Sri Lanka travel, for single, couple and family travellers. All our Sri Lanka blog posts, tips, advice, essentials and recommendations in one blog page.
You’re probably new to World Travel Family and won’t have followed our travel blog around Sri Lanka in 2016. This page ties information together, easier for you to find for your Sri Lanka holiday. Just follow the links on this page. All the information and tips here are free for you to use. For more detailed advice and planning, you may need our consultancy service.
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Why Write About Sri Lanka? Our Sri Lanka Experience
In November 2014 we completed a month in Sri Lanka, our third visit, our first with kids.
It was our first time visiting Sri Lanka on a tight budget, backpacking, on previous visits we’ve had a lot more cash to spend and structured our vacations accordingly.
We know Sri Lanka from multiple travel styles. We held our wedding in Sri Lanka and have also enjoyed couple vacations and diving trips, pre-kids.
In 2016 we returned to Sri Lanka for a month, this time visiting some beautiful boutique and luxury hotels, as well as getting around more of the island by backpacking using public transport, exploring for new destinations, including Jaffna and Sri Lanka’s east coast.
We know the island pretty well and know that some perceive the destination as challenging. Trust me, it’s not, we have had very few problems and a heap of great experiences in Sri Lanka.
Costs of Travel to Sri Lanka
How much Sri Lanka costs depends on you.
Sri Lanka worked out cheapest country on our 12 month budget round-the-world trip, we certainly managed to stay under our $50/day goal. Food was very cheap if you ate in the right places and accommodation and transport were incredibly good value. We mention the guest houses we use in the posts specific to that destination.
Sometimes we tour Sri Lanka on a tight budget using small guest houses but we also stay in some luxurious and beautiful hotels and villas. We can highly recommend Lighthouse Hotel near Galle for couples, families, foodies and beach lovers. We got married there, it was very special.
Taking guided tours and paying admission costs to the big attractions quickly eats into your cash, admission costs are relatively high in Sri Lanka. We had a wonderful time on our budget trip and didn’t feel any need to see and do everything, you can cut costs by not visiting all the big sites. There is easily enough to do in Sri Lanka without spending the big bucks.
That said, on a global scale, even if you go for the luxury end of the market Sri Lanka is a destination with bargains to be had. If you’re not watching your finances and used to western prices, you’ll probably not worry at all about costs.
Hotels, Villas, Guest Houses and Hostels in Sri Lanka
Top End. Some of the luxury resort hotels and villas we’ve tested out in Sri Lanka and recommend. Just click through on the names below for more information.
The Max Wadiya Villa, Ambalangoda, East Coast. A beach-side, relaxing, foodie paradise.
Templeberg Villa, Galle, South. Secluded jungle home, amazing dining experience.
Eden Resort and Spa, Golden Mile, East Coast. Family beach-side resort.
The Paradise Resort and Spa Dambulla, Cultural Triangle. Stunning base for exploring central Sri Lanka.
Mid-Range. Family hotels with pools and all the usual facilities are abundant in Sri Lanka. Whatever style of accommodation you need, you will find. Agoda is a very good place to start your hotel search if you plan to book in advance, in high season or if you have very specific needs, maybe just for peace of mind, we would always recommend pre-booking. Sri Lanka is getting busier and busier these days. Agoda are without doubt number 1 for booking all kinds of accommodation in Asia, we use them every time and have no reservations ( see what I did ?) in recommending them. Their customer service is superb and you can collect valuable reward points to use against future stays.
Budget. Truly budget backpacker guest houses are getting rarer in Sri Lanka as tourism booms and accommodation providers go more up-market. Again, we would recommend booking through Agoda ( see above), but it is still possible to just turn up and go knocking on doors to find a bargain. At peak periods expect many places to be full. Sri Lanka is in no way undiscovered as some would suggest.
You can use our link to start your hotel search in Sri Lanka
We totally recommend Agoda for hotel bookings, they are superb and Asia specialists.
