Sri Lanka might be a tiny island, but it’s packed with so much awesomeness you’ll probably need more than just one trip to experience it all. Think jungles packed with monkeys, leopards and elephants. Rambling ruins echoing with history. Phenomenal food. And super-friendly locals. Here’s a guide to get the most out of your trip to Sri Lanka.
1. Do all the things
Hold onto your backpacks – you’ve got a lot of ground to cover! Climb to the top of Sigiriya – the lion rock fortress. Explore the ancient ruins of Anuradhapura. Traverse stunning hiking trails in Nuwara Eliya. Pay your respects at the giant Buddhist temple in Kandy. Go on safari in Yala National Park where elephants and leopards roam free in their natural habitat. Snorkel at Pigeon Island. Catch some waves at the world-class surf spot in Arugam Bay. Then chill out with a tour of the tea plantations in the highlands. If you’re big into partying, you won’t find much of a nightlife scene in Sri Lanka though. This one’s for the laid-back backpackers in search of nature, culture, history and adventure.
2. Om nom nom
We hope you like it spicy! Sri Lankan food is hot – but in a good way. Fiery curries are on the menu everywhere, and they are super delicious. Try a spicy dhal, sour fish or chicken curry. Snack on tasty kottu roti friend to perfection with a spicy dipping sauce. Start your day with a crunchy egg hopper (pancake) for breakfast. Slurp on a fresh King Coconut juice or try the local favourite, wood apple juice. Fancy a drink? Sip on some arrack, the national drink distilled from palm tree wine.
3. Know your budget
Sri Lanka won’t break the bank. Even though tourists are charged quite a lot more than locals, it’s still a pretty good bargain. On average, a budget of R500 will keep you going comfortably. That includes hostel accommodation (approx. R100 for a dorm or R200 for a private room), street food (approx. R18 per dish), and some activities (around R90 per day).
4. How to stay thrifty
A great way to save is by eating street food. Restaurants ramp up the prices. And Western food is super expensive. So if you’re craving a burger, be prepared to fork out quite a bit of cash. Getting around by bus or train is the best way to go. You haven’t really experienced Sri Lanka until you’ve taken the slow, packed train from Colombo to Kandy. Homestays with locals can also be really cheap, plus it’s a great way to get a feel for the culture and daily life of the country.
5. Keep safe
There’s not a lot to worry about when it comes to local crime in Sri Lanka. Violence, theft and pickpocketing are rare. But travelling alone can get a bit annoying at times. Some locals can be a bit pushy and try to get close to solo travellers. Sit next to a family or wear earphones to avoid unwanted conversations. If you’re a woman travelling alone, a nifty trick is to wear a fake wedding ring (or a real one if you’re actually married!). Some common scams include tuk-tuk drivers or tour guides overcharging. Rather book with official tour providers and do your research ahead of time so you know roughly what things should cost
6. Gear and packing list
The weather in Sri Lanka has a mind of its own. One minute the sun is blazing in a clear blue sky, the next it’s bucketing down in an afternoon thundershower. The one thing you can count on is that it’s usually humid and very hot. Stick to light cotton and linen clothing. A rain jacket will come in handy during rainy days too. Bring your swimsuit, suntan lotion, a sarong, a warm top, flip flops, closed shoes for hiking, phone/laptop chargers, a lock for your valuables, water purifying bottle, zip lock bags, any chronic medication you need, and a medical aid kit. And, of course, make sure to get good travel insurance! It makes all the difference if anything goes wrong during your travels.