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When I showed you the best accommodations in Sri Lanka we’ve stayed at, a lot of you wondered what is a homestay. This was actually a new concept for me too as I’ve never heard of them before Sri Lanka! That’s why I decided to write this post: to clarify once and for all what a home stay means in Asia, to let you in on some details to better prepare, and to show some examples of good Sri Lankan homestays you can choose from if you are planning a trip.
You can see it as a full guide to Sri Lankan accommodations for first-time visitors – more on a budget side!
Personally, we chose a homestay in Sri Lanka over a hotel 90% of the time. Not only they are cheaper and much more common, but they also let you experience local culture much further if you are really interested in it! And if you aren’t, why even bother traveling?
Curious about local homestays? Read on!
What is a homestay in Sri Lanka
Traveling around Europe we would always stay either in hotels or in Airbnb apartments. Sri Lanka is a completely different story.
The most popular accommodation type there is called a homestay. It’s somewhat similar to renting a room in a shared home, but not really.
In most cases what you get actually looks like a usual hotel room – with a private bathroom, separate entrance, and sometimes a balcony or a private sitting area on a terrace outside.
The main difference is that the owner lives there too. Usually, it’s a local family with kids and it’s their little family business. They live either on another floor or in a separate part of the building.
They don’t invade your privacy unless you are really “lucky” (we were once and ended up literally running away into the night, but that’s a fun story for another time). In any case, always read reviews carefully before booking any accommodation, even for one night. You never know…
Sri Lankan home stay is rarely big. Usually, they have just a handful of rooms available, so oftentimes you may be the only guest at the moment, especially when you visit in a low season. We stayed in many different places from the Hill Country to south coast of Sri Lanka and usually only saw one or two other guests in each of them.
What’s more important, in a homestay the hosts do their best to make you feel like home. Depending on your needs, they may cook for you, tell you all about local gems, arrange a taxi, and provide other services upon request. Scroll down to the perks section to find out more!
In the main touristic areas, there are also hotels, but they are much more expensive and oriented towards luxury travelers. If you are looking for a cheap, budget-friendly or mid-range accommodation and want to feel the local hospitality, choose a homestay. By doing this, you also support small local businesses!
What you should know before staying in a homestay
As you basically get to live in a local home, some things might be unexpected and far from what you are used to at home. I guess for Asians coming to Sri Lanka there are fewer surprising differences, but for us that came from Europe, it was a lot to take. Nothing serious that you can’t live with, but better safe than sorry, so read this and be prepared!
Sri Lankan bathroom explained
At first I thought that we chose a wrong or too cheap place to live – but soon (after staying in different cities) I realized that it’s just how the bathroom usually is in Sri Lanka!
What surprised me the most was the shower.
I’m used to having shower stalls and bathtubs and sometimes a combination of both. As opposed to that, what they usually have in Sri Lanka is called a wet room. In fact, it’s just a shower hanging on the wall and the water goes right to the floor!
There is no separate space for showering or any panel to divide the room. Oh, no, wait, we had a curtain once! Only once out of 10 accommodations we stayed at in Sri Lanka!
This means that if the bathroom is small enough then when you have a shower everything gets wet: the toilet, the whole floor, the washbasin, and your clothes if you put it on any surface inside the bathroom.
Sound cool? Yeah, not really.
You might think that we stayed in super cheap places and that’s why it was like this, but that’s not the case. Such a wet room is really really common in Sri Lanka and it was the same even in a nice luxury hotel where we stayed once for $50 per night. Well, at least there they had wall hangers for the clothes and more space, so not everything was getting wet.
Another thing is that in the homestays oftentimes there are no tap regulators. You get what you get. You turn the water on and just hope it’s warm enough. And in some places, it wasn’t! In some cheaper accommodations in southern Sri Lanka, there was no hot water at all – but it was hot outside and we lived close to the beach, so we didn’t mind. Another thing to look closely for in reviews, especially if you happen to have small children with you.
Lastly, it’s very common for a Sri Lankan bathroom to have a hand-held bidet sprayer near the toilet – something you only occasionally see in Europe.
Bring a socket adapter with you
All power sockets in Sri Lanka provide a standard voltage of 230V with a standard frequency of 50Hz.
