Our love for travel and passion for new adventures has led us to some of the most amazing destinations in the world and one of our absolute favourites is Sri Lanka. This magnificent island-country has so much to offer every type of traveler and is an especially great place to visit with your family.
Formerly known as Ceylon, this island oasis wows travel lovers every year – and with good reason. With an idyllic location in the Indian Ocean, separated by the Palk Strait from the Indian Peninsula, this country has a secluded charm.
The never-ending number of magical places to see in Sri Lanka will inspire you to visit and leave you feeling like you’ve been part of something special. Our Sri Lanka travel blog covers everything you need to know to experience the best of Sri Lanka and have the most incredible time in this beautiful melting pot of adventure.
Sri Lanka Travel Blog: Why Visit Sri Lanka?
There are few countries in the world that can offer as diverse a range of experiences as a trip to Sri Lanka.
Whether you are seeking outdoor adventure, a surfing getaway, spiritual retreats, rich cultural heritage, delicious food or you want to go on safari – you can do it all when you travel to Sri Lanka.
Here are just some of the reasons why a Sri Lanka trip is a must-see bucket list item.
If you love active holidays, Sri Lanka is a fantastic outdoor adventure destination. Hiking trails, mountain biking, white water rafting and surfing are just some of the Sri Lanka adventure activities on offer.
Best of all, these experiences are set amongst scenic surrounds of rolling green hills, tea plantations, UNESCO National Parks and breathtaking waterfalls.
For outdoor fanatics like us, a vacation in Sri Lanka ticks so many boxes that make for a great trip.
Some of the best Sri Lanka destinations are along the coast and a large part of Sri Lanka’s alluring attraction for many people is its beaches and pretty shorelines.
Not only are Sri Lanka’s beaches picturesque, they provide plenty of opportunities for activities and fun things to do for the whole family. We share 15 of the best Sri Lanka beaches here.
All around the coast you will discover the perfect destinations for diving, snorkelling and whale watching. And if you love surfing, they’re perfect for that too.
Fascinating History and Culture
Sri Lanka has a vibrant cultural history dating back thousands of years.
The country is home to 8 UNESCO World Heritage Sites including Sigiriya Rock Fortress, Galle, Polonnaruwa and Kandy. They are some of the most beautiful places in Sri Lanka, and each individually shows off what makes Sri Lanka such a rewarding destination.
Sri Lanka also has one of the most vibrant religious cultures in the world, with many sacred festivals happening throughout the year.
You will not only have the opportunity to experience the unique culture and ancient philosophies of Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and Christianity as you travel throughout the country. You will also notice the cultural influence of the Portuguese, Dutch and British colonialists, who controlled the country from the 16th to 20th centuries, too.
Sri Lankan food is one of the highlights of a Sri Lanka trip. From curries to fried snacks and the vast array of accompaniments that come with every meal, you will not be disappointed.
Some meals stem from ancient traditions, others from the European influence during the 18th and 19th century. Neighbouring countries have also had their hand in shaping the mouth-watering flavors and styles of Sri Lankan food.
You can taste some of Asia’s most remarkable seafood dishes and spicy treats here. And if you love crab, well it is probably the only country on earth with a restaurant dedicated solely to crab. Colombo’s Ministry of Crab is famous for cooking up succulent and sweet crab dishes in a stunning location.
Wildlife and Biodiversity
If you’re a nature lover, then a Sri Lanka vacation is a rewarding experience.
Sri Lanka is the stomping ground for over 5,800 wild elephants and home to the leopard. It also has one of the highest rates of biological endemism (i.e. plants and animals unique to the country) in the world.
So not only do you have the priceless opportunity to take a Sri Lanka safari, you are likely to see plants and flowers you won’t see anywhere else in the world.
Over and above all the fascinating pieces of the country that come together to make it the marvel it is, it also has a spectacular climate.
The tropical weather is a plus, with sunshine and blue skies being the order of the day. If you enjoy chasing sunsets as much as we do, then you’ll be in awe of the evening colors in Sri Lanka.
