Super useful 15 Travel tips for Sri Lanka

Update on 11 July 2022 – The political conditions are feeble in the nation now. We highly recommend not to travel to Sri Lanka until their Economic Crisis is resolved.

Sri Lanka, a beloved neighbour of my nation, is one of the places for inexpensive and the best holiday. You can either go trekking in the mountains or take a walk on the beach and harness your Chi while listening to Buddhist chants here. Its delicious food, culture, and ancient architecture to the contemporary architecture of Geoffrey Bawa – Sri Lanka surprise you many times. Here are the 15 most useful Sri Lanka Travel Tips to plan your vacation better.

  1. Currency.
  2. Card payment
  3. Cost of living for Tourists.
  4. Network and Wifi.
  5. Power sockets.
  6. Public Hygiene and Toilets
  7. Roads and Transport
  8. APPS to be downloaded
  9. Food and Beverages
  10. Alcohol and Smoking
  11. Safety & Scams
  12. People and Language
  13. What to see and when
  14. Tipping Culture.
  15. Bonus tip –Srilankans aren’t Tamilians.

What is Sri Lankan currency called?

Bundle of Sri Lankan currency

Sri Lanka travel tips on money – Carry more cash

The official Srilankan currency is Lankan Rupees (LKR). We thought we could use Indian rupees for currency exchange as I did in Bhutan. But, Indian Rupees aren’t accepted anywhere. Carry USD or EUROS for currency exchange, but USD is preferred. Exchanging money at the airport may be slightly expensive, but recommended to avoid getting fake currencies in the town. There are a few money exchange places in Colombo, but not in smaller towns. ATMs aren’t plenty except in Colombo.

Card Payment in Sri Lanka

Amex cards didn’t work anywhere, while international bank Visa and Master cards worked at a few restaurants. So cash is king in Sri Lanka. Our Indian National bank Master card could draw money from ATMs but was declined when swiped at restaurants. DO NOT DEPEND ON CARD PAYMENTS FOR MONUMENTS ENTRY. We had to borrow money from our Car driver at Dambulla and return later!

Is Sri Lanka expensive for tourists?

For accommodation, Sri Lanka has more homestays and guesthouses more than any other country we have travelled to. They are cheaper, and you get to stay with locals.
Left picture – 15OO INR/Night homestay at Ella.
Right side picture – 25000INR/night luxury resort Heritance Kandalama

Sri Lanka is one of the cheapest countries we have EVER travelled to. The cost of living for us turned out to be cheaper than Thailand and costlier than Iran.

How much money should I bring to Sri Lanka?

We spent 3400 INR(50 USD)/ Person/day on average. That includes three meals a day at budget cafes and restaurants + accommodation at guest houses+ Transportation by Tuk Tuk, bus/taxi; Excluding international airfare, shopping & one night stay at Luxury hotel Heritance Kandalama. 

What is the best coverage Sim in Sri Lanka?

We bought two sim cards from Mobitel with a tourist package that included international calls and a 4G internet pack. The network coverage was inadequate near Ella & other remote areas. We recommend you look for a better service provider. Public Wifi is almost non-existent even at airports. The guesthouse wifi was good enough for browsing and social media apps.

Can you use EU plugs in Sri Lanka?

Sri Lanka uses Type D & G. For a change, Indians don’t need a travel adapter, and Westerners need to carry an adapter.

Is Sri Lanka clean?

View of  clay tiled sloping roof by the indian oceanside from above surrounded by green

Sri Lanka travel tips on adventure sport – Go Paramotoring in Bentota

You may find similarities between India & Sri Lanka culturally, historically and ethnically. But Sri Lanka has a lot to teach us (Indians) regarding public hygiene. It is cleaner than India. It is common in towns like Bentota to see local men and women dusting the street with coconut tree leaves and broomsticks. Lankans have a greater civic sense for keeping their country clean. We saw nowhere thrash-filled streets. Even the most touristy beaches of Bentota were thrash-free.

Are there squat toilets in Sri Lanka?

Mid-range guesthouses/restaurants had EWC with jet spray and toilet paper. The public toilets had “not so clean” squat toilets with jet spray. So stick to using washrooms in private cafes/restaurants.

What are the roads like in Sri Lanka?

Bentota railway station with clay tiled sloping roof lined with temple trees

Sri Lanka travel tips to save money – Use Public Transport

Sri Lanka follows left lane driving like India and other countries colonised by the British. The driving style is similar to India and better than Iran because there are fewer motorbikes. Colombo traffic is one of the worst traffic I have ever been stuck in my life. If you know how to cross streets in cities like Bangkok, Cairo and Indian cities, you can cruise yourself like a pro.

