Although I did lots of research before traveling to Sri Lanka there is still a lot that I learned along the way and I wanted to share as much as I can that could make your trip that much easier or more enjoyable. The tips below are not in any ranking system, they are just numbered for differentiating purposes. I just wanted to point it out so that you don’t think #1 is more important than #7 and so on and so forth. I want to share the main tips from my trip that I didn’t find information on prior to my trip. Let’s get straight into it.
Tip #1 Take Plenty of Cash!
When we first got to the airport, there are several companies that are trying to get your business, either to exchange your money, to get a taxi, to buy a sim card for your phone or to book tours. The first thing we did as exchange some money. I highly suggest bringing enough cash as it’s hard to find atms that will work for you. I called my bank in advance to put a travel advisory on both my credit card and my debit card. When we ran out of cash and tried to use the atm, it kept giving me a message that it wasn’t valid or something. It was really scary because that was the only means of getting cash. It’s not like there was a bank branch that I could go in to withdraw money from my bank account. Luckily there was an HSBC bank branch in Kandy and one near the airport. This was a life saver! We would have been stuck out had it not been for HSBC bank. So that’s why I suggest bringing enough cash so you can exchange it when you get there as a lot of places only take cash besides the hotels and more established/nicer restaurants. Even the cab company we went with only took cash.
Tip #2 Buy MOSQUITO REPELLENT!!!
I highly suggest buying mosquito repellent because the mosquitos literally swarm you almost immediately leaving the airport. Buy the repellent not only to keep you from getting a mosquito bite and end scratching yourself for the rest of the trip, but also to prevent you from getting yellow fever or Meningitis through a mosquito bite. I bought my mosquito repellent when I got to Kandy and let me tell you it really worked. My theory is the mosquito repellent they sell in Sri Lanka is stronger than the kind you get in the states or anywhere else because it is formulated to really keep the mosquitos off of you. The mosquitos were everywhere and they WILL get you if you don’t protect yourself. I was bit only one time on my hand and it was a small bite. I was so worried the rest of the trip that I got yellow fever from that one mosquito. I had the sniffles the next morning and I was so stressed out. Luckily I turned out to be fine, but you don’t want to chance it.
Tip #3 Bring a rain coat or poncho
The weather forecast said that it was going to rain all five days, 100% of the time. I was a little bummed but I was like “oh well, we’ll get through it”. We got lucky because it only rained in the evenings and by that time we were at the hotel already having dinner and didn’t plan on leaving the property until the next morning. However it did rain on one day in the afternoon and it rained pretty hard. So I suggest bringing ponchos and small umbrellas just in case.
Tip #4 Bring a pair of loose pants or buy a sarong.
When you go to the temples, you are not allowed to go in with shorts or skirts. You must have your legs covered either with pants or a long sarong. I happened to be wearing yoga pants that day so I didn’t need to buy a sarong, however looking back I probably should have had one just out of respect since my yoga pants were a little form fitting.
Tip #5 Drink lots of water!
This sounds so basic but trust me, you will need to keep yourself super hydrated because it is so hot and humid there. We went on short walks and were huffing and puffing because of how tired we were. I drank water like I had been in the desert in the hot sun all day. I was so thankful that I had the water too because I avoided being sick from dehydration and ruining the rest of my trip.
Tip #6 Take a small backpack with you.
This is self explanatory but I still find it essential to mention. You will need to carry water, sunscreen, mosquito repellent tissues, and maybe a small towel in case you sweat a lot and snacks. You will want to take this with you for your long hikes, so it’s best to have a small backpack to carry all your items.
Tip #7 Almost everything is negotiable.
Pretty much everything is negotiable, even when you shop at the gem stores, you can talk down the price. I found myself negotiating everything, even my hotel stay. I was so happy for this and definitely wanted to mention this as a tip. Negotiate even if you think you can’t get anything from it, try it anyway. You never know.
Tip #8 Be Aware of your surroundings/Read the Signs
Be aware of your surroundings, not only for your safety but I want to emphasize reading the signs posted. Let me note that in my trip/experience there was not a time that I felt unsafe at all. I just want to still make the point as a reminder and a tip. Sometimes the signs are in another language, but they almost always have a picture of what you are to be aware of. They are extremely strict on their rules of “no pictures” by the Department of Archaeology in Sri Lanka and they are protective of their historical sites. You will be detained and your camera confiscated if you take a picture of something you were not supposed to. You can also be imprisoned. This is not a joke people. For example, there are areas of Lion Rock that have been preserved but are dying due to so many pictures being taken of it in the past, so you are not allowed to photograph even without flash. There are government officials there at all times to actually detain you on-site and take you to jail if you break this rule. They will take your camera and you’ll probably never see it again. So to avoid all this, just don’t take pictures in the areas where it says you should not.
