The Allure of Solo Travel in Sri Lanka
Considering a solo exploration of the wonders of Sri Lanka? I highly recommend it, especially if you're a budget traveler, since it is one of the cheapest Asian countries to visit. A solo trip to Sri Lanka will be an amazing journey filled with stunning landscapes, rich culture, and warm hospitality. Traveling alone in Sri Lanka isn't just a trip, it's an opportunity to immerse yourself in the heart of this captivating island and create memories that will last a lifetime! From vibrant city streets to peaceful coastal towns, solo travel in Sri Lanka promises a perfect blend of freedom and cultural exploration.
Setting out on a solo journey in Sri Lanka opens the door to flexibility and self-discovery. Picture yourself wandering through ancient Buddhist temples in Kandy, savoring freshly brewed Ceylon tea in the misty hills of Unawatuna, or strolling along the pristine beaches of the South Coast. The allure of solo travel lies in the ability to set your own pace, explore hidden gems off the beaten path, and connect with the friendly locals eager to share their stories. How safe is it to travel Sri Lanka alone? Let's break it down.
The Low Crime Rate and Welcoming Culture of Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka boasts a remarkably low crime rate, making it a safe haven for solo travelers, including solo female travelers. Sri Lankans, are recognized for their friendliness and welcoming nature. As you navigate through bustling areas, explore smaller towns, or simply relax on pristine beaches, you'll find yourself surrounded by a community eager to share their traditions and make your solo journey a memorable one. You legitimately cannot walk 5 minutes through any populated area of Sri Lanka without a tuk tuk driver waving you down with a jovial "good morning ma'am" or "good morning sir!"
The warmth of Sri Lankans will become a standout feature of your adventure. Whether you're navigating the vibrant streets of Colombo or seeking directions to the ancient Sigiriya rock fortress, friendly smiles and helpful gestures abound. As a solo female traveler, I felt that Sri Lanka was an especially inviting destination, with locals going out of their way to ensure my comfort and safety. As a solo traveler, you'll quickly see for yourself that the hospitality of Sri Lankans transforms your journey into a series of heartwarming encounters.
Violent crimes are not something you have to be too worried about during your time in Sri Lanka. Petty crime like pickpocketing isn't something I personally experienced, but I still think that it's always a good idea to keep your head on a swivel and keep your valuable items hidden from view.
The Current Safety Situation in Sri Lanka for Solo Travelers
The aftermath of the civil war has seen a concerted effort from the Sri Lankan government and its people to promote tourism and rebuild the nation's image. While it's wise to stay informed about the current situation, rest easy knowing that your solo adventure in Sri Lanka is taking place in a gorgeous country full of endearing people working towards a brighter, more secure future.
I recently visited Sri Lanka (April 2023) and not only is it a beautiful country, it is also quite a safe country for solo travelers. That being said, the country is currently undergoing its worst economic crisis in decades forcing a lot of local people into poverty. Because of this, in major cities and tourist destinations, it is extremely common for local men (especially if they are a tuk-tuk driver) to try to scam tourists.
I'll go into more detail regarding common scams in the next section. However as a rule of thumb - avoid anyone who offers to "help" you with something you weren't even looking for help with. Remember, Sri Lankans are extremely friendly people and the scammers are no exception!
Common Scams in Sri Lanka
As mentioned earlier, there are a lot of scams in the more crowded areas of Sri Lanka, like Colombo. However, I want to make it clear that this should not deter you from visiting this beautiful country! Despite how frequently I came across people trying to scam me, Sri Lanka is just about tied with Vietnam for my favorite country in the world. Immediately upon arrival to the country, it's just good vibes all around and they never left no matter which part of Sri Lanka I was in. This section will help keep you abreast of the more common scams you might encounter. To be fair most of these occur in Colombo, the capital city, but can happen in other areas like beach towns where there are a lot of tourists.
"Government" Tuk Tuks
This one might sound silly to anyone who is a frequent traveler of Southeast Asian countries. Tuk tuks are often the best way to get around most places in Southeast Asia and this goes for Sri Lanka as well. The scammers in this situation will try to convince you that Sri Lanka has government regulations around their tuk tuks...this is NOT true.
