Here’s VISIT 2 SRI LANKA’s guide for all you should know before you visit the island
The domestic flights provided by Cinnamon Air are connected by Bandaranaike International Airport in Katunayake. These flights are relatively expensive and fly to destinations such as Sigiriya, Trincomalee, Dickwella and Batticaloa. You also have the chance to get charter flights, which would cost you even more. However, it would save your time and you will be able to enjoy aerial views of the island. Such charter flights take off from Colombo Airport in Ratmalana, which is an air force base with a terminal. It is recommended to check the availability of domestic flights before you finalize your tour plan to avoid disappointments.
Photo Credits : Cinnamon Air
In Sri Lanka, bus routes cover around 85% of the island’s roads. There are two types of buses operated in Sri Lanka; Central Transport Board (CTB) buses and Private buses.
The former is handled by the local government and usually do not have facilities such as air-con. If you are comfort seeker, we recommend you to catch a private bus. Operated by independent individuals or organisations, you would find two types of private buses; regular buses and air-conditioned coaches.
Fares for both CTB and private buses are very cheap. However, intercity expresses charge a bit more than a regular bus but you can travel faster with comfort.
Various vendors hop on to sell snacks, water bottles and cheap fancy items, which is an accepted norm in Sri Lanka
Most of the buses have a board in the front with its destination marked in English. In case it is not available, you may ask before boarding the bus.
Luxury and Semi-luxury private buses offer the opportunity to reserve a seat in advance.
It is best to avoid the first two seats on CTB buses as they are reserved for clergy.
If you board the bus at the beginning of its journey, you can grab a seat.
Usually on the main roads from Colombo to Kandy, Negombo and Galle, buses cover around 40km to 50km per hour.
Travel during peak hours are subject to traffic delays
Trains are an easy way to explore the island. Sri Lanka has a state-owned railway service.
Trains are crowded especially in the mornings as well as in the evenings. Yet the ride is quite scenic.
Most railway stations have tourist information counters and the officers speak in English.
There are three key rain lines; North from Colombo, South from Colombo and East from Colombo.
Apart from the main lines, there are other two lines; Puttalam line and Kelani Valley line.
Expect long delays and even sudden strikes of the railway staff. However, these do not occur often.
The trains operated in Sri Lanka have first class, first class observation, second class and third class.
First class is sometimes fitted with an observation deck, air-con, sealed windows and small television monitors and also has a flushable w/c. The First class observation carriage is air-conditioned and has seats looking out to the scenery and rail track as the train journeys forward. Second class also comes with spacious seating as well as toilet facilities. Third class being the cheapest option, it does not have much facilities other than a flushable w/c.
You can book first class (observation -class) and second class train tickets in advance. Third-class can be purchased on the day of travel. Although e-booking facilities are available, technologies are outdated. You can book through your mobile if you have a Mobitel/Dialog connection. Also, train tickets are non-refundable.
There are several private coaches that enable you to travel with comfort. The super luxury Viceroy Special has two air-conditioned observation saloons furnished with 64 reclining seats and adjustable tables. Also, each saloon has an adjoining smoking lounge as well as modern toilets. There is also a restaurant carriage. Rajadhani Express is a Kandy bound luxury train while Expo Rain runs to Kandy and Hill country.
Various vendors hop on to sell snacks, water bottles and cheap fancy items, which is an accepted norm in Sri Lanka.
Tuk-tuks and cabs
Three-wheelers or tuk-tuks as they are famously known, are available all over the island.
Make sure that your tuk-tuk has a meter before you get in. If not agree on the fare before you start the journey.
We recommend you to avoid the tuk-tuks waiting outside hotels and tourist sites as they charge higher fares.
If you are going to catch a cab, always do your research and catch a reputed one. Again, agree on the fare before you start the journey.
You can easily get cabs and tuk-tuks via apps such as Uber and Pick Me, too.
We recommend you to use a cycle to explore areas such as Colombo, Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and Sigiriya. You can hire a scooter to explore the coastal areas and Ella.
Usually your hotel would rent bicycles but if it does not, you can find an independent bicycle rental place easily.
Bicycles and scooters are available for day use. If you wish to ride a long-distance, find a quality long-distance bicycle. You can bring down your own cycling gear if you are planning for a cycling tour across the island.
There are ferries used to reach the island’s southwest of Jaffna.
A new ferry service has been introduced in Colombo-from Colombo Fort to Union Place through Beira Lake.
In order to drive in Sri Lanka, you should possess an International Driving IDP, which is valid for a period of three months to one year. This may cost you a little bit more and can be purchased from auto clubs in your home country before you visit Sri Lanka.
