The top Sri Lanka travel guide for travellers

Last Updated on November 8, 2023

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Sri Lanka was named one of the top places to visit in the world for 2019. There’re many reasons why this beautiful country was picked!

I visited Sri Lanka just over 1 and half years ago and it was always one of my favourites, which is why I’m excited to share this Sri Lanka travel guide.

Being a huge fan of India (north and south) I remember being so excited to see what Sri Lanka was going to be like as it sits just below India.

When I arrived, I was blown away as to how much I loved the country.

I only had a week in Sri Lanka so I hope in the near future I will be able to go back and experience more what this beautiful country has to offer.

🧳 MUST-HAVE: Before you head out on your trip, make sure you have travel insurance. I recommend either SafetyWing or World Nomads.

So, if you are planning a trip to Sri Lanka, here is my Sri Lanka travel guide with everything you need to know for first time visitors to have a fun and memorable experience!

Here’s your full travel guide on visiting Sri Lanka

Check off everything on your Sri Lanka bucket list, piles of pineapples next to pineapples hanging on strings and a wooden display case lined with pineapples in front of a large wooden door leading to a room full of piles of pineapples and a wooden chair

Getting a Visa for Sri Lanka

One of the most important things to know in a Sri Lanka travel guide is how visas work. And unfortunately, you cannot get a visa on arrival – but the process is easy!

You have to fill your Sri Lanka visa application online in order to apply and enter the country for a total of 30 days.

The process only takes 5 minutes to complete and usually, you’ll have your visa with you in the next day or two if you have filled everything out correctly.

You must have a return flight or a flight outwards of Sri Lanka in order to get a visa, so keep this in mind when planning a trip to Sri Lanka.

Fortunately, The process is easy enough, and especially if you do it through E-visums.

How to get to Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka has one main international airport called Bandaranaike, just 30 minutes from the capital of Colombo.

The country has its own airline called Sri Lankan airlines, they are actually one of my top 3 flight carriers.

The service is really amazing, the food was pretty good for airplane food and well, free alcohol.

The prices are actually some of the cheapest which is why I usually try and fly with them if I’m going from Europe back to New Zealand.

I know many people visit after they have been in India and wonder how to go Sri Lanka from India by train.

Unfortunately, there is no land connection and you will need to get the ferry between Talaimannar Port and Rameshwaram Port.

🛌🏼 Click to check out the best accommodation in Colombo

Write your own dream itinerary in Sri Lanka, train platform at Ella train station with people carrying bags waiting to get onto a long turquoise blue train

Transport in Sri Lanka

The best way to travel around Sri Lanka is by train. This is a fact! It’s honestly not even worth considering how to get around Sri Lanka by other means.

Train journeys are incredibly affordable, and they are possibly some of the most scenic train rides you’ll ever take, especially through hill country.

On the trains you will notice the doors are open, so you’re welcome to sit or stand at the door or dangle your feet over the edge (but hold on!).

There are a number of different classes. I travelled on 3rd class and although it was packed (as it was the weekend) it was clean enough.

If you want a more comfortable ride, then you can go for 1st or 2nd class. Although when you see the views you may just want to spend the time at the door anyway!

Tickets are to be purchased at the station and not online, so make sure to factor this into your Sri Lanka travel budget.

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Is Sri Lanka safe?

Yes, Sri Lanka is safe. However, as any other Sri Lanka travel guide will you, no place is perfect or without crime!

Like everywhere in the world there are going to be people who try and scam you. The scams I have heard are very similar to India tourist scams.

As a woman travelling alone, you will have to make sure you dress appropriately and take the normal procedures like you would in India.

But as a woman travelling alone it’s not as intense as it is in places like Rajasthan, India. I did a Sri Lanka solo trip and felt safe the whole time.

Still, as a woman, you should dress appropriately and respect the local customs. Appear confident and don’t give out any personal details on where you’re staying and who you are.

If you plan to travel Sri Lanka solo, just be aware of your surroundings and use common sense.

You can read my top tips for females travelling alone. This post was written for India in particular but it applies to Sri Lanka solo travel too.

Get the most out of Sri Lanka solo travel, close-up picture of Sri Lankan spiced chickpea street food dish in paper bag
You must try this delicious street food when visiting Sri Lanka

The food in Sri Lanka

Pretty much every Sri Lanka travel guide will tell you that this is one of the best reasons you should visit Sri Lanka – the food!

The curries are a must but a tip, order tourist hot and not local hot.  If you are not used to spicy food, it can be a little bit of a struggle.

In Sri Lankan food there’s a lot of curries. Rice is the staple and then along with that, you will have a curry (either chicken, fish, mutton or vegetable).

Coconut sambal is usually served with the curry. It’s a mix of grated coconut with fresh spices and chilis.

One of my favourite street foods in Sri Lanka was tempered spicy chickpeas known as Kadala Thel Dala.

This was the most delicious thing I tried during my trip to Sri Lanka as it has so much flavour. It’s a mix of cooked chickpeas with onions, chilis, mustard seeds, curry leaves and garlic.

It’s such a good snack on the road. Once you try this you will be hooked, trust me! In fact, you might find yourself reconsidering your Sri Lanka travel budget to fit more in!

