How to Travel Sustainably in Sri Lanka

Traveling consciously in Sri Lanka | © Moving Montevideo / Flickr
Traveling consciously in Sri Lanka | © Moving Montevideo / Flickr
Photo of Orana Velarde
Sri Lanka Hub Writer7 November 2017

Sustainable travel in Sri Lanka is still in its infancy but that doesn’t mean that visitors can’t have a environmentally conscious attitude when they spend time in the country. Sadly Sri Lanka is amongst the five culprit countries that throw plastic garbage into the ocean. The country is doing it’s part to improve this, but visitors can also help!

Don’t swim or snorkel with whales

The south of Sri Lanka is home to migrating whales for many months a year and visitors can see them from boats. A few years ago visitors were offered snorkel and diving tours to swim with whales. When things got a bit out of control the marine wildlife activists managed to turn this activity into an almost impossible feat.

It isn’t exactly illegal to swim with whales but getting a permit is extremely difficult. The idea is to protect the whales from humans. That is why we suggest you do not attempt to swim with whales on your trip.

Please only watch whales from boats! | © Indi Samarajiva / Flickr

Don’t ride elephants

For years elephant riding trips have been offered all over Asia. It is now well known that the elephants used for these activities are not only badly treated, the wooden chairs that are strapped on their backs hurt them. Less and less tour companies offer this activity but there are still some that do. If you want to see elephants, better to visit a national park and see them in the wild or at most visit an elephant orphanage.

Don’t take animal selfies

Animal selfies are one of the worst activities available to tourists. Animals are taken from their mothers to be used in tourist centers for photo ops. In Sri Lanka you will see snake charmers, monkeys on chains or sometimes a baby lizard on a string. The animal handlers will ask passer by visitors to take photos. Please don’t.

Please do not ride elephants like this | © Aidan Jones / Flickr

Travel by train

Automobile pollution is quite bad in Sri Lanka. Taking the train is a good step towards minimizing it. Train rides in Sri Lanka are quite beautiful and you won’t get stuck in traffic. Trains take visitors south to Galle, inland to Kandy and Nuwara Eliya, north to Anhuradaphura and further north to Jaffna.

Carry thin reusable shopping bags

The garbage situation in Colombo is particularly dire and its really up to individuals to do something about it. Since the 1st of September of 2017, a plastic bag ban was put in effect for the entire country. Unfortunately nothing is really changing yet. No matter if you are in Sri Lanka for a week or a few months, it is very likely at some point you will have to do some shopping. Have a thin shopping bag on hand at all times. There are some that can be turned into a small ball that fits anywhere. If you are in Sri Lanka and don’t have one, there are some nice ones in the Good Market, made out of old sarees.

Good Market, 077 020 8642

Don’t buy lunch packets

Lunch packets are rice and curry inside a plastic wrapper, to eat on the go. These end up all over the streets, so please don’t contribute to that mess. We recommend eating rice and curry in the restaurant (they are called “hotels”). If it’s really necessary to take it away then buy a lamprais that comes wrapped in banana leaf instead of plastic. If you are staying for a few weeks and want to take rice and curry back to your airbnb, take a tupperware to put the food in.

Avoid plastic bottles

Plastic bottles are the worst polluters, not only in Sri Lanka but all over the world. Taking a reusable water bottle everywhere will help of course but a lot of places just have no other choice than a plastic bottle. Refill your water bottle before leaving the hotel. When ordering in a restaurant, ask if the drinks come in glass bottles.

If you are forced to have a bottle from a packed hotel lunch (we wouldn’t want anyone to dehydrate), reuse the bottle! Locals often drink from reused glass liquor bottles, as you will notice when you take a tuk-tuk or visit a shop. Those old glass bottles of vodka and whisky are actually full of the beloved well water.

Shop at the markets

If you are spending some time in the villages, shop from the farmers at the market. Buying from the locals helps them provide for their families.

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