This is the third in our series of posts about backpacking in Sri Lanka. In this post, we look at staying safe while backpacking in Sri Lanka and some basic ‘do’s and don’ts’.
Sri Lanka is one of the safest and friendliest places you will ever visit. But as always, there are things to know and ways of conducting yourself that will help you on your way to having the best possible experience.
With that in mind, we’ve put together some tips and information to help you stay safe and have a great time.
Tap-water is not safe to drink as it sometimes carries pathogens and water-borne diseases. So you should only drink tap water if it has been boiled or filtered.
Bottled water is generally safe to drink, but look for a brand with the SLS quality-mark on the label, just to be sure.
Sri Lanka has arguably the best food in the world! Freshness and hygiene can sometimes be an issue, so it’s best to follow some common-sense rules.
Eat from places that look clean and busy and don’t have anything if it looks stale or smells off.
Be aware that some individuals are more susceptible to tummy bug than others and play it safe if you suspect this to be the case with you.
If you have a sensitive stomach it might be best to avoid food that is too spicy or oily.
Rice and curry is generally a safe bet.
Dress and Sun-Protection
The coastal and low-lying areas of Sri Lanka can be pretty hot and humid much of the time.
It’s best to take a cap or hat and to also cover up or use sun protection during the hottest parts of the day (from about 11 a.m. to around 5:30 p.m.).
Loose-fitting, cotton garments in light colours are probably the most comfortable clothes to wear.
Synthetics are quick-drying and excellent at wicking away moisture, which makes them excellent for exercising in. But they are not the best for lounging around in, as they can feel sticky and uncomfortable and are not probably the most breathable.
Flip-flops or sandals are an absolute must, but you will also need a pair of trainers or suitable shoes if you plan on doing any hiking or climbing.
The Hill-Country can get chilly, so a fleece top or hoodie would definitely be a good idea.
And last, but not least, Sri Lanka is in the tropics and it does rain now and again. So a light-weight rain mac or rain-proof layer can come in handy – especially if you’re visiting the Hill-Country.
Mosquitoes and Insects
As with most warm countries, Sri Lanka has lots and lots of insects!
Of these, most don’t present a problem. But mosquitoes have been known to spread dengue fever and malaria. So it’s best to take precautions.
Use an insect repellant spray when spending time outdoors in the evenings. You can opt for citronella oil, which is natural, if you’d rather not use harsh chemicals on your skin.
Also, remember to close the external doors and windows to your room around 5 p.m. as that’s when mosquitoes become active.
Lastly, use the air conditioner, ceiling fan or mosquito nets where available, as these all help against mosquitoes.
On a related note, beware that some ants, especially the red ones, do bite and these bites do sting a fair bit.
There is no shortage of cute cats and dogs in Sri Lanka. You’ll see them on the beach, in the towns and even up in the mountains.
Unfortunately, many of these animals are strays and not cared for. As such, they can sometimes carry disease. So be careful when petting or playing with such animals and seek medical attention as soon as possible if you’re ever scratched or bitten by a stray animal.
Sri Lanka is home to many species of wild animals. These include elephants, numerous types of venomous snakes, crocodiles and scorpions – all of whom can pose a serious threat to a person’s life.
So please make sure you practice caution and give these animals your respect (and plenty of space).
Be careful near waterfront areas: lagoons, rivers and even near the sea, as crocodiles can be present. Please heed all warnings and ask locals for advice if ever in doubt.
The same applies to elephants. Even on safari, speak to your driver or tracker if you think that the vehicle you’re travelling in is going too close to the animals.
Snakes and scorpions prefer to keep their distance from humans, but do take care when walking at night. Use a torch or other means of illumination and tread carefully.
Swimming and Sea-Bathing
Rivers and the Ocean can be inviting. But tides and currents can make swimming challenging at times. Take extra care when sea-bathing. Look for areas that have been marked off as safe and have lifeguards on duty. If in doubt, ask locals if a place is safe for swimming.
Solo Female Travellers
Sri Lanka is definitely a safe travel destination for solo female travellers.
But the same, common-sense rules apply here as anywhere else:
- Avoid travelling alone, late at night. Either buddy up with someone, or leave earlier.
- If you’re sharing a ride with a crowd, make sure you’re dropped off first.
- Drink sensibly and do not have more than you can handle.
- Keep a phone on you and have the number of your hostel or guesthouse to hand in case you need to phone for help.
- If you feel concerned or threatened in any way, seek help from local women, couples of families.
You might also like to read this blog post for aimed by solo female travellers by STA Travel: Solo Female Travel in Sri Lanka – How Safe Is It?
Dress conservatively when visiting temples, churches, mosques and other places of religious worship.
Make sure to cover your arms, shoulders, legs and midriff when visiting these places.
Bear in mind that the same dress code also applies when visiting ancient ruins etc. if they are of religious significance.
Please do not wear any clothing with images of the Buddha on them or sport any tattoos of same (cover these up when in Sri Lanka).
Do not pose for photographs with your back turned to a statue of the Buddha. Also, refrain from posing in any disrespectful way with such a statue.
General Points to Note
Sri Lanka is fairly conservative in terms of culture. So please dress conservatively when away from the beaches.
Nudity is prohibited in public places and you should not go topless, even on the beach.
Please refrain from making public displays of affection. Holding hands in public is quite alright but anything more is generally not in keeping with the culture of the place.
Also, be conservative when greeting and interacting with locals. Kissing and hugging is generally not done.
That concludes this post on staying safe while backpacking in Sri Lanka. We hope it would be of value to you.
You can stay up to date with the latest Sri Lanka travel advice from the U.K. Government’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office by visiting this link: https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/sri-lanka
If you enjoyed this post, you may also like the other posts in this series:
We also recommend our in-depth travel guides – the ‘Top Things to Do’ series for detailed information on the best things to do in the following locations:
- Top Things to Do in Negombo
- Mirissa Beach and Beyond – Top Things to Do in Mirissa
- Sigiriya Rock and Beyond – Top Things to Do in Sigiriya
- Top Things to Do in Ella
- Top Things to Do in Arugam Bay