The ultimate Sri Lanka Travel Guide: what to see, know and do

Sri Lanka Travel Guide - Everything to know, see and do in Sri Lanka

To help you make the most of your holiday, here's our complete Sri Lanka travel guide - full of all the practical information you need to make your trip brilliant.


There are so many reasons to visit Sri Lanka.

Endless white-sand beaches with pumping surf. Lush tropical jungle and misty mountain towns. Ancient World Heritage sites and safari plains where Asian Elephants and Leopards roam in abundance. Enchanting train rides through rolling tea plantations and vibrant cultural heritage. The friendliest locals you could ever hope to meet plus delicious food and fruits everywhere you look.

And what’s more, travelling in Sri Lanka is a relatively easy experience.

English is widely spoken, the country is safe (well, it was until April 2019 - more on that below!), the locals are friendly, the prices cheap, the scenery astounding and the infrastructure improving. Then there’s the food - always plentiful, always delicious.

There’s a reason Sri Lanka has boomed onto the travel scene over the last couple of years, so to help you travel better in Sri Lanka, we’ve put together our Sri Lanka travel guide.

Our Sri Lanka travel guide is full of all the information you could ever need or want, such as the best places to visit on the Island, transport and accommodation details, common Sri Lankan scams, responsible tourism in Sri Lanka, and of course, what to eat (NOM)!

So, what are you waiting for? Book that ticket and enjoy this little island paradise as much as we did.


Sri Lanka travel guide | what to see, know and do in Sri Lanka


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What to know before you visit Sri Lanka | SRI LANKA TRAVEL GUIDE

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WHERE IS SRI LANKA

Sri Lanka is an island country located in the Indian Ocean, south of India and the Bay of Bengal, east of Africa and the Middle East, and west of Indonesia and south-east Asia. Sri Lanka’s largest city, and capital, Colombo, is located in the south west of the country, and is home to the majority of Sri Lanka’s 21 million people.

Sri Lanka’s history dates back over 125,000 years, and its documented history 3,000, making it rich with cultural heritage.


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SRI LANKA WEATHER, AND THE BEST TIME TO VISIT

Sri Lanka’s weather is punctuated by two seperate monsoons affecting different parts of the island at different times of year, you trip will require a little pre-research to know what’s ‘in season’.

The main monsoon, "Yala”, occurs from April/May to September on the west and south west coasts (including main tourism sites such as Galle, Unawatuna, and the southern coast), with the wettest months from April - June.

The less severe “Maha” monsoon usually hits the east coast from November to March (includes Arugam Bay and Trincomalee).

If you’re wanting to visit the incredible sights of the south and central areas, December to March is the best time to visit Sri Lanka.

Alternatively, if you’re keen to hit the surf breaks of Arugam Bay and Trincomalee, April/May to September is the best time to visit Sri Lanka.

READ | Our top Sri Lanka travel tips

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Sri Lanka Tourist Visa information

Tourist visas are generally issued for a 30-day period, and it’s best to organise it via ETA (Electronic Travel Authority) before you arrive in the country.

To organise your visa, head to the ETA website about a week before your arrival, pay the fee via credit card, and then you should receive the visa confirmation within a couple of days.

Prices for the ETA Visa are:

SAARC countries | USD $20 for 30 days with double entry

Non-SAARC | USD $35 for 30 days with double entry

Although it’s currently still possible (as at March 2019) to organise a visa on arrival to Sri Lanka, it’s preferable to organise this ahead of time - and you will pay an extra USD $5 if you choose to organise yours upon arrival.

You will also need to meet the following entry requirements when you arrive at Colombo airport:

  • Proof of departure flight

  • Minimum 6 months validity left in passport

  • Blank page to stamp

  • Proof of Yellow Fever and Cholera vaccination (only important if you’re travelling from an infected area, such as Africa, within 10 days).

If you decide you love Sri Lanka too much to leave just yet (we don’t blame you!), you can renew your 30-day visa twice, and for 30 days each time.

To extend your visa, download the relevant form here, fill it in, and take it to the Department of Immigration & Emigration, Colombo.

Get there as early as possible, and prepare to spend a few hours navigating the Sri Lankan bureaucratic system!