Language barriers in the country are surprisingly easy to overcome, as English is taught in schools and spoken by many of the locals. There are also many varieties of other languages spoken, but the two official languages are Sinhala and Tamil.
Food In Sri Lanka
Food in Sri Lanka is simply out of this world, with many different facets coming together in each meal. Curries are at the core of many of the country’s specialities, as well as other sweet and spicy meals.
Some of the best meals to eat when in Sri Lanka are:
- Parippu wade – Deep fried dhal curry snacks
- Polos – Young jackfruit curry
- Vegetarian Kottu – chopped godhamba roti and vegetables
- Deviled sweet and sour fish curry
- Egg hoppers – a paper thin basket-shaped pancake and fried egg
- Wambatu moju – eggplant pickles
Enjoy fresh seafood by the sea, eat egg hoppers for breakfast, sink your teeth into mouth watering parippu on the train and enjoy a pot of Ceylon tea with freshly baked bread treats from the bakery tuk tuk.
Food in Sri Lanka will delight and amaze you, with many varieties to choose from. Take your taste buds on a culinary adventure, diving into a world of many textures, flavors, styles, and traditions.
Most importantly, when you travel Sri Lanka, don’t be tempted to eat at the tourist restaurant chains. Stick to the local spots to experience the truly tasty offerings of authentic Sri Lankan food.
Oh, and if you love spicy food, tell them to add more spice! They are wary about serving spicy food to travellers, but are more than happy to cook your food as they enjoy it themselves – you just need to ask.
Best Time To Go To Sri Lanka
When visiting Sri Lanka, you’re in for fantastic weather. The country has a tropical climate with dry and wet seasons and enjoys warm temperatures year round.
The only tricky thing to note is that despite being a relatively small island, the country has two monsoon seasons. These monsoons take turns on each side of the island – affecting the east and north regions whilst the sun shines in the south and west regions and visa versa.
The best time to travel to Sri Lanka will depend on where you want to go.
If you want to explore the cultural triangle in the centre of the country and the beauty of the south coast beaches and west coast, then the best time to go is between October and March.
If you want to explore the stunningly picturesque and quieter east coast and north coast, the best time to visit is April to September.
Note that December to mid-April is Sri Lanka’s peak season. Attractions will be more crowded, prices higher and hotels busier at this time of year. But it also a great time to go, so just book accommodation in advance to secure your preferred hotels.
Top Things To Do In Sri Lanka
If you are wondering what to do in Sri Lanka, don’t worry! The country is overflowing with monuments, ancient cultural sites, beautiful landscapes and diverse National Parks to explore.
With so many incredible places to visit in Sri Lanka, it can be hard to choose between them all. Here are what we think are some of best things to do in Sri Lanka:
- Visit the ancient city of Sigiriya
- Explore the old town and fort at Galle
- Travel to the ancient city of Polonnaruwa
- Step into the majestic Dambulla Cave Temple
- Hike to the summit of Adam’s Peak
- Relax on the beach at Mirissa or Hikkaduwa
- Go on safari in Udawalawe or Yala National Park
- Visit the sacred city of Kandy
- Explore the tea plantations around Ella
We are busy writing more articles on the best places to visit in Sri Lanka, and will add the content here soon.
Sri Lanka Cost of Travel
Sri Lanka is an affordable country for travel, although prices are rising fast as more travellers discover this island jewel. Compared to travel in Europe, Australia or North America, Sri Lanka travel costs are significantly lower. But we found daily costs to be more expensive than India and Vietnam.
For budget travellers, it is still possible to travel to Sri Lanka for under $30 USD per person per day. Stay in simple guesthouses, eat rice and curry at local restaurants and use trains, tuk tuks and buses to get around the country.
For mid range travellers it is possible to travel Sri Lanka for under $50 per person per day. This would include staying in comfortable guesthouses, eating at both local and tourist restaurants, paying for some trips by car and include a number of organised activities such as a safari.
This was our budget for our most recent Sri Lanka trip and we easily stayed under it for a family of four.
For luxury travellers, the sky is the limit! From 6 star eco resorts to luxury Ayuverdic spas, deluxe safari camps and beach resorts, there are plenty of options to enjoy your trip on a luxury budget.
