Walking With Wolves

VISITING SRI LANKA

THE ISLAND OF DIVERSITY

"TOP THINGS TO KNOW WHEN VISITING SRI LANKA"

Lonely Planet has named Sri Lanka the TOP TRAVEL DESTINATION FOR 2019. For a small tropical island, Sri Lanka is packed with a myriad of places to see, things to do and experiences to be had. It is truly an island of DIVERSITY in every sense. Apart from that, it is an affordable, convenient and safe place to travel that attract all kinds of tourist from around the world.

But when travelling to a new place, preparation is always key to ensure that you have a smooth trip. So keep reading to understand Sri Lanka a bit better before you travel there and learn certain things that you need to know before arriving.

Please do not hesitate to contact WALKING WITH WOLVES for FREE travel advice for Sri Lanka. We will be more than happy to help you out in making your own Sri Lanka Travel Itinerary.

VISA

First things first – you NEED a VISA to visit Sri Lanka. Good thing is you can easily get  it online (an ETA) and get your VISA stamped upon arrival. Please refer to the Dept. of Immigration of Sri Lanka http://www.eta.gov.lk/slvisa for more details.

MOBILE PHONE CONNECTION

I cannot stress this enough – if you are travelling in Sri Lanka, especially on your own without a tour guide, mobile internet is your friend!

Sri Lankans are very friendly and you will always find help if you ask for it, but having access to information at your fingertips is a valuable asset. It can help you with heaps of things now that more and more information and services in Sri Lanka can be found online. You can cut your cost a lot off transportation, and accommodation if you use it well and also save yourself heaps of time.

BUY A SIM CARD

Make sure you buy yourself a prepaid sim card and not a postpaid mobile plan. We recommend Dialog and Airtel. They have very good connectivity around the island and cheap call and data rates. DO NOT buy your sim card at the airport – buy it at a communications shop in the first town you hit (you can ask anyone on the street), it will be a bit cheaper. Then get about 500 Rs worth of Data and the same in Call Credit, that should last you for a while.

Make sure you use the data to look at useful information and navigation – not youtube videos and Skype, you can use the wifi at the hotel for those purposes.

MONEY AND CURRENCY

You will have to keep a bit of cash on yourself when you hit the road in Sri Lanka. Although most big hotels, restaurants, and supermarkets will accept card payments having cash in hand to pay at smaller restaurants and hotels on the road, entrance fees at attractions, transport and other small expenses is a must. You can contact the hotels that you will be staying at prior to arrival and check if they accept card payments.

Even though you need to have cash on you, don’t rush to the nearest money exchange when land in Sri Lanka. You can get cash out at ATMs around the country, which you will find pretty much in every small town.

Keep in mind Sri Lanka is used to having a luxury tourism culture until the 80’s and only recently started attracting more budget travellers, so things might not be as cheap as you expect. But not to worry, more and more affordable options are popping up every day. Keep reading this article and we will let you in on some ways you can cut your travel cos during your Sri Lanka visit.

Sri Lanka’s currency is the Sri Lankan Ruppe (LKR) which stands at about 0.0056 USD (1 USD = 180 Rs) & 0.0049 Euro (1 Eur = 204 Rs)

TRAVELLING & TRANSPORT

The first thing to remember when travelling inside Sri Lanka is that even though it is a small island, it takes a lot of time to travel from one place to the other. The traffic around the main cities, irregular public transport and windy roads up in the mountains account for most of these time delays. On the plus side, some of the new Highways and renovated main roads have shortened travel time between some major towns and cities considerably. This is a must to keep in mind when you are cramming your travel itinerary with activities.

A good rule of thumb is to always check for the time duration between destinations as shown on google maps, and add half an hour or an hour depending on the distance you have to travel. Also, have an eye at what time you are checking google maps. Time actual duration might change drastically for example if you check google at night to find out its only a 30-minute drive only to hit the road in the morning to a busy road.

“Taxi please”

The fastest and most convenient way to travel around the island is to hire a vehicle with a driver. Although it is not the cheapest option, it will definitely end up saving you a lot of time and we encourage this if your stay is a short one and you wish to cover as much ground as possible.  All vehicles will be with A/C and have the added benefit of a local driver who could act as a guide to you for pretty much the cost of the vehicle. There are a few categories of vehicles that you can choose from.

