Travellers Essentials

The travellers’ essentials contain information which would be useful to you when planning your holiday to Sri Lanka. Although this information is generally sufficient and answers most questions you may have please do not hesitate to contact us for any specific topic.

Once your booking has been confirmed with us you will receive this guide in your tour docket.

GETTING THERE

From Europe – London to Colombo

Flying from major European countries like the UK, France, Germany and Holland will be on average 11 – 13 hrs. Depending on the time of year The fastest way to get from the UK to Sri Lanka is with Sri Lankan airlines who fly twice daily from Heathrow.

Sri Lankan airlines now offers their “guaranteed low rates” if you book via their website www.srilankan.aero

Alternatively you could also fly with Emirates, Qatar Airways or Kuwait Airways but you will be required to change planes in the Gulf.

We have partnered with Travel velocity to offer our clients in the UK an opportunity to book their flights.

FROM USA/CANADA

No direct flights.

Via London & Middle East from East Coast.

Via Hong Kong, Singapore/ Bangkok from West Coast.

Thai Airlines, Singapore and Cathay Pacific all fly through on these routes and connect with Sri Lankan Airlines for the final leg.

FROM INDIA

Air India flies from Delhi, Madras, Mumbai and Kerala.

FROM MALDIVES

Daily flights to Colombo which take approximately 1 hour.

FROM AUSTRALIA/NEW ZEALAND

No direct flights

Via Singapore, India, Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur.

BANDARANAIKE INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT

Located 34 km North of Colombo centre. Trains and buses are available but we would recommend a taxi or personal driver. It can be a bun fight of touting drivers as you exit the airport and there is no guarantee of a fixed rate nor a quality and insured driver/car. Since all our tours include your very own chauffeur and vehicle you will be assured of a safe and enjoyable passage throughout the tour.

The airport departure tax should now be included within all airline tickets, but check with your agent when you purchase your flight.

USEFUL TELEPHONE NUMBERS

Sri Lankan Airlines – +94 11 242 1161

Royal Jordanian – +94 11 230 1621-4

Etihad UK –  +44 870 2417121  OR Abu Dhabi – +971 2 6444490

Emirates – +94 11 230 0200-5

Indian Airlines – +94 11 232 3136

Qatar – +94 11 4525 700

Singapore Airlines – +94 11 223 057

PERSONAL DRIVER

All of our holidays include your own personal chauffeur/guide. This is the best way to see Sri Lanka. Although it is possible to self drive in Sri Lanka we don’t recommend it as the highway code is rarely adhered to and the general law is “who dares wins”.

All of the vehicles we use conform to standards in terms of safety, comfort and environmental impact. Although most vehicles we use are petrol driven, the diesel mini vans are also checked to ensure emissions are well within normal ranges.

All cars are equipped with three point seat belts and mini vans with 2 point belts. By special request we are also able to provide 4WD SUV’s which offer superior ride comfort and can negotiate any road conditions.

TAXI

Sri Lanka has now quite a few metered taxis that operate within Colombo. Since the drivers are paid a commission on their collections there is a tendency for some to over bill using various innovative means including taking a longer route or timing waiting without giving you the required 20 minutes free waiting time. Call early especially in the weekends when a taxi can take up to 60 minutes to arrive.

TUK-TUK

In our opinion the best way to see the local sites, have some fun, and make friends with the locals. They are in abundance and you can barter but remember that this is their livelihood. Agree a fare before starting your journey especially if it’s a round trip. Tuk-Tuk’s are fine for journeys up to 20km. The drivers will try to entice you into fashion stores and jewellers so be firm and if they take it well, give them a tip and they will be happy to see you again the next time without the sales patter.

BUS

Buses are ubiquitous, cheap, crowded and completely hair raising and uncomfortable. They are small and built for locals with short legs. There are plenty of buses going to the key destinations as the Government CTB buses compete with the air-conditioned private companies for fares.

They can be slow if you are on a long journey but on City links they own the roads. For timetables, call the main Bus Stand in Colombo on Tel: (Sri Lanka +94) 0112329604/5 or local bus station office for private timetables.

RAIL

A slower and more comfortable ride than a bus and marginally more expensive. The rail network is quite comprehensive and criss-crosses much of the island. The coast line South from Colombo, the mainline from Colombo up through the Hill Country and northern line through the Cultural triangle to Trincomalee, all offer scenic journeys, especially if you travel 1st class.

However the trains are from the 1900’s and timetables are erratic with a margin of error greater than ½ day! 1st / 2nd class carriages are a must but seats and air conditioning are still not guaranteed, especially in peak season. We have wonderful memories sharing Christmas Eve with 30 people in a carriage made for 10 and 35°C!!

