Sri Lanka is a wonderful, small country that has more to offer than most of us expect – from the tranquil tour around the island to an active holiday, and all of that tastes and smells like curry and tea. I gathered for you all the practical information about visiting Sri Lanka in the following post. Enjoy!
Sri Lanka won my heart very quickly, probably that’s why I have been there already a couple of times, I had the opportunity to visit the country from the south to the north, be in touristy places as well as off-the-path, eat in the cheapest and a little more expensive restaurants and sleep in places of very different standards. I want to share with you my conclusions and I hope that my experience will be helpful for you in the organization of our trip!
1. Is it worth going to Sri Lanka? What to see and do in Sri Lanka?
Of course Sri Lanka is worth visiting because it’s just a wonderful country! The island of Ceylon, where is Sri Lanka, is not huge, however, it has everything your heart desires, and no, it is not an usual slogan. Indeed, Sri Lanka has a whole range of places and activities to offer and all in a beautiful, lush green scenery.
Exploring the island can start from one day in Colombo, which is sufficient time for this city, simply because there is not much to see there. Colombo is fairly chaotic and exhausting and rather you will not want to return there at the end of your travel around Sri Lanka. Other towns, smaller, better organised and simply cozy are for example: Kandy, Nuwara Eliya (pronounced: Noorelya) and Galle with its fort (I-love-it!).
If, however, we are interested in the history of the island and want to do some sightseeing, it should focus on its northern center of the island, where is famous Sigiriya – the ruins of the palace complex on a large volcanic rock, and the ruins of cities in Polonnaruwa (another of my favorite places, some call it the Sri Lankan Angkor Wat) and Anuradhapura.
Choosing religious places for sure we should not ignore the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy and cave temples Rangiri in Dambulla (both Buddhist), and in Kataragama find one of the most important Hindu temples on the island. If you are looking for something less touristy I would recommend ancient temple Buduruwagala (Buddhist, though hard to call it a temple – it is simply a complex of giant statues of the Buddha carved in the rock), as well as Hindu temples in Matale and Jaffna.
And if we want to focus solely on nature and active holidays, we can for instance spend a day on the safari in one of national parks such as Yala (here we can find the biggest number of animal species), Uda Walawe and Minneriya (both famous for their elephants!). While for hiking go to the Adam’s Peak, World’s End and the surrounding area of Ella, and if you prefer something related to water and the ocean, I recommend observing turtles and whales on south coast.
Pin this post:
Finally, it’s also worth to visit Sri Lanka for food that may not be as diverse as Indian, but I personally love Sri Lankan meals and snacks, because I’m a big fan of curry and tea! And I’m always positively shocked how ridiculously cheap they are (if we eat local cheap restaurants)!
2. Is it safe to travel to Sri Lanka?
I think if it was not safe, I would not go back there over and over again, what is more, I would never organize a tour there! Still, unfortunately, I hear that there is war on the north and I should take care of myself if I’m going there.
I have to disappoint you. The war in Sri Lanka finished few years ago, and no-one on the north is shooting anymore. Moreover, the people are friendly, kind and smiling, and Sri Lanka invites crowds of tourists. Personally, I think that the country is very safe, especially for solo female travellers and families with children, whom I met a lot here!
3. When to go?
The peak season is from mid-December to the end of February, when the weather is the best (least rainy), although prices are also slightly higher. My favorite period, however, is March – there are less tourists, sometimes it can rain, but prices are already lower. Similar and even cheaper (1500 Rs per dbl room in guesthouses), even less crowded and, if we do not mind, a bit more rainy is November.
However, if we want to go to Sri Lanka during our European summer, then we should go to the beaches on the east coast of the island because on the south fall monsoon rains.
4. Visa to Sri Lanka. How to extend a tourist visa?
Citizens of all countries, except Singapore, the Maldives and the Seychelles, must form their tourist visas to Sri Lanka. Applying for it is very simple, you can do it before you go via the Internet (www.eta.gov.lk) or at the airport upon arrival. The first option costs $30 and the second $35. If you choose to apply for visa at the airport, it is better to pay exactly $35, because sometimes they don’t have change.
