I have been travelling Sri lanka for over 25 years and have been fortunate enough to experience most areas of this beautiful island. I am asked most evenings by travelers of all ages what is my advice and where do I suggest people to go and visit. I have put some of my hot travel tips together to provide some helpful advice from my personal experiences.
.Travelling. When travelling for more than two days I recommend taking a small tourist air conditioned van and not a car. The roads are long and bumpy and helps having extra space to stretch out and relax, however the prices are the same.
.Comfort. Why not take your hotel bedroom pillows with you under your arm for extra travel comfort, alternatively purchase from the nearest town some pillows for your journey for only a few dollars and give them to a local family who will be very happy to receive them after.
.For The Children. When travelling around the island why not go into the nearest town and purchase some exercise school books and pens & children’s toysto hand out to local children who will give you a big smile to receive these items. I advise not too give sweets as this is not good for their teeth and very quickly gone !
.Children Orphanage. There are two orphanages close by too Negombo – Prasanna Children’s Orphanage ( search on FB or internet) why not ask your driver to take you. They are run by nuns or priests who will be happy to show you around and the children will be very happy to sing you a song and talk with you. Again please take some cakes and soft drinks, school books and pens too hand out.
.Keep Safe. Always check with your drivers that they are registered with the Tourist Board as an official tour guide and have a valid driving license, very important please ask to see their insurance cover certificate. Driving in Sri Lanka is not easy but surprising there are actually very few serious accidents but always best to be safe !
.Negotiate.Whenever you are traveling around Sri Lanka always agree the price with your driver before starting the journey and confirm the time period you intend to stay at a certain destination to avoid confusion and extra charges.
.Dress Code. When walking down the streets it is considered rude by Sri Lankans to have your naked body showing. Men should always wear T shirts and women should never walk around in just bathing suits. However on all beaches there are no restrictions.Always wear open slippers or shoes to slip on off for comfort.
Always where a good sun hat when touring to avoid burning and a good sunscreen lotion is a must.
Temples women must where long sleeve loose cotton shirts and long trousers or skirts to cover down to the ankles.
When visiting the hill country always take a long sleeve sweater and good walking shoes.
Beaches- Thongs, nudity, topless bathing is considered taboo throughout Sri Lanka.
.Tipping. It is considered manners to tip in Sri Lanka for all services, drivers, waiters and barman. Although service charge of 10 % is charged in most establishments throughout the country most people also expect something however small.
.Taxes. Always check with Hotels, and Restaurants what they charge for government taxes because sometimes you can have a shock at the end of your bill when you are asked to pay approximately 15 % extra and 10 % service charge
.Journey Plan.When you see a short distance in kilometers on a map do not assume this will be a quick journey, most roads can take some time to travel. Always carefully plan your journeys and excursions with your tour operator and driver.
.Internal Flights.Check Out Cinnamon Air for internal flights throughout Sri Lanka – its a great way to see the country and not too expensive
.Smoking, all outside restaurants permit smoking, however it is not legal to smoke inside restaurant and bars which are covered. Always check with each establishment what their rules and regulations are. It is illegal to smoke in all public areas throughout Sri Lanka.
.Public Transport.Travelling through public transport is not reliable and can be confusing for some travelers. However the train journeys can be very beautiful but very crowded. I highly recommend the train Journey from Colombo to Nuwara-Eliya or Kandy. Please inquire to Colombo Fort main Train station and most connecting trains travelling around the country leave through Fort Colombo. Please note that you need to book 24 hours in advance for the Observation first class carriage to Nuwara-Eliya. There are no refreshments available on trains so it is advised to take your own drinks and food for the journey.