Best Beach Destinations in Sri Lanka
*NEW* we now have a full post on Sri Lanka Beaches, or see highlights below.
Mirissa is our personal favourite beach destination, beyond Galle in the far south. Mirissa Beach Sri Lanka Paradise Found tells you more about this beach side village and mentions a selection of recommended hotes and guest houses. We have a guide to Mirissa hotels and guest houses here. Best Cheap Family Accommodation,Mirissa Sri Lanka (affordable-mid)
Here’s a very nice, affordable, maybe even budget, villa on a secluded cove not too far from the airport. BalapityaBeach, Relaxed Family Villa Sri Lanka.
The Golden Mile
Famous for expanses of sand, less surf and resort hotels, we tried Eden Resort and Spa Beach Side Resort Beruwela (mid-luxury)
Ambalangoda isn’t too far from the airport and if you enjoy beach-side luxury, check out The Max Wadiya Villa Ultimate Relaxation (luxury)
Best Cultural Destinations in Sri Lanka
The Golden triangle is where you’ll find Sri Lanka’s key historic sites. You’ll either need to base yourself up here or visit them from Kandy. This resort hotel is superb. Paradise Resort and Spa for Dambulla, Sigiriya and Cultural Triangle
Anuradhapura, a magical ancient city and home to a Bo tree descended from Buddha’s and thought to be 2000 years old. Visiting the ancient city of Anuradhapura
Sri Lanka Tours
Some visit Sri Lanka independently and make travel arrangements as they go, some book tours. Both are easy to do, before departure or after arrival. We’ll help you with getting around Sri Lanka, how to do it and where to go, below
Before we start on the independent travel information for Sri Lanka, I want to share a resource with you that could simplify your trip no end. It’s a website we’ve used, but not as yet for Sri Lanka, the number of tours they offer, from one day to a week and more is phenomenal. They offer private airport transfers, food tours, guided visits, internal bus connections. This is gold! Click through and check it out here. I’m massively impressed with what you can organise in Sri Lanka before you’ve even left home.
Best Time to Visit Sri Lanka
This little island has a double monsoon system, so picking the best time to visit Sri Lanka can be complex and entirely depends on which parts of the island you are visiting.
Luckily for us, it means that there is always somewhere on the island with good weather at any time of year.
Temperatures remain fairly steady year round, but you will see a big differential between coastal resorts ( high 20s to mid 30s) and the high hill country ( up to 20 degrees Celsius) .
The temperature in Kandy is normally around 20 degrees C.
In general, the SOUTH WEST COAST and HILL COUNTRY receive the heaviest rain from April to June. the EAST COAST is wettest in November and December. In between these two monsoons, the inter-monsoon rains bring thunderstorms ANYWHERE in October and November. This means the driest times are December to March for EAST, SOUTH and HILL COUNTRY and April to September for the EAST COAST.
I did warn you that it was complex!
In our experience rain is extremely unpredictable, we’ve had great weather and bad weather at the same times of different years.
How To Travel to Sri Lanka. Package Holiday or Independent Trip?
Independent travel is a great way to see Sri Lanka but package holidays can be a good option for new travellers.
If you want to organise an independent trip to Sri Lanka, maybe it’s your first time, here’s what you need to do:
Book your flights, select the cheapest, best flights for your dates using a flight comparison tool such as Skyscanner, if you’re new to finding amazing flight deals for yourself, we have a guide to using Skyscanner like a ninja here. Similar sites exist, but Skyscanner is our favourite, we use it every time.
Sri Lankan airways are superb and often very good value, budget airlines also fly to Sri Lanka.
Book your accommodation, think about where you’d like to stay on your first night and most certainly book a hotel, it makes life so much easier when you’re tired and adjusting. We use an affordable, sweet little hotel not far from the airport for late airport arrivals/departures. We’ve tried a few, this one has been best. There is a fixed rate, tourist taxi desk at the airport or this hotel will pick you up.
If you’d like to book a whole week somewhere, go ahead, if not, a few days here, a few days there, is also fine.
