Travel to Sri Lanka: The Ultimate Guide

Samuel Clennett

Sri Lanka has both paradise beaches along the Indian Ocean, and cooler central highlands which let you escape the heat and check out the majestic waterfalls, misty forests and tea plantations.

Sri Lanka was voted the world’s Number One destination by Lonely Planet in 2019, and tourism in Sri Lanka was growing quickly. However, this popularity took a dramatic dip after terror attacks at Easter 2019. These days, the country is rebuilding, and tourists are returning to Sri Lanka to enjoy the warm welcome and stunning scenery.

This guide will cover how to visit Sri Lanka safely, and how to make the most of your trip by using a Wise borderless account and linked Mastercard to cut your bank and currency costs.

Do your research

Sri Lanka is said to be one of the best islands in the world, with a wide variety of destinations and activities to choose from. Doing some research is key to making sure you plan a holiday that you’ll be talking about for years to come.

The official tourism authority of Sri Lanka has a helpful website which groups inspiration around key words such as Thrill, Pristine and Heritage. Check it out for ideas for itineraries, places to visit and the key things you won’t want to miss out on while you’re in Sri Lanka¹.

You’ll also want to check out practical things, like tips on food hygiene and health care, including which immunisations are recommended for travellers. Take a look at the weather in your destination for the time you plan to visit, too, as monsoon rains can bring disruption for several months a year.

It’s worth noting that the Australian government recommends exercising caution when in Sri Lanka due to heightened risks of terrorism. Get up to date safety advice on the Sri Lanka page on the Smart Traveller website, before you travel².

How to get the most for your money

It can sometimes feel like your travel options are infinite - but sadly, your budget is not. Figuring out how to make your money go further is key to getting the most out of your time in Sri Lanka. Here are a few ideas.

Know your exchange rate

To know which currency exchange service is offering the best deal, you’ll need to know both the upfront fees being charged, and the exchange rates available from different providers.

You may notice different exchange rates being used for currency conversion. To check if they’re any good, compare them against the mid-market rate. That’s the rate you’ll find on Google or with an online currency converter - and the one the provider got when buying the currency themselves.

It’s common to find that the bank or exchange service has added a markup to the mid-market exchange rate, making it more expensive to buy your chosen currency. However, not all providers do this. Avoid the markup and cut costs, with a Wise borderless account and card. More on that later.

Look for hidden costs

If you plan on using your bank card abroad, don’t forget to check your account terms and conditions to find out if you’ll be charged a fee to spend or make cash withdrawals overseas. Flat fees, percentage charges, or both, are common - and can quickly mount up.

Avoid Dynamic Currency Conversion (DCC)

DCC is where you’re asked if you want to pay in your home currency instead of the local one when you pay or make a withdrawal using your bank card overseas.

Paying in your home currency can mean you get a poor exchange rate and have to pay extra fees - so opt to pay in the local currency wherever you are, to get the best deal.

Get a specialist account for your travels

Keep your money in order, and make currency exchange and overseas spending easy, with a Wise borderless account. You’ll be able to hold, send and receive dozens of currencies, and get a smart new Wise borderless Mastercard, for payments and withdrawals with no foreign transaction fees.

Add dollars to your account, switch to the currency you need using the mid-market exchange rate, and pay a low transparent fee. Then you can spend like a local wherever you are. See if you can save when you travel to Sri Lanka, with Wise.

Things to be aware of

As we mentioned earlier, Sri Lanka suffered terrorist attacks in April 2019. The Australian government now advise caution when visiting. In effect this means you should pay attention to travel advice before you go, and listen to officials once you arrive. Avoid crowds and give plenty of time to pass through additional security checks which have been set up since these attacks. You’ll need to carry ID at all times, too.

All that said, Sri Lanka is still very much open for business, and rebuilding tourism is a priority. Be aware that the country is conservative in comparison to Australia, and you’ll want to take cues from the locals on how to dress and carry yourself.

Healthcare in Sri Lanka is not of a high standard, and outbreaks of mosquito and water borne illnesses are relatively common. Get good medical travel insurance to ensure you can be evacuated if you have a serious accident or illness.

