Sri Lanka is an adventurous island that’s just ripe for exploring. One the most laid back South Asian nations, this island is filled with goodies: stunning beaches, jungles teeming with gorgeous wildlife, and the train journeys, man! The food is pretty damn on-point too (get yourself a kottu).

There is, as with any country, another side to the story: the weather can be unpredictable, monsoon season can wash out roads, swimming and surfing can be unsafe, and remnants of Sri Lanka’s bloody civil war still on occasion rear their ugly head.

Naturally, there’s a lot to consider with a country that has emerged from such a devasting conflict in the last decade. I created this guide to staying safe in Sri Lanka! It always pays to know the beast and, truthfully, Sri Lanka is hardly one – it’s chill.

This guide will serve as a light unpack of the political situation in Sri Lanka and will be providing in-depth tips for everyone – from families to solo female travellers – in this absolute jewel of a country. Let’s see how Sri Lanka is safe to travel to right now!

Are you ready to visit Sri Lanka? Read on to learn how to stay safe!

How Safe is Sri Lanka? (Our take.)

Sri Lanka is the perfect introduction to the South Asian chaotic goodness. Things are a lot more chill than its neighbours in India and the chaos is suitably dialled down.

Not only that, there are a ton of protected wildlife areas and mind-blowing mountains, more than 1300 kilometres of coastline and tropical beaches, a buzzing tourism and backpacker scene, and a wealth of historic and religious sites to explore.

Of course, there are some concerns surrounding the safety when backpacking Sri Lanka – specifically with the events of 2019 (coming up soon). That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go, however: this country is still fantastic and the people are beautiful.

There are still intricacies and nuances: this is still South Asia. Buses will knock you flat (and probably dead) if you don’t watch out.

The manner and nature of the culture and people will take some adjustment for newbies, and you may occasionally find yourself paying more than you should have for that tea and roti.

But, to be completely honest, that’s just part and parcel of travelling in this region of the world. It’s always a good idea to brush up on how to travel safely before you visit so you can avoid scams as much as possible.

Though there are places throughout the country that are safer to visit, Sri Lanka is still a popular tourist destination and has been attracting record numbers of tourists year on year. It’s beautiful and, though not ideal, Sri Lanka is still a safe country to travel to. So let’s get into the details of this tropical island nation…

There is no such thing as a perfect safety guide, and this article is no different. The question of “Is Sri Lanka Safe?” will ALWAYS have a different answer depending on the parties involved. But this article is written for savvy travellers from the perspective of savvy travellers.

The information present in this safety guide was accurate at the time of writing, however, the world is a changeable place, now more than ever. Between the pandemic, ever-worsening cultural division, and a click-hungry media, it can be hard to maintain what is truth and what is sensationalism.

Here, you will find safety knowledge and travel advice for travelling Sri Lanka. It won’t be down to the wire cutting edge info on the most current events, but it is layered in the expertise of veteran travellers. If you use this guide, do your own research, and practise common sense, you will have a safe trip to Sri Lanka.

If you see any outdated information in this guide, I would really appreciate it if you could reach out in the comments below. I strive to provide the most relevant travel information on the web and always appreciate input from our readers (nicely, please!). Otherwise, thanks for your ear and stay safe!

It’s a wild world out there. But it’s pretty damn special too. 🙂

Is Sri Lanka Safe to Visit Right Now?

A man visiting Sri Lanka safely
He seems safe!

Sri Lanka was first visited by the Chinese Buddhist monk Fa-Hien in the 1410s. The country has been attracting people ever since, from the Portuguese to the Dutch to the British, all of which colonised it due to its prosperous environment for agriculture and left their traces (and scars) within the country.

Sri Lanka is marked by an ethnic and cultural divide between the Tamils mostly populating the north of the country and the Sinhalese people (Sinhala). As of 2019, Sri Lanka boasts a population of more than 21,300,000 with the Sinhalese making up almost 75% of this number

Tourism in Sri Lanka began several decades back but the three-decade-long Sri Lankan civil war interfered with this growth. Tourism bolstered and the number began to sharply increase upon the culmination of the war in 2009. But then the terrorist attack of April 2019 (the Easter bombings) occurred and this threw another fairly-sized pothole in the road of Sri Lanka’s growth.

After the attacks, tourism saw a sharp decline which is now, thankfully, beginning to repair. This is further complemented by the fact that, as of yet, the attacks have been an isolated incident.

Though there are some levels of petty crime, the same as anywhere, tourism is an extremely valuable industry for Sri Lanka both at an economic level and at the level of locals living in Sri Lanka. Travellers are treated well and Sri Lanka is a safe place to visit for tourists.

