There’s no better way to experience Sri Lanka than with a dash (however much is up to you!) of exposure and experience within the local community. From travelling on public transport to buying from corner shops to support the local economy, your time in Sri Lanka will no doubt be enhanced with more smiles and memories if you embrace the true nature of the country.
To help along the way, here are my top tips for jet-setters to experience the country with an infusion of local culture.
Colombo to Jaffna intercity train
Public transport. As well as being more affordable than cars, minibuses or tuk tuks (especially long distance), experiencing public transport in Sri Lanka really is a must. Train rides offer views like no other alongside mountainous countryside & lush green jungle whilst buses have a real local buzz, with music often blaring from the speakers and music videos vibrantly playing on a tv.
You can often cheat on the train if so inclined- 1st class reserved seat AC is relatively inexpensive (under $10 from coast to coast) but you might find travelling on 2nd or 3rd will be more fun, if slightly hard on the seat for longer distance. When I travel via public transport I wear modest clothing to avoid unecessary attention.
Eat locally. Restaurants with simple, rustic interiors tend to be the best value and quite often offer the most authentic food, especially when it comes to vegetarian options. #1 rule, If you see crowds of locals, it’s often a good sign. Ask for their advice on whats the best on the menu, tuck in with your right hand instead of cutlery (perhaps observe the way others eat first!) and enjoy. Local Sri Lankan food is really delicious.
Buy from supermarkets instead of targeted tourist shops. From curry powder to natural ayurvedic products, you will often find items for sale that would make nice travel gifts at supermarkets identically (or very similarly) sold at tourist shops more expensively, especially places like spice gardens where locals never shop. When I travel back to England I never forget to stock up on roasted curry powder, cinnamon, tea, cashew nuts, arrack (local liquer) and kithul honey which can be enjoyed with porridge.
Support small ‘kade’ corner shops. Local kade shops are ubiquitous across Sri Lanka. You will find single sachets of shampoo/shower gel/washing powder (even car wash and men’s cologne!) amongst countless of other handy travel friendly items for your journey. Snacks, phone reload/data, medicine, ayurvedic remedies etc. If they don’t have something you need they will likely be able to tell you where you can buy it from close by. Kades are extremely affordable whilst simultaniously supporting local trade.
Book a homestay. Homestays are becoming ever popular, with Sri Lanka one of the top countries to reap the benefits from this type of accommodation. Locals naturally tend to be very warm and hospitable, offering a great experience to see how the community live- not to mention taste 100% authentic non commercialised food. Although the rooms and facilities are generally basic in comparison to hotels, the experience is incomparible.