Planning a trip to Sri Lanka doesn’t need to be complicated. There are so many top things to do in Sri Lanka it can be hard to choose a great itinerary. With the pristine palm fringed beaches of the south coast, the ancient Buddhist temples of the Golden Triangle and scenic train journeys through high tea plantations. There really is something for everyone exploring Sri Lanka. If you are planning a trip to Sri Lanka there are a few things you will need to consider. What is the weather like in Sri Lanka? How much do things cost in general in Sri Lanka? What is the best way to get around in Sri Lanka? Wildlife is also a huge draw for eco tourism in Sri Lanka, with plentiful national parks full of elephants and leopards as well as blue whales along the southern coast. Here you will find out how to plan a trip to Sri Lanka.
What’s the weather like in Sri Lanka?
The weather in Sri Lanka can vary hugely depending on where you are. There are two monsoons. The south west monsoon is wettest from April to June while the north east hits it’s peak between November and December. There is also an inter-monsoonal weather period that can affect anywhere on the island in October and November. I have to mention this is when I was last here. It didn’t affect travel too much and many hotels reduced prices out of peak season. Just make sure to take an umbrella for the odd downpour.
The coastal and lowland areas such as Galle and Mirissa are 26-30 degrees year round. The high altitude and mountain areas such as Kandy and Nuwara Eliya can range between 15-20 degrees occasionally hitting as low as freezing overnight.
For more info check out Rough Guides.
What language do they speak in Sri Lanka?
Sinhala and Tamil are the official languages of Sri Lanka. Most people in Sri Lanka, especially within tourism, speak English due to it’s colonial past. Signage and a lot of public transport information is also written in English which makes it very easy to get around. Learn a few basic phrases to be polite.
How to get around in Sri Lanka
Travelling by public transport in Sri Lanka is so cheap. It would be rude not to! Peak season can get very busy though so one to avoid if you’re not a fan of crowded spaces. Private transport is easy to find at a bartered price (see below for how to save costs by using FB). Tuks Tuks are just as popular here as with neighbouring India and a great way to get around cities in Sri Lanka.
Culture in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka is a very westernised part of Asia making it easy to navigate. The people of Sri Lanka are some of the nicest I have encountered on my travels across the globe. Everyone in touristy areas seems to be an entrepreneur and genuinely wants to help. Women travelling alone in Sri Lanka should feel safe, and it’s not likely for anyone to have problems with theft etc. Sri Lankan’s don’t mind personal space boundaries much, but it’s the same with much of Asia (and South America come to think of it!). There are some basic rules on etiquette in Sri Lanka such as not having any images of the Buddha on display including tattoos.
Buddhism is the official religion in Sri Lanka, with around 70% of Sri Lankans being Theravada Buddhists. It’s an important part of the culture and part of the reason why the wildlife in Sri Lanka is so well looked after. A key to Buddhism is meditation, something I think every traveller here should experience to learn the benefits of meditation.
Where to see nature in Sri Lanka
As far as “things to do in Sri Lanka” goes, nature is pretty high on the list. Sri Lanka is a treasure trove of wildlife and for me it’s one of the top reasons to visit. Yala national park is probably the most famous for it’s high chances of seeing Leopards. But due to this it is busy! If you go use a sustainable tourism company in Sri Lanka such as Yala Wild Safaris who will make sure you are at the front of the queue with the best trackers. But there will still be hoards of other tourists and jeep fumes. Instead visit the lesser known Wilpattu national park in the north of Sri Lanka for leopards and other similar wildlife to Yala.
If you are looking for where to see elephants in Sri Lanka, Minneriya national park in the north and Udawalawa in the south are the most well known. Udawalawa has the advantage of an elephant transit home where you can even participate in feeding time. Visit Kaudulla national park to see elephants in Sri Lanka without the crowds. They roam freely in their hundreds and, if you’re lucky enough to have a good driver, you might find a spot to sit and let the elephants to come to you. Read about the best wildlife experiences in Sri Lanka here.
Planning a trip to Sri Lanka – Get connected before you arrive
A great resource for travelling in Sri Lanka is Facebook groups. Sri Lanka has a few great groups such as a Sri Lanka Taxi Share to reduce costs when travelling, Sri Lanka Safari Share and a more general page for backpacking tips Sri Lanka Backpackers.
