Kandy and Ella Tourist Train

The Railway Control Room said, a new luxury train will operate between the Kandy and Ella railway stations from today on weekends.

The train leaves the Kandy station at 7:40 a.m. and will arrive in Ella at 1:28 p.m.

The same train will then depart from Ella at 2:15 p.m. and arrive in Kandy at 8:05 p.m.

The Railway Control Room said, “reservations can be made from the Kandy and Ella stations.”

 

Sri Lanka Visa online vs on arrival

ETA and Visa for Sri Lanka

A brief introduction and answers to most common questions

Maintained by the Sri Lanka Destination Experts

Introduction

Just like many other tourist countries, Sri Lanka welcomes tourists but with some caution; after all it wants to screen to prevent people coming to work locally, beg on the streets etc.. And it has decided to impose a ‘levy’ on most tourists even for shorter trips. This is done by giving a ‘free’ 30 day tourist visa, but only giving that to anyone who has first paid for an ETA (Electronic Travel Authorisation). Which is a bit of a confusing name as the ETA is generally not compulsory before boarding a flight to travel to Lanka, and can also be obtained (with extra cost and waiting time) at the Visa on Arrival desks at Katunyaka/Mattala airports. But the odd airline check-in staff member or even office is not aware of this ‘not compulsory’ rule, hence if you have an ETA (also for the Immigration department staff, see later) it’s helpful to bring a print.

Requirements before boarding a flight to Sri Lanka

But before telling about on the ETA, let’s first make clear what is needed before flying. Most important is some flight confirmation out of Sri Lanka again. For most people this is a return ticket (going in and returning later with same airline to starting point), but if you have e.g. a one-way flight or a return Colombo-Male-Colombo before leaving the island back home you might get lots of trouble at check-in for the inbound flight if you can’t prove the planned leaving (the later flight from Colombo). Note that it’s not compulsory that the return flight is within 30 days – one can arrive on the island with a tourist ETA and tell ‘plan to extend for a longer visa before this expires’. See later in this article about extensions. Secondly at rare cases people are asked at Immigration to prove they have sufficient funds, e.g. by showing hotel bookings and/or a credit card, but if you don’t look like a tramp in rags generally this inspection won’t happen. And thirdly, also quite important but that holds for almost all travel further ashore: the passport should be valid for not less than 6 months from the date of arrival into the island. If needed get a new passport in time (and before getting the ETA as that is linked to a passport number!); regularly in the TA forum we have people even considering to board a plane to Sri Lanka without enough duration left on the passport. Do NOT even consider so, such a person would either be turned back before departing or after landing in Colombo; rules are rules!

 

The ETA thingy

Only a few nationalities do not require an ETA, as they give Srilankans visa-free entry; the list is a.o. Singaporeans and Maldivians. All other do require it. Fee for Internet application for SAARC nationalities is USD 20 and for all other nationalities USD 35; this is for the 30-day tourist ETA. Visa on Arrival fees are USD 25 and USD 40 respectively, hence USD 5 extra. Hence if one has a credit card, it’s really best to pre-apply over the Internet.

Next to the tourist ETA there exists a free ‘transit ETA’. This is valid for stays of maximum 48 hours, and does (contrary to some misleading texts on the ETA site and even in the generated e-mail confirming the ETA) allow entry into the country. Pre-applying is recommended, as it saves the visa-on-arrival queue and the small (but real!) risk that an Immigration employee tries to scam money out of tourists by asking them to pay (to his private pockets) for this free thing. Next to the maximum duration one must prove that it’s for transit, generally meaning a different onward destination than the airport one arrives from; so it’s not meant for short (weekend) stays from e.g. India or Male! Also of course it is a perfect fit for an 1-day or 2-day cruise ship visit.

Do note that for airside transits at Katunayake airport, from 1 flight to another, no visa is needed if and when your luggage gets transferred automatically. This means a single ticket (PNR) for both flights, and also a relatively fast transfer (1 hour is fine). If however you need to collect your bags and check-in again for next flight (longer time needed, 2.30-3 hours is safer) then you also need a transit ETA. Exception is when 2nd flight (transfer into) is Srilankan Airlines, their transfer desk can based on your luggage tag print a new one for next flight and have someone grab your bags from the belt and put on next flight; in this case again faster transfer possible and no ETA needed. It does not work the other way round (transfer from Srilankan flight and 2nd flight with another airline on separate PNR)!

Now a number of frequent questions about ETA and provisional answers to those.

 

Where and how to apply?

This is simple: the sole authorized site is http://www.eta.gov.lk/. Many other sites claim to deliver the ETA for you, are layouted similar to the official site, and pay Google etc. to end up higher on the search list than the official site. But invariably they ask (far) more than the legal USD 35 (20) for basically no extra value/service, and many of them even scam you worse than that by not at all delivering!