There is NO SUCH THING as a “government” tuk tuk!! - a common scam in Colombo is for someone to notice you walking (they will usually walk ahead of you for some time, then find some reason to turn back) and telling you that they work for a hotel & can offer some recommendations. As you’re wrapping up your conversation, they’ll then tell you to make sure not to take any red or blue tuk tuks because only yellow (color choice will vary) are government operated and have a meter*. Roughly 30 seconds later, a yellow (or whichever color they told you was government operated) tuk tuk will pull up and you’ll be taken to numerous places unless you’re firm. The meter will also conveniently be broken 🙃
*Note that all tuk tuks in Colombo do actually have a meter and the rough price is 100lkr/km traveled.
The "Pay What You Want" Tuk Tuk
This one kind of goes in tandem with the above. If you do step into that "government tuk tuk" the driver will tell you not to worry about the price and that you can pay what you want. This is actually true, but they will take you all around the city and keep trying to convince you that you need to see XYZ location and that they can take you there. This isn't too bad if you have time to spare, but if you're like me and happened to have a tour scheduled, you need to be firm and keep insisting that you need to be dropped off (it'll take about 5 tries for it to finally stick).
There is NO festival conveniently happening on the day that you arrive that you have never heard about and can't find on the internet!!
Often a tuk tuk driver or someone on the street will ask you if you’re “going to the festival” & when you have no clue what they’re talking about, they’ll describe an amazing event (think hundreds of elephants parading down the main roads lit up by lantern at night). It doesn’t exist!
This scam is usually heard in Colombo where a lot of people tend to only spend one night. The goal of this scam is to get you to extend your stay by one more night because the festival that was described sounds so incredible and like you just can't miss it. The tuk tuk driver will also offer to be your personal driver for the day and overcharge you (this part really isn't all that bad because they still don't charge very much - only a few dollars per day).
Sri Lanka is known for its high quality sapphires and it is a great place to get them for low prices. However, you may come across someone who tells you to make sure you only go to a "government-run" jewelry shop. If you let them take you to said shop, it will conveniently have a "one day only" 50% off everything sale. This is not a government run jewelry shop. The owner of the shop will even go so far as to show you an official-looking ID and tell you that he used to be the mayor. I won't go so far as to say that this shop is selling fake jewelry, but it is definitely overpriced and not as high quality as the jewelry you'll find elsewhere on the island.
Exploring the Must-Visit Destinations in Sri Lanka for Solo Travelers
Now that safety is covered, let's dive into the exciting part – the destinations! Nuwara Eliya, with its lush tea fields and colonial charm, is a must-visit for solo travelers seeking a serene retreat. There is plenty of greenery and it is one of the most beautiful places in the country.
The South Coast beckons with its countless beautiful beaches, each offering a unique atmosphere, from the vibrant nightlife of Hikkaduwa to the tranquil shores of Mirissa. If you are lucky, you might even get to see baby turtles hatching on the beaches! Just make sure you don't touch them - even if it looks like they need some help. Sadly I missed the hatchlings by a day so I didn't get to see them.
A MUST DO while you are here is take the blue train from Kandy to Ella (or the reverse way). It is known as the most scenic train ride in the world and for good reason. It's a slow, 7 hour journey but you won't want to close your eyes for even a second of it. And this is coming from someone who typically falls asleep within 5 minutes of sitting down for a long ride or flight. This train will be full of Sri Lankan people since they take this train as part of their normal commute between towns. As a solo traveler, you can comfortably take this train with no worries regarding your safety. You'll be met with the typical Sri Lankan friendliness and welcoming attitude. If you need to take a nap - go for it, the only thing you'll wake up missing is the stunning scenery and numerous waterfalls that have gone by.
The towns of Kandy and Ella themselves are incredible to visit as a solo traveler as well. Kandy is known for its religious sites. Here, you can immerse yourself in Sri Lankan culture and history. There are also regular performances of the traditional Kandyan dance. A local might approach you and ask if you're interested in seeing the performance - this is not a scam. They will walk you all the way to the ticketing office. It is customary to give them a small tip for helping you out. The Kandyan dance is truly unique and without spoiling too much, you'll see backflips and firewalking to give you an idea of what you're in for!
Ella is one of the more touristy parts of Sri Lanka, but it is so so so beautiful and serene, you have to stay here at least one or two nights! The nearby Nine Arches bridge and Adams peak are two popular tourist destinations worth a visit from Ella. I'd also recommend taking a trip to the Ella Spice Garden for a tour and one of the best cooking classes you'll ever take.
