The ultimate guide to visiting Sri Lanka

A hidden gem that is nestled under India in the Indian Ocean which was famously described by Marco Polo as one of the finest islands in the world.


My month in Sri Lanka left me with a lasting love for the country and a want to come back. It has everything from friendly locals, amazing food, tropical beaches to vast mountains, temples and ancient cities. This little island has everything to offer you a trip of a lifetime.


Follow my top tips to help make your trip to Sri Lanka as good and as memorable as mine was.


Visa: Travellers must obtain a visa before arriving. Apply for your visa here https://www.eta.gov.lk/slvisa/visainfo/center.jsp


Weather: Sri Lanka can be visited all year round although December to April is considered to be high season. Temperatures are consistent year-round with coastal temperatures averaging from 25-30 degrees and inland temperatures from 15-18 degrees.


Sri Lanka experiences two monsoon seasons each year. Either monsoon happens at a different time in the year and on a different coast making Sri Lanka a sunshine destination that can be visited all year round.

During the months of May - September the west and south-west of the country experiences monsoon season.


During the months of October - February the east and the north experiences monsoon season.


Fac

  • Population: 22 million (2012)

  • Capital: Colombo

  • Language: Sinhala 74% (official and national), Tamil 18% (national), other 8%; English is commonly used

  • Religion: Buddhist 70%, Islam 8%, Hindu 7%, Christian 6%

  • Currency: Sri Lanka rupee

  • Time zone: UTC+5:30

  • Drives on: Left

  • Credit and debit cards are widely accepted in Sri Lanka with ATMs countrywide


How to get around:


Sri Lanka is a small island making it relativity easy to get around. The most common ways for tourists to move around Sri Lanka is through a combination of trains, buses, private cars and tuk-tuks.

When you arrive at Colombo International you will be 32km outside of the city and this will require you to get either a pre-organised taxi, a taxi from the airport or a bus into the city. Be prepared for taxi drivers to approach you when leaving the airport offering you their services.


Uber is a good cheap option to get into the city if you can get some internet reception.


If you’re on a budget or time is on your side the bus will be the best and cheapest option to get into the city. Public buses leave the airport every 15 minutes and drop you to the central bus station which is conveniently close to the main train station.

If you’re a high roller, in a rush or just don’t like buses then consider taking a private car to your chosen destination.


Buses: Taking the bus in Sri Lanka is an experience you won’t quickly forget. Buses are the most common mode of transport with locals. You will get on a bright colourful bus that is most likely over crowed, hot and has music blaring. Flag down the bus, hop aboard and the ticket collector who will be carrying a massive hand full of notes will come to you, ask where you’re going and give you the price. You pay, they give you the change, simple as that. Buses are dirt cheap and should be a popular choice with backpackers and others on a budget.

If the bus life isn’t for you I still recommend jumping on a bus for one journey if even just for a couple of stops to experience the madness and to get a taste of local life.


Trains: When you think of Sri Lanka you think of that beautiful image you’ve now seen a hundred times of someone hanging off the edge of a train travelling through some tropical forest.

Trains are another great cheap way to move around the country and also offer some amazing views on certain lines.


Trains can be pre-booked at https://12go.asia/en/travel/sri-lanka or alternatively, you can book your tickets at the station. Trains are normally packed full so if you’re on a tight schedule pre-booking your tickets might be a good idea to avoid disappointment. If you don’t want to book your tickets through a third party you can always pre-book your train tickets at the Colombo train station when you arrive. If you are planning on taking the famous train journey from Ella to Kandy it is advised to pre-book a couple of days in advance.


Recommended train routes.

Colombo to Unawatuna

Unawatuna to Galle Fort

Colombo to Hatton (Adam’s Peak)

Colombo to Ella

Ella to Kandy

Colombo to Anuradhapura

Anuradhapura to Jaffna

Jaffna to Colombo


Private Car

A private car can be organised by your accommodation, normally with a price agreed upon by both parties. If you are not on a budget or are a group of 4 this can be a great way to cover a lot of ground in one day.

You may also be approached by drivers if you are walking in the street with your luggage who will offer to take you to where you are going. You can negotiate a price for the journey. You can also look for other travellers to join you to split the cost.


Tuk Tuk

Organising a tuk-tuk for the day can be a great way to go out and see some attractions. Also when travelling by bus you will often be dropped at the bus station and have to take a tuk-tuk the rest of the way. This is the case if you are travelling from the south coast to Ella, you will be dropped at a bus station and have to get a tuk-tuk the rest of the way. Tuk-tuks are generally cheap but drivers will be cheeky and put their prices up. Be prepared to barter if the price doesn’t sound fair.


Taxi & Uber

Uber is available in the bigger cities including Colombo and Kandy. Uber is a good option as it is cheap and has set prices.

You can find metered taxis in the big cities but outside of the cities will normally have to agree on a price with the driver.


Scooter

Scooters can be rented for cheap from most towns. If you are a confident driver they can be a great way to explore the area you’re in. Please note that drivers must carry an international license with them while driving.


Food

If you’re a foodie like me then you are in for a treat. Stray away from western food that may be on offer and eat like the locals.

Be sure to try out the many different Sri Lankan curries

Eat some street food

Eat hoppers for breakfast, a traditional Sri Lankan breakfast

Try Sri Lankan fast food - Kothu


Accommodation

If you are a budget traveller or backpacker you will spend most of your time checked into hostels. You can find hostels in most popular stops.

If you’re on a budget but not a budget traveller then you will likely find yourself checked into guesthouses. Again you will find good guesthouses spotted around at every popular stop.

Hotels come in all shapes and sizes and hotel stayers can choose from a range of new modern or old colonial buildings. Sri Lanka also boasts a large range of boutique hotels and villas.

Eco-Oriented hotels and lodges are also on the rise.


Top Experiences

  • Galle Fort

  • Whale watching, Mirissa

  • Ella Rock

  • Nine Arch Bridge

  • Ella to Kandy train ride

  • Surfing in Arugam Bay

  • Sigiriya

  • Koneswaram Temple in Trincomalee

  • Nallur Kandaswamy in Jaffna

Suggested Itineraries


The whole shebang


2 week in Southern Sri Lanka Itinerary


2 Week Northern Sri Lanka Itinerary