However you choose to spend your time on a trip to Sri Lanka; volunteering at an elephant sanctuary, visiting Buddhist temples and tea plantations or soaking up the Sri Lankan landscape on a picturesque train ride, you need to make sure you pack all of the essentials. Items that you will really need to make sure your trip to Sri Lanka is memorable for all the right reasons. So use this Sri Lanka packing list to help you enjoy every second of your time here, no matter what the weather or your choice of activities and entertainment. Relax! We’ve got you covered.
Sri Lanka Packing List
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Firstly, how do the locals dress in Sri Lanka?
How the women dress in Sri Lanka depends a lot on where in Sri Lanka they live. There’s a difference between what’s acceptable in a big city like Colombo and what’s a normal way to dress in a rural village. In the bigger cities and tourist beach towns a lot of the young girls will have been influenced by western fashion so expect to see them in jeans and t-shirts. Local Sri Lankan women don’t actually completely cover up, believe it or not. The traditional clothing usually has a low neckline (with a bit of cleavage) and short sleeves so the tops of the arms are on display. Expect to see ladies midriffs uncovered so obviously stomachs aren’t considered offensive in Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka Packing Tip: On the beaches you’ll be fine in a bikini, it’s what’s expected of female tourists, so pack a few of your favorites.
Think about the weather and climate when creating your Sri Lanka Packing List
The best time to visit Sri Lanka for warm, dry and sunny weather is between October and March. As Sri Lanka heats up in April and May travel prices begin to drop and you can get some excellent value trips if you don’t mind the high humidity and thunderstorms. Monsoon season arrives in May and ends in September and if you’re visiting Sri Lanka during this time expect a lot of torrential rain and make sure you pack waterproof gear. The hottest time of the year is in May and June when temperatures can reach 100 degrees, most travelers choose to visit Sri Lanka during the winter between October and March.
Clothing To Pack
Trousers x2: Pack trekking trousers that
double triple-up as trousers you can wear for general sightseeing and even on the plane too. This saves room in your luggage. If necessary make use of your hotels laundry service. I like these boot cut outdoor stretch pants because they fit quite snug and flatter your figure (you CAN look good while hiking without offending the locals). They’re also stain, rain and UV resistant.
A pair of jeans: If you’re visiting a big city like Colombo or one of the touristy beach towns and just want to look and feel normal.
Short Sleeve T-shirts x2: Pack 1 breathable lightweight t-shirt that can be worn during the day or for a hike.
1 dress: Cute boho maxi dresses will be perfect for most places in Sri Lanka. If you need to cover up throw a shawl or lightweight cardigan over your shoulders, especially when visiting Buddhist temples.
Lightweight Fleece: Pack one that’s lightweight and quick to dry like this beauty.
Sports Bras x2: If you’re trekking, hiking or just doing a lot of sightseeing pack sports bras.
Headband or Buff: Get one like this that can double-up as a scarf to cover your hair in temples and a headband for sweat absorption and to keep your hair out of your face. You can use it as neck support to sleep on public transport too. This will be incredibly useful and you will be so glad you packed one.
All other clothing you can buy out there, that’s what all the markets are for! You will be so happy that you have a little space in your luggage for some cute new clothes usually featuring elephants. I’m sooo deadly serious.
Sandals: These will be what you wear during the day for most sightseeing, the sandals you pack for Sri Lanka need to be lightweight and comfortable. A pair of Tivas (very popular) or Chacos (which I use) will work great. For the evening if you want to look a bit more stylish then consider packing a pair of Uin Loafers which will be perfect to wear on the plane too.
Hiking Boots: If you plan on going off the beaten path in Sri Lanka or just doing some hiking and trekking your boots can seriously make or break your trip. Make sure they’re broken in properly before you go. Most importantly, you should not be able to ever feel your big toe touch the front of the boot. These mid-rise waterproof hiking boots by Hi-Tec are a great choice for Sri Lanka.
Flip Flops: Bring a really cheap pair of flip flips or buy a pair when you arrive and give them away when you leave. Use these for going in and out of temples so you can slip them on and off easily and if someone (that isn’t you) walks off wearing them it won’t be a big deal.
Gear To Pack
Day Pack: I love Osprey’s Daylight Plus Daypack which comes with a hydration pocket for your Hydration pack which you’ll need if you plan on doing any hiking or trekking.
DSLR Camera: For a trip of a lifetime that you know will set your instagram account on fire you might want to consider bringing your DSLR. That said, my camera on my iphone is so good I’m not sure I can justify the extra weight of a DSLR these days.
Trekking towel: Fast drying, very absorbent, compact and lightweight; the Rainleaf micro fibre towel is one of the most popular choices and you can use it after your travels for the gym too and lots of other sweat-inducing things.