In order to get a visa we will have to fill in the form in English. In the “Address in Sri Lanka” if you do not know the exact address of our stay just write down the name of the city and the hotel where you will spend your first night. I always write only “Colombo” and I never had a problem with that.
Tourist visa is valid 30 days and we can extend it (6 months max) only in Colombo at the Department of Immigration and Emigration. The costs of extension depends of your country of origin – between 15 and 48 dollars per month even if we stay only few days more. The application for visa extension will need your photo, but you can take it right in front of the office for 150-250 rupees. You have to remember that the office accepts payments only between 8.30 am and 2 pm, so it’s best to be there already at 8:30. Whole procedure took me approx. 2 hours.
5. Vaccinations and health in Sri Lanka
The most important vaccination, which I recommend for traveling not only to Sri Lanka, but generally to countries where hygiene standards are quite low, is a vaccine against hepatitis A, or so-called disease of dirty hands. Besides, it recommended vaccinations against diphtheria, tetanus and hepatitis B. Some also recommend against Japanese encephalitis, but it is a disease that you can get if you spend long months in the jungle, it’s rather impossible to get it in Sri Lanka.
Mosquitoes are quite burdensome in Sri Lanka (especially at night). Insects that are active in the daytime can transmit dengue, but there is no vaccination or prophylactic drugs for it (dengue treatment consists in the treatment of symptoms). Mosquitoes active in the evening and night theoretically could carry malaria, but the risk of malaria in Sri Lanka is very low, and recent cases of this disease were recorded in 2013. Nevertheless, before our trip we should buy a good mosquito repellent (DEET 20%, I personally use Mugga), as well as something for itching bites (hydrocortisanum). Besides, it is good to sleep under mosquito nets – most guesthouses and hotels have them, and if not – believe me, you will not die from its absence. 😉
When it comes to food and stomach revolutions, if you are going to eat with your hands (like locals… and me) I recommend to carry an antibacterial hand gel. Remember about basic principles: drink only bottled water, eat hot food. Personally, I never used drugs strengthen the stomach.
However, I repeat that I am not a doctor and I share with you my personal insights. I do not take any responsibility for the consequences of your decisions.
6. How a woman should dress in Sri Lanka?
You can see women wearing shorts and tops everywhere, there is no general dresscode that we should follow. However, we cannot enter to the temples with exposed arms and legs, so you should have with you loose long pants or skirt and a scarf.
Remember, too, that in less touristy beaches white woman in a bikini will catch the attention of locals, which can cause discomfort. On the tourist beaches it’s not a problem to stay in bikini but don’t dress it up where everybody can see you.
If you want to know more of my point of view about women traveling solo on Sri Lanka, I invite you to my post White woman solo in Sri Lanka.
Besides – this information is not only for women – take with you comfortable shoes, and of course something from the sun and the rain, even if you go in high season, just in case.
7. Sri Lankan savoir vivre, or Dos and Don’ts
Sri Lanka is a country in South Asia so do not expect so there general rules of etiquette and good manners that we’re used to in Europe. The best what you can do is to leave the European (Australian, Canadian, American etc.) attitude at home.
It will be normal that a man will not let us go first through the door, nor give place in the local bus. Besides if you are going out it doesn’t mean that you should go before someone who is going 😉
But we should also remember about some local common rules. For example, you should eat only with your right hand, because the left is considered unclean. Being in a stupa (Buddhist temple) you should go around it so that the right hand was on the side of the temple. I guess I don’t have to remind you that in the temples you should be quiet and peaceful. Besides, remember that you cannot take pics of yourself with Buddha (especially while exposing your back to him). This is the biggest faux pas you can commit.
8. Mobiles, Internet, mail in Sri Lanka
If you want to (or have to) stay in touch with the world, you can buy a Mobitel SIM card with tourist pack (2GB or 4GB Internet, international and local calls) just upon arrival at the airport. If you got at the airport a SIM card from Dialogue for free, this is a card with no funds on, so you have to charge it.
