Sri Lanka Travel Guide 2019: When To Go, How To Get Around & How Much To Budget

by stephmylifetravel

Travelling around Sri Lanka is an exciting, interesting, fun and enjoyable experience – but planning a trip there can be  quite the opposite! Here’s the only travel guide you’ll need to plan your trip to Sri Lanka

When I was organising our trip to Sri Lanka it struck me just how hard it was to find out all of the information I needed. Bus and train timetables were impossible to track down, I couldn’t find out where to stay, or what I needed to budget. Immediately after we left the country I vowed I would write a post containing everything I learned while planning the trip and making our way around the country.

So here it is – the ultimate travel guide to Sri Lanka! Everything you need to know when planning your trip around Sri Lanka. Travel, eat and drink with the locals, and completely immerse yourself in Sri Lankan culture.

Don’t forget to read my 10-day itinerary and budget.

Quick Links

When Is The Best Time To Visit Sri Lanka?

Sri Lanka Travel Guide

The top of Ella Rock

There are two monsoon seasons in Sri Lanka which affect different parts of the country: the south-west coast the monsoon season runs from May to September, and the east-coast and north it runs between October and February.

For the rest of the year the weather is dry and sunny throughout the country, with temperatures reaching up to 30 degrees in coastal regions and 18 in the highlands.

We visited in September, when the popular beach areas in the south and south west were still being hit with monsoons. We stuck mainly to the highland areas where the weather was better and we had sunshine for the whole trip.

Do I Need A Visa For Sri Lanka?

Sri Lanka offers a Visa On Arrival (VOA) to visitors from most countries which gives you 30 days in the country. If you want to stay longer you will need to extend your visa in Colombo.

How to apply: You can either wait until you enter the country to get a VOA or else apply online and skip the queues.

Fees: 35USD if you apply online at the above link, or 40USD if you get your VOA at the airport or port.

Limitations: You need to provide proof of onward travel to enter Sri Lanka – you will either be asked to provide this at check in or when boarding your flight.

Read my guide to Visas requirements across all South East Asian Countries.

What Currency Do They Use?

The Sri Lankan currency is the Rupee (LKR), but you can pay for some things in USD like entry fees to attractions. You can find money changers in Colombo and popular tourist areas, but like anywhere else in SE Asia, the usual scams can be found here so be very careful when changing money.

ATM’s are pretty easy to find, although they won’t be everywhere so it’s always good to have enough cash with you. We mainly carried Rupee and had around $100 each in cash for entry fees.

We’ve come across so many scams on our travels that we never use money changers and instead use our Transferwise cards which give us great rates around the world.

What Should I Do When I Arrive In Sri Lanka?

Sri Lanka Travel Guide

Waiting for the train in Sri Lanka

To get from the Airport to your guesthouse use the app Pick Me, Sri Lanka’s version of Uber. There will be taxis and buses available outside of arrivals, but these will cost quite a bit more and you also have the stress of having to haggle for your fare. Download Pick Me before your flight and you can get a fairly-priced taxi once you land.

We flew into Colombo Bandaranayake International Airport on the west coast of Sri Lanka, which is the most popular point of entry for tourists as it’s easy to get to the beaches and the highlands from here.

There is storage at Colombo airport where you can leave your bag for a small fee. We do this a lot if we’re in a country for less than 2 weeks – it’s cheap and makes travelling around a lot easier.If you’re travelling by local bus and train you’ll want to have as little stuff as possible so I definitely recommend leaving things here if you can.

How Do I Get Around?

There are many ways to get around Sri Lanka depending on how much time and money you have.

Hire a driver

Many travellers we met hired a driver for their whole stay. This is the most expensive option, but it allows you to travel at your leisure.  While is is undoubtedly more comfortable and convenient, public transport journeys were some of the best and most memorable parts of our trip.  I would have hated to miss them! You can hire a driver through a tour company online, or through your accommodation once you arrive in Sri Lanka,

Take the train

Sri Lanka Travel Guide

The train ride back to Colombo

Travelling by train around Sri Lanka was the highlight of our trip. Although it takes longer than hiring a driver, I still would choose to take the train. Our favourite train ride was the famous journey between Kandy and Ella, which you can read about here.

There are three classes of train travel, and we mostly opted for third class seats as the were the cheapest fare. One thing to be aware of is that there are two types of third class ticket – unreserved and reserved. Unreserved 3rd class tickets can be bought at a train station on the day and are usually the last tickets available. These do not guarantee you a seat and the carriages are usually packed full of people – there was even a band on the train we were on. Third class reserved tickets guarantee you an assigned seat in a carriage where no one is allowed to stand. When you’re on a train for 6 hours this will make a big difference!

I would highly recommend you to book your tickets before you go so that you don’t end up with third class unreserved seats. We booked ours through 12Go.Asia.

To find out more about timetables, prices and how to book trains in Sri lanka visit ‘The Man In Seat 61‘ which is the best site for information about train travel. Mark Smith, who started the website as a hobby, writes incredibly detailed and informative reviews of train journeys around the world. We use it every time we need to travel by train and it was particularly helpful for our trips to Sri Lanka (and great for India too!).

Hop on a local bus

For journeys that couldn’t be done by train we took local buses instead. These are super cheap(less than a dollar) and a great way to meet local people and catch a glimpse of day to day life!

Catching a bus in Sri Lanka is a very interesting experience! Bus stops are often not marked with a sign so you have to ask around to find out where to stand, and many, many buses will pass you before the right one eventually comes along. If you ask when the next bus is due you often get met with a blank stare and told to wait and it will turn up. The experience is a lot of fun though and it will save you so much money.

For shorter journeys, take a taxi

The Pick Me app is the Sri Lankan version of Uber and is great for getting around cities and towns cheaply. This app takes away the hassle of haggling with cab drivers. It gives you a set price for each fare which you can pay by card in the app, or in cash at the end of your trip.

How Much Should I Budget?

Sri Lanka can be a really cheap country to travel around. Lunch can be found for a dollar, a double room for under $10, while a local bus is only $0.50. However entry fees can kill your budget as they cost up to $30 per person. For this reason I wouldn’t just visit anything for the sake of it.

Click here to read about where we went and what we spent during our 10 days in Sri Lanka.

Daily Budget In Sri Lanka

Accommodation: $10-15 per night for a basic double room en suite with breakfast.

Food: $10 per day per person for lunch, dinner and water. You can easily eat for $5-7 in cheaper areas for local food. You will pay up to $15 per day if you eat western food.

Alcohol: A bottle of Lion beer costs $2 and wine or cocktails will set you back $4/5 per glass. Prices vary wildly depending but the way to find the cheapest alcohol is to drink where the locals drink.

Transport: Travel by local bus or train for less than a dollar. We averaged around $4 per day for transport.

Entry fees: You will find a complete list of entry fees to the different attractions here. Pick and choose whichever you can fit into your budget.

That’s everything you need to know about planning your trip to Sri Lanka! If you have any questions for me, let me know in the comments below.

Thanks for reading!

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ajeesh kumar January 15, 2019 - 7:32 am

Great article. You explained a full detailed budget for the Sri Lanka trip. From now I can able to plan my own budget. Thanks for sharing.

Eldho Roy June 6, 2022 - 8:29 am

I never heard about Tourist destinations in Srilanka


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