.Bus private and public transport information can be obtained from the Public Transport Officer (Central bus stand Colombo) on 0112 328081
For all Train Time Tables and schedules please contact Colombo Fort Railway enquiries line on 0112 434215
On the buses
Avoid getting on midway as it will be unlikely on a long distance to get a seat and the buses can be fast and furious. The seat directly behind the driver is always reserved for Clergy so if you are sitting here you may be asked to move. If the bus transport is not air-conditioned where loose fitting clothing and never where provocative clothing to avoid embarrassment
When travelling throughout Sri Lanka using TukTuks always negotiate and agree the price before proceeding.
.Driving License. When hiring your own transport be WARNED your international driving license is not valid legally in this country and you require by law to take a temporary Sri Lankan Driving license. If you fail to do this your insurance is not valid and should you have an accident your insurance will not cover costs. Most rental cars work on mileage per day, please be careful when calculating as driving across the country you will encounter allot of extra mileage and costs. It is not easy to drive here and road signs can be complicated and most people in the villages do not speak English. Tour drivers do not charge big costs so therefore I strongly recommend you take a driver and vehicle. A small tip if you look at most shops they have the road name where you are heading to.. When selecting a Vehicle for hire please choose wisely and check all insurance certificates and clearly mark and point out any damages on the vehicle before you take this and clearly understand what happens if the vehicle breaks down. Department of Motor Traffic, Werahera, Boralesgamuwawww.gov.lkContact Department of Transport 0112 694332
.Liquor, It is illegal to drink alcohol in public places in Sri Lanka. Some restaurants and bars do not have Liquor licenses so they offer you to bring your own and charge you a corkage charge. However all professional establishments that hold a valid license do not offer this service. There are many liquor shops to purchase local liquor or alternatively most large supermarkets sell liquor. Arpico and Keels supermarkets sell liquor in Negombo.
.Help the Animals When animals like monkeys and snakes are offered as a show they are often kept in bad conditions, their teeth and poison are taken out from the animals. Please do not offer money and encourage this bad practice.
.Dinner Offer.If you are invited to dinner or lunch with a Sri Lankan family it is custom to take a gift with you, and if you particularly want something to drink take it with you and they will normally serve this to you. Always hand the gift on arrival into the house. Most families will not have cutlery so you will be expected to eat with your hands. If you do not like spicy food my advice is to accept the invitation but inform them that you have a special diet and will have eaten before but would still like to come and visit. If liquor is offered to you it will not be imported liquor but the local design and much stronger than you are used to so be careful. It is custom to remove your shoes before entering the house. They will always be happy to show you photographs of the family and makes a good conversation topic.
.Wedding Offer If you are invited to a local wedding you will be expected to hand over a gift or normally preferred money. This you would place in an envelope and hand over when being received by the couple after the wedding ceremony has been completed. In Sri Lanka different regions vary with customs, but they all have weddings and then Homecomings about 2/3 days later. Generally the bride’s family will pay for the wedding and the home coming will be paid for by the groom’s family. Homecomings will always have the women and man dressed in red. Some months are not considered auspicious to marry. Because you are a foreigner you will be considered senior and a VIP on their guest list and will sometimes be sat with Doctors, lawyers and the family of the bride and groom and may have only just met the couple. It normally takes some time for refreshments to come out so take a bottle of water with you
.Time Keeping. Sri Lankan time normally means about 1 ½ hours late so if you arrange a meeting time make a point to say the definite time and ask them to be on time. However most events generally do not start on time so please be prepared to wait a little.
.Environment. Please take your rubbish and any plastic with you back to the hotel. There is very little programs for recycling in this country like Europe, but it is still very good practice and to set a good example to the locals. If you leave the rubbish in your vehicle at the end of the journey it will most probably be tossed out of the window at the first opportunity so please hand over to the hotels that should hopefully have some program in place.
.Beach Sellers. Most beach sellers have an amazing memory and will remember your name and face if you return, 1 week, or 1 year later. If you say you will buy next day they will find you and push you. So if you are not interested please just say no thank you and most of them will leave you alone. All prices quoted can be discounted by up to a third of the original price but may take some time and patience to negotiate. They are also only trying to make a living so by purchasing from them they will make their small profit and be happy.
