We collected everything to help you make the most of your trip to Sri Lanka. From the best time to visit, where to stay, how to get around, visa requirements, how much budget we spent to useful tips… In this article, we share what to know before you go to Sri Lanka
Update: Starting August 1st, 2019, Sri Lanka offers free one-month visas on arrival to citizens of almost 50 countries for the upcoming 6 months in an effort to boost tourism after April’s terrorist bombings.
You will need a visa to enter Sri Lanka. It’s possible to get a tourist visa on arrival (max 30 days), which is $35, but it can save time at the airport if you get your tourist visa online before traveling to Sri Lanka. You can apply for the online ETA visa via http://eta.gov.lk/slvisa/.
Please note: visa requirements keep changing for every country. Please make sure you check all visa and passport requirements in your own country before booking your tickets.
Best time to travel to Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka is one of those destinations that you can visit any time of year, just as long as you know which month to travel where. In a nutshell, the best time to visit the west coast, south coast, and hill country is from December to March, while the best weather on the east coast is from April/May to September.
High season: December-March
December to March are the best months to visit the South and West Coasts of Sri Lanka. The Countryside has the perfect temperatures and it’s sunny and hot at the beaches. This is also the busiest time for Sri Lanka, so expect that prices will be more expensive and accommodations will fill up easily.
Shoulder season: April & September
Very warm, high humidity and rain showers are more common but prices go slightly down. Just be aware that during Sinhalese New Year (mid-April) most accommodations and transport are fully booked. We had to stay 2 days longer in Ella because there were no trains available any more on the day we wanted to travel to Kandy.
Low season: May-August
The best period to visit the North-East of Sri Lanka as the ‘Yala’ monsoon is hitting the South-West. Prices are very low in the whole country.
It’s also useful to know that Sri Lanka has a tropical climate and 2 separate monsoons with heavy rainfall and strong winds as typical daily weather:
- the southwest monsoon (May-August) or also known as the Yala monsoon: affects the southwest of the island including the Hill Country
- the northeast monsoon (December – February) or also known as the Maha monsoon: which affects the north and east of the island
Useful apps to download
- PickMe gets you around like a local. The app is similar to Uber and Grab and features the best rates and the largest fleet of taxis in Sri Lanka ranging from a traditional tuk-tuk to a luxury Sedan
- Booking.com the best and our most favorite app to find accommodations worldwide
- Maps.me is the best offline mapping app on the planet. Download the map of Sri Lanka, choose your route, save favorite places and explore the country without using the internet. (money saver!)
- Currency XE calculates currencies on-the-go. With the app, you can access live exchange rates and calculate prices on your smartphone super easily.
- Not really an app, but the ebooks of Lonely Planet needs to be highlighted too. The ebooks are an easy, quick and cheap way to carry almost every Lonely Planet guidebook in your pocket. From destination tips, beautiful images to great road trip routes, you’ll find everything to get the most out of your trip.
The only way to travel to Sri Lanka is to fly into the island’s international airport called Bandaranaike International Airport (airport code CMB), which is located 30 kilometers north of the capital Colombo. We personally love to fly with Qatar Airways as they have an outstanding service and the best onboard entertainment. There are a lot of great websites to find and book cheap flights. The fastest way and best website we always use is Skyscanner. You can easily search and compare tickets from all different airlines and when you want to book it redirects you to the partners’ websites.
Read also: Best websites to find the cheapest flights
Best places to stay
Are you looking for the best places to stay in Sri Lanka? In this article, we’re sharing some of the best hotels & guesthouses we personally like the most. They all have a unique character, cozy home-like atmosphere, good location and are excellent rated. And the best part: all at an affordable price.
Staying connected in Sri Lanka is easy and cheap. You simply buy a sim card, choose a data plan and you’re ready to go! Dialog is the sim card we used and also the best one you can find in Sri Lanka. You can buy the sim card at the airport in the arrival hall or in almost every shop on the streets. The prices are around $8-$10 for 9GB.
Getting around and traveling from one place to another is very easy and cheap in Sri Lanka and there are many options to choose from.
