Evening wear – advisable to bring one set, as star class hotels insist on ‘long attire’ for men during dinner (no shorts and no sandals). Ladies could come in dresses, skirts or long shorts, but not in any beach/swimwear.
Dress modestly at religious sites. Women should wear long skirts, dresses or loose trousers and modest blouses. Men should wear long trousers. Ancient temples are considered sacred, and should be treated as such. You should remove your shoes when entering a Buddhist or Hindu temple and hats at all religious places, if carrying an umbrella unfurl it. Your legs & shoulders should be covered; never enter a temple or any religious place in beach wear (i.e. shorts or singlet).
Nudity is absolutely not allowed anywhere. This includes at the beach. Topless sunbathing is prohibited too.
In the heat of the low country regions, cottons and light natural fabrics such as linen are ideal. Please remember that in a conservative culture like SL, skimpy skirts and brief shorts are not the norm or considered respectable. Loose cotton skirts or trousers and tops and a long dress or skirt for women and cotton trousers or shorts and t-shirts or even the traditional sarong and shirts for men would be ideal. Some warm clothes are recommended if you are heading for the hilly regions, where the evenings tend to get chilly.
Greeting religious priests
If you encounter a Buddhist monk or a Hindu swami and would like to greet him in the traditional way, hold your hands together as if in prayer and raise them to your forehead. Do not shake hands. If you wish to offer a gift to a monk, do so with both hands to show that it is given freely. (Gifts of money should be placed directly in the temple box.). When sitting with a Buddhist monk, try and sit at a lower level to him and avoid pointing your toes towards him, as this is seen as a lack of respect.
The SL head shake
As in many parts of the world, shaking the head from side to side indicates a negative, while a nod indicates a positive response. However, the “shake”, a cross between a nod and a shake with the chin pointed outwards indicates a simple “yes” or “okay”.
Hotel and restaurant bills include a 10% service charge as well as 15-20% government taxes. Tipping is a customary way of showing your appreciation for services rendered. A rule of thumb is to tip 10% of the total amount due. Housekeeping staff, doorman, bellboy all expect a little tip. The guide and/or driver on tour will expect something, depending on your level of satisfaction with his service.
People with Disabilities – Sri Lanka is not very well equipped as yet for those with physical disabilities. Only a few of the five-star hotels have access and facilities for people in wheelchairs – public transport has none, therefore a car and driver is essential. Inform / consult your travel agent for more information.
Customs restrictions on arrival
Official Customs form has to be filled in. You may bring into the country 2 litres spirits, 2 bottles of wine, small quantities of perfume, still/ video camera, films for personal use. Make sure that you declare all valuables, gems and jewellery on arrival. You are not allowed to bring goods in commercial quantities.
Nothing to declare – You may choose the ‘Green Channel’ for clearance.
Professional photography or filming equipment must be declared, and subject to clearance on providing a valid carnet, bank guarantee or refundable deposit of the duty payable. Please visit Sri Lanka Customs website (www.customs.gov.lk) for more information.
Note: Please note that with effect from April 2006, there is no longer a duty-free allowance for tobacco products. Any passenger arriving into Colombo and clearing customs, having any cigarettes in their possession will be charged for on per carton basis. (A few packets for personal use only maybe allowed.)
(i) Only two members of the same family traveling together are entitled to free import allowances.
(ii) Valuable personal effects (including jewelry), must be declared on arrival in Sri Lanka.
(iii) There is no gift allowance.
Firearms, explosives and dangerous weapons; antiques; animals, birds, reptiles (dead or alive) and parts; tea; rubber; coconut plants; dangerous drugs; pornographic materials.
Customs regulations at departure
Anything you declare upon entering can be taken out. You can also take back valuable items such as gems and jewellery purchased in Sri Lanka (please keep receipts) from the funds brought in to the country.
Up to 3 Kg of tea may be exported duty free.
Please reconvert your unused Sri Lanka currency to foreign currency at departure.
Please ensure that you take back with you any/all cameras, photographic equipment, transistor radios, recorders, sound equipment declared on arrival.
You are not permitted to take any currency in excess of which you declared on arrival; gems, jewellery or valuable equipment not declared on arrival or not purchased in Sri Lanka, including gold (crude, bullion or coins). Also prohibited are export of firearms, explosives and dangerous weapons, antiques, statues, treasures, old books, etc., (antiques are items over 50 years old); animals birds or reptiles (dead or alive) and their parts, tea, rubber, coconut plants and dangerous drugs.
