Coming from a culture where cab fairs are what’s on the clock and we only tip in restaurants, one may be bewildered by the differences in countries like Sri Lanka. I know I was out of sorts for a day or two, asking around, trying to get my bearings on issues such as
“Who do we tip?“,
“How much do we tip?” and
“What is a reasonable tuk tuk fare?”
So, I thought it may be useful for those looking to travel to Sri Lanka if we shared what we learned.
It became obvious that those providing a service- our driver, tour guide, hotel staff- hovered around at the end to provide us with the opportunity to give them a little extra for the service they provided. When we didn’t, which we did about half the time, they were still gracious.
From talking to local friends, it is customary to tip in Sri Lanka and the magnitude depends on what you can afford and how satisfied you were. However, my belief is if we, as tourists, over tip, then we skew the economy, advantaging those working in customer facing roles in the tourism sector. I’ve experienced it, in the past, that white becomes synonymous with rich. This has, sadly, been institutionalised in Sri Lanka, where a lot of places interest only charge tourists or charge 80- 100 times that what locals have to pay.
A kite seller in Colombo was only trying to charge us 4 times what he’d charged our Sri Lankan friend. He was also telling us why we should not negotiate the price but pay it. Needless to say we left him with his goods. I have to say most of our experiences were much more positive and less pushy than this.
So from what I’ve learnt a reasonable tipping policy is giving
200 LKR* for the bell boy taking your luggage to your room and the likes;
500 LKR for someone who has spent the day with you and you are satisfied with their service; We gave this amount to the driver who drove us to the airport and pointed out places of interest along the way.
1000 LKR is a big tip, for someone who has gone above and beyond what you expected. I gave this to the guide who spent several days with us in Kandy.
Tuk tuk fares
Now tuk tuk drivers and fares are another minefield!
In Colombo a lot of tuk tuks are actually meter taxis, with a meter to measure distance and time. However, if you only want to go a short distance or are walking out of one of the more prestigious hotels, they try their luck and over quote 2-3 times the fare that would be due. They tell you their meter isn’t working.
We got hassled quite a few times by tuk tuk drivers trying to tell us their meter wasn’t working.
Outside of Colombo tuk tuks don’t tend to have meters.
So you just have to figure out the right price.
1, Know how far you are going. You can check with a mapping app on your phone, for example.
2, Get them to switch on the meter or agree a fair price in advance.
…but what price?
At the time of our visit (with a liter of fuel cost 90 LKR) a kilometer was calculated at 50 LKR.
Multiply the rough distance by 50 LKR.
It’s useful to have a mapping app open even if you are taking a metered tuk tuk, just to keep your driver from taking too big a detour. I speak from experience!
As a family of 5 we always needed 2 tuk tuks. Early in our trip we needed to urgently get from our hotel to the train station, which was just a short drive away. The fair price should’ve been 120 LKR, yet all tuk tuks were trying to get 300 LKR and none willing to take us on the meter. Eventually, I found one that agreed to 200 LKR and shortly after another tuk tuk turned up that took us on the meter. One child, Husband and half the bags crammed into the fixed fee tuk tuk, me and two other kids with some luggage squeezed into the meter tuk tuk.
Husband and child surprisingly got to the station about 3 minutes before us, despite leaving after us. He paid 200 LKR.
Our driver took a little detour, adhering to all the traffic regulations, which they normally don’t and got us there for a fare of 156 LKR.
Despite all the above, I have to say we all loved Sri Lanka and would go back in a flash. The people are, in general, really friendly and helpful. It’s, like with any place in the world, you should have your wits about you.
* To put it into perspective we travelled to Sri Lanka in June 2016, with the exchange rate to the pound hovering around 200 Sri Lankan Rupees, 160 LKR to the Euro and 140 LKR to the US dollar.