Everything you need to know before visiting Sri Lanka

50 Things To Know Before Visiting Sri Lanka (+ Facts)

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Sri Lanka is a land with a myriad of landscapes and terrains to explore. The country is home to cold hills, golden and white sandy beaches, wet rainforests, bustling cities, tea estates, rustic villages, and a whole lot more. No matter what you’re looking for, Sri Lanka has it all.

If you’re planning a visit to this surreal place, you might have questions about numerous things. This could be about the places, the commute, the accommodations, the cost, and much more. Well, this blog attempts to answer all those questions. In fact, we have even covered the do’s and don’ts, some intriguing facts, and everything that falls between good, bad, and ugly. So, here are the top 50 facts you must know about Sri Lanka! Let’s jump right in.

Female solo traveller in Sri Lanka
  1. Sri Lanka is divided into 9 provinces. In the country, a province is the first level of administrative division. Each province is further divided into districts. The capital city of Colombo lies in the Western province.
  2. Only nationals from 3 countries – Seychelles, Singapore, and Maldives can visit Sri Lanka without a VISA. A VISA is mandatory before arrival for all other nationals. Go to https://eta.gov.lk to get the Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA).
  3. The official currency of Sri Lanka is the Sri Lankan Rupee (LKR). It is divided into 100 cents. As of 2023, Indian currency is not accepted in Sri Lanka.
  4. The flag of Sri Lanka consists of a golden lion holding a sword in its right forepaw. The lion is accompanied by a maroon background and gold Bodhi tree leaves, one in each corner. Besides this, the flag also has stripes representing the country’s two largest minorities. The orange represents the Tamilians living in Sri Lanka, and the green stripe represents the Muslims of Sri Lanka. The golden yellow border represents the other minority communities of the country.
  5. We believe you can visit Sri Lanka at any time of the year. What’s intriguing is that the place experiences two monsoon seasons. They cover the two opposite halves of the island at different times. Thus you can enjoy a particular region, especially the beaches, all year round.
    • Between December and March  – The hill country, west and south coast beaches
    • April and between September and November – good weather countrywide
    • Between May and August – The weather in the north and east is best as it rains in the hill country, south, and western parts.
  6. The process is very simple for short-stay tourist visas up to 30 days. Visit the official website, fill out the form, and it will be processed within 15 minutes to 24 hours after applying. Do not rely on private organizations; they take additional charges and fees, which might burn a hole in your pocket. The official website also has extensive information about VISA extension and other vitals.
  7. There are two official languages in the island country. The northern part of Sri Lankans speaks Sinhala Tamil while the rest speak Sinhalese. Only 25% of the people (approx) speak English. However, what’s good is that the signboards and description boards in buses, railway stations, and tourist places have content in all three languages – Sinhalese, Tamil, and English.
  8. Sri Lanka is popularly called the “Pearl of the Indian Ocean” and the “Teardrop of India.” Before a few decades, Sri Lanka was called Ceylon.
  9. Separate entry fees are applicable for Sri Lankans and foreign nationals. Visa fees and entry tickets for important tourist attractions have 50% discounts for SAARC countries (Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, and Pakistan). Show your original passport and avail of the discount. The photocopies, electronic copies, or photographs of the passport are not accepted.
  10. Do not drink tap water in Sri Lanka. Although a few locals drink, we recommend you buy bottled water. 1L of drinking water in Sri Lanka is charged anywhere between LKR 100 – LKR 150, whereas 1.5L costs LKR 140 or LKR 150. It doesn’t feel like much at first, but if you drink 2 L daily for 30 days, the costs reach a significant amount. Also, most accommodations do not give complimentary water. 
Fruits market in Jaffna
  1. It is safe even for solo female travelers to explore Sri Lanka. I traveled SOLO for about 15 days out of my 30 days trip. Never once did I feel lost or harmed.
  2. The country welcomes tourists with open arms, as most businesses in Sri Lanka are tourism-dependent. The hospitality is so good that you feel you’re amongst your own people. They are very kind and help you in every possible way. I’ve eaten free meals, extended my stays for free, hitch-hiked short distances, and received so much generosity.
  3. The roads were well laid and kept clean, even in rural parts of the country. People respect pedestrians. Unlike in India, motorists strictly follow traffic rules and give way to people crossing the road.
  4. Although public transport, such as buses and trains, are connected throughout the country, connectivity is limited and time-bound. For more information on how to use public transport in Sri Lanka, refer to the detailed guide.
  5. Tuk-tuks in Sri Lanka are the best mode of transport. They’re like superheroes. You’ll find them whenever you need them, whether day or night, in rural or urban areas. The drivers offer rides to the bus stations or any specific cafe that you want to go to.
  6. Most tourist place entrances accept USD in cash. You can also pay with VISA or MASTER cards or by SLR cash. Entry tickets for foreigners are very expensive. Also, we noticed that the entry ticket counters are far from the main entrance in a few places. Thus we had to take detours before starting our visit to a place.
  7. You’ll get 3 hours of FREE wifi in the Bandaranaike International Airport at Colombo. Instead of booking an overpriced taxi from the airport, you can hop on a bus near the roundabout, right outside the airport, to reach the city center. However, if you are in doubt, ask the officials at the airport.
  8. Uber and Pick Me are popular taxi services available in only a few places, including Colombo. However, Pick Me extends its services to different parts of the country, including Kandy and Unawatuna, to name a few.
  9. Don’t buy a new tourist SIM card in any retail shop. Upon arrival, purchase it at the airport, as you’ll be charged double the price in outside shops. We wrote a quick guide on the best place to buy SIM cards in Sri Lanka. Refer to the guide for more information.
  10. In Sri Lanka, the local WiFi plans offer unlimited packages for specific social media like WhatsApp and YouTube. So, when connected to a hotel’s network, be aware that Instagram and a few other apps might not work if the property owner has opted for those plans.
 
