Do’s and Don’ts in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is a beautiful destination for solo travellers and is considered to be an upcoming tourist hotspot. The delicious food, clean beaches, tea plantations, precious gemstones, and warm and welcoming people are few reasons to love this island country. While all of that is pretty famous, you can explore a lot more on your own in this country that goes unnoticed by other travellers.

Sri Lanka is an orthodox country that loves its traditional values. Many people think of this negatively. But in my opinion, that is what makes Sri Lanka unique. While travelling to the country, you might not know about their tradition. And so, you might end up embarrassing yourself or make some heads turn towards yourself by doing something weird. Even though the locals are forgiving, it’s always nice to know a bit about the place before travelling.

After travelling to Sri Lanka, I have learnt quite a bit about their culture and tradition. I have compiled a list of things that you should and shouldn’t do in the country. And I hope these things will make your visit to the wonderful land peaceful and trouble-free!

Do’s in Sri Lanka

1. Do respect their culture and religion

do and don't in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is a diverse country with people practising various religions and following different traditions. A majority of the population is Buddhist, so you can see many Buddhist temples in the country. They do not view Buddhism as a religion but rather as a lifestyle.

Here are some things that you can do to respect their culture and religion.

  • Do not touch a monk as it is considered disrespectful.
  • Do not take selfies with a Buddha statue.
  • Do not turn your back on any Buddha statue, mainly while clicking photos.
  • Do not show too much skin while visiting temples.
  • Do not show skin if you have a Buddha tattoo on your body.

2. Do dress appropriately

This is an extension of the previous point. By dressing appropriately, I do not mean to cover yourself in a blanket from head to toe whenever you step out. You must make an effort to dress according to the situation. One simple hack that I would like to share with you is always to keep a scarf in your backpack. This way, you can cover yourself up whenever you need to do so. Here’s how you can dress in certain situations.

  • While visiting temples and sacred sites, cover your shoulders with a scarf and wear long trousers.
  • A scarf isn’t required when visiting tourist attractions, but it is still important to have a scarf in your backpack.
  • While on a beach, you can be a little lenient on yourself as nobody really cares.

3. Do pack suitably

The Sri Lankan climate varies from place to place. During your first part of the trip, you might experience the hot weather, while for the other part, it might be cold, all depending on which places you choose to explore. Due to this, packing gets quite tricky. But it isn’t rocket science either!

As mentioned above, you need to pack clothes relevant to the places you plan to visit. Try to pack loose garments to breathe comfortably and not sweat during the hot weather. It respects the culture and also keeps you comfortable, which is great! Also, carry some cotton clothes as they will help in saving some space in your luggage. In my opinion, you need not carry too many shorts as they do not serve any purpose.

When it comes to footwear, make sure that you carry your most comfortable pair of shoes because you will be walking a lot. Also, remember that you will need to remove shoes while entering religious sites, so go with shoes that will ease such situations. If possible, carry a pair of slippers too. If not, you can buy a pair from a local market just for a couple of dollars.

4. Do make sure you’re in line with actual travel times

Sri Lanka is a tiny island country, and travelling from one place to another shouldn’t take a lot of time, isn’t it? Yes, it is a small country but getting from one place to another isn’t as fast as you think it should be. For example, during my solo trip to Sri Lanka, Google Maps showed an estimated travel time of two and a half hours from Colombo Airport to Kandy, a distance of around 100kms. But in reality, I had to spend close to four hours to cover that distance, even though I had hired a private taxi. I did save a lot of money, but not a lot of time.

You might be wondering how this is possible. To be very honest, even I am not sure about it. It could be due to the traffic that Google Maps cannot register for some reason. Also, I felt that the speed of vehicles is much slower in Sri Lanka compared to other countries.

While planning your trip, do keep these things in mind. It will help you stay on track with your itinerary. Additionally, try booking a private taxi for the entirety of your trip if you really want to save time.

5. Do try the local food

With diversity in culture comes variety in food. I can assure you that you will find every cuisine in the country. While that is great, the local Sri Lankan food stands out! The national food is rice and curry, because of its popularity. I met a few locals who said they eat this thrice a day, which is quite interesting. Because of this, I decided to try it out myself, and I understood the reason behind its popularity – it’s damn tasty! Also, it is very cheap. You can have a meal for as little as $1-$2. Where else would you find such delicious food at an affordable rate?

Rice and curry aren’t the only Sri Lankan food you must try out as there is a lot more. Hoppers, brinjal moju, ambul thiyal, pork curry, and kukul mas curry are some of the other dishes that you must check out. It is pretty standard for people to eat with their hands when a dish contains rice. If you can, don’t refrain from eating with your hand for a unique experience. Ensure that you eat with your right hand because the left is considered unclean and used for cleaning oneself, not just in Sri Lanka but in most Indian subcontinent countries. However, if you are not comfortable eating with your hand, that’s totally fine. Most restaurants and hotels in Sri Lanka provide cutlery.

