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Sri Lanka is world-renowned for the warmth of the welcome it gives every visitor to its shores. But how best to navigate a cultural landscape so different to your own, whether avoiding potential pitfalls in polite society or sussing out which of the vast array of activities and attractions are well worth the effort?
Avoid any awkward faux-pas with our Dos & Don’ts of travelling in Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka Travel Tips
DO: arrange your visa in advance
Since 2012, almost all nationalities have been required to purchase a 30-day double entry visa known as an Electronic Travel Authority, or ETA to enter Sri Lanka. Apply for you ETA here.
DON’T: ride elephants
Here at Exodus, we like wildlife to be just that…wild. We are staunchly against the domestication of elephants. In 2014 we removed elephant riding from all of our itineraries.
Culturally, Sri Lanka has a very different stance and it is fairly common to see working elephants here and throughout Asia. We strongly encourage our travellers not to support any local business exploiting elephant welfare.
DO: take the train through hill country
Averaging around 20mph, this is certainly no commuter train but if it’s scenic splendour you’re after, Sri Lanka’s highlands will keep you gazing out of the window for hours. Clickety-clacking from the country’s highest railway, descend through cloud forests into undulating tea plantations before eventually arriving in Bandarawela – a small town virtually untouched by tourism.
DON’T: take pictures of people without permission
This rule isn’t exactly exclusive to Sri Lanka, many nationalities would be offended by insensitive, camera-wielding tourists invading their space with a lens. If you ask politely, and at an appropriate moment, you’ll find most people will be more than willing to have their portrait taken. It’s nice to share the moment and show your model the photo you took too.
DO: cover up when required & dress appropriately
Sri Lankans are incredibly friendly and welcoming of tourists in their country. However, it is a very conservative nation and you will be expected to dress as such in public, and sacred, sites.
For women, it’s a good idea to keep a scarf in your daypack to cover up your shoulder when sightseeing and visiting temples. Men should always wear a shirt or t-shirt in public areas, and will sometimes be required to wear trousers. You may have to remove your shoes at certain sacred sites too.
DON’T: drink the tap water
It may be perfectly fine for the locals, but it could wreak havoc with an unfamiliar constitution! Stick to bottled water and double-check the seal around the cap has not been tampered with prior to drinking. Also, be wary of having ice in your drink when you’re drinking outside the larger resorts.
DO: try the tea
We do, however, highly recommend drinking plenty of Sri Lanka’s most famous beverage – tea!
DON’T: take a selfie with Buddha
It is considered highly offensive in Sri Lanka to have a picture taken with your back facing towards Buddha, so leave the selfie stick at home and pay your respects to Sri Lanka’s holiest icon face-to-face.
A number of temples and cultural sites forbid photography in certain indoor areas. Please adhere to your guide’s instructions and look out for any warning signs.
DO: climb Sigiriya
Don’t let the several hundred steps put you off heading up Sigiriya – the beautiful frescoes, rock carvings and staggering views from the top are well worth the climb. It’s easily achievable for anyone with a reasonable level of fitness. The metal steps can be slippery when wet, so do wear sensible walking shoes during your visit.
DON’T: forget to pack insect repellent
Sri Lanka is a tropical country with a hot and humid climate that attracts plenty of insect life, including a few with a taste for tourists! Make sure you pack a tropical strength (ideally DEET-based) repellent, and exercise the standard bite avoidance precautions – wear trousers and long sleeves in the evenings, avoid wearing perfume and order a G&T at the bar!
DO: take sterling
Changing your currency in Sri Lanka is a pretty straightforward affair, with a favourable exchange rate on sterling. Your local leader can advise which ATMs to use and where best to exchange money.
DON’T: own up if you don’t like cricket!
Sri Lanka is a passionate cricketing nation. If you’re not a fan, it’s probably best to keep it to yourself!
Now that you have some top tips for travelling in Sri Lanka under your belt, browse our tours below.