Sri Lanka is a small island in Asia but has it all – mountains for the mountain lovers and beaches for the sun lovers. Jana Torbova shares practical tips and trip ideas for the women who want to visit it.
This post was first published on my previous blog When Woman Travels in 2019. The content was true at the time of first publishing and it is intended to be only a guidance. Please check if any new developments and changes had arisen before you book your trip.
Sri Lanka’s former name was Ceylon so the country is popular with the tea plantations and the excellent tea. Wherever you look around here, landscape is wild and green. Some tourists come to Sri Lanka to see wild elephants in their natural environment and others to visit the multiple temples.
What you need to know before travelling to Sri Lanka
If you want to travel to Sri Lanka, you will need a visa. The application procedure is simple and is completely online. You will receive the approval in less than half an hour.
The public transport in and between the cities is very cheap but for girls it is more convenient to hire a local driver – he will not only spare you the effort to carry your luggage from one train / bus to another but he will also keep you safe and will be your guide.
The road between the settlements is narrow and with a lot of turns – usually this is not uncomfortable for men but most women have travel sickness so carry pills with you and take the front seat of the car. The traffic is chaotic and transportation takes a long time.
The local currency is called Sri Lankan Rupee (LKR) but dollars are also accepted. It is recommended to have LKR with you, especially to pay the entrance fees. The prices on the island are quite low, especially for food and public transport. However, some of the parks and landmarks have high entrance fees. The locals expect tips for almost everything.
During your trip in Sri Lanka
In Sri Lanka there are beautiful beaches, but the ocean is rough and most of them are not suitable for swimming. Not everywhere is permitted for girls and women to wear bathing suits.
When visiting temples women need to cover their shoulders and knees and to take off their shoes. The weather on the island is hot all year round so better wear socks when you’re going to temples. Otherwise, it will be difficult to walk on the hot ground.
If you haven’t slept in a canopied bed, here you will. But not to be romantic but to keep the mosquitos away from you. Bring a repellent with you. Some places of accommodation are in the jungle and you will need to get used to the presence of small geckos or frogs in your room or bathroom, even if you are staying in a luxury hotel.
The weather in Sri Lanka is not only hot, but also humid. Bring 2 swimming suits – if you have only one, you won’t have enough time to dry it.
There are monkeys around the temples and in the ancient cities. Do not try to touch them, they steal from tourists – food, flowers, or something else they may find attractive.
This is Asia so don’t expect a high level of hygiene. Do not drink beverages with ice and always buy mineral water. If you have to drink directly from the bottle, use a straw. Public toilets are rather dirty.
Is Sri Lanka safe for women?
When I am travelling, I am always cautious and do not bring with me expensive belongings. In Sri Lanka I felt safe even though we were only two girls and some evenings we were out in the dark.
However, scams are not rare. It is often that a tuk-tuk driver offers to take you to a popular landmark and you end up in an unfamiliar place where locals try to sell you expensive things.
At the beach there are often local rakes. They are harmless if you just chat with them. Some of them can be quite persistent but if you are unconditional, they will walk away.
Peculiarities of Sri Lankan culture
In terms of language – most of the population in the country speaks Sinhalese and Tamil. However, it is easy to communicate with the locals in English, even if you only have basic knowledge as their knowledge is basic too.
The culture of Sri Lanka is very influenced by Buddhism and Hinduism. Here I visited incredible Buddhist temples that I have never seen in the other Asian countries.
Sri Lanka’s cuisine is spicy. There are restaurants for locals where the food is very spicy and restaurants for tourists where the food is less spicy. You can ask the staff not to put curry but the meal would still be a little spicy. Here you can even try spicy pineapple! Like everywhere in Asia, you can eat a lot of rice here.
The locals like sports. They mostly play volleyball and cricket. During one of our beach walks we met a whole team wearing sports outfit and playing an unknown sport to us – Kabaddi.
My recommendations for places to visit in Sri Lanka
There is variety of temples, beaches and natural parks that I had the chance of visiting and would recommend.
Golden Cave Temple in Dambulla
This is a complex of caves in Dambulla with paintings and statues of Buddha. To reach the temple first you need to climb around 400 steps. For those who get to the top, there is a beautiful view.
Elephant safari in Kaudulla National Park
A very good place to see elephants in the wild. The jeep drivers are experienced and know what distance to keep from the animals. This safari usually lasts around 3 hours and tourists are not allowed to get off the jeep.
Sigiriya (The Lion Rock)
This is an ancient rock fortress with an interesting story. To get to the top of the rock you need to climb more than 1300 steps so bring a bottle of water with you and comfortable shoes.
The ancient city Polonnaruwa
An archaeological relic site in Sri Lanka with remains of temples, statues and stupas.
Horton Plains National Park
A place with beautiful nature for mountain lovers. Here are also Baker’s Falls, World’s End and Mini World’s End. Bring warm clothes with you. If you are lucky, you will see wild elks from very close. The trekking lasts about 3 hours and you will need to get up very early in the morning to reach the park.
Mackwoods Tea Plantation in Nuwara Eliya
If it is your ‘cup of tea’, here you can learn about and see the entire process of making tea.
From Nuwara Eliya to Ella by train
No matter if you have a personal driver or you are travelling by public transport, take the trip from Nuwara Eliya to Ella by train. You will pass through many tea plantations and the views are spectacular.
The post office in Nuwara Eliya
This is one of the oldest post offices in Sri Lanka and was built by the British. You can send a postcard to your home address and later, when you receive it, it will remind you of your trip.
The Tsunami Monument
The big statue is located on the road between Colombo and Galle. The monument is in memory of the many victims of the tsunami in 2004.
Safari in Yala National Park
The park is best known for its variety of wild animals. Tourists come here to see leopards but there are also peacocks, elephants, deers, wild pigs, monkeys, storks, mongooses, and buffalos.
Safari in Madu River
Take a boat tour among the mangroves to witness a live demonstration of how cinnamon oil is produced and visit an island with a Buddhist temple. The best for us, girls – a fish spa.
Galle Face Green in Colombo
This is a popular place on the beach for street food where locals come at sunset and their children fly kites.
See the beaches of Sri Lanka
There are many so just make the most of where you are.