My husband and I just returned from our second trip to Sri Lanka, the first time we went for six weeks, this time we were there for just a month. Both trips were filled with fun memories and sad disappointments, such disappointments made us wonder if we would recommend others to vacation there until some major changes are made. Sri Lanka is referred to as the Pearl of the Indian Ocean, a land of enchantment. In many ways this is true and for a land that has been ravaged by a thirty year war and a huge tsunami it deserves a bow for the many ways it has recovered and changed to make it a more inviting place to visit.
The first impression you get as you walk off the plane is extreme heat and humidity, the airport does very little to hide this fact, the more you enter into the airport the hotter it seems to get. As you continue onto emigration you get a feeling that there a bit of disorganization, the staff is unhelpful and treats you as if they are doing you a huge favor to allow you to enter their country, several of the tourists they seemed to harass to the point of being embarrassing. Then as we went to get our bags we were “attacked” by several men with trollies insisting on helping us with our bags, no matter how much we protested they would not let us carry our own bags, of course they were more than open letting us know that we needed to tip them( 50 Ruppies per item plus tips), it was very frustrating. I wish as a tourist that we were not tagged with a dollar signs on our forehead. There are several countries I traveled seem to have similar problems for the tourist I have refused to go back due to the “Tipping” for services not wanted.
Next we get to the hotel situation, we have had the opportunity to stay in many different hotels during our stays. I must warn you if you plan to book online it will be expensive, the hotels are about the same cost as the equivalent hotel here in the States. If you hope to call the hotel to get a better deal you will probably find it is even more expensive, it seems to be the hotels think we want to pay high prices when we travel. I wish I could say they are all worth the money, one we paid over 60 dollars a night, for that we got a dirty room with black rot and ants everywhere to make it even worse they forgot to clean our room. A couple hotels we stayed at were over 80 a night, they were nice, clean comfortable rooms but each of them was far away from everything such as shopping or tourist attractions, you felt trapped by the need to have a clean nice room to one that may be a better location but you might end up with bed bugs . The best night we had was staying in a little unknown hotel at the edge of town in Kandy, we found it by way of a three wheeled driver who promised to hook us up with a clean, cheap room, He was right for 15 dollars a night we got a clean room with a private shower.
The people are warm and welcoming, but are still adjusting to tourists coming their way. Most places you go you will be stared at, not a quick glance but whole groups of people watching your every move. You can also tell their information about the world is very limited often leading them to make strange conversations with us such as asking us why the USA hates Sri Lanka so much, most Americans barely know where Sri Lanka is. Another problem is the young men think all woman over the age of thirty are out for a quick “night” with them, as they call it the “German Cougars”. Often I am overwhelmed with young men yelling at me or making obscene gestures my way, even as I stand next to my husband or holding my young son. I am not sure what kind of woman would even be turned on by their advances.
Probably the hardest part of this country is the transportation issue. You have two choices, one hire a private driver to take you every where, convenient yes but can be very pricy if you want to travel very many places, or use public transportation. The trains run on their own schedule that is posted the day of travel not before, making it difficult to plan ahead. The trains also can be hot and crowded the buses are the same way except you can be promised each bus runs completely full, you will be packed into each bus for the full trip, at times its so full people are hanging out the back door. For short trips you can take a three wheeled (tuck tuck) a nice way to travel short distances each will cost you between three to fifteen American dollars each way.
One issue both my husband and I struggled with was the cost for tourists to visit the local attractions. Each place has two prices listed one for locals and one for tourists. This normally would not bother us but the price difference is so great that it often makes you wonder if they feel all tourists all made of money. For instance we went to the National zoo (Dehiwala) in Colombo, a fair zoo at best, nothing I would suggest anyone go out of their way to go visit. A local will pay around 100 rupees where a tourist will pay 2000 rupees, in American money that equals to about 75 cents for a local and 18 dollars for a tourist, more than I would pay for most American zoos, yet it is not nearly as good as an American zoo. The same goes all over Sri Lanka, the national museums, the national parks such as Udawalewe Nat park, the historic temples (Kandy Temple), all of them tourists will pay a hefty sum making the decision to visit local attractions very discouraging. By the time you pay for transportation to the destination then the hefty fees you feel a little broke. Even simple things like seeing the baby elephants being fed will cost you the tourist dearly, the local pays just 20 rupees and tourist pays 500 rupees. Whenever you try to talk to the people in Sri Lanka about the high cost to visit these attractions we get explanations such as “tourists like to pay more, it makes them feel like it was worth the trip” or ” charging the tourist more money is a way of increasing tourism” Seriously? Both my husband and I understand charging the tourist a higher cost but not to the extreme they are charging, most are not worth the high price. At the end of the trip we probably did only half of the tourist attractions we had hoped, a little bit of a disappointment.
Sri Lanka is a wonderful tourist destination, it has plenty of incredible sights to visit, great shopping and the food cannot be beat. Unfortunately it’s not the bargain that you would hope for a country that is still in the developing stages, most places you go are still quite rough. There are still lots of homeless starving animals all over, large shanty towns in most urban areas, very few trash cans leading to an excess of trash on the streets and roadways and a lack of clean bathrooms (I would suggest tourists bring a supply of toilet paper with them everywhere). It still processes a charm and culture that is worth visiting if you have the time and patience to see them, it is also well known for its incredible outdoor activities such as surfing near Arugam Bay, hiking in the hill country, camping in national park areas and rock climbing which may be the best reasons to visit this small island. Would I suggest taking the time to visit Sri Lanka?, sure all cultures are worth the time to get to know.