1. Sri Lankan currency is called rupees
ATMs are easily accessible all over major towns in Sri Lanka. When writing this post, $1USD converts to about 180 rupees (LKR). Lunch and dinners typically ranges from 500-1,200 rupees for dishes, depending on where you are. For example, areas like Mirissa and Arugam Bay are a bit more expensive when compared to less touristy areas. Whether you’re traveling in luxury or on a backpackers budget like we are, the exchange rate is quite nice and you can get a lot for your money.
Pro tip: Make sure to download the XE Currency app and have it handy during your trip. We use it all the time and it doesn’t require internet access for conversion rates.
2. You’ll be driving on the left side of the road and driving is quite intense
If you plan on renting a motorbike during your trip, make sure you exercise extreme caution and always wear a helmet. You will also need your International Driver’s Permit (IDP).
PRO TIP: If you’re planning on renting any type of transportation, make sure to sign up for your IDP before you leave for your trip.
Companies like Tuk Tuk Rental give you access to your very own shiny tuk tuk. They rent them from local families which helps support the community. If you’re traveling for a long period of time, you should definitely consider purchasing travel insurance as well. World Nomads and Safety Wing are good options.
3. Bug repellent is necessary
Foreigners will get bitten by mosquitos, gnats, and ants ALL the time so expect a bug bite or three. Plan to pack your own or if you forget, you can purchase bug spray from any local convenience store or the closest Food City. They sell them for cheap and smell good too!
4. Dress appropriately when visiting temples or religious places
This tip is mainly toward female travelers. Make sure to have something to cover your shoulders and knees when entering any temples or sacred areas. It is highly disrespectful to show too much skin in these areas. Some temples will give you a wrap for your legs or shoulders, but not all temples will offer them, so be prepared or you will be denied from entering.
5. Get comfortable with negotiating and haggling!
We’ve learned to never accept the first price we received from a tuk tuk driver or a vendor. You should always try to knock down the prices. If not, walk away and you’ll most likely get a better offer. Get comfortable with negotiating!
6. Learn a few Sinhala and Tamil words
Depending on the areas you visit, you’ll interact with Sri Lankans who either speak Sinhala or Tamil. Although some locals will know how to speak English, it’s always nice to try and speak the local language.
To say, thank you very much in Sinhala, you say “bohoma istuti” (bo-hoh-mah iss-too-tee) and to say thank you in Tamil, you say “nandri” (naan-dree).
7. Eat like a local
If you’ve never had Sri Lankan dishes before, you’ll have to try it out! It’s so delicious. Our favorites are egg hoppers for breakfast and rice and curry for lunch and/or dinner! The fruits are delicious, so make sure you enjoy some coconut water and mangoes. Also, try the local beer, Lion Lager.
8. Get used to taking off your shoes/sandals
When entering someone’s home, temples, and small stores, make sure to take off your shoes or sandals. You’ll know when to take them off when there’s a pile of shoes and sandals in the entryway.
9. You don’t need to tip (unless you want to!)
Tipping is not necessary in Sri Lanka but if you feel like you received excellent service or if you’re feeling extra generous, you can give whatever you feel is right. It’s not the amount that counts but the gesture. They will be so appreciative!
10. Always be cautious of a potential petty scam
Sri Lankans are the nicest people you will ever meet. They are always willing to help you, no matter what. However, there will be moments when someone will try to get more money off of you. With that being said, you should always be super cautious and make sure to negotiate pricing before you get into a tuk tuk or a car service.Unsure of a situation? Ask more questions or find someone who can properly translate.
11. Check the weather conditions before booking your trip
Sri Lanka has some interesting weather patterns. They have two monsoon seasons and it can affect the area(s) you may be visiting.
- If you’re visiting the Southern coastal towns like Mirissa, Galle, Weligama, and Unawatuna, the best months are between December and April. Rainy season starts in late April and rain comes and goes until the rest of the year. You can still go to the Southern coast but you’ll most likely have to schedule your days based on the rain/weather.
- If you’re heading to the Northern and Eastern coastal towns like Jaffna, Trincomalee and Arugam Bay, the best months to visit are from mid-January to September. Rainy season starts to kick in October to December.
- The best months to go to Kandy and the Central towns like Nuwara Eliya is from January to March. If you plan on hiking Adam’s Peak, this is the best time to go as well. July and August are also good months to visit. The wettest months in this region are October and November.
12. Take a train ride throughout Sri Lanka
Taking the train will be the most inexpensive way to get around. Train tickets are super cheap depending on which class you select (1st, 2nd or 3rd). From our experience second class tickets are the way to go for most journeys. We also booked first class seats and although you can’t open the windows, you can still ride outside of the train doors (which is what we ended up doing from Nuwara Eliya to Ella). Third class is the cheapest and most uncomfortable option. Second and third class do get extremely crowded so be prepared to not have much personal space. You can read more details on Seat61.com about what to expect, routes and how to purchase tickets. You’ll take the train just like a local and it’ll be such an interesting experience!
13. Visit Adam’s Peak or Sigiriya (or both!)
Depending on when you go to Sri Lanka, you should check out these two epic destinations. All Sri Lankans are supposed to visit each of these locations in their lifetime so you should too! Both destinations require some physical activity but every step is definitely worth it! Make sure to check out the weather conditions for Adam’s Peak since its a fairly difficult hike and you’ll have to begin your journey in the dark. The entrance fee for Sigiriya is expensive ($30 USD) but we highly recommend it. There is no fee for Adam’s Peak but you can give a donation at the temple at the very top
While Sri Lanka tourism has suffered severely since the 2019 Easter terrorist bombings, it’s important to understand that terrorist attacks can happen anywhere. We experienced nothing other than gracious and generous Sri Lankans in all of the towns that we had the opportunity to visit. If Sri Lanka isn’t on your list to visit, you should reconsider adding it!