What is good value?
Food, train and bus travel offer great value in Sri Lanka.
As a family of four we rarely spent more than $20 USD for dinner and street snacks were less than a dollar.
Train trips in Sri Lanka were just a couple of dollars each. Local bus rides cost less than a dollar for all four of us.
What Is average in Cost?
Accommodation prices vary a lot, but it is possible to find a lot of good value accommodation between $20 – $50 USD per night, which is similar to other parts of Asia.
Out of season I think you can secure great deals on high quality accommodation for under $80 USD per night.
What is expensive?
We found cars and drivers comparatively expensive, and you had to bargain hard for tuk tuks (or use the PickMe app). Wine and beer is more expensive than in other countries.
Laundry was expensive compared to in other parts of Asia and our Scrubba wash bag came in handy to keep laundry costs down. Click here to read more about the Scrubba.
Day tours and activities such as guided hikes seemed comparatively expensive. Plus entry fees to some monuments such as Sigiriya, Polonnaruwa and Kandy Botanical Gardens were significantly more than other daily costs.
Where to Stay In Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka is becoming an increasingly popular destination for travellers and you can tell. In every town, there are new guesthouses and hotels for every budget opening every week.
The result is a huge range of accommodation in terms of price and value. Which makes Sri Lanka a great destination for everyone from backpackers to families to luxury travellers.
The cost of accommodation varies from as little as $10 USD for a bed in a hostel to hundreds of dollars a night in a 5 star hotel.
Best Hotels in Sri Lanka
But regardless of your budget, there are plenty of hotel options in Sri Lanka. We found the best place to find hotel deals is booking.com.
Best Guest Houses in Sri Lanka
One of the best places to stay in Sri Lanka is at a family run guest house. They give you the opportunity to connect with the locals and try some of the best food in the country. Most are run by families and have a small number of simple rooms, but there are also boutique, luxury guesthouses too.
One of our favorite stays on our most recent Sri Lanka trip was at Snuggle Cottage in Ella, a one room guesthouse where we had some of the best food on our trip.
It is possible to find guest house accommodation when you arrive at many towns, but in peak season we recommend you book in advance. Many guest houses are now on booking.com.
Best Airbnbs in Sri Lanka
Whilst we don’t typically book with Airbnb unless we are staying in a place for a week or more, there are a lot of great options on Airbnb for Sri Lanka.
In fact we found our favourite stay in Sri Lanka at Casa Maria in Mirissa, on Airbnb (pictured below!)
From private villas to guest houses, Airbnb is definitely worth a look for Sri Lanka accommodation. We recommend comparing prices on booking.com as the price will often vary for the same place on the different platforms.
If you are wondering where to stay in Sri Lanka, take a look at the many options by popping your search query in the box below:
Sri Lanka Itinerary Ideas
To help you plan your Sri Lanka itinerary and decide where to go in Sri Lanka, we have put together some ideas for 2 weeks in Sri Lanka.
Whether you are planning a solo trip, a Sri Lanka travel itinerary for a couple or you want to plan a trip to Sri Lanka with kids, these itinerary ideas cover some of the best places to go in Sri Lanka.
2 weeks in Sri Lanka
With two weeks in Sri Lanka you can include many of the Sri Lanka must see destinations.
Here’s our high level guide for how to plan your Sri Lanka travel route, starting and finishing in or near Colombo, the capital.
- Galle – a well preserved fortified city with Portuguese and Dutch colonial architecture.
- South Coast beaches – take your pick from some of the best beaches in Sri Lanka at Hikkaduwa, Mirissa, Hiriketiya or Tangalle.
- Go on Safari – at either Udawalawe or Yala National Park.
- Ella – visit a tea factory, wander through tea plantations and hike to Ella Rock or Little Adam’s Peak. Read more about Ella here.
- Kandy – visit the sacred Temple of the Tooth, explore the pretty Botanical Gardens, see a traditional dance show or go hiking in the Knuckles Mountain Range.
- Sigiriya – a great base from which to explore the highlights of the cultural triangle including Sigiriya Rock, Polonnaruwa and the Dambulla Cave temples.
