Sinhala and Tamil are the official languages of Sri Lanka, but English is widely spoken and understood in the main tourist centres and major towns and cities. Not many people in rural areas speak English.
A few greetings you might like to learn are “Ayubowan” meaning long life, this is traditional Sinhalese welcome. The Tamils use “Vanakkam” which has the same meaning.
The Sri Lanka head wobble is another gesture you will quickly recognise during your travels.It simple indicates a very friendly yes! Or ok. You will notice this movement often accompanied by the words “hari hari” meaning yes yes ok. Another one to learn is Bohoma Sthuthi which means thank you in Sinhala.
Sri Lanka is a very casual country, so no smart attire is required at any of the hotels. That said, you may like to change for dinner at certain hotels – simply to make it more of an occasion. This is a personal decision.
Because of the tropical climate light cotton and linen clothing is ideal. You will need some sturdy shoes for the climb up Sigiriya Rock, and any other hiking you might do.
We recommend you carry a sun hat and sunglasses & a light weight sweater for the cooler evenings in the hill country areas. We also suggest you pack an umbrella as rain is always a possibility in Sri Lanka (and they are very handy for the sun).
Visitors of both genders must wear decent clothing to cover the body appropriately when visiting religious places and shorts and sleeveless tops are not acceptable. Knees & shoulders are often required to be covered.
Visitors should remove hats, caps, shoes and slippers when entering buildings and sites with religious monuments. Most of these places have a secure facility at the entrance for visitors to leave behind shoes and slippers for a very small fee.
Topless sunbathing is officially illegal. The use of smaller swimwear on the beaches is generally acceptable. When in rivers & lakes as locals for advise.
The major currency is the Sri Lankan Rupee which is not readily available outside of the country, therefore you will need to arrange your local currency when you arrive. Don’t worry, it’s very easy with a little pre planning.
As soon as you leave immigration in the departures hall inside Colombo airport you will see exchange bureaus where you can pick up Sri Lankan Rupees. The rates are all the same, the counters are the major banks in Sri Lanka and the fees are set.
It is useful to know before you arrive that a Sri Lankan Rupee (LKR) is broken down into 100 cents. The coins are rarely used and come in denominations of 1, 2, 5 and 10 rupees. Notes come in denominations of 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, 500, 1000, 2000 and 5000 rupees.
Filtered water in re usable bottles is 100% encouraged. On arrival our guests are given a re usable bottle to use for their adventure and taken home at the end of the trip as a souvenier. Water bottles are able to filled in your accommodation, from a water supply in our vehicles and a few stops along the way
Wi-Fi is readily available throughout the island, but reception is not always consistent. Most guest houses, hotels & cafes will give you free access to wifi. However, if you’re planning on spending hours out exploring the cities or sitting on the famously slow-but-scenic trains, or just needing to check in at regular times then picking up a local SIM is both cheap and straightforward.
There are 3G networks across the whole island so buying a SIM for your mobile phone is easy. They are readily available and brightly advertised from many outlets, including local shops & at the airport. We recommend getting set up at one of the mobile phone counters at the airport on arrival.There’s no shortage of cell companies in Sri Lanka, including Dialog, Mobitel, Etisalat, Airtel, and Hutch. For most visitors it probably won’t make all that much difference which one they choose. We recommend Dialog or Mobitel as they are easily accessible.
Sri Lankans attach a lot of importance to polite behaviour and proper appearance. Cleanliness and modesty are appreciated even in informal situations. Nudity and topless bathing are prohibited and heavy fines can be imposed. Displays of intimacy are not considered suitable in public places and will probably draw unwanted attention. Same-sex relations are illegal in Sri Lanka. Sri Lankans eat with their hands (the right hand). Use your right hand for giving, taking, eating or shaking hands as the left is considered to be unclean. (The left is used for the toilet)
We suggest you visit your local doctor or travel clinic in advance to ensure that you receive all the necessary advice, immunizations and medications. Fortunately, Sri Lanka has an extensive network of public health clinics and hospitals. You are able to purchase medications in most larger towns & cities, although medications you would normally take at home may not be available in Sri Lanka, so pack all you need along with a doctor’s letter outlining what their use is, how much etc.
It is also wise to check with your local Sri Lankan embassy as some medications considered legal in other countries may be illegal there. While health care is provided free of charge, this is becoming difficult to sustain but for visitors, there are plenty of private hospitals where medical care is still cheap by Western standards and the quality is high. Medical facilities outside of Colombo are very limited, especially for more serious medical situations.