Sri Lanka is a wonderful country for travel and so incredibly different from what we were used to at home! We were amazed or surprised in some way on every step of our journey and there are many things I wished I knew before coming.
Not only would I feel more comfortable living for a month on this remote island, but also at least a few of these facts could have helped me prepare better and avoid some stressful moments.
In this post I compiled together every curious detail you should know if you want to visit Sri Lanka. It’s a combination of fun facts, amusing cultural differences, interesting travel experiences, and answers to important questions in no particular order.
Yes, a wealth of Sri Lanka information in this one post! All of it comes from our personal experience after we spent a month in this beautiful Asian country.
But don’t expect any boring historical facts here – you can go read it in Wikipedia or somewhere else. I’m talking real life, guys!
Aaaaaand, let’s begin!
Get Used To Being Barefoot
All Buddhist temples in Sri Lanka, from the biggest and most popular tourist attractions to the smallest local ones, require visitors to leave their shoes outside.
According to the size and form of maintenance of the specific place, there might be either a special cloakroom for shoes, a number of plain shelves to put your shoes on or nothing at all. The latter is more common for tiny quiet temples in smaller villages where you just take your shoes off outside before coming in.
Socks are usually allowed, and it’s actually a good idea to keep them on if you are visiting some temple in the middle of a very hot day. For example, during our visit to the Temple of the Sacred Tooth, we experienced paver blocks getting so hot that we could hardly walk! This obviously makes the experience less peaceful and calm as you constantly concentrate on your feet pain instead of embracing the religion and feeling vibes of the place you’re visiting.
One time in a smaller temple we really got to feel like tourists because all the locals came wearing flip-flops that could easily be taken on and off, and we both came wearing snickers. And believe me, putting your dirty feet back into snickers is not what you wanna do! Especially if your socks got wet and you have a full day of walking and exploring ahead of you.
Sri Lankans take their religious very seriously!
In some temples, there is a whole security process at the entrance with a scanner gate and guards checking your bags to make sure you are not trying to take your shoes inside.
Another thing I should probably mention here is that you have to also cover your knees and shoulders. Once my husband wasn’t allowed into a temple because he was wearing slightly ripped jeans. So forget about going in shorts or tank tops and show some respect to locals and religion during your trip to Sri Lanka!
A good idea is to have some kind of a shawl with you at all times as it can cover your shoulders, knees or even your head if necessary. This way you don’t need to worry about your outfit every time when you go out.
You Might Be A Tourist Attraction For Locals
This is a funny one, but something I’ve never experienced before.
Seeing a white couple with my husband’s blue eyes and my blue hair is not just something unusual for Sri Lankan people to see. It’s something they’ve probably never seen before. At least that’s how it felt from some reactions.
Once, we went to a local food market and were literally the only white people there. This was new for me and it felt surreal, as everyone noticed us, paid attention and I felt very foreign. Nobody was hostile, nothing like that, but at that moment I understood that you can live there for twenty years and they’ll still treat you like a tourist just because of how different you look.
Another time we were exploring a small fisherman village and every other person would smile, greet us, give compliments or just make some comments as we walked by. I’m used to people asking me to take a photo of them, but in Sri Lanka they wanted to take a photo with me, as if I were a celebrity or something. This was also new to me.
One time we were walking past some local house and people standing outside were obviously shocked to see us. They momentarily called what seemed like a whole family to come outside, pointed at us, smiled, shouted something excitedly in Sinhala and even applauded! It felt so surreal! I wouldn’t ever want to be famous if this is how I’d feel all the time!
The point is, however different Asian culture might feel for you, it might be ten times that for the locals who’ve never been outside their village. Be ready to feel like a part of an exhibition and take it with a smile.
Beware Of Big Waves
If you come for the beach and expect to swim and relax a lot, choose wisely.
One thing I didn’t expect was that many beaches in Sri Lanka are not friendly for swimmers. For example, I’ve put high expectations on Mirissa Beach as I’ve heard about it being the best for tourists. But my first swimming experience there was also my last…
…I stayed knee-deep in the water when the wave came, covered me, and made me do two full flips underwater. The second flip happened when I tried to reach the surface and get some air after the first one. I also hit my leg against the bottom during this flip because, as I already mentioned, it was only a knee-high level.