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Internet, wi-fi and data in Sri Lanka

On our most recent trip to Sri Lanka, we actually ended up just using our 3 UK sim cards (thank you, ‘Go Roam’ coverage!), but during our first trip in 2016, we bought local sim cards and topped up with data as we needed.

4G is readily available here, and actually seems to enjoy a better signal than we used to get living in London! Better yet, buying pay as you go credit is super cheap.

Dialog have free sim cards available to travellers at the airport, and LKR 1300 (USD $9) will get you 9GB of data and LKR 350 of local calls. To top up, simply head to any little convenience shop.

Wi-fi is available in almost all main tourist areas, and is fairly quick in major cities.

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Drinking water in Sri Lanka | Can I drink the tap water in Sri Lanka?

The tap water in Sri Lanka generally isn’t safe for drinking; but that absolutely doesn’t mean that you need to go buy plastic bottled water just to stay hydrated.

Travel with a water purification system (we recently switched to The Grayl after using Water to Go for about a year), and you can fill up direct from the tap, purify your water and filter out any nasties, and drink with confidence.

We haven’t bought bottled water in over 18 months, and despite travelling through some places with very questionable water (Sri Lanka included), we’re yet to encounter a single tummy bug. Not a single one!

BUY | The Grayl water purification bottle

The Kandy to Ella train ride is one of the best in Sri Lanka | Sri Lanka travel guide


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Money matters - What’s Sri Lanka’s currency?

Sri Lanka’s currency is the Sri Lankan Rupee. The currency code is LKR.

Denominations include ₨10, ₨20, ₨50, ₨100, ₨500, ₨1000, ₨2000, ₨5000.

The exchange rate currently is 1 USD = 177 LKR & 1 GBP = 216 LKR

From tuk tuk drivers to restaurants, grocery stores to tour operators, this is a country that runs on cash.


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Cash or card in Sri Lanka?

While ATM and card facilities are pretty widely accessible in the main tourist areas, they can’t always be relied upon.

We’d recommend withdrawing as many Sri Lankan rupees as you need in batches (from the ATM rather than a currency exchange so you don’t get ripped off), and using that to pay your way instead.


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What does it cost to travel in Sri Lanka? | Daily Sri Lanka travel budget

In our experience, Sri Lanka is a pretty affordable travel destination, but it’s definitely pricier when you compare it with many of its asian neighbours.

Overall, we’d suggest budgeting for around USD $20-30 per day including accommodation, food and transport.

Food and transport in Sri Lanka is particularly cheap, with our longest train ride (Jaffna to Colombo) only setting us back £1.47 each, and most local meals coming in between £1-3 per person.

| Cost of Food + Drink in Sri Lanka |

Sri Lankan food is absolutely delicious, and the local and street food is extremely affordable.

Street food | USD 50c - $3

Rice and Curry | USD $1-3

Main local meals | USD $1-5

Expensive western meals | USD $5-20

Beer | USD $2-5 (alcohol is very expensive in Sri Lanka)

Bottled Water | Buy a Grayl bottle and never worry about bottled water again…

| Cost of Accommodation in Sri Lanka |

The real budget breaker in Sri Lanka is accommodation, which we found to be pretty pricey both trips.

Private rooms in guesthouses priced at about £15-25 per night, meals in the trendy cafes and restaurants dotting the southern coast (obviously!), and paying for guided tours, like safaris.

When compared to western pricing it’s still very much a budget destination, but for those travelling on a backpacker budget, it’s something to be aware of.

For those looking to experience the best of Sri Lanka, including 4* + accommodation, first class transport, and tours, expect a budget of between USD $60-200 per day.

Guesthouse | USD $10-20 per night, depending on location/season

Airbnb | USD $15 per night

3* Hotel | USD $15-30 per night

Expensive hotel | USD $100+ per night

| Cost of transport in Sri Lanka |

Bus | USD $1

Express bus | USD $3-5 depending on distances

Trains | USD $3-10 depending on distances and classes

Tuk tuks | 50c per kilometre, however longer distances can be negotiated. Expensive in cities, so always negotiate

Private cars | USD $10 - 100, depending on distances

A women sells goods on the side of the road in Sri Lanka
Hanging out the train from Jaffna to Colombo, Sri Lanka

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HOW TO GET TO SRI LANKA

Being an island in the middle of the Indian ocean, pretty much the only way to get to Sri Lanka is by plane.

