I’ve said it before… Sri Lanka is beautiful, properly beautiful, but there are some things you should be prepared for…
Before you go…
Get your Visa (a.k.a Electronic Travel Authorisation) before you travel. The official site is here. You’ll need to present this and an arrival card (which you complete when you arrive in Sri Lanka) at the immigration desk in order to gain access to the country.
Make sure you get your jabs and health advice before you travel. Visit your GP or local travel clinic a few months before you’re due to travel to ensure you get the right medication for the areas you want to visit.
Remember there’s a limit to the amount of Sri Lankan rupees you can take into the country.
Also, remember that it’s nigh on impossible to purchase Sri Lankan rupees outside of Sri Lanka (don’t worry they’re widely available (at a better rate) when you get there.
Buy a travel adaptor if you think you’ll need one (the hotel we stayed in had UK style plugs). If you do think you’ll need an adaptor this is the sort to look out for.
Do pack accordingly. If you’re only staying around the hotel and beach then bikinis and flip-flops are fine. If you want to explore the country properly (which you should) you should cover your shoulders and knees in order to show respect to the locals and to avoid any unwanted attention. Pop a couple of scarfs into your bag for impromptu cover up moments.
When you arrive…
Get some currency at the airport. There are swathes of people vying for your business in the arrival hall.
Do carry your passport with you everywhere. I thought this a bit odd when I heard this requirement, then on our way to our hotel I woke up from my jet lag fuelled power nap to find a man in uniform peering into the back of our car, a rather large gun slung around his neck. He didn’t ask to see my passport, but I was darn pleased I had it with me just in case!
Be prepared for the most mental traffic you have ever experienced as Tuk Tuks, buses, trucks, cars, cows, dogs, pedestrians all vye for their space on the very busy roads, especially around Colombo.
Do slather on the sun cream! Sri Lanka had the fiercest sun I have EVER experienced. We had factor 30 and 15. The 15 never got used as we daren’t go lower than the 30. If I went again I’d consider taking factor 50 – unheard of for a sun worshipper like me.
Likewise stay hydrated… speaking of which…
Be sure to try the juice of the King Coconut, along with the ridiculously delicious fresh fruit. Scrumptious.
Try a Sri Lankan curry – super tasty!
Don’t be scared! There are A LOT of touts and you will often find some of them will follow you around. To us Westerners this can be a tad intimidating. Obviously keep your wits about you, but we didn’t experience any dodgy characters the whole time we were there, just a whole lot of friendliness and the occasional bout of hard sell. Don’t be surprised if the ‘Tukky Tukky men’ as I liked to call them hang around for a chat even after you’ve said no to their services. They’re a friendly bunch these Sri Lankans. We found walking into the sea for a paddle got rid of any that really couldn’t get the hint to leave us alone.
Be careful. After living in a Westernised Nannied Nation we can forget that other countries aren’t as health and safety crazy as we are. Watch out for uneven pavements and hidden steps. Be careful near to the sea (the currents are particularly strong) and on cliffs or the walls of Galle Fort. It goes without saying be particularly careful when crossing the road.
Don’t be afraid to leave the hotel. Everywhere we visited felt safe, even at night.
The Tuk Tuk is your saviour. Cheap, fun and ideal for short trips. Don’t be surprised if you take a Tuk Tuk one day and the driver wants to become your personal guide for the rest of your holiday. If you’re going further get a car and a driver – long journeys in a Tuk Tuk would be no fun and would take FOREVER!
For longer trips you can explore a lot of the island with a car and driver, but you won’t want to be doing this everyday. Being on the road in Sri Lanka is tiring (even as a passenger) so alternate day trips with chill out days.
Be courteous. Sri Lanka has somewhat of an old world charm about it. Lewd behaviour or bad language may be frowned upon. There’s a certain innocence over there and a desire for good behaviour. Don’t embarrass yourself or the locals.
Most of all enjoy and take the time to breathe in the magic of this beautiful country.
Read my review of the Lonely Planet guide to Sri Lanka here.
Read my survival guide to Edinburgh here.