Here are a handful of helpful tips for your visit to Sri Lanka – A beautiful island country found just Southeast of India.
Know that it is possible to make the 45km journey from the Colombo airport to the central bus station for only 100 rupees (currently $0.71 USD). Take the local bus, found toward the back of the airport parking lot.
When taking tuk-tuks or taxis, know approximately how far your destination is. A fair price is about 80-100 rupees per kilometer. If a metered tuk-tuk or taxi isn’t available, decide on a fixed price before getting inside. If the driver is being especially difficult, walk away. He’ll either bring down his price, or another tuk-tuk driver will approach you. There are always other tuk-tuks nearby and absolutely no need to settle.
When using the train system, please be aware that there are many online scams for railway prices. In reality, many times trains are quicker and cheaper than buses. A great website to use is slr.malindaprasad.com.
Make a mental note to purchase bottled water before taking the train. A 1500ML bottle should roughly cost 70 rupees, but on hot trains you will be charged over 100 rupees for much smaller, 500ML bottles.
I would also advise to buy any produce, food and snacks prior to boarding the train as well. Those trying to sell any baked goods, corn, and other foods and snacks on trains are prepping to toss these items in the garbage. Selling on trains is a last ditch effort to make a profit, by the time the food reaches this stage, it is generally several days old.
A short bathroom blurp
When you’re not sick, the bathrooms are totally manageable (see How to avoid sickness is SE Asia?). Everyone has heard about Asian bathrooms, the lack of toilet paper and dreaded holes in the floor. And although I’d say at least 50% of the time toilet paper is nowhere to be found, I’ve only seen one or two holes in the floor in Sri Lanka specifically, and I didn’t even have to use them.
What I hadn’t heard of were the sprayers, which for a westerner is a very different experience to be had! A dry bum is a happy bum, so if you come across that small comfort from home known as TP, make sure to unravel a wad and stuff it in your pack for later. I was more surprised by the absence of hot water. A few places have it, mainly in the cooler central region, but it’s considered an amenity, listed under “free WiFi” and “Kitchen.” To be honest, it’s not really needed in most areas of Sri Lanka, as the climate here is a hot one. Cool showers are a surprisingly nice way to start and end your day.
Getting to know the Critters
The windows here don’t have screens. So wherever you stay, count on sharing your room. You’ll most likely have a vast array of new roommates, including geckos, which I’ve learned to prefer over the slugs and snails, frogs, ants, and spiders, hermit crabs, earthworms, unnervingly large beetles, and of course the mosquitoes, all creeping and slithering and buzzing around as I sleep. Depending on the region, you may hear some clatter on the roof and think, “Clumsy burglars?” Well ya wouldn’t be far off! Just monkeys, probably checking out what you’ve got laying around outside.
Chances are you’ll also encounter a few water monitors. These dudes are commonly an impressive 4-6 feet long, and with the undeveloped tropical forest as the backdrop, can make you feel like you’re living in the Jurassic Era. There are bees the size of a grown man’s big toe, and although intimidating, they usually mind their own business. I’ve also watched the biggest bat I’ve ever seen in my life fly right past me! I had to google it – The Sri Lankan MegaBat or “Flying Fox” – very impressive! (Luckily this is one creature I have NOT had to share my room with).
And lastly, my least favorite – leaches. I had never seen a leach before this trip, so when I saw one moving across the road similar to an inchworm, I thought, “Well that’s unlike any inchworm I’ve ever seen!” Then I saw another on the floor of our hotel room, and it wasn’t until I pulled one off of my girlfriend’s back that I realized the more sinister truth about these creepy-crawlies. They weren’t inchworms at all! But hungry leaches! And a short freak out dance ensued.
A Few Randoms!
Watch out when you go dress shopping! We specifically asked for dresses, picked them out, and even had straps sewn on (as we didn’t pack strapless bras). Imagine our confusion when we were struggling to put them on and discovered that they weren’t dresses at all! But rompers with elastic bands around the knees!
Don’t buy weed on the beach. Undercover cops will bus’cho ass. It’s what they do.
Speaking of the beach, if you spend any time on the Sri Lankan coastline snorkeling will probably find its way onto your bucket list. Many recruiters will try to swindle you into renting a mask while you’re taking a lovely stroll along the beach. But be advised to buy instead of rent, as you’re likely to get charged triple the fair price. Furthermore, most rented masks leak, completely ruining an otherwise potentially awesome experience. Keep in mind that due to the tsunami in 2004, there are many areas with dead coral reefs. So unless you’re into the dead reef scene, do some research before handing over your rupees for a “Glass Bottom Boat” tour.
If you’re doing any attractions up in the mountains (ie: Adams Peak, Lipton’s Seat, Horton Plains, etc.), go early in the morning. The afternoon brings heavy fog, mist, and most likely rain. It will still be an accomplished feat – but without the view.
For my veggie lovers out there, when ordering a veggie pizza (even if it’s pictured on the menu with peppers, onions, and tomatoes) don’t be surprised if you get whatever is laying around in the kitchen. Mine arrived with shredded carrots and green beans, alongside fresh basil, oregano, and a garlic sauce. Hey, at least now when I’m asked about the most bizarre pizza I’ve ever had, I’ll be able to say, “Why, shredded carrot and green beans in Hikkaduwa, Sri Lanka, of course!”
And last but never least – Haggle, Haggle, Haggle!
This will be easier for some personalities than others. I personally enjoy the challenge and banter. It’s totally acceptable to haggle for clothes, tuk-tuk rides, and even food at street stalls. Don’t be afraid to say no and walk just a few meters to the next shop or taxi if you feel you are being overcharged.