- Negombo – if you need to wait for a plane, this is a good place to end your trip before flying out of Sri Lanka
One week in Sri Lanka
If you have just 1 week in Sri Lanka, you can still fit most of the top highlights in, but you will need to squeeze more into each day and will need to hire a driver to get quickly from place to place.
We suggest you see visit Galle on the way to one of the nearby beach locations, skip Colombo/Negombo and Polonnaruwa and consider visiting Sigiriya as a day trip from Kandy.
3 weeks in Sri Lanka
If you have three weeks in Sri Lanka or even one month in Sri Lanka, lucky you!
We recommend spending more time in each place listed above and choose two beach stops. If you love the outdoors, plan a hike to the summit of Adam’s Peak and a visit to Nuwara Eliya for hiking or to Kitulgala for white water rafting.
If you have a month or more and the weather permits, consider adding Arugam Bay and Trincomalee in the East and Jaffna in the North to your itinerary.
Sri Lanka Tours
If you don’t have time to plan your trip and would prefer to visit Sri Lanka as part of an organised tour, here are some great Sri Lanka tour options for you.
Intrepid Travel – with small group sizes and a focus on responsible travel, Intrepid are a great option for an organised tour in Sri Lanka.
From classic sightseeing tours to cycling tours from 8 to 14 days, you are sure to find the perfect trip with Intrepid. Click here to see the tours and check the prices.
Tourradar – if you want to compare different tour agencies, Tourradar offers a comprehensive range of Sri Lanka tour operators and packages.
From adventure tours to food tours and everything in between, you are spoilt for choice. Click here to browse the tour options on Tourradar.
Getting Around Sri Lanka
When it comes to getting around Sri Lanka, you have quite a few great transport options to choose from.
Train, bus and tuk tuk are by far the most ubiquitous forms of transport in Sri Lanka. If you are planning a budget trip to Sri Lanka, using the train and bus networks to get from place to place is by far the best way to see Sri Lanka and save money.
However many travellers also opt to hire a driver to take them around the country. We cover all these options here.
Train Travel in Sri Lanka
The Sri Lanka train system is not only a great, scenic way to get from A to B, but it is also very affordable.
Trains run out of Colombo to all the main destinations including Kandy, Galle, Trincomolee and Jaffna. Tickets can be booked up to a month in advance at any train station or you can take your chances on the day with unreserved tickets on sale an hour before each trip.
You can check the train timetables online here.
For popular routes such as Kandy to Ella, we recommend purchasing your ticket online through an agent such as 12go.asia as reserved tickets do sell out.
Pop your dates into the search engine below to check ticket availability:
Bus Travel in Sri Lanka
Buses are the true work horses in the country. From cities to towns and isolated mountain villages, buses go anywhere and everywhere and are the cheapest way to get around Sri Lanka. They can however also get incredibly crowded.
You may find for travel on the main roads, like Colombo to Kandy, Negombo, and Galle, that buses are faster than trains.
But in the Central Highlands, buses tend to be much slower (and the roads much windier) and trains are the better choice, particularly the scenic train ride from Kandy to Ella.
The only time you’ll want to avoid traveling around Sri Lanka on public transport is during the Poya each month (full moon) and during religious holidays.
During these times public transport becomes crazy busy and the bus stops and train stations will be extraordinarily chaotic. If you need to travel during this time, then keep this in mind and try not to use public transport during peak hours.
Cars with Private Drivers in Sri Lanka
Hiring a driver in Sri Lanka is a very popular choice for travelling around Sri Lanka, particularly for first time travellers to Sri Lanka, families and those short on time. They are probably the best way to travel around Sri Lanka with young children.
Hiring drivers in Sri Lanka is very easy. You can choose to hire one driver who will take you through your whole journey or you can organise a driver (often through your accommodation) as required to take you point to point.
Hiring a driver in Sri Lanka gives you complete control over your time and schedule. But it is by far the most expensive option. Prices are dependant on the distance and typically ranging from around $60 – $100 USD per day.