Right now, the main gateway to the country is Bandaranaike International Airport, at Katunayake, 30km north of the capital Colombo. The main frustration with the airport is the distance to Colombo - in traffic it can take over an hour to arrive into Colombo Fort.

BOOK | Use Skyscanner to find the best price

We’d suggest booking a taxi into Colombo (around LKR 2,500). Taxis are regulated from the airport and prices are almost always fixed, so you can be comfortable knowing you’re not being ripped off. Alternatively, you can walk outside the airport grounds to hire a tuk tuk, which should cost marginally less (but is far less comfortable).

In general, airfares to Sri Lanka remain consistent, however it pays to book well in advance to secure the cheapest deal.


| Getting to Sri Lanka from EUROPE |

Sri Lankan Airlines operates direct flights from London. For those flying from other parts of Europe, expect to stop in either the Middle East or southeast Asia for your connecting flights.

| Getting to Sri Lanka from NORTH AMERICA |

Flying from North America to Sri Lanka is like Australians flying to Europe - it’s a loooong way! Flights from the west coast often connect through Asia, while flights from the east coast connect through the Middle East or Asia. Either way, expect a 20+ hour flight time.

| Getting to Sri Lanka from ASIA |

Just a hop, skip and a jump from Asia, Sri Lanka is obviously well serviced by major Asian airlines, including budget airlines such as Air Asia. Prices can be competitive, so it’s worth using Skyscanner to find the best price.

| Getting to Sri Lanka from AUSTRALIA |

Sri Lankan Airlines operates direct flights from Melbourne to Colombo daily, however if you’re leaving from any other capital city in Australia, you’ll need to stop-over in southeast Asia.

For cheaper fares, budget airlines such as Air Asia operate the route through Kuala Lumpur.


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TRANSPORT IN SRI LANKA | HOW TO GET AROUND SRI LANKA

Due to Sri Lanka’s small size and abundance of transport options, getting around the island is easy, if not a little time consuming and uncomfortable.

Buses and tuk tuks are the most common form of transport on the island, and service even the most remote corners. Buses, however, are a fraction of the cost of tuk tuks and oftentimes make for a much faster journey from A to B.

The most picturesque form of transport, however, is Sri Lanka’s train network. The network may be slow, cumbersome, and somewhat unreliable, but it services all the main areas of the island and provides travellers with rich cultural experiences that just aren’t as common in western countries.

If public transport isn’t your thing or time is of the essence, it is possible to arrange a private transfer, however the cost is often prohibitive for a backpacker budget.

| How to get around Sri Lanka by TRAIN |

This is the method of transport that basically put Sri Lanka on the map; the iconic images of the blue train weaving through the thick jungle of Ella and Horton Plains is almost everywhere you look online now!

But, as with most tourist hotspots, there’s a reason for its popularity. This is the cheap, slow, and scenic way of getting around the country, and honestly, some of the world’s greatest train journeys happen right here in Sri Lanka, including: Colombo to Kandy, Kandy to Ella, Colombo to Galle.

There are three ticket classes with reserved and unreserved seating classifications in each. Our personal favourite is third class (generally reserved), where we could have some awesome local interactions, see some amazing sights with a little less cramping, and of course, get some epic shots out the train window/door. Second class is less busy and slightly more comfortable, but you’re a little more removed from the action, as we found that many of the doors are locked (no hanging out the doorways here!).

We absolutely love the train experience in Sri Lanka; from the colour and chaos of it all, to the clacking noise of the trains and the constant energy of chai sellers, local touts hawking their wares, kids singing, families excitedly watching for the next best view, and plenty of people to chat and make new friends with.

For timetables, we recommend checking at the station in each destination, but to give you an idea head to the Sri Lankan railways site here.

READ | Our guide to the Kandy to Ella train ride


| How to get around Sri Lanka by BUS |

Bus routes cover about 80% of the nation’s 90,000km of roads.

Loud, sweaty, chaotic, slow, bumpy, busy… bus rides in Sri Lanka are a real experience.

