Travel Tips to Sri Lanka

Before You Go …

Getting There
Usually all visitors to Sri Lanka travel by air; flights arrive at the Bandaranaike International Airport, 35 km north of Colombo, and 6 km east of Negombo.

When To Visit
Sri Lanka is a round-the-year destination for visitors who seek the sun; the best time to visit the island is from November to April. The South-western coastal area is where the most of the beach resorts are located. Kalpitiya, located in the north western coast has been recently declared a new tourist attraction. Many development projects such as hotels and other infrastructure are also underway to make the East Coast a new tourist destination. The central highlands are pleasantly cool and relatively dry from January to April. Peak season is mid-December to mid-January and March-April during Easter with a mini-peak season in July and August when festivals and pageants are held through the country.

Travel Authorisation
With effect from 1st January 2012, all Holiday or Business travellers to Sri Lanka must have Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA) for entering in to Sri Lanka. Please visit for more information. When applying for the ETA through third parties, payments are to be made through the arrangement made in the website and acknowledgement of the ETA application must be received. Any payments made to other websites or agencies are not valid when processing a valid ETA. Therefore, always ensure that all ETA payments are made by accessing the Sri Lanka ETA website and avoid making any payment at the port of entry to Sri Lanka.

What is a Sri Lankan Visa?
A Sri Lankan visa is an endorsement on a passport or a similar document to facilitate the legal entry of non Sri Lankans into the country which regulates the period of their stay and the conditions governing such a stay.
There are two kinds of visas which permit a person to enter and/or stay in Sri Lanka.

  • Tourist Visit Visa A Tourist Visa is issued to bona-fide tourists who want to enter Sri Lanka for sightseeing, excursions, relaxation, visit relatives or yoga training for a short period of time.
  • Business Visit Visa A Business Visa is issued to foreign nationals who visit Sri Lanka for business purposes for short periods of time. This visa may be issued for single, double or multiple journeys.

Photo Permits & Entrance Charges
Sri Lanka is a photographer’s delight. However, permits are required to take photos at certain sites. Entrance tickets to individual sites are available only from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. These tickets cover charges for photography, recording and parking. Rates are quoted in US Dollars and rupee parities are subject to fluctuation.

Custom Imports
You are allowed to bring into the country duty free, 1.5 litres of spirits, two bottles of wine, a quarter-litre of toilet water, and a small quantity of perfume and souvenirs with a value not exceeding US $250. The import of personal equipment such as cameras and laptop computers is allowed but must be declared on arrival. However, personal equipment must be taken out of the country upon the visitors departure. The import of non-prescription drugs and pornography of any form is an offence. Sri Lanka Customs :

Custom Exports
On leaving the country you are allowed to export up to 10kg of tea duty free. No antiques can be taken out. An antique is defined as anything more than 50-years-old. Purchase and export without licence of any wild animal, bird or reptile, dead or alive, also the export of parts of animals, birds or reptiles, such as skins, horns, scales and feathers is prohibited. It is prohibited to export 450 plant species without special permits. The export of coral, shells or other protected marine products is also strictly prohibited.

Foreign Currency Regulations
Visitors to Sri Lanka bringing in more than US$10,000 should declare the amount to Customs on arrival. All unspent rupees converted from foreign currencies can be re-converted to the original currency on departure as long as encashment receipts can be produced.

Health Precautions
The health risks in Sri Lanka are different to those encountered in Europe and North America. Watch out for bowel diseases such as diarrhoea and amoebic dysentery, vector-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue fever, and a variety of fungal infections. Sri Lankan physicians, many of whom have trained in the West, are particularly experienced in dealing with locally diseases.

No inoculations are compulsory unless you are coming from a yellow fever or cholera area. (Cholera is very occasionally reported in Sri Lanka, so is not considered a serious risk.) However, the following vaccinations are recommended, particularly if you plan a long trip or intend visiting remote areas: Typhoid (monovalent), Polio, Tetanus, Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Rabies. Children should, in addition, be protected against: diphtheria, whooping cough, mumps, measles, rubella.

Remember to plan well ahead with vaccinations. Allow up to six weeks to receive the full course, for some vaccinations require more than one dose, and some should not be given together.

