Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka Travel: Why Now Is The Perfect Time To Visit


Think back to early 2019 and the destination of everyone’s mind/lips/Instgram feed was Sri Lanka. It was voted the number one country in Lonely Planet’s annual best travel list, airfares are cheap and it seems like every other New Zealander has been there or plans to go there.

Then suddenly everything stopped. The 2019 Easter bombings, which killed 269 people, suspended tourism. Less than a year later, when things were picking up again, Covid hit and the country went into lockdown. In recent months, our newsfeed has shown economic crisis, protests and political instability.

Given all this recent history, now that the borders have reopened, it’s understandable if Sri Lanka isn’t on your radar at all. However, a luxury tour operator there decided it was a mistake. He said now is the perfect time to visit Sri Lanka and it is imperative for the country to start returning tourists.

Sri Lanka has faced many challenges in recent years, but it is set to recover strongly, with tourism playing a key role.photo/supplied
Sri Lanka has faced many challenges in recent years, but it is set to recover strongly, with tourism playing a key role.photo/supplied

“The growth in tourism over the past few years has lifted communities across the country,” said Malik Fernando, managing director of Resplendent Ceylon, Dilmah Tea’s luxury resort arm. “Fifteen per cent of the population depends on the industry. The loss of tourism revenue due to the huge increase in the cost of living is devastating. Drivers, guides and local suppliers are the worst affected.”

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He said Sri Lanka had regained stability and an economic recovery plan was under way, led by a new president, Ranil Wickremesinghe, who was sworn in on July 22.

“While the headlines may seem worrying, among the hospitable Sri Lankans, tourists are never in danger,” Fernando said. “Resplendent Ceylon & other hotels are all operating throughout. The fuel situation has improved a lot; hotels and travel agencies have concessions coming in. An important aspect is that visiting Sri Lanka plays a vital role in our economic recovery. You will be genuinely impressed warmth!”

Malik Fernando, managing director of Resplendent Ceylon, Dilmah Tea's luxury accommodation division.photo/supplied
Malik Fernando, managing director of Resplendent Ceylon, Dilmah Tea’s luxury accommodation division.photo/supplied

New Zealand’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s Safe Travels website lists Sri Lanka as a “Tier 2” country – meaning “raised vigilance” – in its four-level safety rating system. For context, other countries are also at Tier 2, including Australia, Canada, the Cook Islands, Fiji, Ireland and the United Kingdom.

Amita Weerakoon, a Sri Lankan New Zealander living in Auckland, visited the country in July, leading a group of under-19 cricketers and their families on a cricket and cultural tour. He has led tours to Sri Lanka, India and Australia since 2014, but says this is his best yet.

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Sigiriya, or Lion Rock, is one of the must-see attractions on the Sri Lankan tourist itinerary.photo/supplied
Sigiriya, or Lion Rock, is one of the must-see attractions on the Sri Lankan tourist itinerary.photo/supplied

“Having a trip without any issues makes the experience even sweeter,” he says.

“For Sri Lankans, seeing the tourists in the country during that time was a huge morale boost. They realized the importance of tourists being there and foreign exchange flowing into the country,” Verakun said. “At some venues, local teams and families were giving us a guard of honor when we got off the bus.

“We had a New Zealand flag on the front of the bus and when we were driving down the street people would cheer and give thumbs up and wave. We would stop and locals would say ‘Thank you so much for traveling around during this time Sri Lanka. “These tough times”. So it really makes sense.

Aucklander Kaushi Ambepitiya, who visited Sri Lanka for a wedding a month ago, said he felt completely safe even in the bustling city of Colombo. He travels by local bus and finds that the locals are very hospitable.

“I didn’t have a local SIM card and I didn’t have Wi-Fi, so I asked people for advice and everyone was very helpful, telling me which bus station to go to and where to get off,” Ambepitiya said.

“Another tourist couple got off at the wrong stop and someone overtook them and sent them back to the bus. It would have been easy not to care, that’s all, but someone overtook them.

“In general, Sri Lankans are very good people, they are willing to help, they will go out of their way. They are keen to move on and rebuild and welcome foreigners back to the country.”

Ambepitiya believes now is a good time to visit Sri Lanka to get ahead of the tourist crowds who may start returning and to take advantage of the strong New Zealand dollar exchange rate.

“The dollar goes a long way there. In terms of affordability, you’ll be able to take a decent vacation because it’s not very expensive,” he said.

“Sri Lanka is so beautiful, it has the best food. It has so much to offer, the culture, the people, the religion, all these things are embedded together. You have surfing beaches, waterfalls, rainforests – there’s a lot that people can experience. “

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Fernando agrees, saying that although Sri Lanka is a small island, “it has the attractions of an entire continent”.

While the economy and fuel crisis are slowly improving, Weerakoon recommends taking tours as part of a guided tour while things continue to return to normal. Tour groups are more secure in getting fuel and getting help if you run out of fuel – which is much more difficult if you’re traveling on your own.

“I think if you’re going with someone who understands the local restrictions, I’d recommend that.”

But overall, Weerakoon thinks Sri Lanka is now a very safe place for New Zealanders to visit, and it’s only going to get better.

“Sri Lanka has gone through some really tough times, but Sri Lankans are very resilient. And I’ve heard that tourists are starting to come back, which is good news.”

List: Sri Lanka

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There are several options for getting to Sri Lanka, but currently the best route is to fly to Sydney and then fly to Colombo on a direct flight with SriLankan Airlines. Contact your travel agent to find out which itinerary is best for you.

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For more information and advice visit srilanka.travel



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