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You’ve chosen to head to Sri Lanka! Congratulations. You are in for a real treat. Friendly locals, vibrant beaches, gorgeous countryside and delicious food await. But you’re likely flying halfway across the world to get to Sri Lanka, and packing can be completely overwhelming. We’ve got the perfect Sri Lanka packing list for you.
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Sri Lanka Packing List: Everything You Need to Bring and Why
When I heard I’d be headed to Sri Lanka with my 9 year old daughter as guests of the Sri Lankan Tourism Promotion Bureau , I was equal parts excited, anxious and flabbergasted. We’ve traveled before near and far. Road trips across the United States, stops in various countries in Europe, local long weekends, but Sri Lanka was a whole different ball game. Would I be able to easily buy things I needed? How much did I really need to pack? Would it all go smoothly? After copious amounts of research before my trip and lots of notes after, here is the Ultimate Sri Lanka packing list.
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Whether you’re traveling with family to Sri Lanka or doing a solo or friends trip, there are some non-negotiables.
Need more info before planning a trip to Sri Lanka? Read our Should I Plan a Family Trip to Sri Lanka article.
Before You Start Packing – Vaccinations
First of all, while you may not “pack” immunizations, it is strongly recommended that you have two before heading to Sri Lanka – typhoid and both hepatitis A. Typhoid can be given two different ways: as an oral tablet that comes as a course of pills taken over time or as a shot. If you choose the oral vaccine, you will take one of four pills every other day for a total of eight days. The regime must be completed one week before travel, and the pills must be refrigerated.
The shot is a simpler solution for most families as there is very little room for error. However, the oral course of action lasts for 5 years versus the 2 years the vaccine lasts. Your decision should depend on your timeline and plans for future travel.
Make Sure You Pack…
1. Sun Protection
Sri Lanka is a tropical island country. This means you need to plan for sun. Many folks coming into Sri Lanka fly into Colombo’s Bandarike Airport. I’d recommend packing some high SPF sunscreen, but it is simple to buy sunscreen, especially in heavy tourist areas like Negombo’s beach resorts. I packed both travel size sunscreen and a stick. The stick sunscreen is great for your daypack and is quick to run over ears and/or your face when you’re out and about.
Sunburn is a very real possibility. I saw quite a few tourists that could have easily passed for lobsters. Bring a cover up to wear to the beach. Sarongs are a great choice. If you don’t have one they can be purchased locally for roughly 1000 Sri Lankan rupees ($5) or less.
A sarong is also great to have on hand for temple visits. Temples like the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy require you to have your knees and shoulders covered. This goes for both genders. Many tourists wrap a sarong around shorts or tank tops for temple visits.
Bringing a great sun hat is essential. The most common areas for burns are the ears, shoulders, neck and face. A baseball cap is not going to cut it. A floppy straw hat with a wide brim is best because it isn’t too heavy, but brimmed sun hats made of cotton/canvas are easier to pack. While I did see sun hats available to purchase, there weren’t many options and they tended to be heavier fabrics.
2. Bug Protection
Mosquitos in Sri Lanka can carry dengue fever. The necessity for mosquito repellent is going to be higher during rainy months (which vary from one side of the island to the other). Sri Lanka takes great steps to minimize chances for mosquitos to breed with public campaigns about standing water. I brought two travel size spray bottles with Picardin and didn’t end up using them at all. I got one bite the whole trip and I’m not even 100% sure it was from a mosquito.
Either way, I was way too anxious about running out of bug spray. It was readily available at local grocery stores and markets. If you’re traveling during a low mosquito season, mosquito wipes can be a great choice that doesn’t need to go in your liquid bag.
Most major resorts with full AC don’t need or require a mosquito net. In some parts of the country, a mosquito net may be in the room. Carrying one of your own isn’t necessary and is very bulky. However, this flat tearable duct tape is perfect to pack to quickly repair any holes the provided net might have. Plus duct tape always comes in handy!
3. Personal Cleanliness Items
Travel Tissue Packets
While resort bathrooms have toilet paper, many restaurants, tourist attractions, and public washrooms (even in the airport) do not. I was so thankful to have packed several packets of tissues. We never entered a restroom without them. Bring at least three small packets per person.
Perfect for wiping down toilet seats or the flip flops you wear in a mystery liquid restroom I never leave home without sanitizing wipes, even for domestic travel.