Drinking Bottle: Camelbak has really good options for easy to use water bottles.
Sunglasses: Pack polarized sunglasses with UV protection that can be worn at a high altitude too so you can double them up as trekking sunglasses and everyday sunglasses too.
Waterproof Sack: For valuable and electronics in case it pours down if your visiting during the monsoon season (oh and it will, but only if you’re not prepared… because thats life!).
Padlock & Chain: For your backpack, and keeping things safe in hotels, hostels and when sleeping on public transport.
Sleep sheet: So handy!
Ziplocks: Trust me, they will come in handy!
If you plan on buying toiletries when you arrive to save space in your luggage be aware that their toiletry brands will be very different than what you’re used to so if you really like a certain product, bring it with you.
Sunscreen: Sunblock can be a bit of a rip off in a lot of places so consider bringing a small bottle with you so you can take it in your carry on.
Mosquito repellent: Buy it there if you must but they are so toxic I try to avoid them. Get Malaria vaccines before you go.
Hand sanitizer & wet wipes: Buy it there.
Shampoo, conditioner, shower gel: Buy it there.
Toothpaste and toothbrush: Bring it with you so you can brush your teeth at the airport or on the first night if you don’t have time to shop. You can probably make do with a travel sized tube of paste considering you only need a pea size amount for each brush.
Deodorant: I would bring your preferred deodorant with you, it’s annoying having to use one you don’t like much plus they weigh nothing. I use an all-natural deodorant (without the aluminum) made in Bali because it smells like roses and does the job.
Makeup: Mascara, eyeliner and maybe some lip gloss is about all I use when in South Asia. Concealer, powder etc will just get sweated-off the moment you step off the plane and then clog your pores up so really don’t waste your time. You have to work the natural ‘beach babe’ thing here… don’t be scared.
Nail cutter and nail file: Bring it with you because there’s nothing more annoying than having a broken nail you can’t do anything about.
Medical kit: With band aids, antiseptic etc. I never used to bring anything sensible like this but then I stepped on glass as I was coming out of a temple in Bangkok and had blood pouring out of my foot while limping back to the hotel. Luckily the girl I was with that day pulled out her medical kit, cleaned it up and gave me a plaster. I was so impressed (and grateful).
Toiletries travel bag: Bring a clear TSA approved travel makeup bag for liquids to speed up going through customs.
Sri Lanka packing list optional extras (we love)
Packing Cubes: Travel light and stay organized with these lightweight Eagle Creek packing cubes.
Re-useable Mini Cosmetic Bottles: Cute and high-quality travel bottles that won’t crack on you.
Hidden Pocket Scarves: Stash secret cash, lip balm and your passport in a sneaky scarf like this.
Where to buy your Sri Lanka travel gear
You really don’t need to spend a small fortune on all this travel gear for a trip to Sri Lanka. Besides just getting to Sri Lanka has already cost you enough. If you’re planning your trip in advance then you should be able to catch a sale at any good outdoor clothing store, there’s usually about three or four each year. I’ve bought everything from hiking boots to sunglasses by timing my shopping trips to coincide with a sale and saved between 40-75% each time. So planning in advance will save you a lot of hard earned cash.
If you don’t have time to wait for a sale, you can still get a good deal online. Of course Amazon is one of the best places to go to read hundreds of reviews and compare prices before making a purchase. Another bonus of shopping online for your Sri Lanka travel gear is that you can save your legs for the walk around the tea plantations!
Be aware that places like Sri Lanka will not have the outdoor gear shops that you’re used to or much choice for women’s travel gear, so if you forget to bring something that you discover you need, your best option may be to rent it while you’re there (if that’s even an option) borrow from a friend, or do without. But this shouldn’t be necessary because this awesome Sri Lanka Packing List is here to help you to not forget the essentials.
Travel Resources (we swear by)
Skyscanner for getting the best deals on Sri Lanka flights.
Booking.com for booking Sri Lanka hotel accommodation.
Hostelworld for budget travelers or anyone looking to meet travel buddies while backpacking in Sri Lanka.
GetYourGuide for the best tours and activities to do once you’ve arrived in Sri Lanka.
IVisa helps us know if we need a visa, how long it will take to process and how much it will cost.
Lonely Planet Sri Lanka: Check price on Amazon
For more Sri Lanka travel tips take a peek at our Sri Lanka Travel Guide which includes the Sri Lanka basics, top things to do, fun festivals, what to eat, where to stay and recommended trip planning resources.
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Did we miss something that you think should be included in this Sri Lanka Packing List? Let us know in the comments section below!