This post most likely contains affiliate links to things such as tours, transport, accommodation, products & amazon associate links. I may receive a small commission if you use the links which costs you no extra, but helps keep this blog going.
To be honest, this isn’t a post I thought I’d have to write. From what I knew about Sri Lanka it doesn’t have a bad reputation for not being safe for female travellers, especially solo female travellers, not like countries like India, or the Middle East do, however, there were times during my 3 week Sri Lanka backpacking trip that as a female solo traveller, I felt a bit uneasy.
Now, that doesn’t mean not-safe. My initial answer to – ‘is Sri Lanka safe for female travellers’ is YES. But there are things to watch out for.
Sri Lanka has been on the backpacker radar for several years but only recently did it start to boom, noticeably after being named the top country to travel to by lonely planet for 2019. Many travellers heading to Sri Lanka may have had experience travelling South East Asia and now want to move onto South Asia but from my experience travelling Sri Lanka solo for 3 weeks, travelling around Sri Lanka is not the same as South East Asian countries such as Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia which are all deemed safe countries in Asia for female travellers.
Maybe it’s because mainstream tourism to Sri Lanka is relatively new, I mean, Sri Lanka’s 26-year civil war only ended in 2009.
Maybe it’s because many females, myself included, tend to dress like they’re in Thailand in Sri Lanka in small dresses and shorts and Sri Lanka is a very religious country where the local women do not dress quite like this.
Either way, this is not an excuse for some of the actions I saw and received in Sri Lanka, or that other females I know and met experienced.
I’m not writing this Solo Female in Sri Lanka Blog Post to scare you or put you off Sri Lanka, I just want to be honest so you know what to expect if you intend to travel to Sri Lanka as a solo woman or as a group of women.
For more information on what to expect from Sri Lanka before you go, have a watch of my YouTube video here!
I’ll start by explaining the worse thing I experienced in Sri Lanka, something I have never experienced in any of the other 55 countries I have been to and although I don’t judge the whole of Sri Lanka from this one incident, it did change my views of the country when wondering is Sri Lanka safe, and it’s what made me want to write this post.
I was on a public bus from Sigiriya to Trincomalee, the bus ride had been fine, sure I was squished at the back and at one point had a little girl being sick next to me, but that’s all part of the public bus experience in Sri Lanka, and they’re cheap so being a bit hot and sweaty is ok. Towards the end, most people had gotten off the bus and the back seat that I was on went from having 6 people squeezed on it to me at one end a local guy at the other.
Looking around I saw him staring at me but I didn’t think anything of it, I was a white girl on a public bus heading to the North East of Sri Lanka and that’s still not the norm. Fast forward a few minutes, I was listening to a podcast so I couldn’t hear much else but something made me turn my head and I see him with his penis out, wanking and staring at me!!
As soon as he saw me see, he put it away (I saw everything, it was awful!) and started to get up, I shouted ‘what the fuck?!’ to him and he swiftly jumped out of the back of the bus.. as we were still moving, so he knew what he was doing was wrong!
When I got to Trincomalee, I shared what had happened on my Instagram Stories and I got a lot of messages back from women. The comments were that this had happened to them all around the world, in different Asian countries and Europe countries but for the purpose of this post, 4 of the responses I got were from women who said that this had happened to them in Sri Lanka too!
So maybe, wanking in public over a female foreigner is a thing in Sri Lanka?
This is not to say all men will do this and that would be an awful assumption, but getting 4 responses from experiences of this happening in different parts of the country- Kandy and the Southern Beaches being some of the places, I personally found this quite shocking and I feel this needs to be spoken about so men there know it’s not ok, and men and women know that this is the kind of thing that women could face when travelling to Sri Lanka.
This didn’t deter me using public buses and I wouldn’t let it put you off either, generally I found the buses very safe and locals seemed either happy to have me on- it’s true that many locals do know how important tourism in Sri Lanka is to the country, especially after the bombing incident during Easter 2019 which meant a lot of tourists were unable to visit Sri Lanka due to our countries enforcements, or they seemed unfazed to see me on the buses, which is also a nice feeling when you do stand out a lot.
Related Post: Tips for Planning Your First Solo Trip So You Go On It!
Travel Insurance for Sri Lanka.
Remember you’ll need travel insurance before your trip to Sri Lanka. I am insured by World Nomad’s and I really recommend them as they were created by travellers for travellers and I have always had and heard positive things about them. Get a quote here whilst you’re thinking about it.
