Travel to Sri Lanka: What it’s like to visit now during the Covid pandemic

About two hours after Sri Lanka announced they would reopen their borders to travelers in January 2021, I bought tickets to go there.
I live in Hong Kong, which has done a good job containing the pandemic. But the tradeoff is that it has been extremely difficult to travel anywhere.
Due to Hong Kong’s tough quarantine mandates, most residents have been limited to our city and can’t even cross the border into mainland China.
Normally I’m a hyperplanner, but nearly two years of not going more than 30 kilometers from my apartment had gone to my head. The idea of a country in Asia being open to tourists was so thrilling to me that I didn’t even do much research, figuring I could sort it out later and make sure regulations didn’t change before my trip.

One week beforehand
In order to get into Sri Lanka, I needed more than a spontaneously purchased airplane ticket. Most visitors to the island nation must spend up to 14 days at a “level one” hotel or resort, which means it has received an official government designation as a safe, approved place to quarantine.
I’m glad that quarantine went smoothly, because a few days into my stay Sri Lanka loosened its rules, permitting vaccinated travelers to spend only one single night in quarantine provided they test negative on arrival. I’m immune compromised and have been bummed out about not getting vaccinated yet — at least this removed one layer of FOMO.
And this was no ordinary quarantine. While some places — like Australia and China — require all quarantiners to stay inside their hotel rooms except for when they are given PCR tests, Sri Lanka has come up with an innovative third path.
Guests are allowed to go anywhere on hotel or resort premises and can visit certain pre-approved “bubble attractions” provided they follow strict criteria. They are also allowed to stay at more than one property during those two weeks as long as all the hotels are level one-listed.

The Anantara Peace Triangle Tangalle is a level one listed resort, meaning they can host quarantiners. Courtesy of Anantara
The Anantara Peace Triangle Tangalle is a level one listed resort, meaning they can host quarantiners.
Courtesy of Anantara

Based on that, I went with a two-in-one deal from the Anantara hotel group — I would spend one week at its resort in Tangalle, at Sri Lanka’s southernmost tip, and then one week at a sister property in Kalutara, on the western coast.

In addition to the rooms, I was able to pay for my three mandated PCR tests up front and buy the mandatory health insurance (just $12 to cover up to $50,000 in hospital costs) through the hotel’s booking service, thus fulfilling all my travel requirements in one go.
Once I had everything confirmed in writing, I submitted the forms to Sri Lanka’s tourism board website and, after a few tense days of constant refreshing, got my tourist visa.
I scheduled a PCR test for 48 hours before my flight and pre-booked a hotel to quarantine in upon my return to Hong Kong (a must for being allowed out of the city in the first place). With everything in hand — literally, as I printed it all out in case of phone malfunctions — I was ready to go.