Sri Lanka is a country of diverse and vibrant beauty, hectic activity, and unique wildlife. While culturally similar to India, it is generally considered to be less hectic and crowded and suffers less from the crime problems that plague tourists across the sub-continent. Although it was recently the site of a bloody civil war, traveling the country is now safe and easy. As such, Sri Lanka can be a great introduction to this part of the world, and an easier starting point for travelers to the region.
Of course, certain precautions should always be taken. Here are some tips for staying safe.
Although the men here are not known to be as aggressive as in certain parts of India, there is still a lot of curiosity surrounding western women. It's impossible to completely blend in but avoid drawing too much attention to yourself by dressing conservatively, as is the local custom. Avoid short shorts, low cut tank tops, and tight dresses. Instead opt for loose flowing clothing that covers the shoulders and knees (light colors are preferable as they help keep you cool).
A fling with a cute local boy may sound tempting, but be aware that in Sri Lanka there are a certain class of men, commonly referred to as beach boys who cater to western women with fat wallets. These men can be predatory and are far more interested in your money than anything else about you. Not all men work this scam, but be skeptical of anyone who approaches you in a tourist area feigning romantic interest.
As with many places in Asia, touts selling taxi rides, tours, and souvenirs are everywhere. They can be relentless and sometimes aggressive, particularly as you come out of the airport. Avoid dealing with them completely by having an exit already planned. Have your hotel reserved and your method of transit already worked out (most hotels will arrange airport transfers for an extra fee).
When walking in tourist areas, turn down unwanted sales pitches with a firm no and continue walking. Be assertive if necessary.
Taking the train in Sri Lanka is a wonderful experience, but as a westerner you are vulnerable to harassment and potentially pickpocketing in the crowded cars. Avoid theft by keeping your belongings close and zipped up tight. If possible, book a seat in First Class, which is usually less crowded.
Renting a car is not recommended as driving in Sri Lanka is a half-hazard and messy experience requiring advanced local knowledge. If you are heading somewhere off the beaten path or are nervous about taking the bus or train, most hotels will happily arrange a private driver to take you to your destination.
You don't need any special shots or medication before visiting Sri Lanka, and most areas are malaria-free. Other mosquito-born diseases like dengue are still a risk though, so be sure to bring (and wear) heavy-duty mosquito repellant.
The other major health menace is the sun, which is quite intense in this part of the world. Always wear sunscreen and consider wearing a hat or protective clothing. Drink lots of water and carry a bottle with you if you will be out during the day.
Are you planning a trip to Sri Lanka? What other questions do you have?
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Stephanie Yoder is a girl who can't sit still! Since graduating college in 2007 she has either been traveling or planning to travel. She's lived on four continents and visited everywhere from the Great Wall of China to the Great Barrier Reef. She now writes and travels full time, blogging about her adventures on Why Wait To See The World? (formerly Twenty-Something Travel). Follow Stephanie on Twitter or visit her on Facebook.
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