To be honest, a post on solo travel in Sri Lanka, 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 travel in Sri Lanka, not like countries like India, or the Middle East do, however, there were times during my 3-week backpacking Sri Lanka alone trip that as a solo female traveller, I felt a bit uneasy.
Related Post: A Guide on Where To Visit in Sri Lanka on Your First Trip!
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 and I couldn’t not write them down and warn you about them!
Solo Travel in Sri Lanka
Backpacking Sri Lanka Alone
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 those 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 and solo travel in Sri Lanka, have a watch of my YouTube video here!
TRAVEL INSURANCE FOR SRI LANKA
Have you got travel insurance for Sri Lanka yet? Make sure you take insurance out before you go! I am insured with World Nomad’s who I really like because they designed by travellers, for travellers, you can even purchase insurance with them once you have left for your trip.
Get a quote from them here whilst you’re thinking about it:
Solo Female Travel Sri Lanka
Men Wanking Over Women in Public
I’ll start by explaining the worse thing I experienced during my solo travel in Sri Lanka trip, 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 ladies that follow me on Instagram who also experienced 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 or deter me from solo travel in Sri Lanka, 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!
Staring in Sri Lanka
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 solo travel in Sri Lanka or solo female travel in Sri Lanka is not safe, but it’s something to be aware of.
You will be stared at and you may have annoying, sexualising comments made to you too.
‘Where is your boyfriend??’
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!
Solo Female Travel Tips for Sri Lanka
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 you dress, and this is essentially the answer in all countries.
What to wear in Sri Lanka as a Female
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.
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:
- Where To Visit in Sri Lanka on Your First Trip!
- Arugam Bay Travel Guide – Surf Spots, Yoga, Cafes, Day Trips & Parties!
- How To Get From Negombo to Sigiriya By Public Bus.
- ALL SRI LANKA POSTS
Sunday 21st of May 2023
I know certain countries have a bad rep, but you sure do seem to love putting India at the forefront of this post in terms of a benchmark. :)
Anyway, thank you for your travel tips. Very helpful.
Saturday 24th of April 2021
Heyyy I'm from Sri Lanka and I read the awful situation you had to face in Sri Lanka. That's how SOME men here react when they see a girl (any girl, they just don't care what colour or where are they from). We go through such situations so often. I feel sorry for the situation that you had to go through, but Sri Lanka is a BEAUTIFUL country and I hope you got to enjoy your visit here. I know how terrible was the experience but I wish you had more good memories about Sri Lanka. ❤️
Monday 3rd of May 2021
Thank you so so much for your kind message!
Friday 24th of July 2020
Hey this is a really informative blog, the penis situation has happened to me in Cuba and Thailand. Often when I went off the beaten track on my own. For example when I went for a run outside of pai in north Thailand a boy wanked off in front of me on his moped ? and followed me. The same kind of thing happened to me in Cuba. Always when I climbed off the beaten track. Not a nice experience at all. But both countries are fantastic but lets remember these are developing countries. I couldn’t cope with Sri Lanka staring tbh, so won’t be heading there anytime soon. Thank you kindly for your blog post, it’s good to know that I am not the only one this has happened to.
Monday 27th of July 2020
Hello Katherine, Urgh that's awful and I'm sorry that happened to you too! Yes the staring in Sri Lanka is bad but I'm glad you have been to see the country anyway and hope you can head somewhere else as soon as possible! Thank you for reading the post :)
Tuesday 10th of September 2019
So sorry that your trip was tarnished by a pervert in the bus. :-(
Regarding the questions on being married or having a boyfriend/girlfriend, those are typically innocent/ignorant. A lot of people (especially older, less educated or rural folk) tend to be nosey, and find it acceptable to ask such questions which would be regarded as rude/private elsewhere. Even Sri Lankan youngsters get asked that if they're of age. For example, a single Sri Lankan man/woman of say 30-35 would be flooded with questions about their marital status (if married, then about kids etc.) even from people they barely know. Even though those people don't mean any harm, it's super annoying, but they just don't know any better unfortunately. Another thing to note is that when such people travel, they travel in big family groups, and therefore find it surprising that people indeed travel solo!
Wednesday 16th of October 2019
Thank you for those thoughts, that's good to know! :)
Tuesday 3rd of September 2019
I listened to a podcast you was in the other day and you mentioned your love of Thailand, it’s funny because ive been India and travelled by myself ( a young girl solo) and never felt intimidated or had this sort of disrespectful situation. However I’ve been Thailand 3 times with different people and each time (seen the penis situation too on a public bus there) and had guys shouting sexual things to me and even be incredibly aggressive either on a boat and in shops. I think everyone has different experiences and I’m glad you still came to the conclusion is Sri Lanka safe - yes, I think no matter where you go sadly as a woman you have to think sensible and dress sensible.
Wednesday 16th of October 2019
Hi Liz, Sorry for the late reply, thank you for commenting and sharing this, that's super interesting to hear and I totally agree that everyone has different experiences! That's a shame about Thailand but I'm pleased to hear that about India! :)