Tops things to know before you go – Sri Lanka: Weather, Costs, Transport and Nature
Sri Lanka is one of the most popular up and coming tourist destinations of 2019. With the pristine palm fringed beaches of the south coast, the ancient Buddhist temples of the golden triangle and scenic train journeys through high tea plantations there really is something for everyone. Wildlife is also a huge draw here with plentiful national parks full of elephants and leopards as well as huge blue whales to be spotted along the coast. Here is my run down of top tips to know before you go.
The weather in Sri Lanka can vary hugely depending on where you are. There are two monsoons. The south west monsoon is wettest from April to June while the north east hits it’s peak between November and December. There is also an inter-monsoonal weather period that can affect anywhere on the island in October and November. I have to mention this is when I was last here and it didn’t affect travel too much and everything was heavily reduced out of peak season! Just make sure to take an umbrella for the odd downpour.
The coastal and lowland areas are 26-30 degrees year round. The high altitude and mountain areas such as Kandy and Nuwara Eliya can range between 15-20 degrees occasionally hitting as low as freezing overnight.
For more info check out Rough Guides.
Sinhala and Tamil are the official languages of Sri Lanka. Most people in Sri Lanka, especially within tourism, speak English due to it’s colonial past. Signage and a lot of public transport information is also written in English which makes it very easy to get around. Just learn a few basic phrases to be polite.
Travelling by public transport is so cheap in Sri Lanka it would be rude not to! Peak season can get very busy though so one to avoid if you’re not a fan of crowded spaces. Private transport is easy to find at a bartered price (see below for how to save costs by using FB). Tuks Tuks are just as popular here as with neighbouring India and a great way to get around cities.
Sri Lanka is a very westernised part of Asia making it very easy to navigate. The people are some of the nicest I have encountered on my travels. Everyone in tourist areas seems to be an entrepreneur and genuinely wants to help. I feel it’s a safe country for women to travel alone and not likely for anyone to have problems with theft etc. Just don’t mind personal space boundaries! There are some basic rules on etiquette such as not having any images of the Buddha on display including tattoos.
Sri Lanka is a treasure trove of wildlife and for me it’s one of the top reasons to visit. Yala is probably the most famous national park for it’s high chances of seeing Leopards. But due to this it is busy! If you must go use a reputable company such as Yala Wild Safaris who will make sure you are at the front of the queue with the best trackers. But there will still be hoards of other tourists and jeep fumes. Instead visit the lesser known Wilpattu for leopards and other similar wildlife to Yala.
For elephants Minneriya national park in the north and Udawalawa in the south are the most well known. Udawalawa has the advantage of an elephant transit home where you can even participate in feeding time. Visit Kaudulla for herds of elephants without the crowds. They roam freely in their hundreds and, if you’re lucky enough to have a good driver, you might find a spot to sit and wait for the elephants to come to you.
Get connected before you arrive
A great resource for travel are Facebook groups. Sri Lanka has a few worthy of note such as a Taxi share page to reduce costs when travelling, a similar safari style sharing group and a more general page for backpacking tips.
What to avoid
Pinnawala elephant orphanage is unfortunately very popular with tourists. What many people don’t realise is these elephants are chained for our amusement. The chains are often hidden as they are underwater when people are pictured bathing the elephants. There are also some concerns whether these animals are in fact orphans or just bred or captured from the wild as well as how well they are treated ‘off stage’. Unusual for Sri Lanka as everywhere I visited showed a long history of respecting nature. But if they don’t get any visitors they will have to close so act with your feet.
For more information check out this post by Responsible Travel
Sri Lankan curry is a staple and comprises of several distinct vegetarian dishes with rice and sambal. There is generally a tourist menu usually involving pasta, pizza and a burger. My advice though is to stick to local as it’s what they know how to cook and is super cheap everywhere. The south coast would be the exception to this rule. Places such as Unawatuna and Galle have amazing international cuisine brought with settlers from around the globe.
Sri Lanka uses Rupees (Rs) as their main currency. It’s easy to travel here on a budget and 3 * hotel rooms can cost the same or less as a hostel bed in most European destinations. Transport is very affordable costing just a few dollars for most journeys on public transport. Local food is cheap although international cuisine can be a bit more pricey. Cards are accepted by most larger restaurants and tourist attractions. Some such as Sigiriya and Pollunnaruwa charge a tourist visitor fee around $20-$30.
Safari’s also often charge in USD anywhere between $30 – $80 depending on services. ATM’s are available in major towns but many banks close on weekends. You can change money here or in hotels and tour agencies, most are pretty reliable just check it’s a good rate.
For up to date rates check the XE Website or download the app.
Health and Safety
I always check the Government website for travel advice before I go anywhere an Sri Lanka is no different.
If you’re from the UK head to https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/sri-lanka/health or check your own countries site for advice.