Sending postcards is generally cheap and finding the post office should not be a problem. In every major city there is at least one.
In Sri Lanka there are two types of power outlets in use: triple square (as in the UK) and a triple ring.
If the staff in your hotel doesn’t have any adapter, you we can buy it in every street electronics store, which looks more like a garage than a store. Adapter, depending on the type, should not cost more than 200-300 rupees.
10. Sri Lanka: money, currency
The currency in Sri Lanka is the Sri Lankan rupee (LKR, Rs). At the time of updating this post (14 December 2015) the rate was 150 Rs = 1 usd / 1 eu (1,05 usd / 0,96 eu exactly)
At the beginning of my stay always I use the following cheat sheet, which allows me to learn the prices (I always slightly round up the for ease):
50 Rs – 0,35 usd / 0,30 eu
100 Rs – 0,70 usd / 0,65 eu
150 Rs – 1,00 usd / 1 eu
500 Rs – 3,50 usd / 3,20 eu
700 Rs – 4,90 usd / 4,40 eu
1000 Rs – 7 usd / 6,30 eu
2000 Rs – 14 usd / 12,70 eu
3000 Rs – 21 usd / 19 eu
You can exchange currency at the airport, because the rate is the same as in banks. Besides, in every town easily you will find ATMs, although not all of them support MasterCard.
Do not count for paying with credit cards, unless in an expensive tourist restaurants and hotels.
11. Sri Lanka: cheap accommodation, prices in 2015
Because I am traveling on low budget (but not extremely low), this section is based on my own experience – sleeping in hostels and simple family guest houses, where the price usually does not exceed 1500-2000 Rs per night (clean double rooms, but without breakfast and hot water, though sometimes with annoying moisture; single rooms – 1000 Rs in low season; now it’s hard to find anything below that amount). If we expect a higher standard and we can pay more, booking.com and agoda.com are full of offers (although here I also suggests affordable places that I checked with my groups).
Note: while booking accommodation through booking.com and Agoda, check if the price includes (usually) three taxes: 3.7%, 10% and 11%, that make the price we pay higher than that given in the Internet. Below I’ve given you prices with taxes already included.
– Hostel Backpack Lanka – a basic hostel with simple shared bathrooms; quite close to the Fort and Pettah (30 min. walk or drive a tuck-tuck for 350-400 Rs), within a few minutes’ walk from Galle Face Green boulevards and Viharamahadevi Park. Double room: approx. 4500 Rs without breakfast
– CityRest Fort – conditions very similar to those in the Backpack Lanka, means simple, although much better location – just outside the Old Dutch Hospital in Fort, better cannot be. Double room with breakfast: approx. 10 000 Rs; a bed in a dorm: approx. 3000 Rs
– Olde Empire Hotel – very simple hotel in the 150-year-old colonial building right near the Buddhist Temple of the Tooth, which is the heart of the city. This hotel is so old school that to reserve a room, you have them send money by snail mail 😉 Of course nobody does, so there’s a good chance that you will find a free room (they have about 30 rooms there so try). I love this place for a central location in the city and an amazing verandah with colonial furnitures and plants. And I don’t mind VERY basic shared bathroom and kitchen. Price for a double room without breakfast: 1600-2200 Rs (depends of the location of the room)
– Charlton Kandy Rest – simple hotel near the Temple in the city center. The rooms without bathrooms; at the ground flor they are fine, but don’t freak out while sleeping upstairs because behind the curtain in the corridor sleeps staff. 😀 Double room without breakfast: approx. 2300 Rs; breakfast 400 Rs
– Theresa Inn – family-run guesthouse located a 15-minute walk from the city center and 7 minutes from the beautiful Hindu temple Nallur Kovil. Unfortunately, rooms are very moist. Double room with bathroom without breakfast: 1750 Rs
There is so many guesthouses here that you will find a free room in good price anytime.