For more information about onward transport from Bandaranaike airport, by bus, taxi, train, tuk tuk or minibus click through.
Sri Lanka is a small island but the big sites are quite spread out ( as you can see from the map above), you’ll probably want a multiple base vacation. You don’t have to book every night in advance, you can leave your options open and book as you go, but organisation cuts into your vacation time and is a bit of a hassle.
We usually just arrive in a town and knock on doors until we find a place we like, we’re used to long-term backpacking, but on a shorter vacation you’d want to be more organised.
Agoda are a global hotel booking engine and Asia specialists, we use them regularly and have found their customer service to be excellent, you can trust them. We use them every time and collect their points to redeem cash value against future bookings anywhere in the world. Click through to Agoda and start researching here.
A Quick Note on Finding Flights to Sri Lanka.
We found it was cheaper to fly to Sri Lanka from the UK via Istanbul. If you visit our post on How to Save Money on Flights with Skyscanner you can read all about that tactic. We have also visited Sri Lanka from Malaysia as a stop-over on a flight to London. This cost us no extra and the flight was an incredible bargain with the excellent Air Lanka.
Visas for Sri Lanka
We love Sri Lanka for making children’s visas free. Not many countries do that. All visitors to Sri Lanka need an ETA ( Electronic Travel Authorisaion) available online. The ETA lasts for 30 days but can be extended. Find more information about obtaining your visa here.
Want to find more information on Sri Lanka?
Start with these posts, there are more that you will discover Top Places to Visit in Sri Lanka, Things to Do in Kandy, Things to Do in Galle, Mirissa, Paradise Found, Sri Lankan Breakfast. Jaffna, a new highlight!
Sri Lanka Essentials
You will need copious sun block ( or sun protective clothing) and mosquito repellent. Really, whatever else you take is personal choice. Expect heat and humidity but be prepared to be chilly if you’re hitting the hill country. Have clothing that will cover legs and shoulders for visiting religious sites. Families with young children will benefit from taking antiseptic hand gels or wipes. We like to carry a small bottle of iodine, small bites and scratches become infected easily in the tropics. Read more about our travel medical kit here or about the travel gear we normally carry, here.
Vaccinations For Sri Lanka
Again, this is personal choice. We tend to not get any special vaccinations for visiting countries with a big tourist industries, such as Bali, Thailand or Sri Lanka. The recommended vaccinations for Sri Lanka will vary depending on your home country. Currently malaria prophylaxis is not recommended, back in the 90s we took malaria tablets, we don’t today. Be very vigilant about mosquito bites, Dengue is a real risk. Read up on vaccinations and what we do here.
Get More Out of Your Trip. Read Before You Go!
The essential companion for your Sri Lanka trip, Lonely Planet Sri Lanka brings you history, culture, food and customs, a few useful words and phrases to practice ( please, thank you and hello are always appreciated) and of course, maps, hotel and restaurant recommendations. Buy from Amazon by clicking on the image, or download the ebook direct from the Lonely Planet site ( they usually have a 3 for 2 offer)
Books on Sri Lanka for Adults
Running in the Family, Lonely Planet Sri Lanka (Travel Guide), The Elephant Gates: Vibrant Reflections of Life, Family, and Tradition in Sri Lanka, A Field Guide to the Birds of Sri Lanka, Island of a Thousand Mirrors: A Novel, At the Water’s Edge.
Books on Sri Lanka for Kids
Sri Lanka Itinerary. 1 Month of Travel in Sri Lanka 2014.
This a quick overview of what we did and where we went during our month on the island.
We spent our first night near the airport in Negombo (1). We found OK accommodation online at Mazz Homestay. That first evening was wonderful, so great being back in Sri Lanka. We loved just walking, finding somewhere to eat and the constant friendly and inquisitive smiles. Next morning we caught a local bus to Hikkaduwa (2), a beach-side town to the south, just north of Galle. I had booked this online as we all had flu and nobody felt much like door knocking in the heat. We spent a almost a week in Hikkaduwa in our own little cottage while we all recovered. We took a day trip to Galle (3) by bus and wandered around the fish markets, fort and produce markets. We’d highly recommend at least a day trip to Galle. Read more about things to do in Galle here.