These ever-present metal beasts screech around every corner of the island at what seems like minute intervals throughout the day, meaning locals and tourists alike can get just about anywhere at anytime. On top of that, they’re by far the cheapest mode of transport on the Island, with trips setting you back between LKR 30 - 400 depending on trip length (for example, our seven hour bus ride from Dambulla to Jaffna cost just LKR 350).

For those on a budget or looking for some authentic Sri Lankan experiences, this is your best bet. A few tips for bus travel in Sri Lanka:

  • Prices are fixed

  • You’ll need small change to pay your fare

  • If you’re backpacking, backpacks can go on the front engine hub next to driver or in the rear luggage compartment... ask the attendant where to put it


| How to get around Sri Lanka by EXPRESS BUS |

There are times when jumping on the local bus is the cheap and fun way to travel about; then there are other times when you just want to sit in a little bit of comfort and get to your destination as quickly as possible.

The express bus system that runs in the south is the perfect answer to this; small, air-conditioned mini buses that run regular routes between places like Galle and Colombo (LKR 450) or Kandy to Dambulla (LKR 410).

They’re quick, efficient, and comfortable, if not a little splurge compared to other modes of transport.


| How to get around Sri Lanka by TUK TUK |

If there’s one mode of transport that always signals adventure in this part of the world, the zippy little tuk tuk is definitely it.

These colourful three-wheeled auto rickshaws weave in and around the traffic and are omnipresent around the island, so you can be sure that you jump in one pretty much anywhere you go.

The tuk tuk is a great way to get around cities quickly and efficiently, and they’re generally happy to take you just about anywhere. Just be sure that you either negotiate the fare before you jump in - or, if available, ask them to turn on the meter. We actually refused to use any Tuk tuks in Colombo that weren’t running on metered fares thanks to a few ‘tuk tuk mafia’ idiots ruining it for everyone else.

It is also possible to take a tuk tuk between cities/destinations, and while it’s not a huge expense, it will obviously cost you more than the local bus would. To give you an idea, we once caught a Tuk tuk from Udawalawe National Park to Mirissa (a 3-hour journey) for USD $30. The tuk tuk is also an awesome way to see the local countryside, with the opportunity to stop at various spots along the way.

A few tips for using tuk tuks in Sri Lanka:

  • Always negotiate, unless you’re happy with the fee

  • Use the PICKME app in Colombo or Kandy (essentially uber for tuk tuks)

  • Always get to know your driver - they’re always wonderfully friendly and happy to provide local recommendations for food etc.

Tipping isn’t necessary unless the service was great or you thought they were awesome people.

a tuk tuk driver waits for a fare in Weligama, Sri Lanka

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WHY NOT BOOK A TOUR OF SRI LANKA?

Although we’re definitely advocates for independent travel, we understand some travellers may want to experience Sri Lanka with a guide, and with all the nitty gritty travel details taken care of.

Below are selection of tours in Sri Lanka, and the best day tours around the Island.

Sri Lanka Encompassed with G Adventures | A 14-day small group tour visiting major cultural sights within Sri Lanka, including the most scenic train ride in the world from Kandy to Ella. Includes expert guides, meals and transport.

| Book here

Essential Sri Lanka with Intrepid Travel | An 11-day tour package for 18-29 year olds, focused on seeing all the major sights in this incredible country.

| Book here

Circle Sri Lanka with Intrepid Travel | An in-depth cultural tour of Sri Lanka that takes in nine major sights including Sigiriya, Kandy, Galle and Ella.

| Book here

sunset surfing in Hikkaduwa, Sri Lanka

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SRI LANKA TRAVEL TIPS

If you’re planning your own travels to Sri Lanka, we’ve put together this list of Sri Lanka travel tips we really think you should know before you visit.

Includes the good and simple stuff that will help you travel better and more responsibly in the teardrop isle.

READ | 39 essential Sri Lanka travel tips

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SAFETY IN SRI LANKA (YES, YOU NEED TRAVEL INSURANCE!)

Despite having been through a tumultuous few decades during the bitter civil war that raged between the Tamils and Sinhalese, Sri Lanka is an incredibly safe destination to travel to.

That being said, the recent terrorist bombings in April 2019 left the world in shock and the country reeling.