The risk of malaria exists throughout the whole country apart from the districts of Colombo, Kalutara and Nuwara Eliya. Medication has to start one week prior to travel, continue during the trip, and finish four weeks after your return. Once again, planning is essential, as well as care to ensure the course is followed.

What To Wear
Cotton clothes are useful at any time of the year but you will need light woollens for the hills and waterproof clothing or an umbrella. Modest dress for women is advisable especially off the beach and when visiting religious sites. Don’t forget comfortable shoes, sandals or trainers and cotton socks. If you are planning to trek and climb go prepared with suitable gear. Water sports enthusiasts would do well to take their snorkel and diving equipment along.

Local Sinhala Phrases

Meeting & Greeting

“How are you?”
(ko∙ho∙mȧ∙dhȧ? = Literally, “how?”; It’s an informal way of greeting someone)

“What is your name?”
o∙yaa∙gé na∙mȧ mo∙kak∙dhȧ?
(o∙yaa∙gé = “your”; na∙mȧ = “name”; mo∙kak∙dhȧ? = “what?”)

“My name is [Dilshan]”
ma∙gé na∙mȧ [Dilshan]
(ma∙gé = “my”; na∙mȧ = “name”)

“Where are you from?”
o∙yaa ko∙hén∙dhȧ?
(o∙yaa = “you”; ko∙hén∙dhȧ? = “from where?”)

Language Related

“Do you speak English?”
o∙yaa in∙gree∙si ka∙thaa kȧ∙rȧ∙nȧ∙va∙dhȧ?
(o∙yaa ka∙thaa kȧ∙rȧ∙nȧ∙va∙dhȧ? = “Do you speak?”; in∙gree∙si = “English”)

“I don’t understand”
ma∙tȧ thḗ∙rén∙né nǣ
(ma∙tȧ = “for me”; thḗ∙rén∙né nǣ = “don’t understand”)


“How much?”

“(It’s) too expensive”
ga∙nang væ∙diyi
(ga∙nang = “expensive”; væ∙diyi = “(is/are) too much”)


“Let’s go”

“I want to go here”
ma∙tȧ mé∙hé∙tȧ yan∙nȧ ō∙né
(ma∙tȧ ō∙né = “I want”; mé∙hé∙tȧ = “to here / to this place”; yan∙nȧ = “to go”)

Food & Drinks

“I’m hungry”
ma∙tȧ ba∙dȧ gi∙niyi
(ma∙tȧ = “for me”; ba∙dȧ gi∙niyi = “(am/are/is) hungry”)

“I want (some) water”
ma∙tȧ va∙thu∙rȧ ō∙né
(ma∙tȧ ō∙né = “I want”; va∙thu∙rȧ = “water”)

Polite Words

ka∙ru∙naa kȧ∙rȧ∙la

“Thank you (very much)”
bo∙hō∙mȧ sthoo∙thi

“Sorry / Excuse me”
sa∙maa vén∙nȧ

“No, thank you (very much)”
é∙paa, bo∙hō∙mȧ sthoo∙thi

Health & Emergency

“I don’t feel well”
ma∙tȧ sa∙nee∙pȧ nǣ
(ma∙tȧ nǣ = “I don’t have”; sa∙nee∙pȧ = “wellness”)

“I want/need a doctor”
ma∙tȧ dhos∙thȧ∙rȧ ké∙nék∙vȧ ō∙né
(ma∙tȧ ō∙né = “I want/need”; dhos∙thȧ∙rȧ ké∙nék∙vȧ = “a doctor”)

“Help me!”
ma∙tȧ u∙dhauw kȧ∙ran∙nȧ!
[ma∙tȧ = “to me”; u∙dhauw kȧ∙ran∙nȧ! = “do help!” or “help!” (imperative)]

Frequently Used Words





While you are there …

Time Difference
Sri Lanka Standard Time is five and a half hours ahead of GMT. (Allowance should be made for summer-time changes.)

Electricity 230 . 240 volts, 50 cycles AC. If you travel with a laptop computer bring a stabilizer.

Language Sri Lanka has two official languages. They are Sinhala and Tamil – with English as a link language. Most people have some knowledge of English, and signboards are often in English.