These 5 minutes were enough for me to decide not to go into that water again.
And, by the way, the waves were full of sand which I was getting out of my hair for a few days afterward.
It might be fun when waves slightly cover you, but when the sea is strong enough to make you feel powerless, this is just frightening.
So, if you are a bad swimmer, travel around Sri Lanka with kids or just prefer a calmer sea, research this topic in advance. There were places where I wouldn’t risk swimming at all as it felt either dangerous or uncomfortable.
Some of the beaches I wouldn’t recommend going to (precisely for swimming, for surfing some of them might be fine):
- Mirissa Beach
- Talalla Beach
- Koggala Beach (Habaraduwa Beach)
- Narigama Beach
- Beach of Bonavista (Dewata Beach)
Instead, look for a smaller bay or something with breakwaters.
Here are some of the good beaches for swimming with kids in Sri Lanka I can recommend:
- Dickwella Beach
- Hiriketiya Beach
- Jungle Beach
- Polhena Beach
- Weligama Beach
- Unawatuna Beach
- Hikkaduwa Beach
Anyways, always do your research before going! I’m sure you don’t want to get stuck for weeks in some place where you can’t even swim.
Each Full Moon Day Is A Public Holiday
I told you before that Sri Lankans are really serious about their religion. That’s why every month they celebrate the day of full moon, which is called Poya in Sinhalese.
As it’s a public holiday, most of shops, restaurants and services are closed. You might also face some alcohol limitations and transport challenges on Poya day. However, this doesn’t apply much to purely touristic areas that stay open no matter what.
Check the calendar for such days before going on a trip to Sri Lanka so they don’t ruin your plans!
Noise Pollution Is A Real Thing
If you still don’t bring earplugs to your travels, go and purchase some right now! This is one of the most useful travel tips I can give you for your trip to Sri Lanka.
Even without specific issues like the one I’m gonna tell you about, they are always handy for not-so-rare crying children on a plane and snoring neighbors in less-than-soundproof accommodations.
These are common situations that can happen all over the world, but the noise problem in Sri Lanka is much bigger than that.
If you haven’t heard about noise pollution yet, you are lucky! We found out about it when we didn’t have a chance to sleep during one of our nights in Sri Lanka.
In a nutshell, there was some religious celebration taking place in all Buddhist temples around the country. And we would be fine with that if it wasn’t for loudspeakers.
No matter how close your stay is to the nearest temple, rest assured, you won’t miss this.
Basically, there are loudspeakers along the roads and local temples use them to broadcast their events on the highest possible volume. Not just all day, but all night too!
We faced it while we were staying in a nice hotel in Rumassala and the celebration was going on from noon to the next noon. Can you imagine? We were already exhausted after a day of listening to religious music and chanting, but then it continued through the whole night!
Sadly, we only had one set of earplugs during our Sri Lanka travel so we had to take turns to sleep a little. The next morning our hotel staff apologized a lot, but they couldn’t do anything about it.
It started as an interesting event with beautiful meditative music but ended as a nightmare because they didn’t even care to turn the music down through the night.
Not only the temples don’t care about people being able to sleep, but they are also forcing the people of different faiths to listen to Buddhist chanting continuously for twenty-four hours.
We were shocked that it’s a common issue in Sri Lanka and the government doesn’t do anything about fixing it! This was one of the very few negative experiences we had during our trip.
Are you still doubting those earplugs? Better go and buy them right now! You never know what can ruin your sleep.
Seemingly Negative Head Waggle Means Agreement
Hey, you are lucky to be reading this as it will save you some confusion in interactions with locals when you travel around Sri Lanka!
As opposed to the typical nodding back and force known as ‘Yes’ gesture in Europe and most western world, Sri Lankan gesture is nearly the opposite.
To agree with you or confirm something (like a tuk-tuk price, for example), they actually perform a head waggle from side to side. This gesture is somewhat similar to the behavior of a bobblehead doll.
It looks funny at first and is really confusing unless you are prepared for it. I’d read about this somewhere before our trip and quickly realized what was happening, but my husband was confused thinking that that person disagrees with us while smiling at the same time.
Anyway guys, just remember it and thank me later!
Product Prices Are Regulated By Sri Lankan Authorities
If you want to buy a Snickers bar or a pack of Pringles, you can be sure the price will be the same in every shop or supermarket across the country.
