel Guide

A captivating island in the Indian Ocean, Sri Lanka is a paradise for travellers. Explore ancient cities like Sigiriya and Anuradhapura, where historic ruins and sacred temples reveal the country's rich heritage. Marvel at the scenic beauty of Nuwara Eliya's tea plantations and misty hills. Embark on wildlife safaris in Yala National Park to spot majestic elephants and elusive leopards. Relax on the pristine beaches of Bentota and Mirissa, basking in the warm sun and turquoise waters. Sri Lanka offers a diverse range of landscapes and activities that promise an unforgettable travel experience.

One of the highlights of travelling in Sri Lanka is its culinary delights. From fragrant curries to fresh seafood, the country's cuisine is a true feast for the senses. Explore bustling markets like Pettah Market and savour street food in Colombo. Don't miss the chance to taste world-renowned Ceylon tea in the tea estates of Ella and Kandy. Sri Lanka's vibrant markets and tantalizing flavours create a mouthwatering journey for food enthusiasts. With its cultural wonders and delectable cuisine, Sri Lanka invites you to immerse yourself in its vibrant tapestry of flavours, sights, and experiences.

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Key Facts

Time Zone

GMT+5.5

Money

Rupee (LKR)

Dialing Code

+94

  • Discover unspoilt Asia at its best
  • Head off the beaten track and experience authentic Asia
  • An easy hop across to other parts of Asia for a complete gap experience
  • See wonderful wildlife including elephants and even leopards
  • Relax on blissful sandy beaches along the stunning Sri Lankan coast
  • Soak up the culture at ancient ruins and in buzzing cities
  • Sri Lanka has it all; paradise beaches, lush landscape, vibrant colours, culture and history and wonderful wildlife!

The capital city of Sri Lanka is Colombo, a vibrant, colourful and lively city known for its culture, gardens, beachfront location and bustling markets.

  • Head into Sri Lanka’s Hill Country, dotted with tea plantations and relax in the cool, spring-like climate among lush green landscapes.
  • Explore the city of Kandy, once the capital of the Sinhalese kingdom, which is full of history, culture, markets and scenery.
  • Discover Sri Lanka’s Buddhist culture and ancient legacy in the ruined cities of Anuradhapura or Polonnaruwa, an area once at the heart of Sri Lankan life and known as the ‘Land of the Kings’.
  • Travel south in Sri Lanka to the 17th-century colonial fort town of Galle, and from here you can visit the sensational beaches once hit by the Tsunami but now recapturing their beauty
  • Go wildlife spotting in some of Sri Lanka’s National Parks, such as Yala National Park in the South or Wilpattu National Park on the West Coast. Spot the awesome elephants which call the island home and keep your eyes out for the elusive leopard!
  • Relax on stunning beaches – all across the island you can find white-sand havens which offer you a slice of paradise from which to chill out, swim, snorkel or surf
  • Hang out in the original backpacker town of Hikkaduwa and soak up the laid-back vibe
  • Go right off the tourist track in the East of Sri Lanka and explore remote lush jungles, and untouched beaches and spot wild elephants at Ampara

Spicy and delicious curries are the staple dishes in Sri Lanka, with popular curry ingredients being fish, poultry, meat, vegetables, lentils and coconut milk, all served with rice.  Spicy chutneys or ‘Sambols’ make for a delicious accompaniment, and a popular Sambol contains coconut, chilli, lime juice and fish. Sri Lankan cuisine shares many similarities with southern Indian food.

Sri Lanka has a tropical climate, and the south and west of the country experience different weather conditions that the north and east of the country. Sri Lanka has two distinct monsoon seasons – the southwest has a higher rainfall level, and the monsoon season is May-August, and the dry season is December-March. In the North and East the monsoon season is between October-January, and the driest season runs from May-September. October and November are usually the wettest months across the whole country. The average temperature year-round in the capital, Columbo, is 27°C, and the sea remains at this temperature all year round. In the hillier regions the average temperature is 20°C.

Visa

Visas may be required in order to enter or transit through certain countries depending on your passport nationality, your reason for travel and how long you intend to stay.

Visa, passport and entry rules are subject to change and you should check the most up-to-date information from the relevant embassy or visa specialist.