But when it comes to the types of sockets, you never know. We saw a few different types in our accommodations: some worked fine with our Europlug devices, but most did not. Sometimes we could insert the plug but it won’t work unless we put something non-conductive into a third hole. Other times it wouldn’t fit at all.
At some homestays, we had an adapter in the room or something (read: a wooden stick) inserted into a third hole to prevent blocking. But most of the time we were glad that we had our universal travel adapters – and we used them almost everywhere. Having a dual-USB charging option is also handy when you need to charge more than one device but there is only one socket in the room, which happened a lot.
By the way, Sri Lankan socket usually has a switch to turn it off, which is a cool safety feature I’ve never seen before.
Also, electricity can be off sometimes from a few minutes to almost a whole day. Especially in smaller cities or villages. During our trip, we experienced blackouts of different periods in Sigiriya, Hiriketiya, Hikkaduwa, etc. Owners can’t do anything about it as the whole area is out.
Be ready for insects
Prepare carefully for insects in Sri Lanka, as there are many. Way too many, if you ask me. Almost every accommodation we stayed at had some issues related to this. Flies, ants, spiders, big unknown flying bugs, and mosquitoes – this is just what we encountered the most.
You can’t protect yourself from most of these, but at least pay attention to the accommodation reviews. If many people complain about insects, maybe it’s not the best place to go.
One thing you actually can protect yourself from is mosquito bites. I wore a repellent spray all the time, especially for outdoor activities like safaris, rock climbing, and botanical gardens, and also when we would go out in the evenings. If you are buying ahead, consider a compact-sized repellent that you can take everywhere. Also, pay attention to its time span: aim for 8-10 hours of protection and skip those that only provide 3-4 hours.
In the room in most places there is a bed mosquito net, which is a cool feature when it actually exists and is taken care of. But sometimes there was none or we didn’t want to use it for some reason (like that one that seemed to have a year’s worth of dust in it), so we turned a plug-in electronic repellent most nights and save ourselves a lot of bites.
Sometimes you will get bitten anyway and for such cases, I recommend always having some kind of itch relief stick with you to fix it fast.
Don’t expect great English level from everyone
Although the hosts tend to know some English in order for their business to work, it’s often very basic. If you are a native English speaker, I’d say use simpler words and constructions so they understand you better. More often than not, they can’t tell you the names of some local food or places in English – for those cases, Google is your friend.
In some rare cases you might stumble upon a host who can’t put two words together – and this will be a pain. However, you’ll probably be able to find another family member (most likely a younger one) who can help you communicate.
By the way, the most common local language in Sri Lanka is Sinhala, in case you were wondering.
Perks of staying in a homestay
You get to eat most authentic local food
This is my favorite reason that alone makes me wanna choose homestays every time!
I aim for breakfast included everywhere I stay – this lets me try a lot of new things and learn tons about the local food. With the huge portions they tend to have in Asia, it’s more than worth it.
While, for example, in Spain, you can have churros with a cup of chocolate or coffee for breakfast and be done with it, it’s never the case in Sri Lanka. Here every breakfast feels like a feast! It starts with a tropical fruit plate, continues with different kinds of roti, hoppers, and sambol, and ends with pancakes or another typical local dessert (or both!). Add to this a full pot of tea or coffee for each and try to fit it all into your body. If you are a petite girl like me, a homestay breakfast in Sri Lanka can easily keep you full for the rest of the day.
Although we ate in restaurants most of the time, the best Sri Lankan food we had was always at homestays. This is where we tried all those traditional dishes we’ve never heard of – and would probably never order it specifically as we didn’t know what it was.
This is also where we had the best rice and curries in Sri Lanka! It’s their specialty and no one cooks it as good as a local housewife!
You might get some insights from locals
With homestay hosts, you can generally be less formal than with hotel staff. Besides, as it’s their own business, they always try to do their best to meet your needs. They are usually happy to spend some time talking to you about local culture. You might want to ask some general questions about their nation, history, or whatever you care about, and hear the personal perspective of a local citizen. They might also share with you some less-known places to visit in the area!
