TRAVEL TIPS

Transport

Getting there by air

Sri Lanka is easily accessible via European, Middle Eastern or Asian gateways from anywhere in the world. The country’s national airline, SriLankan, flies to Colombo nonstop from London, Frankfurt, Paris & Rome as well as from Bangkok, Hongkong, Singapore and Tokyo and from China Middle East and Indian cities, and from the Maldives. The associated airline, Mihin Air, flies from Seychelles, Middle East and India. Emirates, Ethiad, Oman, Oman, Qatar, Singapore, Thai and Turkey Airlines are some of the major airlines providing connections via their home airports to the Bandaranaike International Airport, 32km by expressway north of Colombo.

 

 

Getting around – by bus

There are four types of bus service linking major towns as well as small villages. These are the local buses that stop everywhere and charge the lowest fare. Semi-luxury buses charge 50% more than the normal fare; luxury long distance buses charge twice the normal fare; while Super Luxury (air-conditioned) charge three times the normal fare. The buses are usually crowded and often driven erratically in a manner that deters visitors from using them.

 

 

Getting around – by train

Travelling by train is popular with visitors but it is wiser to avoid the commuter rush into Colombo (morning) and out of Colombo (afternoon) because it is generally standing room only then. Comfort can be obtained by proper planning with seats bookable online in carriages linked to regular trains by private companies (www.exporail.lk & www.rajadhani.lk) on some trains between Colombo and Anuradhapura, Badulla (for the hill country), Kandy and Matara (via Galle). Sri Lanka Railways also operate first class, air-conditioned carriages on popular trains, including to/from Jaffna, and run twice-a-day Intercity Expresses linking Colombo and Badulla with seats reservable in advance.

 

 

Getting around – by car/taxi/tuk-tuk/self-drive

The smoothest, smartest way to get around Sri Lanka is by hiring a car (or for more than two people, a passenger van) with a driver who is also a guide. This can be done confidently through Cinnamon’s partner company, Walkers Tours Ltd (http://www.walkerstours.com) who run a carbon-neutral fleet of vehicles.

In Colombo, radio taxis are available by telephone reservation; taxis do not ply the streets or wait in taxi ranks. Taxis attached to Cinnamon Grand, Cinnamon Lakeside and Cinnamon Red hotels in Colombo can be booked – and paid for - through the concierge, either per journey or by half or whole day rates.

Three wheeler taxis, nicknamed tuk-tuks, can be hailed everywhere throughout Sri Lanka, and have ranks near all the hotels and central points in towns and villages. Metered three wheelers charge Rs50 for the first kilometre with Rs35 per subsequent kilometre. The fare in a three-wheeler without a working meter is by negotiation.

It is possible to hire self-drive vehicles (including motor bikes) but this is an option to be considered only by licensed drivers experienced in coping with Sri Lankan driving habits. A local driving permit is required, issued against an International Driving Licence.

 

 

Getting around – by air (Cinnamon Air; charter companies)

Cinnamon Air, an associate company of Cinnamon Hotels, is the only domestic flight operator with scheduled daily flights (in conjunction with Sri Lankan Airlines) between the airport and popular tourist destinations (www.cinnamonair.com). It operates single engine convertible float planes that can land on water or small airstrips. The company also operates charter flights, as do several other independent companies.

 

 

Activities

 

Art Galleries

There are several private art galleries in Colombo that hold occasional exhibitions. The National Art Gallery has a permanent exhibition. Paintings can also be seen (and bought) by the park railings near the art gallery. An annual one-day street art fair called Kala Pola is held in Colombo in January.

 

Nightlife

The best nightlife in Colombo is to be found at hotels, especially Cinnamon Grand and Lakeside, where bands play for free in hotel lobbies and lounges. At Cinnamon Red there is a rooftop bar beside the swimming pool that is popular until after midnight. Cocktail bars in hotels are always popular and there are some theme bars (such as the Cricket Club Café) in Colombo that attract the night crowd. There are four smart casinos in Colombo open to foreigners with table games as well as slot machines. Out of Colombo, the Hikka Tranz by Cinnamon is in the centre of the nightlife action at Hikkaduwa. At other towns, night time entertainment is provided by the major hotels.

