In the past few years, Sri Lanka topped several “must see places” travel lists. This is a welcome boom to the tourist industry of the country, post-recovery of a decade long civil war. With a long flight time and many different types of experiences, a visit to Sri Lanka requires some planning. Cosmopolitan with Kids Traveling Mom shares details on tips to visit Sri Lanka and what you need to know from her experience growing up in Sri Lanka.
Why Visit Sri Lanka?
Sri Lanka is an island in located in the Indian Ocean. Its strategic location between the east and west made it a significant spot for early explorers and colonial invaders. Sri Lanka is known for its Ceylon Tea, spices and gems, including the blue sapphire ring worn by Kate Middleton. Colonized by the South Indian kings, Portuguese, Dutch and finally the English, the Lankan culture is a melting pot of all these influences, creating a unique destination and one of the many reasons why you should visit Sri Lanka.
Though physically located close to India, its island address afforded the growth of its independent culture with a unique blend of western and eastern traditions. Along with natural wonders and several UNESCO heritage sites, your visit to Sri Lanka will be an unforgettable experience. Read on for my insider tips to help you plan your visit to Sri Lanka.
Insider Tips to Visit Sri Lanka
Safety in Sri Lanka
The Sri Lanka locals are very welcoming and keen to build up their international image as one of the most hospitable countries. After two post-civil war (ending 2009) visits to Sri Lanka, I have had no safety concerns about political instability. Of course, all travelers should take safety precautions when traveling, such as not frequenting deserted spots or allow yourself to be talked into adventures with strangers without prior arrangement.
Traveling Mom Tip: Due to large crowds, public transport is not easily accessible when traveling with kids, I recommend having a rented vehicle or doing an organized tour to make the most of your visit.
Visit Sri Lanka Visa Requirements
Visitors to Sri Lanka must obtain an Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA) prior to departure or on arrival to Sri Lanka. Holders of ETA can obtain a visa on arrival that is valid for 30 days. A double entry visa fee for a 30-day stay is $35 for US citizens (can be paid in US $).
TravelingMom Tip: To cut down on wait time upon arrival, completed the online ETA form.
Vaccinations Before You Go
World Health Organization recommends taking malaria tablets. Since my travels were confined to populated areas and not outdoor adventures in rain forests, I skipped on these during my visits.
The flight time is about 20 hours from North America to Colombo, Sri Lanka’s capital, and largest city, and along with layovers, the total travel time can add up to excess of 36 hours. This was one of the biggest concerns when deciding to visit Sri Lanka with young kids.
TravelingMom Tip: Address the long flight and add another city to your itinerary with a 2-day break at one of the layover cities. Cities in western Europe such as London, Paris, Frankfurt or the Middle East such as Dubai, Abu Dhabi are common cities for layovers.
What to Pack for your Visit to Sri Lanka
The weather in most parts of Sri Lanka is hot and humid. Except when visiting the middle part of the island which consists of a hilly region, you will never need a jacket. Pack light, cotton clothing that will easy to wear all day. Skirts, Shorts, T-shirts, and dresses will be typical outfits.
Teen girls and women are recommended to wear more modest clothing with longer shorts/skirts (more above the knee than short shorts), and tops that are more covered up. This will enable you to respectfully step into the country’s places of worship, which are sprawled throughout the country. Men are also required to wear pants when visiting noteworthy temples, although allowed to enter in shorts in most places.
Though sneakers are great for walking, carrying an easy to remove pair of slippers is a must as most places of worship will require barefoot entry.
TravelingMom Tip: Pack plenty of sunscreen and bug spray as these will be used daily.
Culture in Sri Lanka
During your visit to Sri Lanka, discover a multi-cultural society, with main ethnic and religious associations within the society. Sinhalese are the main ethnic group with Tamils, Muslims, and Burghers making up the minorities. These ethnic groups belong to several religions. Buddhism is the majority religion. The influence of other religions such as Christianity, Hinduism, and Islam is prevalent as well.
My husband noticed how places of worship for different religions tend to be located in close proximity, Although I was oblivious to this when growing up in Sri Lanka. Whenever we stopped to visit a certain temple or church, its location also offered the opportunity to visit a few more in the vicinity.
Official Languages of Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka has three official languages, Sinhala, Tamil, and English. You’ll find that it’s easy to interact at restaurants, shops, and hotels as English is widely spoken. Most billboards and signs will be in one native language and English. The majority of locals encountered will at least know a few basic English phrases, so you will never feel too lost.
Traditional Greeting during your Visit to Sri Lanka
The typical traditional greeting will be with the joining of the two hands (palm to palm) and say: “Ayubowan.” This greeting wishes one a long life. Other acceptable greetings include Hello, Good Morning, and Good Day and more commonly used than the traditional greeting.
Sri Lanka Noteworthy Customs
Dressing modestly and walking barefoot to places of worship is one custom to take note of when in Sri Lanka (as mentioned above). The locals also greet clergy by touching their feet or kneeling down before them. Such a level of courtesy will not be expected from visitors, but bowing down or bending your head is an accepted way to address clergy.
Local Currency in Sri Lanka
The currency used is Sri Lankan Rupee (Rs). Exchange in spring 2017 is about Rs150/1$. Exchange dollars or traveler’s checks at the airport on your visit to Sri Lanka. I recommend using a booth by a government run bank (Bank of Ceylon or People’s Bank) to minimize on the exchange fees.
Arrival in Sri Lanka
Most visitors will arrive at the Colombo International Airport which is about 20miles outside of the city of Colombo. The distance will be about 30 minutes on the Expressway or about an hour if on local roads.
TravelingMom Tip: Pre-planned transportation from the airport is essential to ensure a smooth transition after a long flight. When stepping out of the airport into the tropical heat, it is easy to feel overwhelmed by the taxi cab drivers. I recommend arranging a private driver and/or tour company to pick you up upon arrival.
Transportation in Sri Lanka
Within a city, public transport consists of buses, while trains run between the main cities of Sri Lanka. Be prepared as these are typically jam-packed and not always timely. When traveling with kids, this can be a hassle. Due to the lack of highways in certain parts of the island and rush hour within cities, traveling even short distances can take a long time. Other transportation alternatives include Uber and Open air taxis, known as “tuk tuks.”
TravelingMom Tip: At just $30-$50 per day, consider renting a car with a chauffeur.
Here are top 5 tips on what to do with kids when visiting Colombo, Sri Lanka’s capital city.