I’ve never been particularly afraid of snakes, so when I learned a few years ago that Sri Lanka was home to nearly three dozen species of venomous snakes, more than half of which are deadly, I was relatively unfazed. (Disclaimer: One of my best friends is a hobby herpetologist, and has been performing anti-snake-fear hypnosis on me for the better part of a decade.)
Unfortunately, my then-boyfriend and travel companion was less confident in the known fact that snakes are generally much more afraid of humans than we are of them. “I’m not going to Sri Lanka,” he insisted, just days before we were to depart.
As luck (from his perspective) would have it, AirAsia cancelled its Bangkok-Colombo route just days before we were to fly, which gave him an easy out and me few options, other than to appease his wishes to take a trip to Bali instead. (Click here if you don’t remember how that went down.)
A year later, I finally made my way to Sri Lanka for two weeks. Thankfully, none of these feisty critters slithered up my leg when I was there!
What is the Risk of a Snake Bite in Sri Lanka?
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I only saw one snake in Sri Lanka, and I barely even noticed it. I’d just scaled Sigiriya rock between Kandy and Anuradhapura, and noticed a small serpent slithering out from behind a smaller rock atop the monolith. It wasn’t aggressive and disappeared as fast as it showed up on my proverbial radar.
This speaks to a more global and general truth about snakes: They’re more afraid of us than we are of them! Even though the Sri Lankan venomous snakes I’m about to share with you could be deadly if they bite you, chances are you won’t even see them—and they’ll head for the hills if they happen to see you!
Common Venomous Snakes in Sri Lanka
The first of the three main classes of venomous Sri Lanka snakes is the cobra. Cobras are not only extremely venomous and potentially deadly snakes, but also one of the most common snakes you’ll find in Sri Lanka. Tip: Stay away from these critters, unless you see one being charmed on the streets of Colombo.
The good news about the Sri Lankan krait is that they typically only come out at night, which means you aren’t likely to encounter them if you go to sleep at a normal hour. The bad news, for me, is that krait like to hide inside human dwellings at night during the rainy season.
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Several species of Sri Lankan viper are venomous, including the Saw Scale viper, the Hump nose viper and the Green pit viper. Although many Sri Lankan vipers are confined to extremely rural areas, some—namely, Russel’s Viper—live and hunt in urban areas, i.e. places where you are likely to be during your trip. Eek!
FAQ About Sri Lanka Snakes
Are snakes a problem in Sri Lanka?
Snakes are a problem in Sri Lanka in the sense that many venomous species exist, and dozens of people suffer from (and, sadly, succumb to) snake bites every year. However, when it comes to travelers (most of whom are unlikely to be roaming around remote areas of the jungle ignorant and unaccompanied), there is relatively little chance of encountering a poisonous snake, let alone being bitten by one.
What is the most dangerous animal in Sri Lanka?
Based on sheer numbers, all of the most dangerous animals in Sri Lanka are snakes, including the Indian Rock Python and the Sri Lankan Krait. However, as a traveler, you have a much greater chance of being hospitalized due to food poisoning, or as the result of a road accident (although these, too, are statistically unlikely—don’t worry!).
How many snakes are there in Sri Lanka?
Sri Lanka is home to more than 100 snake species; the population is composed of hundreds of thousands (and probably millions) of individuals. At the same time, it isn’t as if snakes are roaming the streets of Colombo! As is the case in most countries, snakes in Sri Lanka tend to keep to themselves in jungles and other natural areas, and avoid humans as much as possible. Snakes only attack when they feel theatened!
What to Do in Sri Lanka (Besides Be Afraid of Snakes)
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As I hope I’ve hammered home by this point, you’re unlikely to encounter any snakes in Sri Lanka, let alone to be bitten by one—that’s the good news. The better news? Sri Lanka is an amazing and largely safe place to visit, the tragic bombings of Easter 2019 notwithstanding.
Go for two weeks like I did, following up a weekend in Colombo with a loop around the country, from spiritual Kandy, to historical Anuradhapura, to lush Nuwara Eliya to idyllic Arugam Bay. Or take a shorter trip that’s more distilled and refined, or a long one that’s freeform and wild. A third option would be to hire me as you Travel Coaching to plan a custom Sri Lanka itinerary for you.
The Bottom Line
I’m not gonna lie: Processing and typing out all this information has me a tiny bit scared about snakes in Sri Lanka, even if years of Catholic serpent-hating didn’t make me detest the slithery creatures. I’ve heard through the grapevine, however, that if one is unlucky enough to be bitten by a snake, hospitals in Sri Lanka are good at dealing with snake bites. Let’s just hope you can get to one in time if need be!
(NOTE: The images in this article are not mine, but I am using them legally via Creative Commons licenses from Flickr. Click any image to be taken to the Flick homepage of the person who owns rights to it.)