To make things easier we have teamed up with The Travel Visa Company who are one of the UK’s leading travel visa specialists. You can use their website, alongside embassy websites,  to find out the specific entry requirements for the countries you intend to travel to.

For a fee, their dedicated team of experts can also apply for visas on your behalf, taking away the hassle and streamlining the process for you if you wish. For more details on the services they provide please click here – The Travel Visa Company

Passport

Passports must be kept in good condition. Travellers with damaged passports may be refused entry at immigration. It is the responsibility of the traveller to ensure that all travel documents are in good condition before they travel. Most countries will also require at least 6 months of validity on your passport from the time you finish your trip. 

Further Entry Requirements

Some countries will require proof of certain vaccines, such as yellow fever or covid, in order to gain entry. Please check with the relevant embassy or a visa specialist before travelling.

There are two official languages in Sri Lanka: Sinhala and Tamil.

Many plug sockets in Sri Lanka are the same as the UK, but there are a variety of plug sockets still in use in Sri Lanka, so it is advised that you take a universal adaptor.

While in Sri Lanka, you must carry a form of official photographic identification with you at all times or you risk being detained. If for any reason you are detained, you should ask the authorities to contact the British High Commission.

Sri Lanka has severe penalties for all drug offences and crimes related to the abuse of children, and you may be held without charge indefinitely. Convicted offenders can face a lengthy jail sentence.

It is forbidden to smoke or drink in certain public areas and you may be fined if you ignore instructions. You will find that on Sri Lankan religious holidays, alcohol and meat will not be available.

Same-sex relations are illegal in Sri Lanka, but there have been no reported incidents of prosecution to date.

The dress code in Sri Lanka is relatively informal, but if travelling alone, women may feel uncomfortable if not dressed modestly, so it is best to cover your legs and shoulders, and all travellers should take off shoes and hats when entering a Buddhist temple. Nude or topless sunbathing is generally not allowed in Sri Lanka.

The mistreatment of Buddhist images and artefacts is seen as a serious offence in Sri Lanka, and there have been some reported convictions of tourists who have breached these cultural customs. You should not pose for photographs standing in front of a statue of Buddha. British nationals have also on occasion been refused entry to Sri Lanka or faced deportation for having visible tattoos of Buddha.

Do not take photographs of military bases, government buildings or vehicles used by VIPs, particularly at the numerous official sites in central Colombo.

The older generation of Sri Lankans will use "namaste" (palms clasped together as if in prayer at chin level with a slight nod of the head) as a greeting, Sinhalese people may also greet you with "ayubowan." (which means ‘may you be blessed with a long life’), whereas the Tamils would say "vanakkam."

We have selected what we believe to be the key points that you should be aware of when travelling in Sri Lanka.

Gap 360 follows advice from the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) and we recommend that you frequently check the FCDO for updated travel advice. You can find the website here: https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/foreign-commonwealth-development-officeany medical treatment abroad or repatriation costs.

Political situation

Avoid political gatherings, spontaneous large gatherings or political rallies when in Sri Lanka, as rallies have occasionally turned violent. Follow the local news in case restrictions or a curfew are put in place. Avoid military bases and buildings in particular, as these have been a frequent target of attacks and high security is now in place in many districts in the north and east of Sri Lanka.

So far, no protests have been directed at the British community but travellers should remain vigilant and avoid demonstrations. You should also carry a form of official photographic identification with you at all times.

Crime

The most common type of crime affecting visitors to Sri Lanka is credit card fraud, so you should use cash wherever possible and only use ATMs attached to banks or major hotels. Don’t lose sight of your credit card. You may experience problems using your cards in Sri Lanka if your banks’ automated fraud protection system blocks transactions, but you may be able to avoid this by informing your bank in advance of your planned travel arrangements. It is easy to change cash in tourist areas. Thefts from hotels and guesthouses do happen, so take measures to safeguard your valuables, especially passports and money.

There is a low rate of violent crimes reported against foreigners, but there have been reports of sexual offences including on minors. Only use reputable travel companies and take care, particularly when travelling alone or in small groups, with women advised to be especially vigilant. Women are also advised to carry a personal alarm.