Although the terrorist attacks did target tourist locations (including hotels), they were not an attack against tourists. They were an attack against Sri Lanka’s forefront industry and, so far, nothing similar has been repeated.

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The Knuckles Mountain Range - one of the more dangerous places in Sri Lanka
Knuckles Mountain Range, Sri Lanka
Photo: Eleleleven (Flickr)

Right now, Sri Lanka is safe to visit.

With the end of Sri Lanka’s Civil War in 2009, the country has been a lot calmer and a lot more open to tourism. The terrorist attacks of 2019 did alter things slightly, and because of this the U.S. travel advisory has put Sri Lanka at a Level 3 risk, but this is more to do with fuel and medicine shortages instead of safety.

The British and Australian governments have also issued a Level 3 risk, saying to avoid travel unless necessary because of protests and demonstrations. It’s a good idea to keep an eye on local news before you travel to see where upcoming demonstrations are going to take place to avoid them.

The attacks of 2019 have resulted in the local authorities stepping up and increasing security, however. Presence is felt at airports, and hotels, an abundance of checkpoints on roads, and increased presence at any large gatherings of people (including religious festivals).

Visitors may notice an increased military presence in the north of the island nation. It’s in this area in particular where war damage was more extreme; minefields still pose a minor risk but clearing these leftovers is an active task. You’re pretty unlikely to go wandering into any stray mines; chances are there’ll be a sign, or more likely a security officer, telling you to turn around.

Apart from the political and social upheaval and some petty street crime such as pickpocketing and scammers, nature is something worth considering before you enter Sri Lanka.

The monsoon rains (there are two monsoon seasons) do sometimes cause flooding in areas of the country and localised landslides can cause temporary road closures, so it’s a good idea to check the weather before visiting.

On a final note, visiting Sri Lanka as a tourist is a very safe affair. It has what could be called ‘The South Asia Effect’, though to a much lesser degree than in India. You’re very unlikely to be physically harmed or assaulted but people will try and scrape a little bit of extra cash out of you if the opportunity arises.

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Safest Places in Sri Lanka

If you’re planning a trip to Sri Lanka and you’re looking for an area that’s super safe, you’ll find some places are better than others. I’ve listed the best (and safest) down below.

Nuwara Eliya

This is the capital of the tea trade in Sri Lanka and is nestled in the cloudy mountain tops. It’s a small town, famously got to by train from Kandy, but it’s also quaint and charming. The way of life here is pretty relaxed and the climate is more temperate because it’s so high up.

The mountains are usually more meditative and tranquil than other parts of Sri Lanka. This is a great place to head for yoga retreats in Sri Lanka or other forms of spiritual retreats if you feel like you need to get your head out of the city.

Nuwara Eliya

Nuwara Eliya

Perhaps best area to stay in Sri Lanka for tourists. Located in the heart of the tea plantations, Nuwara Eliya has a temperate climate and is surrounded by colonial buildings and plantations, so you’re never far from the action.

Galle

This is a colonial town on the West coast of Sri Lanka, just south of Colombo. It’s a town full of unique history and culture.

The west coast is the best place to visit for beaches because here the Indian ocean is good for swimming and surfing in Sri Lanka, so you’ll find plenty around the city of Galle. There are also some interesting museums, which means it’s a good place to go to as a family.

Galle

Galle

If you’re looking for a more historic town with some fantastic beaches, you should stay in the colonial town of Galle.

Sigiriya

Sri Lanka is well known for its history and wildlife parks, and the town of Sigiriya is one of the safest places to see it. It’s quite a touristy area, and you’ll see many jeeps lined up to take you on safaris and to the famous Sigiriya Rock, which is one of the top places to visit in Sri Lanka.

Be careful when taking a jeep though, as often they get too close to the elephants and these animals are wild and likely to charge if they feel threatened. Other than that, there aren’t any other safety concerns to worry about here.

Sigiriya

Sigiriya

Sigiriya is one of the most iconic places to visit in Sri Lanka and is where you will be able to safely see wildlife and climb the historic Sigiriya Rock.

Places to Avoid in Sri Lanka

It’s always hard to suggest places to avoid, as part of travelling is seeing a country for its real self. However, there are some crowded areas in Sri Lanka that you really shouldn’t visit.

Most of the violent crime happens in the northern and eastern provinces of Sri Lanka. This area is still quite primitive as this is where the Tamil Tigers attacked during the civil war. Today, there are still marked and unmarked minefields in the north and there are high-security zones in Jaffna, Kankesanthurai harbour and Palaly airport.

