If you are looking for tips for traveling to Sri Lanka, you are in the right place. I was traveling in Sri Lanka during the 30 days that they give you a visa and I can’t wait to set foot in that beautiful country again. Sri Lanka, the teardrop-shaped country in the Indian Ocean, was a real surprise.
I liked many things about Sri Lanka:
- the green and tropical landscape
- your spicy food
- national parks – awesome!
- their wild animals – many free on the road
- the happiest elephants I have seen to this day
But above all what surprised me the most was its friendly and hospitable people. Sri Lankans have a huge heart. They are, for the most part, very kind.
Traveling around Sri Lanka is quite easy, although at first it seems very chaotic. It is one of the best destinations if you want adventure, see animals, (surf), and see unique landscapes.
You just have to get used to the following situations, as they are the daily bread:
- Buses overflowing with people (many people even walk all the way),
- roads where the road is only an outline,
- Trains so far outnumbered that people have to sit on the stairs with their feet out of the train (that’s a unique and incredible experience that many travelers are looking for).
English is spoken quite a bit, so once you get used to its chaos, it’s easy to get around.
Anyway, I leave you some tips so that you don’t get ripped off and you can enjoy the country in its greatest splendor. Above all, what you should not miss is …
Get on the scenic train to Ella!
Its scenic route in the high mountains is considered one of the most beautiful in the world.
But I’m getting ahead … Let’s see useful information step by step.
Travel to Sri Lanka
Here I leave you all the information you need to visit Sri Lanka for free. Remember that you can jump from one side to the other in the index or simply read the entire article and soak up all the info.
1. Sri Lanka: Where is it?
Sri Lanka is an independent island in the Indian Ocean, just south east of India and north of the Maldives. Many people combine a trip to Sri Lanka and the Maldives. It’s a very good idea. I did it the other way around. I first went to the Maldives and then to Sri Lanka. And I think Sri Lanka is better, then Maldives, because then you can relax in the end.
All the details of my trip to Maldives here.
If you look on the map, you will see that Sri Lanka is the teardrop-shaped island to the south east, which is why it is also known as the Indian tear. Until 1972 Sri Lanka was known as Ceylon.
2. How to get to Sri Lanka
The only way to get to Sri Lanka is by plane. Personally, before my trip to Sri Lanka I was looking for ferries from India to Sri Lanka, but I did not find. From India to Sri Lanka you can only get there by plane.
I always look for airline deals with kiwi, Skycanner, Google flights and then I compare the airlines that appear directly.
Many people combine travel from Sri Lanka and Maldives as it is one of the cheapest ways to get to Maldives.
3. How to obtain the visa for Sri Lanka
You can obtain a visa for Sri Lanka online or directly at the airport. As there is usually a queue at the airport, I recommend that you process it on-line.
The official website of the Sri Lankan government to obtain the visa is http://www.eta.gov.lk/slvisa/
Having the visa in hand before arriving, you will go more relaxed. The process will be much faster as soon as you step on the airport. The price is exactly the same.
I personally got it on this page https://www.ivisa.com
It is a very useful page for visas, because you just have to put where you are from and from which country you want the visa, make the payment and you will have the visa in your email in 30 minutes.
When you arrive at the airport, if you have already processed the visa online you will simply have to show your document and they will put the stamp on your passport.
Do you need vaccinations for Sri Lanka?
So far, there is no mandatory vaccine to enter Sri Lanka. In any case, I advise you to always go to the Ministry of Health in your country and ask what vaccines they recommend before traveling.
This will guide you on which vaccines are recommended according to your health record.
4. When to go to Sri Lanka
Many people ask me when it is better to visit Sri Lanka.
To choose well when to go to Sri Lanka, the first thing you should know is that there are 2 different seasons.
Sri Lanka is a tropical country so you can expect sunny skies and blue skies most of the year. It is possible to travel all year. You only have to choose the area well to avoid the monsoon.
Technically there are 2 different monsoon seasons:
- From May to October, the south west, and the highlands is affected by a monsoon. The east, the north and the cultural triangle are not affected.
- The northeast monsoon, on the other hand, occurs from November to February. At that time, the south and east of the country have their dry season.
I traveled to Sri Lanka in August and some rain caught me in kandy – not much.
If you have a specific area that you want to visit, you should try not to get caught by the monsoon. The monsoon means that you will have tropical rains and worse visibility.