Tip #9 Wear comfortable Sneakers
Do not wear flip flops because there is so much walking involved. You can really injure your foot /feet from tripping over rocks, or if something falls on your feet. Also, the amount of walking can cause blisters or cause a lot of pain to your ankles. I really recommend leaving the cute flip flops at home or just to use in your hotel room and only wear sneakers or hiking shoes.
Tip #10 Be prepared to sit in a car for hours
If you are planning to go to other cities while in Sri Lanka and not just stay on one resort, be prepared to spend a lot of time in the car as it takes several hours to get to the next city. When you are in the city, be prepared to sit in traffic jams. This is where the small backpack comes in handy. Always keep a bottle of water for each person traveling and snacks whether it be apple, bananas, a small bag of chips, granola bars, etc. You will get very hungry while on the road.
Tip #11 Pack toilet paper or a small pack of tissue
You will pretty much only get toilet paper in the comfort of your hotel. Otherwise, if you have to use the bathroom outside of the hotel, you won’t usually have toilet paper. You will need to bring some from the hotel or pack a small pack of tissues for your bathroom needs. I also recommend bringing a small travel pack of wet wipes, just in case. Hand sanitizer is also a must as there were plenty of times there wasn’t any soap in the bathrooms while traveling.
Tip #12 Visas for Sri Lanka
I was able to get my visa on arrival. I believe for US citizens, as of October 2017 it was $40 usd per person and I was able to pay with a credit card which made it easier because I didn’t have to use my cash I brought.
Tip #13 Vaccinations for Sri Lanka
I did not have to get vaccinated for travel to Sri Lanka as a traveler from the United States. You can, and it is advised that you get it done at least a month prior to your trip to make sure you don’t have any reactions. I am not advising where you should or shouldn’t. I am simply stating that I did not, and I was fine. I just used mosquito repellent to try to prevent a mosquito from biting me. I also drank lots of water and made sure to get plenty of rest so that my immune system was at it’s strongest while I was there.
Tip #14 Traveling to Sri Lanka
I flew from Muscat, Oman on Oman Air. They offer direct flights to Colombo, Sri Lanka, which is where their main airport is. Expect to fly in to Colombo no matter where you want to go in Sri Lanka. This basically means to factor in a driver/taxi cost in to your trip because none of the cities are nearby.
Tip #15 Driving in Sri Lanka vs. Taxi
DO NOT RENT A CAR IN SRI LANKA. I repeat, Do. Not. Rent. A. Car. My main reason why I suggest to not rent a car and go the route of hiring a driver is because driving is so dangerous in Sri Lanka if you are not experienced in chaotic traffic situations. What I mean by that is cars, tuk tuks, motor bikes, big trucks are all weaving in and out of lanes, there is no method to the madness. It can actually be really scary in the passenger seat, let alone driving. You will legit have a car coming head on and you have to just know when to move out of the way to avoid a collision. The drivers are so much more experienced and quite frankly more calm because they are used to the driving conditions. They are also used to driving in this sort of traffic in the rainy weather conditions. To be on the safe side, just hire a driver and save yourself the incredible stress, anxiety and potential accident. Hiring a driver to stay with you the whole time will run you just about the same amount of money if you were to rent a car. It will not be money wasted, trust me! When you arrive to Colombo airport, there are several car/taxi companies. Go to each company if you want, try to negotiate the lowest price for the route you want to take. For example, I told tell the taxi companies I wanted to go from airport, to Kandy for two days, to Dambulla/Sigiriya for two days then back to the airport. Don’t forget to factor in going back to the airport. They will quote you a price. Remember everything is negotiable. Talk them down. Also ask for someone who speaks good English. My guy was great and he knew a lot about Sri Lanka. I literally didn’t pay for any tours because my taxi driver knew so much. Here is the number to Sunil, the driver I had in Sri Lanka +94 77 524 9981. Tell him Marcella sent you.
That’s about all I can think of and I will definitely update this post if I think of anything else. I hope this is helpful and I hope you have an amazing trip in Sri Lanka. It’s an incredible experience.