This was a cool discovery for us as we are used to prices being different in every shop in Ukraine and every place adding extra margins to maximize their profits.
All the prices are actually printed on a product label together with the nutrition information!
Of course there are some exceptions from this rule: some sellers in the most popular touristic spots act in a bad faith and overprice their products by putting their own price labels on top or removing existing ones and telling you prices verbally.
But in general, this is a great law you can rely on in most cases!
Sri Lanka Is A Cash-Dependent Country
This is simple: always take cash (in local currency) wherever you go on this island.
About 80% of our accommodations in Sri Lanka and 100% of smaller homestays only accepted cash. Local shops in villages, car rental services, and tuk-tuk drivers are always cash-only. Fruit markets have probably never heard of such thing as a payment terminal.
Luxury hotels will let you pay however you want, but they don’t represent the majority of Sri Lankan local businesses.
With that said, better always carry some cash just to be on the safe side.
If you happen to have no cash and need to get somewhere, consider using a local taxi app that charges your connected card directly.
Mobile Internet Is The King
Across the country, the Wi-Fi connection is very poor and unreliable. We had a lot of frustrating moments with it. It wasn’t an easy task to find accommodations with good Wi-Fi in the room according to the reviews. And even those rare places in most cases had a crappy connection with really slow Internet and frequent breaks.
This might be a huge problem if you are supporting your business on the go, working remotely, freelancing or even just simply want to upload some photos from your ongoing vacation.
That’s why I highly recommend buying a 4G SIM-card in the airport when you arrive. You can choose a data package according to your needs and journey duration and also decide whether you need calls or only the Internet.
When we landed in Colombo, my husband bought a SIM card with 55 GB of data for as low as 2700 LKR (~$15) which is exactly 19 times cheaper than what I had as a roaming package with my home provider. He also got very good speed and coverage which wasn’t the case for me.
Russian-Speaking People Are Everywhere
I had no idea that a remote island Sri Lanka was such a popular destination for the Russian-speaking community… Until I got there.
As a native Russian speaker, I was surprised to hear this language a lot everywhere we went to in Sri Lanka. I don’t think there was even one city where I wouldn’t hear Russian from other tourists either walking by or sitting next to us in restaurants.
And we faced an even bigger surprise when we went to the Unawatuna beach area! Literally every other restaurant name or outdoor menu board was written in Russian, often without any translation to English or even Sinhalese. This means that Russian-speaking tourism is huge in Sri Lanka!
I have no idea why it is so popular or why other nations don’t visit as often, but it is what it is.
Wild Life Is At Every Turn in Sri Lanka
So far we haven’t seen so much wildlife in a natural habitat in any other country!
You go for a walk in the village and spot monkeys on wires above.
You drive from one city to another and suddenly see an elephant on the side of the road.
You have breakfast on a terrace of your homestay not expecting monkeys to come and steal your banana.
You notice peacocks and iguanas casually crossing the road and more monkeys sitting in trees near the beach you are headed to.
Not to mention the wide variety of species you see during amazing safaris in many national parks!
Sri Lanka is full of life and you witness it on every corner!
Sri Lanka Only Gained This Name In 1972
My final fact for today is that Sri Lanka was called Ceylon before 1972 and this name might still appear as a part of some local business names.
Ceylon was actually a British royal colony between 1815 and 1948 and then got its independence, but kept the name up until it became a republic in 1972.
If you happened to hear about ‘Ceylon tea’ before, it is actually about Sri Lanka!
Did You Learn Something New About Sri Lanka? Tell Me In Comments One Fact You Didn’t Know Before!
That’s it for my Sri Lanka travel tips! Now it’s time to answer some common questions!
I’ve compiled this information so you don’t need to Google separately every single detail before your trip. Just save this post somewhere and come back to it when you have another question about Sri Lanka!
General Sri Lanka Information | Common Questions Answered
What is the local currency in Sri Lanka?
Sri Lankan rupee (Rs), but an official currency code is LKR.
LKR code is used to not mix it up with other currencies that are also called rupees. For example, Indian, Nepalese, and Indonesian currencies are rupees and can be shortened as Rs too.
The approximate rates at the time of our 2020 journey were: 1 USD = 190 LKR, 1 EUR = 205 LKR.
