The Ultimate Guide to Backpacking Sri Lanka

Few countries on earth offer the diversity found in Sri Lanka. This island nation in South Asia is brimful of atmospheric temples and historical sites. It possesses an array of dramatic natural landscapes, from mountain ranges to rainforests. Simply, it offers travellers a nearly endless choice of unforgettable experiences.

Want to spend tranquil days reclining on pristine beaches? Or maybe grabbing a surfboard and riding the waves is more your style? How does hopping on and off trains as you explore a country unlike any you’ve seen before, whale watching, or hiking up majestic mist-covered hillsides sound? Sri Lanka has it all and more. This is a nation for the intrepid and the curious. For those whose wanderlust demands a destination that genuinely spells adventure!

Join us for our guide to this dream backpackers’ destination, and while you’re with us, please be sure to check out our range of Sri Lanka group tours.

When is the Best Time to Visit Sri Lanka?

Despite Sri Lanka being a small country, it is home to various weather conditions depending on the time of year and where you are on the island.

Due to the higher altitude, the Hill Country is where you’ll find the coldest conditions, with an average temperature of 16°C. In coastal areas, the temperature generally remains around 25°C.

The country’s high tourist season runs from December to April, when temperatures are at their best in the south and west of the country. This is the best time of year to visit Sri Lanka if spending plenty of time on the beach is part of your itinerary. On the other hand, if you’re travelling to the east coast, we recommend travelling between May and October.

Wildlife enthusiasts will be pleased to know that wildlife-spotting activities can be arranged throughout the year. However, the best time to see animals such as leopards and elephants is between December and April when conditions are at their driest.

What should you pack for your trip to Sri Lanka?

We often get this question, so let’s go through an ideal packing list for backpacking in Sri Lanka…

  • Large, durable backpack for your extensive journeys
  • A day bag: light and preferably waterproof
  • Shoes: a pair of comfortable trainers for general use and a good pair of walking boots for when you undertake hikes and nature walks
  • A lightweight rain jacket
  • An international adapter and all your must-have chargers for your phone, camera, etc.
  • Flip flops for the beach
  • Sun lotion – it’s expensive and hard to find in local shops in Sri Lanka
  • Insect repellent
  • A quality camera
  • A sarong or large, light scarf for an array of functions: blanket, shawl, or covering for changing at the beach or visiting holy sites
  • Comfortable, loose-fitting clothing for hot and humid conditions
  • Some warmers layers, such as hoodies, for cooler temperatures in the evenings
  • A dedicated money belt or travel wallet for keeping money safe
  • Your passport (top tip: make copies of your documents and store them separately in case disaster were to strike and you lost something)

How to Get Around Sri Lanka

Given the relatively small size of Sri Lanka, you shouldn’t run into any major obstacles when trying to get around. Bus services cover the country’s major tourist attractions and transport within the cities, and a good rail network covers the entire island. If you want to try a unique way of travelling, you may want to consider renting a tuk-tuk – these small, motorised rickshaws are easy to drive, inexpensive, and make for a memorable journey.

Finding bus times online can be a pain, but we recommend scouting out your options in the destination. Just ask the staff at your hostel or hotel, and they’ll surely be able to give you an idea of the bus routes suitable for you. In Sri Lanka, you generally won’t need bus or train tickets in advance.

As mentioned above, the train network serving Sri Lanka is good, and you’ll find it affordable. We always recommend travellers take trains across the country as it allows you to enjoy the amazing scenery. Just note: particularly scenic rail journeys (such as that between Kandy and Ella) might fill up, so do get these tickets in advance.

Finally, depending on your location, you can use services such as PickMe and Uber in Sri Lanka. This is generally good value and ideal for travel within urban areas. Standard taxis are also an option and usually not too expensive (just get a quote if taking a longer journey).

Of course, if you join Novato for our Sri Lanka Uncovered: Wildlife, Serenity & Culture tour, all your travel needs will be taken care of.

Is Sri Lanka Expensive?

Like most destinations with a healthy tourist industry, Sri Lanka offers experiences for those on a range of budgets, from luxury hotels and fine dining to wallet-friendly hostels and street food.

Backpackers will be pleased to hear that they can get by on less than 40 GBP per day (about 45 US dollars) if they plan things and stay disciplined.

Journeys by bus or train will typically cost no more than a couple of pounds. Eating out can be enjoyed for a similarly low price, though you will encounter higher costs if you pick establishes aimed exclusively at tourists.

You will not find the same drinking in Sri Lanka as in the UK or USA, so expect to pay more for alcohol. 70% of Sri Lankans are Buddhists, while 12% are Hindu and 7% are Muslim – be mindful of this when consuming alcohol. You won’t get deals on alcohol and can expect prices similar to those in Western Europe.

Some Must-See Sites in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is a treasure house packed with things to see and do. The biggest challenge you’ll have as a backpacker is deciding what amazing things to include on your itinerary. Below are a few highlights to get you started!

Ella’s Nine Arch Bridge

The rail journeys to and from the small town of Ella are epic! In this part of the country, you’ll get to enjoy Instagrammable landscapes filled with forest and tea plantations. But there’s no view more scenic than that of Ella’s Nine Arch Bridge. Organise private transport from Ella early in the morning to get the best shots of this wonderfully cinematic bridge.

Go on Safari

Sri Lanka is jam-packed with wildlife, so you’ll have no shortage of opportunities to get up close to marvellous animals. Safaris are dotted around the country, so you may want to make your choice depending on your planned travel routes.

The following national parks are some of the main parks that have safari experiences: Yala National Park, Wasgamuwa National Park, Udawalawe National Park, Kaudulla National Park, Bundala National Park, Minneriya National Park, Gal Oya National Park.

With our 12-Day Sri Lanka Uncovered trip, you can enjoy an unforgettable elephant walk experience.


One of Sri Lanka’s most recognisable symbols, the ancient rock fortress of Sigiriya, is found in the country’s Central Region. Meaning Lion Rock, Sigiriya is 180 m tall and has been a site of importance since the 5th century.

Sigiriya is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, welcoming around 1 million visitors each year. Visit Sigiriya to capture breathtaking photos, see the ancient frescoes and rock carvings, and enjoy panoramic views of the pristine surrounding landscapes.


Whether you want secluded beaches for sunbathing or beaches offering great waves for surfing, Sri Lanka has it all. This island nation has as much diversity in its beaches as you’re ever likely to find!

Bentota, Mirissa and Tangalle are among Sri Lanka’s most famous beaches, and we recommend Hikkaduwa for snorkelling.

Visit Extraordinary Waterfalls

Those who love taking pictures should keep their eyes peeled for waterfalls in Sri Lanka – your snaps will surely leave your Instagram followers green with envy!

Some suggestions for your research: Baker’s Falls, Laxapana, Ravana Falls, Bopath Ella, Bambarakanda Falls, and St. Clairs Waterfall.

There you have it…we hope you’ve found this guide helpful for your dream trip to Sri Lanka.

If you want to learn more about the tours we offer, look at our Awesome Group Tours in South Asia.

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