Internet and Communications
You will find that most hotels offer high-speed internet connection in your room, and most towns have telecommunications stores that offer internet services to the public. There are also a few cafes in Colombo that offer free Wi-Fi. There is good mobile phone reception throughout Sri Lanka. You can make International Direct Dial (IDD) phone calls from your hotel, though a cheaper option is to buy a pre-paid card for a card-operated IDD telephone.

Sri Lanka’s Currency
The local currency is the Sri Lankan Rupee, divided into 100 cents. Currency notes are Rs.5,000, Rs.2,000, Rs.1,000, Rs.500, Rs.100, Rs.50, Rs.20 and Rs.10. Beware of mistaking the Rs.500 note for the somewhat similar Rs.100 one. To check whether notes are genuine look for a Lion watermark. Coins, should you receive them, will be in denominations up to Rs.10. Make sure you have plenty of lower denomination notes (Rs.50, Rs.100, Rs.500), especially when travelling and you need to buy small items, fruit, and eat cheap meals, because change is often hard to come by apart from at hotels and big shops.

Banks are open from 0900hrs to 1300hrs Monday to Friday. Some city banks close at 1500hrs, while some are open on Saturday mornings. It’s easy to withdraw money across the island at ATMs using international credit cards or debit cards.

Credit Cards
Most hotels, restaurants and shopping centres accept credit cards. Some establishments may try to add a surcharge, which is illegal.

You can pay with your debit/credit card at all the hotel properties. Some local eating places too will take debit/credit cards but it’s wise to keep some local cash in your pocket. I suggest $100 per person cash in SL Rupees should be enough unless you go crazy with the local handicrafts. This could be purchased at a city currency exchange or at the Melbourne/Colombo airports. Typically the banks in Australia don’t carry SL Rupees although they could order them for you.

Taking Cash
While most hotels and reputable eating places take debit/credit cards, some don’t, so it’s prudent to have some local currency with you when you travel. An equivalent of US$100 in SL Rupees per person should be enough. More local money can be obtained from local money changers who will give you a better rate than the hotels.

Changing Money
There are lots of Western Union Money transfer places where you can change any currency. They particularly don’t ask for your passport at these places. The rates however are at the whim of the person sitting at the counter. You can always negotiate a better rate. The best rate for any currency is at the counter in the Negombo market near the airport. ATM’s accepting Maestro/Cirrus cards are widespread in all the bigger towns, but compare the cost with TC/cash as many Western banks add withdrawal fees.

Tipping is a personal matter, and you should never feel obligated to tip. However you may find that a tip is the most appropriate way to show your appreciation for great service. Have plenty of very small notes at all times as tipping is normal and everyone expects to be tipped. A guide is: 50rupees for toilet attendants; 100rupees porters, etc.; 500-1000rupees a day for a driver (where it is part of a package holiday). Others at your discretion.

Sri Lankan cuisine is likely to be a highlight of your stay. Fresh and fragrant spices are a feature – Sri Lanka isn’t known as the Spice Island for nothing – as are locally-grown tropical fruits and vegetables, coconut, seafood, pickles and chutneys, and of course rice.
While you will notice some similarities with South Indian cuisine, Sri Lankan food also shows Portuguese, Dutch, English, Arabic and Malaysian influences. As with other parts of Asia, meals are often served banquet-style, and consist of at least one meat or fish-based curry, alongside a variety of vegetable and lentil-based curries. Though spicy, Sri Lankan curries are not necessarily hot – the accompanying chutney or sambol may be though! Be sure to try the ubiquitous local snack known as hoppers, a kind of pancake made from rice flour and coconut milk. There are sweet and savoury varieties.
It is not advisable to drink the tap water in Sri Lanka. You can buy bottled water anywhere in the country.

Upset Stomach
As most stomach upsets are due to the unsanitary preparation of food, it is useful to know what to watch out for. Under-cooked fish (especially shellfish) and meat (especially pork and mince) can be hazardous. Salads can be risky unless purified water has been used to wash the vegetables. Fruit that has already been peeled should be avoided. Be careful of ice cream, in particular the ones sold by street vendors and served at cheap restaurants. Sometimes there are power outages Sri Lanka, especially away from urban centres, so it pays to be suspicious of all refrigerated foods if you know there has been a recent outage in your area.

