Time to answer the first burning question on your mind ...
"What are the best places to see in Sri Lanka?"
I’ll quickly take you through every place we've visited during our time in Sri Lanka.
This is a key cultural zone of Sri Lanka and holds high historical importance in the country. It’s bursting with world heritage sites and significant temples, stupas and much more. You buy a pass that allows you access to all the sites.
It’s around $30 for a day pass, but all the sites are spread out so you will need a bike, or tuk tuk to get from each one. You can negotiate for a driver to take you for the day for around $20.
The thing about the sites is that, there’s no ticket entrance with someone checking your tickets. It’s only if you randomly get stopped will they know if you have a ticket or not. As such, you could take the risk, but if you get caught, I’m not sure what the penalty is.
You can also visit here without seeing the “typical sites” that cost money. That’s what Brad and I did and we still saw a lot.
This is by far one of the best places to visit when backpacking in Sri Lanka. Sigiriya is home to the famous world heritage sight of Lion's Rock. There’s a $30 entrance fee which is quite steep, but totally worth it in my opinion.
Just head out early in the morning in order to beat the crowds. There are other climbs available as well, and you can partake in a safari in the area too.
You can also take a quite trip to Dambulla in order to see the cave temples.
This is the most popular spot in Sri Lanka for backpackers, and it’s no surprise why. It’s beautiful, cooler and it’s got some fabulous sites. Including Little Adams Peak, Ella Rock and an assortment of waterfalls. It’s got a great atmosphere and lots of bars, pubs and coffee shops.
Wilpattu is most famous for its national park. It has a high concentration of leopards, so lots of people head here to partake in a Wilpattu safari experience in the hope of seeing leopards. You also get the chance to see sloth bears, elephants and much more.
The dry season is a good time to visit. You can get here via bus, taxi or tuk-tuk. If you want, you can also stay in nearby Anuradhapura and get a tuk tuk or organised tour to the safari park.
Lion’s Rock is located in Sigiriya and is a fantastic experience. The views from up there are brilliant, as is the historical significance of the place. We recommend going super early to be the first ones up there, otherwise it gets really busy and very warm.
If you've only got two weeks in Sri Lanka, then it’s best to focus on only one or two regions of the country, rather than trying to cover it all. So my suggested two week Sri Lanka travel route would be either:
You now have the option to drive your very own tuk tuk around the country.
We decided to do this because it would allow us the freedom to create our own route, not have to worry about trains or buses, go off the beaten track and get to interact with the locals.
For a 28 day rental, our tuk tuk cost us $18 dollars a day. This included insurance, a driving lesson and spare parts etc. We hired from TukTukRental, as they are a social enterprise and offered full insurance.
They don’t own any of the tuk tuks they rent, they belong to the tuk tuk drivers, so half of what you pay goes to the tuk tuk driver.
We use them for the majority of our bookings all around the world. Simply because they have the biggest range of properties, including hotels, hostels and homestays. As well as having the best prices.
We also tend to check out Agoda before making a final booking. This is because they offer some great last minute deals, as well as exclusive offers based on your previous stays. These often work out cheaper than Booking.com which is when we decide to book with them.
HostelWorld is the best bet if you are staying exclusively in hostels.
For inspiration, here are some roundup guides that we put together:
Here are some essential items I recommend you pack for Sri Lanka
Osprey would have to be my top recommendation
It gets hot out there!
To keep away those pesky mosquitos
For covering up at religious sites
International travel adaptor
A must-have for any country
For making the most of the amazing things you see
I recommend Reef, as they are comfy over long walks
The cost of backpacking Sri Lanka
Generally speaking, Sri Lanka is well suited to backpackers on a budget.
But with incredible beachside villas and some of the world's best safaris, you can spend more if it's in your budget.
Here's a look at how much to budget for Sri Lanka for different types of traveller.
You could easily get by on $50 per day for two (less if you’re really strict).
Bradley and I stuck to a budget of around $28-30 each day, our costs were a little higher than usual because we decided to rent a tuk tuk to get around the country.
But other than that, we stayed in rooms that always had air conditioning and we ate at cheap to mid-range restaurants every day.
This budget also included drinks as we enjoyed cocktails on occasion as well.
Budget For Food
Food in Sri Lanka is both delicious and cheap.You could spend anything from $1 to $10 depending on what you want.
If you go western food, then naturally it’s going to be a bit more expensive. But you will be eating in a VERY nice place if you’re on the higher end of the budget.
Even the TGI Friday’s in Sri Lanka is ridiculously cheap. Perfect for us as we hunt these out everywhere we go!
It’s a good way to judge the cost of food if you look at the prices of an American chain like TGI Friday’s and The Hard Rock Cafe!
Budget For Travel
If you are sticking to bus and train travel, then it will only cost you a couple of dollars per trip. Even first class isn’t overly expensive.
Your travel costs will mount up if you’re using taxis to get from place to place, or domestic flights.
Tuk tuks in cities are cheap. The general rule is take the price the driver has quoted you and cut it by 25% to 50%. Or, use Uber to get an accurate idea of what you should be paying.
Budget For Alcohol
Alcohol isn’t that cheap in Sri Lanka, due to the fact it’s a strongly Buddhist country and the government taxes alcohol a lot to try and deter people from drinking.
It’s actually illegal for women to purchase alcohol from an off licence. I’m not sure that applies to tourist women as I managed to buy alcohol whilst with Brad.
