Sri Lanka Complete Travel Guide

Arugam Bay, Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is a great country to visit. There’s so much to do, and a huge diversity among the different places to visit. From beaches to mountains and millennium-old temples, Sri Lanka has a lot to offer.

Here’s everything you need to go before visiting Sri Lanka


Planning your itinerary

If you want to fully explore Sri Lanka you’ll need 4 to 6 weeks depending on how fast/slow you like to travel.

If you like beaches and surfing, head to Southern Sri Lanka, following the coastline going south from Colombo, to Galle, then towards Matara and Tangalle, and finally to Yala National Park to see elephants and leopards. You can also make a detour to Sinharaja, Sri Lanka’s last primary rainforest.

If you like trekking you can do a loop through the central mountains, from Colombo go to Kandy, take the train to Nuwara Eliya then Ella, with a stop to Horton Plains and finish by climbing the holy Adam’s Peak.

If you’re more into culture then the cultural triangle is for you. Rich of its 2500 years of history, this area is home to many treasures.  First Kandy the religious capital where precious relics are kept. Then Dambulla and its ancient cave temple. Sigiriya, the ancient capital and rock fortress. Finally, Polonnaruwa, Anuradhapura, and Mihintale, are archaeological jewels. From there, you can also visit Kaudulla National Park if you want to see elephants.

Before heading back, make sure to shop for some souvenirs from Sri Lanka at one of the many markets you’ll find across the country.

There are so many temples to visit in Sri Lanka, most are located within the cultural triangle.

Many people traveling in Sri Lanka go through a local-based agency that takes care of everything: planning the itinerary, booking the accommodations, and providing a car with a driver. If you like to be comfortable, it’s your best option, at least hire a driver to take you around.

Keep in mind when planning your trip that Sri Lankan roads are often in bad conditions and always congested. Count 30 km (20 miles) per hour.


Out-of-the-beaten-path destinations

Sri Lanka in itself is pretty much an out-of-the-beaten path destination, so it’s relatively easy to visit amazing places unknown to most tourists. The entire northern part and Jaffna peninsula barely get any visitors. The north is full of protected areas, perfect if you like trekking and wildlife watching, especially birds.

If you like adventure, Dambulla is a good base to explore the surrounding jungle, and Kaludiya Pokuna, a Buddhist monastery abandoned a couple of centuries ago and left in ruins.

Between Dambulla and Kandy, you’ll find Nalanda Gedige a temple whose architecture remains a mystery.


Sri Lankan food

If you like spicy food, you’re in for a treat. Sri Lankan food is so tasty, they use a lot of different spices making their dishes delicious.

Vegetarians will be happy there, as Buddhists are not supposed to eat any animals, it’s super easy to find vegetarian options.

The dish you’ll find everywhere is rice and curry, plain rice with a couple of other dishes, depending on the restaurant. Another favorite is Kothu, a type of flatbread thinly sliced and served with vegetable, cheese, and meat.

Roti is also usually really good, from one region to another, you’ll never get the same thing. In the south, it’s like a crepe filled with sliced vegetables. I discover later that roti means bread, explaining why it can be so different. In any case, it was always delicious.

The samosas are usually also really good when freshly baked.


Transportation in Sri Lanka

It’s really easy to go around in Sri Lanka, there will always be a bus going where you want to go, as long as it’s during the daytime. If you like comfort, you’re going to have a shock taking the bus in Sri Lanka. Taking the bus in Sri Lanka you’ll learn: to love human contact, especially in hot weather and without AC, to appreciate being deaf after listening to super loud local music, and best of all, you’ll improve your taste in ultra cheesy curtains, seat covers, and paintings.

In some parts of the country, you can take the train, it goes even slower than the bus if that’s even possible. First-class tickets can be booked online, for the second and third classes you’ll need to go to the train station. “This wagon is full” takes another sense once you’ve taken the train in Sri Lanka.

The country is home to one of the most beautiful train journeys in the world: the Ella to Kandy train route, so make sure to try to book tickets in advance!

For short distances you can hire a tuk-tuk, outside of Colombo they don’t use a meter, so agree on the price first and don’t hesitate to bargain.


Weather in Sri Lanka

There are two seasons in Sri Lanka: dry and rainy, and east and west are on different schedules. The rainy season on the east coast and some northern areas is from October to February. On the west coast and the south, the rainy season is from May to September.

Average temperatures are between 25° to 30° Celcius. The humidity level is pretty high.

Being a female solo traveler in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is not the easiest country to travel to for female solo travelers. With good judgment and a few tricks you should be fine:

  • Don’t go out alone after 8-9 pm
  • Wear a wedding ring and always say you’re married.
  • Keep in mind that relationships between men and women are almost nonexistent outside of the family. Be polite but don’t be friendly, it might be misinterpreted.

I’m not saying every man is a rapist but you should always be careful and trust your instincts.

Sri Lanka travel guides