What to avoid doing in Sri Lanka
Pinnawala elephant orphanage is unfortunately very popular with tourists. What many people don’t realise is these elephants are chained for our amusement. The chains are often hidden as they are underwater when people are pictured bathing the elephants in Pinnawala. There are also some concerns whether these animals are in fact orphans or just bred or captured from the wild as well as how well they are treated ‘off stage’. Unusual for Sri Lanka as everywhere I visited showed a long history of respecting nature. But if they don’t get any visitors they will have to close so act with your feet.
For more information check out this post by Responsible Travel
What’s the food like in Sri Lanka
One of the best things to do in Sri Lanka is eat! Sri Lankan curry is a staple and comprises of several distinct vegetarian dishes with rice and sambal. There is generally a tourist menu usually involving pasta, pizza and a burger. My advice though is to stick to local food in Sri Lanka as it’s what restaurants know how to cook. And is super cheap everywhere. The south coast would be the exception to this rule. Places such as Unawatuna and Galle have amazing international cuisine brought with settlers from around the globe. The food scene in southern Sri Lanka is a total contrast from the north.
How much do things cost in Sri Lanka?
Sri Lanka uses Rupees (Rs) as their main currency. It’s easy to travel on a budget in Sri Lanka. Three star hotel rooms can cost the same or less as a hostel bed in most European destinations. Transport in Sri Lanka is very affordable costing just a few dollars for most journeys on public transport. Local food is cheap although international cuisine can be a bit more pricey. Cards are accepted by most larger restaurants and tourist attractions. Some such as Sigiriya and Pollunnaruwa charge a tourist visitor fee around $20-$30. Planning a trip to Sri Lanka doesn’t need to cost the earth, that’s why I’m here!
Safari’s in Sri Lanka cost a bit more. Often charging in USD anywhere between $30 – $80 depending on services. ATM’s are available in major towns but many banks close on weekends. You can change money here or in hotels and tour agencies, most are pretty reliable just check it’s a good rate.
Health and Safety in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka is a wonderfully friendly and one of the safest feeling countries I have travelled in. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it for solo travel as a woman. But I always check the Government website for travel advice before I go anywhere and Sri Lanka is no different.
If you’re travelling to Sri Lanka from the UK head to https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/sri-lanka/health or check your own countries site for advice.
What is the best itinerary for Sri Lanka?
How long should you plan a trip to Sri Lanka for when there are so many amazing things to do. Well it depends how much you want to fit in. While one or two weeks in Sri Lanka is plenty of time to visit the south coast, it would be wise to use the full month visa allowance if planning a trip to Sri Lanka from the UK.
Visit the south coast for it’s stunning beaches and international cuisine. Find unmissable things to do in Mirissa, swim with turtles in Hikkaduwa, go shopping in Galle, or sample the best food from around the world in Unawatuna. Travel north to the Golden Triangle and the ancient ruins of Polunnaruwa, Dambulla Cave and Sigiriya Rock. Visit the best national parks in Sri Lanka including Yala, Wilpattu, Minneriya, Kaudulla and Udawalawa. Experience real Sri Lankan culture in Negombo, Kandy or Colombo. And finally get lost in the central highlands with one of the most beautiful train rides in the world, between Kandy and Ella.
How to travel better for less
Booking.com – I always book with this site if looking for cheap accommodation as the filters are so easy to use. Become a genius member after five bookings and get great discounts too!
Air BnB – Sometimes you can find great local places to stay on Air BnB. In some countries, like Cuba, it’s the only way to book!
Transferwise – A debit card you can use all over the world and get great exchange rates with no hidden fees. This bank has saved me £100’s in bank fees!
Monzo – A similar travel card to the above with additional features like joint accounts and bill splitting.
Ethical Superstore – My go to site for cleaning products, eco clothing and even groceries. All ethically tagged and delivered free from plastic packaging. Plus eco friendly alternatives to your toiletries.
Omio – The place to go for all of your public transport needs in Europe. Save a bundle!
G Adventures – A sustainable, fun, responsible travel company. I’ve travelled with them many times and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend any of their amazing trips.
Contiki – The day job. Group travel for 18/35 year olds and memories to last a lifetime.
Hey, some links in this post are to affiliate sites. If you purchase something through them, I earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.
A note on Amazon Affiliates – LW no longer uses this program, instead focusing on eco friendly alternatives. Read the reasons why here. LW will not profit from any links that may remain on this site. Please advise us if you spot any. Thanks!
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