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 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.
Below is our guide to how to travel solo in Sri Lanka as well as lots of practical information such as where to stay, which tour company to use and how to get around. Find out how to get from the airports and what to do in each place. All companies included have been recommended by solo female travellers and come with our Solo Female Friendly endorsement. Just choose the relevant section or read the full article.
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- Places to Visit in Sri Lanka
- Accommodation in Sri Lanka
- Sri Lanka Tours
- Getting Around Sri Lanka
- Sri Lanka Itinerary
- Travel Guide For Sri Lanka
- Best Time to go to Sri Lanka
- Travel Insurance For Sri Lanka
- From Sri Lanka Airports
- Travelling Onwards
- Map of Sri Lanka
- Planning a Trip to Sri Lanka
Places to Visit in 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, Weligama, 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, Unawatuna 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.
Sri Lanka National Parks
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.
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.
Homestay is an alternative to Airbnb. They connect you to hosts in over 160 countries and give a real homestay experience instead of just handing over keys. They offer a unique mix of stays such as a stay in a bamboo house, or homes surrounded by banana and coconut trees. You can even video call your host family before you go to find the perfect host. Check homestays and prices here.
All of the accommodation below have been recommended by solo female travellers from our Girls about the Globe community and come with a Solo Female Friendly endorsement.
Close to shops and restaurants, this hostel has a great vibe. There’s air conditioning, and they have mosquito nets for the beds as well as universal plugs so it doesn’t matter if you forget your adaptor. There’s a coffee shop and outside barbecue so you don’t need to go far to eat. The hostel attracts a nice crowd of people and is close to the beach so you have everything you need when you stay here. Choose from a 4-bed mixed dorm room or a budget or deluxe double room with your own private bathroom.
- Prices from £6 per night for a bed in a 4-bed mixed dorm room
- To book, check prices or availability for The Long Hostel
There’s a reason that this hostel is popular. The owner and his family really make you feel as though you are part of the family. Anything you need, whether tips and advice or just some great food, they offer a true local experience. It’s in a residential area but still easy to meet others here especially if you hang out on the balcony. Choose from a bed in a mixed dorm room.
- Prices from £3 per night for a bed in a 8-bed mixed dorm room
- To book, check prices or availability for Puncha Hostel
This friendly hostel will make you feel right at home. It’s clean, the staff are friendly and it’s only two minutes from the beach. Plus if you visit during the hot months, there is air conditioning to keep you cool. The rooftop restaurant is a great place to enjoy some cuisine or one of the delicious breakfasts. They also have a 24 hour reception which is ideal if you are checking in late. Choose from a 4 or 8-bed dorm room or a 4-bed female only dorm.
- Prices from £7 per night for a bed in a 8-bed mixed dorm room
- To book, check prices or availability for Space Garden Hostel
This place is simply gorgeous. If you want to stay in a luxury hostel by the beach, WeEscape is just perfect. With a chilled out vibe set in an old colonial villa, you can really relax here whether you want to lounge by the pool, surf in the sea or do a yoga class. The restaurant serves great curries too.
Choose from a bed in a 6 or 8-bed female dorm, 8 bed mixed dorm room, or a superior or deluxe room. Tip – if you are going for a private room opt for the deluxe room if you can.
- Prices from £21 per night for a bed in a 6-bed female dorm room
- To book, check prices or availability for We Escape
Sri Lanka Tours
If you feel more comfortable in a group for either part of your trip or the whole duration, G Adventures is a responsible tour company which mainly caters towards budget travellers. Most tours have an average of 10 people and there is no upper age limit. Once you book your trip you pay extra for any excursions you want to do when you’re there.
Adventures start from 7 day Sailing Sri Lanka, to a 14 day Sri Lanka Land & Sea tour. I have personally used G Adventures and recommend them as a solo female friendly company.
Intrepid is similar to G Adventures with an average of 12 people on each tour. Over 50% of people using their trips are solo travellers. They tend to use hotels instead of hostels and have a more comfortable style of accommodation hence the trips can appear a bit more costly than G Adventures. Intrepid tours in Sri Lanka are for any length of time from a 3 day Bite-size Break in Colombo to a 15 day Circle Sri Lanka tour.
With both tour companies you share a room with someone of the same gender or you can pay extra for your own room.
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.