 

 

Shopping

The most popular purchases by visitors to Sri Lanka are precious and semi-precious gems, either loose or set in gold by skilled Sri Lankan goldsmiths to a catalogue design or a guest’s own pattern. The simplest souvenir is Pure Ceylon Tea bought at source during a visit to a hill country tea factory. Local handicrafts such as carved, garishly painted masks and colourful handloom material as well as unique batik designs can be found in hotel gift shops. Garments made in Sri Lanka for export to the fashion capitals of the world are also available at reputable outlets. Colombo has three major shopping malls, including the smartest one, Crescat, attached to the Cinnamon Grand.

 

 

Sports

Cricket is the most popular spectator sport and is fun to watch at the Galle ground while sitting on the ramparts of Galle Fort during a Test Match. Horse racing takes place seasonally in Nuwara Eliya. Golf is played in Colombo, near Kandy and in Nuwara Eliya. There are also regular surfing competitions at Arugam Bay.

 

 

Ayurveda

Ayurveda is the natural medicine of Sri Lanka, an alternative to Western medical lore and is based on nature’s way to good health with a reliance on natural plants, herbs and oils.

Spa

All Cinnamon brand properties have top grade spas with professionals on hand to supervise therapy.

 

 

Practical Information

Body language

Instead of shaking hands, many Sri Lankans use the age-old greeting of “Ayubowan” (may you have long life) by greeting an acquaintance with palms pushed together in a gesture at chest height similar to praying. With a bow, this can be used when greeting monks; do not attempt to shake a monk’s hand.

Use the right hand to pass things to another person and use the right hand for eating (where cutlery isn’t provided). It is considered offensive to point, instead use a simple gesture. When beckoning someone to come, make a scooping gesture with the right hand facing downwards.

Business hours

Banks open on weekdays from 09.00 and while some close at 13.00 others remain open to 15.00; some are also open at weekends. Many offices commence work at 08.00 while major shops open at 10.00 and close at 18.00 or later. Major supermarkets open from 08.00 to 22.00. Village shops usually open from early until late.

Climate

Sri Lanka’s climate is warm year round (up to 30 degrees Celsius) but gets cooler in the interior hills where it can drop to 10 degrees Celsius at night. Days are usually sunny but there are monsoon periods of rains (from about May to September on the west coast, and from November to March on the east coast.) Even during the monsoons there are hours of bright sunshine.

Safety

Normal precautions with valuables and conduct should be enough to assure your safety. Sri Lankans’ insatiable curiosity is not a threat but a desire to learn. If theft does take place, it should be reported to the nearest police and a copy of the entry obtained to provide proof for any insurance claim.  Tourists should have travel insurance that covers any eventuality.

Connectivity

There is WiFi in hotels and establishments throughout Sri Lanka (so visitors can bring all the gadgets needed to stay in touch) and several mobile phone companies from whom visitors can buy a SIM card to make overseas calls cheaper than through roaming. There are fax bureaux in every town as well as places where IDD calls can be made. The airmail postal service is slow.

Culture & Customs

Sri Lankans are respectable and conservative by nature, so visitors should be modest in dress and conversation when in public. Tourists should avoid posing for a photograph in front of a statue of Buddha or show disrespect in any way to national or religious symbols. When entering a temple, all visitors must be decently dressed and remove footwear.

Disabled Travellers

Facilities are improving for disabled travellers with ramps and guide rails being installed at public buildings. Wheelchairs are available for travellers on advance request at the international airport. Cinnamon hotels have rooms designed to accommodate guests with special needs.

Economy

Sri Lanka’s economy is broad based with income from overseas flowing in from remittances by expatriate Sri Lankans and from the export of tea, gems and agriculture and manufactured products, as well as from tourism.

Electricity

The electricity supply is 230 volts AC. Two and three round-pin and three square-pin sockets are used. Socket adapters are available locally.

Embassy

Sri Lanka maintains embassies and high commissions in the capitals of many major countries, and more than a dozen major countries have embassies or high commissions in Colombo, with many countries having consulates. The European Commission and the United Nations also have representative offices in Colombo.