Sometimes soap was hard to find. The three small containers of hand sanitizer I packed came in handy both in Sri Lanka and on the long haul flight we took there. There are an array of awesome smelling ones out there!
You may be asking, “How is this a personal cleanliness item?” Well, if you’re trying to go to the restroom and the floor has liquid on it, a hair clip can come in handy. I used it to clip up longer hems or to hold dresses up and to the side so they didn’t accidentally brush against toilets. Also, if you visit a temple and your dress has a slit in it, sometimes they may not allow it if it shows your knees. You can clip the slit closed with a hair clip.
4. Technology Items
Travel Adapter Plugs/Voltage Converter
It’s super important to include a voltage converter on your Sri Lanka packing list. Sri Lanka runs on a 230 volt system, as opposed to the United States 110 volt system. If you plug an electronic charger into a random Sri Lankan plug you’re going to blow it out. That’s enough to ruin a vacation.
You can’t just buy a random set of universal plugs. While the universal adaptor works in some resorts and hotels that carry plugs used in the UK (type G), Sri Lanka uses its own unique three pronged plug type (type M) that isn’t found in most kits. On first glance, it looks like India’s plug (type D), but the prongs are spaced farther apart. Read Amazon listings very very carefully or you’ll end up with plugs that don’t work everywhere.
This is the voltage converter plug set I purchased for my trip. You can get away with just this set if you’re staying in Western style resorts and hotels. If you’ll be doing a little more immersion or staying in homes/hostels, you’ll want a Sri Lankan adapter plug.
Power Banks and Memory Cards
Sri Lanka is a stunning country. You’re going to take more photos and video than you know what to do with. Bring a couple of extra fuel rods/power banks. Then charge them nightly with the voltage converter/adaptor. For your DSLRs, mirrorless cameras and Go Pros, bring extra memory cards. I was able to back everything up to iCloud nightly at the hotel from my phone. While iCloud worked for me, other uploads like to Google Photos were iffy. Some days they worked, some days they didn’t.
I’ll be honest. I’ve never used a Go Pro, but one is on my wish list now after Sri Lanka. We went white water rafting and I am SO glad my friend brought one. She mounted it to her helmet and that and footage from her handheld Go Pro is some of the funniest video from the trip.
I also didn’t pack a selfie stick. While I made do without it, I don’t have the longest arms in the world. It would have been nice to have once we reached the top of Siguriya Rock so I could have included more of the view.
Phone Waterproof Holder
Whether you’re planning a white water adventure or just shooting photos by the beach or pool, having a waterproof holder will save your phone. This one has a lanyard for easy transport.
5. Random Things For Your Sri Lanka Packing List
Travel Carbon Monoxide Detector
It may be my anxiety talking, but I just feel safer carrying a carbon monoxide detector. While I didn’t activate it in every room, it did make me more confident to use the stand-alone heater in one of our rooms in the mountains.
You can pick up a pack of two for less than $3, and they have numerous uses from holding doors between adjoining family rooms to safety while traveling. As a frequent solo traveler, I kick them into the door from the inside so that no one can push my door open. Sometimes I wasn’t 100% confident in our safety latches.
My main reason to bring these is for beach days. I use a large safety pin to pin my room key to the inside of my short pocket. No lost keys! I’ve also used them in the past to hang clothing on a clothes line so things don’t blow away.
Another beach day must for me. I brought a small travel sized Gold Bond powder. Dusting your feet with it will immediately remove sand. A must have in my book.
Internet is fairly abundant in Sri Lanka. All of our hotels had decent service. Internet through your phone service can be a gamble. While researching ahead of time, it looked like my Verizon plan would be absolutely fine using Travel Pass for $10 every 24 hours. The island looked like it was covered.
The reality though was far from that. The first day I used a Travel Pass. After turning it on at 9:51 a.m. and receiving the confirmation text that my 24 hours had started from Verizon, I was notified that it would expire at 11:34 p.m., leaving me 10 hours short of 24 hours. I wasn’t cool with that. Two other times when I turned on my service it couldn’t locate a signal – once in the mountains and once very close to Colombo. Don’t rely on it. My friend had T-Mobile service and was able to get data anytime she tried.