If you’re planning to visit the north of Sri Lanka, I would exercise extreme caution.

18 Top Safety Tips for Traveling to Sri Lanka

A woman enjoying a safe stray dog in Sri Lanka
Tip 1 – Stay away from stray animals. Tip 2 – Some rules are made to be broken.
Photo: @themanwiththetinyguitar

Verdant tea plantations, spectacular train rides through cloud-soaked hills, searching for relics of Buddha, or carving waves on some beautiful beaches – there are plenty of reasons to head to Sri Lanka for your travels.

Travelling safely in Sri Lanka is as much about not doing anything (too) stupid (still gotta have some fun) as it is about simply being aware – both of yourself and surroundings as well as the cultural nuances of the island. Most of this is basic knowledge for safe travels.

Even though Sri Lanka is safe, you can always be safer! To keep yourself even safer, here are some wonderful personal safety travel tips to bear in mind on your trip to Sri Lanka…

  1. Keep away from demonstrations or political gatherings – You know how these things can turn anywhere in the world.
  2. Don’t use any shoddy-looking ATMs in Sri Lanka – There are plenty of nice ones inside booths with air-con and accompanying jingles.
  3. Look after your valuables at your accommodation – Thefts can happen even within accommodation premises. Keep your goods locked up! Most hostels in Sri Lanka offer a locker, so make sure to use it.
  4. Same-sex relations are kind of illegal – Yeah, semi-illegal (sort of). Tourists are generally given a free pass, however, just don’t be flaunting it too much; keep it low-key.
  5. Don’t go sunbathing topless or nude – There are places you’ll get away with it but it’s mega-disrespectful and not worth the extra attention.
  6. Don’t stray off paths when hiking – Generally, it’s a bad idea, but it’s dependent on your area. The weather can turn quickly in Sri Lanka’s hill country and the Knuckles Mountain Range is not to be trifled with.
  7. Be warned that drugs are illegal – That doesn’t mean they aren’t a known secret or common, however.
  8. Be culturally sensitive – Having your good bits hanging out, being a drunken knob in public, or just generally rude – it’s not cool. Sri Lankan’s are reserved people; just because no one says that your offending them, doesn’t mean you aren’t.
  9. Watch out for the ganja – On that note, the most commonly bought ganja (referred to as KG) is heavily messed with (chemicals and the like) and will be unkind to your body in the medium to long-term.
  10. Cover up Buddhist tattoos and leave t-shirts with Buddhist iconography at home – This one avoidable offence by tourists that you aren’t given a get-out-of-jail-free card on. No selfies with your back to Buddha either and covering up, knees and shoulders in particular, at religious sites is expected.
  11. Stray dogs are the norm – Generally, Southern Asia rules apply, however: all bark, no bite. Some just need a little love.
  12. Avoid being bitten by mosquitoes – Dengue fever is legitimately a concern.
  13. Take care when swimming in Sri Lanka – Riptides and the swell can get big; people have drowned.
  14. Don’t walk around looking rich – Looking like a target is just silly. Having a security money belt is perfect for concealing cash on you.
  15. Be aware of the weather – Rains can cause flooding which may mess with your itinerary in Sri Lanka.
  16. Watch out for nature! – Full disclosure: there are wild elephants, crocodiles, and other fantastic beasts. Don’t do anything monumentally stupid for the photo-op.
  17. Don’t ride the elephants – If an elephant has chains on its feet and a hawker asking for money to ride it, it’s an absolute disgrace and not a respectable tourist attraction. Be a responsible tourist and do not support elephant abuse in the tourism industry. Do not be part of the problem.
  18. Learn some lingo – A lot of people speak in English, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make an effort with a few Sinhalese phrases. Hari hari, owoo lak nehe (ok ok, no problem) always goes over well.

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Is Sri Lanka safe to travel alone?

A man travelling alone in Sri Lanka
Feel free to wander safely in Sri Lanka.
Photo: @themanwiththetinyguitar

Solo travel is the best. You get to do you, there’s no one to stop you doing you, and chances are you’ll have some pretty dope adventures too! Sri Lanka is no different.

With so much to see and do in Sri Lanka from its tropical beaches and glorious mountains to its friendly people and mouth-watering kottu, it’s an awesome place to travel alone. Solo travel is common in Sri Lanka and a perfect warm-up for the rest of South Asia.