Health

Health care for foreigners as a result of illness or accident is excellent, and many private hospitals also have therapy programmes for foreigners coming to Colombo especially for treatment. Ayurveda care, alternative medicine based on local oils, herbs and massage, is also available. It is advisable to have full travel insurance coverage that includes emergency medical treatment.

Media

There is a vibrant press publishing daily and Sunday newspapers and monthly magazines in English, as well as television and radio channels with programmes in English, alongside Sinhala and Tamil programmes.

Money

The currency is the Sri Lanka rupee which fluctuates daily in relation to a raft of foreign currencies and is equivalent to about Rs135 to US$1.00. Most frequently utilised coins are Rs2, Rs5 and Rs10. Notes in frequent use are in three designs while the two older styles are being phased out, in values of Rs20, Rs50, Rs100, Rs1,000 and Rs5,000.

Photography

While local characters (such as snake charmers; stilt fishermen) are happy to be photographed, it is advisable to ask permission first and be prepared to pay a tip (Rs100-Rs500). Do not photograph military institutions or people posing in front of a statue of Buddha.

Tipping

Tipping is welcomed since it helps boost the low wages paid in the hospitality industry. Where a service charge (10%) is added to a restaurant or bar bill, a tip in cash of half that amount would be appreciated by the server. At hotels, a tip of Rs100 per bag to a bell boy for carrying luggage and Rs500 to doorman or concierge for services rendered, is appreciated. Hired-vehicle drivers also appreciate a tip.

Visas & Customs

Visas to visit Sri Lanka on holiday for up to 30-days are required by everybody except Maldivian, Singaporean or Seychellois passport holders. The visa can be paid for by credit card and obtained online at the government website, www.eta.gov.lk. A visa can also be purchased by queuing at a special counter on arrival at the airport.

The usual duty-free allowance on cigarettes permitted by many countries does not apply and duty must be paid to the Sri Lanka customs authority on the importation of tobacco products

Women Travellers

Women travellers are especially welcome in Sri Lanka. However, it should be remembered that Sri Lankans have conservative values relating to dress so modest, respectable attire is appropriate in public places.

What to Bring

As little as possible! Tourists could bring the gadgets they feel they can’t live without, since WiFi connectivity is available. Prescription medicines since they might not be available locally should also be brought and a spare pair of spectacles might be useful. Photocopies of all vital documents such as passport should be kept separately. Comprehensive travel insurance is advisable.

What to Wear

Clothes of cotton material are best suited to the tropical climate. Casual clothes are suitable for day and night time occasions; swimwear for sunbathing or swimming. Flip flop slippers can be bought locally; good walking shoes are necessary for hiking or trekking.

Language

Sinhala and Tamil are the main languages and English, as a link language, is widely spoken, especially in commercial areas, and by people in the tourism industry.

 

Further reading

  • The Bradt Guide to Sri Lanka by Royston Ellis
  • A History of Sri Lanka, Oxford University Press, Delhi, by K M A Silva.

Food

Dining

Major hotels feature buffets for self-service breakfast, lunch and dinner and these usually have a curry corner for guests to try the local signature dish: rice and curry. Cinnamon Grand and Cinnamon Lakeside have several fine dining restaurants.

 

Restaurants

In Colombo there are a variety of international restaurants, some of the best being in the Cinnamon Grand and Cinnamon Lakeside. Specialty restaurants in Colombo include Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Thai, Indian, Lebanese, French, Italian, German and Swiss and there are also tea, cricket and seafood inspired theme restaurants. Out of Colombo, all of the Cinnamon hotels feature speciality restaurants.

 

 

 

Cuisines

Sri Lanka cuisine is based on a subtle combination of herbs and spices in dishes of vegetables, fish, seafood, chicken or meat curries, accompanied by rice. Jaffna cuisine features prawns, goat and vegetables in drier curries. Seafood, especially crab and cuttlefish as well as jumbo prawns, is succulent and sensational when freshly caught. Hill country beef and locally-produced pork are also popular dishes whether in curries or ‘devilled’ (tossed with chillies and vegetables).