Tap water is not safe to drink, and boiling and filtering is sometimes done too hastily in some hotels and restaurants, so the best solution is to drink bottled water. There are now many brands available, mostly using spring water from the highlands. Make sure that the bottle carries an SLS certification and that the seal is broken only in your presence. Beware of ice unless you are satisfied it has not been made from tap water, and remember the tap water you may be tempted to use to rinse out your mouth after brushing your teeth is unsafe. Keep a bottle of water in your bathroom for this purpose.

When you flop onto the beach or poolside lounger for a spot of sunbathing, always remember to apply a sunscreen product with a sun protection factor of at least 15. Remember you are just 600km from the equator. Even with sunscreen, your sunbathing should be limited. If you don’t apply sunscreen you are liable to become so sunburnt that it will be painful to move, your skin will peel and most importantly you put yourself at risk of serious dermatological disease.

Sometimes those who have spent too long in the sun suffer what is termed as heatstroke, the most common form being caused by dehydration. This condition can occur if the body’s heat-regulating mechanism becomes weakened and the body temperature rises to unsafe levels. The symptoms are a high temperature – yet a lack of sweat – a flushed skin, severe headache, and impaired coordination. In addition, the sufferer may become confused. If you think someone has heatstroke, take that person out of the sun, cover their body with a wet sheet or towel, and seek medical advice. To avoid heatstroke, take plenty of bottled water to the beach, or buy a thambili (king coconut) from an itinerant seller.

Prickly Heat
Prickly heat rash occurs when your sweat glands become clogged after being out in the heat for too long or from excessive perspiration. The rash appears as small red bumps or blisters on elbow creases, groin, upper chest or neck. To treat it, take a cold shower, clean the rash with mild soap, dry yourself, apply hydrocortisone cream, and if possible, a product that contains salicylic acid. Repeat every three hours.

Local Health Care
Minor health problems can always be treated by doctors with practices in the resorts and elsewhere in the country. If you have a more serious problem, Colombo boasts a selection of modern, well-equipped private hospitals offering the latest in conventional medical and surgical therapies. A growing number of foreigners are taking advantage of affordable, high quality private healthcare in Sri Lanka, and combining it with the chance to take a holiday. Though the medical tourism industry in Sri Lanka is still in its early days, a number of private hospitals in Colombo are geared to provide advanced surgery and other treatment to international clients.

Where To Stay
Sri Lanka offers visitors an excellent range of accommodation facilities to suit all budgets from luxury hotels to low budget accommodations. In the peak season (mid-January and during Easter) bookings can be heavy so it is best to reserve accommodation well in advance through tour operators/ travel agents, booking online and through online travel planners.

Public Places
You may sometimes be overwhelmed by crowds of people in public places (railway stations, markets, bus stands, temples or simply busy streets). ‘Touts’ and hawkers may jostle and push and clamour to show you a hotel and sell you things. Taxis and three – wheelers are often there when you do not need them.

In general the threats to personal security for travellers in Sri Lanka are remarkably small. It is more pleasant to travel with a companion as it is advised not to travel alone especially after dark. The island including the North and East is safe to visit. If you have anything stolen, report it to the tourist Police, ( a special tourist police set up to look after the needs of the tourists. Contact tel: Number + 94 11 2382209

Sri Lankan ‘Ceylon’ tea is prepared as in the West and coffee too. There are a huge variety of bottled soft drinks, including well-known international brands. Thambili ( king coconut water )is a safe and refreshing option. Local beer and spirits are widely available. Bottled mineral water is available in 5 star hotels. Please note: Alcohol is not sold on Poya (full-moon day of the month) days.

Travellers With Special Needs
Travellers with special needs, especially if they visit Sri Lanka without a companion, should note that the country has relatively few facilities for disabled people, although greater awareness and improvements are evolving.

Wheelchairs and assistance in boarding and disembarking are available at Colombo airport. Buildings, offices, and banks are becoming better-equipped with wheelchair ramps and suchlike. If you aren’t travelling with a companion, you’ll find that Sri Lankans will be only too eager to assist.

