GMT +51/2 hours.
Sri Lanka is generally warm and sunny throughout the year. Protect yourself from the sun with creams, hats and sunglasses, drink plenty of filtered or bottled water to avoid dehydration.
Temperatures average between 27-32 °C in Colombo and on the coasts, and peak in April. They average about 10 °C cooler in the hill country. Sri Lanka lies 400 miles north of the equator and is affected by two South-East Asian monsoons. The south-west monsoon (Yala) brings most rain to Colombo and the south and west coasts in May/June and the inter-monsoon affects October/early November, although at all times of year sunshine can be plentiful and most of the rain falls in heavy bursts at night. The north-east monsoon (Maha) affects the north and east between December and February. Rainfall is becoming increasingly unpredictable. Sri Lanka averages about 240cms a year, slightly above the UK national average. The north and east are dryer, while the western slopes of the central highlands are wettest. Humidity ranges between 70-90 % in Colombo, lower in the Highlands and Cultural Triangle.
Pack for heat and humidity. Long-sleeve shirts can be good after dusk because of mosquitoes. Daytime coastal temperatures generally range from 27-32 °C, slightly cooler in the hill country, especially NuwaraEliya and Hatton, where a light sweater is frequently required at night. Topless sunbathing is officially illegal. The use of bikinis is generally considered acceptable while on the beach. When swimming inland, in rivers or lakes, ask for local advice regarding swimwear as covering with a sarong may be necessary. Away from the beach, be aware that dress standards are comparatively conservative and it is respectful to wear loose, long and lightweight clothing. Shorts should always be knee-length. Be especially careful about modest dress when visiting religious sites – knees and shoulders must be covered.
Consider buying a Sri Lankan SIM card and top-up cards for your mobile phone. Sri Lankan mobile phone call rates are relatively cheap, both for local and international calls. There is a Dialog GSM shop outside airport arrivals. Sri Lanka Footprints can pre-purchase a SIM card for you if you wish, just let us know in advance.
Most hotels now have WIFI – either free or you have to pay for a days use.
Sri Lanka uses many different types of sockets. A full range of travel adaptors may come in useful. Specialized Sri Lankan adaptors can be bought in major hotels and many shops.
Please do ask permission before taking photographs of people and respect their wishes if they refuse. Minority groups, in particular, are often unhappy to have their photo taken. Photographing Buddhist Monks is not taboo but can create awkwardness so assess the situation and if in doubt ask. We do not recommend paying for the right to take a photo. If you do take a photo including local people, especially children, do share the picture with them if you have a digital camera as it is often greatly appreciated.
Customs and Cultural Differences
Sri Lanka’s genuine hospitality to tourists is renowned. Take care to avoid religious offence, however. In particular, respect the Buddhist faith: do not touch a holy man, do not pose for photographs in front of religious statues and remove shoes and socks when entering temples. We recommend that you read as much as possible about the island and learn a few Sinhala words. Be sensitive to cultural difference. Note that patience, friendliness and courtesy are highly valued virtues that will win you the respect and confidence of many people.
Language and religion
Sinhala (spoken by more than 80 per cent of the public) and Tamil are the national languages. English is widely spoken and understood in all but the most out-of-the-way areas. Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity are all practiced.
The local currency is Sri Lankan Rupees. Currency can be exchanged in Sri Lanka only so you would be best to bring US dollars, AUS dollars, British Pounds or Euros. Travellerscheques are not used widely in Sri Lanka and can be difficult to change in most cases. Credit cards are accepted in most shopping outlets. ATM machines are available in major cities. Guard your money carefully and use hotel safes where possible, as casual thieving can occur.
Bartering over the price of goods is widely expected for a variety of transactions, including the hire of trishaws and the purchase of handicrafts. Note though that not all sellers will quote you a price that is inflated and that therefore requires bargaining. Modern shops, for instance, have adopted Western habits where bartering is not welcomed. We recommend you try to ascertain the guide prices for goods or services before purchasing. Remember that a small and inconsequential saving for you could be an extremely important amount to the seller. Bargaining is best carried out in a light-hearted and courteous manner. Aggressive haggling will offend the seller and ultimately increase the price. If you make a purchase, beware extra import costs for tax, handling charges, customs, and delivery fees. In Australia, for example, fumigation certificates may also prove a problem.
Food and drink
Rice and curry, and fresh fish, are the Sri Lankan staples, but a wide range of international dishes are available throughout the island. Bear in mind that by eating local food and drinks your money supports the locals rather than promoting costly imports.
Most importantly, drink (and clean your teeth in) bottled water only. This can be bought cheaply from local shops. Hotels also supply flasks of boiled and filtered water. Ensure you do not become dehydrated, especially after strenuous exercise. Coconut water is renowned as a settler of a queasy stomach, although some may prefer to take their medicinal coconut in the form of arrack – the local firewater.
Sri Lankans are among the most courteous and friendly people in the world. But Sri Lanka will not be rushed and a genial, relaxed service is not always a rapid one.
Sri Lanka has more public holidays than anywhere else in the world. The most common holiday is Poya Day, which occurs every full moon. As a general rule, no alcohol is served and entertainment is restricted. The Sinhalese and Tamil New Year falls on the 13th and 14th of April, and most shops and eating places will be closed for the these two days.
You are strongly advised to contact your own GP or vaccination centre before coming to Sri Lanka. Check on recommended inoculations as least a month before travel. These normally include tetanus, typhoid, hepatitis A and polio. Top hotels can advise on reputable local doctors, or private hospitals in the event of serious illness. In case of diarrhoea, pack body-salt replenishment powder, such as Dioralyte, as well as Immodium or a similar product. Among the items you might pack are: sunscreen lotion (factor 12 and above), insect repellent, sting relief cream, antiseptic cream, a lightweight hat and sunglasses. The HIV rate is rising throughout Asia, so if you might be sexually active, pack condoms and practice safe sex. Discourage any trishaw drivers or hawkers who act on behalf of any illegal prostitution racket.
Travel around Sri Lanka relies heavily on overland journeys. This entails several long drives, often on rough roads. Bathroom facilities during the drives at times can be very basic. An itinerary may call for a significant amount of walking on uneven paths, and you may encounter long and steep stairs at many of the sites you visit. Expect some challenging climbs at some of the historic sites. You should assess the climbs with your guide before attempting.
Taxi drivers, hotels and restaurants: 10 per cent is common. If you hire a car and driver, please also consider tipping your driver for good service. A good tip is anything between 10 USD and 40 USD per day of service.
The simplest and cheapest way to travel around Sri Lanka is by trishaw, or three-wheeler. Good-natured price bartering is widespread. In towns, work on a rough guide of about Rs.100 a mile and agree the price before you set off. Taxis are good value for longer journeys and operate on set charges – although taxis operating from 5-star hotels are dearer.
Train journeys from Colombo-NuwaraEliya and beyond, or Colombo-Matara are a peaceful way of enjoying some spectacular scenery. Prices are cheap, so the luxury of booking first-class well in advance is advised.
Sri Lanka’s roads will seem chaotic to all but the most experienced traveller in Asia. Independent car hire is possible upon production of credit card and driving license, but chauffeur-driven cars can be arranged for similar cost, and are generally strongly advised.