1- Don’t take Tuk Tuks that don’t have metres.
While in Colombo it became quickly apparent that Tuk Tuks without metres were going to cost far more than ones that had them. As a tourist you have no clue what the local price is and even if you knew it’s unlikely they would comply because you’re not a local and that’s fine. So long as you hop into Tuk Tuks that have metres you won’t lose much money since there’s no way they can ask for more than what the metre counts.
Outside of Colombo many Tuk Tuks didn’t have metres and the way I got around that is by agreeing to a price with the driver before going into the Tuk Tuk. You lose your haggling grounds if you try negotiating after the driver has dropped you off.
2- Don’t buy international sim cards and exchange money at the airport.
From my experience the airports exchange rate wasn’t too bad but you’ll find better rates elsewhere. If you need money on arrival you can exchange a small amount there until you find a better place or even exchange before travelling to Sri Lanka. I found the best rate to be at a jewellery shop rather than at any currency exchange shops. I wouldn’t have known this unless a Tuk Tuk driver told me it was the best rates possible.
As for sim cards, again it depends on what’s available but the local sim card companies tend to be cheaper with the same deals as any international ones such as Etisalat or Vodafone. You can obviously pay a little extra at the airport and save yourself the hassle of finding a sim card shop as they’re a little hard to come by.
3- Don’t pay for things at its first price.
Just as with Tuk Tuks, you can haggle with almost anything. Tourist shops are naturally far more expensive than local shops or markets but they are of course easier to find as they tend to target areas that tourists go to. Still, you won’t lose too much money if you haggle. I haggled for tea, clothes and souvenirs. The only things you shouldn’t haggle for are food at restaurants or hotel prices. Other than that feel free to negotiate just try not to be rude or to upset the seller.
Also bare in mind that any extra amount of money they earn makes a big difference to their lives and a small one to yours. If you can help it, don’t leave a shop which hasn’t had a customer yet as some Sri Lankans believe their first customer of the day will determine that days luck. If you buy something, that’ll determine good luck and if you don’t it will bring bad luck.
4- Don’t assume you’re safe because of mosquito nets and an umbrella.
Buy insect repellent and sunscreen. You can never be too safe. My experience was that mosquito nets don’t have a 100% success rate of course and as for sunscreen you can still tan with sunscreen on so don’t worry about that. I used my umbrella far more for the sun than I did for the rain so it would make sense to bring one along for the duration of your trip just to avoid sun burns and things like heat strokes.
5- Don’t go with anyone who offers to give you a tour.
This of course depends on the person offering but avoid going to places then finding last minute offers on tours and the like. Better safe than sorry. You’re better off asking your hotel staff for advice on what to do and where to go as well as any other local knowledge of tours and the like. That way you know that the information you’re getting is a little more trustworthy and you can avoid scammers or anyone else wishing to cause you harm.
I just want to say that everyones experience in a country may be different from another persons experiences and so sometimes advice such as the one above may not be applicable to all. Some may be helpful, some may not. All I hope for is that you give Sri Lanka a chance, a visit and to enjoy your trip.
These are also a few numbers I managed to get from people that, from my experience, I deemed trustworthy and helpful-
Danushka was the person who I dealt with when I needed assistance with my safari trip. You can read more about that here. He provides a Jeep and a driver for a charge cheaper than the others I saw, the only thing is that the actual cost of entry to the safari isn’t included in his package. Overall though it’s still cheaper than most.
Galle/Unawatuna Tuk Tuk Driver- 0775495705
This man was awfully kind to me and was always on time when I called him to pick me up. You could of course always just go onto the roads and signal any Tuk Tuk to stop for you but my advice is find a driver you’re comfortable with, take his number and then call him whenever you need him. This way you’re at ease and you’ll be paying a relatively fair price to be transported around.
Rasika was my driver who took me from my hotel in Matara to the Nandana Tea Factory. You can read more about that here. He also dropped me back to the airport in Colombo when my stay was over. He has a car rather than a Tuk Tuk which makes it more expensive so save him for long distance travels that can’t be done with a Tuk Tuk. He was still far cheaper than any other prices that I knew of for the same services I required.
Thilani was the landlord of Lands End Villa that I stayed in during my Galle/Unawatuna stay. He’s extremely helpful and has many contacts that can assist you with anything you’re looking for. His prices can be cheap or a little expensive depending on what you’re asking for but if you’re ever in need of anything he’ll be happy to help.
Colombo Tuk Tuk Driver- 0715967137
This driver was another helpful man who took me all over Colombo in one day and knew every area I wanted to see and had plenty of his own suggestions. If you’re ever in Colombo he’s your guy, especially if you’re not sure of what to do; tourists are a bit of his specialty. You can read more about my Colombo experience here.