The main City links from Colombo, Galle and Kandy are acceptable and the observation and night carriages can be fun. You will need to book in advance. The costs reflect the standards and can be a cost effective alternative if you are on a budget.

For timetables, contact the Railway office in Colombo, Tel (+94) 0112435838 or visit the Sri Lanka Railways website

AIR TAXI / SEA PLANE

Sri Lankan Airlines introduced an Air taxi service around the island, which is great fun and can certainly cushion the airport to hotel journey after a long-haul flight.

The small 8 seater Cessna Caravan planes use waterways, lakes and domestic airstrips to land and take-off. Flights currently run to many tourist destinations like Kandy, Bentota, Galle, Tangalle or the lengthy trips to Trincomalee or Anuradhapura. Alternatively, the planes can be chartered privately as long there is a suitable landing area.

Flights are chartered in accordance with demand with some scheduled flights each day. Flights operate only during day light hours and during acceptable weather conditions. In the event of a cancelled flight, the crew will help you to source alternative transport.

The costs are reasonable, especially when you are a group of 4 or more people. Either book ahead or encourage your fellow holiday makers to join you in a return journey to the airport.

You will experience an exciting and birds eye journey over Sri Lanka and for those connecting to the airport, you will gain preferential treatment at Bandaranaike check-in desk.

DOMESTIC FLIGHTS

If you want to travel the whole of Sri Lanka and enjoy the different cultures and communities, you might find flying certain legs will save a lot of time. The prices are reasonable and there are 2 + flight a day on popular routes. All costs are liable to Sri Lankan VAT.

Jaffna and Trincomalee can be reached by airplane. For further details of schedules and prices or to place a booking click here.

HELICOPTER

A more adventurous and luxurious means of transport across the island is by helicopter. We have partnered with a well-established company who operate across Asia and have a fleet of helicopters.

Chartering a helicopter to your desired location is from $1000+ but you have the flexibility of landing pad and time of departure. Many of the boutique hotels have a landing pad or one within 10mins drive.

All costs are liable to Sri Lankan VAT.

FESTIVALS AND POYA DAYS

All important Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Christian and national festivals are celebrated- up to 72 in all, including Sundays. Sri Lankan’s have the right balance in life to work and play.

Every full moon -Poya day- is a Buddhist holiday. Public places of entertainment and most shops are closed. Some supermarkets remain open but will not sell red meat or alcohol. Hotels will often refuse to serve alcohol.

TRAVELLING WITH CHILDREN

Don’t wrap the kids in cotton wool, they will thrive in Sri Lanka. Tuk-tuks, golden temples, elephant rides, tree houses or secret islands are just the start of their adventure.

This a family paradise and Sri Lankan people love children – they are the focal point of every town and in many hotels like Club Villa, Apa Villa, Colombo House and Boulder Gardens, children under 10-years will stay for free.

POSSIBLE CONSIDERATIONS

Most hotels have Western dishes like pasta, chicken escallops and omelettes, but Western options like baked beans, fish fingers and burgers are best forgotten. Sadly, the fast food chains can be found in large Cities (KFC, McDonalds, Pizza Hut). Traditional Sri Lankan Curry is not very hot and the chefs will happily turn down the spice-o-meter for children.

Cots and extra beds are readily available at a small fee and often complimentary for under 5yrs. Children under 12 yrs sharing with parents will usually stay for free and get 50% discount on meals.

Amentities like disposable nappies and Calpol are hard to find except in the major supermarkets in Colombo, Kandy. The sad fact is that Sri Lanka has not developed a good refuge infrastructure.

Suncream and hats are a must. Best to bring your own as bottles will often be way past their expiry date in the local village shops.

Responsible babysitting services are available in most hotels and payment is usually at your discretion. Rs. 500 would be very well received and a small price to pay for a “night off” or “dinner à-deux”.

Childrens facilities tend to consist of snorkeling, pools, nature and wildlife, cycling and sightseeing- no computer games or cartoons. The Sri Lankan children are extremely resourceful and run around happily. They will never shy away from a new Western friend.

Prams or backpacks for very young children should be packed. Bear in mind the heat with backpacks.

Many stray dogs & cats roam the streets. Most are harmless but cleanliness is not apparent and children should be deterred from making “furry friends”

Cars and 1st/2nd class trains are suitable for young children. They are very crowded and small buses should definitely be avoided.

