Planning a perfect trip to Sri Lanka

Lush green jungles, incredible wildlife and post card perfect beaches.. the list in endless.

Best Time To Visit

First things first, since an island nation, a downpour cannot be ruled out any time of the year for Sri Lanka. Also, the country has two monsoon seasons, so the favorable time depends on which part of the island you are planning to visit. But yeah, the silver lining – there is always a place on the island with a good weather 😉

There is also an inter-monsoonal period during October and the first half of November, when rain and thunderstorms can occur across the island. This clears up as December nears, with conditions getting better by the day during the second half of November. Because of its central location and elevation, the central hilly area (Nuwara Eliya) tends to be cool throughout the year and indeed much cooler than the coastal areas averaging about 15°C.

Visa Process

For an Indian passport holder (and many other countries), one can apply online for a 30 day double entry tourist Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA). Double entry visa works well if you combine travel to Maldives and Sri Lanka.

The process is very convenient with no documents required to be uploaded and a quick turnaround time. The steps are as follows:

  • Visit
  • Select preferred language and proceed
  • Under the ‘Apply’ tab, click on Apply under the first bullet point
  • Click on ‘I agree’ and then select ‘Apply for an individual’ or ‘Apply for a Group’ under tourist ETA.
  • Fill up the form, which has some basic details, such as passport, purpose of visit, etc.
  • Pay the visa fees of USD 20 online (for SAARC countries, this discounted fee is applicable for a tourist ETA)
  • Receive ETA acknowledgement
  • Receive the ETA on e-mail within a day

The documents needed at port of entry in Sri Lanka (i.e. Colombo Airport), along with a valid ETA are passport, return tickets and proof of sufficient funds for the period of stay.

A visa on arrival can also be obtained for an additional fee of USD 5. We found the ETA process to be convenient to avoid an extra queue at the airport for visa on arrival and also saved USD 5 per person.

Transport and Getting Around

We generally use this flight aggregator to search for best available flights. However, once we selected our flight, we book directly from the carrier’s website. Though direct flights are available, we booked Oman Airways, with a couple of hour layover at Muscat each way. We saved some cost, without losing out on a lot of time.

Quick tip: If you are planning to combine Maldives and Sri Lanka, look for deals on Sri Lankan Airlines as it provides great offers on multi-island trip, we did not go to Maldives this time, but if you do – don’t forget to tag us in your pictures @wandernationals or use #wandernationals.

Getting around Sri Lanka is all dependent on how much time and budget you have.

Road Trips

Roads in Sri Lanka are good and mostly single lane and bustling with a lot of vehicles. Self-drive is also an option but after being on those roads, we would say it’s better to have someone who knows the local language and streets like a pro. We researched into renting a car with driver is the best deal to strike for a comfortable and no fuss trip.

We rented a car with driver with pick-up and drop from Colombo airport in advance with SLE Tours and the whole trip was as smooth as it could be, special thanks to our driver captain, Prasanna.

If in for more adventure, you can even rent a Tuk-Tuk (a three-wheeler) for travelling around at some places.

Public Transport

Commuting the length and breadth of Sri Lanka is varied with options, thanks to its size. Buses and Tuk-Tuks being the most commonly used and available at the remote corners too. However, the most picturesque views are through the rail network of Sri Lanka.

Rail – One of the most popular modes of transfer on and off your IG feed. But as with most of the tourist hotspots, there’s a reason for its popularity – some of the world’s greatest train journeys happen right here in Sri Lanka, including: Colombo to Kandy, Kandy to Ella, Colombo to Galle. This is a cheap, slow, and scenic way of getting around the country.

For timetables, we recommend checking at the station in each destination, but to give you an idea head to the Sri Lankan railways site here.

We traveled from Nuwara Eliya to Ella (part of Kandy to Ella route) and absolutely loved the experience. Refer our guide to train journey in Sri Lanka here.

There are three ticket classes with reserved and unreserved seating classifications in each. We booked third class tickets (generally reserved), where we could have some interaction with fellow travelers, see some amazing sights with a little less cramping, and of course, get some epic shots out the train window/door.

Domestic connectivity

Majority of the cities and towns are connected by either bus, tuk-tuk or train route. If you wish, you can travel between the cities like train or road. We traveled mostly by car and once by train.


Packing for Sri Lanka is dependent on where you are going and what you are doing. If you are sticking to the beach or cities like Hikkaduwa, a more relaxed wardrobe is fine. Bikinis are allowed on the beach.

If visiting any temples or religious site such as at Kandy, Dambulla or Sigirya, it is important to bring modest clothing to cover up. For both women and men this means no bare shoulders and being covered to below the knees, not even high slit skirts are allowed. At some temples, black colored clothing is not allowed.

Some warm clothes are recommended if you are heading for the hilly regions, like N’ Eliya where the evenings tend to get chilly.

While for wildlife safaris, wear colors that can camouflage easily with the surroundings, i.e. colors closer to nature like greens, browns or neutrals like khaki. Bright colors can scare away the animals and you may end up seeing nothing.

Currency and Costs

Sri Lankan Rupee is the official currency (1 AED ~ 49 SLR, 1 USD ~ 180 SLR, 1 INR ~ 2.5 SLR as on December 2019). We recommend carrying USD from home country and exchange for SLR, while in Sri Lanka, for much better rates. However, INR is also widely accepted for conversion. Further, a lot of exchange houses are located right outside the airport, which offer decent rates.

The costs depend on the type of accommodation and flights. Traveling around Sri Lanka on a budget is possible, without compromising much on the convenience. We paid for our hotel stays and flights online.

For the local expenses (including car rental and a spa session for two), we overestimated our expenses initially. The delicious food is very reasonable, even in good resort restaurants. Please note that almost all the tourist sites (including temples) have an entrance fee. However, a lower fee is applicable to citizens of SAARC nations at most of the places.

Some indicative local costs are given below (excluding hotels and flights):

  • Car with driver for 9 days – USD 35 to USD 40
  • Food per meal average – 1,000 SLR for two
  • Entry tickets to public places (per head) – SLR 300 to SLR 500 on an average
  • Train tickets (third class reserved) – SLR 1200 for two, through an agency
  • Whale watching – USD 50 per head