Communication – Sri Lanka’s country code is 94, (E.g. If you need to call a number in Colombo, dial +94 11 2XXXXXX). If you are calling a mobile number, you dial the number after the country code (E.g. dialling a Dialog number, dial +94 77X XXXXXX). If you need to take an overseas call, you’ll have to dial ‘00’. You do not have to dial the area code if you are within the area. However, the area code must be dialled if you want to take an outstation call (e.g. calling within Colombo, dial 2XXXXXX, Calling Kandy from Colombo, dial 081 22XXXXX).
Telephone facilities are available extensively throughout the country. There are many telephone booths which accept coins. Telephone bureaus are quite common with most offering IDD and internet facilities.
Mobiles / Technology support
All mobile operators support the GSM technology on GSM 900/ 1800 bands. WAP & GPRS is widely supported. 3G and wireless broadband is available in Colombo. Wi-Fi zones are available in selected spots in major towns.
It’s a good option to purchase a local SIM card and top up cards while you are on holiday. The mobile call rates are relatively cheap for both local and IDD calls. There are many mobile operators in the country (E.g. Dialog, Mobitel, Etisalat, Hutch, Airtel etc). All operators have a counter at Colombo Airport and you can obtain a connection on arrival. A connection will cost about LKR 1,500.00. Top up cards are freely available island-wide, denominations of LKR 100, 400 & 1,000. Please be sure that your phone is `dual band’ and unlocked.
Most hotels provide internet facilities including Wi-Fi and internet cafes are available in almost every town.
Mosquitos and other pests
Most hotels will provide you with a plug-in mosquito repellent which will usually be switched on during turn down. You can buy the mats (small repellent tablet inserted to the plug-in unit), from most local supermarkets. Mosquito nets in hotels are a rarity. You can also buy the burning coils or citronella candles from supermarket. It would be advisable to apply some repellent lotion if you plan to have dinner in an outdoor/ alfresco setting.
Leeches – A good remedy is to apply soap and left to dry or apply lime to exposed areas. You can wear leech socks, which are pulled over the trousers to prevent leeches reaching the exposed skin of the legs. If you find a leech sucking on your leg, do not pull it off, but wait for it to fall off after feeding. You can apply some salt; this will make the leech release its hold and fall off.
Liquor sales on full moon days/other religiously significant days/days of national importance
Places selling liquor (including hotel bars) will be closed on full moon days (known as Poya days) – religiously significant to Buddhists/other religiously significant days/days of national importance. Meat shops and places of entertainment such as cinemas, discos & casinos will be closed as well on these days.
Smoking and consuming liquor in public areas is banned in Sri Lanka. The smoking ban includes enclosed public places such as restaurants and social clubs.
Credit Cards are widely used and accepted by local establishments (even in small towns). The most widely used card types are Visa and MasterCard, with Amex to a lesser extent.
Working hours / days
Public sector – works Monday to Friday from 0830 to 1600 hrs
Private sector – generally works Monday to Friday from 0900 to 1700 hrs, with some companies like travel, airlines etc working from 0900 to 1300 hrs on Saturdays
Banks – work Monday to Friday from 0900 to 1500 hrs, with special branches open from 0900 – 1300 hrs on Saturdays
Majority of shops are open daily.
There are temples, churches, kovils, mosque at all major towns, and throughout the country. Prayer, mass times etc can be inquired on from each relevant place.
Best time to travel to SL
Sri Lanka is a year around destination, and there is always the ‘right’ season somewhere in the island. Weather wise, the best & driest seasons are from December to March on the West & South Coasts and in the hill country, and from May to September in the East Coast.
On the coast the average temperature is about 27° C. The temperature rapidly falls with altitude. At Kandy (altitude 450m) the average temperature is 20° C and at Nuwara Eliya (altitude 1,890m) it’s down to around 16° C.
Ask permission before taking photographs of people and respect their wishes if they refuse. Travellers should avoid paying for the right to take a photo. If photos are taken please send back copies so that the people receive copies.
While travellers are welcome to pack their video cameras, there are some places where filming is not allowed.
Videoing is not allowed as local people have requested this and we ask for courtesy and discretion with still cameras.