- Assi Fernando – Guide/Driver. Email him on: [email protected]
- Knuckles Mountain Range Trekking: Email them on: [email protected]
Get Your Guide – Get Your Guide helps you to find top-rated activities and tours in worldwide destinations. Choose from a whale watching tour in Mirissa, a safari in Udawalawa National Park or a Sigiriya and Dambulla day trip from Colombo. There are several to choose from and it’s really simple to use. Just check the reviews, price and availability then book online. Check all tours and prices here
Getting 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 recommend 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.
Sri Lanka Itinerary
Sri Lanka is quite a large country so you’ll need at least two weeks to see the majority of it (if you are travelling fast). One week is enough if you want to experience the beach or combine it with Kandy.
One week itinerary:
- Colombo – 1 night, Galle – 2 nights, Weligama – 3 nights.
- Kandy – 2 nights, Sigiriya – 2 nights, Nuwara Eliya – 2 nights.
Two week itinerary:
- Colombo – 1 night, Kandy – 3 nights, Dambulla/Sigiriya – 2 nights – Yala National Park – 2 nights, Mirissa – 3 nights, Galle – 2 nights.
- For a two week itinerary exploring the highlights and UNESCO sites visit: Galle – 3 nights, Rekawa – 2 nights, Tissa – 3 nights, Kandy – 3 nights, Bentota – 2 nights.
Travel Guide For Sri Lanka
If you need a guide book for your travels we recommend Rough Guides. Covering where to go and when to go, things not to miss, itineraries, getting around, festivals and events, history, and maps, they are amongst the most comprehensive guides on the market. If you prefer Lonely Planet click here for all Sri Lanka guide books.
If you are planning on travelling to Sri Lanka for the first time, the Rough Guide to Sri Lanka covers topics such as: book your trip, accommodation, getting there, getting around, food and drink, and travel essentials. They also include Sri Lankan Buddhism, art, architecture and wildlife so you can maximise your time and know exactly where to go. They’re your travel Bible.
Best Time To Go To Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka does have monsoons but don’t let this put you off visiting outside of peak seasons as there is an inter-monsoon season between July to September which despite the odd rain shower is a good time to see the country. The best time to go to Sri Lanka is between December to March for the south and also the west coast (or May to September if you are visiting the east).
This weather chart shows the annual weather for Colombo from January to December.
Travel Insurance For Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka is a wonderful country to explore but if you are planning a trip to Sri Lanka, travel insurance is definitely recommended especially if you are planning to hike or take a tuk tuk ride.
I recommend True Traveller for UK and European residents, and World Nomads for U.S. and worldwide citizens. Both companies allow you to buy insurance when you are already on the road, and offer different plans depending on your coverage needs.
From Sri Lanka Airports
Sri Lanka has two international airports. Bandaranaike International Airport near Colombo, and Mattala Rajapaksa (HRI) in the south near Hambantota.
From Colombo Airport – There is a bus which runs to the Colombo City centre in 45 minutes (Line 187). The bus costs approx £2 (you may have to pay extra for your luggage), or you can take a taxi for £13. For anywhere else, take a taxi. A cab to Negombo Beach will take 30 minutes and cost approx 962 LKR. For Bentota, Galle or Kandy the fare is approx 5000 LKR.
From Hambantota Airport – The best way to get into Hambantota is to take a taxi. This costs approximately £18 for a 45 minute journey.
Check Rome2Rio for transport to and from the airports.
Feel more confident with someone waiting for you at the airport when you pre-book 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.
Map of Sri Lanka
Planning a Trip to Sri Lanka
Budget – £35 a day (more if you hire a personal driver to get around)
Current Time in Colombo
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”.
Animal SOS is a dog sanctuary in Ahangama, and a UK registered charity. They rescue street animals who have no hope or veterinary care when they become ill or injured on the roads.
Find other volunteering opportunities in Sri Lanka with Go Overseas.
See the cultural dance (Kandyan) at the Red Cross Hall in Kandy.
Visit.org – Offer a variety of cultural experiences such as cooking traditional dishes with local women, discovering Arugam Bay and learning about organic farming, or exploring Buddhist traditions and lagoon ecosystems on a boat tour. Each tour with visit.org gets reinvested back into the communities.
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.
This article was written by Gail Palethorpe. Gail is a self-confessed travel junkie, caffeine addict, freelance writer and photographer.
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