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Sri Lanka Guide & Travel Advice

Getting there

SriLankan Airlines is currently the only airline offering non-stop flights from London Heathrow to Colombo. Other leading airlines, including Emirates, Oman Airways and Qatar Airways, offer indirect flights from most airports in the UK with changes in Dubai, Muscat or Abu Dhabi.

Flying times from UK

A direct flight from London Heathrow to Colombo should take around 11 hours. Indirect flights usually take around 14 hours.

Time zone

Sri Lanka is +5½ hours ahead of GMT.

Visa requirements

For most trips to Sri Lanka, a short stay visa will be required, this usually lasts for 30 days. You will also need a UK passport which must be valid for at least six months after your arrival in Sri Lanka.  To obtain your travel visa for Sri Lanka applications should be made online by contacting the Electronic Travel Authority (ETA). Alternatively, you can contact the Sri Lankan High Commission for advice and help.

Do's and don'ts

Always show respect by understanding and following local customs and traditions. Sri Lanka is a welcoming country with a rich culture, and it is important to understand the destination and its people before visiting.

When you are taking photographs, avoid snapping shots of the soldiers and police and always ask permission if you take pictures of people.

Be aware of the dangers posed by local wildlife. It is natural to be wary of predators, but many visitors do not realise that other large animals, such as the much loved elephant, are also dangerous to humans if they get scared and charge.

Holy areas welcome visitors, but make sure you observe religious customs. Remove your shoes and cover up respectfully. These are also good rules to follow if you are invited into somebody's home.

When eating, only the right hand should be used. Sri Lankan culture considers the left hand to be unclean.

Money

The currency in Sri Lanka is the Sri Lankan Rupee (LKR). Colombo Airport provides currency exchange facilities. Sri Lanka has a closed currency and therefore you will get a better rate by exchanging your money locally. Accessing your money is straightforward in Sri Lanka, with major cities and towns having plenty of ATMs available. If you are heading out to rural areas, you will want to have cash with you. Most vendors, transport providers and retailers will prefer cash to debit and credit cards.

Tipping

If a waiter or driver makes a special effort, feel free to tip. A driver/guide who offers a more personal service will expect you to tip, and hotels will include a service charge as standard (usually 10%). As with services in the UK, if a tip box is provided and you feel an extra fee is deserved, nobody will be offended if you leave a small tip. A guideline for tipping your driver/guide will be advised prior to travel.

Food and drink

Sri Lanka is well known for its tea which is grown and exported internationally. The country, formerly known as Ceylon, is the world's fourth largest producer of tea and it has a reputation for creating some of the finest teas in the world. Tea drinking forms a big part of Sri Lankan culture. Visit local tea houses and cafes or pick up a cup from a street vendor while exploring the country.

Sri Lanka is not as strictly vegetarian as India, and meat dishes are widely available. However, much of the local cuisine focuses on vegetables and spices, so vegetarians will be spoilt for choice. Fish is more commonly cooked than meat, with curries and stews forming a big part of the Sri Lankan diet.

Holidays, festivals and celebrations

Every full moon (usually one a month) is a public holiday in Sri Lanka. Each of the full moons have its own name and they are days to commemorate key events in Buddhism. These full moon days are known as Poya Days and on these days alcohol is not served in public places including restaurants and hotels. The Poya dates will change each year and certain Poya dates may be a day before or after the date of the full moon. Alcoholic beverages  are also not available for purchase on Sinhala and Tamil New year days, Hindu religious days, Muslim religious days and Christmas day. During these days, guests at hotels will not be able to purchase and consume alcohol in public areas but can continue to so in their room. 

Shopping

Colombo is the place to be if you want to pick up a bargain. Many of the high street clothes we get in the UK are made in Sri Lanka and can make it to retail there at very low prices. Sri Lankan cities are more focused on market style trading and you will find a vast array of ingredients on offer including high quality spices and herbs. Haggling over prices is strongly encouraged and shop keepers will expect it. However, most are far less persistent than in other countries, and will engage with the bartering process in good humour and fun. Feel free to offer what you feel something is worth and walk away if you feel pressured into a sale.

Suggested reading

For a good introduction to visiting Sri Lanka, you cannot go wrong with the Footprint Rough Guide. Learn a little more about the country before you get there with some great novels and memoirs set in Sri Lanka, including ‘Running in the Family’ by Michael Ondaatje, ‘The Village in the Jungle’ by Leonard Woolf, ‘The Teardrop Island’ by Cherry Briggs, ‘Woolf in Ceylon’ by Christopher Ondaatje and ‘Mosquito’ by Roma Tearne.

Health

Your doctor is the best person to advise you on staying healthy whilst abroad but current recommended vaccinations are Hepatitis A, Typhoid, Tetanus and Diphtheria. Yellow Fever is compulsory, but only if you have visited an affected Yellow Fever area within 5 days prior to your arrival. In some instances anti-malarial tablets may also be needed. For current information on health advice you may wish to visit the Medical Advisory Services for Travellers Abroad (MASTA) Web Site on www.masta.org. The NHS ‘Fit for Travel’ website (www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk) is also a useful resource.

Travel Advice

For current information on Sri Lanka the best resource is the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice) which is a comprehensive resource and updated regularly. We would also recommend visiting the Safer Tourism Foundation website (https://safertourism.org.uk/) before you travel and will be happy to address any questions or concerns you may have.

Sri Lanka Holiday Ideas

Sri Lanka Holiday Review

In all a wonderful and memorable trip and thank you again for organising everything and being so accommodating and helpful.

DL & ML - Sri Lanka - January 2018

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