In Sri Lanka the speed limit are as follows; 50km/h in towns, 70km/h in rural areas and 100km/h on expressways.
Driving is on the left-hand side of the road.
You can rent a vehicle easily but it is recommended you to get a vehicle with a local driver as it would make your journey easier. (You can’t always rely on Google Maps).
Sri Lanka is a beautiful tropical island with friendly and helpful people. However, it is important to respect the local culture.
It is recommended to try to learn some local language, read about the religion and culture and learn about local rules and values before you arrive.
Please do ask permission before taking photographs of people and respect their wishes if they refuse.
In some beach areas such as Hikkaduwa, wearing bikinis on the road is now allowed. Also, topless sunbathing is officially illegal in Sri Lanka.
It is best to reserve bikinis and skimpy clothes for the beach and poolside. Shorts should always be knee-length.
The dress standard is comparatively conservative. It is respectful to take off your footwear/hats/caps and cover your shoulders when visiting a religious place.
Sri Lankans greet each other and visitors with “Ayubowan”, which means Long Life. They generally greet with palms together and sight bow of the head or upper body. You can do the same when you meet a local.
It is best to shake hands if offered. Do not handshake with a Buddhist monk.
It is recommended to contact your own GP or vaccination centre with regard to required vaccinations for Sri Lanka.
Lanka has introduced a compulsory online visa system for all travelers arriving in Sri Lanka from January 1, 2012. You may apply for the Electronic Travel Authorisation via www.eta.gov.lk established in the Department of Immigration and Emigration. This is associated with a small free. However, children under 12 need a visa but it will be free of charge.
Starting from 1st August 2019, travelers from Austria, Australia, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Cambodia, China, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Malta, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America are issued free visa-on-arrival.It is recommended to submit applications online on the Departments official website www.eta.gov.lk for electronic travel authorization (ETA), to avoid delays at the airport, while the airport will also have an on-arrival visa facility.
You should obtain a travel insurance policy and bring a copy of the policy as evidence that you are covered
Money and Banking
Credit cards are widely accepted and there are ATM machines in major centres.
Visa, Master and American Express cards are widely accepted in Sri Lanka.
There are money exchangers across the island but always go for a reputed place to avoid disappointments.
Most banks are open from 8.30am till 3.00pm. Some of the banks operate ‘Super Branches’ that are open throughout the week.
Colombo, the commercial capital of the island is home to many government-owned and private hospitals with modern facilities. Also, there are pharmacies and medical centers all over the city. However, the hospitals in rural areas do not have modern facilities likes the ones in Colombo and suburbs. Some private hospitals offer aeromedical services covering the entire island.
In light of the Easter Sunday outrage, Sri Lanka has implemented special plans to ensure security in public places. You may have to go through check points and get your bags and luggage checked.
Even the hotels have strengthened their security systems, and thus expect several security check-points starting at the entrance.
Travellers with Buddha tattoos or image of the deity on clothing/accessories have been denied access into the country several times. So make sure that you cover such tattoos when in Sri Lanka as the locals find such tattoos disrespectful.
A religious statue is worshiped, so avoid climbing on or sitting by one, and don’t pose with it.
Smoking in public places is an offence; however most hotels, bars, and eating places will have a designated smoking area.
Sri Lankan meals may include spicy curries and nuts so please check with the restaurant before you place the order.
Do not expect sit-down flush toilets in all budget guesthouses-sometimes they usually have squat toilets.
Keep enough sunscreens and insect repellent with you.
If you are planning to go on a hike in the hill country, make sure that you put on leech repellent socks.
Rabies and other animal-borne parasites are not uncommon in Sri Lanka. Stay away from stray dogs, cats and monkeys.
Casual cotton clothing is appropriate in the humid climate of Sri Lanka. It is recommended to wear sweaters when visiting the hill country.
If you are a solo female traveller, you might receive uncomfortable levels of male attention. Outside urban areas, make sure to dress conservatively.
You may not find highchairs in many restaurants, which might make your toddler uncomfortable.
Make sure to bring your own car seats if you are travelling with children.
Sri Lanka does not have many amusement parks and such for children. However, its beaches, national parks and ancient cities are sure to keep your children entertained.
If you need a cot for your baby, inform the hotel in advance about your requirements.
Breastfeeding in public is accepted in the country.
Many hotels (even the high-end ones) do not have special facilities for differently-abled guests. Make sure that you check whether such facilities are available before you make the booking.
Many hotels are not pet-friendly. We recommend you to think twice before bringing down your pets.
If you are happy with the service you received, it is recommended for tipping (usually 5%-10%).
Entrance tickets for historic sites, national parks and such cannot be purchased beforehand/online. You may need the assistance of your travel agent to purchase your tickets.