What if I applied at a scammers site?

Well first check whether in the end you got a valid ETA, as applying for a new one is technically impossible as long as you possess one (albeit a quite overpriced one) already. This can be done at the Check Status tab of the official site. If you have a valid ETA, you’re into a slippery process if you try to dispute the charges at your credit card company as during the process you cannot apply for a new one. If you don’t got an ETA at all, apply for a good one and use full force to dispute the charges at the credit card company.

How long before travel can I apply for the ETA and how long is it valid?

You can apply up to 90 days (changed again, used to be 6 months) before planned arrival in the island. After arrival it’s valid for 30 days; within that period you have a dual-entry visa (for e.g. a return trip to Male). However the period of validity of the ETA (–> being allowed to enter Sri Lanka) is still 6 months after issuing.

How long does the application process last, and can I check the outcome?

You should get a 2nd e-mail for approval after the first e-mail confirming your application. Normally this happens within 1 hour, around weekend and public holidays it might last longer. But e-mails on the Internet are not a 100% secure mechanism and spam filters with some people also create fun. Hence in case of waiting too long, use this same Check Status tab on the site and only try to contact Immigration Department if that gives no success after quite some time.

What to fill in for flight details and Lankan address?

Use the incoming flight into Colombo (in case of transfers, e.g. from Dubai or Singapore) so that Immigration can make a rough passenger volume planning. For Lankan address, use name and address of your first (planned) accommodation after arrival. It’s a minor detail, hence if no accommodation booking available yet you could even fill in an accommodation which you later might or might not use. Same, in a way, applies for the flight number and date – if that would happen to change later due to e.g. cancellations, ETA remains valid within its 6 months validity period.. Main reason for the flight details is capacity planning for Immigration department,

What if my flight changes, or I even need to postpone my trip with a much later arrival?

The flight details are only for capacity planning, hence no need to modify ETA if they change. As long as your arrival is within the validity period of the ETA (6 months after applying/granting) it’s fine. If you need to postpone the trip further, well you need to apply and pay for a new ETA. Changing ETA is not possible, for this kind of risks there is travel/cancellation insurance.

Is it better to use group ETA or individual ETA for a family or group?

The outcome of a group application is still individual ETAs. The main advantage of the group option is less data entry, as all passengers get the same dates and flight-accommodation details and also one pays a total fee by credit card (e.g. USD 105 for 3 Westerners).
Note that this part of the ETA site is quite peculiar: one starts with first group member, and after that should click the button ‘Add group member’ hidden at the bottom of the screen. Regularly people forget this, and end up with both a lower payment amount than planned and a smaller number of ETAs (often 1) than needed. Which itself is easy to correct, afterwards one applies for the missing ones – but better prevent it..

It is needed to bring any proof of ETA when arriving?

Not really. Immigration checks your passport number (in computer) and date of birth (doublecheck manually). With those two together they conclude that the passport matches the ETA in their systems. But it’s not a bad idea to bring a printout of your confirmation e-mail or status check screen just to be sure in case of any errors, and also for the odd badly informed airline check-in agent who tells that ETA is a prereq for travelling.

Part xxx of  the name was misspelled in the application.

Well as written above, the main checks are passport number and DoB. Hence minor differences between the name in the ETA and in the passport should be fine. Major differences, like a totally different name, might still cause trouble. If you go ahead despite a minor mismatch, bring a copy of the ETA confirmation also in case of any disputes.

I have an ETA but it does contain a major mistake, and I can not apply for a new one!

As written above, some technically valid ETA’s can cause trouble at the airport – e.g. with a proper passport number and wrong name or Date of Birth. And on one passport number-country combination (DoB does not seem to be part of this ‘key’, it’s checked manually) it is not possible to possess two active ETA’s at same time. E.g. one tourist accidentally got a free ETA because he specified his DoB as 2015, making it a free kiddies ETA. Theoretically one can e-mail the immigration department and get the wrong ETA cancelled, but this is quite a steep route as the department has the same bad reputation with e-mail as most Lankan businesses. Also the cancelling (with an e-mail link sent by Immigration) in at least one case meant a new one could not be applied for until a few days later.

Hence advice is to accept the situation. After landing proceed to the Visa on Arrival queue/desk at the start of the airport pier and explain the situation. They will accompany you to the office room at the back where your current ETA will then be cancelled, and then you go back with them to the desk and buy a new on-arrival ETA for USD 40/25 (hence USD 5 more than the online option). By the way, for this and other situations where Visa on Arrival is relevant: payment is in several foreign currencies next to credit card; at least GBP and EUR next to USD.
Or in some cases the current ETA is replaced by a new one for free, if you already paid the full fee and can convince staff that the error was caused by a website glitch; however discussions about this can add quite some extra time. For this approach (e.g. if only DoB is wrong) skip the Visa on Arrival queue and head straight to Immigration queue.

