Are you planning or thinking about visiting Sri Lanka soon? Are you ready to explore the pearl of the Indian Ocean? Now is the perfect time to visit Sri Lanka – it is a very pure, untouched and unspoiled country. Here you will find more information that may help you during your trip!
If you’re unsure about whether or not you should travel to Sri Lanka, check out our 21 pictures that will inspire you too!
Let’s start with the basic facts:
Capital – Colombo
Population – +/- 22 million
Plug type – 230V, 50Hz
Currency – Sri Lankan Rupee (LKR)
Time zone – GMT +5:30
Religion – Buddhism, Muslim, Christian, Hinduism
Intern. Dialling Code – +94
Arranging a visa isn’t complicated at all. You can get an ETA (Electronic Travel Authorization) online for 30-days. This will cost you US $35 and is very fast and efficient. It only takes 24-48 hours for the visa approval to come through.
You can also get a Visa upon arrival. You will find this counter close to border control when you arrive at Colombo Bandaranaike Airport – be prepared to pay a bit more and to wait in a long line though.
Several languages are spoken in Sri Lanka – Sinhala and Tamil are the official languages. Sinhala is the native language and is also the most widely spoken language in Sri Lanka. Tamil is Sri Lanka’s 2nd official language. The majority of Sri Lankans are conversant in English, it is highly unlikely you will face communication issues.
The local cash in Sri Lanka is the Sri Lankan Rupee (LKR). Sri Lanka is a relatively cheap country to visit to, prices can vary depending on your travel style. But saying that, Joren and I ate in the more “expensive” restaurants and never paid more than US $10 each for a meal.
Cash is “King” in Sri Lanka – be prepared to carry around a lot of cash. Most places don’t take credit cards, larger hotels and some restaurants will of course.
- The bank ATM’s in the airport arrival hall can have very long queues – it’s not uncommon to wait over an hour for your turn. Bring some currency from home – Euros, US dollars, British pounds, etc. are all easy to change. You will find bank counters next to the ATMs. We only exchanged enough to get us started and planned to use ATMs as we travelled, but we were advised to be cautious in choosing legitimate ATMs.
- Leaving Sri Lanka, you MUST exchange all your Sri Lankan Rupees as it’s a closed currency and you won’t be able to do this once you leave. This is easy, you will pass enough banks on your way to the first security check point.
Local SIM cards with data can be bought at the airport in the Arrival Hall. It’s very handy and cheap to have 4G whilst you’re exploring the country. We were actually very shocked at how GOOD the signal was all over Sri Lanka.
There are 2 major telephone companies in Sri Lanka – Mobitel and Dialog. We went with Dialog, the SIM card was roughly US $8.00 and came with 8GB. During our trip we topped it up at a Dialog shop (they are everywhere, not always so easy to spot but just ask someone if you are having trouble) and it only cost us $12 for 22GB!!!
Most tours are done with a private driver, this is also how Joren and I travelled a majority of the country. Whilst it isn’t the cheapest way of travel – expect to pay +/- US $50 per day, it is the fastest way.
If you are going to travel with a private driver, don’t forget to contact your hotels/B&B’s/… to ask for drivers accommodation for your driver (this is usually included in your hotel price).
Travelling by train is very cheap and reliable in Sri Lanka. It is also a very picturesque way to get around the country. Joren and I took the scenic train route from Kandy to Ella through all the beautiful tea fields. The trip was supposed to take 7 hours but ended up taking 9 hours due to a tragic accident on the way. When stopping at certain train statons, people will be selling all kinds of foods – we had some samosas and they were delicious!
Some routes have an observation carriage, we do recommend buying these tickets in advance as they fill up FAST. We booked our tickets via this website.
Buses in Sri Lanka are crazy and an adventure on itself! Travelling by bus is very cheap, but don’t really recommend it as the bus drivers drive like absolute mad men! They love playing loud and crazy music too haha!
If you’re going to travel for a shorter distance, a tuk tuk (a 3-wheeler) is the way to go! Joren and I LOVED taking tuk tuks and kind of wish they had them here in Belgium too!
- Before taking a tuk tuk, ask your B&B host, hotel staff, etc. what the cost from A to B should be roughly. This will help a lot to not get overpriced/scammed!
- Most tuk tuks don’t use or don’t have their meters on, so always agree on a price before you take off. Sometimes, they like to higher the price once they drop you off, so always have the agreed amount already in your hand and just give it to them and walk away.
Best time to visit Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka has 2 monsoon seasons: in the northeast, monsoon season is December – March and in the southwest, monsoon season is June to October. As Sri Lanka is a tropical island, you can travel all year round and always find good weather – expect lots of blue skies and sun! We went from the beginning of March to the end of April and had perfect weather the whole time.
If you are travelling to the hill country (Ella, Nuwara Eliya), don’t forget to bring a light jumper or rain coat as it does rain there more and the temperatures are lower.
Food and drink
Keep yourselves hydrated!!! Sri Lanka is very hot and humid and you will be wanting to drink A LOT of water – we drank about 3 litres each per day. Do try to avoid tap water at all times (even when brushing your teeth). Bottled water is very cheap and you will find them everywhere. Make sure the protective seal is still on it though! When you order soft drinks at a restaurant or buy them while travelling, it’s usually served cold in a bottle – again, make sure it has the protective seal.
If there is a “western menu”, DON’T order from it– it won’t be what you’re used to. We learned from our mistake when we ordered a spaghetti bolognaise and got spaghetti with sweet and sour sauce. Instead, opt for one of their delicious delicacies! Joren’s favourite was the egg hoppers (which he ate every morning, everywhere we went) and mine was Pani Pol (Sri Lankan coconut pancakes). There was also not a single Sri Lankan curry that disappointed us, they were all delicious and full of flavour (they can be a little bit spicy – we found that the redder a curry the spicier it was and coconut sambal cooled it down too).
Joren and I both had big DSLR cameras with us and never had a problem at any of the sights (having to buy special licenses or anything, like we read online).
Keep in mind that if you want to photograph the famous stilt fishermen or the tea pickers, you will be expected to pay them. For the stilt fishermen, you will be expected to pay 500LKR PER CAMERA, so if you really want this photograph, just use 1 camera! They hardly fish like that anymore so we decided against it and just took pictures of the stilts.
If you want to photograph a tea picker, the going rate was +/- 50LKR per person in the photo.
Other helpful TIPS
When visiting a temple or religious area, always dress moderate! Bring a scarf that you can easily wrap around you. Also, bring some socks! You NEED to take your shoes off and I learnt the hard way of walking over the boiling hot grounds and burning my feet!
Hope you all had a lovely weekend!