In September I was given a work opportunity to travel to Sri Lanka for three weeks. Previous to the offer, the country hadn’t been on my radar. I knew it was a popular surf-destination and located close to India. And I’d heard of Aussie seasonaires visiting to warm up between winters in Japan and Jindabyne.
I love visiting a place I don’t know much about: my expectations are low and tend to be quickly surpassed. Ergo, I had a spectacular time in Sri Lanka.
If you’re looking for an Asian destination that’s affordable, but less party-centric than Thailand, Sri Lanka offers the perfect balance. As a bonus, there are incredible safaris and smiling locals that offer up fantastic hospitality.
The below tips will help you plan and pack for a Sri Lankan getaway:
Modest dress is best
Buddhism is the most practiced religion in Sri Lanka. Other predominant religions are Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity. Sri Lankans (women, in particular) tend to dress in full-length skirts and modest shirts.
The popular saying when in Rome exists for a reason. It’s better to blend into the crowd, particularly in a foreign country. Especially if you’re visiting religious sites, cover-up below the knees and over the shoulders.
It’s easy to get by with English
Unless you’ve studied some Sinhalese, conversing with the locals in their native tongue can prove to be difficult. Luckily, everyone I interacted with on the tourist trail spoke great English and we got by just fine. Sometimes hand gestures came into play, but that’s just part of the fun of travelling!
There are two wet seasons
Thanks to its position in the Laccadive Sea off the southeastern tip of India, Sri Lanka experiences two different monsoons.
During the southwestern monsoon, it rains from May to September. From October to January, the northeastern monsoon brings rain to the other half of the island. It’s as if the island is split diagonally and when it rains on one half, it’s dry on the other side.
Arguably, this makes this island a year-round destination. In September we saw rain every day, but it wasn’t oppressive. Tropical storms tend to pass quickly. Plan your visit accordingly.
Eating like a local will help you save
Sri Lankan cuisine is delicious. You’ll think so too if you love curry, spice, and tropical fruits. Over the course of my three-week trip, I got to eat at a lot of hotel buffets, some more hip cafes catering to tourists, and completely local establishments.
This should be a rule of thumb whenever you’re travelling: the more local you go, the more affordable the price tag. Cost doesn’t necessarily dictate quality either. A $3.00 curry from a local stand was often as enjoyable as the $20 hotel dinner.
The Sri Lankan Rupee is a closed currency
At today’s rate, one Canadian Loonie = 138 Sri Lankan Rupees. The LKR is a closed currency, meaning that it’s illegal to move currency out of the country and you’ll get an awful exchange rate if you try to buy rupees before you go.
While this might stress some travellers out, it shouldn’t! ATMs are everywhere (including several options at the airport arrival gate). They aren’t sketchy either – we took out cash from our Canadian debit cards without issue throughout our stay.
Don’t negotiate by default
Any savvy traveller knows not to accept the first price you’re given. While travelling in certain countries, it can often feel like a ‘tourist tax’ is applied to every souvenir that catches your eye at the market.
Our Sri Lankan tour guide advised that this is sometimes different in her country. Locals don’t necessarily negotiate by default. If a price seems low enough, it might not be worth saving that extra 50 cents. It can be offensive to merchants to negotiate when prices are already so low. Save the haggling for the higher price tags!
You can organise taxis on Facebook
Public transport in Sri Lanka isn’t the most accessible for foreigners. We found this to be the case when we needed to travel from Negombo to Arugam Bay – located on opposite sides of the country! Apart from an overnight bus, a taxi was our best option.
Research led me to a couple of Facebook groups set up for backpackers looking to share a ride. By posting our travel dates on the feed, we were able to find someone to split travel costs with. I even organised the pickup with the taxi company over Messenger. The whole process was smooth and efficient and it completely threw the concept of don’t accept rides from strangers out the window!
Go See Ceylon
Sri Lanka’s tourism industry is still recovering from the Easter Sunday suicide bombings that occurred earlier this year. Don’t let the media’s penchant for negativity get to you – Sri Lanka is a very safe place to visit. Hotels have extra security measures in place. As a tourist, your presence feels welcomed and wanted. So what are you waiting for? Go see Sri Lanka now!