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Travel Tips For First-Time Visitors to Sri Lanka

Many first-time travellers to Sri Lanka will visit Kandy Lake, which houses the Royal Summer House
Many first-time travellers to Sri Lanka will visit Kandy Lake, which houses the Royal Summer House | © Robert Harding / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Orana Velarde
Sri Lanka Hub Writer2 September 2021
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If you’re travelling to Sri Lanka for the first time, you’re in for an incredible experience. The animals, the landscapes, the people. The teardrop island is special. But, just like any country you visit, it’s worth getting to grips with the basics first. So whether you’re headed to the capital of Colombo, the national parks of Yala or Udawalawe, or planning on scaling Adam’s Peak, here are our travel tips for first-time tourists to Sri Lanka.

Keen to visit Sri Lanka but not sure where to start with planning your itinerary? Consider joining Culture Trip’s specially curated 12-day Sri Lanka adventure, led by our local insider.

Don’t try to fit in too much

Take time out of the rush to chill among the tea plantations of Sri Lanka | © Suranga Weeratuna / Alamy Stock Photo

Life in Sri Lanka is laid-back. Take it easy and try not to fill the day with too many activities. Of course, there are plenty of things to do and beautiful places to visit, but just as important is getting swept up in the chilled pace of life here.

Get to know the culture

Sri Lanka carries so much history that it’s worth getting to grips with the basics before you go. In particular, take time to learn about the civil war and the Colonial era. By knowing a little of what the Sri Lankan people went through, you will appreciate them and your time in the country more.

Treat yourself to an ayurvedic treatment

Massage and aromatherapy is a common part of ayurverdic treatments | © Asia Images Group Pte Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo

Ayurveda is a common health practice in Sri Lanka. It’s said to have roots in India more than 5,000 years ago, with massage and aromatherapy a common part of the process. You’ll find a few places in Colombo and in the highlands to enjoy a session.

Eat with your hands

Rice and curry is eaten by hand in Sri Lanka, like in most other Southeast and South Asian countries. Of course you can use utensils but why not do it like the locals? All rice and curry restaurants will have a sink in which you can wash your hands.

Don’t skip Colombo

Many opt to skip Colombo, but the capital of Sri Lanka has a lot to offer | © lukas bischoff / Alamy Stock Photo

It’s common for visitors to skip the capital city of Colombo to make their way to the southern beaches or the cultural triangle in the central highlands. Truth is, Colombo has a lot to offer if you stick around for a couple of days. From excellent Sri Lankan restaurants to stylish guesthouses, cool contemporary art to dodgy bars, there’s much to love about the capital.

Carry mosquito repellent

Always carry mosquito repellent in your pack. Mosquitos are everywhere and there have been quite a few dengue outbreaks on the island. Best be safe and stay protected. If you run out, there are plenty of natural and chemical repellents available.

Have small cash

Tuk-tuks, buses and shops will usually not have change for big bills. Thankfully cash machines give change when they dispense money. Some international cards are not always accepted, so bring more than one. Tipping is normal in cafes and restaurants as well, leaving a 20 or a 50 rupee note is quite alright.

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