Have you been wondering what do you need to know before visiting Sri Lanka? What are the things you should think about before planning your journey? When to visit this country? Do you need a visa to do so? What should you get vaccinated for? How to get around? Where to stay? What are the top things to do? Before you start creating your 3 week Sri Lanka itinerary make sure to check my blog post first. Here is all you need to know before travelling to Sri Lanka. Let’s learn more about the land of lush tea plantations!
WHEN TO GO?
You can travel to Sri Lanka all year round. There’s only one catch. Monsoon seasons. So the starting point before planning your trip is to understand these monsoon seasons, and basically to avoid them as much as possible. The north-east monsoon brings rain to the north-east of Sri Lanka from October to January and the south-western monsoon brings rain to the south-west of Sri Lanka between May and September.
During the monsoon season, you can get extensive rainfalls, as well as some sunny days. If you want to be sure that weather doesn’t suddenly turn awful, you need to plan your trip wisely to be in the right place at the right time. Hence, the best time to go to the north-east of Sri Lanka is from April to September and the best time to travel to the south-west of Sri Lanka is from December to March.
The mean annual temperature in Sri Lanka is about 25 – 30°C. If you plan your trip according to monsoon seasons, rainfalls shouldn’t ruin your holidays. However, temperature rapidly decreases in the central part of the island. So you can expect there around 15°C at night. Don’t forget to pack some warm clothes as well, especially if you plan on hiking in Sri Lanka. They will help you survive the unexpected cold.
HOW TO TRAVEL?
Emirates airline offers a variety of connections to Sri Lanka (Colombo) from numerous cities around the world with a layover in Dubai. An 18-hour stopover may seem not an ideal option, but I gave it a go even twice, flying out of Warsaw to Colombo and going back too. Thanks to that I spent two days in Dubai, saw the most famous tourist attractions and celebrated New Year’s Eve in Dubai too. I also made it to Sri Lanka in one piece and discovered the island step-by-step as included in this 3 week Sri Lanka itinerary.
Before travelling to Sri Lanka, be sure to check the current visa requirements on the official website of Department of Immigration and Emigration of Sri Lanka. Dependently on your nationality and purpose of your visit, you will be required to get a visa which may not be free of charge. Keep in mind that there is a certain time you can stay in Sri Lanka on certain visa (e.g. Polish tourists can stay in Sri Lanka for 30 days).
There is also a requirement that your passport needs to be valid for no less than 6 months from the date of arrival, you must have a confirmed return ticket and sufficient funds to meet the expenses during the stay. Based on my own experience, only the first thing was verified during passport control. Just simply follow the instructions on the above-mentioned website and you won’t have any issues with entering the country.
There is no requirement to get yourself vaccinated before visiting Sri Lanka. However, if I were you, I would consider getting vaccinated for hepatitis A, hepatitis B and tetanus. It’s worth doing, especially if you want to go travelling in Asia in the future too. Vaccinations are done according to certain scheme, so make sure to plan them accordingly. This may be tricky so a consultation with a healthcare professional is recommended.
Personally, I always travel with insurance. Check wisely what is included in a particular offer and choose the insurance that meets your needs. Verify what is the travel insurance excess and if there is any extreme or potentially dangerous activity that you need an extra cover for. It is also important to understand how insurance policy works in case of lost luggage. You never know what will happen during your trip.
The Sri Lankan Rupee (LKR) is the currency of Sri Lanka. You can easily exchange Euros (EUR) as well as American Dollars (USD) upon arrival at any exchange office at the airport. It’s crucial to have cash with yourself as paying by card is limited only to supermarkets and some restaurants in Sri Lanka.
You will notice a couple of Internet service providers at the airport in Sri Lanka. I went straight away to one of them and bought a new SIM card from DIALOG. Prices vary dependently on how much data you need. While travelling, I had to top-up my SIM card a few times and there were no issues with this. Internet worked quite good. I experienced having no reception only once, in the mountains, in central Sri Lanka.
There are two official languages in Sri Lanka: Sinhala and Tamil. Most people working in travel business speak English, but very often their proficiency is limited. Sometimes you will meet Sri Lankan whose English level is good enough to communicate and have a conversation about general topics. Other times, you will have to go out of your way, be more patient and improvise a bit. It shouldn’t be an issue after all.