The attacks by local extremists, which killed over 250 people, including tourists, targeted popular tourist hotels around Colombo, as well as throughout around the country. The targets were clear, and the outcome horrific.

As of now (August 2019), the government has enforced a State of Emergency across the island, and security is tight. It’s not uncommon to see military and heavily armed police in main tourist hotspots.

Don’t let this deter you from visiting the country, though. Right now, Sri Lanka is at its safest, and it’s the perfect time to visit.

For more up to date information, visit the UK Governments Sri Lanka travel advice, here.

To ensure you’re adequately covered for your travels, we recommend you purchase travel insurance. We travel with World Nomads and find they’re the best when it comes to providing a good range of cover and service, at affordable rates.

BOOK | Buy travel insurance here

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General Health in Sri Lanka

When travelling to Sri Lanka, be aware of the following:

Mosquitos | Dengue fever outbreaks are common in Sri Lanka, so cover up as often as you can. Fortunately, Malaria has been eradicated

Food related issues | Honestly, we’ve never had an issue eating any type of food in Sri Lanka. But do be careful when buying food, especially from street vendors. Eat freshly cooked foods, cook veggies, clean salad in iodine water, and avoid shellfish

Heat | Sri Lanka is stinking hot, so always carry water or fluids with you. In the heat of the day, stay inside, or seek shady areas to avoid the direct sunlight. And use sunscreen, and lots of it!

Transport | Overall, public transport in Sri Lanka is quite safe. Buses are an exception though - they’re crazy! While we’ve never felt unsafe in one, there are often accidents, especially on evening buses. Just be vigilant. Keep your wits about you, especially when travelling in tuk tuks or taxis. Use the Pick.Me app to monitor drivers and prices.

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Scams to look out for in Sri Lanka

Beyond a couple of tuk tuk drivers trying their luck, we’ve barely encountered any real scams or safety concerns on either of our trips, but here are a few things to watch out for just in case:

Tuk tuk scams | The most common scam in Sri Lanka involves tuk tuk overcharging. In cities, only take tuk tuks that have meters, and request that they’re turned on prior to getting in to the vehicle. In other areas, be sure to clearly agree on a set price before getting in.

Alternatively, use apps like PickMe (basically the Uber of the tuk tuk world here!) to avoid any issues.

Pickpocketing | As with most destinations, the risk of pickpocketing, particularly in crowded areas like Pettah market in Colombo.

Try not to flash your expensive items, and avoid putting your valuables in your pockets or easily accessible areas of your bags.

Stilt fisherman | There’s no image more iconic in Sri Lanka than the stilt fisherman, expertly balancing on two strapped-together sticks in the shallows of the southern coastline, fishing for the day’s catch.

While a small handful do genuinely practice this traditional fishing method (most prefer boat fishing now), there are also plenty of unscrupulous non-fisherman who partner with men on the beach to demand payment once you’ve snapped your winning picture.

Spice Garden Scam | Tuk tuk drivers will often pair with a spice garden to bring tourists through the doors, for a commission. Then, the ‘doctor/professor’ will try to sell you any number of herbal remedies, which are often low quality or useless.

If you don’t buy, the doctor/professor get angry and agitated and storm out. This is all a ruse to get you to buy something, but don’t fall for their act.

Sapphire scams | Sri Lanka is home to the sapphire, so it’s no surprise that gem scams occur, especially in Galle and Kandy. Oftentimes, tourists are sold fake, or poor quality gems with faked authenticity certificates.

Fake Temples/Tuk Tuk tour scam | Kandy and Colombo are the home of the tuk tuk mafia, who see tourists as pure dollar signs. They’ll do anything to take you to a multitude of gem, textile and souvenir stores for a kickback. Refuse. It may end up in a squabble, but there’s no point in being ripped off. They also like to take you on expensive city tours to visit amazing temples, most of which don’t exist. It’s just a really bad, boring ’tour’ of the city and not worth any money.

The_Common_Wanderer_Sri_Lanka_travel_guide-16.jpg

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Responsible travel in Sri Lanka | our top tips and what to look out for in Sri Lanka

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DON’T RIDE ELEPHANTS OR PARTAKE IN ANIMAL TOURISM

Sri Lanka is not immune to animal tourism, with many operators offering elephant safari’s in national parks, including the popular Minnereya National Park, Kaudulla National Park, and Habarana National Park, as well as the questionable practices of Pinnawela Elephant Sanctuary.