Although the temperature is fairly constant throughout the year, you should bear in mind that you will find two different temperature ranges:
- On the coast you will find temperatures of 25 to 30 degrees.
- In the mountains the temperatures are from 15 to 18 degrees.
Yes, it is quite a large temperature change. Make sure you carry everything you need in your suitcase.
5. Most beautiful beaches in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka’s beaches are wild. They are perfect for surf lovers, as many have strong waves.
If you go to Sri Lanka with the idea of a sugar cane vacation and you want to end up in paradisiacal beaches and turquoise waters, you should combine the trip with Maldives. Sri Lanka and Maldives is a very good combination.
I met a lot of people who made that combination. Here are my tips on traveling to the Maldives on a cheap plan.
In Sri Lanka, you will find beautiful beaches, but they are not fine white sand with calm waters and turquoise colors. They are usually beaches with brown or reddish sand and white water.
If your idea is to go surfing, you should check the area where you want to practice the sport. Depending on the time, it will be better to surf in one area or another of the island.
The best known areas for surfing are:
- Arugam Bay
- Mirissa / Welligama
And if what interests you is kitesurfing, you can also do it! In Kalipitya there is a great area, because it has a lagoon.
Although many people go to Sri Lanka and try surfing for the first time, the truth is that it is not a perfect destination for beginners, with that I do not want to discourage you, I also encourage you to try it. Just don’t think it will be easy.
It is quite cheap and you will have great surfers teaching you. Of course, do not be discouraged if you do not get up much from the board, the waves are not the easiest to start your adventure in the world of surfing.
If you want to see beautiful beaches, I discovered a few during my trip. I leave you here the ones I liked the most:
In Mirissa, just in front of the Hangtime Hostel, there is one of the best known beaches for surfing.
You will find many people offering you classes, you just have to walk around and you will see that they offer you classes.
Secret beach Mirissa
If you want an idyllic place to enjoy sunsets, I recommend you go to Mirissa’s Secret Beach. Mirissa beach is quite well known. The Secret beach, not so much, because it is hidden. You will find a bar / club in this cove, which is very beautiful. It is a beautiful place to enjoy the colors of the sunset with a cocktail or coconut in your hand.
Another beach area well known for its beaches. In Tangalle you will find plenty of space to bathe. Be careful with the tide, because the waves go quite far.
Do not think that you can leave your towel 2 meters from the water because it will get wet.
On this beach in southern Sri Lanka you will find the most famous swing on Instagram, where everyone takes photos of themselves. As they have seen that it has become a tourist attraction, they will ask you for money if you want to get on.
Negotiate with them, buy a drink and they will lower the price. The truth was not very expensive, I would say that I paid 2 dollars. It is a fun experience.
The man will help you to climb the palm tree so that the rocker has more strength. It lets you “jump” 2 times.
This was one of my favorite beaches since if you snorkel you will see many colorful fish, turtles and sharks … Yes, it is quite touristy. So hire your tour or boat with a company that comes early in the morning.
When I arrived with my tour, in which we were 7 people, there were 3 boats. We got into the water and started snorkeling. When I stuck my head out, I hallucinated, since there were at least 20 boats. Make sure that your tour will arrive soon at the beach to enjoy a calm snorkel.
When you get to Piegon Island, stay on the side where the ships attack. If you go away on that same beach, you will see the sharks and turtles. On the beach on the other side I did not find sharks, only goldfish, and there were fewer tourists, although more local.
In case you did not know, Sri Lankan women (and girls) do not bathe in a bikini / swimsuit but in a T-shirt and leggings. The tourists were all in bikinis, but if you do not want to receive many looks I recommend that you at least wear a solar shirt to cover yourself a little. That way, whenever you are in the water you will be 100% integrated.
If you decide to go in a bikini you will not be the only one. I comment it simply because, personally, I am quite shy, so I go around the world in the most modest way possible.
6. What clothes to take to Sri Lanka
As I mentioned, in Sri Lanka you will find two quite different temperatures throughout the year, so you better go prepared.
Don’t forget in your suitcase a windbreaker and a warm sweatshirt. If you are a whopping, you can put a finite fleece, although the most important thing for me is always a little fatter socks for when you get to the mountain area.
To give you an idea, the cold temperature is like a rainy autumn.
It is also important to carry long leggings in the suitcase. For trekkings, it is the best garment because that way you do not rub against the plants and you go the sea of comfortable.
Of course, the swimsuit cannot be missing. Surely you want to go through some tropical beach.
