Although a relatively small island nation, Sri Lanka is a land packed full of exciting attractions, both natural and man-made. Its isolated location in the Indian Ocean means that rich biodiversity and cultural landscape have developed to create a truly unique country largely uninfluenced by the rest of the world.
With so much to explore, it’s hard to know where to begin, which is where our travel guide to Sri Lanka may be useful. Before planning a trip, however, the traveler should bear in mind that the majority of foreign citizens are first required to obtain a Sri Lanka visa to enter the country for a holiday.
Apply for the Sri Lanka Visa Online
There are only a few countries whose citizens can travel to Sri Lanka visa-free, for varying periods of time. The majority of foreign passport holders are required to obtain a visa to travel to the country, and those wishing to enjoy a short holiday in Sri Lanka are able to easily obtain an ETA for Sri Lanka before their trip.
This electronic travel authorization is valid for a stay of up to 30 days for either tourism or business purposes, or up to 2 days for transit purposes. Once in the country and before the ETA expires, travelers have the option to renew the validity for up to an additional 6-month stay.
In order to submit a Sri Lanka visa application, applicants are required to have a Sri Lanka ETA-eligible passport valid for at least 6 months from the date of entry, a credit or debit card to pay the visa fee, and a current email address at which to receive a copy of the online visa.
It is also necessary to meet some further Sri Lanka Electronic Travel Authorization requirements for documents to present upon arrival to gain entry to the country. The traveler must present:
- A printed copy of the approved ETA Sri Lanka
- Proof of sufficient funds to cover the duration of the stay
- A confirmed return ticket to the applicant’s country of residence, or an onward ticket to a third destination.
- A yellow fever vaccination certificate (citizens of the following countries only: Angola, Argentina, Benin, Bolivia, Brazil, Central African Republic, Chad, Colombia, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Gabon, French Guiana, Gambia, Guinea, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Niger, Panama, Peru, Rwanda, Sudan, Sierra Leone, Senegal, Somalia, Suriname, Sao Tome and Principe, Togo, Tanzania, United Republic of Uganda, Venezuela).
Sri Lanka Travel Advice
Once the traveler has organized their Sri Lanka tourist visa, they will be able to focus on preparing for their trip. With so many options for an exciting stay in the country, the concept of an ideal holiday in Sri Lanka and how to prepare will differ for everyone. However, we’ve put together some top tips to nudge you in the right direction.
Make a Sri Lanka Travel Itinerary
Although not the biggest country in the world, there is a lot to explore in Sri Lanka, from golden beaches to vast mountain ranges, to exciting wildlife preserves. Add to this the fact that it can take quite a lot of time to actually get around the country – traffic can be a challenge. Therefore, it’s important to decide what you want to see and make a plan to make sure you fit it all in.
Some of the best places to visit in Sri Lanka we would recommend include:
- Yala National Park – A huge natural space in Southeast Sri Lanka where visitors can see local wildlife such as leopards, elephants, and crocodiles in their natural habitat, as well as explore a vast cave system containing ancient rock paintings.
- The ancient city of Polonnaruwa – An UNESCO World hesitate site, the remains of this immense 12th-century garden city boast many well-preserved monuments.The large population of toque macaque monkeys which live among the ruins is also a popular attraction.
- Sigiriya rock fortress – Climb to the top of a massive column of rock to visit the remains of an extravagant royal palace dating to the 5th century AD, as well as the giant statue of a lion which gives the site its name (Sīnhāgiri means Lion Rock in Sanskrit).
- Dambulla Royal Cave Temple – One of many impressive Buddhist temples found throughout Sri Lanka. The Dambulla temple stands out for its unique construction: it is built into 5 caves under an overhanging rock and contains a wealth of impressive paintings, statues, and murals.
Make a Sri Lanka Packing List
In addition to bringing all the basic essentials like beach gear with you on your trip, we also recommend packing the following:
- Mosquito repellent – Sri Lanka is home to a number of disease-carrying insects so try to avoid any bug bites as much as you can.
- High-quality sunscreen – It can be hard to find high-strength sunblock in Sri Lanka, and any you may find will be expensive.
