Sri Lanka travel: is it safe to travel to the country for holidays - as president flees amid economic crisis

Soldiers are preparing to secure Sri Lanka’s Parliament building against a takeover by demonstrators enraged by the country’s economic collapse and the embattled president’s refusal to resign a day after fleeing the country.

With the country in political disarray, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his wife left for the Maldives on an air force jet on Wednesday (13 July).

In his absence, he appointed the prime minister as acting president, further infuriating a populace that blames Rajapaksa for an economic crisis that has resulted in severe food and fuel shortages.

But is it safe for UK tourists to travel to the country?

Here is everything you need to know.

What is happening?

Rajapaksa had promised to quit by Wednesday night, and because Sri Lankan presidents are immune from arrest while in office, his departure was most likely organised while he still had constitutional immunity and access to a military jet.

Protesters accuse Rajapaksa and his powerful, dynastic family of pushing the country into an economic abyss.

It is unknown where he was in the Maldives, an archipelago of hundreds of islands dotted with luxurious tourist resorts, but officials there confirmed on Thursday (14 July) morning that he was flying to Singapore and then Saudi Arabia on a Saudi Airlines flight.

Troops in military uniforms and camouflage vests gathered outside the parliament building in armoured personnel carriers, anticipating more protests after a group attempted to rush the entrance the day before, battling with police who repelled them with tear gas and batons.

Fearing an increase of violence, some protestors broadcast videos on social media pleading with others not to storm the Parliament.

Protesters mounted the walls of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s office on Wednesday, unfazed by numerous rounds of tear gas, as the throng outside cheered and tossed water bottles to them.

Is it safe to travel to Sri Lanka?

Sri Lanka is in the grip of a severe economic crisis, which has resulted in a scarcity of basic commodities such as medicines, cooking gas, fuel, and food.

Fuel (both diesel and petrol) is in limited supply, crippling transportation, businesses and emergency services.

The country has been severely impacted, and may be unable to respond to emergencies immediately, particularly in isolated areas of the country. Electricity rationing also causes daily power outages.

Due to the impact of the current economic crisis,the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) advises against all but essential travel to Sri Lanka.

As a result of the crists, there have been protests and violent riots, with more rallies, demonstrations, blockages, and violent upheaval possible at any time.

What should I do if I’m already in Sri Lanka?

A State of Emergency has been declared, and an island-wide curfew has been implemented across Sri Lanka.

If you are already in the country, you should stay in your home or hotel and avoid travelling at this time; those who have a plane ticket are able to get to the airport.

Travellers should make transportation arrangements ahead of time and have contingency plans in place.

You should check before visiting a business, hotel or restaurant to see if they are affected by power outages or shortages, keep a torch handy at night, and plan how you would escape your accommodation in the event of an emergency.

The advice is to avoid political gatherings or protests, and be cautious of spontaneous large gatherings.