Quite simply, under no circumstance should you ride an elephant in Sri Lanka, or anywhere in the world for that matter.

To ‘train’ an elephant to accept riders, elephants are taken from their mothers at a very early age and physically and psychologically abused.

They’re chained, hit with clubs spiked with nails and hooks, and screamed at.

They’re exceptionally intelligent, emotional animals and this training is extremely damaging and traumatising.

Although this is a centuries old traditional in Sri Lanka and many parts of the world, modernity, morals and ethics mean this practice is no longer justified or applicable.

The best way to enjoy animals within their natural habitat is via a quintessential Sri Lankan safari experience - sure it’s not the most quiet option, but at least it’s not possible to physically and mentally abuse a Jeep.

READ | 26 tips on how to be a responsible traveller, Our guide on how to be an animal friendly traveller

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DON’T USE PLASTIC/REFUSE PLASTIC

Plastic is a huge issue in Sri Lanka (as with most of the world), especially in the mountain areas where waste management is almost impossible. The easiest way to reduce your overall plastic consumption in Sri Lanka is to just say NO!

Avoid buying plastic products if at all possible, say no to plastic bags, and where possible, gently educate locals on the negative consequences of plastic. It doesn’t need to get preachy; a simple ‘no thanks, I don’t like plastic as it’s bad for the environment’ will suffice.

When exploring Sri Lanka’s beaches, or walking through it’s many UNESCO sights, fill up a reusable water bottle and take it with you wherever you go to avoid buying unnecessary single-use bottles.

‘But what about dirty water?!,’ we hear you ask.

Well, we agree that clean drinking water can be an issue in many developing nations - but as a traveller it absolutely doesn’t need to mean buying endless plastic bottles everywhere you go.

Invest in a Grayl water purification bottles or steri-pen, which delivers clean, safe drinking water from any non-saltwater source, is a simple solution.

READ | How to reduce plastic consumption on your travels, our eco-friendly packing guide


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RESPECT THE CULTURE - DRESS + ACT APPROPRIATELY, ESPECIALLY AT TEMPLES

In Sri Lanka, the majority Buddhist culture, as well as Hindi and Muslim are both modest and reserved, so it's important to be respectful at all times.

Treat the Sri Lankan locals how you’d wish to be treated as a guest, take your cues from how they behave and dress, and always travel with respect at the heart of your adventures.

Although a lot of travellers visit Sri Lanka to explore the epic beaches and stunning natural scenery, the rich culture that exists within the whole country is worth learning and understanding.

So much of the beauty of travel is found in discovering the rich tapestry of religion, language, and customs that make up our world, so set aside time to explore the religious and cultural sights within Nepal, and try to engage in community homestay programs or social enterprises.

In Sri Lanka, a fairly strict dress code applies when visiting sights of religious significance, such as temples or stupas, or rural communities.

Cover your shoulders and knees when visiting these areas, and you shouldn’t have any issues.

READ | 26 tips on how to be a responsible traveller

An elephant in the wilds of Sri Lanka, where they should be

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ACCOMMODATION IN SRI LANKA | WHERE TO STAY IN SRI LANKA

Accommodation to suit any budget can be found in Sri Lanka, from luxury hotels right through to dorms in budget backpackers. By far the most common accommodation is guesthouses, which you can find just about anywhere. Luxury hotels on Sri Lanka are some of the finest in the world.

Generally, the standard of accommodation in Sri Lanka is very good, and compared to the west, quite cheap.

If you’re travelling on a budget, USD$20 per night should cover you, however if money is no issue, luxurious hotels can cost anywhere between USD$50 - $200 per night.

| HOTELS in Sri Lanka |

Hotels in Sri Lanka range from the most incredible 5* resorts through to standard 3* shoe boxes. Despite this, hotels are much cheaper here than other parts of the world, so if you’ve got a decent travel budget, you can find some incredible accommodation at decent rates.

