Sri Lanka General Travel Information

Local Time

Sri Lanka Standard Time is five and a half hours ahead of GMT.

+ 3h30 ahead of South Africa.

Visa

South African Passport holders do require visas to enter Sri Lanka. May be arranged online directly or through a local visa service.

Electricity

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

Language

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

Departure Tax

An Embarkation Tax of LKR 3250.00 is levied on every Departing passenger who has stayed in Sri Lanka for over 24 hours. This is included in the Passenger Ticket and one is not require to make a separate payment at the airport. Transit passengers who have stayed for less than 24 hours and infants (i.e. children under 2 years) are exempted from the Embarkation Tax

Currency / Credit Card

The local currency is the Sri Lankan Rupee, divided into 100 cents (you rarely come across scents today). Currency notes are Rs.5,000,  Rs2,000, Rs1,000, Rs500, Rs100, Rs50, Rs20 and Rs10. Beware of mistaking the Rs500 note for the somewhat similar Rs100 one. To check whether notes are genuine when not given at a bank, look for a lion watermark. Coins, should you have receive them, will be in denominations up to Rs10.

Make sure you have plenty of lower denomination notes (Rs50, Rs100, Rs500), 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.

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 is at the whim of the person sitting at the counter. You can negotiate a better rate. The best rate for any currency was at the counter in Negombo market near airport.  Next to this ATM's accepting Maestro/Cirrus cards are widespread in all bigger towns, but compare the cost with TC/cash as many Western banks add withdrawal fees.

Traveller cheques - are a nightmare; many banks do not want to change; others take 20 minutes to check passport and personal details on many forms. Use your credit cards more often..

Tipping

Have plenty of very small notes at all times, tipping is normal and everyone expects to be tipped.  Guide prices are: 20 rupees loo attendants; 50 rupees porters, etc 500 rupees a day for a driver (where it is part of a package holiday). Others at your discretion but you might feel pressurised to tip.

Climate

It's hotter - and stickier - than you probably imagine (even in winter) which adds to the exhaustion of travel. It also means that you need to be careful in the sun (so you're not among the bright red Westerners on the return flight). Because of the climate, bugs, insects and other creepy crawlies are not unusual. You can learn to happily co-habit rooms with ants and geckos - but mosquitos are an occasional menace. Prepare well against them, as in many areas diseases like Dengue Fever are transmitted by mosquitos and not all of these diseases have vaccinations possible.

Clothing

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 snorkels and diving equipment along.

Travel Time

Travel time between tourist areas is much longer than one anticipates. This reflects a combination of poor roads (especially outside the main A designated highways), heavy traffic (watch out especially for the fast, frequent, 'Monarch of the Road' inter-city busses and the slow moving, stinky heavy goods and agricultural vehicles) plus the general lack of vehicle and pedestrian discipline and/or, outside Colombo, traffic lights. Even travelling with car and private driver, average travel times of only 30-40 km per hour are common; exception are the two Expressways.

Drivers & Guides

Most roads were still not in good condition making self-driving slow and treacherous. An abundance of three-wheelers (tuk tuks) and overloaded trucks trying to pass at every opportunity makes things especially dangerous. Outside the few new Expressways opening, improvements are slow in coming. It’s best to leave any driving in the hands of experts. For short trips, hotels can arrange a car and driver between two points but for a longer stay it’s better to engage the services of a driver who will travel with you.

An ordinary driver may not speak much English but will get you from A to B. A driver/guide who speaks English or your own language is a better option as he can recommend places to see and give you basic information. If you need detailed information special driver/guides with an accreditation from the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau are also available but are more expensive. Drivers travel with you although they have separate accommodation provided by hotels and may eat separately depending on the restaurant. They will also handle payments for you of entrance fees and tips if you give them some money in advance for these purposes.

There are all sorts of ways to calculate the cost for their services but the best way is to give your suggested itinerary and ask for an all up package price that covers the driver’s fee, gas, meals, accommodation and mileage. If you suspect you might do lot of driving additional mileage fees can range from US $ .50 per kilometre so request unlimited mileage in your package price. A standard all-up cost with unlimited mileage for a driver/guide is US $60 per day.

The People

Sri Lankans are charming, friendly and welcoming - and the country is well worth the effort of a visit. But beware approaches from people purporting to be from your hotel who offer local travel advice. Unscrupulous locals pick up westerners with promises of "elephant festivals" and the like, which prove to be non-existent and located far away from their hotel. Once stranded, the unlucky traveller will find themselves handing over money to get back to safety.

Sightseeing

Places of interest are far off from each other and located all over the country. So it is better to book hotels likewise. It is advisable to book hotels near to the places of interest so that you can spend time enjoying the place. Don’t miss Sigiriya and (if you are in season, December-May) Adam's peak. Water sports facilities are also good and well maintained in Bentota

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.

Safety

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

Photo Permits * Entrance Charges

Sri Lanka is a photographer’s delight. However, permits are required before you can 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.

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 Lanka’s physicians, though, many of whom have trained in the West, are particularly experienced in dealing with locally occurring diseases.

Before You Go

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 when you are there.

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 various vegetables. Fruit that has already been peeled should be avoided. Be careful of ice cream, in particular the varieties 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.

Water

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 of the island.

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.

Sunburn

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 in time. If you don't apply sunscreen you are liable to become so sunburnt that it will be painful to move, your skin will peel, you will have to start afresh to get that tan, and most importantly you put yourself at risk of serious dermatological disease.

Heatstroke

Sometimes those who have spent too long in the sun suffer what is termed 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 now 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.

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