Backpacking Sri Lanka

Looking for important travel information while backpacking around Sri Lanka? Here you will find information on working in Sri Lanka, entry visas, Sri Lanka hostels, and much more.

Table of Contents

Facts About Sri Lanka

The majority of Sri Lanka is an incredible friendly and relaxed country which welcomes tourists eager to explore Sri Lanka’s wonders. There are miles of beautiful sandy beaches stretched along the coast which draw its fair share of package holiday makers but there is also plenty of ancient ruins, wildlife, the rolling vistas of the foothills and cheap, delicious food. Sri Lanka is rightly considered a tourists paradise in many corners of the world.

Due to a long standing dispute between the Sri Lanka government and the LTTE (Tamil Tigers) the FCO advises against travel to the North and Eastern parts of the country, despite a ceasefire which has reduced risks dramatically. The Southern area, particularly the South-Western tourist area is safe although visitors should remain vigilant against both terrorist threats and criminal activity (pick pocketing and the like). Travellers who insist on travelling to the Northern area of the Island should be aware that some areas, particularly the A9 road to Jaffna are still heavily mined from the political conflict.

  • Currency: Sri Lankan Rupee (SL Re; Rs (plural) ) = 100 cents
  • Time Zone: GMT + 5.3
  • Language: Sinahala, Tamil and English
  • Telephone Services: Country code +94, International access code 00
  • Emergency Numbers: All services 1 691096 / 699935

Climate

Sri Lanka benefits from a tropical climate making it an ideal beach destination. High lying areas are cooler and more temperate although the coastal areas can be cooled by incoming sea breezes. There are two monsoon season, one around May and the other around January. At other times of the year you can expect hot, dry weather for the most part.

sri-lanka.gif-weather

Things to see and do

Colombo is Sri Lanka’s largest and most popular city and is both busy and lively. Cheap accommodation and restaurants are abundant here and this makes a good base for exploring some of the surrounding regions. Sites of interest include the clock tower, the presidents residence and plenty of colonial remnants. The eastern part of the city is home to the Pettah bazaar district which is an experience in itself and a good place to do a spot of souvenir shopping as well as brush up on your haggling skills. The cities other main attraction is the Dehiwala Zoo which has a particularly good daily elephant show. Those looking to brush up on some culture should check out the Art Gallery and the National Museum which both contain some very worthwhile exhibits. The nearest beach is about 20 minutes away at Mt Lavinia although it is not as good as some of the more southern beaches.

One of the islands most unique sites is the spectacular Sigiriya fortress. Situated about 3 hours from Colomba this mighty rock foretress has in the past also been a monastic retreat and now houses a rock art gallery. It is perched on the top of an enormous 200m tall rock outcrop and is known for its spectacular 5th century water gardens. There are hourly buses to the fortress running from Dambulla which can easily be reached by bus from Colomba.

Another less known and more colourful attraction unique to Sri Lanka is the enigmatic Adam’s Peak. The 2224m tall mountain is situated near Dalhousie and can be reached by bus from any major city during the period from December to April. This peak is a major site of pilgrimage for many of the major religions due to the huge “footprint” at the top of the peak. Christians and Muslims believe that this is the footprint of Adam after he was cast out of the Garden of Eden, Bhuddists believe it is the print of Bhudda and Hindus tell that it is the mark of the god Shiva. As a result it has drawn pilgrims for over a thousand years from all kinds of different religious backgrounds. Climbing the peak takes about 5 hours but is well worth the effort.

Travel

The rail network is relatively sparse but connects Colombo with most of the tourist areas of the Island. The network is operated by Sri Lanka Railways although they do not at the moment seem to have a web presence. Rail travel is quite cheap and is much more comfortable than travelling by bus and is to be recommended where possible as the best mode of transport.

Buses are run by a plethora of local companies and range from ancient and rickety old buses right through to state of the art modern coaches. Buses are always crowded and generally uncomfortable although they are incredibly cheap and sometime the only way of getting to some destinations. The Sri Lanka Central Transport Board is one of the larger and more reputable operators.

