Mentioned in ancient Indian script Ramayana, Sri Lanka is an island nation in the Indian ocean. With a constant smile on their faces, Sri Lankans are some of the friendliest people you will ever come across. India is its immediate neighbor in the north. Surrounded by water on all sides and blessed with tropical weather, Sri Lanka is surfers paradise.
Meeting people from developing countries such as Sri Lanka, makes me wonder what it is that makes them happy and content- is it Buddhism or collective way of life or anything else or a combination of these factors?
From white sandy beaches to finest tea in the world to Buddhist monasteries, Sri Lanka will invigorate not only your senses, but also your heart and mind!
Safety and local expectations
Although I said that Sri Lankans are some of the friendliest people in the world, please know that like any other country in the world, you will find touts and crooks in every city/ village of Sri Lanka- trying to make money out of you or just simply harassing single female travelers. This is more prominent in the touristic cities than in the villages or remote parts of the country.
If you are a sole female traveler, you might have men who will simply follow you or men who would like to be friends with you; they might start the conversation by telling you that they do not want any money, but they are there to help you. This can be a common tactic in a lot of developing countries.
Please do not share any details such as the hotel’s name you are staying at or your travel itinerary. Be assertive in telling them that you do not want any help, and do not shy away from raising an alarm. Do not go to any temples or festive places with them.
Although Sri Lanka gained its independence in 1948, it had an ongoing civil war in the north for almost thirty years; LTTE (Liberation of Tamil Tigers Eelam) was defeated in 2009. Some of the most untouched and exotic beaches can be found in the north part of the island, but please know that there might be undiscovered mines in some areas.
Buddhism is practiced by most of the citizens of Sri Lanka; hence, when clicking pictures, be mindful that you do not show your back to Buddha statues or pose in inappropriate ways.
Visa for most of the developed nations and SAARC nations (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, and Nepal) can be obtained on arrival.
Please make sure that you fill out an electronic Travel Authorization (ETA) form online before your arrival. Please make sure that the details on the ETA form and your passport match; otherwise, you might have to face serious delays, and in worst cases, you might be deported.
Citizens of a lot of African nations need to obtain the visa by going to the embassy in their country. Nationals of Singapore, Maldives and Seychelles may obtain free visa on arrival.
You can check your visa requirements here- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Visa_requirements_for_Indian_citizens
Remember to change the word India to the name of your country.
Air: Big airlines that fly into Colombo’s Bandaranayake International airport are Emirates, Etihad, Qatar Airways, Turkish airlines, Oman Air, KLM, Ukraine International airlines, Singapore airlines, AirAsia, Jet Airways, Spice Jet and a few others.
SriLankan airlines is the flag carrier and flies to a lot of cities in the Indian sub-continent and to other major cities in Europe, Middle East and Asia. Passengers from U.S.A will have to transit in Europe, Asia or Middle East as there are no direct flights.
Although there are two other international airports in Sri Lanka, Bandaranayake International airport is, by far, the busiest airport and point of entry for almost all tourists. There are a lot of other domestic airports; however, traveling by road or train is more scenic and economical.
Rail: Traveling by train can be one the most scenic ways to discover Sri Lanka as it takes you through the hilly regions and the coastal areas. There are three classes of railways cars- 1st, 2nd and 3rd. 1st and 2nd class is available only on certain routes; 3rd class can be crowded, especially in the mornings and late afternoons.
You can book the special observation to enjoy the scenery. Remember to book your tickets beforehand, especially the ones between Colombo and Kandy during the festive seasons.
Three-Wheelers: Probably one of the best and cheapest ways to travel around Sri Lanka is on tuk-tuks; yes, that is what a three-wheeler is called as here. It sure is not for the faint-hearted; your safety might be compromised in it as there are no seat-belts and it is open from both sides. They are easy to get by just waving your hand at an empty one. Most of them have a meter, and try to get one with a meter as the ones without a meter will charge you at least 2- 3 times higher price.
If you’re too excited about tuk-tuks, you can hire one and drive it yourself.
Cars: Rented cars are really cheap; you can rent them with a driver or without one. Drivers mostly charge a daily fees and they can be very informative and helpful. You can book them at the airport or at your hotel.
If you plan to drive by yourself, remember that Sri Lankans drive on the left-hand side and that traffic, especially in Colombo, can be really chaotic. People driving bigger vehicles think that they have a right to take over anybody at any time. Honking is pretty normal; it actually is a polite way of telling you- here I come.
Hiring a taxi is a better way of traveling around Sri Lanka; it will turn out to be cheaper than tuk-tuks sometimes. You cab hail an Uber in Colombo easily. Pickme is a local app for taxi; a good alternative to Uber as you can use their services to get a tuk-tuk too.
Buses: you’ll be spoilt for choices, when it comes to travel by buses. They range from extremely cheap ones to super-luxury ones. Although the cheap ones can be bought for less than a US dollar, they are mostly over-crowded and stop at non-designated stops; hence, your journey will take longer than normal. Super luxury buses operate only on certain routes and are mostly full; you can pre-book a seat by calling the bus company.
Most of the long-haul buses stop every 3- 5 hours for a snack/ toilet break. Please stick to packaged goods as your immunity might not be adept at digesting the local food. Toilets might not be very clean; carry your own toilet paper.
Tours: Tailor-made tours are available not only in Sri Lanka, but also online. This can be one of the best ways to see this country. Make sure you do your research beforehand as some of the drivers (when you hire a mini-van), might take you off track and to shops to buy things; they have a set commission for the number of tourists they get in a day. The travel agent should give a clear-cut itinerary, and how much it would cost per day.
When to go
Although rain can be expected throughout the year, it rains torrentially on the east coast from October to January and west coast receives a good amount of rain from May to July. Try to avoid these months because it will not only be rainy, but also hot and humid. If you are planning to go to the hills in the central part of the country, temperatures can range between 5 to 20 ’C.