Independent Travel to Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka is a relatively easy destination for independent travelers. There is a good network of roads and English is widely spoken. Therefore, whether you wish to hire a car at the airport or are looking to use public transport as a backpacker, it is not too difficult to get about. Wildlife is always within relatively easy reach. Even when staying at a budget beach hotel, you can easily find a tuk tuk (auto rickshaw) to take you on a nature excursion. Many popular tourist destinations will hire out a car for a day or more if you wish to make longer excursions. The more popular places also have a broad range of accommodation, from rooms for backpackers to small guesthouses, luxury villas and hotels. Few Travel Guides provide plenty of information for independent travellers. It is possible to book an excursion to the popular national parks from nearby towns. For instance, Tissmaharama is the base for Yala and Bundala national parks, Habarana and Sigiriya for Minneriya National Park, and Nuwara Eliya for Horton Plains National Park. Both licensed and unlicensed operators will offer excursions that include a car and driver, and entry fees.
Note that it is unlikely you will receive quality naturalist interpretation on these tours. Ask around for recommendations if you are travelling independently. Booking bungalows or camping inside national parks involves a lot of logistics and formalities, and even tour operators often refuse to get involved. Sri Lanka is not like Malaysia, where you can turn up at a park and pay for a campsite ‘pitch’ on the spot. Entry permits to national parks and archaeological sites operate on two tiers: one for locals and the other for foreigners. The cheaper rate for locals is common in developing countries and aims to make the sites affordable to the local population. It is assumed that a foreigner on holiday is more affluent. Whilst this thinking is generally acceptable and not uncommon, the two-tier structure in Sri Lanka generates controversy, since visitor facilities for foreigners do not always justify the Higher rate demanded for them