If internet is very important to you or you’re traveling for business, you may want to look into Skyroam. This orange disc gives you wifi on demand for up to 5 devices for about $13 a day. It’s great for families traveling with multiple devices (saving a ton of $$) and reliable. You can either have it shipped to you or pick it up at many major airports. There are several other similar services, but if you read the fine print, they do NOT include service in Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka is a year round tropical climate ranging in temperature from 80-95 degrees on a daily basis. The humidity will make it feel hotter.
Locals are used to the climate. They dress in saris, 3/4 sleeve shirts and t-shirts and long dresses and skirts. Men wear slacks, long skirts or occasionally shorts. If you see someone in a tank top and shorts they are likely a tourist.
As a Texan I’m used to the heat and was comfortable in my normal clothing. I packed multiple 3/4 sleeve peasant/tunic type shirts made out of light materials, t-shirts, linen pants, light roll-up capri pants and some white cropped jeans. Many on my trip (including my daughter) wore long light dresses. Amazon has some fantastic choices. Be sure to factor temple visits in and pack items that cover shoulders and knees for both genders. Light colors are recommended.
You don’t need to spend a bundle to be comfortable. In fact, this is a great opportunity to put your thrifting skills to the test. Many of our best finds that worked out cost $5 or less!
A few things to note. The climate in the hill country near Nuwara Eliya and Ella near the tea plantations is cooler. You’ll want long sleeves or a sweater in the evening. It can drop into the 40s and is around 70 during the day. Be sure to add a cardigan to your Sri Lanka packing list.
Pack a swimsuit. Bikinis were less common here than other areas I’ve traveled to. I brought tankinis for my daughter and me that covered as much as a one piece.
If you’re traveling during monsoon season you may want to consider a light rain jacket or waterproof windbreaker.
I recommend packing at least two pairs of flip flops each. They’re perfect for beach days. Also, let’s address the toilet situation in Sri Lanka. Major hotels will have toilet paper and Western toilets. However, all toilets have a spray attachment that is used in Sri Lanka to rinse your nether regions. This means that most bathrooms are wet, and it is easier to wipe down and sanitize flip flops than other shoe styles.
If you’re headed to Sigiriya to climb to the top of the fortress, pack sneakers. It was the only time I used them on our trip, but I was so happy I brought them. The stairs are uneven and slick and these Adidas Cloudfoam sneakers were perfect. They were light, breathable and packed compact. With Amazon Wardrobe, I was able to try these on before committing to and buying them.
Quick Dry Towel
I made it five days into the trip wondering if I had wasted carry-on space packing this. Then we went white water rafting, and it came in so handy!
I got this extra large quick dry towel, which is the perfect size to also use as an impromptu blanket or beach towel. It has a loop sewn into it so it’s easy to hang to dry and comes in a carrying case with a carabiner. We also found one more use for this in combination with the next item.
It’s hot in Sri Lanka. The ability to rinse some items out and re-wear them is great. I love this rubber clothesline with suction cups. Bonus second use – privacy screen. Bathrooms with glass looking into the bedroom are super common. While many have a screen that can be lowered, there were a few with glass doors! When traveling with the whole family, you can utilize the suction cup clothing line on the door and hang the quick dry towel on it for privacy.
If you plan to do laundry bring Tide laundry liquid packs.
Plan for spas.
I love a great spa. Sri Lanka was full of them. With many treatments costing 5000 rupees or so (roughly $27), it’s a great deal and lovely way to relax. My daughter had her first spa treatment on this trip at the Jetwing Sea’s rooftop spa in Negombo.
Most treatments, even if they don’t specifically spell it out, end up involving lotion on your arms and legs or oil in your hair. Pack an extra pair of shorts and a loose shirt for the spa. That way, you can wear it back and forth to treatments without ruining a planned outfit when you come out covered in a layer of coconut lotion.
Honestly, this was one item I probably could have skipped and here’s why. Technically, because of the typhoid risk, you should be brushing with bottled water. I forgot over and over again and needed an extra toothbrush. Fortunately, every hotel had them. We got one on our long haul flight. I ended up tossing a few that I used with local water by mistake.
Hint: To avoid forgetting and drinking the water, I highly recommend immediately removing drinking glasses from the bathroom and putting a bottle water next to the sink. It helps to avoid any confused middle-of-the-night mishaps. Also, be sure to ask if tap water has been used when buying juices from stands. I will say that I had no stomach issues, even with a few oopsies. It was not like my oops in Mexico that had immediate and not welcome consequences.