The backpacking route in Sri Lanka is well-hoofed and you’ll easily be able to escape your measly problems and see the country in your own time and on your own terms. Just make sure that you keep these travel tips for Sri Lanka in mind and, most of all, allow yourself ample time to enjoy the country. Don’t rush – travel slow and travel cheap

Here are some excellent travel tips for travelling alone in Sri Lanka to help you out Also, don’t forget to call your mum! She worries, ya know?

  • Travel on public transport. It’s cheap and on the right rides, you’ll be meeting plenty of other solo backpackers. Psst – the Kandy to Ella train– is super famous, super beautiful, and always has some travellers on it.
  • Find yourself a good hostel in Sri Lanka. There are heaps and generally, you’ll find a good crowd too.
  • Ask a local about their insider knowledge. No one is better than a local for tips on what areas are sweet to check out, what areas might be better avoided, and what’s good to do and see (and eat). Always ask ask ask!
  • Wearing clothes that make you look touristy is silly. Flash, top-brand backpacking gear just makes it obvious and a lack of outfit in a temple is a straight-up no-no.
  • Be discreet with flashy things like your phone. As a solo traveller, you’re more likely to be going around with your eyes on your phone, looking at maps and recommendations of things to do; this means you’ll be more vulnerable and also just prone to missing out on the cool things happening around you.
  • Be prepared to get hounded a bit more by touts and tuk-tuk drivers. Travelling alone in Sri Lanka hauling your bag just makes it a given. Stay patient, stick some travel headphones in, and learn how to politely say no in the local lingo. (‘Nehe, machan’ works – ‘No, friend’.)
  • Don’t get so messy you don’t know what’s up. There is no shortage of parties in Sri Lanka but keep your wits about you.
  • Keep track of your money, cards, passport, and everything. Organisation and smart placement is the key to hiding your money (i.e. don’t keep everything in one place).
  • Know your emergency numbers. It’s 118/119 for police and emergency, 110 for the ambulance or firies, and 011-2421052 for the tourist police. Save ’em!
  • Keep people up to date with what you’re getting up to.
  • That includes the people back home!
  • Know your limits! If you’re hiking, swimming, surfing, or exploring, don’t push yourself. Traveller burn-out is real and a real pain in the ass so be good to yourself.
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Is Sri Lanka safe for solo female travelers?

A female traveller in Sri Lanka
For the most part, yes, but…
Photo: @furysuri

Sri Lanka may not have a perfect reputation in the world for solo and female travellers to the country, but that doesn’t mean that this beautiful country shouldn’t be on your bucket list. There’s nothing here that means you should miss out on if you’re thinking about it.

Sri Lanka is a stunning gem of an island nation. Women who travel alone shouldn’t avoid it; in fact, one quick Google will show you that there are so many women who have successfully travelled solo around the country.

Of course, there are going to be things about travelling to Sri Lanka as a female that jar you and potentially scare you. It’s South Asia Lite – expect some uncomfortable stares, strange moments, and even completely inappropriate propositions.

There is the potential for worse harassment but staying safe in Sri Lanka as a female is extremely viable provided you stay smart and perceptive.

When travelling anywhere in the world as a woman, there are always extra variables to consider. Travelling Sri Lanka as a woman is no different. Keeping that in mind, here are some tips for female tourists in Sri Lanka. To stress one last time, however, in the grander scheme of things, Sri Lanks is quite safe for women.

  • The more you cover-up, the better. While there are liberal attitudes in the capital Colombo, and plenty more areas on Sri Lanka’s tourist beaches accustomed to Western swimwear, ultimately it is still a very conservative country. The more skin you show, the more you can expect uncomfortable stares.
  • On the touristy areas of the South Coast and also particularly in Arugam Bay, swim in what you’re comfortable with. However, still apply discretion, especially outside these areas or even walking in town. For example, and interestingly, Arugam Bay is a heavily Muslim area, so even in these places, you can expect an air of some judgement from some people.
  • Get used to people asking, “Are you married?” It will happen a lot if you’re travelling by yourself around Sri Lanka as a female. How you want to answer is your call but it’s a common question.
  • If you’re travelling with a man, sometimes locals will default to him for executive decisions. Yes, it sucks but you can’t rewrite the culture.
  • Be careful on packed buses and trains as it is a prime location for groping (though not necessarily common).
  • Don’t travel around by yourself at night on public transport and don’t try and walk around late at night by yourself. Similarly, don’t give too much trust to the tuk-tuk drivers.
  • Going on a tour is definitely a good idea to see Sri Lanka without having to worry about anything. You can visit Sri Lanka safely and see some amazing stuff too! Do your research though: there have been reports of attacks by tour guides.
  • Don’t leave your drinks unattended; age-old wisdom.
  • Always say “no” when you feel uncomfortable. No ambiguity – just straight to the point. If you’re feeling unsafe, find another traveller, a local lady, or just start screaming at the top of your lungs.
  • Join other travel groups online for female travellers or team up with other travellers (girls or otherwise) that you meet on the road.
  • Prepare your sanitary products and contraception before you travel to Sri Lanka; they’re around but sometimes way harder to find than they should be.
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More on Safety in Sri Lanka 

I’ve covered the main safety concerns already, but there are a few more things to know. Read on for more detailed information on how to have a safe trip to Sri Lanka. 