You can always check today’s rates here.
Which language is spoken in Sri Lanka?
The most used language is called Sinhala or Sinhalese.
In the north and some other areas, Tamil is more common and it’s a second official language in Sri Lanka.
English is not very good, especially in the villages and non-touristic cities. But most locals have a bare minimum knowledge of it so you can understand each other on simple daily subjects.
In the popular touristic spots, you’ll see a lot of signs in English and also in Russian.
What is the most popular sport in Sri Lanka?
The most popular sport is Cricket, although official national sport is Volleyball.
What can I do in Sri Lanka?
Sri Lanka is a small island, but rich on culture and unique activities!
Depending on the duration of your journey and what you are interested in, you have plenty of options to choose from. Go on safaris around national parks, hike in Sigiriya, visit Buddhist temples, wake up early for whale watching, explore the tea plantations of Nuwara Eliya, take a stroll at botanical gardens in Kandy, unwind at one of the many beautiful beaches of Sri Lankan south coast, take surfing lessons, bathe in waterfalls, visit an ethical elephant sanctuary, swim with giant turtles, watch the sun rising and setting… and much more!
Here are some ideas to inspire your wanderlust!
Is Sri Lanka a good place to travel?
Sri Lanka is amazing and unique in so many ways!
It is small enough that you can explore the whole country by land in one trip.
Locals are very friendly and hospitable.
Everything is cheap compared to Europe or the US.
You can fit plenty of cool activities in only a couple of weeks.
What’s not to love? Of course you should travel to Sri Lanka!
What is the capital of Sri Lanka?
Although most people think it’s Colombo, actually it’s not.
The official capital of Sri Lanka is Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte, or just Kotte. Colombo, on the other hand, is a financial capital and a popular tourist destination.
Is it safe to travel to Sri Lanka?
In Sri Lanka we felt very safe!
You should of course have common sense as you would in any other country, but in general you don’t have to worry about safety there.
But make sure to check the current situation before going, as they happen to have unstable religious relationship inside the country.
Also, if you are a single female in Sri Lanka and travel alone, you need to be a bit more cautious and avoid putting yourself at risk. I covered this topic a bit further here.
Lastly, always look both ways (right first!) and be extra careful when crossing the roads. As I told you before, traffic in Sri Lanka is crazy!
In which timezone is Sri Lanka?
Sri Lanka Standard Time (GMT/UTC + 5½ hours)
Try not to forget about that half an hour shift when you actually travel to Sri Lanka!
What religion is most common?
Main religion in Sri Lanka is Buddhism. There are Buddhist temples everywhere and most people are Buddhism practitioners.
The percentage distribution of the main Sri Lankan religions is the following: 70% Buddhist, 13% Hindu, 10% Muslim and 7% Christian.
What is the best time to visit Sri Lanka?
To my opinion, the best time for Sri Lanka travel is February to April.
But it also depends on the part of the country you’re interested in.
There are two monsoon seasons that influence different parts of the island. Maha monsoon season takes place from October to January and at that time northern and eastern areas experience a lot of rain. Yala monsoon season comes from May to August and mainly influences southern, central and western regions.
Take this into consideration when you plan your trip or be ready to make your schedule flexible!
What is the best way to get around in Sri Lanka?
I wrote a whole post about this topic, feel free to check it out!
Which are the best beaches in Sri Lanka?
I would recommend Hiriketiya Beach for surfing, Jungle Beach for swimming and snorkeling, Weligama Beach if you travel with kids and either Hikkaduwa or Polhena Beach to see the giant turtles. Read my full review of south coast of Sri Lanka where I talk about every beach we visited as well as show you some inspiring pictures!
What are the best foods I should try in Sri Lanka?
Rice and curries is a must.
Roti, hoppers, and other traditional kinds of flatbread you probably won’t miss anyway.
Check out my post that covers all you need to know about Sri Lankan food!
When it comes to food, my best advice is this: stay in homestays with local families and choose ‘breakfast included’ option when you book — and you will experience the most authentic Sri Lankan food possible every single day!
What is the best itinerary?
Check out Lonely Planet for one and two-week ready-to-use itineraries that cover different parts of the country.
That’s all guys! If you have more questions, ask in comments! And Pin this for later!