Thanks to its tropical coastline and jungle heartland, Sri Lanka has seen a boom in tourism since the end of its decades-long civil war in 2009, and it was recently revealed as Lonely Planet’s top destination for 2019.
But in the wake of the Easter Sunday terror attacks, the foreign ministry warned that more indiscriminate bombings could happen at any time, and escalated its warning to travellers.
Due to the current evolving security situation following the April 21, 2019 attacks, it is now advising against all but essential travel to Sri Lanka.
A series of explosions on Easter Sunday rocked the country, killing 253 people (initially estimated to be around 100 more dead), including eight Britons, and wounding hundreds more. Other British nationals were also involved in the attack.
The Foreign Office has urged people on the island to contact relatives in the UK, warning that while the airport is operating, security will increase. It added that people should have confirmed, pre-arranged travel plans before heading to the airport.
If you are in Sri Lanka and were directly affected by the attack, please call the British High Commission in Colombo: +94 11 5390639
If you are in the UK and concerned about a UK friend or family member in Sri Lanka, please call 020 7008 1500 and follow the automated message.
What happened on Easter Sunday?
About 250 people were killed and hundreds injured in eight blasts at churches and hotels.
St Sebastian’s Church in Negombo and St Anthony’s Shrine in Colombo were both attacked as worshippers attended Easter Sunday services.
The Shangri-La, Kingsbury and Cinnamon Hotel in Colombo were also attacked, with further explosions reported at Dehiwala on the outskirts of Colombo and the Mahawila Udayana Road Housing Scheme in Dematagoda.
Sri Lankan Defense Minister Ruwan Wijewardene said the perpetrators had been identified as religious extremists.
Is it safe to travel to Sri Lanka?
The Foreign Office warned on April 25 that more attacks could occur at any time.
“It is highly likely that terrorists will try to carry out attacks in Sri Lanka. Attacks may be indiscriminate, including in places visited by foreigners.”
It added: “Security measures have been tightened across the island. A state of emergency and nighttime curfew remain in place. Sri Lankan authorities have arrested a number of people in connection with the attack and security operations are still ongoing, including a controlled search of suspicious packages and vehicles. Explosion, and temporary evacuation of buildings.
“However, the extent of any ongoing threat following the April 21 attacks remains unclear.
“On April 24, 2019, Sri Lankan police issued a warning that a mosque could be targeted, noting that the ‘Aulia’ mosque is linked to a ‘Muslim saints’ cemetery’.
They advise Britons in Sri Lanka to:
- Stay vigilant, stay up-to-date with the latest developments, and take advice from local security authorities and hotel security personnel;
- Keep a low profile and avoid crowded public places, large gatherings (including religious gatherings and places of worship) and any demonstrations. All of the April 21 attacks were carried out in places of worship or where foreign tourists were affected. Any further attacks may target similar locations;
- Avoid travel during curfew (except to and from airports – see below);
- Keep in touch with family and friends to make sure they are aware of any plans you may have.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs says that travel within Sri Lanka may be delayed – you should check with your travel provider in advance and allow extra time.
Sri Lanka has also announced that it will no longer issue free visas on arrival to British nationals, meaning travellers must ensure they have a valid visa before travelling.
The government has also introduced a further rule prohibiting the wearing of clothing or items that cover the face to prevent the wearer from being identified.
What else do I need to pay attention to?
Sri Lanka is a predominantly Buddhist country, but other religions on the island include Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism and Islam.
The basic numbers are 118/119 for the police and 110 for the ambulance or fire service. The Government Information Centre can be dialed on 1919.
In normal times, Sri Lanka’s dazzling wildlife is one of its main attractions, with everything from the giant statues in Udaralawe National Park to the elusive leopards in Yala National Park.
However, these wild animals are dangerous and last year a British national died after being attacked by a crocodile. Wild dogs are common in Sri Lanka and live on the streets in packs. Be aware that they can sometimes carry the rabies virus, so consider getting a rabies shot before traveling.
Driving in Sri Lanka is notoriously bad. The FCO reminds travellers that road safety standards in Sri Lanka are far lower than those in the UK, and road accidents are frequent. If hiring a driver or car, choose a reputable local tour company.
Violence against foreigners has generally been rare in Sri Lanka in recent years, but Western women have reported being verbally and physically harassed by male groups.
These range from sexually indecent comments to sexual assault and can happen anywhere, but are most common in crowded areas such as markets, transport hubs and public streets. Repeated attacks on women are more frequently reported in tourist areas, so women should be careful when traveling alone or in small groups.
The crime is concentrated in tourist beach resorts in the south, where drinks from bars are laced with drugs. As a precaution, do not leave drinks unattended or accept drinks from strangers at bars.
To avoid credit card fraud, it’s best to use cash instead of credit cards whenever possible.
Homosexuality is illegal in Sri Lanka, although it is not documented. Caution is advised, but Colombo has a mature LGBT scene.
What are the health risks?
Sri Lanka was declared malaria-free in September 2016, but dengue fever is present throughout the country. Dengue fever is a mosquito-borne disease that causes fever or flu-like symptoms.
The Sri Lankan Ministry of Health issued a bulletin announcing that 40,775 suspected dengue cases were reported in September 2018, 36% of which occurred in the Western Province (including the capital Colombo, the nearby city of Negombo and the coastline south to Bentota).
The best preventive measure against dengue is to cover up and avoid contact with mosquitoes, as there is no vaccination available. Seek medical advice if you develop a fever or flu-like symptoms within one to two weeks of traveling in an infected area. Good insurance is a must as private healthcare in Sri Lanka is expensive and emergency medical services are not widely available outside major cities.