HEALTH ADVISE

PRE DEPARTURE

Check polio, tetanus, typhoid, Hepatitis A, anti-malaria medication with your local GP or International Medical Centre. Malaria is in very small jungle areas and haphazard in its presence. Cover well at night and use plenty of repellent and you should be clear of bites. Don’t risk it as there are many mosquitoes at dusk. Some swear by eating Marmite to keep them away but we at Adventure Lanka Tours believe that pure Citronella oil is the best repellent. You can buy it in all the pharmacies in Sri Lanka.

Useful and up-to-date health advice can be found on www.fitfortravel.scot.nhs.uk and www.malariahotspots.co.uk.

IN YOUR FIRST AID KIT

Antibiotics, diarrhea “blockers”, citronella, antiseptic cream or insect sting relief, box of matches (to burn paper and use ashes to stop any bleeding from leeches), lip balm, sunscreen, Tampax (unavailable).

FOOD AND DRINK

“If you can cook it, peel it or boil it- eat it”. Avoid dairy products made with fresh milk, e.g. Some ice creams.

Despite the streets being littered with rubbish, hygiene in Sri Lanka is good and few sensible visitors experience problems, unlike in India. Do not drink tap water or use ice from unboiled water and be cautious if using tap water to clean teeth.

NARCOTICS

Drugs are illegal in Sri Lanka. This includes Marijuana. If you are caught with any in your possession you could be remanded for up to 48 hours before being produced before a magistrate.

HOSPITALS

Good private hospitals in Colombo and some in the regions. Major towns have well stocked pharmacies with qualified English speaking staff. Doctors’ prescriptions are not always needed.

The Sri Lankan remedy for many ailments from muscular pain to a hangover is King Coconut.

Local Customs

TIPPING

Is optional for good service, 10% plus, but 10% is often built into any hotel or restaurant bill. For porterage Rs. 50. For good service over 2/3 days Rs. 100-500 depending on the standard of the hotel/service.

TOUTS

May be a nuisance but if accepting a service remember that they have to make a living. They will receive commission from the shop/restaurant to which they lead you.

PHOTOGRAPHS

Do not pose in front of or beside a Buddha statue, it is disrespectful. Do not photograph (or attempt to shake hands with) a Buddhist Monk (in orange robes) or a Muslim family (especially the women) without prior consent.

FRIENDSHIP

It is normal to see men out alone at night as the women tend to stay with the family. You will discover that men are very tactile, dance together and hold hand as a sign of friendship. Embrace this if you feel comfortable but please don’t apply western thinking to what it may represent.

MUSIC

Sri Lankans love music and they will strike up a tune on anything they can lay their hands on – guitar, shakers, bongo, bottles. Citadel and calypso music are still the favourites but reggae is extremely popular with the young.

GIFTS – GIVING AND RECEIVING

When gifts are received it is very impolite to open them at the time.

VISITING A SRI LANKAN FAMILY

Always take a small gift like a cake or packet of biscuits but depending on the type of family you are visiting even flowers or a bottle of wine may be acceptable.

Although many books will advise you to remove shoes before entering a house, the more sensible option would be is to look for clues. If you see footwear near the door this means that its best you take off your shoes. If there isn’t any footwear there is generally no need to remove yours.

EATING

Although many guidebooks will tell you that you are only supposed to eat with your right hand and not use the left because it is used for unclean activities, we advise you to eat with whichever hand they are comfortable with.

WHAT TO WEAR

ON BEACH AND COASTAL RESORTS

Casual cotton clothing, sunglasses and hat. Long sleeves and trousers for evenings for protection against mosquitoes (many of your meals will be alfresco).

Topless sunbathing is prohibited but generally all types of swimsuits are ok. Although people on beach fronts are used to beach wear and will not stare bathing in other waterways like Rivers, Lakes and waterfalls is generally best with modest clothing.

HILL COUNTRY

Much cooler, particularly in the evenings. Bring a sweater or fleece and a waterproof. In low wet land throughout the mid-country, you’ll find many leeches in the grass from small to large buffalo leeches. Bring long trousers tucked into your socks and cover your boots with soap.

RELIGIOUS SITES

Women should cover their shoulders and legs. All visitors to Buddhist temples should remove shoes & hats and fine umbrellas. Hindu temples also require you to remove shoes & hats. You may be asked to make a donation- if you chose to, place it into the donation box.

COLOMBO

The capital is a thriving social scene with many fashionable restaurants. Linen casuals will be fine but you may feel a tad under dressed in the “vogue” restaurants.