  • Budget Car (Small Car): 45 – 50 Rs per km
  • Car : 60 – 65 Rs per km
  • Mini Van : 55- 60 Rs per km
  • Van : 75 – 90 Rs per km

(Please note that rates may change with the cost of fuel). For short, day hires vehicle charge only the mileage. If you are hiring the vehicle for a whole day or more you will be charged a minimum 150 km per day for all categories of vehicles (Don’t worry, if you are doing a long day trip or a few days you will be averaging 150 km anyway). If you keep the vehicle overnight, you will have to arrange meals and accommodation for the driver too or pay him around 1,500 Rs per night for it.

“Authentic and sweaty – go local”

If you are not in a rush, wish to travel cheap, and get a more authentic local experience, you should use public transport. Sri Lanka has decent trains and buses pretty much all around the island, but few things to know when you are using them –

  • They can get crowded (Not as crowded as in India, but pretty damn crowded)
  • Buses are pretty regular if you are catching one from a bus terminal of a big town or city.
  • Most buses, especially in rural areas don’t operate after 5 or 6 in the evening so make sure to find out from the locals about the time of the last bus.
  • Express buses can be caught from Colombo to places like Galle, Matara, Kandy, Trincomalee & Jaffna. The rides are super fast, cheap and comfortable.
  • Trains are a slower mode of transport but pretty comfortable and the rides get scenic when travelling through the mountains. The Kandy/ Elle train ride is well known as one of the (if not THE MOST) scenic train rides in the world.

“Tuk – Tuk Adventure”

Another must-try Sri Lankan mode of transport is catching a tuk-tuk (known simply as a 3 wheeler in Sri Lanka). They are fast and like expert yogis, can squeeze through any tight space making them ideal to get past the busy Colombo traffic. The downside is they will try to overcharge you so remember to haggle a bit (it’s ok! :)) Don’t pay more than 50 Rs per km, although if you are travelling less than a km they will charge 60 – 70 Rs.

“PickMe”

Another thing you can do is download the “PickMe” app on your smartphone. It is Sri Lanka’s answer to Uber, and apart from above-mentioned categories of vehicles, you can also book tuk-tuks through it. Especially in busy cities like Colombo & Kandy you will never have to wait for more than a few minutes to get a tuk-tuk and they only charge 35 Rs per km (waiting not included).

“Tropical Island Scooter Ride”

Another popular mode of transport among budget travellers is to hire a scooter. It’s convenient and cheap (About 1000 – 1500 Rs per day to hire a bike + Fuel). It is also time saving, fun and makes for awesome Sri Lankan travel photos. There are many service providers who hire scooters, and they are only a google search and a phone call away from you.

ACCOMMODATION

You can find a pretty diverse range of accommodation in Sri Lanka ranging from Luxury to budget and everything in between. Even Couchsurfing is starting to become a thing here now :). Boutique Villas, Yoga retreats, Ayurvedic Spas, Local Village Resorts, Wildlife Camps and even Adventure Resorts are available around the island to give you an amazing and unique experience.

Sri Lanka’s peak tourist season is between November and April, so expect accommodation rates to be high during this season. You should also try to book well in advance since venues can get booked out pretty quickly.

If you are travelling on a budget and by yourself, Booking.com is your friend, so make sure you have the app on your phone.

When you are making reservations for hotels, try to make bookings on Half Board basis, so you will get your breakfast and dinner at the hotel. There are always plenty of options for lunch on the road. Meals at your hotel can be pretty costly so you could have your meals outside which would save you some money, but also take into account, certain remote areas will not have any restaurants open for dinner. This will not be a problem in busy touristy places.

MEALS

SPICE IT UP

Sri Lankan cuisine is not only colourful on the table but also on your taste palette. Wherever you go on the island, the food itself will be a stunning experience, but unless you are used to very spicy food or if you haven’t travelled in a South Asian country before, here are a few things to remember before you sit down at the table.

If you are not used to spicy food, always start with mild Sri Lankan food can be pretty spicy and pretty generous with chilli. In a couple of days, you can get used to it and will be eating Sri Lankan food like a pro.

You will be served cutlery, but have a shot at using your hand like the locals. Rice was meant to be eaten by hand 😉 If you do end up trying to eat with your hand, remember to always only use your right hand only, and don’t get your food past the first knuckle – that’s bad manners 😀

BREAKFAST, LUNCH & DINNER

Breakfast can be very variety of things. Ditch the continental menu and try some of the local stuff like Rotti, Milk Rice or String Hoppers.

Lunch in Sri Lanka is usually Rice and Curry, usually served with many vegetable dishes. If you are a vegetarian you will LOVE Sri Lanka. Apart from the regular veggies, make sure to ask whats from the area and what’s seasonal, and you might stumble across some very unique stuff.