BOOK | Use HotelsCombined to find the best deals on your Sri Lanka hotel accommodation


| GUESTHOUSES in Sri Lanka |

Guesthouses are the most popular accommodation option in Sri Lanka and can be found just about everywhere on the island. While some are fancy, the majority are a room/s in family homes, which provide an authentic experience with your host family. During one of our guesthouse stays, we enjoyed some of the best rice and curry we’ve ever eaten.

We recommend searching for and booking guesthouses through HotelsCombined, however they can also be booked via Airbnb.

BOOK | Use HotelsCombined to find the best deals on your Sri Lanka guesthouses

FREE AIRBNB COUPON | Use our Airbnb code to get £25 off your next booking!


| HOSTELS in Sri Lanka |

It’s important to note that hostels are rarer in Sri Lanka than other southeast Asian countries, mostly due to the abundance of wonderful guesthouses. That being said, there are a number of cool hostels in all the main destinations on the island, including Unawatuna, Galle, Ella, Kandy and Colombo.

One of the best is The Doctors House, located in Matara, which is located in a restored colonial building and has a cool outdoor bar and chill area to meet other travellers.

BOOK | Check Hostelworld for the best hostels in Sri Lanka now.


| AIRBNB in Sri Lanka |

On our two trips to Sri Lanka, Airbnb has been the go-to for booking accommodation. On top of guesthouses, smaller, boutique hotels list their rooms on Airbnb, so it really is the best place to find unique and comfortable accommodation at a reasonable price.

READ | Read our complete Airbnb guide here

FREE AIRBNB COUPON | Use our Airbnb code to get £25 off your next booking!

Accommodation in Sri Lanka


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What to see and do in Sri Lanka | Sri Lanka Highlights

From the blissfully tropical south to the untouched north, to the world’s best train ride and awesome surf breaks, Sri Lanka is full of amazing things to see and do.

Most travellers spend their time in the south and central part of the island, where the majority of the Sri Lanka’s popular attractions are.

This should be your starting point to the country, and exploring this part of Sri Lanka is easily doable in two weeks.

We’ve written all about the best places to visit in Sri Lanka, which is a must read containing 31 incredible things to do! Check it out here!

However, as an overview here’s what we recommend for two or more weeks in Sri Lanka.


| Two weeks or less in Sri Lanka |

If you’re spending two weeks or less in Sri Lanka, we recommend visiting all of these popular

Galle | Historical and beautiful Galle Fort is a must-see in the south. Read more here

Weligama | Laidback surf hub which is the perfect place to learn to surf in Sri Lanka

Mirissa | Potentially Sri Lanka’s best beach and also a backpacker hub

Hiriketiya | Hiriketiya beach is our favourite place in Sri Lanka for it’s yoga and chill life. Read more here

Yala National Park | Spot leopards and elephants in Yala National Park

Ella | Ella is Sri Lanka’s hill country starting point and home to awesome hiking and waterfalls. Read more here

Kandy | Home to the Temple of the Tooth and many other important cultural sights. Read more here

Sigiriya | Sri Lanka’s famous ancient rock fortress surrounded by jungle

If you’ve got the time, or are a little more intrepid, it’s worth making your way towards the recently opened north, checking out various UNESCO World Heritage sights along the way.

| Three or more weeks in Sri Lanka |

If you’ve got more time in Sri Lanka, add some of these amazing destinations to your itinerary.

Hikkaduwa | Home to awesome Diving and surfing in a chilled out environment

Unawatuna | Home to Sri Lanka’s party scene as well as decent beaches and surfing. Read more here

Adam’s Peak | Hike to the top of Sri Lanka at Adam’s Peak

Udawalawe | Spot all the elephants in this picturesque national park

Polonarruwa | Explore the ancient city of Polonarruwa

Jaffna | Explore the northern capital and surrounds of Jaffna. Read more here

READ | 31 incredible things to do in Sri Lanka

READ | See the best of Sri Lanka with our brilliant 3 week Sri Lankan itinerary

the rope swing at Dalawella beach is one of the best things to do in Sri Lanka

The best of Sri Lanka | Our three-week Sri Lanka itinerary


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Food in Sri Lanka | What to eat and drink in Sri Lanka

In our humble opinion, Sri Lankan food is the best in the world (and we’ve tried many).

It’s flavoursome, healthy, and influenced by both its proximity to India, its colonial past, and its access to lush, fertile farming lands and oceans.