.Stray Dogs and Cats. Are now a huge problem in Sri Lanka with the number of dogs and cats roaming freely in our streets and beaches. You will find very few are vicious and they are just looking for food and love. If you want to help please donate money for programs to stabilize dog and cat populations by humane neutering programs.
.Jewellery. You can get some fantastic deals on Gem stones and Jewellery in Sri Lanka. Gold is imported and less profit can be made on these items. Negotiate with your shop owner and very important they should have a registered certificate from the Ceylon Corporation and supply a Certificate of what they are supplying to you. This you must demand because when you check for insurance purposes in your country this certificate will give credibility. There are some shops that are not honest but if you get the above documents they have to stand by a code of ethics. Look around you and do not always go on cost. Most purchases when you go home and value the items will be a minimum of three times the value paid in Sri Lanka.
.Cattle & Goats. Both these animals are allowed to roam freely throughout the country for religious beliefs.
.Religions, Throughout Sri Lanka several religions live in harmony as neighbours. Please carefully respect the beliefs of each religion when travelling throughout the country. Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Christian. There are many public holidays in Sri Lanka normally about 30 each year. Each month on full moon day there is a Buddhist Poya day and it is illegal to sell liquor and some meat items throughout the country. All hotels must serve liquor to your rooms only and not too public places but again this depends on hotel to hotel.
.Passports, You must carry your passports with you at all times or photocopy.
.Photography. Please check or look for restrictions on photography especially when visiting religious sites
.Radio Stations.There are many western radio stations throughout Sri Lanka please ask your driver to tune into one of the following: Sun FM (younger listener),Gold FM ( Golden Oldies)Yes FM (mixture)
Your drivers will have a varied selection of music on offer so please request your music type
.Fruits.Fruits are fresh and readily available most popular tropical fruits are Mango. Pineapple, Banana, Papaya . Enjoy! We support sustainable tourism in Sri lanka so do not promote or use imported fruits where possible to keep it local and support farmers in Sri Lanka
.Food on Trips.Sometimes when leaving a hotel you can be traveling most of the day before reaching your next destination. Check with your driver if there are suitable restaurants to cater to your needs if not please request the hotel the night before you are leaving for a packed lunch box.
.Money Notes of Sri Lanka. 5000,1000, 500,100, 50, 20, 10
Credit Cards are accepted in most leading outlets but always double check first before purchasing. Always pay attention when your card has been taken from your personal and ask the outlet to use the machine in front of you. Most debit cards are not taken. Credit cards accepted, Visa, MasterCard, American Express. Some outlets charge commissions so please always double check.
.Banks.All banks are open 9am – 3pm Monday – Friday. It is possible to withdraw cash from your credit card when aaccompanied with your passport. ATM machines will be found in all major towns
.Drinking Water.Keep hydrated and drink plenty of safe clean bottled water. When taking water from road vendors double check the seal is on the top of bottle. When drinking soft drinks never drink directly from bottle always use a straw or glass.
King coconut is a very healthy alternative
Never drink tap water
Avoid ice and fresh juices where bottled water is not available
.Useful Sri Lankan Phrases.
Go – Yanna, Eat – Kanna, Come- Enna, Drink – Bonna, Open –Arinna,
Give – Denna, Bring – Genna, No – Na Na, Yes – O O, Carefully – Parissamin, Quickly – Ikmunata, Slowly – Himmin, Money – Salli , Tea – Tai
.Telecommunication.When in Sri Lanka double check your roaming costs with you telecommunication supplier. Our suggestion is to take a Tourist Pre paid Sim Pack which offers you a economic solution to your travel communication requirements
Dialog Traveler Sim
Hotline 1777 www.dialog.lk
.Sri Lankan Telecom.The Tourist Pre Paid Sim Pack dial 1717 or log onto www.mobitel.lk cost Rs. 1600.
