There are many nicknames for a relatively small island: Ceylon, Serendib, Teardrop of India (which I adore), Resplendent Isle – we are speaking of Sri Lanka. A place of endless beaches, verdant landscapes, delicious food and tea, wonderful wildlife and very hospitable locals. The country has many different sides just waiting to be explored: either you can sit at the beach having your feet buried in sand and enjoy a candle-light dinner, or you can experience how tea is grown in Sri Lanka and wander through the high fields. Just to name only two possibilities.
Accommodation can be very cheap on the island. Hostels cost around 1000 LKR (around 5€), but are also very basic. Breakfast might be included, does not have to though. If you would like to stay in a proper hotel, it starts at 6000 LKR (33€) per person per night. Nevertheless, I would recommend not to book “expensive” hotels, as you might break the bank more easily than when you could actually avoid doing so. When booking a hostel, you should definitely include these two aspects: 1) Is it clean? – Avoid having any food in your room because this attracts ants etc. and 2) Does it have air conditioning – It is so hot and humid at night that you will want a cool room, believe me.
The food there is amazing! Even 9 months after having traveled to Sri Lanka, I still long for the delicious and sweet bananas or the ripe mangos. The breakfasts are always good and reasonably priced. Traditional dishes include rice, seafood and a lot of curry. Again, their cooking skills are excellent. Yet be careful when ordering curry or other spicy dishes, the rule of the thumb here is that their “normal” is our spicy, their spicy is our “why-am-I-sweating-so-much-oh-my-tongue” and their “very spicy” is “DRIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIINKS! FIREEEEEEEE!” 🙂 But, to be more serious again, avoid having dinner at a) awful street food stands because of the hygiene and b) expensive tourist restaurants as you end up spending more than intended.
Getting around in Sri Lanka is… more or less tricky. TukTuks are a very good solution if you only need to travel short distances. You can also save money and bargain here, but be sure to negotiate a price before entering the TukTuk. Furthermore, private guides offer driving you through the country for a day or something in cars, which is a more comfortable and also faster way to travel in Sri Lanka. Our guide cost about 7000 LKR for a day driving from Unawatuna to Udawalawe National Park (280 km both ways). 100 km take about 2 hours due to bad street conditions. Buses might seem, well terrifying to say the least, but are actually fine 🙂 They cost a very small amout of money (Colombo – Kegalle 120 LKR) and locals are eager to help you.
Sri Lanka has a dark past regarding civil wars. The latest one had been going on for 26 years and has just recently ended in 2009. The war was between the Tamils in the north and east and the Sri Lankans in the west and south. That is also why you can still sense an specific tension between these two regions. As I traveled to Sri Lanka in October/ November 2017, the Festival of Lights “Deepavali” was close, yet I did not know that it was celebrated by the Hindus and therefore mainly in the north. As I asked a local if there would be one in Unawatuna, he looked at me with eyes full of shock and declared “Deepavali?! No! That is of the Hindus!”, turned around and quickly left. I stood there clearly embarrassed and sorry. As you see, they do not have the best relationship.
The war has ended, there is no more threat to anything. Since then, the number of tourists visiting the island increase by 22% every year, so there really is no danger. Safety in Sri Lanka is similar as it is in South Africa. Attacks do not occur, yet you should watch out for yourself at any time. If you keep following things in mind, it should be alright: Do not stay in the streets when it is dark. Darkness and corners are the perfect hideout for people who do not have the best intentions. I am sorry to say this, but ignore homeless people, beggars, hitchhikers etc. They are often working together with other people who stay hidden until they have the chance to rob you. Do not show your money in public, talk about where you want to spend your money, wear (expensive) jewelery or do anything else which attracts attention as you are then more likely to mugged.
- Restaurants: 10 – 15%
- Taxi/TukTuk: Round up
- Guides/Staff: 10 – 15% per day
- Bargaining is very common. Offers are always set at a higher price and by bargaining you can save a lot of money. The rule of thumb is that you can achieve two thirds of the price.
- Do try teh Sri Lankan street food. It is the perfect way to get to know the local lifestyle, start conversations, save money and enjoy local cuisine. Just trust your gut feeling regarding the hygiene standards.
- Do not give money to beggars.
- Do not ride elephants or pay to hold a monkey – a business is made out of animals where they are not being treated nicely. It might make a great Instagram photo, but the animals are being hurt.
- You will see Sri Lankis wearing long clothes and especially women veiling their bodies. To wear shorts are so far okay, yet please avoid tight-fitting clothing as it causes unwanted attention and is disrespectful in regards of their culture 🙂