Here are a few of our favourite dishes and street food delights to look out for:

Rice and curry | The Sri Lankan staple - expect to eat it day and night (more on this below!)

Kottu Roti | You’ll hear this street food long before you taste it, so ubiquitous is the metal clanging of the hot plates its cooked on. This is Sri Lanka’s most popular street food, a mix of shredded godamba roti, vegetables, and spices cooked and chopped quickly on a hot plate and served on just about every street corner.

Hoppers | These little pancake-like bowls are traditionally a breakfast dish, made from fermented rice flour and coconut milk. You can order them with or without an egg, and they’re typically served with a yellow lentil dahl.

String Hoppers | Similar to the hoppers, but made as a ‘noodle patty’, these are served with a mild curry sauce (kiri hodi) and a coconut sambol, again typically for breakfast (but we ate them all day long!)

Vegetable roti | our go-to street food! Little parcels of roti goodness, with lots of veggies inside.

Wade | Listen out for the call of ‘wade (wah-deh) wade’, particularly on trains, which signals the presence of deep fried dhal cakes (aka heaven on earth)

Dhal | the staple comprising of lentils cooked in spices with a coconut milk

Brinjal (eggplant) curry | sweet, almost caramelised eggplant with spices

Jackfruit curry | tender baby jackfruit (with a meaty texture) mixed with spices

Sri Lankan food is known for being relatively spicy, but they’re also used to travellers not being able to handle their level of heat! If you’re worried, just ask for little or no spice in your meal.

Just about every local establishment serves rice and curry, and these tasty meals should only set you back about LKR 150 - 500. It’s the perfect option for those on a budget, as it’s delicious, super filling, and seriously cost effective too.

TIP | Our best meals were eaten in some of the most run-down looking eateries imaginable. Look for eateries packed with locals, and you’re in for a tastebud treat!

A traditional rice and curry serving in Sri Lanka
wade wade, a traditional Sri Lankan street food made of chickpeas


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TRAVEL INSURANCE | STAY SAFE IN SRI LANKA

Whatever you do, don’t travel through Sri Lanka without travel insurance. Whether it be Delhi belly, theft, or lost baggage, things can go wrong in Sri Lanka, and insurance is your only way of mitigating the issues!

BUY | Click here to get the best travel insurance deals with World Nomads


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SRI LANKA BACKPACKING ESSENTIALS | EVERYTHING YOU NEED FOR YOUR SRI LANKA ITINERARY

Travelling through Sri Lanka comes with a unique set of needs. To help you have a comfortable, happy journey, we recommend bringing the following items with you:

READ | check out our eco-friendly packing guide to travel through Sri Lanka consciously and comfortably


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EXPERIENCE MORE OF SRI LANKA WITH THESE ESSENTIAL POSTS

THINGS TO DO IN SRI LANKA | 31 incredible things to do in Sri Lanka (this is THE definitive guide on the internet!)

SRI LANKA TRAVEL TIPS | Everything you need to know before you visit Sri Lanka (39 essential tips!)

SRI LANKA ITINERARY | Our three week Sri Lankan itinerary

SRI LANKA CITY GUIDES | We’ve got in-depth guides to Galle, Kandy, Ella and Jaffna

KANDY TO ELLA TRAIN | Our definitive guide to the Kandy to Ella train

TRAVEL INSURANCE | Don’t leave home without travel insurance (seriously, don’t!). Click here to get the best deals with World Nomads, our trusted travel insurance provider

PHOTOGRAPHY | Love our photography? Wondering what gear we use to get all of our photos around the world?

Click here to view our detailed photography gear guide, as well as our top travel photography tips!

RESPONSIBLE TRAVEL | Responsible travel is important. REALLY IMPORTANT.

Learn our top responsible travel tips to help you, your family and friends travel more consciously around the globe

ECO FRIENDLY PACKING ESSENTIALS | Don’t leave home without our favourite eco-friendly travel essentials


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We hope you enjoy Sri Lanka as much as we did, and get use out of our Sri Lanka travel guide.

If you have any questions, ask away in the comments below!


 

PLANNING A TRIP TO SRI LANKA? YOU’LL WANT TO READ THESE TRAVEL GUIDES TOO!


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That, and you're officially a legend.