Talking about dates: just as with group visa, the ETA site is not of the highest web design quality to say the least. Below copied the analysis of an unfortunate traveller who did not doublecheck all the data entry and hence had to pay USD 40 extra for a 2nd ETA.

‘I then discovered that there is a trap that one can fall into if you are not watching carefully.

The birthdate field is filled in by one of those date selectors, not by entering the date. However, on the date selector one must select the year, month and date in this reverse order. However, when one selects the month, the screen still shows dates outside those within the particular month and if one’s birthdate is shown twice, the date in the different month will still be accepted and will in turn change the month. It is a classic case of poor web design.’

Note that immigration authorities at Colombo airport can be very demanding with respect to the accuracy of the passport number on your electronic travel authorisation obtained online. A single digit mistake is taken as a reason to force you to buy a new visa and refer you to some obscure government office in Colombo for refunds of your online payments. Be careful about the digit 1 (one) vs. the capital letter I and the digit 0 (zero) vs. the capital letter O. The number should exactly match the machine-readable section of your passport, and not anything else (for example, Russian passports have a non-alphanumeric number sign that should be completely excluded).

 

What to do for my kids?

They too need separate ETA, assuming they have their own passport. But for age 0-11 the ETA is free.

Is an ETA possible and needed for my nationality, xxx?

Well the list of nationalities exempt from ETA in a positive way (free 30-day stay) remains quite stable: Singapore, Maldives and Seychelles. The reason is ‘reciprocality’: Lankans get free on-arrival visum for these countries too.

The list of nationalities blocked from ETA in a negative way (not possible to apply for it through the standard methods) fluctuates a bit over time. Best is to simply check the eta.gov.lk site and start a dummy process selecting your nationality from the dropdown list; e.g. currently Nigeria when selecting tells ‘not possible, apply at embassy’. But even then there are some gray areas: e.g. for Afghanistan we have regularly heard that ETA can be applied online yes but not on-arrival; hence airlines will, contrary to all other nationalities, require an ETA if someone with such a passport checks in for a flight. ‘Check with your local travel agent where you book the ticket’ is safest in a case like that. And also if possible check the website of the Lankan embassy in your country – for e.g. Pakistan this might contain quite different information than the ETA website gives, and that is reason for extra caution!

During my trip I will enter Sri Lanka twice, what kind of ETA/visa is needed?

That depends on quite a few factors, like how long the stays are and how long the total trip lasts. There are two basic rules: 1) a tourist ETA converts into a dual-entry tourist visa valid for 30 days after first arrival, and 2) it’s technically impossible to have two ETAs on a passport at the same time. Also notice that one or both of the stays could be shorter than the 48 hours, allowing a transit visa. But if your first ETA does not cover the 2nd stay also, e.g. because the stays are more than 30 days apart: apply for the 2nd ETA after you leaving Sri Lanka the first time, this due to basic rule 2).

 

Extending the stay

For e.g. ‘hibernation’ tourists or longer-stay backpackers longer tourist trips than 30 days are possible. Either you buy a 3-month visa (including the ETA for the first 30 days) from a Lankan embassy/consulate before flying, or you land with a 30-day tourist visa and then extend by spending a half day in Colombo (Battaramulla, an eastern suburb – changed Aug-2016 from the former location in Borella).

All information about the process is at http://www.immigration.gov.lk/

Getting the extension from 1 to 3 months is relatively straightforward; you supply some extra snaps, pay the fees (which vary widely depending on your nationality) and fill in the form, and give some proof of funds to spend. Avoid locals in the waiting room offering help as generally they ask for (lots of) extra money for something you can very well do yourself. Just like at the rare checks at Immigration this “proof of funds” can consist of confirmed accommodation bookings, credit card, bank statement etc.

A report about getting this extension, in order to paint the scene: “But yes, waiting in season time can be looooong. You wait to admit your forms, after that for getting the bill, after for paying the bill, after for getting the passport back. And everybody is queue jumping without any rules. And you even don’t know where to wait and for what and why you have a queue number and nobody is respecting it. There is no navigation. Didn’t change with the new building 🙂 So take a book or fully charged phone, a small snack and be alert for queue jumpers (whack them!).”

Note that the trip to, and half day stay in, Colombo could be disturbing for some tourists. If they cannot use the alternate option of buying-before-flying then locally there are also some options who charge a lot more due to couriers to/from your residence place, but allow one to avoid this extra trip. See e.g. www.immigrationlanka.com .