Local Trips by Tuk Tuk
Travel by tuk tuk is a must-do thing in Sri Lanka! Three wheelers are the best way to get around town when sightseeing, from train stations with luggage or for short distances between towns.
It is possible to squeeze 2 adults and 2 kids into a single tuk tuk without luggage. With luggage, a car is a better option for three or more travellers.
Prices will vary depending on the distance and how well you can negotiate. In the larger cities use the PickMe app to book and pay.
Domestic Flights in Sri Lanka
There are a small number of domestic air routes in Sri Lanka, including to Batticaloa and Trincomalee in the east, Sigiriya and Kandy in the centre and Dikwella in the south.
If you are very short on time, they are a convenient way to cover large distances. However generally it is simpler and far cheaper to organise a private shuttle or car to most destinations.
Need to Know: Sri Lanka Travel Tips
Sri Lanka Visa Information
Travellers visiting Sri Lanka need to apply for a tourist visa.
The easiest way to arrange a Sri Lankan tourist visa (ETA) is online prior to departure via the official ETA website. Don’t be fooled into paying for one of the many travel agencies offering expensive visa services.
Simply visit the official site, purchase the visa and print a copy to take with you on your trip.
The cost of the tourist visa for 30 days is $20 USD for SAARC residents and $35 USD for all other travellers.
You know the old saying:
if you can’t afford travel insurance you can’t afford to travel
It is so important to protect you, your family and your belongings when you travel by purchasing travel insurance for your trip to Sri Lanka.
We use World Nomads travel insurance for all of our trips and feel they offer a good range of policy options to ensure you are appropriately covered.
The currency is the Sri Lankan Rupee (Rs). You can find the most up to date exchange rates here. Foreign currency exchange is possible at the airport when you arrive, at banks and at exchange bureaus in larger towns.
Some larger hotels will accept payment in USD or Euros, but you are usually better off paying for goods and services in the local currency.
One rupee is equal to 100 cents. Coins come in denominations of 1,2, 5 and 10 rupees. Note there are variations in size for each of these different denominations, which can be confusing.
Notes come in 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, 500, 1000, 2000 and 5000 rupees. The larger denominations are difficult to use for anything other than paying for your accommodation.
You should try and break the larger bills whenever you have the opportunity (at hotels, paying larger restaurant bills, to drivers for longer trips). Another option is to go in to the bank and exchange them, which is super easy to do.
We found it common for stores and guesthouses to have very little change, so you need a good range of denominations in your wallet!
Note: the Sri Lankan rupee cannot be exchanged outside of Sri Lanka, so ensure you change any remaining cash at the airport before you leave.
ATMs are everywhere and easy to use. Note some bank ATMs charge a local fee for foreigners, which can really start to add up when you are withdrawing cash regularly.
We found the Bank of Ceylon to be the most reliable and did not charge us fees.
Sri Lanka is very much a cash economy and we rarely used our credit card. They are accepted at high end hotels and some restaurants, but we found most guest houses, all drivers and most restaurants operate only in cash.
Internet and Phone Access
If your mobile phone is unlocked, purchasing a local sim with phone calls and data included is the cheapest way to access the internet and be contactable in Sri Lanka.
We purchased a sim on arrival at Bandaranaike International Airport. There are a number of different companies including Dialog with booths at the airport.
A great option for travellers is the Dialog Tourist Sim. For 1300 rps ($7 USD) you receive 10 GB data, local and international calls and SMS. The data is valid for 30 days and topping up is easy – just visit one of the many small convenience stores in every town.
The mobile network was good and fast internet was available in most places. Note it was often slow at guesthouses and hotels, so you may not want to rely on it for internet access during your trip.
If your phone is locked and you can’t use a local sim, or you need data access on multiple devices (such as families travelling with kids and iPads), consider purchasing or renting a Skyroam portable WiFi hub.
Skyroam offer our readers 10% off with the code ADVENTUREANDSUNSHINE on rent or buy options. Click here to find out more.
Drinking water is not safe to drink in Sri Lanka. If you are like me and hate buying bottled water due to the sheer amount of plastic involved, consider purchasing the Grayl Geopress water filter bottle.