Accommodation

Sri Lanka has a wide variety of accommodation available ranging from beachside tourist hotels to guest houses and B&B’s. Quality ranges from luxury 5 star facilities right down to unrated facilities.

There are not many youth hostels in Sri Lanka although there are some in Colombo, Galle, Hikkaduwa, Kandy and Pottuvil. There is at present no centralised source of information on youth hostels in Sri Lanka.

Health

A vaccination for polio and typhoid is recommended to all visitors to Sri Lanka. These vaccinations can be obtained from your local GP and shouldn’t cost more than Rs40. The standard of healthcare in Colombo is quite good although emergency medical care is not available on all parts of the island. The standard is generally not as high as can be expected in western Europe and the cost of treatment can be expensive. Further to this option for repatriation are limited. For these reasons it is essential you have ample travel insurance cover from a reputable supplier.

The water in Sri Lanka is untreated and is not safe to drink, dairy products should be avoided since they are not pasteurised. Fruit and vegetables should be washed and peeled before consumption and caution should be observed when buying food from street vendors.

Useful Links

The Sri Lanka Tourist Board offers general travel advice for visitors to Sri Lanka.

Entry Visas for Sri Lanka

A passport valid for at least 3 months is required by all for entry to Sri Lanka. British Nationals do not require a visa for a tourist visit of less than 30 days. Visits for all other purposes and visitors from the rest of the EU or the USA require a tourist visa which can be obtained on landing and is valid for 30 days. This should be issued free of charge.

Addresses

Visa and immigration related enquiries should be directed to the Sri Lankan High Commision:

High Commission of Sri Lanka 
13 Hyde Park Gardens 
London 
W2 2LU 
Tel: (020) 7 262 1841-7 
Fax: (020) 7 262 7970

If you require UK representation while you are in Sri Lanka you should contact the British High Commision:

British High Commission 
190 Galle Road 
Kollupitiya 
P O Box 1433 
Colombo 3 
Tel: + 94 (1) 437336-43 
Fax: +(94) (1) 430308
email: bhc@eureka.lk 

The Sri Lanka Tourist Board can provide general tourist information for visitors to Sri Lanka:

Sri Lanka Tourist Board 
22 Regent Street 
London 
SW1Y 4QD 
Tel: (0171) 930 2627  
Fax: (0171) 930 9070

Foreigner Work Permits in Sri Lanka

As a developing country Sri Lanka will be difficult to find work to fund your travels. There may be some opportunities for teaching English in schools, but most people who go with this purpose do so as volunteers and a vast number of volunteer organisations exist to place people on such projects. Below are listed just a few of these organisations, most placements are very similar in content, but different organisations arrange projects in different areas and for varying lengths of time.

Project Trust

The Project Trust sends volunteers to Sri Lanka to work not only on teaching projects but also in Islamic centres and on a temple project in Hangaramketha. Programmes usually last for twelve months. Volunteers must be aged between 17 and 19 and a half years old and are expected to raise Rs3850 themselves to fund their project, this includes all expenses for living costs, travel, donations etc.

i-to-i

Also offering something a bit different to teaching, i-to-i has placements in the local media in Sri Lanka. There are opportunities to work on one of two of Colombo’s daily newspapers as researchers, writers, and in editing. Accommodation in flats is provided and you will usually be given a budget for food. Nevertheless, i-to-i does also arrange teaching projects for those more interested in this type of work. Volunteers are expected to fund their own travel and insurance etc. Costs are usually around Rs1295 for projects lasting up to eight weeks, and Rs1395 for nine to twelve week placements.

Travellers Worldwide

Travellers Worldwide arranges volunteer placements for conservational work in Sri Lanka. Those wanting to take part in the conservation project will work in Colombo Zoo to help improve the living conditions for the animals there. Work here involves cleaning out animal cages, feeding primates, conducting behavioural observation, caring for sick animals, and maintaining the animal environments. Volunteers can also work at the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage, or combine the two animal-care projects. Accommodation is provided alongside other volunteers in Travellers houses. Conservational placements can cost up to Rs1845 (based on the combined placement of one month at Colombo Zoo and one month at Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage), excluding travel.

Teaching and Projects Abroad

Teaching and Projects Abroad run one month or more long programmes where volunteers spend eighteen hours each week teaching English to schoolchildren, taking part in animal care, or even work in the local media. Accommodation is provided either with host families, or living with other teachers in local hostels.

Useful Links

Project trust is a voluntary organisation which teaches english to children

I-to-I organise working holidays across the world

Travellers Worldwide arrange conservational volunteer placements

Teaching-abroad.co.uk has all kinds of information for those teaching english in a foreign country

How to Say Common Sinhala Phrases

Meeting People

English
Sinhala
yes
ow
no
nae-
thank you
sthuthiyi
you are welcome
sa-dha.ra.yen.piliganimu
please
karuna-ka.ra.la
excuse me
sama-wenna.
hello
hallo
goodbye
gihin ennam
Good morning
a-yubo-wan, suba. Udhae-sa.nak
Good night
a-yubo-wan, suba. Ra-thriyak
English
engreesi
What is your name?
oya-ge nama.Mokakdha?
Nice to meet you
hambu una eka loku sathutak
How are you?
kohomadha. Ithin?
good
hondha
bad
nara.ka

Directions

English
Sinhala
map
sithiya.ma
left
vama
right
dhakuna
straight on
kelin
far
dhura
near
langa

Methods of Transport

English
Sinhala
Where is…?
…kohe-dha?
How much is the fare?
ga-na. Keeya.dha?
ticket
tika.t
A ticket to…, please
karuna-ka.ra.la…ta. Tika.t ekak dhenna.
Where are you going?
kohe-dha. Yanne?
Where do you live?
oya-inne-kohe-dha?
train
ko-chchiya.
bus
bus eka
underground
umang ma-rga.ya (there is no metro in Sri Lanka)
airport
airport
train station
railway station
bus station
bus stand
departure
pitath weema
arrival
paemineema
parking
parking

Time

English
Sinhala
What time is it?
Ve-la-va. Keeya.dha?
today
adha
yesterday
eeye
tomorrow
heta

Accommodation

English
Sinhala
hotel
ho-ta.la.ya.
room
ka-ma.ra.ya.
reservation
reservation
Are there any vacancies?
adha. Raeta. Inna. Metha.na. Ida. Thiyena.wadha?
No vacancies
ka-ma.ra. Ekakwath nae
passport
passport eka

Shopping

English
Sinhala
How much does this cost?
Me-ke ga-na. Keeya.dha?
I will buy it
Mama. Me-ka. Ganna.wa-
I would like to buy…
Mata….Ganna o-nae-
Do you have…?
Oya- ga-wa…Thiyena.wadha?
open
aera.la-
closed
wahala-
postcard
postcard
stamps
mudhdha.ra
little
tikak
lot
godak
all
okkoma

Meals

English
Sinhala
breakfast
udhae- kae-ma
lunch
dhawal kaema
dinner
rae kae-ma
vegetarian
vegetarian
cheers!
Jaya. Ve-wa-!
The bill please
Karuna-ka.ra.la bila. Ge-nna.

Drinks

English
Sinhala
drink
beema
coffee
ko-pi
tea
the-
juice
isma
water
wathura
beer
beer
wine
wine

Food

English
Sinhala
meat
mas
fish
ma-lu
vegetable
ela.wa.lu
fruit
pala.thuru
potato
ala
salad
sala-dha
dessert
athurupasa

Buy phrasebooks online at Amazon.co.uk

Sri Lanka Hostels

Hostels are a cheap form of accomodation, and so they are essential to backpackers and other budget travellers. We have compiled a list of hostels in Sri Lanka to help you plan your journey. If you are looking for a hostel in Sri Lanka, you’ve come to the right place.

Central Province
Southern Province
Western Province

There you have it, the ultimate Sri Lanka backpacking guide. We hope you have found all the information you need for backpacking around Sri Lanka.

Top Products for Backpackers