Back to the extension. Getting another 3 months (hence a total stay of 6 months) after the first extension costs the same fee plus an extra levy of Rs 10,000 and requires some more screening by the Immigration staff to make sure you’re a genuine tourist and not involved in business, study, volunteering etc. Because for these visa applies the same as for the ETA tourist visa: no work, not even unpaid (volunteer) work, is allowed!

 

Overstaying

The odd tourist comes in the situation that they are tempted to stay anything between 31 and 35 days on a normal tourist ETA/visa of 30 days and then asks the forum members ‘how lenient is Emigration at airport, can I get away with it’? To discourage these who are either too pennywise/greedy to pay for the extension (see above how to do so) or too lazy to reserve the half day Colombo visit needed for it, below the advice to what can happen based on some forum experiences.

  • ‘Best’ were tourists that after long interrogations and discussions did not need to pay a fine, but some of them almost missed their flight due to the time needed for all of this.
  • However a major part of those not having to pay still got told that they are on a black list, and can’t visit Lanka on a normal ETA for the next five years (they would need to ask for a special visum).
  • But the majority of cases is people who simply got fined – for a higher amount than what they tried to save. To be exact: officially emigration on an  overstayed/expired tourist visa seems to be allowed for up to 7 days after expiry. But the cost is that of the missed visa (generally that for 90 days, there is no shorter period) plus at least a few thousand rupees. Pennywise poundfoolish as we say…

Other types of visas

Just to make clear that there are other visitor types for which one cannot use a normal tourist ETA but does need to preapply for a visa at a Lankan embassy/consulate before flying. E.g. ‘Business purpose visa’ (which also at times seems to apply to foreign people wanting to marry in Sri Lanka, and which does have a special kind of ETA) and visa for more permanent residency. Volunteering, as mentioned above, is also a risky category. Tourists happening to do a not preplanned half day stint teaching English at a local primary school generally would not get any problem doing this on the ETA. But those having a planned stint e.g. for one week/month at a school or animal shelter or even a religious institution definitely are safer off preapplying for a visa allowing this, most likely a business purpose visa. After all there is a risk of locals, validly or not, complaining to authorities that ‘the foreigner is simply doing a job where otherwise the place would have hired a local, hence he is stealing our jobs’.

And this applies far more for backpackers who take on the offer of some shady guesthouses/homestays, often foreigner-run,  for ‘free room and food IF you work 4 hours a day as staff member in e.g. housekeeping or cooking’. The guesthouse breaks the local laws and will be persecuted if detected (and locals, rightly so in this case, will complain quickly). And the tourist will be put in a dirty prison cell for at least a few days, then have to pay a serious fine (far more than what she hoped to save in accomodation coast) and expelled from Sri Lanka.

 

Just like all other top questions: please feel free to post any additional corrections/questions in the forum, or suggest text fixes to the DE’s by PM (who can also give out Google editing rights).

 

Sri Lanka Climate Notes and Advice

Areas, seasons, tourist climate and beach resort options

This article is meant to be kind of introduction’ towards the more technical information available. Do note that whilst not even the real meteorologists can give a detailed long-term forecast, a more popularly written and condensed story like this can claim even less accuracy! But hopefully it’s a help in planning holidays.

And hopefully it avoids people following a new trend by insisting on visiting a place out-of-season simply because the holiday dates are fixed and it’s on their bucket lists, e.g. Jaffna and Trincomalee in January or Matara-Galle area in June and November. One could call this with a tongue-in-cheek “forcetheseasonitis” ;-). In other words “nature, cultural festivals, wildlife etc. should adjust their seasons and dates to THEIR whims”. That does not sound in any way a useful form of holidaying to us. A better concept is adjusting, when-in-Rome-act-like-the Romans, go-with-the-tide etc. (and enjoy what is available during your travel times, even if it means changing your destination). In Sri Lanka there is except November always at least one area with good climate, so the advice is to take advantage of that…

Tourist regions

There are six main regions currently popular with tourists, and each has a more or less consistent climatological pattern; however with at times internal variations which are mentioned. They are described here with the temperature pattern, as this is not linked to the ‘monsoon seasons’ but only sometimes to the solar calendar. And also add a bit about humidity, though this is partly linked to the monsoon seasons.

 

Southwestern coast

From Mannar-Kalpitiya up north to Galle in the south. Temperature year-round between 27’ at night and 32’ daytime, with March-April being hottest and November-December coolest. High humidity except for the more dry far northern part of it (Puttalam-Kalpitiya).

 

South coast

Between Galle and Yala, and including the lowland plains (e.g. Udu Walawe park). Temperature year-round between 27’ at night and 32’ daytime, inland a few degrees hotter. Humidity and rainfall varies quite a bit – the western half is more under Southwest monsoon influence, whilst Tangalle-Hambantota-Yala area is amongst the most dry zones of the country but if it rains it’s from Northeast monsoon.