I’ll add here that if you want to travel to Sri Lanka solo but you feel uneasy about it or would rather travel with people (which is always fun!). I’d recommend going on a group tour. I’ve been speaking to One Life Adventures recently as I love the look of their Sri Lanka tour, the itinerary is perfect for a first trip to Sri Lanka and it looks like they have a lot of fun together!
You can view the tour here and if you like the look of it you can use the promo code THEWANDERINGQUINN to get $50AUD off your Sri Lanka tour!
India is known for its stares, people tell you that you’ll be stared at constantly in India, which is true, no one told me that I’d be stared at in Sri Lanka, but I was. I had eyes staring at me everywhere here too. Along with a fair few catcalls and those annoying kissing sounds as I walked past men.
When I walked out of my hotel that was run by men only, when walking out of a shop and down the street, I could feel the stares on the back of me. This kind of thing doesn’t happen in South East Asia, from my experience there the local men couldn’t care less about foreign women and don’t stare in a sexualising way or because we look different.
Again, this doesn’t mean that Sri Lanka is not safe for females but it’s something to be aware of.
You will be stared at and you may have annoying, sexualising comments made to you too.
The final issue that made me feel a bit uneasy as a solo female traveller in Sri Lanka was the oh so typical question ‘where’s your boyfriend?’.
Ladies, many parts of the world still think we need to be travelling with a boyfriend or husband!
This question gets asked a lot all over the world and especially in Asia, so it’s not just Sri Lanka but I was asked this a lot in Sri Lanka. I never know what this question is asking – do they genuinely think I can’t travel alone and therefore me saying ‘I don’t have a boyfriend, I’m travelling Sri Lanka on my own’ just surprises them and isn’t the norm for them, or are they asking in a sly way to see if I’m solo and therefore available..
Who knows and I’m sure each situation changes depending on the male asking.
In general, without comparing Sri Lanka too much, I found travelling through Sri Lanka to be in the middle of South East Asia and India. Sri Lanka is not as intense as India at all, firstly there are not the same amount of people in Sri Lanka density wise as India and it’s not as loud, busy and hectic. However, it’s not as easy and breezy as South East Asia where all the countries are fully used to tourism and have a solid tourism infrastructure.
I will take this time to say that overall I found the people in Sri Lanka extremely nice, happy and helpful!
I was welcomed with a smile in many places, people helped me with directions, I had a lot of nice conversations with locals and even the tuk-tuk guys weren’t overly pushy!
‘Is Sri Lanka safe for women travellers?’, like I said at the start, from my experience – YES!
But I wanted to write this post so if you are coming to Sri Lanka soon on your own, or you’re thinking about travelling Sri Lanka solo and looking for solo travel tips for Sri Lanka, you are prepared for a few things that might happen and a few ways you may feel uneasy. Although I really hope the first experience I shared doesn’t happen to you!
For more information on what to expect from Sri Lanka before you go, have a watch of my YouTube video here!
My main travel tip for solo female travellers to Sri Lanka to ensure you receive less attention as a foreign woman travelling Sri Lanka solo, or even a group of foreign women, is to watch how to dress, and this is essentially the answer in all countries.
On travel days in Sri Lanka using public transport, I always had my legs covered in full length or 3/4 length trousers and wore a t-shirt. I mean this still didn’t stop one guy thinking I looked attractive, but it does and will help with how local people look at you and how you are perceived as being dressing respectfully in Sri Lanka.
In the beach towns of the South Coast and East Coast you can dress more like you are on holiday in dresses, shorts and a tank top, Ella is another town that is based around tourism and it is ok to dress like this in Ella too. However in cities like Colombo, Negombo, Dambulla, Jaffna and Kandy that do get tourism but they are mainly local cities where people live over being tourist hubs, I would again recommend you dress more conservatively with your legs covered and your shorters too with no cleavage on show.
If you’re still feeling a bit uneasy about visiting Sri Lanka alone, I’d recommend going on a group tour. I’ve been speaking to One Life Adventures recently as I love the look of their Sri Lanka tour, the itinerary is perfect for your first trip to Sri Lanka and it looks like they have a lot of fun.
You can view the tour here and if you like the look of it you can use the promo code THEWANDERINGQUINN to get $50AUD off your trip!
Let me know in the comments if you found this useful, if you can relate, or if you have another opinion and different experiences on the subject.
To read more of my Sri Lanka posts see:
I’m Ellie Quinn!
I’m a travel addict who has been travelling on and off since 2010. In the Summer of 2018 I quit my office job in London, left my flat and I now travel and blog full time! Yes, I’m living that dream!
NOV-DEC: PROBABLY INDONESIA
If you want to join or read more about the details of the group tour.