Travelling in Sri Lanka: Everything you need to know before you travel

Sri Lanka – aka the paradise isle – you’re sure to find out why after spending some time travelling in the country. With it’s crystal clear waters, palm-fringed beaches, chilled out, friendly locals and exploring adventures gallore, it’s a dream destination that’s hot at the top of bucket lists RN.

But going in stone cold can make travelling in Sri Lanka a bit overwhelming, especially if you only have a short time in the country. So there’s a few things you’ll need to know before you travel. Whether you’re headed there for a short 8 day trip, or planning to stay for a few months, I’ve got the lowdown on all pre-travel info and top tips to help you get a little warmed up.

In this post I’ll cover visa information, my top 3 pre-travel questions (answered!) and other top tips to help you plan your trip efficiently.


Visas

First off, before you even hop on the aeroplane, you’ll need this. So we’ll start here. If you are a British Citizen, you will require a visa to visit Sri Lanka. And the good news is, it’s super easy to get one! Sri Lanka run the tourist E-visa system meaning you can apply and pay online and be issued a tourist visa within a day or even hours. Granted you meet all the visa requirements of course. It will cost you $35 USD and is valid for 30 days – you’ll just need to fill in the relevant forms online HERE. Not a British citizen? Check out the Sri Lanka tourist visa info on the embassy website HERE.


My top 3 pre-travel questions: ANSWERED

  • #1 How do I extend my Sri Lanka tourist visa?

If you want to stay longer than 30 days, you’ll need to apply for a visa extension in person at the immigration office in Colombo. Although you need to do this in person in Colombo, it’s pretty easy. We found the below blog post really useful, so be sure to check it out if you want to extend your Sri Lankan tourist visa. My one piece of advice to add to the below piece, is to get there are 8am, as you can get a ticket from then onwards and therefore start the process sooner.

Here is the blog to check out for detailed visa extension information: How to Extend A Sri Lanka Tourist Visa

  • #2 Whats the best way to travel around in Sri Lanka?

Turns out there’s heaps of options! And here they are…

  • Taxis

UBER (in Colombo)

This is available in Colombo only, but it’s by far the best way to get around Colombo. For more information, see my post on Colombo: An Essential Guide To The City Hustle.

PRIVATE TAXIS

Are relatively cheap for the distance they go, but if you’re on a budget and time is on your side, local transport will be a much better option. Saying that, you can also get shared taxis if you have surfboards so be sure to ask around for prices. If you want a shared taxi to Arugam Bay from Colombo check out Bunkyard Hostels as they offer the cheapest transport we’ve seen for only 3000 LKR pp… including a surfboard.

  • Train

Travel by train is easy and cheap, but trains can get full especially on popular routes during peak tourist periods such as Christmas time and the UK/Europe summer holidays in July and August. For more information about where you can travel by train in Sri Lanka, check out this Sri Lanka train map at Seat 61, my go-to resource for planning train journeys across the world!

  • Local Bus

I won’t lie, I was TERRIFIED to get the bus before our first journey. They drive so fast and pretty much rule the roads in Sri Lanka. However, they are also cheap and connect most towns and villages to one another. There’s few places you can’t go on the bus, which is why they come recommended particularly in the areas where there are no train routes (such as the north east of Sri Lanka).

  • Tuktuk (local travel)

Tuktuks are easy to get around for short journeys. Just be sure to agree a price before you travel and look for a guideline online first for how much you should be paying (we generally ask our hosts at our accommodation for a guideline first as well so we know we aren’t being completely ripped off). Its also a good idea to roughly know how many kilometres you’ll be travelling to gauge if the price you are quoted sounds about right which you’ll get used to as you travel around the country.

If you’re planning a trip in Sri Lanka, be sure to check out Rome2rio; my fave app for across-country travel.

  • #3 Should we stay in Colombo or north of the city in Negombo?

We decided to stay in Colombo and I’m so glad we did! So many people opt to stay in Negombo before or after a flight, but with a burgeoning scene of tucked away coffee shops and awesome hangouts in Colombo, you’re sure to love chilling out in this city.