 

(North) East coast

From Jaffna in the far north through Trinco-Passekudah-Batticaloa-Arugam Bay to Yala. Temperature year-round between 27’ at night and 32’ daytime, with July-August being hottest and November-January coolest. High humidity except for the more dry far southern part of it (Pottuvil – Kumana – Yala).

 

Hill Country

Roughly the area south of  Kandy / Hatton / Nuwara Eliya up to the southern hill ridge Haputale-Ella-Badulla. Temperature and humidity fluctuate both with altitude and solar season; though Sri Lanka has a  tropical climate the ‘cold tropics’ have some kind of normal colder country spring-summer-fall pattern with associated vegetation. Temperatures in e.g. Haputale-Ella and Nawalapitiya-Hatton, around 600-1000 m altitude, can be 15-25’ nighttime-daytime in summer and 10-20’ same in winter. In Nuwara Eliya district, upto 2000 m altitude, it can be 10-20‘ in summer and 3’-15’ in winter with even the odd frosty night.

 

Kandy area

Including the Matale-Knuckles mountainous area. Temperature fluctuates with solar season. Temperatures can be 17-25’ nighttime-daytime in summer and 10-20’ same in winter.

 

Cultural Triangle

Defined here as roughly the area between Anuradhapura, Dambulla and Pollonaruwa; a huge lowland plain with the odd mountain popping up and a small mountain ridge from Matale-Dambulla northwards. Temperature year-round between 30’ at night and 35’ daytime. Humidity is high, rainfall varies quite a bit – the western half is more under Southwest monsoon influence, whilst Habarana and surroundings are more under Northeast monsoon influence.

Seasons

‘Popular speak’, and impacting the weather for tourists, there are four seasons plus two gray areas following the main monsoons. Monsoon is a wind pattern, deciding the waves/currents at sea and up til some extent the rains on the land.

  • Northeast monsoon, mid December-February, meaning bad weather on East coast and good dry weather in Southwest. After all now East Coast is the windward side and SW coast the leeward side. This monsoon wind tends to bring considerable rainfall, more stable and predictable in this aspect than the SW monsoon.
  • First intermonsoon, popularly defined as June and first half of July. Meteorology defines it a bit differently.
  • Southwest monsoon, second half of July through September. Good weather on East coast (leeward side); on Southwest it’s still nice sunny mornings, but cloud build-up at some point in the afternoon followed by brief heavy showers. Southwestern sea has heavy currents and waves, as it’s windward side.
  • Second intermonsoon, generally from late October until mid December.

Both intermonsoons have a similar pattern, on all coasts: quite unpredictable and mixed weather. Generally one experiences (blocks of) three types of days: nice sunny mornings with later clouds (Southwest monsoon like), all-cloudy days with intermittent showers and three-seasons-in-one-day: sun, clouds, brief shower, sun again and so on. However during First intermonsoon there is hardly impact on the East coast, April-October there generally is quite good weather.

The gray areas March-May and early October ‘have something of each adjacent season’ – they could be stable and sunny on the Southwest coast and could have unsettled times. In Colombo region April-May is the hottest and most humid time of the year.

In this description of the seasons mainly the coastal areas are mentioned. This is because Hill country, Kandy area and Cultural triangle have no consistent influence from them – and the first two also have a considerable solar calendar impact. Generally the eastern half of these inland areas shows more influence from the Northeast monsoon; e.g. Badulla and Eliya are infamous for flooding and landslides in December-January. But Sinharaja, the southwestern tip from the mountain massive, catches lots of rain in afternoons in all seasons except Northeast monsoon. Also Adam’s Peak (Sri Pada) is not for nothing mainly open from Northeast monsoon until close to the first intermonsoon, in the other seasons it can be too rainy there making the paths quite risky, plus a number of other reasons not to visit it then. But e.g. Knuckles and Ella are worst during that same Northeast monsoon. And Kandy and Eliya are known for quite mixed weather in both intermonsoon seasons but also adjacent months: the days can be all sunny, but if clouds in the lowlands reach the mountains they can start bursting and then it can rain like cats and dogs for many hours.

The proof of the pudding, and a kind of summary of the article, is a mapping between seasons and tourist regions; with ‘climate’ (the more sunny the better for tourists) and where relevant information about the sea.

Season                        

Region

Northeast monsoon

Mid Dec-February

First intermonsoon

June – mid July

Southwest monsoon

Mid July- September

Second intermonsoon

Late Oct – mid Dec

Southwestern coast Best season, good sea Mixed 2nd best season, rough sea Mixed
South coast Best season, good sea except Eastern half Mixed (mainly Western half) 2nd best season, rough sea Mixed
East coast Terrible weather Quite good weather & sea Best season, good sea Mixed
Hill country Mixed, depends on West-East Mixed Mixed, depends on West-East Mixed
Kandy area Mixed Mixed Mixed Mixed
Cultural Triangle Mixed Mixed Mixed Mixed

 

Beach climate and options

As beach lovers are more dependent on weather (and not only the sky but also the waters) than culture and nature fans, we zoom a bit more into the impact of these seasons for the beaches around the island. The four elements described for each beach area are:

A] Season for snorkel and dive (if any). This of course depends on the weather but also on there being a reef near the shore at all.