Toiletries are usually provided at the hotel, but not always replenished regularly. There will usually be only one bar of soap per room. I brought a snack size bag with a travel bar of soap in it. I also brought a shampoo bar that came in a tin so it didn’t cut into my liquid allowance. It was super handy for quick beach showers too.
Only two out of five hotels had washcloth/facecloths, so if you ‘ll need to remove makeup. I’d recommend bring makeup wipes.
9. First Aid Kit
Want to avoid poopy tummy, motion sickness and more? Pack yourself a little first aid kit. It doesn’t need to be much, but I always feel better knowing I have it. Mine includes the following:
- Band Aids
- Paper tape
- Water wipes to clean hands before treating anything
- Bonine for motion sickness (A must if you are heading to the highlands and tea plantations- roads are super winding)
- Anti diarrhea medication
- Allergy medicine
- Antibiotic cream
- sting/itch wipes
- Alcohol wipes
- Ziploc bags (for puke or dirty items)
10. Baby Items
Baby items were widely available. Even the small towns we drove through had a baby store. You can easily purchase diapers in multiple sizes, along with wipes, formula, powdered milk and snack items kids like.
Diaper prices were extremely reasonable, so save room in your luggage. One US dollar is about 184 Sri Lankan rupees at the time of this writing, so diapers were in line with US prices at 25 cents each or so. If it gives you comfort include them on your Sri Lanka packing list but I promise you’ll also be able to find them on island.
11. Travel Insurance
I highly recommend travel insurance for every trip. I carry an annual policy with Allianz myself (paid for out of pocket). It is a small price to pay for peace of mind when you travel.
12. Credit Cards
Credit cards are taken at hotels, many stores and some tourist attractions. ATMs were not always easy to find. I recommend carrying a decent amount of cash. I changed some into rupees on arrival, but some cash tourist attractions will also take US dollars. When we decided to go whitewater rafting last minute, they happily took US dollars. This saved us a long trip on winding roads to the nearest ATM. At the last minute before we flew out, I grabbed an extra $100 and was glad that I had.
Also, when carrying credit cards, it’s always a good idea to utilize an RFID blocking wallet. This one is perfect at $9! It’s sized for travel.
Travel Tips: How to Pack for Sri Lanka
I’m team carry-on size all the way. We checked one carry-on sized bag and brought one carry-on sized bag on with us. I recommend keeping the size at carry-on because not all of the hotels have elevators. It makes it more manageable if a porter isn’t available to assist.
Also, if you plan to move from one place to another via tuk tuk, you’ll need small bags. While roller style bags work I LOVED my Cotopaxi backpacks. We purchased them specifically with this trip in mind. I brought the Cotopaxi 35L Allpa pack (that we carried on). This model has a sternum strap and very supportive waist strap. The inside is set up more like luggage than a backpack. It has zippered compartments and easy access points for your laptop and important items. We also brought a slightly larger 50 L model that the backpack straps can be removed and tucked in. I thought this would be a better choice to check so that there were no external straps to be damaged.
Packing cubes are your friends here. While I always utilize packing cubes to split the clothing of members of our party, I was thankful I brought extra. It made it easy to separate dirty clothing from clean clothing. We even had one packing cube for “wear it one more time” and “beach clothes”.
We brought two Cotopaxi (day packs) with us. This was helpful because Sri Lanka is full of fun day trip opportunities off property. One day pack was our airplane carry on for the flight and was repurposed into our day bag for excursions.
Nylon light bags are great choices because you can just shove them in the room safe when you’re done for the day. While in Sri Lanka, you should always carry identification (your passport) on you. My Cotopaxi bag had a zippered interior pocket on it to safely store passports and currency. An outer zipper was a handy place to store hand sanitizer, sanitizer wipes and tissues for toilets.
The second pack had just sunscreen and beach items in it, so I didn’t have to unpack the day bag to head to the beach.
A dry bag is a must if you’ll be switching hotels. It will save you from having to pack a damp swimsuit into your luggage. In addition, many tourists stay in Negombo’s beach area the day before their flights. You don’t want to risk a damp swimsuit stinking everything up on a long haul flight home!
Where are you headed in Sri Lanka? Leave any questions below and I’ll point you in the right direction! What else would you add to a Sri Lanka packing list?