The 9 Best Hipster Hangouts in Colombo


The essentials; Food, water, dress code & surfboards

  • Dress code

Sri Lanka is a melting pot of religions and generations, meaning that across the country the dress code can change. As a female traveller I’d recommend dressing in lightweight and modest clothes when going to any rural villages or towns, especially if you are exploring off the beaten track otherwise you will attract more stares. In Colombo and more of the beach areas where tourists go often, wearing shorts for example, is more acceptable. If you’re into hiking and/or yoga, I’d recommend to bring some yoga leggings and a sports bra/top as well.

  • Travelling with surfboards

Is really easy! It’s simple to travel on trains with surfboards while heading to the south coast and through the central regions. However if you are going up north and north east I’d recommend dropping off your boards in Colombo and leaving them at your hostel unless you want to pay for private taxis on your longer trips (as you will need to get the bus from places like Jaffna to Trincomalee as there are no train links).

If you do travel with surfboards, the best ways to travel are train, private taxi (for long distance journeys which have no train connections) and tuktuk (for local journeys). Most tuktuk drivers will have some kind of ropes or straps in surf towns like Arugam Bay and Weligama, but we recommend to come prepared with your own straps.

  • Malaria & Jabs

At time of writing the CDC are advising that you won’t need Malaria tablets. However, with much of Sri Lanka being covered in jungle, there are a lot of mosquitos. If you are bitten often (like I am!) then make sure you have good insect repellent and buy a mosquito coil and lighter when you arrive – this will become your prized possession. Check with your travel doctor for vaccines you might need for travelling in Sri Lanka. You can also check the CDC website here (this is my go-to resource for pre-travel medical research before seeing my doctor).

  • The Food – What to Expect

Expect lots of coconut curries, Dahl based foods and these incredible things called hoppers. Once you try a hopper (string hoppers or egg hoppers or plain hoppers – so many options!) you will not want to go one day without gobbling them up. Oh and lots of rice!

  • Water

Unless your hostel, guesthouse or air b’n’b sources water direct from the well and have told you it’s fine to drink the tap water then DON’T. If your accommodation has a water refill station you can BYO reusable bottle. Unfortunately a lot of places still don’t have this facility so you will need to buy bottled water. Help reduce your plastic consumption by buying 5 litre bottles and refilling your reusable ones!


Other top tips

  • Taking the local bus…

Is cheap and easy! If you are departing from a bus station at the beginning of a route, get there early and take a seat on the left hand side (which are 2 seaters). Make sure your window opens and you’ll have a comfortable ride!

  • Keep your train ticket

Weirdly, on most Sri Lankan trains you don’t show your ticket on the train. You show it to get into the station and get out at the other end. So, basically don’t chuck your ticket away once you are nearing your station because you WILL need it to get out.

  • Plug sockets

This is the best picture to describe plug sockets in Sri Lanka… because unlike other countries in the world, they use a variety of sockets which usually don’t require an adaptor (brill!). If you are going to bring an adaptor then bring a 2 prong EU adaptor.

  • Supermarkets

In supermarkets, big and small, you’ll be asked to leave your bag and scooter helmet if you have one at the entrance. Just take anything valuable out of your bag before leaving it. We haven’t had any issues personally with leaving our belongings with the security guard.

  • Buying alcohol

Is not possible in a normal supermarket, you’ll need to go to a liquor store. If you have any glass beer bottles be sure to return them and as an incentive you’ll receive a discount on your next purchase, in the effort to recycle and reuse old glass beer bottles.

  • Ayubowan – Hello

  • Istuti – Thank you

  • Ow – Yes

  • Naa – No

  • Hari rasai – Delicious

A few local greetings for you!

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More from Sri Lanka

Pindurangala Rock: How To Do Sigiriya A Bit Differently

The Ultimate Guide to Surfing & Adventures in Arugam Bay

Sri Lanka: 12 Awesome Adventures that’ll make you want to go RN

Not all the information you were looking for?

Feel free to leave a comment below and I’ll try to help.

Until next time, happy adventuring! L x

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2 Comments

  1. April 27, 2019 / 8:10 pm

    Sri Lanka is awesome ☺
    Thanks for your guide by the way, good writing.

    • Lou Burton
      Author
      May 1, 2019 / 8:18 pm

      Thanks Rihana, I’m stoked it was useful for you! L x

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