– Blue Sky – surrounded by greenery, the guesthouse is located just south of the cave Temple of Rangiri and the city center (ride by tuck-tuck 150 Rs), double room with bathroom: 1500 Rs
– Healey Tourist Inn – simple guest house within walking distance from the Temple of Rangiri and a tuck-tuck ride to the center. Double room with bathroom: 1800 Rs
Just like in Dambulla – many guesthouses everywhere here. If you are arriving by train to Ella, you can expect at the station dozens of tuck-tuck drivers offering accommodation for around 1500 Rs for a double room without breakfast (usually approx. 450 Rs). Note: In Ella majority of places provides hot water, which I highly recommend, because sometimes it can be really cold there at night…
– Eesh Guesthouse – family guesthouse with the Sri Lankan lush garden. Double room with bath: 2000 Rs.
– Ella Okreech Cottages – 2-storey bungalows on the slopes (some with a nice view), this is the option of a much better standard than I usually select 😉 Room with bathroom without breakfast: approx. 4300 Rs
– Kataragama Guesthouse – to find this place check ‘Kataragama guesthouse Sandun’ in Google. 15 minutes walk from the Hindu Temple, modest guest house surrounded by wonderful greenery belongs to Sandun, who can also arrange safari for you. Rooms with bathroom: 1500-2300 Rs (depending on season); modest breakfast: 150 Rs
The next place (as on every coast), where you will find accommodation straight after arriving, so you can choose from the price and standard.
– Amma’s Guesthouse – despite modest conditions I have stayed there few times already and I always will, because I love the owners: Lucky (yes, it’s his name :D) and Bema, who are amazing and always serve a delicious Sri Lankan tea. Besides, from the verandah of the guest house surrounded by coconut palms and trees inhabited by chipmunks you can see the beach and ocean. Double room with a modest bathroom without breakfast: 1500-2500 Rs depending on the season. If you are a backpacker who is not interested standard, but people (in Amma’s usually stay very relaxed and open-minded travelers :)) and price, call them: 091 332 2225
– Silva Rest – a small hotel just a few minutes walk from the beach in the tourist area. One of the better ones, which normally I would not have chosen, but my group was very pleased 😉 double room with private bathroom (with hot water!) without breakfast: approx. 4200 Rs
12. Sri Lanka: costs of transport, prices in 2015
When I travel around Sri Lanka I always choose the cheapest form of transport – public transport: tuck tucks, buses and trains. During three weeks in November / December, I spent exactly 43 euros only for transport, assuming that on average I traveled every 3 days. Below I give you current prices, so you know what to expect:
– Colombo – Kandy: 190 Rs (class 3rd)
– Colombo – Jaffna: 540 Rs (class 3rd)
– Kandy – Ella: 240 Rs / 130 Rs (class 2nd/3rd)
– Kandy – Dambulla: 90 Rs
– Kandy – Kegalle (elephants in Pinnawala!): 55 Rs
– Dambulla – Sigiriya: 40 Rs
– Dambulla – Polonnaruwa: 100 Rs
– Jaffna – Vavuniya (change) – Dambulla: 175 Rs + 130 Rs
– Ella – Wallewaya – Butala – Kataragama: 70 Rs + 75 Rs + 85 Rs
– Kataragama – Unawatuna: 300 Rs
– Unawatuna – Galle: 30 Rs
– Galle – Colombo: Rs 370 (lux express to Maharagama in the south of Colombo) + 30 Rs (to Pettah)
– In Colombo always take a tuck-tuck with meter (metered taxi) and make sure that the driver turns it on! You will pay less with that! 🙂
– in Kandy and Dambulla: short distance Rs 100-150 Rs
– Dambulla – Sigiriya: approx. 1500-1800 Rs
– Wellawaya – Buduruwagala (Buddha statues carved into the rock): return 700-1000 Rs
– Unawatuna: from the beach to the main road (ATM!): 100 Rs
– Unawatuna: from the beach to Galle: 300-450 Rs
– Unawatuna – Talawella: 200 Rs
From the airport to Colombo:
– Bus: 110 Rs
– Taxi: approx. Rs 3000
13. Sri Lanka: food, prices in 2015
Although the Sri Lankan cuisine is not as diverse as Indian and other countries in South-East Asia, I personally think it’s delicious. Below I provide examples of food prices in local (not touristy) restaurants as well as snacks that can be found on the stalls, on trains and in bakeries:
– dinner meals (rice & curry, kottu, string hoppers with curry, fried rice with egg and vegetables): about 200 Rs
– rotti (rolls stuffed with curry veggie + sometimes egg): 30-50 Rs
– peeled fruits (mango or pineapple): 50-100 Rs
– seafood dishes (shrimps, calamari): 800-1200 Rs [with fish / crab depends on the size of the portions]
Buying fruits at the market makes us an easy spot for sellers who sometimes have their “helpers” and share with them the commission, which is just what we overpaid (usually they count us even 1000 Rs more). Below I wrote down prices of fruits, which you should better remember, and if you see that someone persistently wants to help you in choosing, thank him with a smile, and say that this is not your first time in Sri Lanka and you know very well the price. 😉 [Of course, the price depends on location and season so it can be +/- 20-50 rupees, do not stuck to them.]