Self-driving is one of the cheap and best ways to enjoy Sri Lanka if you are experienced in driving in chaotic conditions. Our initial plan was to hire the car from Malkey Rent-A-Car and go on a self-driven road trip until we figured out that we didn’t want to get stuck in traffic jams.

Airport: Though there are two international airports in Sri Lanka, Bandaranaike International Airport (CMB) is the most active. Once in this compact country, you may not need to take flights for internal journeys.

How do you get around in Sri Lanka?

One of the most beautiful railway journeys must be Sri Lankan train journeys. Many Sri Lankan train journey takes you through the middle of tea estates at times and by the oceanside sometimes. A usual delay of +15 minutes is expected, but Sri Lankans love their trains for the low price and efficiency. So getting around Sri Lanka by train is best for a flashpacker on a budget.

Nine arch bridge at Ella surrounded by tea estate

Nine Arch bridge at Ella

Can tourists use public transport in Sri Lanka?

Public buses are another cheap way to travel between two Lankan towns if you are ready to hurt your bump and sweat like pigs on SLTB non-AC bus. We have travelled by similar buses in India for shorter distances. But these buses in Sri Lanka are incredibly tiring, but you can save a lot of money. There are private buses with Air conditioners which will be more comfortable but pricey.

Red colour Sri Lanka transport bus

The bus that hurt our bum – Bandarwella to Nuwara Eliya

What is the main transport in Sri Lanka?

Tuk-tuks you find here are different from Thailand’s and similar to India’s. They are the soul connectors of the pearl island. Whether getting to Heritance Kandalamaa from Dambulla or reaching the secret beach at Mirissa, Tuk-tuks are your best option. 

Red tuk tuk passing by dutch style mansion at Galle

Prettiest photobomber at Galle – Sri Lanka’s tuk-tuks come in various colours.

Mobile APPS needed in Sri Lanka

There are no “Specific to Sri Lanka” apps other than the usual apps like Google maps, Booking.com  WhatsApp, telegram, and other social media apps. Sri Lanka’s favourite accommodation type is guesthouses run by small families. You can easily book them on booking.com. When we went, Uber was not that famous. Locals used an app called “Pick me” for booking cabs & Tuk-tuks. Few useful links for booking and transportation

Train booking  Sri Lanka railway reservation. 
Bus route map – Routemaster

How good is Sri Lankan food?

Sri Lankan dinner with veggies, rice, curries and chutneys in a bowl

Typical Lankan Dinner

Sri Lanka is a food paradise for both vegetarians and non-vegetarians. As they grow many spices like cardamom and Cinnamon, their food contains a lot of flavours. Most of the time, Indian and Lankan food are assumed to be hot and spicy. Indeed both nations use a lot of spice for tastes, not just to make it spicy. So Lankan food is bland/spicy/sweet/sour- Flavourful, and mainly based on coconut oil and paste.

Curries are the soul of Lankan meals. Though Rice is the main staple, wheat rotis are served with veg or delicious fish/prawn curries. The island nation can’t go wrong with their seafood, you see.

What is a traditional Sri Lankan breakfast?

Appam with sombol

Sri Lanka travel tips on food – Stick to streetside cafes for authentic delicious Lankan food

A typical Lankan breakfast includes – Appam ( an inverted Dosa kind of a thing that you get in Kerala), steamed rice Shavige (string hoppers) with coconut-based chutneys. Plus fresh fruits depending on the season and egg toasts. 

If you are a vegetarian and not enthusiastic about local Lankan food, you can always rely on their fresh and juicy fruits. Sri Lanka is a tropical paradise that grows juicy Mangoes, sweet & sour pineapples and Passion fruits. Also, do not forget to try Strawberries in Nuwara Eliya. 

What is the most popular beverage in Sri Lanka?

Red shell coconut cut open by the beachside in Bentota

Sri Lanka travel tips to stay hydrated – Have refreshing Red coconut water often

Tea came to Sri Lanka in 1824 & now Sri Lanka is the fourth-largest producer of tea. Ceylon tea is world-famous for all the right reasons. Usually, Lankans prefer tea without milk and average sweet. So Ceylon black tea is like a national drink. But coffee lovers need not be disappointed, as Sri Lanka is making a comeback in coffee.

