Is Sri Lanka Safe to Visit?

Is Sri Lanka Safe to Visit?

By Wendy Updated Oct. 19, 2021

Sri Lanka has stunning natural landscapes, great wildlife, and a rich cultural heritage. Most of the locals are Buddhist and very friendly, which is one of the reasons travelers love Sri Lanka. The country is relatively safe for travelers — most of the violent crime occurs within the local community, with rare occasions of violent crime directed at foreigners. However, travelers should still take certain precautions when visiting Sri Lanka.

The main safety issues you should be aware of are tourist scams and pickpockets, which is true of every country in Asia. As an island nation, Sri Lanka can also be affected by severe weather, such as hurricanes and monsoon rains.

Quick Facts

  • Public displays of affection are not socially acceptable.
  • Avoid drinking water from the tap and use bottled water to brush your teeth.
  • Con artists and touts are a serious problem throughout all of the tourist areas so plan your activities in advance.
  • Sri Lankan road conditions are complex with different rules — don’t try driving and hire a driver if possible.
  • Be certain to pack plenty of DEET-based mosquito repellent. Although the island is malaria-free, there are frequent outbreaks of dengue fever.
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General Precautions

Sri Lanka is relatively safe to visit. Like most developing nations, routine petty crime, especially thefts of personal property and pickpocketing, is not uncommon. Here are some precautions that you might want to follow.

Always Protect Your Valuables and Important Documents 

Petty theft is not as common as in other parts of Asia but you should still take care of your belongings properly. Also, make sure you keep a separate record of all your bank card details (along with the phone numbers needed in case of their loss) and passport information. 

It is necessary to make a copy of the pages containing your personal information from your passport.

Use Cash Whenever Possible and Only Use ATMs Attached to Banks or Major Hotels

Don’t lose sight of your credit card if you use it. Do not accept help from strangers who want to teach you how to use the ATM. Check the purchase amount before signing and credit cards should be used only at trusted locations. Always remember to keep tabs on your card statements. 

Before You Take a Photo, Make Sure That You Have Permission 

Photographs are not allowed in the core area of some temples, cultural sites, shopping malls, and tea factories. Don’t turn your back on a Buddha statue as this action is considered to be disrespectful and may cause unnecessary trouble.

Protect Yourself from Drowning

In Sri Lanka, drowning is the second most common cause of accidental death among tourists after traffic accidents. The current can be strong and beaches may shelve off into deep waters with unexpected steepness. There are no lifeguards to pull you out if you're in trouble. 

Always consult local information before venturing into anything that is not a recognized swimming location. Don't swim under the influence of alcohol.

Avoid Any Political Gathering or Rally and Be Wary of Spontaneous Large Gatherings

Political rallies and electoral periods in Sri Lanka have occasionally turned violent. Please carry your passport with you at all times as official photographic identification. Follow the local news closely in case a curfew or other restrictions are announced.

Be Mindful of the Open Doors on Trains

All cars on the trains have the doors open. People tend to sit on the steps or hang out of the doors for some fresh air. There have been several fatal accidents when visitors have hung out of the open doorways or windows of trains. 

If you are traveling with little ones, don’t let them wander off between the cars as they can easily topple over.

Be Aware of the Risk of Snakes and Dogs

Poisonous insects and snakes have been found in many parts of the country, although they are not common in densely populated areas. Feral dogs are common and sometimes carry rabies. 

Sri Lanka is home to five species of venomous snakes so seek medical help immediately if you are bitten by a snake. Wear sturdy footwear, socks, and long pants if walking through heavy undergrowth.

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Female Travelers

There has been an increase in sexual attacks against females in tourist areas. There have been reports of drugs in drinks in bars and restaurants in the southern beach resorts. Be careful about taking drinks from strangers in bars and restaurants and don’t leave drinks unattended.

Women should take particular care when traveling alone or in small groups and should carry a personal alarm. Here are some tips for female travelers:

Must-Have Items in Your Bag

Pack baby wipes and toilet paper, sarongs or dresses for visiting temples, reusable water bottles, an emergency supply of feminine products, and cash in small bills.

Dress Modestly

Although Sri Lanka sees a lot of tourists every year, people there are still not used to Western clothing. If you wear Western clothes, such as knee-length skirts, they may stare at you and make you feel uncomfortable. Therefore, make sure that you don’t expose too much skin and adhere to their conservative dressing style.

Never Be Alone at Night

It's safe for female travelers to go anywhere during the day but going out alone after dark is not something a woman does in Sri Lanka, whether a traveler or a local. If you plan to go out on the town for a drink and a good time, it’s best to find someone to go with.

Getting a tuk tuk on your own at night will definitely turn into an uncomfortable conversation with the driver, no matter what you are wearing.

Travel Advice

The Sri Lankan Civil War ended in May 2009. In August 2011, the state of emergency was lifted. Some checkpoints are still in operation and de-mining operations in the former conflict zone in the north are continuing.

On April 21, 2019 (Easter Sunday), more than 250 people including tourists were killed in terrorist attacks that targeted churches and hotels. Security has been stepped up across the island following these attacks but the state of emergency has since been lifted.

Personal Health

To make your travel experience healthier and more pleasant, the following is some information that you may need while visiting Sri Lanka.

Medical Facilities and Hospitals

Sri Lanka is one of the best health performers in South Asia. It scores higher than the regional average in healthcare, having a higher life expectancy and a lower maternal and infant death rate than its neighbors. The country has an extensive network of public health clinics and hospitals, and most people live within 3 miles of a health facility.

There are three types of hospitals in Sri Lanka: public hospitals, private hospitals, and private clinics. Generally, public hospitals charge less than private hospitals and clinics but the conditions are ordinary and crowded so it is recommended to choose private hospitals. Usually, private hospitals can also provide the materials needed for insurance reimbursement.

Pharmacies

You can easily buy some common medicines in a hospital pharmacy, a regular pharmacy, or over-the-counter medication in a supermarket. Prescription medicine must be bought with a doctor's prescription.

Heat and Humidity

Sri Lanka has a tropical climate divided into two regions: the dry zone and the wet zone. The dry zone includes the northern plains, north central plains, eastern plains, and the northern and eastern coastal belts. The wet zone is the humid region surrounding the southwest and the island's only mountain range, which is aptly called the Central Highlands.

Temperatures are fairly constant year-round, with coastal regions enjoying average temperatures of 25–30°C and the highlands an average of 15–18°C. Lowland areas of Sri Lanka can be hot and humid throughout the year. For most visitors, it can take some time to adjust to the conditions.

Stomach Upsets and Diarrhea

Sri Lankan tap water is unsafe to drink so you should make sure to only have bottled water or the country’s reverse osmosis water — be sure to check the expiration date.

Also note that depending on how sensitive your stomach is, you may or may not want to settle for a salad since the salad greens could have been rinsed in tap water. Additionally, use bottled water to brush your teeth and be wary of food from suspicious food stands.

Please note: The CDC recommends getting the hepatitis A and typhoid vaccinations before visiting Sri Lanka to protect against contaminated food and water.

Cuts and Bites

In Sri Lanka, most of the locals believe in the Buddhist concept of ahimsa, or nonviolence. You can find dogs, snakes, and other animals uncaged all around Sri Lanka.

Mosquitoes carrying dengue fever are endemic throughout most of Sri Lanka. There is a repellent available in all drug stores and some stores will have natural sprays and even stickers to put on kids’ clothing.

If going to any place with a body of water, such as a lake or park, it’s best to wear mosquito repellent to stay clear of dengue fever. If you have a fever, feel pain in your muscles or joints, or have other symptoms, please see a doctor in time.

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