Backpacking Sri Lanka
Looking for important travel information while backpacking around Sri Lanka? Here you will find information on working in Sri Lanka, entry visas, Sri Lanka hostels, and much more.
Table of Contents
- Facts About Sri Lanka
- Entry Visas for Sri Lanka
- Foreigner Work Permits in Sri Lanka
- How to Say Common Phrases in Sinhala
- Sri Lanka Hostels
Facts About Sri Lanka
The majority of Sri Lanka is an incredible friendly and relaxed country which welcomes tourists eager to explore Sri Lanka’s wonders. There are miles of beautiful sandy beaches stretched along the coast which draw its fair share of package holiday makers but there is also plenty of ancient ruins, wildlife, the rolling vistas of the foothills and cheap, delicious food. Sri Lanka is rightly considered a tourists paradise in many corners of the world.
Due to a long standing dispute between the Sri Lanka government and the LTTE (Tamil Tigers) the FCO advises against travel to the North and Eastern parts of the country, despite a ceasefire which has reduced risks dramatically. The Southern area, particularly the South-Western tourist area is safe although visitors should remain vigilant against both terrorist threats and criminal activity (pick pocketing and the like). Travellers who insist on travelling to the Northern area of the Island should be aware that some areas, particularly the A9 road to Jaffna are still heavily mined from the political conflict.
- Currency: Sri Lankan Rupee (SL Re; Rs (plural) ) = 100 cents
- Time Zone: GMT + 5.3
- Language: Sinahala, Tamil and English
- Telephone Services: Country code +94, International access code 00
- Emergency Numbers: All services 1 691096 / 699935
Sri Lanka benefits from a tropical climate making it an ideal beach destination. High lying areas are cooler and more temperate although the coastal areas can be cooled by incoming sea breezes. There are two monsoon season, one around May and the other around January. At other times of the year you can expect hot, dry weather for the most part.
Things to see and do
Colombo is Sri Lanka’s largest and most popular city and is both busy and lively. Cheap accommodation and restaurants are abundant here and this makes a good base for exploring some of the surrounding regions. Sites of interest include the clock tower, the presidents residence and plenty of colonial remnants. The eastern part of the city is home to the Pettah bazaar district which is an experience in itself and a good place to do a spot of souvenir shopping as well as brush up on your haggling skills. The cities other main attraction is the Dehiwala Zoo which has a particularly good daily elephant show. Those looking to brush up on some culture should check out the Art Gallery and the National Museum which both contain some very worthwhile exhibits. The nearest beach is about 20 minutes away at Mt Lavinia although it is not as good as some of the more southern beaches.
One of the islands most unique sites is the spectacular Sigiriya fortress. Situated about 3 hours from Colomba this mighty rock foretress has in the past also been a monastic retreat and now houses a rock art gallery. It is perched on the top of an enormous 200m tall rock outcrop and is known for its spectacular 5th century water gardens. There are hourly buses to the fortress running from Dambulla which can easily be reached by bus from Colomba.
Another less known and more colourful attraction unique to Sri Lanka is the enigmatic Adam’s Peak. The 2224m tall mountain is situated near Dalhousie and can be reached by bus from any major city during the period from December to April. This peak is a major site of pilgrimage for many of the major religions due to the huge “footprint” at the top of the peak. Christians and Muslims believe that this is the footprint of Adam after he was cast out of the Garden of Eden, Bhuddists believe it is the print of Bhudda and Hindus tell that it is the mark of the god Shiva. As a result it has drawn pilgrims for over a thousand years from all kinds of different religious backgrounds. Climbing the peak takes about 5 hours but is well worth the effort.
The rail network is relatively sparse but connects Colombo with most of the tourist areas of the Island. The network is operated by Sri Lanka Railways although they do not at the moment seem to have a web presence. Rail travel is quite cheap and is much more comfortable than travelling by bus and is to be recommended where possible as the best mode of transport.
Buses are run by a plethora of local companies and range from ancient and rickety old buses right through to state of the art modern coaches. Buses are always crowded and generally uncomfortable although they are incredibly cheap and sometime the only way of getting to some destinations. The Sri Lanka Central Transport Board is one of the larger and more reputable operators.
Sri Lanka has a wide variety of accommodation available ranging from beachside tourist hotels to guest houses and B&B’s. Quality ranges from luxury 5 star facilities right down to unrated facilities.
There are not many youth hostels in Sri Lanka although there are some in Colombo, Galle, Hikkaduwa, Kandy and Pottuvil. There is at present no centralised source of information on youth hostels in Sri Lanka.
A vaccination for polio and typhoid is recommended to all visitors to Sri Lanka. These vaccinations can be obtained from your local GP and shouldn’t cost more than Rs40. The standard of healthcare in Colombo is quite good although emergency medical care is not available on all parts of the island. The standard is generally not as high as can be expected in western Europe and the cost of treatment can be expensive. Further to this option for repatriation are limited. For these reasons it is essential you have ample travel insurance cover from a reputable supplier.
The water in Sri Lanka is untreated and is not safe to drink, dairy products should be avoided since they are not pasteurised. Fruit and vegetables should be washed and peeled before consumption and caution should be observed when buying food from street vendors.
The Sri Lanka Tourist Board offers general travel advice for visitors to Sri Lanka.