Dinner is a street affair. A lot of street shops offer Sri Lanka favourites like Kottu and Hoppers. If you are in a remote area, find out about dinner early as most shops close pretty early in the evening.

Meals at your hotel can be a bit expensive, so if you want to keep your food budget tight, always eat out, you will find plenty of small restaurants on the road. For under 1,000 Rs you can get a good meal at most restaurants, but don’t be afraid to spoil yourself from time to time either.

CARRY CLEAN WATER

Regarding the water, always carry a bottle of water, or purchase one if you don’t have one at hand. Most hotels will have a filtered water dispenser, so if you carry your own bottle you can fill it up whenever you get the chance. You can also get big 4 – 5 L can’s of water (they cost about 300 Rs or so) and keep it in your vehicle.

Please read our article about Sri Lankan food to find out more about what to eat when you are in Sri Lanka.

WEATHER

Being a tropical island sitting 5 degrees above the equator, Sri Lanka gets plenty of both Sun and Rain. We just have 2 seasons – the wet season and the dry season.

Although the island is great for visiting throughout the whole year, the best months to visit are considered to be between December and May. That’s when the weather is perfect.

Sri Lanka is powered by 2 monsoons.  The Southwest monsoon that brings in the most rain begins in May ending in July. The Northeastern Monsoon feeds the North and the east of the country (the dry zone) and it falls between the months of November and February.  The rainiest months of the year are May/June and October/November. When visiting Sri Lanka always make sure to pack your raincoat, especially if you plan to hike.

Another thing to remember to bring is your own sunscreen. When the sun comes out (even during the rainy months) it gets pretty hot, and the sunscreen here can be a bit expensive and you might not find your preferred brand.

To read more about Sri Lankan weather head to our article about Sri Lankan geography and climate.

NATURE AND WILDLIFE

Sri Lanka is a hot spot for diversity and wherever you go, you will find the island teeming with wildlife. Here are a few things to remember about the Sri Lankan outdoors.

  • Bring mosquito repellent. It’s a hot, wet, humid country – yes we do have mosquitoes. but with a good Mozzy repellent, they shouldn’t bother you at all. Try to bring something with DEET. That will also be useful if you plan to do a bit of jungle trekking to keep the leeches at bay.
  • Do not wander into the bushes after dusk, especially in remote areas, there can be snakes.
  • If you encounter any dangerous wildlife, please refrain from trying to touch them – just observe and you will be fine.
  • DO NOT FEED THE WILD ANIMALS – please! Especially in National Parks like Horton Plains NP or Hikkaduwa Marine NP. If you do see someone doing it, talk to them or notify someone.
  • Do not make loud noises inside National Parks, especially when trekking.
  • Always make sure you follow the proper code of conduct when entering a National Park or Forest Reserve.
  • Monkeys are cute, but try not to get too friendly with them – they can bite. Also, make sure you lock your room well and close the windows before you leave (even in towns where there are monkeys), they will steal your stuff – they are cheeky like that.

Read our article about Sri Lankan Wildlife to find out more details about Sri Lankan animals.

CULTURE

Buddhism was introduced to the island of Sri Lanka over 2000yearss ago, and since then it has played a very important part in shaping the culture of the society.  Due to this fact, Sri Lanka still remains a very conservative and modest country. People tend to take offence against things like taking photos of Buddha statues with your back turned to it. Walking around on the streets in your swimwear is also something that’s frowned upon. So always be sensitive to not just Buddhism but the plethora of local religions and their customs when travelling.

CULTURAL SENSITIVITY

To visit a religious site, you must wear appropriate clothing, which usually means your shoulders and knees should be covered. A wraparound or a local ‘sarong’ is ideal for this job as you can drape it around your waist when entering religious sites, and it can be a cool piece of clothing too. You can buy such apparels in handmade batik style at the local markets.

When entering a religious site it is also customary to walk barefoot, so best carry a pair of socks with you to put on as the midday sun can really heat up the granite pavers and sand around these sites.

There are many religious festivals throughout the calendar year and are usually celebrated not just by said religion but peoples of all religions. Take note of the holidays as shops may be closed during these days. Especially liquor shops on full moon days – Yes, every full moon is a holiday in Sri Lanka.

Generally speaking, Sri Lanka might not be the place for you if you are looking party like in certain other Southeast Asian countries. Although there are plenty of ways to have a ball and enjoy yourself in Sri Lanka, the key to what Sri Lanka really has to offer is in its ancient name itself – “Serendib”. It is the root of the word Serendipity and it is exactly what you will find here!

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