It’s great to be back in Sri Lanka
By Lincoln Harris, Senior Travel Planner, Sri Lanka Unbound
If you are like me, you will have missed travel over the last few years. And before you travel again you might feel some uncertainty about stepping back in. Because the service we offer has always been about first-hand knowledge, I felt it was crucial for me to start travelling again as soon as possible. It was with this desire to know how travel works in the age of Covid that I embarked on a quick trip to Sri Lanka, with a view to understanding what the entry requirements and processes are, how travel might have changed, what steps hotels are taking to maintain a Covid safe environment and generally just reacquaint myself with all things wonderfully Sri Lankan.
What I found was that there is more work in the way of preparation – making sure you know the protocols and restrictions of the countries you are visiting or transiting through being the major one. I found that compared to pre-Covid, more time went in to research, booking flights and making sure I had obtained the right documentation. But as with all things related to international travel, if you take it step by step it’s all manageable and getting easier all the time. (Already Sri Lanka and India have dropped the negative Covid test requirement.) And of course if you book your travel with us, we will help you navigate through the requirements.
If you are ready to start thinking travel, you can jump to our sample itineraries here or get in touch to ask about a tailor-made itinerary. Or read on for my account of what it’s like to travel to and in Sri Lanka now, and some current recommendations for what to do and where to stay.
Getting there, arrival and travel in Sri Lanka post-Covid
The good news is that the pre- and on-arrival process is as easy as it was before. The Sri Lanka ETA (electronic travel authorization) is easy to apply for and obtain, and easy to use when you arrive. The health protocols are straightforward – an online declaration and mandatory Sri Lankan-issued travel insurance (US$12). You’ll get a QR code which you scan after immigration and away you go. Of course we will guide you through all of this and answer any questions you have. You can read more about the specific arrival protocols here.
Once you are on the road with your private vehicle and driver guide, the travel is easy and comfortable. You are not required to wear a mask in private vehicles; the driver guide will and we recommend you do, however it’s up to you. On the accommodation side the hotels are observing the standard protocols we know so well from the last two years, but it didn’t feel overbearing to me – discreet sanitizer bottles and guests and staff keeping a little more distance than they might have done previously. Hotel staff are wearing masks and guests are asked to when inside (other than dining) or if they can’t be distanced. But with the tropical weather, lovely outdoor spaces and swimming pools prevalent at hotels in Sri Lanka, you will naturally gravitate to being outdoors with no need for a mask. Overall it’s nothing that we aren’t used to already!
With that in mind I have been thinking about why Sri Lanka is suited to travel in the Covid era.
Covid-safe activities in Sri Lanka
- Private touring. This is not so much an end activity as a means, but it’s worth highlighting how suited this form of travel is to the current time. With your own driver guide and only your party in the vehicle it’s like a small travelling bubble. No doubt you will carry your own, but masks and sanitiser are always available in the vehicles. Read more about private touring here.
Driver guide Anton and his travelling bubble
- Rural and nature-based accommodation – in my view Sri Lanka’s greatest appeal is its countryside and National Parks, which is reflected in the range of accommodation options, such as farm and plantation stays, nature-based tented camps, tea planters’ bungalows, down to earth eco-lodges and design and boutique hotels with natural and landscaped gardens. If you enjoy open spaces, views and atmospheric settings you’ll find Sri Lanka rewarding. And in general these properties are small (meaning no crossing paths with large groups and no buffets) and have the advantage of being naturally socially distanced. Check some our favourites out here.
Lunuganga Estate, Bentota
- Beaches – this one hardly needs explaining. If you are coming from Australia you might not be bowled over by Sri Lankan beaches but ocean water and sand is a tonic, wherever you find it. And more than the beach per se it’s the variety of beach-side and near-beach accommodation that makes a beach/near beach stay worthwhile. Private villas, barefoot shacks, design hotels and many unique properties that defy categorisation are on offer. Read more about the different beach areas here
Very socially distanced
- Open air places of interest – most people visiting Sri Lanka for the first time have some of the big-ticket historical sites, such as Sigiriya, Polonnaruwa and Dambulla, on their list. You might also want to stay in a tea plantation and go on safari in a National Park. Thankfully these are all open-air activities that can be undertaken in a private or socially distanced manner. So if you are keen to cover some of these major attractions we can easily and safely include them in your itinerary. In addition we have planned a number of specific itineraries which predominantly focus on open air activities and small hotels – https://srilankaunbound.com.au/itineraries-categories/post-covid-travel
Walking the backroads near Wilpattu National Park
- Gardens – whether its landscaped, unruly tropical or productive, Sri Lanka has gardens galore. I love all three and everything in between. Two renowned stand-alone gardens are Royal Botanic Garden in Perideniya (near Kandy) and Brief Garden in Bentota near Galle. Both are worth visiting even if your interest in gardens is only a passing one – Kandy because of its age and Brief Garden because it as much a living work of art as a garden. On the other side of the spectrum are the plantations – predominantly tea, rice and coconut, but also market gardens – and these are fascinating from the point of view of the many traditional farming practices that are in use. Everywhere you go vibrant greenery greets you and pleases the eye. We can add garden visits to any itinerary, and if you are after something more in-depth just let us know when making an enquiry.