The Australian consular service in Sri Lanka may be able to offer support if you find yourself facing issues while you travel. Learn more about the role of the consular service, via the information, fact sheets and contact information available on the Smart Traveller website³.

Get to know the Visa situation

For most tourist visits to Sri Lanka, you’ll need an electronic travel authorisation document (eTA) which you can get online⁴.

At the time of writing there is a fee waiver for this paperwork which means Australian citizens may even be able to get the visa required for free. Check out the details online when you’re ready to apply.

If you want to work while you’re in Sri Lanka, or if you’re staying for a longer period of time, seek advice from your local embassy or consulate to make sure you get the right visa for your needs.

Accommodation in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka has accommodation ranging from simple beachside rooms to prestigious eco lodges and high end hotels in former colonial buildings. You can find everything from a family run guest house where you may socialise and eat with the owners, to an all inclusive budget beach resort, to a boutique hotel which would not be out of place at any of the world’s most luxurious destinations.

If you’re staying in a cheaper hotel or guest house, or are visiting in low season, The Rough Guide recommends negotiating the price - especially if you’re there for several nights⁵. Prices can fluctuate according to many factors, including how much the owner thinks you may be willing to pay.

Elsewhere, booking ahead online is the easiest way to make sure you find something which suits you. Look at reviews and ratings to pick out the best among the options available at your budget - there will usually be plenty to choose from.

Getting around in Sri Lanka

Transport within the cities and towns in Sri Lanka is much the same as any other destination in the region. You’ll be able to choose from taxis and tuk tuks, or take a bus, for example⁶.

Intercity travel, however, starts to get more interesting. There are busses and trains which include luxury options, and can be booked online via various portals - check out the tourism information site for more on this. And then there are the air taxis⁷. As the name suggests, these are small planes which can be chartered to get around the island with ease, from a connecting flight to your hotel to a pleasure tour over the highlands. If you have a head for heights, this could really give your trip a little something extra.

Sights to see

Palm fringed beaches and crystal clear water mean that many people come to Sri Lanka primarily to enjoy the beaches. However, you can also get involved in a range of adventure activities, or seek out some of the colourful history of the area. Here are some ideas when planning your trip.

  • Visit the capital Colombo for fine food, local culture, and if you fancy it, a round of golf at the historical Royal Colombo Golf Club⁸
  • If you’re looking for a beach holiday with a bit more, why not snorkel or dive at any of the coral garden dive sites around the coast. Try skin diving, seek out a ship wreck, or even dive with dolphins⁹
  • Hiking or trekking in the cooler interior can be rewarding - and you’ll often have the chance to take a dip in view of one of the country’s beautiful waterfalls, too¹⁰
  • Take a trip to Sigiriya, to view the stunning ruined palace and gardens there - a world heritage site since 1982¹¹

Tips for a great trip

Before you get booking, here are a few last thoughts to make sure your trip is successful.

  • Pick up a SIM card before you even leave the airport - it’s easy, and Mobitel is the network recommended for travellers¹²
  • Take note of local laws - it’s illegal to smoke or drink in public, and activities disrespectful of Buddah or Buddhism are also against the law
  • Sri Lanka is a conservative country - your dress and behaviour should reflect this
  • Use the government’s Smart Traveller website for up to date travel information for Sri Lanka, as well as a wide range of travel support and resources¹³

Sri Lanka is a real jewel of a place, with much to offer travellers. Get the most from your break by using a Wise borderless account and linked Mastercard for currency exchange and day to day spending. Happy holidays!


  1. Travel Sri Lanka
  2. SmartTravel - Destination Sri Lanka
  3. Getting Help
  4. Online Visa Application
  5. Accomodation in Sri Lanka
  6. Transport in Sri Lanka
  7. Air Taxi
  8. Golfing in Sri Lanka
  9. Diving in Sri Lanka
  10. Trekking in Sri Lanka
  11. Tourist Attractions
  12. Buying a Local Sim
  13. Smartraveller

All sources accurate as of 15 Jan 2020

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