Sri Lanka, formerly Ceylon, is a small Island located south of India, in the middle of Indian ocean. Whilst in previous years this beautiful country has been overlooked by travellers, its charm and wonder now lure thousands of every year. Despite its compact size, Sri Lanka is home to many UNESCO world heritage sites including the Ancient Cities of Polonnaruwa and Sigiriya, the Golden Temple of Dambulla and the Sacred City of Anuradhapura. Its landscape is vast and incredibly diverse, from its crystal white beaches of Galle and Unawatuna, to its dense vibrant rainforests and expansive tea plantations in the hills. You will see free roaming cows, wild elephants and exotic wildlife and if adventure is what you are looking for, Sri Lanka has plenty of adrenaline pumping activities to keep you occupied.
Climate in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka’s climate is tropical and consists of two seasons: Dry and wet. However, the seasons vary depending on the regions. Temperatures remain fairly constant all year round; in the coastal regions temperatures are between 25-35°C (77-95°F) and in the hills temperatures are between 15-18°C (59-65°F)
- West and SW coast: Wet season is between May and December, with January to April remaining dry.
- East coast and Northern regions: Wet season is between October and January, with drier weather between May and September.
Best times to visit tend to be during December to mid April, but that is governed by what areas you are visiting, make sure you plan accordingly, especially if you are keen to do some hiking or outdoor adventure sports.
Currency in Sri Lanka
The official currency of Sri Lanka is the rupee (LKR; Rs). At the time of writing the conversion rates were as follows:
€1 = 200 Rs
$1 = 175 Rs
The Sri Lankan government has put some fairly tight restrictions on the amount of money you can bring in and out of the country, with the maximum amount being 5,000 Rs (€25 / $30), so you will need to convert your money when you arrive or you will need to withdraw money from an ATM. To get the best exchange rate, change your money within Sri Lanka, do not do it in your home country. You can exchange your money in hotels (although their exchange rates aren’t great), with licensed money exchangers or at the bank.
ATM’s are plentiful in Sri Lanka, most will charge a small fee and have withdrawal limits varying between 40,000-80,000 Rs (€200-400 / $200-500). You can make withdrawals from the following banks, all of which have ATMs (this is not an exhaustive list):
- National Bank
- Standard Chartered bank
Go Travel and Talk Top Tip: Always let you bank know where you are traveling to, this will notify the bank and prevent them from freezing your card.
Getting around Sri Lanka
Despite Sri Lanka’s compact size, moving around this little country can be time consuming. With its narrow roads, congestion and free roaming cows, there is lots to slow you down, which mean journey times can be long!
Buses are either government owned (SLTB buses) or ran by a private companies. The latter tend to be a little better maintained, but both can prove to be a nerve wracking journey with drivers going full throttle on the accelerator, and don’t expect a set timetable, buses are frequent but they will leave once they are full and then it is a case of waiting for the next one. Bus fares are incredibly cheap, expect to pay as little as 0.50 Rs per hour. (€0.02 / $0.03).
Whilst buses are the main mode of transport in Sri Lanka, trains tend be a better option in terms of having a comfortable journey (although take more time), but they also offer a unique experience, especially if you hang out the open doorways! Tickets are budget friendly, e.g a ticket for Colombo to Kandy, 1st class costs 500 Rs (€2.50 / $3).
There are 3 train lines in Sri Lanka:
- South of Colombo / The coastal line: Running from Puttalam, through Aluthgama and on to Matara
- East of Colombo / The hill line: From Colombo, through Kandy, Ella and in to Badulla
- North of Colombo / The northern line: From Colombo through to Anuradhapura and on to Jaffn
Go Travel and Talk strongly advise taking an eastbound hill train - it is one of the most scenic train journeys in the world!
You can catch and book trains from Colombo Fort Railway Station to pretty much anywhere in the country. As Sri Lanka is yet to implement any kind of online booking system for trains and lines for ticket counters can be long and unorganised, it is a good idea to go to the station and book train tickets in advance. Certain trains also get booked out days in advance, especially in peak season (e.g. Kandy to Ella), so if you’re in Colombo and know when you want to travel, book all of your tickets there and then. Trains are split by class and most have a choice of either 1st, 2nd or 3rd. It does seem to differ depending on the train but in general:
- 1st class gives you a guaranteed designated seat and space
- 2nd class gives you a designated seat (this is not always guaranteed if the train is full) and less space
- 3rd class gives you no designated seat and no space
3rd class is a little cheaper than 1st. E.g, from Colombo to Anuradhapura it costs 160 Rs ($1 / €0.80) for 3rd class and 520 Rs ($3.10 / €2.60) for 1st class. For tickets and more information, head here or I HIGHLY recommend ‘The man in seat 61’, His website and is invaluable.