B] Season for surfing (if any). This depends on the specific waves in that area: whether it forms a ‘surf break’ or not.

C] Season for open sea swim.

This is either year round (if there is a protective reef close to the beach) or limited to the few months a year that there is no strong sea wind on this side of the island.

D] Bar/restaurant scene. This of course has nothing to do with the climate, but happens to be the sole other factor (well next to distance from an airport…) for tourists deciding where to stay. Hence for convenience we add it. Levels are:

* ‘none’ (eat halfboard in your accommodation or the ones nextdoor, or dare to eat local street food in the rice & curry shops – with its hygiene and spice problems)

* ‘limited’ (a few tourist-quality restaurants and bars in the area, but often quite scattered and sometimes needing tuktuk or bus)

* ‘good’ (advice is to book BB basis and eat out, at walking distance, every day)

We cover the island from top counterclockwise, as SW beaches are most popular. If a beach/village is not mentioned, assume NO bars/restaurants and interpolate the other elements from the adjoining resort areas.

Snorkel/dive season Surf season Sea swim season Bars

/Restaurants

Jaffna peninsula Late March to September None (?) Late March to September Limited (main city)
Kalpitiya Xmas to March April-Oct Kitesurf (no wavesurf) Xmas to March None
Negombo/Waikkal None (some offshore options Xmas-April) None Xmas to March Good
Mount Lavinia (Colombo) None (some offshore options Xmas-April) None Xmas to March Good
Wadduwa/Kalutara None (some offshore options Xmas-April) None Xmas to March Limited
Beruwala/Bentota (excluding Induruwa) None (some offshore options Xmas-April) Very limited Dec-April Xmas to March Good
Hikkaduwa Xmas to March (in west monsoon season the odd morning with good visibility) November to April Year round Good
Unawatuna-Thalpe Xmas to March (in west monsoon season the odd morning with good visibility) November to April Year round Good
Weligama-Mirissa Xmas to March (in west monsoon season the odd morning with good visibility) November to April. Outside of that beginners surf in one bay. Year round Good
Tangalle Xmas to March None Xmas to March Good
Arugam Bay Not really (April-Sept some offshore options) April-Oct Not really Good
Batticaloa – Passekudah/

Kalkudah – Vakarai

Late April to September None Late April to Sept Limited
Trincomalee area Late April to September None Late April to Sept Limited

 

Sri Lankan Friendliness and Politeness in Abundance

Sri Lankan Friendliness and Politeness in Abundance

Sri Lankans in general are outstanding in the friendliness and are so polite. Busy tourist centres will always be what they are, so venture a little off the beaten track and discover real Lankans.  As a seasoned traveller you will naturally be somewhat cautious  when being bombarded by street sellers offering to be your friend and sell you the earth whilst travelling. However, in Sri Lanka, most people that you meet outside of the “tourist scene”  will be genuinely interested in you and your life. Where are you from, are you married, how many kids do you have etc – they really want to be friendly. You will have a more enriched experience if you engage in some initially “guarded” conversation. You can always become more open and ask some questions yourself when you develop a “good feeling” and trust.

For sure there are scam merchants just like anywhere else trying to sell you something, they probably do need the money for their families. However showing the same interest back will open you up to some incredible experiences and allow you to learn even more about this wonderful place, it’s culture and it’s people.

Pack your camera, jump on a plane and let the adventures begin!

Sri Lankan Helpful Drivers

Sri Lankan Helpful Drivers

Many drivers will offer to accompany travellers the whole trip if possible – why not – they have a guaranteed customer for a week.

Whilst there is nothing wrong with that, make sure you go where you want to go. Some drivers will be encouraging you to make some extra stops along the way. If you really want to delay your journey, then do so on your terms, it is very tempting to visit the spice garden, herbal remedies, sculptures, clothes shops, tea rooms and Ayurveda treatments.

If you are offered unplanned stops, you can always tell your driver you’ve already visited one – thank you.

Sri Lanka Up Country Ella Worlds End

Up Country Ella & Worlds End

The hilltop town of Ella makes for a great base to explore the surrounding hill country. It is definitely Sri Lanka’s most tourist-friendly mountain towns. The high street is filled with trendy backpacker bars, restaurants and guesthouses all surrounded by awesome scenery.

