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I'm thinking about going to visit a coworker of mine who is from Sri Lanka. If I'm flying that far away I would also spend some weeks in the whole country and not only at his place. To be honest, he isn't really well-informed about the situation in Sri Lanka, but he told me that there is still civil war in some regions. He couldn't me tell anything else, other than that Colombo and his place are safe.

So I'm asking the experts here: Are there any regions in Sri Lanka I should avoid travelling to, including as a backpacker?

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up vote 6 down vote accepted

I'm a Sri Lankan although not much of a traveler to be honest. There is no civil war here and all parts of the country are safe for tourists to travel.

If you are planning to use public transportation I suggest you be careful about your belongings.

Also I would suggest you travel with your friend or ask him to hook you up with a guide he knows.

I don't know whether you've already read this but if you haven't I thoroughly suggest you go through it.

http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/travel-and-living-abroad/travel-advice-by-country/asia-oceania/sri-lanka

If you are travelling to the north/east, you must read this section in the above website.

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I don't know much about Sri Lanka, but Smart Traveller also has warnings about the Northern Province: smartraveller.gov.au/zw-cgi/view/Advice/Sri_Lanka – Andrew Grimm Mar 11 '12 at 11:45
    
@AndrewGrimm: It was last updated on the 1st of August 2011. Things are MUCH more different now :) – Ranhiru Cooray Mar 11 '12 at 14:17

There used to be a civil war in Sri Lanka; the northern regions near Jaffna where under autonomous control of a separatist organisation called the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Without going into which side was right or wrong, this conflict concluded in 2009 and currently, there isn't any travel advisory on places being unsafe to visit. Note that the even during the civil war years the rest of Sri Lanka was very safe to visit for tourists anyway. If your friend is primarily going to Colombo, then there should be no problem at all.

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Travel to all places except the North and East is unrestricted. I do not foresee anyone getting into trouble there unless you managed to stroll into a military establishment somewhere in the jungle.

Regarding travel to the north and east, bear the following in mind.

1) Some parts of the Northern province is closed off to foreigners.

Officially, you need a permit from the ministry of defense to travel to Jaffna District, Kilinochchi District, Mulaithivu District, Mannar District (only areas north of Vidattaltivu), Vavuniya District (only areas north of Omanthai). I have heard enforcement in this regard is lax, but you can get a permit from this link. If you travel without one and get caught, just pretend you didn't know and you'd be fine to go most of the time (not guaranteed). Locals do not face any restrictions, and Indians also manage to get by most of the time.

2) Visiting the eastern province

The eastern province is open to foreigners; however steer clear of off-the-trail routes; this is not a place to go hiking (if you are not/not with a local). There can be landmines, wild animals, and worse (or better), you might be thought of as someone on espionage. I am a local and have camped and gone hiking in the east numerous times and I have been questioned and searched several times by the military as well as local police for illegal camping, tresspassing, drug traffiking, grave digging etc. (seriously). This is because many military people and police are unfamiliar with hiking and camping and do not seem to understand it; probably because of the effect of years of war.

If you do manage to get a bit off the beaten path, the east is a truly awesome experience. It is Sri Lanka at it's very best!

In the North and east, just because it is said in the law/notices does not necessarily mean you cannot do it. If you are in doubt whether something is allowed or not when you're in the north and east, go ahead and ask a police or army member, and the odds are you'll be allowed if your request looks sane. Just remember to use your common sense.

PS: If you need to know of some truly amazing lesser known places in the east, i'd be happy to share my experiences, just post a new question and let me know.

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