Is Sri Lanka safe to travel for families?

Is Sri Lanka safe to travel for families
Family values are high in Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka offers up a pretty hefty portion of adventure and excitement for families. Sri Lanka is not only safe to travel for families but it’s a wonderful destination with a lot for the kids to enjoy.

There are tonnes of beaches that are great for the kids. You’ll find some on the west coast and heaps on the south coast. Just be very watchful of your kids in the waves; standard beach rules apply.

The train journeys, especially Kandy to Ella, are a top recommendation for families travelling with kids in Sri Lanka. Not only is it a breath-taking ride, but it’s teeming with local life and unlike any experience, they would have had before.

Sri Lanka, in general, is a pretty laid back country when it comes to children. Locals here have an easygoing affinity with children and the respect for family values runs high. Expect some wonderful moments full of whimsy!

Obviously, you shouldn’t go expecting there to be facilities set up for children everywhere you go; that goes as much for changing rooms as it does for child-sized meals. You’ll also need to be careful with food as Sri Lankans love their spicy. Mid to high-end restaurants or restaurants in Sri Lanka’s tourist spots will be more prepared for Western family dining.

Hotels and guesthouses usually come equipped with family-ready rooms, but don’t always go expecting stuff like kids clubs or even cots.

Also, make sure that everyone is up to date with their vaccines and that everybody stays covered up against mosquitoes. Similarly, the ‘love the stray pooches’ rule doesn’t strictly apply to children, sadly. Diseases are still a thing.

It’s not really a good idea to go with a pram or stroller since the pavements aren’t always up to scratch in Sri Lanka; it’s much better to take a sling or carrier with you for convenience more than anything else.

All in all Sri Lanka is a lovely place to go with your family – and it’s going to be a memorable adventure. Oh, but one more thing, keep dem hands clean!

Is it safe to drive in Sri Lanka?

Safe buses in Sri Lanka
You’ll need to practise crossing the road too.
Photo: @themanwiththetinyguitar

Driving in Sri Lanka isn’t always straightforward. There are some tricky roads going on here, so it’s no surprise that most travellers to the country opt for a local driver or taxi instead.

However, that doesn’t mean you can’t self-drive your way around; it’s relatively safe to drive in Sri Lanka and for those who like to see a country at your own pace, it’s a wonderful way.

Road conditions have improved in recent years. Bar some more modern highways between certain areas, they tend to be windy and definitely chaotic but they certainly are more than drivable. Old village roads often take a noticeable drop in quality, however.

It’s still Asia. You’ll need to watch out for erratic driving and locals pulling some pretty crazy stunts, as well as animals and pedestrians on the roads. It isn’t so much dangerous to drive in Sri Lanka but rather there’s a different style and expectation on how to drive.

There are also security checkpoints and roadblocks in place all across the country. These will be manned by police or military personnel and you can expect to be stopped. Generally, they’ll just want to check your licencing and make sure that you have all the proper documentation to keep it handy.

Another thing to be aware of is just watching out for buses, trucks and other cars, particularly overtaking on bends in the road where you would think it would be insane to even try to overtake.

There’s a different hierarchy on the roads and buses are at the top of the food chain. Horns are the common (and respectful) form of communication so listen well and use yours liberally.

To drive in Sri Lanka all you’ll need is an international driving license and a Sri Lankan recognition permit – you can pick up the latter in Colombo. Speaking of, driving in the major cities is considerably more hectic. Colombo is pretty much always a mess and Kandy isn’t much fun either.

Once you’re outside the urban areas, it becomes a lot more fun though.

For those of you who want to ride a motorbike, you should be very careful. It would be super easy to get splattered by a bus if you’re not appealing to the hierarchy. Those experienced with motorbike travel, particularly in developing countries, will find it’s still a spectacular journey despite the chaos (or because of it).

Overall, driving in Sri Lanka is safe provided you have experience with roads (and rules) such as these. If you don’t, then it is a good country to learn but you will need to learn (and relearn). There’s a different culture of driving. For those that aren’t confident driving in Sri Lanka, there are a wealth of other options for getting around.