  1. A wide range of budget hostels and luxury 5-star hotels are available in Sri Lanka. Although few properties are listed in Agoda and other online booking platforms, they don’t work in Sri Lanka. Even if you have a confirmed booking, it is not valid. We once faced issues and had to book another accommodation after reaching a hotel. It is safer to book your accommodation only on Booking.com to avoid the hassle. Also, the walk-in prices for the stay might be the same or higher compared to online prices.
Bread, Bun, Samosas, and Vada - Things to eat in Sri Lanka
  1. The locals are slowly moving towards Western cuisines. Due to the recent crisis, most of them switched from eating rice to bread and buns made of unhealthy maida (refined wheat) for breakfast, dinner, and sometimes for lunch, along with a cup of tea. It is so heartbreaking to see the locals suffering.
  2. I have used different methods to exchange currencies in Sri Lanka and found that withdrawing money from the ATM was the most affordable option, followed by the authorized jewelry shop and money exchanges (in the order of preference). The exchange rates at the bank and the airport were the highest.
  3. Buddhism is the most widely practiced religion in Sri Lanka, followed by Hinduism. Other religions include Islam and Christianity. Taking selfies or showing your back to Buddha statues is considered disrespectful. Do respect the customs while visiting the Buddhist temples.
  4. Google Maps helps you with information about public bus connectivity only in the capital city of Colombo. Also, buses take longer and don’t take the car route while commuting between destinations. For instance, navigating from Matara to Sinharaja rain forest (Pitadeniya entrance) showed me 2:30 hours by car, but it took me 7 hours by bus as I had to change buses, and the route was different from what the private vehicles followed. 
  5. Sri Lanka doesn’t follow a strict tipping culture. You can tip people for their service based on your discretion. We’d suggest giving at least 5-10% of the bill price to support the struggling people and economy.
  6. The working days of the week are Monday to Friday. Saturday and Sunday are holidays or weekends.
  7. It is important to have emergency contact numbers handy.
    • Ambulance/ Fire/ Rescue: 110
    • Police: 119 or 011-2433333
    • Tourist police: 011-2421052
  8. The power plugs and sockets are of type D and G. The standard voltage is 230 V, and the standard frequency is 50 Hz.
  9. LGBT rights are taboo in Sri Lanka, and the conversation isn’t part of public discourse.
  10. The telephone number in Sri Lanka has nine digits. The country code is +94. To call people of Sri Lanka from another country, dial a + or 00 before the access code, 94.
How to dress in Sri Lanka
  1. Sri Lanka is a conservative Asian country. While visiting holy places of worship, wear appropriate attire which covers your knees and shoulders. Native Sri Lankan women wear T-shirts, jeans, loose pajamas, skirts, and sarees. Men wear T-shirts, shirts, shorts, and pants. While visiting remote and non-touristy places, wearing the same clothes as the locals will give you an immersive feeling. However, bikinis and shorts are common if you’re going to beaches and a much more relaxed area. Nudity is strictly prohibited.
  2. The oldest tree known to have been planted by a human rather than by natural seeding exists in Sri Lanka. The country holds a Guinness world record for harboring the artifact. Planted in 288 BC, it is a 2,300+ years old sacred fig or bo-tree (Ficus religiosa) named Sri Maha Bodhiya and stands in Anuradhapura. The mother tree from which this specimen was propagated was the famous Bodhi tree in India, under which Siddhartha Gautama Buddha sat when he gained enlightenment.
  3. There are 8 UNESCO World Heritage sites on the island country. They are
  4. The global brand, “Lipton Tea” originated from Sri Lanka. In 1890, Sir Thomas Lipton helped with the plantations, which have been growing ever since. Ceylon Tea is the largest exported product from the country, and Sri Lanka is one of the world’s largest exporters. Consuming tea every day is a part of the culture. Visit the tea plantations while visiting the hill country of Nuwara Eliya.
