Planning a trip to a new country can be overwhelming. That is why I put this guide together, to answer all your questions when planning a trip to Sri Lanka in just one place.
You will need a tourist visa to visit Sri Lanka. You must apply for this in advance –you can apply here. This is a quick and easy process, it will take 5 minutes and will cost approximately $35 USD.
These Visas are valid for 30 days so take this into consideration when booking flights.
Sri Lanka’s main airport is in Colombo. I used Sky Scanner to book my flights, paying $350 AUD from Australia’s Gold Coast (without bags). I always opt to take carry on where I can.
The weather in Sri Lanka is dictated by two monsoon seasons which bring rain to the west and south-west coasts from May to September; and the east coast and northern region between October and February. The rest of the year is sunny and dry. Temperatures are fairly constant year round, with coastal regions enjoying average temperatures of 25-30°C and the highlands 15-18°C on average.
During our visit in April, we experienced perfect sunny days and thunderstorms in the afternoon. These never lasted long.
Phone and internet
I recommend getting a Sri Lankan sim card from Colombo Airport. As you exit you will see several service providers offering sim cards.
Dialog has the best coverage and is the provider I recommend. The retail assistant at Dialog will be able to set the sim up for you. Ensure it is working properly before you leave.
A sim with 10GB will cost you around 1500 rupees (Approx 10USD)
Travel insurance is a necessity. I recommend World Nomads.
Recently, however, I arranged a new credit card that covers all my travel insurance. If you travel a lot, this is something I recommend looking into. I can save up to $1,000 a year on travel insurance.
You can use the Money Converter website to find out current exchange rates.
I found the best option in Sri Lanka was to withdraw cash from an ATM with a travel money card or bank card.
If you do carry cash, I recommend exchanging it in the airport. Alternatively, you can exchange cash in any bank.
Sri Lankan Rupees are a closed currency so you won’t be able to get Sri Lankan rupees until you arrive. There are plenty of places to exchange cash at the airport.
There are ample options for accommodation in Sri Lanka, ranging from guest houses, bed and breakfasts, Airbnb, hotels and resorts. As per usual, I recommend using booking.com to search for accommodation.
In comparison to other Asian countries, accommodation options are slightly more expensive / offer less value for money.
The photo above was taken at Turtle Bay Resort Sri Lanka.
Transport in Sri Lanka
The cheapest way to get around Sri Lanka is using public transport, the quickest way to get around is by hiring a driver.
Train travel is popular in Sri Lanka as it is cheap and reliable(ish). Seats can be reserved in person at a train station up to 45 days before the trip. Scenic routes, such as Ella to Nuwara Eliya fill up fast, so make sure you book these tickets in advance.
Bus – Bus travel is another cheap way to get around Sri Lanka, but be careful, the buses drive like crazy.
Tuk-tuk – If you are travelling short distances (less than an hour), the best option will be to get a tuk-tuk. Always agree on a price before you get in.
Hire a driver – As I only had 2 weeks in Sri Lanka and wanted to see a lot, I opted to hire a driver. We used the Facebook group – Sri Lanka Taxi Driver Offers to find our drivers. Expect to pay between 5000 rupees(30USD) to 10000 rupees(65USD) per day/trip.
Example of what I paid:
- Airport to Midigama – 7000 rupees (Approx 45USD)
- Tangalle to Udawalawe – 5000 rupees (Approx 30USD)
- Udawalawe to Ella – 5000 rupees (Approx 30USD)
- Kandy to Sigiriya (return)- 6000 rupees (Approx 40USD)
- Kandy to Hikkaduwa – 10000 rupees (Approx 65USD)
Your hotel will also be able to arrange a driver for you, but it will cost more than the above prices we paid when using the Facebook Group.
Sri Lanka Taxi Share is another Facebook Group that allows you to share rides with other travellers to save money.
If you plan on staying in one destination for a few days, hiring a moped (scooter) is a great option for getting around with ease. On the Southern beaches we paid 800 rupees (5USD) per day and in Ella, we paid 2000 (12USD) rupees per day. When hiring a moped or motorbike, always make sure you have the required documents, and confirm if the hire is for 24 hours or day to day. Meaning, some people will expect you to pay for a full day even if you collect the bike at 4 pm.
If you plan on hiring a bike, you will need an International drivers license. After you arrive in Sri Lanka you must apply for a Driving Permit at AAA Ceylon as driving on your international license without registering it in Sri Lanka is Ilegal and you could get in “trouble”. If you do get pulled over, you will most likely have to pay a fee to the police officer, a situation you are better off avoiding.
When planning your transport, take into account, it is time-consuming to get around Sri Lanka, so if you try to see and do too much, you will feel like you are spending most of your time in transit.
Planning your route
Sri Lanka has something for everyone: stunning mountain ranges, tea plantations, breathtaking waterfalls, wildlife safaris in one of Sri Lanka’s national parks like Yala or Udawalawe, world-class beaches, surf breaks, UNESCO world heritage sites like Sigiriya, temples and more.
When planning your route, you must take into account how long it will take to travel between places. You may be best trying to cover less but doing more in the destinations you do visit.
I would recommend a week by the beach (Southern Provence), a week in the highlands (Central Provence) and a week in the North.
In my opinion, Ella is a destination in Sri Lanka that is not to be missed. I live for hiking so a trip to Ella was always on the agenda and it certainly didn’t disappoint. I also wanted to see the tropical surfing beaches, Midigama was my favourite beach destination.
If your visiting for culture, Kandy would be a great place to add to the itinerary and if you want to get off the beaten track you may want to explore more of the islands northern region.
Tourist most commonly travel to the Southern Beaches, Arugum Bay, Ella, Kandy and Negombo.
Cost of travelling around Sri Lanka
When planning a trip to Sri Lanka, it is important to consider the cost of travelling. While Sri Lanka is affordable, it is not as cheap as other destinations in Asia.
Transport – If you take public transport you can get around the country extremely cheaply. You can get from A to B for a couple of dollars. If you take a driver, that will be significantly more expensive. You can expect to pay 50 – 100 USD per day for a driver.
Food – if you eat local food, your food expense will be much cheaper than if you eat western food. On average you will pay around 450 Rupees (3USD) for a Sri Lankan curry, 450 rupees (3USD) for Kottu and 250 Rupees (2USD) for Rotti. If you eat western food you will pay around 1000 rupees (7USD) per meal: pizza, burgers, pasta etc.
I recommend exercising all usual precautions when travelling Sri Lanka. These are my tips for keeping safe.
Sri Lankan Phrases
Sinhalese and Tamil are the two primary languages spoken in Sri Lanka
Here are some useful phrases you should know before you visit Sri Lanka:
- Ayubowan = may you live long, a formal way of greeting someone. You can also just say “hello” or “hi”
- Istuti = thank you
- Kohomadha = how are you?
- Hari = okay, got it, fine (you often say this twice – “hari hari”)
- Hondayi = very good
Overseas Travel Checklist
Disclosure: This post on planning a trip to Sri Lanka contains affiliate links.