Sri Lanka does have some organised and armed gangs operating, who have been responsible for targeted kidnappings and violence. There is no evidence to suggest that British nationals are at particular risk, but these gangs may sometimes operate in tourist areas and in 2011 a British national was killed during a violent gang attack in a tourist resort.

Disputes between market traders and street hawkers can result in violent altercations; for example, in 2010, an explosive device injured a number of people following a dispute in Pettah, Colombo.

There are currently a number of crime cases pending against British Nationals which have yet to reach trial, as the Sri Lankan justice system can be slower than in the UK.

Be wary of taking drinks from strangers and never leave your drinks unattended. There have been reports of drinks being spiked with drugs in southern beach resort bars and restaurants.

Local travel advice

When in the East of Sri Lanka, be aware that there are ongoing demining, weapons and ordnance clearance and resettlement operations in parts of Trincomalee, Batticaloa and Ampara Districts. Always obey security forces’ orders, keep an eye out for signs warning of landmines and don’t leave established roads or cleared footpaths. If you have any doubts or questions about the safety of the area, seek advice from the local security authorities.

In you are visiting the South of the country, please note that only ‘Block One’ of Yala National Park (also known as Ruhuna National Park) is accessible to the public. Use a reputable tour company if you plan on visiting the park.

Road travel

Many Sri Lankan roads, especially when you are outside the major towns and cities, are in a poor state of disrepair. Driving is erratic and road accidents are common, especially at night. Pedestrians and animals may appear without warning in the road, and vehicles often don’t stop at pedestrian crossings. If you are involved in a road accident, stay with your vehicle as long as it is safe. Report to the local police station if you feel unsafe or threatened.

We do not recommend hiring motorbikes, scooters, ATV vehicles, quad bikes or other types of motorised vehicles whilst abroad. Safety and quality of vehicles vary considerably and the traffic conditions can be much more dangerous than what UK travellers are used to. Should you wish to go against this advice, you should ensure you are hiring from a reputable company and that your travel insurance covers you for such activities.

Some parts of Sri Lanka still have security checkpoints and roadblocks and you should take care when passing through them. Always obey the instructions of the police or army on duty, as there have been reports of security forces opening fire on vehicles that don’t stop when asked. Roads around Government and military sites in Colombo are regularly closed for security reasons (e.g. VIP convoys).

Buses are often poorly maintained and are notorious for driving fast and rarely giving way, leading to a number of serious bus accidents in recent years. Riding a motorbike is also a particularly dangerous mode of transport in Sri Lanka.

Taxi travel in Sri Lanka is inexpensive and motorised rickshaws (tuk-tuks) are available for hire in most towns and villages. You should use one with a working meter or agree a price before you set off. Travelling by tuk-tuk is generally safe, but some female travellers have reported harassment when travelling alone at night. If you have any concerns about the driver or standard of driving, use a different rickshaw.

Terrorism

Sri Lanka has an underlying threat from terrorism, with attacks often indiscriminate, and reported incidents in places frequented by expatriate and foreign travellers.

Stay vigilant and avoid military areas and High Security Zones. You should carry formal photographic identification with you at all times and you must stop and show your ID if asked to do so. The Sri Lankan Prevention of Terrorism Act permits prolonged detention without charge or trial for terrorist offences. If you are detained, you should ask the authorities to contact the British High Commission.

Swimming

At certain times of the year, many of Sri Lanka’s beaches have dangerous surf or rip tides. A number of foreign nationals have drowned, so always follow local advice before going into the sea.

Natural Disasters

Tropical cyclones can occur in Sri Lanka, and the regular monsoon rains can bring short-lived but rapid flooding in many areas, causing injury, displacement and death.

Money

It is not possible to exchange Scottish or Northern Irish bank notes in Sri Lanka and travellers’ cheques are not generally accepted. You can make Visa and Mastercard cash withdrawals at most major banks, and ATMs are available in major towns and cities (although not all of them accept international cards).

Health

Medical facilities, particularly outside Colombo, are not always up to UK standards and emergency medical treatment is not easily available outside large cities so you may have to be treated in Colombo. Private hospital treatment can be expensive and emergency repatriation to the UK or neighbouring countries is limited and expensive. You should ensure that you have adequate travel health insurance and accessible funds to cover the cost of any medical treatment abroad or repatriation costs.

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