It’s no secret that I love Sri Lanka. Natural beauty, animal safaris, beautiful beaches, lush tea paddies, fewer tourists, incredible food, relatively lower prices etc. It ticks all the major boxes and then some. I kick myself for not having visited the country more often as its only a four hour plane ride from Dubai. Live and Learn. I’m sharing my absolute need to know travel tips for Sri Lanka before your next visit.
10 Tips for Sri Lanka
- Sri Lanka is not like India, please don’t confuse them. I’ve been to India many times and aside from people having similar skin tone, it is worlds apart. Sri Lanka has a laid back island vibe that, to me, many parts of India (even the tropical parts) can’t compete with. It is also cleaner, less populated and comparatively unpolluted
- Boutique Hotels are the way to go even if they are a half hour or more from the sites. There’s a charm here which is absent from the big chains. Not only are you giving back to local residents when staying in a boutique hotel, the costs are probably much lower. Here are posts on two boutique hotels I stayed in, third one coming soon Udekki and Brook Boutique Hotel
- Explore the North! Yes, Sri Lanka was devastated by a dangerous civil war in the past with the northern parts more affected but it is safe now (says who? says me and of course many travel publications :)). I got a chance to visit Kalpitiya and took a safari day trip to Wilpattu National Park in the northwest on my first visit and it was beautiful. Dolphin watching, kite surfing, great beaches, amazing seafood are all in store in the North
- Monsoon season. Plan around the weather. Even though its a small country, Sri Lanka experiences microclimates and parts of the island encounter monsoon season at different times. Try Arugam Bay in the East if the southwest is suffering from rainy weather
- Location and Traveling Distance. Unless you have more than one week to spend, I recommend staying in one region for the duration of your trip. Travel between places can take hours on the road or even by train. The drive is always filled with interesting and picturesque scenery and is part of the experience but can also cut into precious time. Domestic flights are expensive. There is plenty to see and do in each part. I found this link on Rough Guides incredibly helpful when planning my itineraries: http://www.roughguides.com/destinations/asia/sri-lanka/itineraries/
- Money, Tax and Tipping. Okay, the first thing is get your cash from the ATM at the airport. While there are ATM’s throughout Colombo, I didn’t see many readily visible ones throughout the other parts. And trust me, a day is more than enough in Colombo. Hotel currency conversions are always less favorable any where in the world. Second, there are high taxes but please don’t let this stop you from visiting as the cost is still less compared to other destinations. A sales tax (VAT) of 12% is added to nonessential goods and services in Sri Lanka. VAT is added to hotel room rates, along with 4.87% city tax, and often a 10% service charge. These additions are usually included in quoted prices but not all the time. Check with your accommodation first so you’re not in for a surprise when you see 22% tax tacked on to your bill. Third, make sure you tip well. Salaries are low and really, is 500 rupees ($3.45) going to kill you?
- Food. Eat everything. It’s delicious. My favorites are the egg hoppers, fish curries and everything made with coconut from chutneys to sambols to ice cream. Try restaurants outside of your hotel too and stay away from ordering pizza or spaghetti bolognese (c’mon)
- Skip Galle. While the Galle Fort is on every travel itinerary for Sri Lanka, I find it to be filled with cliched, overpriced shops and overrun with tourists. If you must go, don’t waste more than half a day here. Unawatuna may also be worth skipping unless you’re looking for drunken partiers. Once a natural site but now irresponsibly developed. Try Bentota instead.
- Ayurvedic Products and Ceylon Tea. Sri Lanka has wonderful Ayurvedic spas and you should absolutely return home with these natural remedies. I picked up king coconut oil for my hair, sandalwood oil and cream and various herbal products and organic spices. Don’t forget to grab the TEA. Ceylon Tea is some of the best in the world. They sell packaged teas at the airport too
- Last but not least… Just relax, there is no pretension here. Leave your designer stuff at home
I hope you find my 10 Tips for Sri Lanka useful. Feel free to ask me any questions in the comments below.
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