Sri Lanka reopening in August with minimum stays and Covid-19 tests for tourists

Travellers will have coronavirus tests at the airport and must stay in the country for at least five nights

Mirissa, a town in southern Sri Lanka, is popular with tourists. Unsplash 
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Sri Lanka will reopen to travellers from Saturday, August 1.

The country had closed its borders in a bid to prevent the spread of Covid-19, but will reopen to all nationalities and all types of travellers in August, according to the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau.

In preparation for its reopening, several safety guidelines and precautionary measures are being implemented across the country.

These include mandatory face masks on flights, in airports and when travelling around the country.

The traditional Sri Lankan greeting of Ayubowan is also being promoted as the recommended way for people to greet one another, as it involves less contact than shaking hands, hugging or kissing on the cheeks.

Covid-19 tests will be free 

All travellers landing in Sri Lanka will need to bring a valid, negative Covid-19 test that has been taken within the past 72 hours. Travellers will then be tested at their arrival airport in the teardrop nation. Results are expected within 24 hours, with hopes that the process will get faster in the future.

Once travellers enter the country, they will need to have another Covid-19 test five to seven days later, and again between 10 and 12 days for anyone staying longer. The tests will be conducted free of charge, but if results are positive, travellers will need to foot the bill in designated quarantine hotels or hospitals where they will be charged $100 (Dh367) per night.

All tourists need visas

Popular tourism attractions in Sri Lanka will reopen in August with strict hygiene procedures in place. 

There will be no more visas issued on arrival or visa free statuses given to travellers. From August 1, all tourists entering Sri Lanka must apply online for tourist visa. The cost of this visa is $100 per person.

Visas will be issued for a period of 30 days and are extendable for up to six months after arrival. Applications can be made here. Before applying for the visa, travellers must have confirmation of their accommodation booking.

Travellers can only book approved hotels

Travellers can only book to stay in hotels and accommodation approved by the Sri Lankan tourism board. Courtesy Haritha Villas & Spa 

Travellers need to plan to spend the first night of the holiday near the airport. That means booking a stay in Colombo or Negombo for anyone flying into Bandaranaike International Airport. This is so that travellers are in proximity to the airport while their Covid-19 tests are being processed.

The train journey from Kandy to Ella is said to be one of the most scenic in the world, but for the moment it's going to be off limits to tourists in Sri Lanka

Once cleared to leave, visitors might not be able to head for that tiny homestay in the hills of Jaffna or coveted surf shack in Kalametiya. That's because tourists can now only book to stay in hotels and guesthouses approved by the ministry of tourism.

All approved accommodation will have enhanced hygiene policies, including on-call doctors, temperature scanners and strict policies on food services. An updated list of places to stay can be found on the Sri Lanka tourism website and there are several varieties of accommodation on offer with everything from luxury five-star hotels to boutique villas and heritage homes.

Swimming pools and health facilities remain closed in Sri Lanka, but the tourism bureau has published detailed rules that properties must follow for their operation if the government relaxes this restriction.

No public transport

The train journey from Kandy to Ella is said to be one of the most scenic in the world, but for the moment, it's going to be off-limits to tourists in Sri Lanka. Foreign travellers cannot use public transport and must arrange transportation to their accommodation before arriving in the country.

Popular tourist destination, Nine Arches Bridge in Ella, Sri Lanka. Unsplash

No travel restrictions will be put in place between districts and travellers will be able to visit the majority of the country's tourism sites where enhanced safety protocols will be in place. Places such as Yala National Park, Udawalawe, Arugam Bay and Trincomalee will be among those open to tourists.

Travellers can opt to get around the country by private taxi, car or bus and these should be arranged via accommodation providers or travel agents.

Previous reports that Sri Lanka planned to reopen its tourism sector in mid-June by allowing only small groups of visitors to begin with, were deemed false by the tourism bureau. All types of travellers whether tour groups, families or individuals can travel to Sri Lanka from August.

The country reported another 20 cases of the virus on Saturday, May 30, taking the total number of cases so far to 1,859.

The country attracted about two million tourists last year, and the sector contributes about 11 per cent to the nation's gross domestic product.

The main tourist season in Sri Lanka typically begins in November, but the teardrop island is popular with holidaymakers from the UAE year-round.