Sri Lanka Travel Tips: How has guidance changed and is it safe for tourists amid protests?

Violent protests have been organized in Sri Lanka as the country grapples with an economic crisis.

Troops were ordered to open fire on looters after protesters torched the homes of several prominent politicians in recent days.

In response, a nationwide curfew was imposed and the Foreign Office (FCDO) updated its guidance on the Southeast Asian nation.

So what are the latest rules and are tourists safe to travel there? Here’s everything we know so far.

What is happening in Sri Lanka?

Sri Lanka has been plagued by protests for more than a month, which have spread from the capital to the countryside, in response to critical shortages of fuel, cooking gas and medicine, along with ongoing power cuts. People have been queuing for hours to buy essential items.

The state of emergency was declared on May 6; this week, protesters torched homes and businesses belonging to lawmakers and ruling party politicians. Eight people were killed in the riots and more than 200 were injured, according to local police.

Violent clashes led to the resignation of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa on May 9. Along with his brother, the president, Rajapaksa has been blamed by many for plunging the country into its worst economic crisis in decades.

In response to increasingly violent altercations between protesters and pro-government mobs, an island-wide curfew was imposed this week with immediate effect.

Are tourists subject to curfew?

As long as there is a curfew, tourists can leave the country at any time. The Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority has confirmed that international travelers can show their passports and plane tickets to travel to and from the airport during the curfew.

What should the British do if they are currently in the country?

The Foreign Office advises travelers to “be vigilant, avoid demonstrations or large gatherings and follow the advice of local authorities”.

Can I cancel my holiday in Sri Lanka?

Holidays from the UK to Sri Lanka are still operational with tour operators advising customers that it is safe to travel there. The unrest has mainly focused on the capital Colombo, in particular the Galle Face area, as well as the city of Kandy in the center of the country. Many tour operators’ packages are concentrated in beach resorts along the west coast of the island.

Although the FCDO has updated its guidance on the country, it does not advise against all but essential travel to Sri Lanka. This means that if tourists decide to cancel a trip, they are not entitled to an automatic refund.

However, some companies are changing their itineraries to avoid Colombo – Experience Travel Group, for example, has changed packages so “people can enjoy the beach or the interior for longer”.

What does the Foreign Ministry say?

“On May 9, there were several incidents of violence against protesters, including in the Galle Face area, where the authorities used tear gas and water cannons. Incidents also occurred near Beira Lake in Colombo, Kandy, and in other parts of the country, resulting in injuries and deaths. More incidents could occur. You should avoid all protests and follow the advice of local authorities.

“The strike action has been called by the unions for an indefinite period of time. This can cause the interruption of public services, including transportation. Flights and airport operations continue to operate.

“The economic situation is deteriorating in Sri Lanka with shortages of essential items including medicine, fuel and food due to a shortage of foreign exchange to pay for imports. There can be long lines at supermarkets, gas stations and pharmacies. Local authorities can impose electricity rationing, resulting in power outages.

“There have been a series of protests since March 31, 2022. On May 6, a state of emergency was declared. There are reports that more protests are likely across the island. The Sri Lankan Government may impose local restrictions at short notice. You should be vigilant, avoid demonstrations or large gatherings and follow the advice of local authorities.”

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