Our statistics show a lot of people are looking for information about traveling to Sri Lanka, an amazing country still mainly unexplored most backpackers. To help you plan your trip to this versatile country we put some essential information together, so you won’t face unexpected surprises.
General information about Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka has lots of nicknames. Officially the name of the country is ‘Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka’ but among others it’s also called ‘Tear of India’, because of its shape and location below India and ‘Lanka Dweepa’; pearl of the Indian Ocean. Many people still refer to Sri Lanka as ‘Ceylon’, a name given to the country by its Portuguese and British rulers, but as of 1972 its name was changed to the current one. Sri Lanka counts 22 million people, most of which are Buddhist, but also Hinduism and Islam are well represented religions. On the west side lies Negombo, also called ‘Rome of Sri Lanka’ which is the largest Christian settlement on the island. Its biggest export products are tea and coffee, which dominate the landscape. In 2004 Sri Lanka was one of the main victims of the Tsunami which struck one day after Christmas. Alongside the coast ruins can still be found as remains of the disastrous event more than ten years ago.
Starting 2012 it is obligatory to obtain an ETA (Electronic Travel Authorization) to enter Sri Lanka. This can easily be purchased online. Be sure you have a printed version to show upon arrival. The ETA gives you 30 days to spend on The Tear, but this can be extended another 60 days. In order to purchase the ETA, a credit card in your name is obligated. At customs another 30 has to be paid in either cash or with credit card.
Also mandatory, a passport with at least six months validity and an exit ticket as ‘proof’ that you leave the country within your time limit. So if you’re planning on booking a ticket while in Sri Lanka, forget it. They won’t let you pass customs.
Temperatures in Sri Lanka are tropical whole year round. Except for the hill country in central Sri Lanka temperatures are between 25 and 30 degrees Celsius. In towns with higher altitude it can be chilly during some periods of the year. Be sure to pack more than a bathing suit when planning to visit here. Sri Lanka has two raining seasons; Yala and Maha. Yala causes rain in the south west from May until August, whereas Maha wets the north east from October until January. Don’t let these raining seasons scare you away, as the showers are followed by tropical weather.
Currency and budget
Sri Lankan people buy their fish with Sri Lankan rupees. During our stay late 2013, 179 rupees would fit in 1 euro (130 rupees was 1 USD). In the larger towns ATM’s are reasonably abundant, however when you go inland they might be harder to find. Our advice: plan ahead and bring enough cash. Sri Lanka is cheap, very cheap, so draining the ATM of its money is not necessary. On average we spent less than 19 euros (3400 rupee, 26 USD), including accommodation, per person during our time in Sri Lanka. If you want a more detailed view of our expenses in Sri Lanka, look at our budget for Sri Lanka.
Be aware that these exchange rates are from 2013, so always check the current exchange rates before you leave.
Traveling Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka is approximately 1,5 times the size of The Netherlands, a little smaller than Ireland and about the size of West Virginia (one of the fun things of translating stuff:)).
Because the country is reasonably small, you can see a whole lot in just a few weeks. By far the best way to explore Sri Lanka is by train. According to trainophiles it has one of the most beautiful train routes in the world and we have no reason to deny that. Most larger towns are connected by train, and if you need to go to a place without a train station, you can simply take the bus. Either way, you’d probably pay less than $3. In the trains you have the option to choose from three different classes: 3rd: no limit amount of people, but a limited amount of space. 2nd: You’re paying for a specific seat, however, most of the time it’s just as crowded as 3rd. 1st: In some trains the last cart is the observation cart. This is a big windowed cart with comfortable seats and little noise. You pay a whopping 6 bucks to get a seat, so it’s a bit more expensive, but definitely worth it as you also have the open door for yourself. You should also try 2nd and 3rd class just for experience, but if you want to enjoy the scenery, go for the observation cart.
Food and drinks
Don’t drink tap water! As in most Asian countries the tap water is less drinkable than western countries, so to avoid getting sick, buy bottled water for a few cents. Also in restaurants or juice carts, ask where the ice is made from. Usually we check if the ice is ‘has a hole in it’, so we know for sure it comes from ice packs. Another option is to order a drink without ice. You also have to be careful with food, as some food stalls sell food which is unsold food from the day before. Justify for yourself if the food is edible. If you have a gut feeling this might end badly, just find some place else.
A popular dish in Sri Lanka is Dahl Curry which is amazing. But as we’ve noticed, this is almost served anywhere! It is made from lentils, curry leaves, garlic and peppers. A nice change from the Curry is Kottu Roti, a dish made with roti sliced up with garlic, onion, some more vegetables and fish, chicken or beef. It’s a Tamil dish which is also available anywhere.
Getting booze regulated in Sri Lanka. Special ‘alcohol shacks’ have permission to sell alcohol, so don’t be surprised if you have to get in line to get a few beers. In Kandy we wanted to get some beers with a few people we met, but they officially were not allowed to sell alcohol after, I thank, 8pm. The guy told us to go around back to the basement and there we were given privilege of buying drinks at an illegal time:) In Tamil restaurants you won’t find alcohol, but in most other restaurants you will.
However Sri Lanka has some rules concerning alcohol, it is widely available. Cheers.
Some diseases are relatively common in Sri Lanka which may be totally absent in your country. Depending on where you from, you’ll be advised to be vaccinated against some illnesses. We got the following vaccinations:
- DTP (diphtheria, tetanus and polio). This vaccination can be done last minute before departure, however, it is recommended to get it a few weeks ahead.
- Hepatitis A (jaundice). This vaccination gives 1-3 years protection, but when repeated you are resistant for 25 years.
- Typhoid fever
- If you are visiting a country where yellow fever is existing, be sure to get a vaccination before entering Sri Lanka. It is obligatory.
Be sure to get informed about vaccinations before you leave, as the rules for vary for each country!
Malaria and dengue
Only in the north of Sri Lanka you have to watch out for malaria. When you visit this part of the country it is recommended you take pills to prevent malaria. We got the medicine at home together with our other vaccinations, but this varies per country. As mentioned above: get informed!
The risk of getting dengue is a lot higher. It occurs in whole Sri Lanka, and it is also transmitted by a mosquito which is mainly active in the early morning and in the afternoon. One advice is to wear fully covering clothing, but with the tropical temperatures in Sri Lanka it isn’t very comfortable. DEET is also a recommended preventive measure, and it is also still possible to get a tan;) Spray regularly and chances of getting sick are pretty slim.
In Sri Lanka they don’t have screens to keep the mosquitos out, but everyone uses a mosquito net to prevent getting stung while asleep.
Sri Lanka is amazing! The inlands are probably even more beautiful than the amazing coastline. Tourism has been growing insanely quickly, so be sure to visit soon! Don’t be surprised if someone wants to know things about you that you don’t even know about your cousin. This all happens within one minute! Peculiar, but funny…
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