The 3 most popular attractions – Nine Arch Bridge, Ella Rock and Mini Adam’s Peak – will involve a fair bit of treking so good footwear is recommended – however many tourists seem to manage with flip flops or sanleds. Take one of our knowledgeable guides and enjoy the experience rather than being frustrated by the “directions” of a helpful local, whos knowledge may be less than their willingness to please you.

If you fancy a full day trek – and it is a trek – then you should consider “The Worlds End”

Sri Lanka Beach Party Time

Beach Party Time

The party scene is pretty much centered on the coastal towns of Arugam Bay during the summer and Hikkaduwa in the winter. The big cities like Colombo have backpacker-style parties, this a more reasonable party scene compared to excesses in Asia – so you will not find Full Moon style parties here. You will enjoy a much more chilled atmosphere where people focus on enjoy rather than drunken stupor.

Sri Lanka On Safari

Sri Lanka On Safari

Elephant and safari at Yala National Park in Sri Lanka
photo credit: jcarillet via iStock
Sri Lanka is one of the best places to go on safari outside of Africa and there are numerous national parks to choose from. It’s worth doing a bit of research to decide which one is right for you and plan your trip accordingly. Love elephants? Then make it Udawalawe National Park. Want to bird watch? Then visit Bundala National Park. A bit of everything? Then go to Yala – the country’s most famous national park, due to its dense leopard population.

Yala is best done as a one dya tour. this will increase your chances of spotting the park’s famously elusive leopards and gives a much more leisurely experience to enjoy all that this wonderful national park has to offer.

Sri Lanka Appropriate Dress

Sri Lanka Appropriate Dress

Visits to temples should be appreciated for what they are. Sensible clothing covering upper arms and legs are obvious. Avoid dark colours – white is perfect.

Sri Lanka has so many Buddhist and Hindu temples that can be visited by visitors. Please follow the local customs to show respect, including not standing with your back to Buddha, not wearing any footwear inside the grounds, remember to cover your shoulders and knees. During Full Moon Poya Holidays, people dress entirely in white.

Beach wear is international, remember to cover up appropriately when leaving the beach to go for a snack or shopping.

Evenings are best suited for covering legs and arms – protect you from the bugs!

Sri Lanka cash or card

sri lanka money

Sri Lanka – Cash or card?

In SriLanka make sure you have enough paper money for small items such as Tuk Tuk’s, train, bus fares, small eats – the local favorite.

Small hotels will appreciate US Dollars. Bigger hotels accept cash or card.

Money changers are in every high street. Shop around for the best deal.

You can get started with some local money on arrival at the airport, after passing through customs and getting your baggage. Visit each booth and get the best deal!

One of the topics tourists to Sri Lanka often face is the local money situation, which might differ from what one is used to in other tourist countries. Hence a number of topics to explain here.

 

1] In what currency to pay?

Simple answer: rupee or LKR. The USD is often used to ‘fix’ prices in as the rupee rate tends to slip over time, but in 99 out of 100 cases  it is best to pay in rupee even if the price was in USD.

 

 2] How to obtain rupees?

Here is a simple part and a more complex part. The simple one: don’t obtain (buy) LKR abroad. In most cases the rate is horribly bad, and the official limit for importing is a mere LKR 5,000. And another simple rule: whoever tells you that cash USD is easier to bring and exchange than e.g. EUR or GBP or Yen should immediately be sent to the North Pole ;-), such a person is not worth asking travel advice. Any ‘strong’ currency is okay, see also 5].

And the more complex question: through cash or through ATM (forget Traveller cheques, a thing of the past almost everywhere). This boils down to whichever is cheapest for you. But first some technical stuff: popular banks supporting foreign cards (Maestro logo) are Sampath, Commercial Bank, Hatton National Bank and in big cities HSBC and Standard Chartered. And do inform your own bank you are travelling in Sri Lanka, some block their cards standard for a region like this due to fraud risk!

Let’s take a ‘snapshot’ example from real life. This should allow you adapting to your own situation. Use   http://www.sampath.lk/en/exchange-rates or http://www.combank.net/newweb/en/rates-tariffs/exchange-rates to see the current cash rate, for buying rupee from euro this is 152 (and for buying euros it’s 159). Now get the ‘interbank’ rate at a site like http://www.xe.com/ or http://www.oanda.com/, at same date this is 157. And add the knowledge that with ATM withdrawals one usually (depends on the bank!) gets 1% less than the interbank rate, so that would be 155 in this case. (Also beware, in some cases the ATM asks whether you want to be debited in rupees or in your card currency like GBP/Euro/Dollar; in almost all cases choose rupees, to avoid a bad exchange rate!) Now calculate as follows:

  • A withdrawal of eur 200 would deliver you 31,000 LKR. Subtract from this the fee your own bank charges per withdrawal, e.g. 2 euro (on the cheap side); result is around 30,700 LKR
  • Same euro 200 brought cash delivers you 30,400 LKR

