Sri Lanka: the country that stole my heart

Charlotte Booy Howlett writes about the many reasons to visit Sri Lanka.

Charlotte Booy Howlett
11th October 2019
Photo Credits: Charlotte Booy Howlett
Sri Lanka, possibly one of my most favourite countries in Asia: vibrant city life, astonishing natural wonders and happy, welcoming locals. Sri Lanka stole my heart! Sri Lankan tourist numbers were up in 2018 as Instagram exposed us all to Ella’s 9 Arch Bridge and jungle terrain as far as the eye could see. However, tourism has dramatically declined following the terrorist attacks that hit Sri Lanka in April 2019. Security has been stepped up across the island and the state of emergency has finally been lifted. However, for peace of mind, here are essential tips to stay safe whilst travelling to this wondrous country.

Following the Easter Sunday attacks, you should remain vigilant, keep up to date with developments and follow the advice of local authorities and hotel security staff in Sri Lanka, at all times. Ensure you’re up to date with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s travel advice both before and during your travels too.

Although violent crimes against tourists are infrequent, there have been a number of reports of sexual offences. These often take place in crowded areas, such as markets, public streets and railway stations. When travelling around Sri Lanka, you should make arrangements through reputable travel companies, join a tour group, travel with friends and most importantly, stay alert to your surroundings. There is safety in numbers, so stick with your mates. I also carried a personal alarm with me at all times, however not once did I ever feel threatened and use it. 

Photo Credits: Charlotte Booy Howlett

I never expected to go out partying whilst I was travelling Sri Lanka but soon enough you will find yourself in a beach bar, sipping on Sri Lanka’s famous Lion beer with the local surfer boys. However, there have also been reports of drinks being spiked in bars and restaurants in southern tourist beach destinations. Never accept drinks from strangers, even if they seem friendly, never leave your drink unattended and if you do, throw it away. My top tip is to buy alcohol in bottles so that you can cover the top with your thumb to guarantee no one can slip anything into your drink. 

My top tip is to buy alcohol in bottles so that you can cover the top with your thumb to guarantee no one can slip anything into your drink.

The Sri Lankan Department of Immigration & Emigration announced that from 1st August 2019 to 31st January 2020, British nationals visiting Sri Lanka up to 30 days are exempt from paying visa fees. This leaves you with a more generous weekly budget. Result! 

Photo Credits: Charlotte Booy Howlett

I used the local bus services to travel around Sri Lanka. Although it gives you an authentic experience, with locals selling Sri Lankan cuisine on board, playing live music and chatting with your neighbours, I would use a tourist bus service if I was to travel around Sri Lanka again. Public buses are notorious for going fast and rarely giving way. A number of serious bus accidents have occurred in recent years, which doesn’t come as a surprise to me after experiencing them first hand. The entire duration was pretty terrifying. My group of friends and I didn’t get the chance to use the toilet for the whole of the 7 hour journey either and ended up getting dehydrated. They are also poorly maintained, with no air conditioning, which in nearly 40 degree heat, was torture. However, despite the journey, the end destination was insane. I’ve never seen such a beautiful site. Ella town, the 9 Arches Bridge, Little Adams Peak, Ella Rock and Ravana Falls are definitely worth the drive. 

So yes, you do need to have your wits about you in Sri Lanka and think street-smart. But, Sri Lanka has so much to offer, from their traditional culture, stunning views, white sandy beaches, picturesque sunsets and bustling city life! I hope Sri Lanka steals your heart, just like it stole mine.

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