Mirissa (4), further south was our next stop. Mirissa turned out to be almost paradise for us, we loved the beach and its crashing waves, the village, the incredible wildlife and the ever-smiling Sri Lankan people. The boys, all 3 of them, played in the surf for hours. Mirissa is famous for whale watching, we saw blue whales. This got me incredibly excited, I’m a zoology nut. The whale watching cost us a fair bit, but it was a once in a lifetime opportunity, we happened to be there at the right time. Accommodation in Mirissa was good and prices were low. Mirissa sits next to Welligama Bay (6) with beautiful Taprobane Island, we checked that out by bus. You can search online for hotels and guest houses in Mirissa and Welligama here. Another week later we went further south again, to Tangalle(5). We only spent two nights here, it was nice. We loved watching the fishermen hauling in their catch on the beach, but it was very, very quiet, we arrived before the busy Christmas season began. The surf here was too big for the children to swim safely, we felt. We took wonderful walks through the village, waved at smiling children, talked to locals and saw some great wildlife, a startled mongoose, scorpions and a snake. Tangalle was destroyed by the tsunami, you could see the evidence in the new-builds and displaced boats.
We wanted to go to Yalla Wildlife Reserve from Tangalle, but research showed us it was the wrong time of year to see the big cats. It’s an expensive trip, so we thought we’d save it for another time. To see the beautiful Hill Country we took another two buses up to Ella (7). High in the hills it was cold here, we needed our fleeces. We spent 3 nights in Ella enjoying lovely walks through the tea to Little Adam’s Peak and down through Ella Gap to temples and waterfalls. We had great food in Ella but accommodation was more expensive. We had planned on climbing Adam’s Peak proper and going on to Nuwara Eliya, but the rain and cold put us off. We took the highly scenic train straight through to Kandy instead.
We love Kandy (8) It’s a very civilised place. We enjoyed fabulous breakfasts at Devon Tea Rooms every morning for very little money and spent our days exploring. We skipped the big price tag attractions in favour of free-to-enter temples, shopping for clothes in some great shops, walking around Kandy Lake spotting wildlife and seeing a slice of history at the British Barracks Cemetery. We splashed out one night on an inexpensive but fabulous Kandyan dancing and fire walking show. We made our only big budget trip from Kandy to Dambulla (9) . The ancient cave temples were magnificent but the entry fee was steep and the bus journey to get there made it a long, but fun, day.
With only a few days left we headed back to Mirissa by train for more beach life and swimming. On our last morning we took the 6am train from Mirissa South, all the way up to Colombo where we caught a local bus to the airport.
The Big Tourist Attractions in Sri Lanka
There are plenty, Sigirya, Dambulla, the Temple of the Tooth, Pinnewala Elephant Orphanage, Yala wildlife park, plus more, they’re incredible.
We’ve been to them all over the years, except Yala.
People often visit the sites with drivers rather than organising their own transport. There are some big distances involved. You can easily find a driver in Sri Lanka who will take you around the whole island if you don’t fancy trains and buses. Tuk tuk drivers will be keen to take you too.
We now have a post about Sri Lanka’s top places to visit.
Our 1 Month Sri Lanka Itinerary 2016
Our 2016 month in Sri Lanka was complicated by fixed appointments and involved a lot of backtracking, going up and down Sri Lanka’s south west holiday coast.
I won’t describe it in detail, it was hectic!
We re-visited Unawatuna for the first time since the tsunami.
We made it to Jaffna in the far north of the country, a real highlight.
We toured Anuradhapura, one of Sri Lanka’s ancient cities that we’d so far missed.
We felt the children were now old enough to climb Sigiriya Rock Fortress and we lodged in a stunning Eco-hotel nearby.
We stayed in a beautiful jungle villa just outside Galle.