Alcohol and Smoking in Sri Lanka

Smoking is prohibited in most public indoor and outdoor areas. However, open beach shacks and balconies in the guesthouses allow smoking.

Sri Lanka is most famous for its pristine turquoise beaches, drinking and partying aren’t common. Lion stout is their renowned beer brand, available in all beach shacks. Towns like Kandy are holy places. So be sure of the surroundings while drinking.

Another common factor in India and Sri Lanka is – Toddy, AKA Palm wine, collected from palm trees. Especially Coconut. Though it is fascinating to try a natural alcoholic drink, you must know your capacity and body condition before drinking a barrel of it.

Safety & Scams in Sri Lanka

Beautiful white statue of a Sri Lankan fisherman sitting in the woods

Solo travellers have mixed opinions on Sri Lanka. As a couple of travellers, we say Sri Lanka is not unsafe – A lonely statue on Bentota beach.

I can’t generalise Sri -Lanka and put it under one category. – I would say Sri Lanka is not unsafe for sure. But avoid going out at night, don’t get drunk in public, and stay where the crowd is. Go with a guide or trustworthy local when you go to an isolated place.

I say this because of an incident at Mirissa :

Pinkish sky behind INdian ocean during sunset

At around 7 PM, we walked down Coconut hill at after witnessing a magical sunset along with several other tourists. Once we hit the main road, tourists dispersed to their homestays, and a few of us walked towards the restaurants. Two men waiting in a jeep began to follow us, calling out names in a language that we didn’t understand. We were dressed modestly with no tacky jewels to attract thieves.

Still, they followed us as we were the only ones going in that particular direction. To escape them, we walked inside a grocery shop nearby and behaved as if we were buying something. They, too, waited outside for us to finish shopping. The shopkeeper observed it and signed us to stay. So we acted asking prices of Potato and Onions. Later, the shopkeeper carried the few items we purchased and said, “I come with you.”

Silver sky with sillhoutte of coconut trees at Mirissa

When those two men saw a local man walking with us, they got in their jeep and left.

We couldn’t be thankful enough for that man who saved us from whatever was about to happen. Our guesthouse owner came outside, seeing us accompanied by a stranger and understood the situation. He said, “Sorry it happened to you. There are bag snatchers and thieves in Mirissa waiting for isolated tourists. So you wait in the room for a while and then go out after a while so that those two men aren’t around.”

This could be a situation even in a city like Paris or New York. So I won’t label it as unsafe. Take precautions that you would take in any other country. Avoid going to isolated places.

Tourist Scams in Sri Lanka

Paved street of Galle with colonial style buildings selling precious gems

Sri Lanka travel tips to avoid getting scammed – Do your research extensively before losing your fortune on fake stones.

Fake Precious gemstone is the biggest scam. Buy it only from government-approved authorised sellers and do your research about the place before buying. The stilt fisherman photo at Koggala is the second biggest tourist scam in Sri Lanka. A cousin of mine ended up there unknowingly and was forced to pay them 500LKR for them to pose. The pictures may look amazing, but they are not real fishermen, just posers. Hardly any Lankan fishermen use this method of fishing now.

Unworthy tea estate tour near Nuwara Eliya, poor quality & overpriced spice gardens in Ella, overpriced Tuk-Tuks, are something you must be aware of.

Unique building with thatch roof and bamboo support at Ella by the roadside

The usual scenes in Sri Lanka – Tourists haggling with Tuk Tuk drivers. – A morning at Ella town

Sri Lankan people and language

Unique tall building with thatch roof and bamboo support at Ella housing an Ayurvedic Spa

Ayurveda is a Sri Lankan thing too!

Their Official language is Sinhala. We could understand a few words resembling Sanskrit and our state language Kannada when Sri Lankan air hostesses made announcements.

  • “Karunakara” – Kindly
  • “Naama”-Name
  • “Samaipa” – Nearby

The signboards are in English, Sinhala and also Mandarian at many places. We could manage in English with guest house owners, bus conductors & tuk-tuk drivers. 

What is the attitude of Sri Lanka people?

Indian traveller talking to a Sri Lankan host at his front yard full of temple trees

Dedunu homestay owner convincing Sahana to have his Herbal homemade juice for headache

We found it uncommon to smile at strangers and wish good morning/hi/hello. However, when you approach them for any touristy help, they smile and help.

