Sri Lanka is a great destination for backpacking and the island has so much to offer. I travelled to Sri Lanka in July 2018 and had an exciting and enjoyable time. Here are 9 reasons why you will love Backpacking Sri Lanka!
My trip to Sri Lanka was made possible by Sri Lanka Tourism. All opinions are of course my own.
The landscape of Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka has beautiful nature and a diverse landscape. In the comparatively small country, there is a lot to see and to discover. From the beautiful beaches in the south to the temples in Kandy, from the sacred Lion Rock in Sigiriya to the tea plantations in Nuwara Eliya – Sri Lanka has it all! Also, the country is great for wildlife, there are several national parks. Sri Lanka is wonderfully beautiful and varied, so you will not get bored with backpacking in Sri Lanka.
Backpacking Sri Lanka is cheap
Sri Lanka as a travel destination is incredibly cheap. Here it is possible to experience a lot on a small budget. Especially the transport in the country is cheap. For a train ride of several hours, you pay between 1-2 €! Also, the food in Sri Lanka is very reasonably priced. Of course, the costs depend on you. In local restaurants and on the street, you are already fed for less than 1 €, if you go to a slightly fancier restaurant, or like to eat west, you pay a little more. Nevertheless, you generally eat very cheap and for much less money as in Europe.
You do not have to spend much on accommodation! In hostels or guesthouses, you can often stay for less than 10 €, while even good hotels can be found for little money
The only expensive thing about backpacking in Sri Lanka are the entrance fees. As usual in Asia, as a tourist, you pay much more like the locals and I was surprised that many entrance fees cost 1500 rupees (about 8 €) – for example, a dance performance in Kandy. Access to the famous Lion Rock in Sigiriya is even $ 30! And the safaris in the many national parks are not very cheap either (but still much cheaper than safaris in Kenya!).
In general, it can be summed up that you can live and travel very cheap in Sri Lanka – but the entrance fees will increase the travel costs a bit. The more touristic and popular an attraction is, the more expensive it is!
The train system of Sri Lanka
As in India, there is also an extensive train system, which is very handy for backpacking in Sri Lanka. Here you can avoid the traffic chaos and the crowded streets, and instead of bus and taxi, you can move on the train. Although the train does not reach every part of the island, most tourist destinations are easily accessible by train.
Luckily, a train ride is also very cheap and a trip usually costs you no more than 2 €, even if you are travelling for half a day. Also, I never found the trains to be overcrowded, I have always easily found a seat.
Above all, backpacking through Sri Lanka on the train is just fun. You can easily get in touch with nice locals, through the open windows and doors you can enjoy the great view and shoot cool photos. Particularly well known is the train route between Kandy and Ella through the beautiful landscape of Nuwara Eliya. The green tea plantations and the mountainous landscape offers a great photo opportunity and the train journey goes by quickly. Although you can also travel by bus and taxis in the country, a train ride shouldn’t be missing in any backpacking Sri Lanka trip!
The food in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka offers a varied landscape and also an exotic cuisine. The food in Sri Lanka is extremely tasty, especially if you like curries. Be careful though with the spices. In Sri Lanka, people generally eat very spicy and I always told the waiter when ordering food that I can’t handle it so that they could adapt the dishes for me. Generally, in Sri Lanka, you eat a lot of rice with different curries, lots of vegetables, chicken and especially on the coast seafood and fish. Also, the food is incredibly cheap. On the street, you can get full for just a few cents, and even in better restaurants, you pay little.
I had no stomach problems during my backpacking trip in Sri Lanka, but of course, you should be careful anyway. Above all salad should be avoided, and you should drink no tap water (for brushing my teeth it was okay for me). When eating at street stalls some restaurants do not look quite clean and organized, however, food quality might still be well. A good tip is always to look at the locals – do many of them eat there? Is it well attended? Then the street stand or the restaurant will be good and you should try it. Street food definitely is a must do when backpacking in Sri Lanka!
Backpacking Sri Lanka is safe
Sri Lanka is generally considered a very safe destination for backpackers and tourists. Although the country has a turbulent past with tribal wars and conflicts, most of it is over and the current problems are in the north, far from the typical tourist routes. Also, crimes and thefts are very rare. Of course, you should always take care of your valuables, but in general, I always felt very safe while backpacking in Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka is (relatively) organized
Often Sri Lanka is described as a “simple” version of India. In some cases, I definitely agree. Culture and landscape resemble above all the southern part of India (for example Kerala). If India seems too chaotic and overwhelming to you, compact and organized Sri Lanka is a good alternative for backpackers. Due to the small size of the island, a lot can be seen here in a short time. Also, I was positively surprised to see relatively little poverty and trash, especially compared to India. So if you would like to get to know the South Asian culture and landscape, but you do not want to visit India, Sri Lanka is a good destination for your next backpacking trip.
Beaches of Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka is surrounded by great beaches and you should definitely include a beach vacation while backpacking in Sri Lanka. Although Sri Lanka does not have white beaches and turquoise waters like the Maldives, the coast is beautiful. The beaches are lined with palm trees, the water is pleasantly warm and the waves are also perfect for surfing. If you do not want to travel too far, the fishing village of Negombo might be nice for you. There are several resorts just a few miles from the airport. Negombo is therefore also perfect to end the journey before the return flight. I also really liked the southern coast. There are numerous beaches next to the colonial town of Galle, such as Mirissa Beach, which is great to surf and sunbathe.
The famous rope that lets you swing from the palm into the sea can be found at Dalawella Beach in front of the Dream Cabana Guesthouse. Here you pay 500 rupees (about 2.50 €) and you can swing as often as you want.
The friendly locals
The people of Sri Lanka are incredibly friendly, helpful and open. Here I have only good experiences. In addition, the locals speak very good English, so that someone can always help you in case you need it. Generally, you will be welcomed as a backpacker in Sri Lanka very friendly and warm.
The culture of Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka has a great and impressive culture to offer. The country is predominantly Hindu, but other religions are represented as well. Generally, you’ll find numerous temples, mosques and churches often close together. In Colombo, you shouldn’t miss the red mosque, which placed right in the chaotic city centre called Pettah.
The spiritual centre of Hinduism is probably in Kandy, with the famous “Temple of the Tooth.” There are ceremonies several times a day, which is always very busy – be careful, at the time the temple is extremely crowded and people are pushing and shoving their way, which I found a little tiring. Behind the temple in Kandy, there is a cultural show in the evening where a traditional dance will be demonstrated and people even walk over hot coals at the end! In general, you should get to know the culture while backpacking Sri Lanka, it’s worth it!
As you can see, there are a few reasons why you will love backpacking Sri Lanka! I hope I could motivate you to explore this country yourself soon. I wish you a lot of fun!