Connecting with Other Solo Travelers and Locals in Sri Lanka
Want to travel to Sri Lanka solo but don't actually want to spend your entire time there alone? There are plenty of opportunities in Sri Lanka to connect with others.
One option is to jump into a tuk-tuk and strike up a conversation with your friendly driver. They are more often than not completely open to chatting and will tell you all about their lives. One of my hostel friends wound up befriending her driver to the point she got invited to a Sri Lankan wedding as a guest! A tuk-tuk driver is fantastic company, knows a lot about the country, and can give you so much background info on the sites you visit.
Another easy way to make a new friend is to stay at a hostel or local guest house. You'll meet a lot of other foreigners this way and also possibly learn about excursions and things to do that you might not have known about prior to arriving. Having the camaraderie of fellow adventurers will undoubtedly enhance your solo journey, leaving you with fond memories of your Sri Lanka trip .
Solo female travelers, in particular, find Sri Lanka to be a welcoming destination where they can connect with local women, share experiences, and form lasting bonds. Engaging with local communities, whether it's joining a cooking class or participating in traditional ceremonies, allows solo travelers to create meaningful connections and gain a deeper understanding of the vibrant Sri Lankan culture.
Tips to Ensure a Safe Solo Trip in Sri Lanka
Research and Plan Your Itinerary Carefully
The easiest way to make your trip to Sri Lanka safe is to plan in advance. Read up on blogs (like this one!) of travelers who have visited recently. Reach out to travelers on social media to find out more info regarding locations that you might not be able to find a lot of details about online. There's no need to plan yourself into oblivion (I rarely do). But the bare minimum you should be doing is looking up the cities you want to visit and seeing what advice others have for visiting.
Stay Connected and Share Your Plans with Someone You Trust
Always always always make sure that someone from back home knows where you're off to and when to expect to hear from you. That way, in the absolute worst case scenario if you go missing, they'll know right away when to start reaching out to authorities. Pick set times to call your family and/or friends and share your location with at least one person from back home. You can share your location using find my friends on iphone or google maps on android (there might be another option for android users, but I'm not aware of it).
Choose Accommodations with Good Security Measures
Check those reviews!!! Don't ever pick a hotel, hostel, or guesthouse without making sure that there are a decent number of positive reviews on whatever site you are using to book the accommodation. For me, this usually means filtering my results to 9 stars and up for hostels in popular tourist destinations and 7 stars & up for more rural areas. Additionally, I tend to look for hostels or guesthouses with at least 100 reviews in major cities and maybe 10 in less populated regions. In terms of hotels, I tend to look for brands I am familiar with and book on trip.com where I can see pictures from the reviewers.
Regardless of if you are booking a hotel, hostel, or guesthouse, read through all the reviews and try to sus out whether the positive ones seem sus (all seem very similar, only 5 words, etc.). Also no matter how many positive reviews there are, check the negative ones too. This will let you know what the worst thing about the accommodation is and you can decide if it is a deal breaker for you.
Be Aware of Your Surroundings and Trust Your Instincts
I always preach that no matter where you are, trust your gut. Especially as a solo female traveler, if you feel like a situation is off, get out of there! The worst thing that can happen is that you were wrong and you are safe. The best thing that can happen is that you are right and you are safe. You don't want to ignore your gut feeling only to realize that you were correct and find yourself in an unsafe situation.
If you like to go out and party, you do you! Just make sure to never leave your drink unattended (alcoholic or non-alcoholic). It is far too easy for someone to slip something into your drink. This goes for anywhere though, not just Sri Lanka - I abide by this rule in New York, Boston, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and anywhere I go in the world. It doesn't matter how much of a budget you're on, it's always better to waste a drink than potentially waste your life.
As a solo traveler, you have the privilege of fully embracing the unique experiences and cultural immersion Sri Lanka offers. Navigate local buses to experience the daily life of the locals, try delicious street food that reflects the island's diverse culinary heritage, and explore off the beaten track destinations to discover hidden treasures. From the iconic tea plantations in Ella to the mesmerizing Hindu temples in Trincomalee, each moment in Sri Lanka is an opportunity for authentic discovery.
Sri Lanka is not just a destination, it's a journey that beckons you to explore, learn, and connect. So, pack your bags, grab your travel tips, and get ready for an unforgettable solo adventure in this beautiful island paradise!