We probably wouldn’t visit an ethical elephant sanctuary called Elephant Transit Home and wouldn’t see dozens of free roaming baby elephants if it weren’t for locals. You might have never heard of places that are usual for them, so it’s always worth asking a few questions.
It’s cheaper than a hotel
While hotel prices start from $50 per night and raise from there, homestays are much cheaper. The price varies in between $20-$40 per night, but in less touristic places you can find options for as low as $10 (we did in Udawalawa!).
Imagine, in some European countries (yes, Denmark, I’m looking at you!) you can’t even rent a hostel bed for this price! Here you not only get a room and a personal bathroom, but also a lounge zone with armchairs outside, a private eating area in the garden, welcome cocktails, AND breakfast. Don’t you wanna go to Sri Lanka right now?
With that said, if you are on a budget, go for homestays, it’s a no-brainer.
They only have a handful of guests and want you to feel welcome
When we stayed in Talalla, we had the nicest host, who was super nice and friendly. I wish everyone was like him! He talked to us about wildlife in the region, made us tea and coffee free of charge, brought us local Sri Lankan treats when it was tea time and was always there to protect us from brazen monkeys who tried to steal our food almost every morning.
Best homestays in Sri Lanka by region
I’ve researched the best options for each of the destinations in Sri Lanka worth visiting. Most of these places have breakfast included and are budget-friendly!
Also, check out my favorite Sri Lankan homestays! This post rounds up our best personal experience from staying in Sri Lanka. They are all wonderful and I would go back to any of them in a heartbeat!
Best homestays in Colombo
Best homestays in Sigiriya
Best homestays in Kandy
Best homestays in Ella
Best homestays in Yala
Best homestays in Tangalle
Best homestays in Hikkaduwa
Common Questions About Homestays
Which is correct, homestay or home stay?
Both are correct, but “home stay” separately is more commonly used.
Are homestays safe?
I’d say they are even safer than any other accommodation type! Of course, you still need to read reviews before booking to avoid weirdos and such, but in general, staying with a local family should be more on a safe side. The area is probably good if the hosts choose to live there with small children, and the overall attitude toward you is based on care. They might offer to take you places so you don’t drive yourself in crazy Sri Lankan traffic or pick you up somewhere so you don’t walk alone. They’ll probably also warn you if there is something you should be aware of in the area.
Whenever I travel alone, homestay would be my first choice for safety.
Which is better, hotels or homestays?
If you read to this point, you should know the answer already.
Basically, it depends on what it is you are looking for. If you want to experience local hospitality, try the best Sri Lankan food and talk to locals, homestay is your choice. If money is not the issue and you are going to stay at the beach for the whole duration of your trip, than a hotel with many services and extras available might be a better choice for you.
Do you need to study in Sri Lanka to stay in a homestay?
Not at all.
Depending on a country you come from, you may have heard about Au Pair and/or student exchange programs. More often than not taking part in those means you’ll live in a local family abroad – either helping with children or housework in exchange for having a roof.
This has nothing to do with Sri Lankan homestays. Think of it as a guest house with owners living in the same building.
Can you live in a home stay for free?
In short, no. This is not like Au Pair (refer to previous question) or Couchsurfing, more like a hotel in terms of the rules.
Where to look for the best homestays in Sri Lanka?
Agoda is known as a good place for Asian accommodations, especially when it comes to prices. Booking.com is a close second. Some home stays also have listings on Airbnb, which also has discounts for longer stays. Sometimes I check all three of those to compare prices and packages for my preferred dates.
If you have other questions, I covered a lot in my post about Sri Lankan culture.
Final thoughts on Sri Lankan homestays
Are you convinced yet?
Choose a homestay, but choose wisely! Read reviews and pay attention to things that are important to you. In some rural areas there might be no cafe around, so you are stuck with the homestay food. If you are a vegetarian and their only dinner option is chicken rice, you are in trouble! If you work remotely or need Internet for whatever daily activities, make sure that good Wi-Fi connection is available. If reviews don’t tell you enough, communicate with the place directly and ask your questions. No one wants their trip to be spoiled by some little but important detail they didn’t bother checking in advance.
Tell me in the comments if you ever stayed in a home stay! And if you would stay after reading this!