Sri Lanka – everything you need to know before you travel

Sigiriya

This article will have a very special place in my world, in this new post Covid-19 era. Our last adventure, or rather, the last adventure in travel format!

Sri Lanka has always been one of those dream destinations. It’s been part of my travel plans to Asia for as long as I can remember (thankfully, I’m only missing Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, Japan, Philippines… ok, let’s stop!).

We started preparing this trip towards the end of 2019, at a time when we were traveling through Paris and Istanbul (I have this sick habit of preparing the next destinations while still making the previous trip!). And we were thinking about March to do it, but at that time the clinic already has an unmanageable schedule (yes, our life is not just travelling, we have a medical clinic that gives us both, love and hard work). So, and thankfully, we decided to travel at the end of January around my birthday.

In March, chaos was already installed all over the world… and the rest of the story is already known!

But let’s focus on Sri Lanka and forget about this Pandemic that changed our lives, we are in 2022 and the world is now starting to show signs of a modest return to normality – it would be better if someone hadn’t decided to start a war now.. .


The breathtaking view of Nuwara-Eliya

Brief History

Sri Lanka’s history is at least 3000 years old, with evidence of prehistoric settlements dating back 125,000 years. The excellent geographical location and its ports made Sri Lanka a very important strategic point from the ancient Silk Road until the Second World War. Records say that in the 6th century BC, the Sinhalese people (or Sinhala) migrated to the island from India. Before that the island would have been occupied by Malays.

Vijaya is said to have been the first Sinhalese king, in 543 BC. and the first kingdom of Sri Lanka will have had its capital in Anuradhapura. In the 3rd century BC, the Sinhalese converted to Buddhism and the island became a center for Buddhist studies and missionary work. This religious conversion would have been the main cause of separation between Sri Lanka and the culture of South India.

Anuradhapura remained the capital of the Sinhalese kingdom until the 8th century, when it was replaced by Polonnaruwa.

  Some of Polonnaruwa ruins

From the south of India, the Tamils arrived on the island, starting intense conflicts with the Sinhalese people from the 3rd century onwards. For much of the first millennium, the island was controlled by several princes of Tamil origin. But in the 12th century one of the most important Sinhalese kings, Prakrama Bahu, defeated the Tamils, unifying the island under his rule.

In the 15th century, the island was attacked by China, and for thirty years, local kings paid tribute to the Chinese emperor.

The Portuguese, as always, played a leading role in the creation and development of this country, and much of our history is still felt in some areas of Sri Lanka as well as in their language.

We were the first Europeans to arrive there, in 1505 and we founded the city of Columbus in 1517, we took Christianity with us but from 1600 onwards we ended up being defeated by the Dutch who joined the local Buddhist people who hated us! However, as early as 1800 the British occupied Sri Lanka and introduced the cultivation of tea, coffee and rubber. This English occupation continued until 1948, when Sri Lanka became independent, leaving its mark on the people’s daily lives as well as on their culture.

A Civil War ensued again from 1983 to 2009 between Tamil guerrillas and the Sinhalese army.

Currently the country is going through a good period of development and peace (at least until it was devastated by this Pandemic).

the streets of Kandy

How to get to Sri Lanka, what to pack, and how to get there:

For Portuguese travelers know that there is no mandatory vaccine, obviously having already taken the Hepatitis A, B, Rabies, Typhoid Fever and Japanese Encephalitis can be interesting. We’ve traveled around Asia quite a bit so we already had most of them. For travelers from places with risk of transmission of Yellow Fever, it is mandatory to take this vaccine.

As for Malaria, the risk of contracting it is extremely low.

But, I advise you to do the Traveler’s Consultation about a month and a half before the trip (if you are in Portugal look for Dr. Sandra Xará at the Uffizi Clinic).

the most famous habitants in Sigiriya

Do not forget under any circumstances:

  • Repellent – for those who like us did Safaris and walked through the tea plantations, its use is extremely important.
  • Sunscreen – use and abuse even if you don’t walk on the beach, because the climate is quite different from our own!

Speaking of climate, Sri Lanka has two types of monsoons, one that hits the north and east of the country from the northeast between October and January and another coming from the southwest that hits the country between May and August along the south and west coast.

Therefore, the best time to travel is from mid-January to mid-April.

Clothes/footwear:
Comfortable and fresh. Don’t take too many clothes, organize yourself for days and repeat some pieces combined in a different way, it’s very tiring to carry a full suitcase from one side to the other – yes, because if you go to Sri Lanka don’t just stay in one area or one hotel.

Regarding the places to visit in Sri Lanka, namely the temples, they require clothing that respects the customs and traditions, that is, to be able to enter the religious places, they must wear long pants or skirts, at least that cover the knees, and in the case also long pants or shorts for men. With regard to sweaters, they must cover the shoulders and the belly, both for women and men.

As for footwear, the ideal is also to be comfortable, sneakers are still the most suitable option. In temples you have to take off your shoes before entering, so, on those days, wear something more practical, sandals, flip-flops, or espadrilles, for example.

Drugs:
Gastric protectors and drugs for diarrhea. The cuisine is quite spicy and spicy, which can change your entire gastrointestinal function.
Antihistamines, anti-inflammatories or even a broad spectrum antibiotic (yes, I’m a bit paranoid, that’s what makes being a healthcare professional!).

And finally, Guronsan and Chollagut – to cure hangovers!

First aid:
It costs nothing to be forewarned!
Take curitas, for the blisters that will appear from walking a lot, take saline solution, some compresses and adhesive, so, any small wound you make, you can wash it and apply a small bandage.

Flights:

From Portugal we flew with Qatar Airlines, stopping in Madrid and Doha, arriving later in Colombo, the flight took about 11 hours in total. For travelers from Brazil, Emirates is one of the best options, making a stopover in Dubai. But from different parts of the globe, the most varied companies fly to Columbus.

Don’t forget – passport valid for 6 months.

You can apply for a Visa online at www.eta.gov.lk, at the time we went the country was offering a visa free of charge in order to promote tourism.

One of the celebrities we met during a Safari

Transport in Sri Lanka:

Do yourself a favor and hire a driver!

Sri Lanka is not big, but everything is immensely far away when the roads suck! A journey that would easily take 30min now takes 3 hours or more!

We hired Mr. Parveen Mendis (yes, it comes from the Portuguese name Mendes) which was amazing. He has kind of a travel company with several drivers/guides and a small fleet of cars – www.tourguideinsrilanka.com . Parveen is also a tour guide and helped us to organize and structure our entire trip. He stayed with us for 10 days and slept in the accommodations provided for drivers close to the hotels where we were staying. It helped us with what to do and what to experience while traveling, what made sense and demystified what didn’t. He did most of the more adventurous trips with us so that we could do them more safely and so that we could understand the details that only the locals know.

At the time, we paid a total of €500 for the 10-day trip, which, on balance, was super affordable, taking into account that it included the car, the spent gasoline, and all the guiding. He was with us from the moment we landed in Colombo until the moment we said goodbye to Sri Lanka.

Galle

But now let’s get down to business: what to visit in Sri Lanka?

We only went for 10 days, many more we would need to see everything we wanted. Our friends Eshan and Anika that we met in 2018 in South Africa are from Sri Lanka and have already told us: “you have to come back, there was so much to see and do!”

We will certainly be back! But now read our next article and see how we organized our 10 days in Sri Lanka.

Portuguese Version

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