Yo! You can also rent tuk-tuks in Sri Lanka and it’s the best! Once your past the learning curve of driving a tuk-tuk yourself, it’s an awesome way to see the country.

Is Uber safe in Sri Lanka?

There is Uber in Sri Lanka but it isn’t everywhere. Predominantly, it’s in the capital Colombo and it’s highly, highly recommended you use it there. You’ll often get a price cheaper than through negotiating with an unmetered taxi or tuk-tuk and you’ll be sidestepping the potential of getting scammed too.

You may find Uber in other urban areas outside of Colombo but it’s much rarer, You may also be able to convince an Uber driver to drive you long-distance but that’s also fairly unlikely.

When utilising Uber in Sri Lanka, make sure photos, licence plates, names, and all the other details match. Overall, Uber is safe in Sri Lanka though.

Final verdict: it ain’t everywhere but when it is, make sure you utilise Uber in Sri Lanka! (There’s also UberEats in Colombo.)

Are taxis safe in Sri Lanka?

Tuk-tuk taxi in Sri Lanka safely parked in a village
Three-wheeling in the villages!
Photo: @themanwiththetinyguitar

Taxis and tuk-tuks rule the tourist transport services in Sri Lanka and they are everywhere! It doesn’t matter where you are and how far from civilisation you may be, a magic tuk-tuk always manages to show up.

Taxis are generally safe in Sri Lanka but you are dealing with the standard taxi/tuk-tuk shenanigans. Haggle hard before you hit the road and keep an eye on your map and GPS, particularly in Colombo.

For female travellers, try to avoid being alone in taxis at night; assaults and harassment have been known to occur. Again, this goes double in Colombo (you may be noticing a theme).

Make sure that when you ride in a taxi you have the right amount of money to hand over and not big bills. Handing over 1000 rups for a 230 rup ride is always going to be an exasperating experience for both you and the driver. Most taxi rides SHOULD cost around 60 to 100 rupees per kilometre but this is heavily contingent on a lot of variables including what area you’re in and how good at negotiating you are.

Booking a taxi in Sri Lanka is a pretty easy affair. Either go through your accommodation or head into the main hub of any tourist area and try and haggle a better price yourself (sharing a taxi with other travellers is an excellent way to mitigate these costs).

Is public transportation in Sri Lanka safe?

Hanging out the train in Sri Lanka
See! Totally 100% without a shadow of a doubt safe!
Photo: @themanwiththetinyguitar

The public transport in Sri Lanka is pretty famous. We’ve all seen those train rides and they are simply divine!

When it comes to the towns, however, most places are easy to get around and compact enough to walk around by yourself. In larger towns and cities, a good way to get around is by jumping on a bus.

The public buses in Sri Lanka, however, aren’t exactly the nicest way to get around but they are the most fun. They’re a super cheap local affair but a long-drop from the quality of buses in the West.

When it comes to travelling further afield on a bus, that’s easily done: around 80% of Sri Lanka’s roads are suitable for intercity buses. When it comes to those, you should know that there are actually many, many different types of long-distance buses.

While you’ll see a lot of different models and colour buses in Sri Lanka, you can either aim for the cheap local buses without the premium trimmings or the fancier coach-style buses. The latter is considerably more expensive but also considerably more comfortable with all the added trimmings.

Booking the fancy buses can be done through pretty much any accommodation but for the local affair, you’ll need to go local. Many towns have bus and railway stations which is your first point of call and the best way to catch a bus anywhere is to ask, ask, and ask some more! People will help you out.

The other option, of course, is the trains. And that’s a damn good option!

Trains are super fun in Sri Lanka with some truly majestic rides. Price-wise they’re comparable to buses but a long-distance ride on unreserved seating can often actually come in cheaper. The reserved classes (first-class in particular) will run you a lot more, however.

Regardless, they’re an awesome way to see the country. Sweeping vistas, local faces, and the snack-men just keep on patrolling. Visiting Sri Lanka and not catching the train would absolutely be missing out on something special.

Oh, and the public transport in Sri Lanka runs on their own time – it’s called Sri Lankan time. There is a schedule, and they’ll do their best to keep it, but when travelling in Sri Lanka, be prepared to breathe and let go of your schedule. It’s not how the island works.

The public transport in Sri Lanka is safe, but crashes have occurred. It’s also worth noting that half the fun of the train is hanging out the door, which you should definitely do because it’s amazing… but do be safe.

