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Sri Lanka Travel Guide: All you need to know to visit Sri Lanka in 2022

Welcome to Sri Lanka

Nicknamed The Pearl of The Indian Ocean and The Teardrop of India, Sri Lanka is a small island nation in Southeast Asia, in the Indian Ocean. If you plan to visit Sri Lanka you won't regret it, as the country is host to some astounding biodiversity and natural beauty, as well as world-famous tea, world-class surfing, and mouth-watering (spicy) food.

While planning your trip, it's helpful to know what to expect and have some professional guidance to avoid any unwanted surprises. Read our ultimate Sri Lanka travel guide for our top tips and recommendations.

COVID restrictions in Sri Lanka

Document checklist for Sri Lanka

  • Valid Sri Lanka visa

  • Valid passport (at least 6 months beyond length of stay)

  • Digital passport style photo

Essential Sri Lanka travel information

  • Currency - Sri Lankan Rupee (Rs.). $1 is equivalent to approx. Rs.363.

  • Daily budget for 1 person - Allow a daily budget of Rp.18,000 ($50).

  • Languages - Sinhala and Tamil are both official languages in Sri Lanka. English is used as a link language.

  • Top 3 cities to visit - Colombo, Galle, and Anuradhapura.

  • Top 3 landmarks/monuments - Sigiriya, Jetavanaramaya, and the Yala National Park.

  • Socket type - Types D and G, 230V supply voltage and 50Hz.

  • Time zone - Indian Standard Time: ET +9.5.

Visa information for Sri Lanka

If you are not a Sri Lankan citizen, you will need a visa to visit Sri Lanka. iVisa currently provides both the Sri Lanka Tourist ETA and the Sri Lanka Business ETA. Both of these are eVisas and you can apply directly online, rather than having to visit a Sri Lankan embassy or consulate.

Sri Lanka Tourist ETA explained

This Sri Lanka travel guide will provide the basics for your Sri Lanka visit. For detailed information on how to apply for a visa and the requirements, please read our Sri Lanka ETA page.

Luckily, United States citizens are eligible to apply for Sri Lanka’s ETA and can complete the application in 3 easy steps online. If you choose to apply with us you can have your visa in as fast as 24 hours and we will email the final document to you. This is a double-entry visa and allows for a maximum stay of 30 days per visit.

Sri Lanka Business ETA explained

The Sri Lanka Business ETA is also a double-entry visa, and is valid for 90 days. It can be used to attend business meetings, conferences, and other business-related travel to Sri Lanka. Find more information on how to apply on the Sri Lanka Business ETA page.

Typical costs and budget for Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is a very affordable country for most visitors. Your biggest expense will be accommodation, and value for money is generally great. Local cuisine is cheaper, but if you prefer to stick to a western diet expect to pay more Sri Lankan Rupee.

  • Daily spending - Around Rp.18000 ($50)/per person/per day on a budget vacation. This includes:

  • Meals - Rp.200 - 300 for local Sri Lankan food and Rp.600 - 900 for a meal at a tourist restaurant. Fine dining would cost you about Rp.1,000 for a meal.

  • Transport - Around Rp.190 for a train ticket in second class, depending on the length of the trip.

  • Hotel - Around Rp.3,000 - 3,500 for a mid range double room.

Transport and best ways to travel around Sri Lanka

Because Sri Lanka is a relatively small island, the distances between each city or popular locations are short, making it easy to travel around. But be prepared for some delays and possible long waits as the roads are narrow, windy and bumpy.

You have the option to discover Sri Lanka by train or bus if you want to travel on a budget. To avoid delays and add a bit more comfort you can also hire a car and driver for long distance journeys, or travel with a taxi or tuk-tuk within towns.

Safety in Sri Lanka

Make sure to stay up to date with any developments in terms of protests and recent civil unrest in Sri Lanka by checking the news and your governments travel advice.

While traveling, we advise you to ask locals or any hotel staff for advice on safety in the area of Sri lanka you are staying in, and follow it wisely. Violent crime against travelers or foreigners is infrequent, but here are a few safety recommendations to follow for your vacation Sri Lanka:

  • Do not disrespect religious practice or culture: Shoes off when visiting temples and never touch a monk, especially as a woman, or on the head.

  • If you take a photo of a Buddhist statue make sure everyone in the photo is facing the statue, turning your back on one is seen as disrespectful.

  • Ask before taking photos of people or certain high status places.

  • Don't drink the tap water, buy bottled water and avoid ice in drinks.

  • If you take a tuk-tuk or taxi make sure the driver starts the meter before you agree to travel, or simply agree on a price beforehand.