Traveller cheques
Are a nightmare; many banks do not want to change them. Others take 20 minutes to check passport and personal details on many forms.

There are some important restrictions that apply to photography regarding Buddhist imagery. When you visit a temple or other religious site, remember that photography should not be carried out in a manner causing disrespect. For instance, it is strictly forbidden to be photographed in front of or beside any statues and murals. Note that flash photography can damage old murals.

Tourists who wish to visit and or photograph the principal ancient monuments in Sri Lanka are required to purchase a ticket from the Central Cultural Fund. A single round ticket for two months validity costs US$50 and will entitle you to visit and photograph historic monuments such as Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Sigiriya, Nalanda, Ritigala, Medirigiriya. There are separate charges at each site for those who do not obtain round tickets: Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and Sigiriya US$25, Nalanda US$5, Ritigala US$8, Medirigiriya US$5.

Photography, Restrictions & Permits
Sri Lanka is a tremendously photogenic island, so it’s hardly surprising that most tourists bring a camera of some kind when they visit the country. The stunning landscapes, the captivating fauna and lush flora, and the stupendous archaeological remains provide great opportunities. A bonus is that Sri Lankans love to be captured on film so it’s easy to capture the traditional rural lifestyle. You’ll find villagers, farmers, fishermen and tea pluckers will readily stand in front of your viewfinder. Your subjects will often ask to have a copy of picture sent to them. This may be laborious, but it is a reasonable courtesy as many may never have seen a picture of themselves. It is also understandable that some will also expect a token recompense for allowing themselves to be photographed.

Precious Stones
Sri Lanka is famous for its precious and semi-precious stones and you might be tempted to buy a blue sapphire or a star ruby. Be careful, as there will be some shonky/manufactured stones to tempt you. If you do want to buy a precious stone, get the driver to take you to Premadasa Jewellery in Kandy or Colombo. They are a well-known and reputable jeweller.

One of the highlights of Sri Lanka is the many wonderful beaches around the island, many of which are popular with surfers. Beaches may not be patrolled so be sure to check conditions prior to entering and stay close to shore as rips and currents may be present. Swimming pools are a feature of many, though not all, of our hotels. Remember to observe common sense safety precautions around swimming pools, particularly if you are travelling with children.

Recommended Reading

  • Running in the Family by Michael Ondaatje is a fictionalised memoir with elements of magical realism. It focuses on the author’s return to his home country of Sri Lanka in the 1970s, weaving tales of his family with Sri Lankan history.
  • A Village in the Jungle by Leonard Wolf is a literary novel about his time working as a civil servant in Sri Lanka.
  • Sam’s Story by Elmo Jayawardena is a fictional novel focusing on the country’s people and how their lives were impacted by civil war. It is told through the eyes of a young illiterate boy.
  • Serendip: My Sri Lankan Kitchen by Peter Kuruvita is a journey through the delicious traditional cuisine of Sri Lanka and the role of food in culture and family, by an acclaimed Australian chef with Sri Lankan roots.
  • Reef by Romesh Gunesekera is a coming of age love story set in Sri Lanka, covering politics, culture and class.
  • July by Karen Roberts is an insightful tale of two neighbours growing up together – one Sinhalese and the other Tamil.
  • Sacred Tears by Roderic Grigson is a story of how the recent civil war affected the lives and families of two young men from the smallest ethic groups in the country.

Other Hints
Make sure to inform the front desk if you want your room refreshed during the day when you are out touring or relaxing on the beach, or by the pool. Many properties will not allow their staff to enter occupied guest rooms unless specifically requested to by the guest.

When you are touring and stop at any eating place along the way, never eat any of the food that’s displayed under glass! You don’t know how old it is and how many times it’s been reheated. Always order food that is freshly prepared.

Buy a case of bottled water and keep it in the vehicle. Make sure you keep your water levels up as you will be sweating a lot.

Take extra strength insect repellent to keep the mosquitos away. We found out that Tea Tree oil works just as well or even better. But if you find an Aussie mossie it may attract them instead. Don’t use any fragrant soaps as it attracts mosquitos.

It is recommended that you tip your driver/guide the end of your holiday if you are happy with his services. This can be between US$7-10 per day paid in one lump sum.