The coldest place is in the mountains. Specifically:
- Lipton’s seat
- Adam’s peak
Once you leave those places, you will return to summer temperatures. But it never hurts to be prepared.
Also keep in mind that to enter some temples you will need a sarong / sarong. If you want to visit a Hindu temple, you must cover your shoulders.
I always carry a foulard / pareo with me so I can cover myself if necessary in the temples, or cover myself on the plane because it is cold. I even wear it as a “summer jacket” by tying a couple of knots.
I leave you here my packing list for my trips. You can download the travel list completely free of charge.
7. Sri Lanka: What to see
If you are looking for spectacular landscapes, lots of vegetation and wild animals you should travel to Sri Lanka on your next trip.
People are also extremely noble. It has broken my heart on more than one occasion with the tenderness of the people.
Of course, like any country with tourism, there are scams (especially they are concentrated in the capital, Colombo). Check the most common scams in the scams in Sri Lanka section below.
I leave you here the places that I visited with its pros, cons and places where I stayed so that you can prepare your itinerary.
Below I give you recommendations of what I would see if I go 4-7-15 or 20 days.
7.1 Routes in Sri Lanka
The best way to create a route in Sri Lanka is circular. Since transportation is quite slow, it is best not to have to go back.
Almost everyone I met was doing the route clockwise.
If I went back and time allowed, I would do it in the opposite direction because I think it is easier to find tickets for the scenic train through the mountains.
The idea when developing the route in a clockwise direction was because I always want to end the beach in the lead – it is usually the best part for me.
20-day circular route in Sri Lanka:
- Nuwara Eliya
- Tissamaharama (Yala National Park)
7.2 Sri Lanka Itinerary
Before I explain my Sri Lanka itinerary in 3 weeks, I want to put you in a little situation. We were two traveling to Sri Lanka, and one of us was on crutches due to an accident just before visiting the country.
I had been told that public transportation in Sri Lanka is a bit harsh because many buses don’t stop, and people don’t help much with suitcases.
In my own experience, they helped us a lot. True, transport is not of the same quality as in Europe, but we are in an Asian country so we did not expect the same.
We also had the contact of a private driver just in case, but we wanted more to go on an adventure. We also did not have a clear route with which we decided to go with our itinerary totally open.
Now yes, let’s look at the Sri Lanka itinerary in 3 weeks. You can adapt this itinerary for 7 or 15 days, at the end I will give you some ideas of what to see in Sri Lanka in 4, 7, or 15 days.
- Anuradhapura (part of the Cultural Triangle of Sri Lanka)
- Nuwara Eliya (highlands)
- Tissamaharama (Yala National Park)
Day of arrival
We arrived in Colombo at dusk and, as we did not know very well the city, the transport and the country itself, we opted for a private taxi transfer to our hostel, the Bunkyard hostel. The price was very affordable, and we were a little nervous as people define Sri Lanka as India for beginners.
We chose to go to a hostel to meet people. We knew that the information you find on the net about Sri Lanka is not enough, we had many doubts about what we wanted to see, so going to a hostel and meeting other travelers is always the best way to find more authentic and up-to-date information.
In addition, the owners of this hostel, which incidentally is qualified as a 5 Star Hostel They are extremely friendly and know their country since they love to travel and in Sri Lanka they have many vacation days.
Sri Lankans have approximately 4 days off every 3 weeks. How is that? You may be wondering … why they are governed by the lunar calendar.
The day of our arrival in Colombo they had an event in our accommodation. They brought a food truck and there was a beer party. A luxury in Sri Lanka, where buying alcohol is not easy.
We took a private room. Yes girls, there are private rooms in hostels and some of which I have been have even been much better than those of a hotel (especially in Asian countries). Our room was simple, with a private bathroom, on the first floor of the building. We checked in, left our bags in the room, and headed for pizza, we were starving!
We met a lot of people that night, some who had also just arrived, and others that it was their last night after touring the country. Bingo! time to ask the best places, the ones you liked the most … etc
To give you an idea, before arriving in Sri Lanka I had been told that Yala National Park was closed. Many travelers assured me that they visited it, and confirmed that they only close a part, but you can continue visiting.
They told us where we could stay, how we could save money on the safari…
Anyway, a lot of useful information.
The next morning, after enjoying a good breakfast, we went to the station to ask about the bus that takes you to Anuradhapura.