As a foreigner you will get scammed; it’s inevitable. You’ll end up being quoted double or triple the fair price of just about everything and then watch as a local pays a fraction of the price you paid. Be aware of the current currency rates, and only have in your pocket or hand the amount you are willing to spend. The art of haggling will become a part of your daily life. This can be a fun game and doesn’t need to be stressful. Read more about haggling here!!
I really enjoyed this post and I love your writing style, it almost makes me believe that I might actually leave my comfort zone and travel. Your adventurous spirit is wonderful! Keep Writing so I can live vicariously through your adventures!
Wenda — I almost make you believe that you can leave your comfort zone to travel? What can I do to push ya just a little further!? You CAN leave your comfort zone, you CAN travel, and you CAN have your own adventures! Hope you come back, would love to see ya!
Love the website! Love your adventure stories! The only way I would have known anything about Sri-Lanka was from a video game I played as a child for the Super Nintendo called Street Fighter! One of the characters in the game was from there lol. ?
Thanks for sharing very thorough info about the visit and looking forward to more posts from you!
Yes! The character, Blanka!! I used to LOVE that game!! Until my brother got a “new” controller at the time with a turbo button! But, there is definitely more to Sri Lanka than Blanka! Thanks so much for stopping by!
Nice romper! Lol.
“A dry bum is a happy bum.”
This was really entertaining and informative, Courtney. I admire you and your adventurous spirit. Good for you and thank you for sharing this with us. Sri Lanka looks like a great place to visit.
I’ll pack some TP 🙂
I like your articles so much, especially this one! Also, I enjoy hiking in the mountains. Unlike most people, I like to spend my time in the mountains even when there’s fog. The place looks so attractive from your pictures. Keep sharing your journey and I’d like to follow up with your site!
Hey Ted! Thanks for stopping by! Yeah I took that photo on my hike up to Lipton’s Seat – I enjoy the fog as well! But when you’re at the tippy top and can’t see more than a few feet in front of ya, it can be a bit of a bummer!
It is so cool to see the pictures you have posted! I enjoy seeing them and remembering the past trips you’ve taken, as well as reading and learning more about your journeys!
There are more to come! 🙂
Hi Courtney, great site and very interesting and can relate to many things that you have put in the page as I have lived in the Far East and am planning on emigrating to the Philippines. So I understand about the toilets, hot water (what’s that lol) no running cold water and what you call geckos, are called chit-chats in Singapore and Salamanders in Spain. I wish we had them in the UK as they are great at keeping down the flies and other insects. I wish you luck with your roaming.
I’ve not heard of them being called Chit-Chats! I think that’s my favorite name for them thus far! They are what I miss the most actually. Out of all the critters (Other than monkeys – I LOVE monkeys!) they were the ones that grew on me the most!
Killer romper there Courtney! Haha. You look great :P. Sri Lanka looks absolutely gorgeous. I actually heard a really interesting fact recently too about Sri Lanka. It is apparently one of the only countries in the area that doesn’t suffer from massive water shortages in the dry season due to a long line of kings building hundreds of huge reservoirs years and years ago. This means that when the monsoon season rolls through they fill up and help provide water for the rest of the year! Pretty darn cool and I can’t wait to visit.
Totally true! And if you’re into a bit of Sri Lanken history/legends, you should look up King Ravana. LOTS of interesting stuff where he’s concerned!!
Sri Lanka looks like a beautiful place. I’ll have to put it on my list of places to visit. I also wouldn’t mind giving haggling a try lol
Thank you so much for all of this info about Sri Lanka!! Although I spent some time in Asia already, I had to check before I go ahead and plan my trip.
I’m not sure, but following your remarks it seems that traveling in Sri Lanka is similar to traveling in India… am I wrong?
Also, do you have any info about traveling in Sri Lanka with young children? Did you see tourist families in Sri Lanka? Do you find it safe?
Thank you for your help, and for sharing 🙂
It is quite similar to India in some, if not most places. But I would say India is more unsafe for solo female travelers. You should check out my post on Sri Lanka Safety here. As for families with children, no I didn’t see many. This is not to say that they aren’t there! Sri Lanka is still relatively new to the tourist scene. And, as you can see from some of the comments just on this page, there are many people who have never even heard of Sri Lanka. But from my personal experience, I think that yes, it… Read more »
Oh, how I love your blog! Your pictures are amazing, and your posts are both humorous and SO informative. I was thinking I needed to put Sri Lanka, until I read about the creepy crawlies that shared your screen-less room. You are a braver woman than I! Keep up the great work. Can’t wait for your next post.
Oh, the majority of those creepy crawlies were harmless! And I’m sure you’re braver than you think 🙂 Happy you enjoyed it and thanks for reading!!
Hi Courtney! I was born and raised in a Southeast Asian country, the Philippines, not too far from Sri Lanka, but I’ve never been. With this article, you inspired me to include this wonderful country in my bucket list! I was 24 when I migrated to the U.S. and didn’t come back to visit until after 31 years. I got to look at your other post about how to avoid getting sick. I did get sick when I visited the Philippines two years ago, and I thought I was immune from it all. LOL. And haggling! My mom and most… Read more »
Ohhh the Philippines! (I’m jealous!) I haven’t made it there yet, but so beautiful! Yeah the sickness can be extreme! But I find it’s worth it. And the haggling can be a nightmare for some…. but I absolutely love it! Thanks so much for stopping by and I hope to see you around here more often!
Wow! Looks like a great place to visit. I have never heard of this before, but it is now on my list of places to visit for sure!
I like how you mentioned the attractions piece, and how it would be best to get the most out of it in the morning!
You’d be surprised how often I hear people say that they’ve never heard of Sri Lanka! And yeah, I climbed to the top of Liptons Seat and have a photo of me next to the drop off, several kilometers of tea plantation stretching out before me … yet all you can see is fog hahaha. I went in the afternoon/early evening. NOT the best choice!