  5. Sri Lanka has a rich and diverse wildlife. From whales, turtles, and rich marine creatures to Sri Lankan Blue magpies and elephants (found in the Sinharaja rain forest), Sri Lanka is home to numerous flora and fauna species spread across national parks.
  6. As Sri Lanka thrives with tourists throughout the year, you will find various cuisines, including vegetarian and vegan food. The most famous dishes include kothu roti, hoppers, rice, and curry.
  7. You need an International diving license to drive vehicles in Sri Lanka. If you have a home country driver’s license, you can easily get the permit by submitting the documents and paying a small fee. For more information, visit here.
  8. Do not ride a motorcycle without a helmet. It is mandatory for both the rider and the pillion to wear a helmet. Also, revise the basic road rules once before riding the roads. For instance, Sri Lankans drive on the left side of the road.
  9. Adam’s Peak, or Sri Pada, is a holy mountain that has significance in all four religions practiced in the country. The Buddhists believe that the footprints of Gauthama Buddha exist on the peak, while Hindus believe it to be the lord Shiva. On the other hand, Christians believe them to be St. Thomas’, and Muslims believe they are Adam’s. Many nature lovers and trekking enthusiasts also visit the place for its beautiful sunrise views.
  10. “Moving Bakery” exists in Sri Lanka. It means you can buy quick bites like bread right in front of your accommodation from modified tuk-tuk vans that run through the streets. We also noticed that they follow a similar tune throughout the country.
  11. At 356 m, Colombo’s Lotus Tower is South Asia’s tallest self-supported structure.
  12. You might see many stilt fishing poles across the country, photo frames, and postcards of people stilt fishing. This is because it was once a traditional craft but hasn’t been practiced recently. On the southern shores, you can see tourists pretending to fish by sitting on the poles for pictures by paying LKR 500-1000 depending on the season and demand.
  13. Although Malaria is eliminated, it is better to protect yourself from mosquitoes. Most hostel and hotel beds have mosquito covers around the beds. You can request one if you find mosquitoes in the area.
  14. The king coconut (orange-colored) is lip-smacking. The fruit, indigenous to Sri Lanka, is sweeter than traditional tender coconuts (green-colored). Look for them in the trees as they grow wild and big all over the island.
Where to eat In Sri Lanka
  1. For those who are curious to know, how many days are required to visit Sri Lanka? Here’s our answer. Tourist operators usually prepare itineraries for a week or two. You can cover all the hotspots or prime locations in two weeks. But if you like to explore the whole country, it will take at least a month, if not more. Moreover, they say, no matter how many years you spend in a city or a place, it’s impossible to know all the places that exist in it.
  2. Sri Lanka is one of the most affordable countries to travel in Asia. During my travels, I explored on a budget averaging 1000-2000 LKR per day. However, it largely depends on the hotel you stay, the food you eat, and the mode of transport you opt for.
  3. According to the Railways Department, there are 621 unprotected railway crossings across the country. This means that when a train crosses, no gates will be there to stop you. The only indication is the automatic loud sound system that alerts the people in the area of the approaching train. Make sure to look on both sides before crossing any railway tracks.
  4. No COVID or vaccination check was done when we visited Sri Lanka in 2023. There are no mandatory requirements for vaccinations to enter the country. 
  5. The longest festival spanning over 25 days, is the Nallur festival, celebrated in Jaffna. Vibrant chariot possessions, drumming, dancing, and acts of self-mortification, can be witnessed. All this is conducted as a tribute to the war god, Skanda. Every year, April 13th and 14th are celebrated as Sri Lankan New Year by Tamil and Sinhalese people. Kandy’s Esala Perahera, or “the Festival of the Tooth,” is the biggest Buddhist festival celebrated for 10 days in Kandy in the months of July or August. Other notable festivals celebrated in the country include Easter, Christmas, Milad Un Nabi, Bakrid, Ramadan, Diwali, and Pongal.

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