Go Travel and Talk Top Tip: Whether you get a 1st, 2nd or 3rd class train ticket, make sure you spend all the time that you can in the open doorways of the train.
If you are on a tight timescale, look into flying between places. Sri Lankan airline’s air taxi service connect many places all over Sri Lanka and at very reasonable prices. Check out their website for more information.
Travel Insurance for Sri Lanka
You can buy and claim online, even after you've left home. Travel insurance from WorldNomads.com is available to people from 140 countries and it is the only travel insurance we will ever use! It is designed for adventurous travellers with cover for overseas medical, evacuation, baggage and a range of adventure sports and activities.
WorldNomads.com is backed by a suite of strong and specialist travel insurers who provide you with great cover, 24 hour emergency assistance and the highest levels of support. The WorldNomads.com prices are some of the most competitive online and if you need to change plans, you can buy more cover or claim online while you are still away. You can even buy a World Nomads policy if you're already travelling. They also offer travel safety advice and tips online through the World Nomads Travel Safety Hub and WorldNomads.com members can learn the local lingo through a series of iPod & iPhone Language Guides and can stay in touch with family and friends with an online travel journal. You can find out more about why travel insurance is important for your trip. If you have any questions about your travel insurance or travel safety in general, please contact WorldNomads.com directly.
Medical Advice for Sri Lanka
When you know where you want to go in Sri Lanka, go to your doctor’s and ask to see the nurse to discuss travel vaccinations. They will go through your travel plans and suggest the appropriate vaccinations. It is likely that you will need:
- Hepatitis A and B, tetanus
- Diphtheria, rabies, typhoid, Japanese Encephalitis
- Yellow Fever - this is an absolute must. You will need to show your certification for some places.
- Malaria Tablets (location dependent)
In the UK, some of the vaccinations will be free of charge through your doctor’s, and some will cost. To keep the cost down, you can always visit a travel centre instead, where the injections are slightly cheaper. When thinking about vaccinations for your trip, the following website can be really helpful: Fit for Travel.
What to pack for Sri Lanka
- Long sleeved tops and long trousers if you are hiking.
- Dresses / shorts / light clothes
- Quick dry towel
- Good walking shoes / sandals / trainers
- Waterproof clothing / rain jacket / poncho
- First aid kit (inclusive of Imodium and rehydration sachets).
- Battery pack / electronics
- LifeStraw. This is an amazing accessory to have when you are trekking and a cheap alternative to buying water along the way, it also saves on buying plastic bottles and for every purchase, a child in a developing country, receives clean drinking water for 1 school year!
- Padlocks x3
- Ipod / music for the long bus journeys
- Sunscreen and bug spray
- Packing cubes. Get different colours to separate your clean and dirty clothes.
- Travel Pillow
- Zip lock bags for traveling with left over food items / prevent liquid items from spilling
- Biodegradable soap ~ especially important when hiking and washing in nature
- Money Belt
Safety Considerations for Sri Lanka
- Always keep your valuables hidden or locked away.
- Always keep your valuables in your small backpack and wear it on your front, with your big backpack on your back and padlocked if walking around in crowded places.
- Always choose an ATM inside of a bank rather than on a street. Put your cash in your money belt, under your top straight away. If you feel nervous about withdrawing money, go with someone else.
- If you are travelling on buses, do not store your backpack overhead or in the back of the bus, keep it on you at all times. For extra security: put your passport, money and phone in a money belt around your waist, under your clothes. You can buy these from anywhere, I bought mine from: Amazon
- When travelling on buses, always padlock your big bag and try and put your rain/protective cover over it for extra security as it will be going in the boot under the bus.
- Do not walk around at night on your own, always take a taxi, even if it is a short distance.
- Always ask your hostel about the area and for safety advice.
- Keep your two bank cards separate so if anything happens, you have a second source of money.
- Always have at least one photocopy of your passport so if you lose it, you still have a copy
- Bring two forms of identification with you (driver’s license).
- NEVER leave your drink unattended when out at night
Budget for Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka is very budget friendly. Activities, food and accommodation are incredibly affordable and transport is especially cheap, much cheaper than alot of other countries. But of course it depends on how you would like to travel and how long you are going for. For accommodation, prices can be anywhere from $6 (€5) per night to $25 (€22) and the cost of a meal is around $1 (€1), but again, that is dependent on where and what you eat, it could be much cheaper. A backpacker could easily survive on $45 (€39) per day.
Don't forget to buy your Travel Insurance...