Sri Lanka: 4 useful tips for first-time visitors

Sri Lanka’s heady mix of British colonial heritage, beautiful landscapes and incredibly friendly locals make it a beguiling destination. With more tourists heading to Sri Lanka every year, now is the perfect time to visit. Here are ten tips and tricks to help first-time visitors.

1. Prepare to go slow

Although infrastructure is improving and transport options are plentiful, getting around this modestly sized country, with its tightly winding roads and engine-testing inclines, might feel a little trying at times.

The Hill Country is particularly notorious for eating away time – whether travelling by bus, tuk tuk or train, expect to inch from one tea plantation to the next at speeds of around 12-15 miles per hour. For those with little time or deep pockets, taking a seaplane or hiring a car and driver are good alternatives.

Sri Lanka: 4 useful tips for first-time visitors

2. Treat yourself

If you've got Sri Lankan rupees to spare there are plenty of new luxury hotels and resorts where you can spend them. International names such as Aman have already set up shop on the island, and Shangri-La has two new hotels scheduled to open soon.

But it’s the home-grown, luxury hotel mini-chains that you ought to keep your eye on. Uga Escapes and Resplendent Ceylon are just two examples of burgeoning local brands that offer more than just copy-and-paste properties.

Sri Lanka: 4 useful tips for first-time visitors

3. Focus on food

Sri Lankan food is delicious, so make the most of it while you’re there. However, knowing where and when to find the good stuff may prove a harder task than you anticipated. Bowl-shaped hoppers (savoury rice flour crêpes) are a highlight, though they are typically only served first thing in the morning or in late afternoon. Rice and curry is a lunchtime affair, while kottu rotty (chopped flatbread stir-fried with eggs and vegetables) is only available in the evening.

Those familiar with Asia will be surprised at the lack of street food stalls; instead, some of the best food can be found in the kitchens of small guesthouses.

Sri Lanka: 4 useful tips for first-time visitors

4. Make the most of your money

By western standards Sri Lanka is still a cheap destination, but prices are rising quickly: the cost of a cultural show in Kandy has doubled in the last year alone.

For everyday items such as tea and toothpaste, head to the supermarkets in big cities where you can rest assured that you’re not paying over the odds. In the corner shops of smaller cities simply check the packaging, which has the price printed next to the letters "Rs." (meaning rupees).

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