We took the Grayl Geopress on our most recent trip to Sri Lanka and did not need to purchase any bottled water during the trip. We simply filtered water sourced from the tap, stream or waterfall and topped up our water bottles and water reservoirs when required.
It is one of the best travel purchases we have ever made and we whole-heartedly recommend it for anyone travelling to countries with unsafe drinking water.
Health and Safety
A bitter civil war between the Sinhalese Buddhists and the Tamil Tigers came to an end in 2009 and the country had enjoyed relative calm until the terrible terrorist attacks in 2019.
Despite these attacks, we have found Sri Lanka to be a safe and friendly country to travel around. We felt safe travelling with kids in Sri Lanka in early 2020 and the Sri Lankan people are very accommodating and will do anything to help.
However, as always, it is a good idea to check your Government’s travel warnings before booking your trip.
Thankfully Sri Lanka is free from Malaria, but Dengue Fever is an ongoing issue in the country, particularly in the Western Provinces including Colombo and Galle.
Dengue Fever is a mosquito born disease and there is no vaccination to protect you from the virus. The best way to minimise your risk is to cover up (particularly at sunrise and sunset) and take, use and re-apply a repellent with DEET during the day.
Many hotels and guesthouses also have mosquito nets in their rooms, so it is worth checking for this when you book if you are concerned.
Note: Good repellent is hard to find in the country, so stock up on supplies before you leave.
Food and Water
The food in Sri Lanka is one of the highlights of a trip to the country.
We rarely have issues with food, but issues are not uncommon. To reduce your risk of contracting traveller’s diarrhoea use your common sense when buying food and drinks from restaurants and street vendors:
- ensure the food is freshly prepared and well cooked;
- eat at places popular with the locals or with high turnover;
- only eat salads and peeled fruits when you are confident they have been washed in clean water;
- do not drink tap water (filter it with the Grayl for plastic-free travel).
We have bought from street vendors, eaten in local restaurants and tried all sorts of food and have had only one instance of possible food poisoning (a dodgy prawn, maybe?!) during our trips to Sri Lanka.
For all the up to date advice on vaccinations, refer to the Centre for Disease Control website.
Sri Lanka Essentials
Our essential gear tips for what to pack for Sri Lanka include:
Grayl Water Filter – can you tell we are in love with this product yet? Say no to plastic water bottles and be confident your stomach is safe with drinking water filtered through the Grayl Geopress. Click here to check the price. (Australian readers can see it here)
Pacsafe Portable Safe – one of our top travel essentials, this baby comes with us everywhere and gives us complete peace of mind when we head out sightseeing each day.
The 12 litre bag comfortably fits our laptop, 4 kindles, the kids mobile devices, the camera, passports and spare cash. Click here to see the Pacsafe portable safe.
Cotton Sarong – a million uses and an absolutely essential packing item for Sri Lanka. From covering up at temples, keeping you warm on chilly planes, blocking the sun on a long car drive or drying you off at the beach, a sarong is a must-pack item for Sri Lanka.
Bamboo cutlery set – say goodbye to plastic straws and cutlery with this lightweight bamboo cutlery set. Pop it in your day pack and you will always have it handy when you need it. Just don’t leave the straw in your glass when you leave the restaurant (like I did). Click here to check the price for this all in one pack.
Sunscreen – pack enough for your trip as it is hard to find and very expensive once in the country.
Lonely Planet Sri Lanka Guide – perfect for reading up on the country’s history on the plane trip over, researching your next destination and practising your basic greetings in the local language.
We still love and use Lonely Planet Guidebooks for every trip. Click here to see the current Sri Lanka travel guide book.
Sri Lanka Travel Guide
Is Sri Lanka worth visiting? Absolutely! Sri Lanka is a country that will entice you to return time and time again.
The mix of old and new, wild and tame, European and Asian, all come together to make this country the perfect adventure travel destination.
Read more of our Sri Lanka travel blog posts to help plan your trip to this incredible destination:
Mirissa – Find the best hotels in Mirissa here.
Hikkaduwa – Enjoy your time at this popular beach destination with our list of top things to do in Hikkaduwa.