We wanted to see some ruins in Sri Lanka, and from our planning these were the easiest to visit. We took a Tuk-tuk to the station, because I love tuk tuks!
At the bus station there is a bit of chaos. Nobody knows very well what time the bus leaves or where, but we were told that there was an air-conditioned bus at 9 in the morning.
We took a tuk tuk back to the hostel, and since we had not yet downloaded a wonderful application that you have to use in Colombo, we had to fight until we found a tuk tuk that would put the meter on us.
That meter did not apply the rate well, as it was much more expensive for us on the return than the outward journey.
Note: To use Tuk-tuks without problems (or scams), download the PickMe application
We returned to the hostel and enjoyed a wonderful local meal. The cook, Samanti, is a sweet tooth. If you want to learn to cook Sri Lankan food, you can help him in the kitchen. You should just introduce yourself a little before lunchtime and help her in whatever she has to do. It is the best way to learn because it is as if you cook with your grandmother.
We relax in the afternoon in a wonderful cafe near the hostel called Kumbuk. This place is not only beautiful, they also have delicious food. Try their jackfruit burger, one of the most famous in the country. They offer yoga classes and have a store with products for responsible consumption.
In the evening we went to dinner at a wonderful traditional restaurant, with a centennial tree right in the middle of the garden. It is a very traditional place, with music and a good atmosphere. It is more expensive than eating at a local restaurant but you have more variety and it is really rich and beautiful.
The restaurant is called Bayan Village or Nuga Gama. It is a famous restaurant in Sri Lanka, as it is a place where they keep a little history of how traditional villages were.
They have live music performance and a very large range of Sri Lankian food. Perfect to taste the gastronomy of the country.
They have an open kitchen area, where they cook you right away, a very large buffet, a traditional shop (kade) and a very comfortable area to dine under the centennial tree with traditional live music.
There I tried the Hoppers, my star dish from Sri Lanka, and many other things. I also discovered that the food is spicier than I expected.
In Sri Lanka, local food is usually accompanied by curry flavor. It is true that being a very intense flavor, I got tired soon, but don’t worry. You will find restaurants with international food in many places, and you will get used to the local flavors.
Why visit Colombo?
Colombo has jazz clubs, panoramic terrace bars, boutiques and internationally acclaimed restaurants. Colombo is no longer simply the capital of Sri Lanka.
There are also many places where you can simply enjoy the time and the people:
- watch families launch kites on Galle Frace Green at sunset,
- attend a cricket concert at the Premadasa stadium, or simply
- watch grandmothers haggle for vividly colored saris at local Pettah market stalls
We head to the Colombo bus station to catch the bus that will take us to Anuradhapura. The day before we met a very nice boy from Madrid, so now we are 3 traveling.
Once at the bus station, we couldn’t find the bus to Anuradhapura…
They point us to a platform and take bus 57. Upon arrival we see that it is a public bus without air conditioning. Since it was our first day, we wanted something air-conditioned and a little more comfortable. We kept asking, and in the end, we managed to catch bus 15 that will take us to Anuradhapura in about 5 hours.
It is a mini bus with comfortable seats with air conditioning. 5 (which were 6 and a half) hours of travel await us, so we got comfortable and chatted with Hugo (the third member) to get to know us better. We had a hotel reserved for Anuradaphura so Hugo booked in the same place.
The 5 hour journey, which became 6, the bus stops and people go up and down. It is quite a spectacle, because the bus does not always stop. As soon as the boy who sells and checks your ticket arrives at the stop, he opens the door, singing the destinations. If someone wants to go up, stop, or, if it is very local, even go up on the go.
Once in Anuradaphura, as it is noon, we decided to go see the ruins.
Important: the ruins of Anuradhapura are a sacred site, so you should dress modestly.
The shoulders and knees must be covered. You must remove your shoes when entering the sacred places.
Where to sleep in Anuradhapura?
A friend of mine recently visited Sri Lanka and stayed in a fantastic accommodation in Anuradhapura, the Heaven upon Rice Fields. If I came back, I would stay at this hotel.
The views are wonderful!
We had read that the entrance to the venue is quite expensive, about $ 30. Once we got to the hotel, the owner told us that we could negotiate with the tuk tuk man to visit the ruins without paying an entrance, because he knew people working there. He made us a good price to visit the ruins in tuk tuk without paying entrance.
In theory you have to pay a ticket to see the ruins, but there is no main entrance to show it. There are simply guards here or there who can ask for your ticket – it is done randomly.