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Is the food in Sri Lanka safe?

Delicious and safe food in Sri Lanka
The best!
Photo: Shehal Joseph (Flickr)

The food in Sri Lanka is dope! Perhaps not the most heavily varied (depending on how nuanced you are with curry) bu still simply da bomb. Curries, roti, kottu, street snacks, fresh fish, coconuts galore, and tasty fresh bread (ok, you win this round, colonialism).

Oooh, and Sri Lankan tea – tasty, milky, and sweet as you. Just perfect.

Whilst there are plenty of dishes to enjoy in Sri Lanka, not everyone’s going to be used to the ingredients and spices being used. You can possibly expect some funny tums if your palate is not suitably worldly and refined.

Furthermore, like any developing country, Sri Lanka and its food should come with a little bit of a warning. Cleanliness is key! We all know that getting a bit of a traveller’s gut is one of the best ways to ruin a trip, so here are some tips on how to eat your way safely around Sri Lanka…

  • Go to places that are busy, especially local places that are busy with actual locals. Locals know their food better than anyone so if you see somewhere that’s packed out, it’s a winner!
  • Street food and snack merchants on the train are always a shot in the dark. Nine times out of ten you’ll probably come away happily satiated but there is always an inherent risk involved.
  • Avoid ice cubes and icy drinks in general – especially outside the tourist areas. Chances are it won’t be filtered except for in the tourist-accommodated spots.
  • Hit up places that have a high turnover that seems to be cooking things freshly. This goes for street stalls and restaurants. If you’re a curry buffet-lover, catch them earlier in the day – don’t wait!
  • Wash your hands, sanitise your hands, and then wash your hands again – super important!
  • Sri Lankan food can be very, very spicy. If you’re not used to this, ask for it to not be spicy. It’ll probably still be a bit spicy but at least a lot less spicy.

Can you drink the water in Sri Lanka?

For the most part, no you cannot drink the water in Sri Lanka and it is not safe to do so.

However, there are certain areas where the water is sourced from a much cleaner location and travellers do drink it. Generally, these are travellers with harder constitutions. To avoid any risks, just don’t drink the water in Sri Lanka.

In hotels, you will often find filtered water on offer, which is great – and safe to drink. It’s much better for the environment if you take along a reusable bottle.

Another alternative to drinking safe and clean water is to get a filtered water bottle. This allows you to fill up water from the tap or a river and filter out all the germs and bacteria. The good thing about this is you can take it hiking and refill it from a stream.

Though, if the stream looks muddy, best to look for something that looks a little safer. Our favourite filtered reusable bottle is the Grayl Geopress.

Another reason why you should absolutely consider a reusable bottle is so you don’t contribute to the global plastic problem. There is a lot of plastic waste in Sri Lanka, which you will see lying in the gutters of the cities like Colombo. Don’t be part of the world’s plastic problem.

You could even bring some water purification tablets, which is another great alternative to using a filtered water bottle like the Grayl Geopress.

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Is Sri Lanka safe to live in?

An expat living in Sri Lanka safe
It’s a change of pace but a good one.
Photo: @themanwiththetinyguitar

Life in Sri Lanka is going to be very different from where you come from (presumably); living in Sri Lanka is, likewise, going to be different to going on holiday there.

There are all sorts of perks to living in Sri Lanka – things like beautiful nature, friendly people, wonderful weather, beach living, a rich culture running at a slower tempo, and even how much more affordable it will be for you there – but it comes at a cost.

Public transport and driving in Sri Lanka are still developing country standards. This will take some adjustment. Many ex-pats living in Sri Lanka opt for the freedom and speed of a motorbike instead.

It also gets hot and it gets humid. The hill country offers much more mediated weather (with an increase to all-round yearly rainfall), but elsewhere, you’re going to have to train your body for heat. And especially humidity; humidity is a real killer (metaphorically).

Many ex-pats base themself on the south coast, Kandy, and Colombo. Kandy hostels are great, but they’re not made for long term.

While Colombo has a lot of services and amenities appealing to ex-pats, and a higher concentration of liberal attitudes, it’s not strictly a nice city to live in by any stretch of the imagination. .

For living in Sri Lanka, you may be better suited to engaging with its astounding nature.

Living in Sri Lanka will be an adjustment to a very different standard of living, however, there is a payoff. The people are good and the style of life is wonderful. Learning some Sinhala will also go leaps and bounds for connecting with the locals; they really appreciate the effort.

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How is healthcare in Sri Lanka?