- You can travel by train: which is the cheapest and in our opinion the most beautiful option. Riding next to the beach from Colombo to Galle or through the misty mountains and tea farms during the world’s most scenic train ride from Ella to Kandy are only a few examples of how amazing traveling by train in Sri Lanka is. Below we created a map with all the different train lines indicated in different colors. For train times between two stations, you can check the official Sri Lanka Railways website www.railway.gov.lk. If you like to buy your tickets online you can order it very easily via 12go.asia, an online travel agency which offers cheap tickets for train, ferry, bus, flight, and taxi throughout Southeast Asia.
- You can travel by bus: which brings you everywhere, from the most remote places to the big cities. Buses owned by the government (CBT) are very cheap but most of the time completely overloaded by locals. But you have also the private or express buses which are a bit more expensive but faster and have A/C.
- You can travel by tuk-tuk: which you can find on every corner of the street, waiting to bring you to any place you want. Just keep in mind to negotiate the price before you leave as they always want to get more money from tourists. Prices are around Rs 50-100 per kilometer.
- You can rent your own tuk-tuk: which is fun. Driving around the country like a real local, yep in Sri Lanka, it’s possible to rent your own tuk-tuk. Just make sure you get all the right information about insurance, driving license and all other conditions before you rent a tuk-tuk and please keep it safe. Find all the information on how to rent a tuk-tuk in Sri Lanka via www.tuktukrental.com
- Or you can hire a driver: which makes your trip safe and stress-free. Whether you want to explore the whole country by making a tour or just visiting a few places, hiring a driver in Sri Lanka is always a good option. Prices vary from Rs 6000 – 8000. A driver we took and highly recommend everyone is the super friendly Janta. We went from Tangalle to Uduwalawe NP – Yala NP and finally Ella in 3 days and paid Rs 21.000. You can Whatsapp him at +94 76 717 0301. Another wonderful driver we had that also spoke super good English was Hiru. We went from Sigiriya back to Ella and paid Rs 15.000. His Whatsapp number is +94 77 020 7971. Both of the drivers can be hired for a full round trip around Sri Lanka as well.
Costs Sri Lanka: our daily budget
Is traveling in Sri Lanka cheap? Yes, it is. It is an incredible country for backpackers and to travel on a budget. To give you an idea of the average daily budget you need to travel around, we listed down our own expenses. Good to know: we like to spend our money more on experiences than on overpriced accommodations and could describe our travel style the best somewhere between budget and mid-range.
We divided our total budget spent in Sri Lanka into 5 categories: accommodation, transport, food & drinks (restaurants, groceries), excursions & others (internet, visas, toilet visits, tips, …) We traveled around in 3 weeks, 22 days to be exact, and spent $2030 (€ 1780) in total for both of us, averaging a $45/ day per person. Stayed in guesthouses and hotels, with even a few nights in a more fancier eco-retreat. Used local transport (like the train, buses, and tuk-tuks) but also a private driver for some parts to save more time. Went every day to a local restaurant and drank many rum cokes and beers. Took some surf lessons, joined yoga classes, snorkeled and went 3 times on half-day safari.
The safaris were the biggest costs, around $75 per safari, which quickly increased our budget. But the safaris are in our opinion an unmissable experience in Sri Lanka. So if you would skip the safaris you can easily reduce your budget to $39 per day.
Doing laundry in Asia is super cheap. As we are traveling for a very long time, we do laundry quite often. Most of the hostels and hotels in Sri Lanka offers laundry services but you can also find easily local families on the streets who run a laundry service center. We found a good address in Weligama (27 Samaraweera Pl) where we washed our clothes for just $2 per load.
Vaccinations that are mandatory:
- Yellow fever (only if you have been to a yellow fever country in the seven days before you enter Sri Lanka or if you have been in transit for more than 12 hours in an airport in a country with yellow fever)
Vaccinations that are recommended:
- DTP (diphtheria, tetanus, and polio) and hepatitis A (regardless of the length of your trip)
- Typhoid fever (for a stay of longer than two weeks)
Note: As with all destinations, it is essential that you see a doctor or pharmacist at least 6 – 8 weeks before you travel. Your itinerary, your medical history and the activities you have planned all affect which vaccinations you need.
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