We stayed on Sri Lanka’s “Golden Mile” at Beruwela for the first time.
We visited the north-east Sri Lankan coast, unfortunately in monsoon season.
We tried out an affordable family villa at tourist-free Balapitya Beach
We enjoyed a foodie’s dream stay, a luxury family-friendly villa with resident expert chef at Ambalangoda.
All that and we managed to get stranded at Bandaranaike airport. Our travels don’t always run to plan!
As usual, we travelled by train, public bus and tuk tuk, mixing up backpacker accommodation with mid-range and luxury stays.
Getting Around Sri Lanka.
Buses in Sri Lanka are frequent, fun and incredibly cheap. A family can travel half way across the island for $5. You just find a bus stop or bus station and hop on. There was always somebody to help us find the right bus and most Sri Lankans have great English. The buses come in two flavours, standard, open to the elements, no windows type and the smaller air con buses. The Sri Lankan people are wonderful, warm and considerate and we had great fun on the buses. If you’re travelling with big packs you may need to put them on the seats, in which case, you just buy a ticket for them, too.
The trains are great, some routes are fantastically scenic, but occasionally they were so packed we had to stand.
Sometimes we used tuk tuks, they’re more expensive than buses but it IS possible to fit 2 adults, 2 kids, 2 big backpacks and 4 smaller bags into the back of one. Sri Lankan tuk tuk drivers are pretty fair with pricing. We took one fancy air con taxi from the airport, it was good, but expensive ($12).
Tours and hired drivers are very easy to organise and the most commonly used method for package tourists and more up-market travellers. You can arrange trips through your hotel, direct with drivers or through the multitude of travel agents on every street. You can travel the whole island by tuk tuk or aircon minibus, the choice is yours. When we got married the same tuk tuk driver took us all over the island, we even went to his home to visit his wife and child, he was at our wedding. We’ll never forget him and we hope and pray he and his family came through the tragic tsunami safely.
Food in Sri Lanka and Children
We don’t think Sri Lankan food is fantastic in comparison to many other countries but we found food for the children easily. There are, of course stand out dishes to enjoy.
The children ate omelettes, hoppers ( find out what is a hopper? here), fruit, curd, roti and traditional Sri Lankan breakfasts. My boys really started to enjoy egg curry and potato curry for breakfast. There are also plenty of baked goods, savouries and cakes ( short eats) some better than others.
The children drank a lot of freshly made fruit milk shakes for extra calories and nutrition and started to drink tea for the first time. Sri Lanka does excellent tea, always served in china tea pots.
On long bus and train journeys vendors would be around selling savouries and drinks. My boys enjoyed fresh wade (vada) but some have too much chili. If we were stuck we’d just buy a packet of biscuits and some Milo. Sri Lanka does great biscuits, very British Bourbons, cream crackers and ginger nuts included.
Nobody had any tummy trouble during our time in Sri Lanka.
We’re passionate about food ( my husband is a chef) and really wanted to eat well in Sri Lanka. Unfortunately food options in Sri Lanka were sometimes a bit limited by availability, time constrictions and the boring standard tourist menu. Food was good and nutritious, but not always very exciting.
Real Sri Lankan rice and curry was often hard to find.
If you are staying in a hotel rather than backpacking around the island your food experience will be totally different. Every hotel we’ve stayed at on the island had great food, usually with more of a western influence. You will find plenty of incredible sea food dishes, fresh tropical fruits and curries if they are to your taste.
Make sure you sample the traditional Sri Lankan breakfast, we’re big fans, but you may need to order the night before.
That’s it, a quick overview of Sri Lanka. There are plenty of links in this blog post that can give you more information. Give ’em a click. If you want to start your hotel search, we suggest you start here. Agoda works particularly well for Asia.
This Sri Lanka travel blog first appeared on World Travel Family. Global nomadic family travel blog. We travel full-time ( it’s been 3.5 years now!) to create this resource, this blog helps us get by financially ( see how here), Thanks.
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