- Sanitary products for women – Quality sanitary towels and tampons can either be hard to come across or incredibly expensive in the country.
- Warm clothes – Although a tropical country, parts of Sri Lanka can get colder than you may expect. Air Conditioning in some public transport may also have you reaching for a sweater or jacket.
- Wet weather gear – A rain jacket is essential to combat the short, intense downpours which can strike during the monsoon seasons. You may also want to pack an umbrella.
- Sufficient local currency in cash – It can be hard to find ATMs which accept international debit or credit cards in some parts of Sri Lanka, and in rural areas cash may be the only accepted payment method.
Get the Recommended Vaccines for Sri Lanka
There are no compulsory immunizations to travel to Sri Lanka for travelers from most countries.
The only compulsory vaccinations needed for Sri Lanka are yellow fever, but only if the traveler has visited a country in the yellow-fever zone (sub-Saharan Africa and tropical South America) in the 6 days before entering Sri Lanka.
However, travelers are advised to get injections before visiting Sri Lanka because of the several infectious diseases present in the region. Travelers are advised to seek consultation on vaccines for Sri Lanka at least 4-6 weeks prior to the date of departure.
How to Travel around Sri Lanka
Although Sri Lanka only covers a total surface area of 65,610 km2, it can take hours just to cover short distances as the mostly small roads can get incredibly busy with traffic. Although it is possible to rent a car in Colombo and drive around by yourself, most travelers opt to hire a private car and driver to take them from point to point. However, this can be incredibly expensive.
A much cheaper option is to travel by train around Sri Lanka, although it’s necessary to book passage well in advance as available seats can fill up fast. Traveling by bus is also a good option for those on a budget, although bus drivers in the country have a reputation for driving a little haphazardly.
Those who only need to travel a short distance can take a ride in a tuk tuk, a quintessential Sri Lanka experience. However, most tuk tuks do not have a meter so it’s essential to make sure you agree on a price with the driver before getting in.
Finally, make sure you wear a helmet if you take a scooter or motorcycle ride in Sri Lanka. Those who don’t are very likely to be stopped by the police and receive a fine.
The Best Time to Travel to Sri Lanka
As it is a tropical country with plenty of sunshine and blue skies year-round, the best time to travel to Sri Lanka is somewhat subjective.
Many travelers seek to avoid the ‘rainy season’ in Sri Lanka, but the truth is that the 2 moonsoon seasons that Sri Lanka experiences are nowhere near as dramatic as those in other Southeast Asia nations such as Laos or Thailand. It will usually rain quite heavily most evenings, but the sun will be out in full force by the next morning.
The 2 monsoon seasons in Sri Lanka last from December to March in the northeast, and from June to October in the southwest. Those who wish to visit Sri Lanka from June to September should not be put off: this tends to be a quieter time for tourism and largely crowd-free.
Those wishing to beat the crowds may also want to avoid the peak season for the southern province (November to January) and the peak season for the east coast (June to August).
Be Aware of Local Customs and Culture
When travelling in Sri Lanka, it’s wise to be aware of local customs and accepted behavior in certain situations in order to have a smooth, problem-free holiday. Travelers should:
- Behave respectfully when visiting Buddhist temples in Sri Lanka. Travelers should cover their legs and shoulders and remove their shoes and hats before entering a temple. Mocking the Buddha, or posing for a photo with your back turned to the statue, are both offenses that may get you in trouble with temple staff or even the police.
- Keep beachwear to the beach. Although it’s not a problem to expose your shoulders and legs unless in a place of worship, walking around a town or city shirtless or in a bikini is highly frowned upon.
- Not take any photographs of the local people without first asking permission. Some locals, such as the famous stilt fisherman, will expect payment to appear in a photo, so it’s a good idea to find out what the asking price is first. You shouldn’t pay any more than 500 LKR.
- Refrain from taking any photographs of Sri Lankan government buildings or military bases.
- Try to engage with the local language. Although most Sri Lankans speak or understand basic English, locals will greatly appreciate your efforts if you try out a couple of phrases in Sinhalese or Tamil!
Follow these travel tips and you are sure to have a smooth, fun, and stress-free holiday in Sri-Lanka!