– Mango: 80-100 Rs per 1 piece
– Papaya: 2kg – about 160 Rs
– Red banana: 2 pcs. – 100 Rs
– Small yellow bananas: 1kg – 70 Rs
– Butter banana (Sinha: pualu): 1kg – Rs 225
– Passion fruit: 1 pc. – 40 Rs
– Annona (Sinha, en: custard-apple): 1 pc. – 50 Rs
– Pineapple: 1 medium – 125 Rs
– Wood apple (Sinha: diul): 1 kg – 50 Rs
– Melon: 1 kg – 80 Rs
– Watermelon: 1kg – 150 Rs
– Guava: 1 pc. – 30 Rs
And drinks prices:
– 1.5 liter water bottle: 70-80 Rs
– Coca-Cola in the restaurant: about 50 Rs
– Lion / Anchor Beer (wine store / restaurant and bar): 250-350 Rs
– Fresh squeezed juices:
* Lime: 250 Rs
* Other fruits: 300-400 Rs
* Mix: about 400 Rs
– King coconut water on the market: 80-100 Rs
– Milkshake and lassi: Rs 300-500
14. Sightseeing in Sri Lanka, entry fees, costs of activities in 2015
And to finish this awesome post I give you the entry fees to the most important and most popular places. Transport, food and accommodation in Sri Lanka is relatively cheap but if we want to see something, unfortunately, we have to pay so-called white skin tax (Sri Lankans pay for entrance to Sigiriya few hundred rupees, we – 4200 Rs). Nothing we can do about it, but we can be prepared. 🙂
[If the price is from 2014 and has not been updated, the year is given in the brackets (2014)]
Note: Although in many places the price is given in dollars and rupees, payments are accepted only in rupees.
– National Museum in Colombo: 250 Rs (2014)
– Dutch Period Museum in Colombo: 500 Rs (2014)
– Cave Temples in Dambulla: 1500 Rs
– Ruins of the city in Polonnaruwa: 3500 Rs
– Sigiriya: 4200 Rs
– Temple of the Tooth in Kandy: 1000 Rs
– Museum of Buddhism in Kandy: 1000 Rs
– A show of local dances in Kandy: 1000 Rs
– Temple in Buduruwagala: 300 Rs
– Tea factory: 400-500 Rs (sometimes tasting costs extra about 500 Rs for all persons)
– Elephant orphanage in Pinnawala: about 3000 Rs
– Elephants at the Millennium Elephant Foundation: 1000-3000 Rs (depends if we take the ride on an elephant or not)
– safari in Yala NP for two people with full board: about 14 000 Rs (half day) / 20 000 Rs (all day – highly recommended!!!) [park entry tickets included]
– Safari in Minneriya NP (elephants) for two people (no food): about 12 000 Rs [park entry tickets included]
– whole body Ayurvedic massage 😉: 2500-3500 Rs (depends on where and what kind of massage)
Are you going to Sri Lanka? Do you have any additional questions? Or maybe you already visited this country and would like to add something? Write all questions or notes in the comment box below!