10 Things Not to Do in Sri Lanka

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Things Not to Do in Sri Lanka cover photo

I had the absolute joy of spending three months exploring Sri Lanka from top to bottom, and it was one of the most incredible travel experiences of my life. It came as no surprise to me when Lonely Planet named Sri Lanka the #1 place to visit in 2019. I hope everyone who wants to visit Sri Lanka gets a chance to go and experience the places that stole my heart, like Galle Fort and Colombo’s Cinnamon Gardens neighborhood and the hill country, and the lesser known (but about to get mega famous) Kalpitiya Peninsula and Jaffna.

Travel Responsibly

There are, however, some things you definitely should not do in Sri Lanka. I know you want to be a respectful and responsible traveler, so please take note of 10 things you should avoid (and what to do instead.)

Please don’t…ride an elephant.

“Visit one of Sri Lanka’s incredible national parks to view these magnificent animals in the wild, where they belong.”

Please don’t…sunbathe nude or topless.

“Local women swim in shorts and a tee shirt, and if you’re planning your beach holiday along the northern coast around Jaffna, you’ll want to follow suit, or pick up a modest swimsuit to keep from offending the local sensibilities.”

Please don’t…pose with your back to a statue of the Buddha.

“It’s totally OK to photograph a Buddha statue (unless there are signs or someone tells you otherwise) but please be mindful of how you do it. Even the most humble Buddha icon is sacred to the 70% of Sri Lankans who are Theravada Buddhists.”

Please don’t… display a Buddha tattoo, tee shirt, etc.

“Leave your Buddha tee shirts at home, and if you do have a Buddha tattoo, plan on keeping it covered the entire time you’re out in public.”

Please don’t… make out in public.

“…keep your hands to yourself? And enjoy the fact that you don’t have to witness anyone else’s PDAs, either.”

Please don’t… give things to people with your left hand.

“Most Sri Lankans will place their left hand on their right elbow while handing you the item with their right hand. This feels a little awkward at first, but you’ll get used to it.”

Please don’t… enter a temple without taking off your shoes and making sure your shoulders and knees are covered.

“…be respectful? If it really crimps your style that much to cover up and take off your shoes for a few minutes, just don’t go to a temple.”

Please don’t… get drunk in public.

“Give your liver a vacation, too. The local palm flower liqueur, Arrack, is awesome mixed with ginger beer and Lion Beer is awfully refreshing on a hot afternoon, but take it easy.”

Please don’t… lose your temper.

“Remaining calm during a disagreement is expected in Sri Lanka. Practice counting to 10 (or 100) if necessary, but if you lose your temper, you’ve lost the negotiation and the respect of everyone around you.”

Please don’t… just stick to the usual, small tourist track of Colombo to Hikkaduwa to Ella to Kandy when there is so much more to see.

“Take the train to Jaffna, learn kitesurfing in Kalpitiya, go whale watching in Trincomalee… it’s a tiny island for sure, but just sticking to the well-trodden tourist trail makes it that much smaller. Make sure you see as much as you have time for, and don’t neglect the north and the east coast.”

Bonus! Please don’t…forget anything important at home

“See my ultimate packing list here to make sure you’re prepared.”


If you found this list helpful, check out the rest of my Sri Lanka content here. Did anything on this list surprise you? If you’ve been to Sri Lanka, what other things do you think travelers should avoid doing? Let me know in the comments! Now that you know what NOT to do in Sri Lanka, check out my list of the most amazing things you have to see and do in Sri Lanka, as suggested by travel experts. #travel #SriLanka #Asia #travelguide

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