After sharing with you here a few stages of my adventures in Sri Lanka last summer, I thought that a small list of travel tips would be useful for you to fully understand this destination. When preparing my trip, I researched this type of information myself on travel blogs and forums. You will see, some of them are even essential! Of course, on the spot, you will learn a lot too; the idea, before travelling, is not to arrive with a ton of received ideas. These are simple tips to prepare well to get out (a little) of your comfort zone.
Transport: vary the pleasures!
Car with driver: specialist in agreements with restaurants and shops!
Driving in Sri Lanka is strongly discouraged. You will quickly understand why when you have boarded the local buses! So, an interesting option is offered to you: the car with the driver. It is a very comfortable and affordable means of transportation. Please note: the majority of drivers have agreements with restaurants or shops. The latter pay them a small commission each time you pass, the drivers will often try to make you stop here or there. Do not hesitate to refuse. In general, the driver does not insist and it goes well. Count around 60 € / day of service including petrol, meals and the driver’s overnight stay. To reserve in advance.
Tuk-tuk: think about negotiating before going up
In Sri Lanka, they are everywhere. They are the equivalent of our taxis although more numerous and less comfortable. Very often, you will not even need to raise your arm to stop one, as they are in demand. Few tuk-tuks are equipped with a counter, so be sure to negotiate the price of the ride before riding. Count 200 rupees for 5 to 10 min journey. It is possible to make longer or shorter tuk-tuk journeys. The advantage of this means of transport is that we take advantage of the landscapes and the animation of the places we cross. In Haputale, to visit the tea plantations, the tuk-tuk was essential!
Train: understand the different travel classes
In Sri Lanka, there are magnificent routes to be taken by train, reputed among the most beautiful in the world. Despite the total lack of comfort, it is a means of transport that I loved. Sri Lankan trains, mostly from the British colonial era, run at very low speed (sometimes 20 km / h). You should know that there are 3 classes of travel: If you want to travel seated with other tourists, then choose 1 st class (air-conditioned car with panoramic) or 2 e class (with fan), and book your trip several weeks before. In 3 class, the experience is cool because we mix with the locals in a friendly atmosphere. Expect to stay up for 4 to 6 hours depending on the route and to play elbows to have a place at the window (it’s true in August anyway!).
In Sri Lanka, the train is a journey within a journey. On the breathtaking route that connects Kandy to Ella, we take photos, we film, we chat with people. Price: not expensive at all.
Bus: less safe but very cheap
We did not borrow them, however, it is impossible not to notice them: their drivers drive like crazy. Very poor drivers. They are the first to want to double at any cost, even if it means forcing the vehicle opposite to fold back to allow it to complete its manoeuvre. At first, it surprises then we get used to it (or not!). The big advantage of the bus is the low price for journeys. If you have a very small budget, and a little time in front of you, then this means of transport will surely be the best suited for your trip.
Money: provide cash
Better to always have a little cash on hand when travelling to Sri Lanka! None of the guesthouse type hotels (or almost) in which we have stayed was equipped with a CB terminal. In restaurants, transport or museums, the same observation. Note that there are not many ATMs outside the big cities. If you have a Mastercard like me, you will have to locate the blue and white logo of the Commercial Bank – the only bank where withdrawals are possible. Remember, if necessary, to increase your withdrawal and payment limits before leaving so as not to run out of money.
Safaris: anticipate a bit and choose a nearby hotel
In Sri Lanka, animal safari is one of the must-do activities. I warn you all the same that the jeep that you will take, which is generally intended to accommodate 6 to 7 people, will often leave “empty”. Independent Sri Lankan driver-guides take reservations on the water and go on safari as soon as they have a reservation. Do not hesitate to insist if you have found other tourists to share your jeep with. Sad observation: the guides do not care much about the environment in which they operate.
The national parks we visited:
Minneriya National Park (north): a reservoir near Sigiriya and Polonnaruwa. In August, we saw a few elephants at sunrise. Prefer the sunset, when the animals come to drink at the edge of the tank with the family.
Uda Walawe National Park (south): unlike Minneriya Park, the animals are visible here without having to drive miles through the jungle. Elephants, peacocks, jackals, eagles, crocodiles, water buffalo … You will not be disappointed! Ideal times: before 7 a.m. or from 5 p.m.
A piece of advice that applies to both parks: if you decide to go on a dawn safari, don’t do like me, book a hotel near the park! Rates: from 10,000 to 12,000 rupees for 2 people (65 to 70 €). To make a reservation, go through your hotel asking it to negotiate a good price for you.
Mores: the gaze of men …
For us women, some friend’s advice: avoid wearing very short shorts or skirts, tight-fitting outfits and high necklines. You will quickly notice that the eyes of men are heavy. To avoid insistent looks, choose flowing and loose pants. Unnecessary to wear makeup! Bring a large scarf or sarong to cover your shoulders or legs when you visit the temples (compulsory).
Health: think about vaccines before departure
Some vaccines and drugs are required before departure: updated DT-polio vaccine; anti-diarrhoea; aspirin; anti-malaria treatment. If you are leaving for less than a month, these few precautions are more than enough. We did not use the anti-malaria treatment.
Electric sockets: a Bic pen for the adapter!
On-site, you will need one or more electrical adapters. To avoid buying them, bring some Bic ballpoint pens. In Sri Lanka, the sockets consist of 3 round holes: a “safety hole” located at the top and an ON / OFF button. This is how to proceed without an adapter: put the electrical outlet on OFF, slide your Bic into the top hole to unlock the security, then plug your device into the two bottom holes as on the European sockets. Remove the pan and turn on the plug. That’s it!
Backpack: the essentials
Remember to take:
Special insect repellent for tropical areas.
A flashlight, always useful when leaving a place at dawn (or to avoid occasional power cuts, although we were never faced with this problem during our stay).
A small roll of adhesive, essential for filling any holes in the mosquito net in your hotel room.
Powder detergent to easily wash your clothes. Laundromats don’t run the streets in Sri Lanka!
Rab ballpoint pens and candies to offer to children and school children crossed during your trip.