When Sahana was struggling with her foot pain caused by sea urchins, Mirissa guest house owner called up his family doctor and was ready to take us there. Chaminda from Bentota Dedunu homestay was the sweetest host we have ever met. The lady who cooked us delicious home meals at Ella wasn’t happy about her cooking because we didn’t eat as much as she expected us to.
Lastly, the cafe owner at Secret beach is the one who saved Sahana’s life while she was about to get swept away by the waves.

What do Sinhala people wear?

Sri Lankans dress up modestly and are very religious. So you see boards in homestays that say,” Please wear modest clothes inside our house premises.” Any tattoo or T-shirts of Buddha’s face or image on it must be hidden or not worn. It is considered very disrespectful, and for sure you will get into trouble with locals.

Red mosque of Sri Lanka with red and white checkered patterns

The Red mosque at Colombo

Do Sri Lankans believe in God?

Yes. Their major religion is Buddhism. Asking about your religion is as common as asking your name there. They do not hesitate at all – A taxi driver from Dambulla asked us directly –” Are you Muslim or Hindu.” So there exists a kind of racism in Sri Lanka. We were often judged based on our skin tones many times – A guest house at Galle had a signboard saying,” Lodging for white people only”.

What to see in Sri Lanka and when

Sri Lanka is 121st smallest nation in the world. But don’t let its size fool you – It has got a lot to offer tourists. 

Beaches to chill in Mirissa, Unawatuna, Hikkaduwa Buddhist temples for spirituality in Kandy and DambullaRamayana’s SeeatavanaAncient Dutch colony at Galle, Hill station like Nuwara Eliya and most beautiful Ella, Indiana Jones movie locations near Kandy, Pidurangala hiking – A country full of pristine beaches, beautiful train journeys, abundant marine life, serene hills.

Is one week enough for Sri Lanka?

 As a short-time traveller born and brought up in a tropical climate, eight days in Sri Lanka was a great time for us. So we are content with it. But, of course, there is more to Sri Lanka than what we saw. For Indian travellers, we recommend you to keep short trips to Sri Lanka for 7 to 10 days. In contrast, other citizens may find it fascinating to spend 15 days in Sri Lanka.

Rolling green tea estate by lake side and colonial style houses at Nuwara Eliya

The rolling hills and tea estates of Nuwara Eliya

Which is the best month to visit Sri Lanka?

Like any other tropical country, October to March is the best time for beaches when the temperatures are mild. April to June is the hottest month. We travelled in hot-hot April to celebrate our first wedding anniversary. So we stayed indoors during noons or kept bus travellers during noon.It is better to spend on AC rooms irrespective of the months.

Tipping Culture in Sri Lanka

Tipping isn’t expected anywhere. But Tuk-tuk drivers tend to keep the lose money after you pay them. So if you pay them 100 LK for the bill of 96LKR, They assume that you don’t want back your 4LKR.

Bonus tip –Srilankans aren’t Tamilians; they are Sinhalas.

Indian traveller selfie in the air with his co pilot above Indian ocean

Selfie in the air while Paramotoring with my Sri Lankan Pilot at Bentota

Less than 10% of the Sri Lankan population are Tamilians. So do not assume all Sri Lankans can speak Tamil. We asked our Mirissa guest house owner if he speaks Tamil. He was offended and said,” I am Sri Lankan; how and why will I speak Tamil”. Sri Lanka suffered from civil wars from 1983-2009. The conflict was between Sinhala Buddhist-dominated government and Tamil rebels who wanted a separate state. The issues have been resolved, but scars remain in the hearts of either side. The problem is as complicated as Israel and Palestine.

Is Sri Lanka’s culture the same as India’s?

Traditional style buildings at Kandy

The names sound Indian – at Kandy.

Sri Lankans state that the Indian government encouraged the Tamil Nadu government to train LTTE, and India denies that. (There is more to this political mess). 

We (Indians) claim that Adam’s bridge is Ramma Sethu, built by Hindu Lord Raama. On the other hand, Lankans believe that it was created by king Raavana from Lanka(the rival of Raama). Indians and Lankans both love cricket, and we are each other’s, strong contenders.

So it may not be the entire Sri Lankan population hating India & Indians. But definitely, they don’t like getting associated/compared with Indians. Any sentence that compares Sri Lanka with India may ignite a heated and unhealthy conversation with a Sri Lankan. We are two different nations with few similarities. So it is best to respect their tradition, learn from their culture, and enjoy their hospitality without hurting their sentiments as tourists.

Found our Sri Lanka Travel Tips useful? Let us know in the comment section below. 

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