.Supermarkets. Recommended Supermarkets throughout the country
Keels, Arpico, Cargills
.Medical Emergencies. In a medical emergency our advice is to find the quickest solution to travel to Colombo and go to Lanka Hospitals which have an emergency 24 hour department and have a fantastic medical team available for all emergency needs. Even if time is not available stabilize yourself in a local hospital and contact this number to find the quickest solution to arrive in Colombo. There is Ambulance service is available throughout the country. Lanka Hospitals 0115 430000. In Negombo area we recommend Nawaloka Hospital which is situated near the general hospital on main Colombo road about 5 minutes from Lords No. 169 Colombo Road Negombo, 031 5777777. For dentist please also visit the same hospital
.Medical Treatments. Also why not check out their facilities for operations and other medical treatments, no waiting lists and the costs are extremely low with your private suites with modern facilities.
.Tourist Police.Throughout all main tourist destinations throughout the country Tourist Police Stations are available for any complaints or problems you face while staying in this country. Please contact the Tourist Police Head Office on 0112 433744 who will advise you on your nearest station available
Places to visit …
.Boat Ride. When in Negombo a boat ride in the lagoon is nice way of spending an afternoon. Recommend going to Jetwing lagoon Hotel situated 15 minutes from Lords and have a lunch, swim and boat ride in the lagoon – REALLY FANTASTIC way to relax and unwind
.Nature Lover. If you are looking for nature and a wildlife paradise situated 5 hours from Negombo and only 3 Hours from Jaffna, Vauniya is a beautiful off the tourist track contact Menaka for more details
on 0719 927007 or visit www.boooyanatureresort.com
.Yala Safariis a great experience down south but is 6 hours traveling time from Negombo. I recommend the evening safari not the morning. When travelling to their I recommend stopping for Lunch or overnight at Moon Stone Villas based in Tangalle on the beach. Canadian owned contact www.moonstonevillas.com or mobile 0094 776 758656
.Dolphin and Whale watching. Subject to the seasons and time of year you can see dolphins and whales all year round in different areas in Sri Lanka. November – March in Kalpitiya only 2 hours from Negombo and a really fantastic experience. In Trincomalee on the east coast between April – October and down south Mirissa November – March.
.Party Place. A great young and happening place to visit between October – April is Unawatuna 3 km from Galle on the south of the island. There are many bars and restaurants and has a real laid back energy. Suitable for all age groups and whether you are looking for allot of nightlife or a romantic stop over this will suit everyone. I recommend Kingfisher Hotel and Restaurant owned by a Swiss Lady check out www.kingfisherunawatuna.comtel 0094 773 408405
.Elephants. When visiting the elephant orphanage please make sure you Ask your driver to take you to the Elephant Millennium Foundation about 10 minutes from the Orphanage. They have a small museum and you can feed, bath and go on a Elephant walk for 10 minutes or longer into the jungle if you require. Very important you will get wet so take a spare set of clothes and towel. Check out www.millenniumelephantfoundation.com . We support NO elephant riding in Sri Lanka so when you visit here please ask to walk alongside the elephants with their special and unique style to help protect the elephants of Sri Lanka against cruelty.
.Shopping. When visiting Colombo please make sure you visit Odel Department Store the only department store in Sri Lanka and offers everything under one roof. www.odel.lk
Recommended Colombo Shopping/ Dining
Gandharacrafts.com 0112 596329
Paradise Road Gallery Café and Shop
Cinnamon Grand Hotel Coffee Shop
Dutch Hospital, restaurants, bars, shops
Independence Square – for Shopping
.Shopping Negombo. Ask your tuktuk driver to take you to Arpico in Negombo a superstore that sells everything. For clothes, NO limits and Fashion Gate are worth a look. On the beach road you will find cargills supermarket which have low prices for day to day items required
Enjoy your holiday in Sri Lanka and should you have any questions please ask me when I am working in the Restaurant alternatively email me on firstname.lastname@example.org and I will try and answer any questions you may have.