Guy surfing dangerous waves in Sri Lanka
Dude is gonna need some healthcare.
Photo: kellinahandbasket (Flickr)

Sri Lanka actually has some fairly decent healthcare going on but, as with many developing countries, the quality of healthcare in Sri Lanka depends very much on where you are in the country. For example, particularly outside of Colombo and Kandy, standards will lower.

Things aren’t well-stocked or staffed everywhere in the country, though you will notice this in more rural areas. Medical care is free for Sri Lankans but for visitors to the country, it is best to go to private hospitals if you have health insurance (which you definitely should).

This is not just for your own comfort, but also to reduce the strain on Sri Lanka’s public services.

If you are in an emergency and need specialised care, you must make sure you have medical travel insurance; a severe injury or illness may mean either repatriation or treatment in a neighbouring country, most likely India. Make sure you set some money aside so you can afford travel insurance, and a good one.

Private hospitals will also require proof of insurance before they even start treating you. In Colombo you can expect some good clinics which have been opened up to serve ex-pat communities; these also feature English-speaking staff and a superior level of care and quality.

One example is Nawaloka Hospital in Colombo which has English-speaking doctors and a good reputation.

Your embassy, however, will also have a good list of recommended medical facilities.

If you’re in other parts of Sri Lanka, ask the staff at your hotel or guesthouse for the best places to get treatment locally, at least until transportation to a more urban area is possible.

Pharmacies are everywhere and a lot of different medications can be bought over the counter without a prescription. However, when you do, make sure the medication is sealed and that it hasn’t gone past its use-by date.

In general, healthcare in Sri Lanka is ok. Most people are within three miles of some sort of healthcare facility, but the services aren’t always up to scratch. It’s always best to seek medical advice rather than self-diagnosis, however, so I always recommend going to a reputable facility if you’re worried – and preferably in Colombo or Kandy.

Keeping your money safe in Sri Lanka

If there’s anything super annoying about travelling anywhere in the world, it’s the prospect of losing your money. It may be your own fault, it may be the work of a pickpocket, but either way, it’ll leave you with less cash to get around with and it’s a pain in the ass.

Having no money could mean losing out on a hostel in Colombo and good food, and it may even end up cutting a trip short; it’s not fun – that’s for sure. There is, however, a foolproof solution to this: wear a money belt.

Best tip for staying safe in Sri Lanka - wear a money security belt
Secret pockets are dope!

One quick Google and you’ll be faced with many different money belts to choose from. I’m not even going to suggest that you do that; having to make a decision on the often pricey money belts will make your head spin.

The Pacsafe Money Belt is your best bet. It’s affordable, it looks and acts like a belt, and it’s sturdy – what more could you ask for out of a money belt!

It’s got a lot of great selling points. To start, it’s very simple – it looks like a belt and lacks the (sometimes unnecessary) bells and whistles of other money belts in the world. It’s sleek, it’s sexy, and best of all, no one knows you’re stashing your money in it!

That said, there are other alternatives to wearing a security belt. You could get a full-size money belt more in the bum bag fashion.

FAQs about Staying Safe in Sri Lanka

Here are some quick answers to common questions about safety in Sri Lanka.

Final Thoughts on the Safety of Sri Lanka

An island temple in Sri Lanka's south
Paravi Duwa Temple, Matara

There is no real reason to not go to Sri Lanka right now. In fact, there’s every reason – it’s gorgeous!

You may be worried about the isolated terrorist attacks or the remnants of the civil war but the fact that it’s such an isolated incident shouldn’t keep you away.

Not only is that stuff far from the tourists in Sri Lanka, but it’s also far from the Sri Lankans. For the last decade, the people of Sri Lanka have consistently moved towards a state of peace.

There will be a few things to worry about, but that’s only natural for any developing country. People are very unlikely to hurt you; generally, they’re just trying to make a few extra rupees if possible. And that isn’t everyone, regardless.

Backpacking in Sri Lanka is chill compared to the rest of South Asia. It still pays to be clean, but Sri Lanka is cleaner as a whole. Female tourists still need to stay smart and safe in Sri Lanka, but it’s nothing in comparison to India. If anything, it’s a spectacular warm-up to travel in developing countries and right now, Sri Lanka is safe to travel to.

The island is a little slice of paradise filled with good people, good food, and sights to leave you in wonder. Sri Lanka is a safe country (however, with the caveats of developing countries) and is definitely worth visiting.

Sri Lankan men playing Carom
And remember to smile!

Disclaimer: Safety conditions change all over the world on a daily basis. We do our best to advise but this info may already be out of date. Do your own research. Enjoy your travels!


Thanks for reading – that was fun! 😀

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