Solo Travel in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka is predominately a Buddhist country, and is very welcoming and safe for women travelling alone. When you solo travel in Sri Lanka, some areas may remind of you of parts of India so make sure you dress appropriately and conservatively. Locals are friendly and respectful and expect to be paid the odd compliment.
There is a shortage of hostels here and with the country mainly attracting couples there are not many solo travellers except on the beaches in the Southwest of the country, so you need to be comfortable with your own company.
About Sri Lanka
The best place in the world for banana fritters or coconut pancakes drenched in honey, lush vivid green vistas and the brightly colorful whirling and often fire twirling dancers in Kandy. Three thousand odd years of history and eight UNESCO World Heritage sites for you to explore, plus beautiful beaches and wide brown smiles.
Sri Lanka, or as it was once known, Ceylon, is a land that will dazzle and seduce you, in spite of its recent political turmoil and its reported injustices to humanity.
Negombo, a beach north of Colombo, the Commercial city of Sri Lanka, is a hoi poloi of its past aggressors, the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British. All have left a legacy of some sort in and around this bustling port, such as the Dutch Canals and the remarkable colonial architecture reflected in its buildings.
The early morning fish market is a must for those that want to witness the true life of a local in this town. It is harsh and brutal, and the blood bath of the ocean's bounty is all in a day's work. Or, merely walk along the beach until you come to the fishing boats where fresh glistening fish will be drying in the sun.
Near Dambulla, make the effort and climb the time worn smooth steps of Sigiriya Rock, one of the main places to visit in Sri Lanka. Quietly slip past enormous hornet nests, used for protection against enemies, to reach the apex of the oldest remaining palace created in the 5th Century, as you ascend into a mythical world of legends.
Let the world lie before you as it always has, from a unique vantage point, once you reach the top. Follow the tourist route of ancient wonders and step back through time to witness what the ancient artisans created in Polonnaruwa Mediaeval Capital City and Anuradhapura.
At Matale, visit an Ayurvedic Village to burn a hole in your credit card buying up big on miraculous potions based on botanical and herbal natural products. If you venture to Isiwaya Ayurvedic Village, for a very small donation you can experience a head and shoulder massage like you have never had before, much to the amusement of anyone who may happen to be around you at the time. Or, for those that don't wax any unwanted hair, try their hair removal cream and be utterly astounded at the results. It actually works!
When you visit Sri Lanka you should definitely pay a visit to the Temple of the Tooth Relic in Kandy, which sits amidst the green sea of tea plantations of the Central Province. Its' heritage listed buildings reflect in the Kandy Lake, in the heart of this town, where locals gather in the evenings to eat from food carts scattered around. Make sure you visit the Red Cross Society Hall to watch a performance of the Rangahala Cultural Dance (Kandyan).
Hike “The Knuckles“, preferably with a local guide, as it would be easy to lose oneself in this wonderland of patchwork tea plantations and national park, seamlessly merging into a peaceful hilly land of brightly painted lizards, butterflies and soaring birds. Watch in awe as you come upon the typical weather worn tea picker with a bag slung around the head as their hands dart out to pick the ripe leaves from the bushes.
Marvel at the ingenuity of the “track sweepers” who meticulously brush the hard earth packed tracks with tree branches shaped into the resemblance of a household broom. Listen to the children's laughter as you trek past one of the many hillside tea pickers' villages or schools. Trudge into a remote hillside town where tractors are the family vehicle.
Rusty old buses gasp their last breath as they struggle to negotiate the twists and turns, loaded up to the brim with not only people, but laden with worn old wooden boxes and livestock as well. Then indulge in an al fresco lunch of local treats at a waterfall hidden from the world and swim in your underwear, if you dare, in the midday searing heat.
Lounge and watch the world go by, especially the locals, at one of the many restaurants or cafes in Galle. Shop in one of the many boutiques, incredible handicraft or art shops, or just get lost in the alleys and laneways of street graffiti come art. Galle with its ancient fort and wall, beach alcove and a locals fish market that large black crows haunt, is a colorful caricature of what one expect to see in Sri Lanka.
Where all the surfers flock, Welligama, sits on the ocean, where surfers and traditional fishing boats fight for waves to get to shore. It is where there is one surf school after another, and a quaint little town that is close enough to go to Galle for a day by tuk tuk.
Whilst, Unnawatuna is a laid-back tourist scene of restaurants, bars, hotels and quaint boutique bed and breakfasts. It is also the bay where four turtles have made their home and can be seen aimlessly floating around their blue playground, especially late in the afternoon.
Mirissa and Tangalla beaches are the places to relax and chill out, whilst Arugam Bay sits on the east coast as an alternative depending on the season.
National Parks abound with all their own specialty of creature inhabitants, depending on what would appeal to you as the visitor or the proximity to where you are. The Gathering, Minneriya National Park is where elephants by the hundreds annually congregate in June to September.
Yala National Park is the stage for over 200 bird species and 40 reptiles and mammals. Become a “tweeter” and bird watch in Bundala National Park or join the throng of tourists at Uda Walawe National Park, whilst Sinharaja Forest Reserve plays home to some of the rarest bird species.
From world famous religious relics, temples and trekking mountains, to tasting local wonders such as wood apple juice. Or indulge in the rich curds and whey of the buffalo variety with fresh drizzled honey, sipping dark thick coffee, and seeing the locals bathe in the late afternoon sunlight in any stream or lake available, even if it is beside the road.
Sri Lanka will have you spellbound as you count the many little silver dishes that are served with your aromatic curry.
How long do I need?