Alcohol is similar to prices in the UK. If you’re buying from an off licence, then the cheapest spirit is their own called Arrack
You can also get cheap versions of vodka, gin and rum. It’s around $8-9 for a big bottle. Wine is super expensive and you won’t get it cheap anywhere.
Happy hours are popular in areas like Ella, Arugam Bay and Mirissa and you can get great deals on alcohol.
Some cocktails come in at $1.75 a drink, and they’re strong! So, you can find ways to party and get drunk if you really want to. They also have their own beer, which is cheap: it’s called Lion Beer.
If you’re coming from the UK, you can bring 1 litre of alcohol in with you. So if you want you could bring some wine or spirits into the country to save on cash.
But obviously you’ll be carrying it around with you, unless you drink it really quick!
Best time to visit Sri Lanka
Depending on what you wish to do there, the best time for you visiting Sri Lanka might vary compared to someone else.
The main thing to be aware of is that there are two monsoon seasons that run throughout the country.
If you plan your route carefully, then you can avoid these completely and enjoy the nice weather.
Here's how to choose when to visit Sri Lanka ...
Depending on what you wish to do there, the best time for you backpacking Sri Lanka might vary compared to someone else.
Regardless, you need to be aware that there are two monsoon seasons that run throughout the country.
If you want to visit the West and South coasts plus the hill country (Ella/Nuwara Eliya), then you should head the some time around December to March.
Or, if you’re wanting to check out the East coast, the best weather is from May to September.
Sri Lanka in September is almost off peak for one-side of the country, but starting to peak for the other side. So, if you want to head everywhere, go between September and the start of October.
That’s what Bradley and I did and with our 4 weeks in Sri Lanka and we managed to avoid monsoons (give or take 1 or 2 days) and catch the sun!
People often ask what Sri Lanka is like in August. Well, it’s busy around the Arugam Bay area because it’s peak season there.
So, if you do visit then, be sure to take a trip to Yala National Park as it’s perfect that time of year.
Sri Lanka travel tips
Here's a look at everything else you need to know in order to plan an amazing Sri Lanka trip.
Including visas, when to visit, and how religion affects what you should wear and act.
Generally speaking, Sri Lanka is a relatively safe country.
However, you should still take all the same precautions you would traveling anywhere, like not going out too late on your own and always keeping an eye out for pickpockets.
With regards to your health, don’t drink the tap water, it can make you very ill. And if you’re not used to spicy food, then start off with little spice to let your stomach get used to it.
Unless you are from the Maldives, Seychelles or Singapore, you will need a visa for Sri Lanka. You can get your visa very easily via an online process as its an electronic visa.
It costs $35 for all countries, apart from the SAARC countries for which it costs $20. This visa lasts 30 days and you can extend in Colombo for up to six months more once you arrive.
The cost Sri Lankan visa extension fees vary. Some countries are significantly cheaper than others, but you can find your country and price on this list here.
They use the Sri Lankan Rupee (LKR). It’s a closed currency, so you can only buy it when you land in Sri Lanka.
Sinhalese and Tamil are the two official languages of Sri Lanka. You'll find that almost everyone speaks English as well.
You have two main varieties: Plug Type D and plug Type G. If you’re from the UK, then this means you’ll find standard UK plugs in most places. Alternatively, just pick up a universal adaptor, like this one, before you travel.
Up until 1972, Sri Lanka was under heavy British influence, and you’ll see remnants of this across the country (such as the tea plantations).
Sri Lanka has only recently come out of a civil war that lasted from 1983 till 2009, The 26-year civil war was fought between the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), also known as the Tamil Tigers.
Sri Lanka used to be known as Ceylon, which is why you’ll see the word “Ceylon” everywhere. There is very little information about the war to be found in museums, but if you ask locals, then many will share their stories with you.
Just be courteous as the wounds of the war are still very fresh, especially for families living in the Northeast of the country.
Before backpacking Sri Lanka, it’s recommended that you have protection for Rabies, Japanese Encephalitis, Typhoid & Hepatitis A. For up to date info, check with your nation's health bureau. If you’re from the UK, then use this resource.
These are available all over the country, and the Bank Of Ceylon and People’s Bank do not charge for withdrawals. There are lots of other banks that will charge, but these are two of the biggest banks. So you can find at least one of these ATMs almost everywhere.
There are a variety of religions in Sri Lanka. The mains ones being Buddhists (70%), Hindu (12%), Muslim (7%) and Christian (7%).
Sri Lankans are quite laid back and you won’t be offending anyone by showing your shoulders or knees. As long as you aren’t doing so in a temple or religious place.
If you are visiting Arugam Bay, however, you can’t wear a bikini on the street. And it’s expected that you cover up as it’s a highly Muslim area.
Overall though, you mostly need light skirts, dresses, tops and shorts. If you head up into the hill country (Kandy, Ella, Nuwara Eliya), I’d have a jacket packed too.
There are three main phone companies in Sri Lanka: Dialog, Airtel and Mobitel. The largest is Dialog and it offers the best coverage all over the country.
It’s the sim we used and it’s super easy to set up. Head into any phone shop and they will get you sorted. All you’ll need to take with you is a passport.
Drones are now legal in Sri Lanka, after being in a semi-banned state for many years. However, you will need to obey some pretty standard rules, regarding how close you can fly to other people and not using them at pre-marked locations. For more information, check out this guide.
As the type 1 diabetic half of Dream Big, Travel Far, I'm passionate about encouraging fellow type 1's to travel the world and not let their diabetes hold them back. I'm proud to now be a full-time digital nomad. Meaning I live my life working and travelling all over the world and am here to help you achieve your dreams as well in any way I can.
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