Entry Visas for Sri Lanka
A passport valid for at least 3 months is required by all for entry to Sri Lanka. British Nationals do not require a visa for a tourist visit of less than 30 days. Visits for all other purposes and visitors from the rest of the EU or the USA require a tourist visa which can be obtained on landing and is valid for 30 days. This should be issued free of charge.
Visa and immigration related enquiries should be directed to the Sri Lankan High Commision:
High Commission of Sri Lanka 13 Hyde Park Gardens London W2 2LU Tel: (020) 7 262 1841-7 Fax: (020) 7 262 7970
If you require UK representation while you are in Sri Lanka you should contact the British High Commision:
British High Commission 190 Galle Road Kollupitiya P O Box 1433 Colombo 3 Tel: + 94 (1) 437336-43 Fax: +(94) (1) 430308 email: email@example.com
The Sri Lanka Tourist Board can provide general tourist information for visitors to Sri Lanka:
Sri Lanka Tourist Board 22 Regent Street London SW1Y 4QD Tel: (0171) 930 2627 Fax: (0171) 930 9070
Foreigner Work Permits in Sri Lanka
As a developing country Sri Lanka will be difficult to find work to fund your travels. There may be some opportunities for teaching English in schools, but most people who go with this purpose do so as volunteers and a vast number of volunteer organisations exist to place people on such projects. Below are listed just a few of these organisations, most placements are very similar in content, but different organisations arrange projects in different areas and for varying lengths of time.
The Project Trust sends volunteers to Sri Lanka to work not only on teaching projects but also in Islamic centres and on a temple project in Hangaramketha. Programmes usually last for twelve months. Volunteers must be aged between 17 and 19 and a half years old and are expected to raise Rs3850 themselves to fund their project, this includes all expenses for living costs, travel, donations etc.
Also offering something a bit different to teaching, i-to-i has placements in the local media in Sri Lanka. There are opportunities to work on one of two of Colombo’s daily newspapers as researchers, writers, and in editing. Accommodation in flats is provided and you will usually be given a budget for food. Nevertheless, i-to-i does also arrange teaching projects for those more interested in this type of work. Volunteers are expected to fund their own travel and insurance etc. Costs are usually around Rs1295 for projects lasting up to eight weeks, and Rs1395 for nine to twelve week placements.
Travellers Worldwide arranges volunteer placements for conservational work in Sri Lanka. Those wanting to take part in the conservation project will work in Colombo Zoo to help improve the living conditions for the animals there. Work here involves cleaning out animal cages, feeding primates, conducting behavioural observation, caring for sick animals, and maintaining the animal environments. Volunteers can also work at the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage, or combine the two animal-care projects. Accommodation is provided alongside other volunteers in Travellers houses. Conservational placements can cost up to Rs1845 (based on the combined placement of one month at Colombo Zoo and one month at Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage), excluding travel.
Teaching and Projects Abroad
Teaching and Projects Abroad run one month or more long programmes where volunteers spend eighteen hours each week teaching English to schoolchildren, taking part in animal care, or even work in the local media. Accommodation is provided either with host families, or living with other teachers in local hostels.
I-to-I organise working holidays across the world
Travellers Worldwide arrange conservational volunteer placements
Teaching-abroad.co.uk has all kinds of information for those teaching english in a foreign country
How to Say Common Sinhala Phrases
- thank you
- you are welcome
- excuse me
- gihin ennam
- Good morning
- a-yubo-wan, suba. Udhae-sa.nak
- Good night
- a-yubo-wan, suba. Ra-thriyak
- What is your name?
- oya-ge nama.Mokakdha?
- Nice to meet you
- hambu una eka loku sathutak
- How are you?
- kohomadha. Ithin?
- straight on
Methods of Transport
- Where is…?
- How much is the fare?
- ga-na. Keeya.dha?
- A ticket to…, please
- karuna-ka.ra.la…ta. Tika.t ekak dhenna.
- Where are you going?
- kohe-dha. Yanne?
- Where do you live?
- bus eka
- umang ma-rga.ya (there is no metro in Sri Lanka)
- train station
- railway station
- bus station
- bus stand
- pitath weema
- What time is it?
- Ve-la-va. Keeya.dha?
- Are there any vacancies?
- adha. Raeta. Inna. Metha.na. Ida. Thiyena.wadha?
- No vacancies
- ka-ma.ra. Ekakwath nae
- passport eka
- How much does this cost?
- Me-ke ga-na. Keeya.dha?
- I will buy it
- Mama. Me-ka. Ganna.wa-
- I would like to buy…
- Mata….Ganna o-nae-
- Do you have…?
- Oya- ga-wa…Thiyena.wadha?
- udhae- kae-ma
- dhawal kaema
- rae kae-ma
- Jaya. Ve-wa-!
- The bill please
- Karuna-ka.ra.la bila. Ge-nna.
Buy phrasebooks online at Amazon.co.uk
Sri Lanka Hostels
Hostels are a cheap form of accomodation, and so they are essential to backpackers and other budget travellers. We have compiled a list of hostels in Sri Lanka to help you plan your journey. If you are looking for a hostel in Sri Lanka, you’ve come to the right place.
There you have it, the ultimate Sri Lanka backpacking guide. We hope you have found all the information you need for backpacking around Sri Lanka.