How to Avoid Tourist Traps & Scams in Sri Lanka

How to Avoid Tourist Traps in Sri Lanka

Remember, tourism is an industry where everyone is trying to make a profit. You should keep that in mind when looking for ‘No Tourist Traps’! Your goal should be to avoid overpriced Tourist Only places.

Rule of thumb: Hire a car and a qualified tourist chauffeur driver guide. Advise him of your intentions. These educated people respect their guest’s intentions and the dignity of their country. At the end of the tour, you will appreciate every penny you spent on this decision, plus you will have the comfort & much efficient transportation. (Even locals hate public transportation in Sri Lanka).

Common Tourist Traps & Scams in Sri Lanka

Private Car hire Tourist Traps & Scams

“Be aware of Tourist traps if you are going with the lowest rate when hireing a Car.”

Some drivers offer very low rates to get a tour and they try to make a profit from Business Commissions they get when they take you to a tourist attraction. Most of the time they will take you to a Tourist Trap. Sometimes they can be forceful as they will be at a loss if they don’t earn from commissions, after offering a low tour fee. That type of behavior can ruin your entire trip. Some drivers may try to use an old or very small vehicle for a low-budget tour.

Opt for standard rates which are US$50 for a car and US$60-70 for a van/minibus. If someone is offering a lower rate, remember the above scenario.

Unqualified & inexperienced drivers

It is a common practice in Sri Lanka for unqualified and inexperienced people to take tourists on round tours. Sometimes reputed tour operators and tour guides use their reputation to get a booking and use just a random person with a car. It is illegal but it is a common practice. These are the people who try to scam and steal from tourists. They can just go hide after the theft. Be aware!

Hidden chargers

Check what they are offering for the promised price. Make sure it includes Air Conditioned vehicles, fuel, toll road (highway) fees, parking fees, insurance, government taxes, drivers accommodation & food, etc. Try to get All Inclusive fixed price to avoid any disappointment.

Over Promise

Some people may offer you many things free of charge in order to get a booking. But they might come up with excuses later on when you are really on the tour and not provide many free things they promised. Reputed tour operators or tour guides/drivers don’t have to be at this level as they keep getting bookings. It is those with fewer bookings who try to scam you with many free tags, beware!

We only recommend Licensed Tourist Drivers who are adviced to avoid Tourist Traps.

Public Transportation Scams

Public transportation in Sri Lanka is very inefficient. You may end up spending hours on the road instead of enjoying your tour. Even locals hate public transportation in Sri Lanka. We advise avoiding it at all costs.

However, if you must, beware of following traps & scams.

What is the best Public Transportation system in Sri Lanka for a tourist?

We recommend the first-class Ari Conditioned train. It’s less crowded, tickets are sold only for available seats, whereas in other classes people travel standing next to a seated passenger. Less theft happens on first-class trains due to the fact that ticket prices are higher. Fever locals travel by first-class trains. Most thefts happen on third-class normal train compartments or on standard-rate buses.

If you are unable to get a first-class train ticket, the next best option would be to travel by Air-Conditioned bus.
But since air-conditioned buses are common and more locals travel on these, even standing, the risk is higher.

Theft on public transportation

Thieves are everywhere! Be extra cautious especially when you are traveling on public transport. It mostly happens on crowded buses and trains. Sometimes thieves may go far as cutting your pockets or bags. Sometimes the person sitting next to you could be a thief.

Always make sure all your valuables are hidden inside your bag/backpack making it increasingly harder for someone to reach. Only keep some change on your pockets for tickets etc.

Here’s one such incident. Watch how he got robbed on a public bus in Sri Lanka.

Scammers on the bus

In Sri Lanka most of the time you buy a bus ticket while you are on the journey. You can get on the bus and get seated, a bus conductor comes to you after a while. This time window allows a scammer to appear as the bus conductor and scam you. He may charge you and get off the bus soon after, unnoticed. You’ll be only surprised when the real bus conductor appears.

Sometimes people can act like friendly locals and get to know you, only to scam you in various ways later on. Most genuine Sri Lankans are friendly, but most of them will not approach you unless you ask something first. If someone continuously tries to approach you, it’s only to scam you.


If you are not issued with a ticket, chances are that you are overcharged. Bus conductors take advantage when they get a tourist and overcharge. You better ask around and get to know the ticket price before getting on the bus. Keep the exact amount for the ticket and ask for the ticket mentioning the destination. When you don’t have the exact amount, conductors may say they don’t have change and ask you to collect the balance when you get down. Most often even locals forget to ask for the balance after a long journey.

Tuk Tuk Scams

Tuk Tuks (common three-wheeled taxis) are everywhere in Sri Lanka and it’s the preferred mode of short-distance transport for locals. Most Tuk Tuk drivers are uneducated and even try to scam locals let alone tourists. These scammers come in a variety of ways and they are always finding new ways to scam tourists. Most commonly they charge you crazy amounts even for a short distance and forcefully grab your money. There are known cases where tourists and even locals got robbed in broad daylight. Some scammers don’t stop by grabbing your money, they may forcefully get all your valuables. Most gangsters use Tuk Tuk as their vehicle, so it’s hard to differentiate them from a taxi drivers.

Watch these incidents to get a better idea.

Fake Stilt Fishing Tourist Trap

Stilt Fishing is a unique Sri Lankan tradition that dates back to Worl Wat II. It’s a famous tourist attraction. However, there are fake Stilt Fishing places built up just to rip off unsuspecting tourists. They will charge you for taking photos, sometimes a fair price but sometimes a ripoff. You can get help from your driver guide, if you hired one, to know genuine Stilt Fishing places.

Gem purchasing Tourist Trap

Some gem sellers are overpriced, it’s always a good practice to get advice from your chauffeur driver guide when choosing a gem store. They know places better, a genuine driver guide always helps their gusts to get the best gems at the best price. If are accompanied by any local, they always get a commission from the store. That’s a common practice among any type of business. You shouldn’t be worried about your guide getting a commission, but what you should be worried about is if they get a hefty commission for a law-quality stone.

Spice Gardern Tourist Trap

There’s the National Spice Garden situated in Matale and many overpriced Spice Gardens around the area. Most of them are targeting tourists and trying to sell overpriced spices. If you have a genuine driver guide, he may show you reasonably priced places.

Ayurvedic Spa Tourist Trap

Ayurvedic Spa

Ayurvedic Spas are another Tourist Trap. When there’s a genuinely reputed Ayurvedic Spa, fake Tourist Traps build up around it. This is the case with all Tourist Traps. It’s not that all Ayurvedic Spas are tourist traps, just some. Some reputed star-class hotels also provide genuine Ayurvedic Spa treatments. You can find them online with some research.