Weather in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka sits in the Indian Ocean and hosts a tropical climate consisting of only two distinct seasons, a wet and dry season. In the coastal regions of the country the temperatures average around 28°C (82°F) and inland you’ll find more temperate, pleasant and cooler temperatures with a yearly average of around 16-20°C (60-68°F).

Popular cities and towns in Sri Lanka

Here is a Sri Lanka travel guide of the most popular places to visit:

  • Colombo - The capital city of Sri Lanka, and full of history including the National History Museum and the Dutch Museum.

  • Galle - Full of unimaginable beauty, a haven of temples, beautiful churches, and the ancient Galle Fort, one of Sri Lanka’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

  • Kandy - Considered to be Sri Lanka's cultural capital, surrounded by forested hills and picturesque colorful houses.

  • Anuradhapura - A city established around 900 BC, with many archeological sites to visit and enjoy.

  • Negombo - If you're into beaches this is the perfect spot to go and chill out in the sun.

Must do and see when you visit Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is thriving with beautiful national parks, full of wildlife and incredible scenery. Here are a few more of the best things to do in Sri Lanka:

  • 1. Discover Yala National Park, known for the conservation of Sri Lankan elephants, Sri Lankan leopards, and aquatic birds. You'll be able to go on a safari in the Yala National Park and enjoy a huge variety of wild animals.

  • 2. Visit Anuradhapura, one of the ancient capitals of Sri Lanka.

  • 3. Climb Sigiriya, one of Sri Lanka's seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites. A rock-top fortress built in the fifth century AD is located here. As a royal palace and Buddhist monastery at the same time, it has a more spiritual atmosphere than militant one.

  • 4. Visit the tea plantation where Sir Thomas Lipton launched his tea empire. Arrange transport to Lipton's Seat, Mr Lipton's favorite spot for watching over his empire, to see where it all began.

  • 5. Ride the train to Ella. The Hill Country rail route is arguably Sri Lanka's most beautiful train ride. During the iconic 3-4 hour trip from Nuwara Eliya, your feet will hang from the carriage doorways while you take in the views.

Typical Sri Lankan food to try

  • Fish ambul thiyal (sour fish curry) - The delicious food of Sri Lanka is heavily influenced by seafood, as you might expect from an island in the Indian Ocean. Among the many different types of fish curries available, fish ambul thiyal (sour fish curry) is one of the most popular. The main ingredient is dried goraka, a small fruit that gives the fish its sour taste.

  • Kottu - When you hear metal clanking at a Sri Lankan market, you know kottu isn't far away. Sri Lankans love this dish, it’s their go-to fast food when they want something tasty and greasy. Kottu is similar to fried rice, except that it is made with godamba roti, a flat, crispy bread.

  • Kukul mas curry - This chicken curry is a common household dish in Sri Lanka because it is easy to make. Depending on the region and taste preferences, there are many variations. During the stewing process, the spices are infused into the chicken. The best way to enjoy this dish is with hot rice and roti.

  • Hoppers (appa or appam) - Sri Lankan pancakes are called hoppers. A mix of rice flour, coconut milk, and sugar makes the batter. In a small wok, batter is swirled around to make it even. Hoppers can be sweet or savory, but egg hoppers are a local favorite. An egg is cracked into the bowl-shaped pancake, Sri Lanka’s version of "egg in the hole".

Vaccine Information for Sri Lanka

A yellow fever vaccination certificate is required for travelers aged 9 months or over, arriving from countries with risk of yellow fever transmission and for travelers having transited for more than 12 hours through an airport of a country with risk of yellow fever transmission. For further info about which vaccinations you need, please check the CDC health advice for Sri Lanka.

Fun facts about Sri Lanka

Find out fun facts about Sri Lanka that you can use to impress your friends at your next trivia night:

  • 1. Sri Lanka is also called the ‘teardrop of India’, due to its perfect teardrop shape and being off the coast of India.

  • 2. The national sport of Sri Lanka is volleyball, which was introduced in 1916.

  • 3. Thanks to the country's waterfalls and rivers, over 50% of electricity in Sri Lanka is generated by Hydropower.

  • 4. Originally from Sri Lanka, cinnamon was discovered by the Egyptians in 2000 BC, who used it for spices, as well as perfume in embalming, as well as as a spice. Sri Lanka still produces 80-90% of the world's cinnamon.

  • 5. One of the ancient capitals of Sri Lanka, Anuradhapura, is home to the world's oldest human-planted tree. This sacred fig tree was planted around 288 BCE.

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