Having lived in Sri Lanka for the last 7 months we’ve got to know the place pretty well. It’s a beautiful country and has loads to offer… surfing, hiking, yoga, cookery classes, temples, waterfalls, tea plantations and epic train journeys to name a few. Here’s 10 tips to help you prepare for a trip to Sri Lanka..
- Tuk tuks – Tuk tuks are a great way to get around, but many of the drivers will try their luck and charge way more than they’re supposed to. To give you an idea, in general they should cost around 60-70rs per km. If you’re in Colombo try and get a metered tuk tuk (although they may tell you the meter is broken). And try and have the right money as they will always tell you they don’t have change. You can also download the pickme app (similar to uber but you pay in cash after your trip), that way you know the price beforehand.
- Seasons – There are 2 distinct seasons in Sri Lanka which cover the Northeast (including Jaffna, Trincomalee, and Arugam Bay) and the Southwest (including Negombo, Galle, and Mirissa) – imagine a diagonal line through the middle of the country. The Northeast season runs from May to September, and the Southwest season runs from November to March.
- Visas – You will need a visa to enter Sri lanka. You can apply online here, or if you don’t mind the extra queue you can buy one from the counter at the airport when you arrive. The visa lasts one month but you can apply to extend by another two months. Then, towards the end of that 3 month period you can apply to extend by another 3 months. Once you have been in Sri Lanka for 6 months you have to exit and re-enter the country to start the process again.
- Culture – There are a variety or religions and cultures in Sri Lanka, and its important to follow a few rules when it comes to respecting the values of the Sri Lankan people. It’s important to cover up when visiting temples, clothing below the knee and no hats allowed. No bikinis are to be worn off the beach, especially in muslim areas. And if you have a tattoo of a Buddha, make sure its covered up, people have been arrested on arrival at Colombo airport for having their tattoo on display. Sri Lankans eat with their hands, embrace it and eat the Sri Lankan way!
- Surf – There are literally hundreds of surf breaks in Sri Lanka, and depending on the season you’ll probably want to go to either Arugam Bay or the South coast. Try the beginning or end of the season to avoid the crowds. Even off season its possible to find waves. There are also a few secret surf spots but they wouldn’t be secret if I told you where there were, and anyway finding them is half the fun right?! Needless to say Sri Lanka is a surfers paradise. You can rent a board for around 250-300rs per hour. Or get a lesson for 2500rs per hour. Check out Sion surf camp, Shaka surf camp, or Freedom surf school.
- Local vs foreigner price – you will find yourself paying the foreign price for things, and they’re not even subtle about it. Signs clearly displayed: local – 50rs, Foreigner – 250rs. You’ll need to test your negotiation skills to get the price down, Or get a local you trust to buy for you.
- Visiting with kids – slip slap slop, pack a bottle of water, and get along to one of the playgrounds usually near the beach. There are a few rips in the ocean to be aware of so we tried to stick to rock pools or beaches like Wajiya which are protected by big rocks and reef. We had a pram with us but i think i can count on one hand how many times we used it. There’s no pavements and lots of street dogs so we always favoured a tuk tuk. And bring a change mat if you need one as there are never any change facilities. There are lots of things to see and do with kids. Check out the other blog posts for all sorts of tips on travelling around Sri Lanka with kids.
- Food – The food really is something special. For breakfast try egg or string hoppers, coconut sambol, onion sambol and coconut roti. Dhal, fish curry, veg curry and all sorts of delicious side dishes are among the menu for the rest of the day. Go to a cookery class while you’re here as you will learn loads about the ingredients and different dishes. We went to Deevi’s cookery class on the south coast in Kabalana and enjoyed a huge feast of deliciousness.
- Transport – Aside from Tuk Tuks, you can also get around by bus or train which is cheaper. A train from Colombo to the South coast is around 200rs, and a bus from Weligama to Galle is around 50rs. The train journey through the hill country, especially between Ella and Kandy is is thought to be one of the most beautiful train journeys in the world and I’m not surprised. Read about our trip from Ella to Nuwara Eliya to hear more. If you’re looking to get a taxi to or from the airport to the south coast expect to pay around 10000rs for a reliable, safe driver.
- Yoga – there are lots of places to find a yoga class, I liked to try different places to get a mix of styles and experiences. Everyone’s different but I found great teachers at Hangtime Hostel in Weligama, and the rooftop cafe is a must for coffee and breakfast. There are surf and yoga retreats for those who want everything under one roof – try Soul & Surf or Camp Poe.
I hope you find the tips useful, and if you have any questions about travel to Sri Lanka please comment below and I would love to help. Happy travels.