Last updated on April 14th, 2021 at 12:50 pm
Sri Lanka will captivate as soon as you step foot off the plane. With slower travel, savory foods, and greenery like you’ve never seen before, you’ll fall in love.
I will say, shift your expectations of travel and be patient through it all. The best thing you can do is assimilate and enjoy all that Sri Lanka offers. And trust me, it’s a lot.
Sri Lanka gave me a heightened appreciation for a country I knew little about. But what can say is, I left knowing much more and you will too once you visit.
So, if you visit, brace yourself. This is a country where you’ll want to stay a minimum of 7 days, but I recommend longer and you’ll understand once you check out my 12 Day Guide. If you’re short on time, it can be altered.
You’ll busy with all there is to do, eat, and see. But before you go here are 9 tips to help you navigate your travels.
1. Visa Process
Sri Lanka requires you to have a visa, and if you’re coming from a western place like from the US, Australia, or Europe, the price is $35 online, or $40 on arrival. Whichever way you choose, the process is simple.
I prefer to handle everything online, to minimize hiccups throughout my travel. And this will save you time once you get in the country.
If you’re a US citizen and want to stay updated about travel requirements, vaccinations, and general info please check out Travel State.
2. Drinking the water
I didn’t even brush my teeth with the tap water. Although locals drink and use tap water, I stuck to bottled water. It’s always the safest bet while traveling to ensure you are staying healthy.
To my surprise, the food was BOMB! Who would have known? Many of the dishes are a mixture of South Indian and Chinese cuisine. Lots of curries, rice, roti, and noodle dishes, but everything I ate was amazing.
Be sure to expand your horizons and try new dishes like Kottu or hoppers, cooked with or without meat—you won’t be disappointed.
Since I’m a budget traveler, I minimize the money I’m spending by taking cash out of the ATM. With Charles Schwab, you don’t have to worry about ATM fees and you’ll get a direct rate. Your best bet is to do it while at Colombo airport.
I’ve heard of plenty of people having issues using local ATMs, so it’s important to bring some extra cash with you as a safety net. Just about everything is paid for in cash, and I can’t recall ever using my card.
5. When To Go?
Well, depending on which region you’re going to the temperatures will vary. For central, west and southern coastline, the best time would be March. The weather is perfect for the beaches, the mountainous area in the central part, and the city life. But overall anytime from October-April works.
If you’re visiting certain regions, see which seasons work best. Avoid the two monsoon seasons, otherwise you’ll mostly get rained on. Planning the right time will ensure that you fully enjoy the warm weather, activities, and scenery.
6. How to Get Around
The infrastructure of this island differs. Meaning travel times will take much longer compared to other places.
A destination might only be 85 miles, but it’ll take 4+ hours to travel to by train. But honestly, traveling by train is part of the reason people come to Sri Lanka. The landscape is indescribably beautiful and one that could only be fathomed in person.
Your eyes will absorb the greenery, also it’s cool to experience travel like the locals do. And at first it’ll be hard to embrace. Whether you’re exhausted from travel and/or impatient, but by day 3 it’ll wear off.
The train ride from Kandy to Ella (or Ella to Kandy) is a must when in Sri Lanka.
I highly recommend choosing 2nd or 3rd class to experience the picturesque countryside. That way, you can hang out of the windows and capture it all. 1st class is a pleasant option for any other route, but since it’s air conditioned, know that you won’t be able to stick your head out the windows for the famous photo op.
Train tickets from Kandy to Ella sell out fast, so ask your hotel/hostel to book for you in advance. Or you can purchase unreserved 2nd class tickets the day of, but it’s overcrowded. And I learned the hard way by getting my train ticket the day of. Even in second class the cabin was full, which left me standing for 3 out of the 6.5 hours. But once I could sit down and enjoy the view, it amazed me.
I took the train from Colombo to Kandy, then from Kandy to Ella. Also, from Galle to Colombo.
But once you’re in a particular city, your best bet is to hail a tuk-tuk. Make sure you negotiate your price upfront, if not, you’ll end up paying more. I mostly used Pick Me once I was in a city.
7. Traveling As a Solo Woman
I came here as a solo traveler, keeping my mind as open as possible. The negative stories I heard were about women getting groped, and unfortunately, I experienced the same. A level of discomfort surfaced for sure, but it didn’t ruin my time.
That’s how dope Sri Lanka is. Other than that, I didn’t feel unsafe.
Be vigilant and try not to be out late by yourself. Take the same precautions as you would if you were anywhere else. I got more attention than I expected by men, but most of it was just looks and smiles.
8. How to Dress
I thought I was dressed appropriately during my visit, but my Sri Lankan friend called out my sleeveless shirt and shorts. Saying I shouldn’t wear it, it’s inappropriate. I’m not the type to conform, but in another country you should respect their culture.
It ultimately depends on where you’re at in Sri Lanka. If you’re in a touristy area, like the beach town Mirissa, then short shorts are fine. But if you venture off into a local area, please dress modestly.
As a woman, I would suggest covering your shoulders, knees, and wearing loose fitted clothing. Also pack outfits for the religious sites—if you plan on visiting them—such as long dresses, skirts, or pants. Shirts that cover your shoulders and aren’t revealing.
9. How Much Is It?
Here’s an idea of costs you’d spend in Sri Lanka. My average a day was $25. If you want to splurge, you could easily stay under $40/day.
1 USD = 180 LKR
- PickMe from CMB Airport to Colombo — 1800 LKR
- Taxi from the airport to the city — 2000-3000 LKR
- Hostel in Colombo — 1000 LKR
- Galle Face Green — free
- Temple of Sri Kailasanathan Swami Devasthanam Kovil — free
- Vegetarian Kottu (Sri Lankan dish) — 300 LKR
- Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic — 1500 LKR
- Stroll around Kandy lake — free
- Train from Kandy to Ella (2nd class) — 600 LKR
- Tuk-tuk ride from Colombo station to hostel — 200 – 300 LKR
- Little Adam’s peak — free
- Curry and rice — 250 LKR
- Motorbike rental — 1000 LKR/day
- Uva Halpewatte Tea Factory in Ella — If you want a tour, you’ll pay 500 LKR, other than that it’s free. For tea tasting, the prices range from $1 – $3 (you can pay in USD or LKR) .
- Bus from Ella to Mirissa — 500 LKR but you have to take bus # 31 headed to Matara then hop on bus #32 headed towards Galle.
- Snorkeling with the turtles 2500 LKR
- Western meal — 1000 LKR
- Whale watching — around 6000 LKR
Hope these tips are helpful as you prepare to come to the magical land of Sri Lanka. When you experience the greatness of this place for yourself, you’ll be truly amazed.
Is Sri Lanka on your budget list? If not, it definitely should be, and now you have the tools to go!
If you have any more questions about Sri Lanka, please comment below.