HOW TO GET AROUND?
Public transport is the cheapest way to get around in Sri Lanka. Taking a bus or train is the best way to travel on budget and have fun at the same time. Just make sure that you have enough time to use public transport together with local people as it takes longer to commute on the bus than in tuk tuk. I used public transport almost every day in Sri Lanka and I sincerely recommend it. If you are not in a hurry of course.
Buses don’t go according to schedule. If you want to know what time the first or last bus goes, ask local people! There is no better source of information than Sri Lankan community. What I have also noticed is that buses go a bit faster than suggested by google maps. Trains, on the other hand, are a completely different story. They are usually delayed, but travel time is generally as declared by a service provider.
After a few days in Sri Lanka, you will discover that buses usually don’t stop at the bus stops. They only slow down. It means that you will have just a few seconds to make a decision, get on it and take the first free seat, if any. It may be problematic to get seated during rush hour. If that happens, just try to keep your balance. Bus ride in Sri Lanka is a real adventure. Just imagine a roller coaster ride. It’s almost the same!
Buses in Sri Lanka
Not once and not even twice, you will hear the following question: “Maybe tuk tuk?”. Tuk Tuk is a very common and convenient way to travel in Sri Lanka. Tuk tuk will get you to all those places where buses and trains don’t go. You can negotiate the price for a tuk tuk ride with a driver. However, it doesn’t mean that you will succeed. I had this feeling that Sri Lankan are not necessarily keen to negotiate.
Always agree on the price before you set out on your journey. Remember that the night ride will be more expensive. The same happens when the tuk tuk driver needs to wait for you. You can also ask about the tuk tuk in the place you’re going to stay overnight. They may have better rates than you could get on the street. Below you can find the standard rates (January 2020). Negotiate to the rates established for tourists.
For local people: 25 LKR is the basic fee and 25 LKR is the kilometer price
For tourists: 50 LKR is the basic fee and 50 LKR is the kilometer price
Tuk tuk in Sri Lanka
You can also get around with Uber in Sri Lanka. The truth is that I used Uber only once but based on this experience, I can say that prices are reasonable. I paid 400 LKR for a 9-kilometre ride with Uber in January 2020. It’s a good alternative when you have to get somewhere quickly, for instance to the airport.
WHERE TO STAY?
What you need to know about Sri Lanka is that accommodation is quite cheap. My aim was to spend no more than 1300 LKR – 1850 LKR per person for a night. For that money, I was able to get myself a decent room in a guesthouse or homestead with breakfast included. You don’t have to stress too much about making reservations. I booked accommodation on booking.com two days or even one day in advance. Fun fact is that usually there are no shower cabins in bathrooms. No big drama. You will get used to it.
WHAT TO CONSIDER BEFORE BOOKING ACCOMMODATION?
- free wi-fi access
- hot water in bathroom
- air-conditioning in the room (it is essential everywhere besides the central part of the island where temperature decreases to 15°C at night)
- mosquito net in the room (you will be fine without it but mosquitos can be a pain sometimes)
- breakfast included
Room for 1300 LKR – 1850 LKR per person in Sri Lanka (breakfast included)
WHAT TO DO?
There are plenty of reasons to love Sri Lanka. My top ones are pristine nature, wildlife biodiversity and cultural heritage. If you are a keen hiker, nature lover and you don’t need more than a sandy beach to get relaxed, Sri Lanka will be a perfect travel destination for you. This country is so diverse that you can do something different every day. No chance to be bored. I’m sure you will fall in love with this place too.
This is all you need to know before visiting Sri Lanka. Now it’s time to plan your trip. Be sure to check out my 3 week Sri Lanka itinerary with real travel cost and travel map. I also wrote detailed blog posts about each week of my journey that include information what is worth seeing in Sri Lanka and why, tips how to get around and cost breakdown. I listed them below. Enjoy your stay in Sri Lanka to the fullest!
- Sri Lanka: top things to do [week 1]
- Sri Lanka: worth doing [week 2]
- Sri Lanka: must see places [week 3]
This is all you need to know before travelling to Sri Lanka. How will you get around? By bus or by train? Will you use tuk tuk? Let me know by leaving a comment below!