How to travel smart in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka is an amazing place to travel. It is a small island with an amazing diversity offering much to see and do for all types of travellers. With a booming tourism industry and a lot of tourism-related infrastructure being developed over the last decade, Sri Lanka has definitely diverged from the mainstream luxury tourism that the island was used to and has become more appealing to budget travellers and backpackers. But as always, when travelling in a strange place, you should always make sure to be street smart and avoid possible scammers.
I thought if writing this article after coming across the following video posted on YouTube by Dale Philip, a vlogger who is (I think) currently travelling around Sri Lanka, and posting some amazing content. You can check out his YouTube channel here – Dale Philip on YouTube. The video that caught my eye is the following one, and quite frankly disturbing to me as one who loves welcoming visitors to my Island.
Avoid this tourist SCAM in Colombo, Sri Lanka. 🇱🇰
I was greatly saddened by this video. Sri Lankans are a happy and friendly people, especially towards visitors and are renown for our hospitality. Unfortunately, every basket has its fair share of rotten eggs, and Sri Lanka is not exempt from a few crooks who would try to make some quick money by scamming an unsuspecting traveller. This mainly happens if you are a backpacker, or travelling by yourself, as organized tours (small or large) are less exposed to these types of people. Been engaged in the tourism industry of Sri Lanka myself throughout the last 5 years, I have seen a fair share of these incidents and have had the pleasure (yes, pleasure) of coming to the aid of would-be victims by shooing away scammers like this. I am certain a majority of Sri Lankans would do so if they witnessed anything like this, as many have a genuinely welcoming attitude towards tourists. So without much ado, here are a few things to keep in mind to avoid being scammed, if you are travelling by yourself in Sri Lanka (without a guide).
Do not take travel suggestions on the road
I love just going ahead and winging it as much as any person, but it’s always good to do a bit of research beforehand as well. Use the internet. Your hotel or hostel will have Wifi. If you are travelling Sri Lanka by yourself you should always buy a local sim card for your phone as well. They are really cheap, and it is very useful to have the internet at your fingertips at all times. You would be surprised as to how much information about petty much anything in Sri Lanka can be found by a quick google search. There are even sites dedicated to things like attractions and hikes with very specific details of even the remotest and unheard of places. You do not need people coming up to you on the street and telling you where to go.
But on the other hand, do not be shy of talking to the locals, even someone on the street and asking for information. Most are friendly and some could surprise you with veritable gems. You could always ask a few other to confirm received information, or just Google it. Mingling with the locals is one of the best parts of travelling, and is true of Sri Lanka as well, just be street smart when you do it.
Ditch those tails
Sometimes you will find people coming up to you and offering their services as a guide. These people can be very persistent and will follow you sometimes if you just ignore them. This can happen not just in cities but even in remote tourist attractions as well. Do not just ignore them, they might follow you and just demand money for their ‘services’. You could, of course, ignore that too, but why let them spoil your day? Be firm and tell them to STOP FOLLOWING, and that you will NOT GIVE THEM ANY MONEY. If you make it clear to them that there is no way that they will get money off you, they might not be bothered to follow you. Even I have had people following me at some tourist attractions and trying to get money off me, and I am a local!
Do not confuse the above-mentioned type of people with licenced guides. You may find guides who come up to you and offer their services in places like Sigiriya, the Kandy royal palace, Polonnaruwa and Anuradhapura. They are usually found at important archaeology sites. They will always carry their identification and license and you can ask to see them. These guides are usually well educated about the sites they cover and can actually offer amazing insight into the places that you visit, making your trip educational and more enjoyable. They would usually cost about 1000 Rs but definitely worth it if you are the kind that finds pleasure in the details.
Hiring a Tuk-tuk
In Colombo, if you want to get a tuk-tuk, (or 3 wheeler as the locals call them), my suggestion would be to use the Uber App or the local version ‘Pickme’, which has more service providers. If you plan to spend some time in and around Colombo you should definitely download the Pickme App on your phone. If not, always make sure your tuk-tuk has a meter on it, and ask them to switch it on as you start your journey. Most Tuks around Colombo now have meters fitted. Do not hail down Tuks and ask them “how much to x destination’, just ask if they have a meter and you will be paying the local price. When you leave the cities and get to more remote parts of the country this might not be an option, but 50 Rs for the 1st km and 30 rs per km after that should be your rough calculation. Some tourist attractions have set prices, which are way over the normal limit, but they control them so it is not much you can do about it, and it is not really scamming but capitalizing on the demand.
Charging money for a commission is quite a regular practice amongst Sri Lankans. It is not a surprise then that this is normal within the tourist industry as well. It becomes a borderline scam when the middle man
- Does not inform both parties of the deal about the money that he charges as his commission fees
- When the amount is not a standard 10 – 20 % but something crazy like 100% or more! (Yep, that can happen)
- When the commission fee is paid by the buyer on top of the price of the product or service.
How to avoid this?
To avoid this, always try to find a direct route to the vendor or service provider. If you need to get information from a middle man, try to get access to the vendor or service provider and not the rate. If the middle man gives you a rate, ask him directly what his commission is, and if you are happy with the amount, you can pay the fee. Also, try to get quotes from a few service providers or vendors. If you are being taken there by the middle man, try to find the contact details online and call them before you get there and get their rates. This way you can ensure the vendor or service provider (who usually works harder and gets paid less than the middle man) gets the amount that they deserve for their goods or services.
Drivers that you may hire along with a vehicle are the most likely to do this. In some industries like Tea and Gems (products with high rates), the vendors themselves allocate a fair commission fee for such drivers to encourage them to bring them, customers. Other than that, I have seen some trying to get a commission fee for things as small as even a coconut by the roadside. This is not something that is done by everyone I must stress but it does happen. So its always best to stay alert, and stay smart.
In case of an issue
If by any chance you get scammed or run into some trouble in Sri Lanka, The Sri Lankan Police has a separate Tourist Police division that you can contact to get help. You can visit their website here. They will be more than happy to help you out.
In case of an emergency, you can ring up the ’emergency hotline -119′ for assistance.
If you are planning to visit Sri Lanka, please have a read through my website to find out about top things to know when visiting Sri Lanka.
Give us a howl
Also, if you are travelling in Sri Lanka and come across any problems, or think you were scammed, please do not hesitate to contact me. I would love to get your story out and help minimize these kinds of happenings in my country. I would also be more than happy to provide advice regarding travelling in Sri Lanka. You can reach me on WhatsApp at +94768769227 (Damian) or my facebook page – Damian Kuthalane. You can also simply leave a comment below.
Hope your travels around Sri Lanka are as beautiful and exciting as the island itself!
This article is provided for information sharing purposes only. The author apologises for any errors or omissions – please be in touch to notify us of any corrections or comments via comment section below: