If you plan to travel Sri Lanka you should know that national currency of Sri Lanka is the Sri Lanka Rupee. Currency rate (as of publication) : $ 1 = Rs 181,53; 1€ = Rs 203,67.
It is pretty easy to use a credit card in Sri Lanka. You can easily find an ATM if you need one as well. Exchanging money can be more problematic just because the exchange agencies are not on the every corner. My advice is for those who carry cash, you can exchange money at the airport. There are lots of exchange stalls right before the exit and they have a pretty fair rate.
You can sometimes also exchange money at jewelry shops. We had to do that a couple times and it was pretty easy.
Time zone is India standard time: GMT +5:30;
The hottest months are March, April and May, with an average temperature of 31° C (88° F); the coldest month is January and sometimes February, with an average temperature of 22°C (72° F).
The most rainy months in Sri Lanka are: November and December.
The best season to travel Sri Lanka for the northern and eastern part is May to September. The monsoon goes from November until January on the northern part. While the time to visit the west and the south coasts and hill country is from December to March.
The official languages in Sri Lanka are Sinhala and Tamil. Sinhala is widely used (70% of the population = 13 million people) in western, southern and central parts of the island. It contains many loaned words from Portuguese, English and Dutch languages due to colonial rules.
Tamil is the second language and it is spoken in northern and eastern parts of Sri Lanka. 15 % of the population is using this language. It was brought to Sri Lanka many centuries ago mostly from India. There are also other minorities who speak their own languages.
The majority of the Sri Lanka population speaks English, so it is unlikely you will have any problems with communication. Although due to the accent and borrowing words from the other languages it can be sometimes hard to understand locals.
Sri Lanka has a big variety of religions. The most popular (70, 1%) is Theravada Buddhists. The second biggest is Hindus with 12,6% of the Sri Lanka population. 9,7% are Muslims, 6,2% – Roman Catholic and 1,4% other religions.
In general Sri Lanka is a safe place for tourists. Although you need to be aware of the 2019 bombing. The tragedy happened on Easter day and caused the death of 258 people. The church in Negombo and a few big hotels in Colombo were bombed. The government of Sri Lanka declared a state of emergency and the foreign countries gave Sri Lanka Level two
The big fancy hotels and restaurants will be fine with the card payment but be prepare to have cash with you when you are going to to buy something out of the fruit stalls, small markets or restaurants that look like someones courtyard or a garage.
You may think that you won’t visit places like this, but believe me when I say that some of the best dishes we tried were at the tiny restaurants that looked like someones house with an open terrace and few tables.
On arrival you can exchange money at the airport. There is usually a good exchange rate and they don’t have a commission. Or you can go to a bank in the city, it might take a half an hour of your time to exchange the money there and fill in the paper work (don’t forget to bring your passport to the bank). The bank won’t have any commission as well. In case the banks are closed or you can’t find one then go to a jewelry shop. But before exchanging the money at the jewelry store ask about the exchange rate and the commission.
To find ATMs is not a problem. They are on every corner and the withdrawal fee and the rate will depend on your bank and the ATM of course.
If you are looking for transportation to travel within one city, then it is most comfortable to use a tuktuk. To do this, you can either flag a tuktuk on the street or install the app that locals in Sri Lanka use called “Pick me”. The app works just like Uber, you need to put the drop off location and the pick up point and the app will tell you the price, the drive time and let you choose what transport do you want (tuktuk for 1-3 people, a small car for 4 people or a van for 5 and more). The price difference between the tuktuk stopped on the street and the tuktuk ordered on the app will be 2:1.
If you need to travel Sri Lanka intercity, the best way is to take a train. First of all the train rides in Sri Lanka are incredibly beautiful. We took two trains from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya and from Nuwara Eliya to Ella and it was an amazing experience. We also took a third train ride from Galle to Colombo which was beautiful right around sunset. The view of the tea plantation passing on the way will keep you staring out the window the whole ride. And of course the pictures (you probably saw some on Instagram) that you can take hanging out of the train car will make a great addition to your photo album.
Second reason to take the train: it is very cheap. For the first class seat we paid Rs 1000 ($5,5) – Rs 1500 ($8,2) depending on the train. The trains are clean with comfortable chairs. The first class is equipped with air conditioning units, which makes the ride easy and enjoyable. If there are no first class don’t be upset the third class looks almost the same, but no air conditioner. The price of a third class seat on an intercity train can be around Rs 250 ($1,8) – Rs 500 ($2,5).
I don’t see the point to take the bus within the city, since the tuktuk are quite cheap. If you want to take the bus between the cities it can be tricky. The drivers don’t let people bring big luggage on the bus simply because there is no space for luggage. But the buses are very cheap in Sri Lanka and for the budget tourist it is an only chance to get somewhere cheap if there is no train. In this case you can offer to pay for extra seat for your luggage.
Although it is required to have an international driving permit (IDP) many tourist drive without such and never have problems with the police. I recommend to rent a car just if you plan to travel Sri Lanka a month or more otherwise it is not necessary since you can get to the most tourist attractions by the train or the buses, which are quite cheap here.
To rent a car you will have to pay around $30 per day, but if you need a car for a month try to haggle and get not more than $500 per month. Another option can be to rent a scooter which is cheaper of course but not that practical.
If you going to self-drive be aware that in the Hill country you won’t be able to cover more than 35 km/h and coast more than 55 km/h.
Sri Lanka is still a new destination for tourists and the prices are fairly cheap. Cody and I didn’t usually stay at fancy big hotels, but at guest houses where we paid around $25 – $30 a night for a nice room with breakfast and almost always an incredible view. If you plan to travel Sri Lanka, guest houses are the best way to lodge in my opinion.
The exception we made was at the last stop, Galle where we stayed at The Bartizan, a colonial style boutique hotel for a night and the price was $140. So depending on your budget you can find a suitable room. Although if you are going to Nuwara Eliya be prepare to pay minimum $50 per room at a hotel; It was by far the most expensive city in Sri Lanka in my opinion.
Depending on the city you are going to the meal prices can go from $5 to $15 a person. The best dinners we had were at our Kandy guest house where we paid $8 for two people and at our Ella guest house ($10 for two). So I really recommend to try to stay at the home stays or guest houses to get to know the families who own them and to try authentic home made Sri Lankan food.
Of course everyone who is going to Sri Lanka knows that the sea food there is quite cheap compared to Europe or America. The best way to try fresh sea food is to go to the fish markets and buy whatever you like there and then to go to any restaurant and ask them to prepare it for small price. The pluses of this are: you’ve got to see if the sea food is really fresh and you can haggle at the markets to get the best price, whereas in a restaurant you of course won’t do that.
The alcohol is not expensive in Sri Lanka as well. A can of beer (500 ml) will cost around Rs 500 ($2,5) and a cocktail Rs 600 ($3,5) – Rs 800 ($4,5).
Restaurants: Most locals do not tip at the restaurants. And the waiters do not expect tips either. If you want to tip, you can just leave your small change and that is considered a nice gesture.
Hotels: If you travel Sri Lanka and stay at nice hotels, it is expected to tip. You can do this either as you go along or on departure. Most small hotels have a tip box now. We would tip the host around $2.50 a night and just give it upon checkout.
Taxi: There is no tipping culture with the local taxis