Always ask permission before taking pictures either of people or inside temples or other sacred places. It is forbidden to take photographs inside the cave temple complex of Dambulla. Never use flash on murals inside temples and other places; it can damage them. You are not allowed to use flash at the frescoes at Sigiriya, but where there is no ban, please behave responsibly. Never pose beside or in front of a Buddha statue (i.e. with your back to the statue). Such conduct is considered extremely disrespectful. Never take a photo of a monk without asking permission. Tourists are sometimes asked for money for taking photos therefore always ask before you shoot if any payment is expected.
Never take photos of dams, airports, roadblocks or anything to do with the military.
Don’t tote the camera around Colombo Fort.
Processing digital photos
There are many franchised photo shops with advanced digital imaging services in major towns. Almost all types of digital data storage devices are accepted. It’s always advisable to keep a backup of your pictures before handing over for processing. It’s always advisable to bring a USB cable (camera to PC) so you transfer the pictures to a PC.
Digital camera accessories such as memory cards and batteries are available in Colombo, Kandy and a few major towns.
Sri Lanka has a wide variety of very attractive handicrafts on sale. Sri Lankan masks are a very popular collector’s item. Other recommendations are batiks, wood carvings, gemstones, semi- precious stones, lacquer-ware, handmade Silver- and Brass objects and of course the famous ‘Ceylon Tea’.
Please avoid ornaments made from tortoise shells & ivory. Never buy turtle shell, we even request you not to purchase any woodcarving made from ebony, in order to preserve this scarce hardwood.
Sri Lanka is a major garment manufacturer and exporter of all kinds of clothing. There is an excellent selection of children’s and casual clothing for men & women, beach wear and even warm padded jackets at extremely attractive prices. Colombo is fast becoming an attraction for garment hunters.
Some dos and don’ts when interacting with locals
- Always give and receive and eat with your right hand. It is considered bad mannered to use your left hand for eating
- When handing objects to another person, either the right hand or both hands should be used.
- Shaking hands is the normal form of greeting. It is customary to be offered tea when visiting and it is considered impolite to refuse.
- Respect cultural differences – Things are done differently in Asia, and Sri Lanka is no exception. Please make sure in your dealings with local people you accept these differences and not try to change them for your own benefit or comfort. The traveller who wishes to have a happy and successful trip in Sri Lanka should keep as calm, cheerful and friendly as humanly possible. Patience and courtesy are virtues that open many doors. Demanding tourists do not get smiles, service or respect.
- Environmental responsibility – Pollution and waste management is a major problem throughout the world. Unfortunately in many parts of Asia, disposal systems are inadequate and recycling of plastics is limited. We suggest avoiding plastic packaging where possible and take along your own bag when shopping. Plastic bags will be offered for everything! Collect and dispose in the next town.
- The law protects certain endangered species of flora & fauna. Export & even possession of these species as well as of wild animals, birds, reptiles etc., is illegal. The production and sale of items made from wild animals and reptiles, e.g.: Leopard skins, crocodile skins, elephant tusks etc., is also illegal
- Never break coral, or brush against it. Coral is basically a colony of living organisms and damaging them, might kill them. If you go out in a Glass-bottom Boat, encourage the pilot to steer well clear from the coral itself. Boats scraping over the top of the reef are doing damage especially at Hikkaduwa. Never buy coral if it’s offered for sale. Similarly don’t buy sea shells or turtle shells (or eggs). All of Sri Lanka’s five species of Turtle are endangered. If you happen to spot a turtle, when being take out on a boat, discourage the driver from circling it; this sort of harassment is very stressful to the turtle.
Is the water drinkable?
Yes it is, as long as it’s bottled, however check seal before purchasing and one can boil tap water and use.
Are gay and lesbian travellers welcomed and where should they go?
This is considered taboo in Sri Lanka due to religious beliefs and cultural background, however you will see that most men and women hold hand in same sex, but don’t take it to have the western meaning! Same sex relationships are illegal in Sri Lanka while nude or topless sunbathing is not tolerated.
Are narcotics permitted in Sri Lanka?
Like most western countries it is prohibited by the penal code of Sri Lanka and there are severe penalties for all drug and related offences and crimes related to the abuse of children. In most circumstances detainees can be held without charge, indefinitely and convicted offenders may face lengthy jail sentences.