Are you standing above an empty suitcase, not knowing what to pack for Sri Lanka? This packing list is here to save you.
This Sri Lanka packing list was written by Marketa Ambrozova, who represented VeronikasAdventure.com at Cinnamon TBC Asia.
It’s amazing how much stuff people sometimes bring on their holidays. No, I am not one of those people bringing a 30-kilogram piece of luggage for a weekend trip. In fact, I spent one week traveling around Sri Lanka with just a single piece of hand luggage. At the airport, the airline employee was wondering how come I was traveling so light. So if you’re wondering what to pack for Sri Lanka, I’m going to share with you how to keep it light and simple like I did.
This Sri Lanka packing list focuses on the essentials you will need for your trip without over-packing. Too many things equal too many worries, so try not to be too concerned about what the weather is like in Sri Lanka.
My advice is: just don’t pack too much. Even if you don’t want to re-wear clothes more than once, hand washed items will dry very quickly, and you can always find a laundry center to wash your clothes for just a few dollars per load.
Rain Jacket and Umbrella
There are various dry and wet seasons around the island, so rain is never too far away in Sri Lanka. I have experienced a short but intense 5-minutes downpour that left me soaking wet. I learned my lesson: a rain jacket is an essential item when deciding what to pack for Sri Lanka.
Always search for comfortable travel materials that can be easily packed. The best are rain jackets come with zip slits under the arms so they get you some ventilation while keeping you dry. Another good thing to have is a lightweight umbrella; I didn’t pack one and spent a lot of my time there drenched and/or sunburned.
Mosquito Repellent & Sunscreen
You can get both in Sri Lanka, but to avoid high prices and losing your travel time to go shopping, it is better to bring these from home. This way you have some right when you land (these aren’t “just in case” items; but don’t worry, malaria is not an issue in Sri Lanka).
I recommend a sunscreen with SPF 20 and SPF 30; pack at least a small bottle of each. I typically get them from a cosmetics shop, which usually have small travel-sized bottles. I often buy another bigger container of sunscreen and to refill my small bottles whenever they get empty, which ends up being cheaper. Also, a small container of after sun cooling cream or gel is handy, too.
Sandals or Jelly Flats
You have to take your shoes off frequently in Sri Lanka—not just for entering temples, but sometimes also to go into cafés, restaurants, shops, or massage parlors. Breathable, open shoes are just perfect for that.
In fact, I don’t go to any warm country without comfortable hiking sandals. However, if you for some reason end up coming without them, there is always the possibility to buy a pair of plastic jelly flats. They cost 3–5 USD per pair, are waterproof, comfortable, easy to slip on and off and help me feel just a tad bit more as if I’m dressed like everyone else. Comfy flip-flops sort of work, but will slip around in the rain. Always choose shoes that can dry quickly.
You should definitely bring a sarong or a large, versatile scarf to Sri Lanka because they have so many uses for travelers: towel, blanket, swimsuit cover-up, curtain, skirt, beach towel, and scarf—the list goes on. Remember that sarongs might not be an absolutely ideal replacement for all of those items, but they work great in a pinch. Plus they’re lightweight, and they dry quickly.
When choosing the right sarong or scarf, opt for white or light colors as much as possible; in some places like Anuradhapura, you won’t be allowed to enter temples wearing black.
Warm Weather Clothes
Wondering what to wear in Sri Lanka? Regardless of the time of year, be prepared for hot and humid temperatures. A good wardrobe to travel within Sri Lanka would include:
- 3–4 t-shirts or tank tops (better to avoid spaghetti straps)
- 2–3 pairs of longish shorts or loose pants
- 2 skirts + 1 dress
Remember to bring some clothes that cover the knees and shoulders. You can’t swing a string of prayer beads in Sri Lanka without hitting some kind of temple or religious site, and they all require modest clothing.
You’ll also need something warmer for the plane ride and chilly AC on busses. Furthermore, in the mountains of Nuwara Eliya, temperatures have been known to drop to as low as 10° at night during winter (December–February).
Backpack and a Daypack
It’s best to take two backpacks with you to Sri Lanka: A decent sized backpack where you’ll pack all of your clothes and other items, and a smaller daypack for all of your valuables.
Your main backpack can be checked in on flights and put in the luggage compartment on buses. However, your daypack, containing your passport, phone, money, and all other important items should be kept on your person at all time. Plus, you can use it for smaller day trips as well. If you have dropped off your luggage at the hotel or hostel, there is nothing easier than to just go out with few valuables.
A trip to Sri Lanka is easily doable in just sandals. However, if you plan on doing any serious hiking while you’re there, or you’re a runner, you’re going to need something more than sandals. You’ll need a filled in shoe that you can wear with sports socks.
If you are buying new ones just for this trip, keep in mind to wear them beforehand at least a couple of times. There is nothing worse than having pain or blisters from bad shoes. While waterproof shoes might seem like a good idea, they’re too warm for Sri Lanka’s heat and humidity, so look for ventilated shoes instead.
Bathing Suit and Quick Dry Towel
Between the beaches and swimming holes, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to go swimming, so definitely bring your bathing suit. I’d also suggest bringing a quick-dry towel. In addition to being your beach blanket and emergency towel, you can also use it as a scarf, beach cover-up, extra layer in more conservative areas or impromptu bag for your dirty laundry (hobo bag-on-a-stick style).
It is also great to have hand sanitizer and wet tissues with you. You never know when you will need to wash your hands, for example during train trips there may not be running water to wash your hands. Dry shampoo is great to bring too.
Of course, make sure you haven’t forgotten to pack your passport, driver’s license (only if you are planning to drive), insurance card and a good book (or your Kindle). Also include a good old-fashioned paper notebook, pen and printed itinerary with addresses and phone numbers of all of your hotels. Bring a file or passport holder so that your travel documents won’t suffer from the humidity.
If you can manage to have your hotel names translated into Sinhala or Tamil, it could save you time finding them; not every taxi and tuk tuk driver can read English. Most appreciated having the information on a piece of paper they could look at and almost all of them preferred to call the hotel and get verbal directions in their own language.
Camera, Memory Cards and Spare Batteries
Sri Lanka is ridiculously photogenic. You’ll have a tough time finding decent photography supplies anywhere here, so bring more than you think you’ll need.
If you’re looking for something that’s going to take amazing photos without you needing to be a professional photographer, go with a mirrorless camera, combining the advantages of DSLR and compact camera. I have an Olympus Pen and more recently also a waterproof Olympus Tough, so I can keep shooting photos on the beach and in the water.
Sri Lanka is very photogenic.
My Sri Lanka Packing List
Regardless of the time of year, when traveling to Sri Lanka you should make sure you pack the following in addition to your usual travel essentials:
- Slip-on shoes or Sandals
- Hiking shoes
- A water bottle
- Mosquito repellent
- Dry shampoo
- Baby wipes and hand sanitizer
- Rain gear (jacket, rain fly, dry sacs)
- A sweater or sweatshirt
- Warm weather clothing
- Bathing suit
- Sarong or quick dry towel
- Hiking shoes
- Camera, charger, SD cards
Even if you forget any of these things, you can easily find most of what you need in Sri Lanka—you might consider buying what you need in Colombo. Now, get out there and have fun exploring the beaches, food, temples, and all the wonderful people that make Sri Lanka such a wonderful place to travel to!