Get started on planning a trip to Sri Lanka, man in collared sport shirt smiling at the camera in front of a bright yellow wall

Reasons why you should visit Sri Lanka

1. Friendly people

Sri Lankans somehow always seem to have a smile on their faces. They are so welcoming, so helpful and just in general good people.

Every time someone looked at me, I would exchange a smile with them, it’s contagious! Sri Lankans are very hospitable and are always looking to make you feel welcome.

Plan out your Sri Lanka travel budget, large fruit market stall with large bowls of different fruits and many hanging bunches of bananas

2. Delicious cuisine

As mentioned before, the food is really incredible. Fresh curries and flavours that will leave your mouth salivating for more.

I absolutely loved Sri Lankan food. It’s fresh, healthy and good for the heart!

Trust me, you won’t need a Sri Lanka travel guide to tell you to eat as much of it as possible while you can, because you’ll miss it when you leave.

3. The most beautiful train rides

Trains may be how to get around Sri Lanka, but they are also an important part of any ultimate Sri Lanka itinerary!

The train rides are a real highlight when coming to Sri Lanka. You can’t really plan an itinerary in Sri Lanka without including at least one epic train ride.

One of the most popular routes with tourist is the train from Kandy to Ella and is definitely a must do in Sri Lanka.

In fact, this has become so popular that prices have increased, and the tickets sell out fast. The ride takes approximately 6/7 hours and weaves through hill country and tea plantations.

You will definitely want to sit at the door for this one! In fact, many would consider it a Sri Lanka bucket list item!

🛌🏼 Click to check out the best accommodation in Kandy

4. Pristine beaches

Sri Lanka beaches are known for being a haven for surfboarders and beach bums. The west coast is definitely the most developed and really set up for tourists.

If you want some incredible paradise-like beaches, then the south of Sri Lanka is the one! There are a number of luxury accommodation options and sleepy villages you can hang out in.

There a number of great beaches nearby Galle which is a Dutch colonial town. Hiriketiya beach and Mirissa beach are two beautiful beaches you must-see.

💡PACKING TIP: Make sure you bring a good snorkel, water shoes and a fast-drying towel for all of the beach-going you’re about to do!

Don't forget to bring your Sri Lanka packing essentials, tall rock formation standing tall amongst a sea of lush green forest with tall mountains in the distance under a cloudy blue sky
Photo by Sander Don on Unsplash

5. An incredible amount of UNESCO sites

There are 8 UNESCO world heritage sites scattered around Sri Lanka that you have to check out. Sri Lanka is a country steeped in history, so seeing the UNESCO sites is a must-do in Sri Lanka.

Here are the 8 UNESCO sites you should see when visiting Sri Lanka:

  • The historical Dutch town of Galle
  • The beautiful mountain city of Kandy
  • The first ancient capital– Anuradhapura
  • The unique rock of Sigiriya
  • The second ancient capital – Polonnaruwa
  • The natural forest reserve of Sinharaja
  • The central highlands
  • The interesting Dambulla Cave Temple

If you are a history buff planning the ultimate Sri Lanka itinerary, make sure you leave enough time for all of these sites as they are all worth it!

Discover how to get around Sri Lanka, a lone elephant walking through a field of thick green grass with a large lake and hills behind
Photo by Sheshan R on Unsplash

6. National parks and reserves

When visiting Sri Lanka you must check out the wildlife and national parks. The most popular is the Yala National park.

Elephants, leopards, birds and more all roam free in this park, which is situated in the southeast of Sri Lanka.

📸 PRO TIP: My go-to camera for all my travels is the Sony A7iii – I highly recommend it!

Some other national parks and reserves in Sri Lanka to visit are:

  • Minneriya
  • Horton Plains
  • Wilpattu
  • Pigeon Island
  • Sinharaja Forest Reserve
  • Gal Oya
  • Udawalawe
  • Wasgamuwa National Park
These activities are a must do in Sri Lanka, tall white temple building with a rounded bell shape tapering to a golden tipped point

7. Beautiful temples

Sri Lanka is a Buddhist country with over 70% of Sri Lankans practising Buddhism. You will find many temples and Buddhist statues all around the country.

One of the most striking and beautiful Buddhist temples is Unawatuna Peace Pagoda located just outside of Galle.

The location is beautiful and there are also many pristine beaches surrounding it too.

Both men and women must cover their knees and shoulders when visiting these temples, so one of the Sri Lanka packing essentials I always recommend is a scarf and at least one pair of light trousers.

🛌🏼 Click here to check out the best accommodation in Galle

Frequently Asked Questions

✅ How long to spend in Sri Lanka?

If you only plan on seeing 1 or 2 cities that are close together, then you can 3-5 days might be enough. But realistically, if you are planning a trip to Sri Lanka you will want to stay at least 10-12 days, and even then you might struggle to fit in everything you want to see and do.

✅ Which is the best month to visit Sri Lanka?

Any good Sri Lanka travel guide will tell you the best time to visit is December through April so you can enjoy the beach and get the most of out the cooler days. This is especially true if you are visiting the Cultural Triangle or the West and South coasts. If you are spending most of your time on the East coast, May through October is considered to be the best weather.

I hope you enjoyed this post and it helped you if you’re thinking of visiting Sri Lanka. There is so much to do and see in this beautiful country, so I urge you to visit! If there is anything you think this Sri Lanka travel guide missed, or you have any further questions, then leave them below!

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