Women travelling alone may experience uncomfortable levels of male attention. Outside of Colombo, it is a good idea to cover your legs and shoulders, though you’ll be stared at no matter what you wear. Tight tops are a bad idea. And away from the tourist beaches of the South and West, consider swimming in a T-shirt and shorts.
In Colombo and popular tourist areas you can relax the dress code. ‘Are you married?’ could be the snappy conversation starter you hear most often, so consider wearing a fake wedding ring and carrying a few pics of your imaginary partner back home.
Women travelling alone may be hassled while walking around day and night, or while exploring isolated places. Physical harassment (grabbing and groping) can occur anywhere. Single women may be followed, so try to be connected with larger groups of people. There have also been cases of solo women being attacked by guides at heritage sites; again, don’t go alone.
However, travelling in Sri Lanka is not one long hassle. Unpleasant incidents are the exception, not the rule. But remember there are many social environments that are almost exclusively male in character – local bars, for example. Stock up on tampons as they can be very hard to find.
Bus & Train Travel
Women travelling solo will find buses and trains trying at times. In Colombo ordinary buses are so packed that sometimes it’s impossible to avoid bodily contact with other passengers. Stray hands on crowded buses and trains happen; this is something that local women are also subjected to. Change your seat or sit with a local woman. If you gesture to a local woman to sit next to you, she’ll understand.
Gay & Lesbian Travelers
Same sex sexual activity is illegal in Sri Lanka and the subject is little discussed publicly. No one has been convicted for over 60 years, but it pays to be discreet. There is no legislation to protect LGBT people from harassment.
The situation is changing, and Colombo has a low-key scene. You can be more open in cosmopolitan areas like Col 1, Col 3 and Col 7.
Equal Ground, a Colombo-based organization supporting gay and lesbian rights, sponsors pride events, offers counselling services and has useful online resources.
Travelers with Disabilities
Sri Lanka is a challenge for travelers with disabilities, but the ever-obliging Sri Lankans are always ready to assist. If you have restricted mobility, you may find it difficult, if not impossible, to get around on public transport. Buses and trains don’t have facilities for wheelchairs. Moving around towns and cities can also be difficult for those in a wheelchair and for the visually impaired because of the continual roadworks and often-poor quality roads; don’t expect many smooth footpaths. The chaotic nature of Sri Lankan traffic is also a potentially dangerous challenge. A car and driver is your best transport option. If possible, travel with a strong, able-bodied person.
Apart from some top-end hotels, accommodation is not geared for wheelchairs. However, many places can provide disabled travelers with rooms and bathrooms that are accessible without stairs.