We risk going without entry by giving up seeing the Jetavanaramaya. The driver told us that at that particular monument they always ask for the ticket and would not take us there.
We saw everything else:
- sacred tree Sri Maha Bodhiya (Sacred Bodhi Tree)
- Ratna Prasada monastery
- Abhayagiri Vihara complex
- Kuttam Pokuna
- moonstone at Abhayagiri Vihara
- Isurumuniya Vihara
- Thuparamaya Dagoba
As we saw the ruins and the Citadel in the afternoon, we decided that the next day we would move.
From Anuradaphura to Dambulla / Sigiriya
In the morning we took the bus to Dambulla. We took bus 43, which is a local bus but it goes faster because it doesn’t make as many stops. It also had air conditioning.
It was super cheap, less than $ 2 per person.
We visit Dambulla Caves and Golden Buddha.
We went to Sigirya for it.
We slept in Sigiri Rock Side Home Stay. The man who runs it is very friendly and the dinner and breakfast they prepare was delicious. The best local breakfast we’ve had has been here. They made us feel like home.
The first stop was the Caves of Dambula. The caves themselves are quite beautiful.
At the start of every journey, you always learn. Here I explain my big mistake in the Dambulla caves.
We knew and saw that the locals were not wearing shoes, and we saw a group of shoes at the initial entrance, so we left the shoes there at the main entrance before going up to the temple.
We climb to the top barefoot, having to go through the ticket office, which is far away, so learn from my mistake and don’t let go of your shoes until you reach the top …
I have marked your ticket on the map. I recommend that if you go by private taxi you ask the car to bring you to that point to buy tickets and then drop you off at the entrance.
On the way to the caves, you will see monkeys. I do not know if you have experience with monkeys, but they are not usually sweet and “monkeys” …
If you want to enjoy the show but be calm, do not carry plastic bags, food, or flowers in your hand.
If the monkeys think you have food or flowers, they will try to steal it from you. I would also recommend that you put your sunglasses and valuables in your backpack, and keep your camera tightly tied.
Actually, these monkeys seemed much calmer to me than the ones in Bali, but prevention is better than cure. If on the way you see someone with flowers or food a little distracted, you will have a guaranteed show.
Once at the top, you will see that before entering the temple, you can leave the shoes on consignment for a very low price. Anyway, if they fit in your bag, put them in. Queues to collect shoes can be endless.
I must confess that when I saw the slogan of shoes I assumed that mine would have been stolen, because I left them completely down, but when we got off, our shoes were still there, intact.
Here you have some photos of the caves. When we were inside the enclosure, they closed a cave and we thought that we would not be able to see it, but after 20 minutes they reopened it. So if you see something close, patience.
The way to the temple and back is very fun, because the monkeys give you the show, and you will see many places that will pray.
Tip: Try to avoid the full moon day, because there will be many people. It is overwhelming.
From Dambulla to Sigiriya we took a tuk tuk. Our driver was not 100% what we were looking for, he scammed us. I explain the scam:
On the way to Sigirigia Rock he stopped at a spice garden. The idea is that you look at the plants and then if you want to buy something. By the time they entered the store, they became quite aggressive, and we felt “compelled” to buy something. We just buy a vanilla scent, but if they take you to some spice garden … don’t buy anything.
Prices are exorbitant. I checked it later at another point in the trip.
We set off again, and went to Sigirigia Rock. The boy on crutches would not climb the rock, so we didn’t want to take too long.
Sigirigia Rock is the rock in front of the Lion Rock. The price is much lower, and you see the Ella Rock, but if you are fascinated by the history and want to go to the Lion Rock, it is best to stay overnight in the area and go very soon, as it gets crowded. I saw the row of people climbing the rock, and they seemed to me like an endless row of ants.
Sigirigia rock is also cool to watch. It is outstanding, but easy enough to climb. There is only one last stretch that is a bit complicated. In the last section, you will have to “climb” a bit. It is not difficult, I am not in great physical shape, and there are older people climbing, so it is only a little effort, but I warn you so that you do not get caught off guard.
After Sirigia, we pass through Pidurangala. This pilgrimage site is very local. We were the only tourists there. Without context, I found it a bit difficult to know what each thing was, and where I should go, but I liked it because it was not touristy at all.
When we were leaving, it started to sparkle, and when we got to the tuk tuk, it started to rain a thousand seas.