VISAS/TRAVEL INSURANCE

Citizens of all countries with the exception of Singapore, Maldives and Seychelles must be in possession of a valid Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA). The process of obtaining an ETA is a fairly simple process and Adventure Lanka Tours will be happy to lodge the ETA on your behalf.

It is recommended that you safely carry your passports at all times and ensure that it is valid for 6-months beyond the date of travel.

INSURANCE

We highly recommend that you purchase comprehensive travel insurance including emergency repatriation before traveling. You may also wish to check out cover for activities such as diving, white water rafting, cycling and abseiling etc..

DRIVING LICENSE

International driving licence is valid for only 3 months and must be obtained in your home country. To extend it to Sri Lankan travel, you must attend the RAC office in Central Colombo. You will require 2 photos.

It is a good idea to photocopy all relevant documents – passport, travel, insurance policy etc., and leave one copy at home. Carry another copy with you separate from the originals.

SHOPS

Sri Lanka is full of crafts, jewellery and beautiful antique furniture and can be found throughout Sri Lanka.

Colombo is the centre for fashion, department stores, Western style shopping. There are many clothing manufacturers in Sri Lanka and Colombo’s fashion stores stock up on unsold export stock.

The South West is home to the traditional masks and carved crafts. They make great artefacts for decorating a home and the quality is first class. Ambalangoda, in particular is a haven for antiques and you will find some exquisite Dutch colonial pieces. It’s very heavy so consider export charges when negotiating your price. Sadly, the dealers have become wise to demand for such pieces. Most has been exported (they have sadly stripped Jaffna) and the prices are extremely inflated.

Jewellery stores can be found everywhere but predominantly in South West and Colombo. The gold is much more yellow in colour than English Gold and they generally trade in 18ct. White gold and platinum is rare and there is no Hallmarking so be careful. Labour is extremely cheap and the jewellery is beautifully hand crafted so if you have a design in mind, ask them to quote on making it up.

Diamonds are usually imported but Sri Lanka is the home to many beautiful gems, namely sapphires (not known to many, there are 5 colours not just blue), rubies, aquamarine, moonstone, garnets and topaz. Check all stones you may purchase for flaws and discolouration. There is a Gem testing center in Galle (310 Galle Road, Kollupitya).

The hotel jewellery stores have highly inflated prices, but the quality is of a reasonable standard.

All stores have a local rate and tourist rate and this is commonly accepted across Sri Lanka – it can often be double. Please just accept it as the norm and don’t embarrass the locals, as most the tourist prices are still cheap.

COMMUNICATIONS

TIME

Sri Lanka is GMT+4.5 in summer and + 5.5 hrs in Winter. Australia : + 4 hrs. USA: – 11 hrs

TELEPHONE

Country code is 94, outgoing International code :00.

MOBILE TELEPHONY

A good telecoms infrastructure but expensive. Local network chips can be bought for about Rs. 2000 and pay-as-you-go cards are extremely cheap.

FAX

Available in most hotel receptions

INTERNET

There is a growing number of internet cafés and hotels with Internet facilities. Most city hotels also offer broadband connections in rooms and also offer wi-fi connectivity.

You can now access the Internet through your palmtop or laptop using 4G/LTE technology in most of Colombo and selected cities island wide. Adventure Lanka Tours can supply you with an HSDPA modem for high-speed access if required.

POST

Airmail to Europe takes about 7 days

ELECTRICITY

230-240 V AC, 50Hz. A voltage stabilizer is obtainable from a good electrical store.

MONEY

The local currency is Sri Lankan Rupees. Currency can be exchanged in Sri Lanka only so you would be best to bring sterling, US dollars or euros. The exchange rates are fairly flat across all the banks but the hotel rates are considerably poorer.

Money can be exchanged at authorised money exchanges at significantly better rates. Always be aware of the bank rate first for comparison. Please ask us for assistance if you need to change cash.

The banks are open Mon – Fri 8am – 3pm and closed at the weekends and Poya Days. The Seylan Bank Millennium Branch in Colombo 03 is open 24 hours a day. The main banks are Bank of Ceylon, HSBC, Peoples, Hatton national and Commercial, Sampath and Seylan.

Credit cards (Mastercard, Visa, American Express) are commonly accepted in hotels and restaurants and many shops, but do check first. Cash points are in most major towns and almost all are connected to the Cirrus, Maestro, Plus and Visa networks. You can withdraw upto Rs. 40,000 in most ATMS and some even allow larger withdrawals upto Rs. 100,000

GUIDES AND BOOKS

Guides are best hired at the sightseeing destination. They are very knowledgeable on their given subject. Most English speaking drivers will have a general knowledge as you travel about.