One week is enough if you want to experience the beach or combine it with Kandy. For a two week itinerary of exploring the highlights and UNESCO sites, spend 3 nights in Galle, 2 in Rekawa, 3 in Tissa, 3 in Kandy and then 3 in Bentota.
Accommodation in Sri Lanka
You can find all different types of accommodation in Sri Lanka from beach huts and tree houses at Arugam Bay to villas at the beach resort of Unawatuna. Booking.com offers BnBs and hotels from 3 star to the luxurious 5 star. For those on a budget consider one of the hostels of which there are many in Colombo.
Guest houses are a sociable way of staying in family homes. Plus there’s Airbnb which connects you to unique travel experiences and isn’t just limited to staying in a local’s spare room. Save $20 off your first stay with this Airbnb link.
Treat yourself at Six Senses Spa – a spa surrounded by tropical jungle with spectacular views of the mountains and lake in Dambulla.
GatG Favourite – Cafe Aroma Inn, Kandy
This cosy Inn is in the perfect location in Kandy with the Temple of the Tooth just walking distance away. A great value accommodation with a restaurant serving delicious local food. Prices from £39 p/n. Find Out More
GatG Favourite – Royal Palms Beach, Kalutara
A stunning hotel with a large pool and an Ayurvedic spa, just steps away from Kalutara Beach. Even the reception is peaceful. Prices from £77 p/n. Find Out More
GatG Favourite – The Fortress, Galle
The Fortress in Galle is a mixture of modern and colonial architecture and is located along the beach – 5 star in true Sri Lankan style. Prices from £154 p/n. Find Out More
Sri Lanka Tours
If you’re looking for some company on all or part of your trip, both G Adventures and Intrepid Travel are responsible tour companies and have group tours from 8 days to 14 days. Intrepid offers a Real Food Tour from £980 and G Adventures includes a multi-trip with a Maldives adventure from £1650. I have personally used G Adventures and recommend them as a solo female friendly company.
If you prefer a more unique experience, Golden Isle Sri Lanka will personalise your Sri Lanka tour and can also twin it with the Maldives.
- Local Tour Guides – Bobby Travels.
- Servantrip – Connects travellers with local professionals such as local tour guides.
- Assi Fernando – Guide/Driver. Email him on: [email protected]
- Knuckles Mountain Range Trekking: Email them on: [email protected]
Tour Driver Finder lists the best local drivers and agencies in Sri Lanka, with reviews from past travellers. It is an independent site, and free to use.
Travelling Around Sri Lanka
Driving around Sri Lanka is not for the faint hearted with constant honking and overtaking. It is best to use a recommended travel agency that can arrange a driver and a car for you if you want to travel around the country. Although this may seem excessive, it is by far the easiest way to navigate the sights and to learn about the country.
If however, you are going to one area, say the beach at Welligama or Unawatuna or concentrating your visit around the beaches and Galle Fort area, it is easy to hop from one area to another without the use of a driver. Servantrip offer a private driver if you prefer to hire one.
To hire a car we recommend pre-booking car hire with Avis so you can collect your car when you arrive at the airport.
It is a country of easy access on one hand but on the other, most of the major sites are easier to navigate in a short amount of time with the aid of a personal driver. There are local buses which can get packed and aren’t that comfortable in the heat.
Air conditioned buses are more expensive but they are much nicer and only take a seated number of passengers so they don’t get uncrowded. Tuk tuks will take you on short distances and are a fun way to get around.
The train journey from Kandy to Colombo is spectacular with tickets to the observation car only 320 lkr. From Colombo you can change to Aluthgama for 110 lkr which runs along the coast and is a special ride.
Uber – When getting around the cities you may feel more comfortable with Uber instead of taking a taxi. Uber is a driver app where each driver is vetted beforehand, and you can see the driver’s picture and registration number before they arrive. Save up to $20 off your first ride with Uber using promo code RIDINGUBER20
From the Airport
There is a bus which runs to the Colombo City centre which costs approx 150 LKR including 2 pieces of luggage. For anywhere else, take a taxi. A cab to Negombo Beach will take 30 minutes and cost approx 862 LKR. For Bentota, Galle or Kandy the fare is approx 4500 LKR.
Feel more confident with someone waiting for you at the airport when you pre-book a transfer with Hoppa, a reliable and safe service for solo females.
Travelling onwards (check visas before you travel)
Sri Lanka is an island so flying onwards is the only option as there are no boats running between here and India.
Where can I go from here?
India – 1.5 hours
Indonesia – 4.5 hours
Thailand – 3.5 hours
- Can I drink the water? No.
- Is tipping expected? Wages are low, so tipping is appreciated. Generally 10% for restaurants, and tour guides.
- Fixed price or barter? Fixed prices in shops, but barter your heart out in the markets – please remember that you may be bartering over a few cents/pennies.
- Any ATMs? Yes, especially in the tourist areas, but not in the very small towns.
- Which side of the road do they drive? The left-hand side.
- Good for vegetarians? Yes, especially with their delicious vegetarian curries.
- Any seven wonders of the world? No.
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Capital – Colombo
Population – 20.3 million
Language Spoken – Sinhala and Tamil, very little English in some areas.
Local Currency – Sri Lankan Rupee
The Best Time to Go – February.
Did you know? “The head waggle” – Sri Lankans say, “yes” by waggling their heads from side to side as if they are saying “no”.
See the cultural dance (Kandyan) at the Red Cross Hall in Kandy.
Mind Body & Soul
Issues in the Country
Humanitarian and political situation both past and current is still a problem in Sri Lanka, with the northern area largely undeveloped for tourism.