So for this specific case the answer for the question ‘which is cheapest for you’ is the bank. With other bank fees or better cash rates (e.g. money changers), and also for smaller withdrawals assuming the fee is per withdrawal,  the opposite result could follow. Also credit cards at ATM could have different fees, check with your bank or card issuer. Withdrawals used to be charged solely by our own bank, but now just like ATMs in e.g. petrol stations or malls in some Western countries the odd (to be shamed!) Lankan  bank starts adding its own fees too. HNB (Rs 200 per transaction), Seylan Bank (again 200, plus a very monkey-inspired user interface with 8 confusing buttons to choose from) and Commercial Bank, with even Rs 300 per transaction, hence have become last choice for travellers – solely use when no other (and more affordable) ATMs nearby 🙁

A related question in case of the choice for ATM is the maximum allowed withdrawal amount. Just like the cost it’s determined both by your home bank and by the Lankan banks. Generally the allowed amount is at least Rs 40,000 or sometimes 60,000; newer ATM’s in Colombo often allow Rs 80,000 or more but for most foreign bank accounts that’s above the cap per transaction, ‘imposed to limit the risks of travellers in case of theft’. The cap per transaction might be lower than the cap per day, hence in some cases two withdrawals in a row are allowed!

 

3] Where to change cash?

If your trade-off would be cash, still there is a choice to be made: where to change. The answer is again ‘which is most convenient for you’:

  • Hotels offer a great convenient service, BUT tend to charge their extra cost by giving quite a low rate. Hence only when the cost (or time) for you for going to an alternate place outweighs this loss it makes sense, normally just avoid and go to bank or changer.
  • Banks offer a fair rate; this includes the airport banks, these are open 24h and 365 days and unlike many other countries offer same rate as banks in town.
  • Licensed money changers (often jewelry shops) offer a slightly better rate than banks. But it varies with your notes (large notes a better rate, and slightly damaged notes not accepted). Also one needs to be more cautious here for rogue staff, e.g. inserting smaller rupee notes into a stack of large ones. Hence double count all, and make sure you get an official exchange slip.

Do not easily consider paying in a restaurant/shop with credit card, cash is the way to go; and if one uses card never loose sight of it as cloning is a serious risk.Also beware that technically shops/outlets are allowed to add a surcharge of 2-3% on any payment by foreign credit card; ask ahead whether they do so before choosing cc over cash!

 

Not so much for changing (except at money changers) but for any change you get during paying:  beware rupee notes with something written on them. Officially per 2018 these are totally worthless, read here

 

http://www.economynext.com/Sri_Lanka_to_effectively_demonetize__willfully_mutilated__currency-3-8149.html

 

4] What to do with leftover LKR?

As long as you can produce an ATM slip, bank exchange slip or licensed money changer slip for minimally the amount you have, you can re-exchange into e.g. USD or EUR. This happens at banks in the Departure zone of the airport.

 

5] Can notes of currency XYZ  be exchanged?

Well a good indication for the question whether a market exists or not are the bank sites, e.g. the link given under 2]. If a currency is not listed ask in the TA forum or avoid risk by first swapping (at a cost!) to e.g. USD or GBP.

 

6] Are there import restrictions for cash?Well whether it’s wise safetywise to carry lots of cash instead of ATM cards is a personal choice. But technically one can carry upto USD 15,000 per person, or equivalent in other currency, without needing to declare at Customs at ariport. Higher amounts are allowed too but one must declare (and probably also give a reason for the planned expenses.)

 

7] What to do for Indian tourists?

Here is kind of special situation (probably similar for other South Asian currencies like Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Maldives though more research about the money changer market is needed).

Firstly, INR can since recent changes be exported from India upto INR 25,000. Still, due to Indian regulations also Lankan banks, and by implication all change outlets at the airport, are not allowed to change INR. Also the official Lankan Customs rules, again derived from the currency owning banks rules, forbid importing Indian and Pakistani rupees.

However, Lankan licensed money changers (also the few of them that are checked regularly on complying with the license 🙂 _are_ allowed to change INR, and generally give a decent rate too.

So for Indian (and other South Asian) tourists the advice is twofold.

A] Always bring a smallish amount of e.g. USD 50 to cash at the airport for the first day (as INR can’t be changed inside the airport)

B] For the subsequent part of the trip make the same ATM-versus-cash tradeoff as other tourists, it’s explained in 2]. It is a bit complicated by the fact that the rate (at changers) is not easy to find on the Internet, but a TA forum inquiry might help.

As all TA material, this Article / Top Question is ‘crowdsourced’ and open to alterations by all who get into the list of allowed gmail accounts; preferably after first discussing these in the Sri Lanka forum.