Also, your Sri Lankan solo trip is incomplete without a cup of tea. It is easily available and costs less than a dollar for a fantastic cup of tea! I’m not even kidding!

Don’ts in Sri Lanka

1. Don’t compare Sri Lanka to India

I have seen a lot of people compare Sri Lanka to India. Yes, Sri Lanka is similar to South India, but it is not its part! You might be in a situation where you end up saying something like, “India does a thing like this or that,” but control yourself and avoid saying stuff like that. You certainly do not want to be a disrespectful and annoying tourist!

While Sri Lanka might seem to be similar to India on the outside, you’ll understand how different it is once you visit and explore the country. For example, most of the Sri Lankan population is Buddhist, while that in India is Hindu. Both countries love rice and curry, but the tastes are very different. Sri Lankans primarily speak Sinhala and Tamil. On the other hand, India has around 23 official languages. Those are only some of the many differences between Sri Lanka and India.

I would suggest that you enjoy your Sri Lankan trip to the fullest and not compare it to any country, let alone India. The experience is truly unique and one like none other. Honestly, it is an excellent addition to your travel diaries, and you will cherish these memories forever. 

2. Don’t ride elephants

Ask yourself this question – “Is riding an elephant humane?”. Definitely not. There are around 8,000 elephants in the country, and elephant riding is like a business here. You have the option of riding elephants in many areas. While you might not be heavy for an elephant, I strongly discourage you from riding elephants. You might think that this is the only source of income for some people. And that might be true, but that shouldn’t come at the cost of an innocent animal and at the expense of scamming you by charging an exorbitant price.

do and don't in Sri Lanka

However, you should not hesitate to visit national parks and look at the majestic elephants. Elephants are considered to be some of the most intelligent animals on the planet. Just having a chance to look at them in their natural habitat shouldn’t be missed! I mean, seeing elephants playing and enjoying with their families is a sight to behold. And it is one of the best experiences in Sri Lanka. For more information, you can click here to check out the official website of Yala National Park.

3. Don’t own up if you don’t like cricket

This might sound weird, but it’s actually a thing. Cricket is quite prominent in Sri Lanka. Some of the best players who have ever played the game of cricket were Sri Lankans. Due to this, it is common for locals to idolize cricketers. You can see cricket matches on televisions in major restaurants, hotels, and even some people playing the sport on the beach. 

Saying something like, “I don’t know what cricket is, I don’t like it,” will instantly turn you into an alien in the country. It is as common as chess is in Russia. But if you don’t know what cricket is or don’t like the sport, it’s better to keep it to yourself. There aren’t going to be many situations where you’d be asked about cricket, but it is better to know how to react when asked anything about it.

4. Don’t click pictures of people without their permission

This doesn’t apply solely to Sri Lanka but to every place that you travel to. People might not be comfortable if you move around the country with a camera in hand. It might come off as if you are trying to invade their personal space. Some places and museums do not even allow a camera, and you must buy a permit. And in other areas, photography is completely banned.

However, that doesn’t mean you cannot take pictures of people. When it comes to clicking photographs that include people, you need their consent. It is always nice to get their permission and show them the photo you clicked after clicking it.

If you ask people for their permission, trust me, almost everyone will agree to get their photos clicked or be included in the photo that you are clicking. I told you, the Sri Lankans are very warm and friendly. So don’t be that annoying tourist invading others’ personal spaces.

5. Don’t drink the tap water

Drinking tap water is ordinary in western countries. But when it comes to a developing country like Sri Lanka, drinking tap water is a no-no! Many experts believe that the tap water supply is contaminated with various industrial wastes. Simply put, the water is unclean, and you should stick to bottled water to fulfil your daily fluid requirements. Also, check the seal around the cap and make sure that it is not tampered with.

Don’t use tap water for brushing your teeth either. Stick to bottled water even if it is slightly expensive. You wouldn’t want to save money when it comes to your health. 

Also, make sure that you carry a mosquito repellent. Even though the island country is malaria-free, the repellent will save you from frequent dengue outbreaks.

To make it easier for you to remember all of these points, I have summarised them in a tabular format so that you can have a look at them once again when you land in Sri Lanka.

Do's in Sri Lanka

Don'ts in Sri Lanka

Respect their culture and religion

Compare Sri Lanka to India

Dress appropriately

Ride elephants

Pack suitably

Own up if you don’t like cricket

Take into consideration the travel times

Click pictures of people without permission

Try the local food

Drink the tap water

Those were some of the things that you should and should not do in Sri Lanka. All you need to do is keep these things  in mind and not worry a lot about them. Sri Lankans are some of the nicest ones that I’ve ever met, and I’m sure that you will feel the same once you visit the country. 


An introverted blogger who is looking to make unforgettable solo travel memories with one short life.

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