Knowing what to wear in Sri Lanka will save you a lot of hassle when actually visiting.
The country is gorgeous and it has something to offer to any kind of traveler. Whether you are looking for a beach retreat; for unique culture; for challenging hikes or for a fantastic mix of all, you are bound to find it in Sri Lanka. But – especially in the latest scenario – you need to know what to pack for Sri Lanka, or you’ll find yourself stuck not knowing what to wear and especially not finding places where to get what you need.
But worry not! In this post, I highlight what to wear in Sri Lanka and provide an essential Sri Lanka packing list. This guide is perfect for those who are traveling independently, but also suitable for those on a guided tour of Sri Lanka. Before getting to the juicy bits of what you should pack for Sri Lanka and what to wear in Sri Lanka, I will go through a few things you should consider when deciding what to bring and what to leave home.
What To Wear Sri Lanka – 7 Things To Consider Before Packing
It rains a lot
There are two monsoon seasons in Sri Lanka, sometimes so heavy that they cause flooding and casualties, as it happened in 2018. In other words, it rains a lot. After all, the country wouldn’t be so lush and green were it not for all that rain. The driest season is between December and March, but even then places like the Hill Country will have very high chances of rain.
Rain is something you need to keep in mind when deciding what to pack for Sri Lanka, because despite your best efforts you’ll end up being caught in the rain every now and then. This means you will need to pack an umbrella, a poncho and some rain gear.
It’s always hot
Sri Lanka is one of the hottest countries you’ll ever visit. It’s not just the temperatures that are hot: the humidity is incredibly high, and even when it will just be 29 degrees Celsius, you will feel the air heavy and you’ll be dragging your feet around, desperate for a breath of fresh air. In order to fight the heat, I recommend wearing cotton or linen clothes that are 100% perspirant and that you can easily wash in the sink every day.
Light, cotton or breath through fabrics are what to wear in Sri Lanka.
But not in Nuwara Eliya
I have just said that Sri Lanka is impossibly hot. But as with everything, there is an exception. Nuwara Eliya, also known as Little England, is always chilly. This lovely city in the heart of the Hill Country and famous for the many tea plantations is located at more than 1800 meters above sea level, which means that the air is always cool (if not plain cold at night). Add to this a good daily dose or rain, and you will see why – if you are planning to visit – you need to pack some warmer clothes.
There are some beautiful beaches
If you are a beach bum or if you like surfing, you’ll be in for a treat. There are some gorgeous beaches in Sri Lanka – long, sandy, lined with palm trees and with clear waters and consistent waves. It would be a pity not to go to the beach at least once, so make sure to keep this in mind when deciding what to pack for Sri Lanka.
Modest clothing is the way to go
The majority of people in Sri Lanka are Buddhist and there are a lot of temples scattered around the country. Some of them are major tourist attractions; others are lesser known but equally beautiful and interesting to visit. You should hit at least a couple of them. One thing to consider, then, is that modest clothing is required: you will have to cover your shoulders and knees any time you visit a holy site.
In fact, I suggest to dress modestly all the time, unless hitting a beach.
Think about your activities
Are you planning a yoga retreat? Are you only hitting the beaches? Will you visit all the cultural sites? Are you doing a safari? Do you intend to do some hiking? Or are you doing a mix of all of the above? Keep these things in mind when planning what to wear in Sri Lanka.
My suggestions about what to bring to Sri Lanka will be based on a mixture of activities and things to do.
Make sure to read my post “Where To Do A Safari In Sri Lanka.”
Consider your transportation options
Will you be hiring a private driver, renting your own tuk tuk, or rely on public transportation? This will make a big difference when deciding what to pack for Sri Lanka and even what to wear in Sri Lanka. If you are using public transportation, modest clothing is even more recommended, and you need to pack as light as possible as the buses and trains get packed and it will be a pain trying to get on with a huge suitcase. Consider traveling with a small backpack!
Continue reading to for an essential packing list.
What To Wear In Sri Lanka – All The Essential Items You Should Be Adding To Your Sri Lanka Packing List
For your trip to Sri Lanka, I recommend traveling with a backpack rather than a suitcase. You will be getting on and off the bus; on and off the train; and up and down stairs in hotels and guest houses where there are no elevators – so you will want something that is easy to carry. Try to go for as small as possible. I used a 65 liters backpack when I traveled to Sri Lanka, and carried 10 kg of weight, but I could have gone lighter
Whichever backpack you pick, make sure that it comes with a rain cover – remember that you’ll often be caught in the rain in Sri Lanka.
These are the best backpacks in the range of 60 to 70 liters:
- Osprey Kyte 66 – nice and lightweight
- Osprey Ariel 65 – the one I swear by
- Atmos AG 65 – it has a great air flowing belt; it comes in different styles for men and women
- Ariel pro – it’s very light and comfortable
- Berghaus Trailhead 65 – a nice backpack where you can pack loads. There even is a 60 liter version – perhaps even better!
Fore more information on how to pick a backpack, head over to my post “All The Useful Backpacking Essentials For Long Term Travel.”
Picking a good daypack is essential. You will need it to carry your important items (phone, camera, documents and laptop or iPad if you take one with you) when you move from one place to the other; and on a daily basis to carry whatever you may need while you are out exploring. Make sure it fits comfortably whether you wear it in front of you, or on your back.
These are some good daypacks for your trip to Sri Lanka:
- Zomake Lightweight – you can fold it, it’s extremely light and it comes in many colors. And it is very cheap.
- Osprey Skarab 22 – an excellent daypack with lots of pockets to organize your stuff. Perfect for short hikes.
- Twentyfourseven 20 by Berghaus – good for a day in the city and for a short hike.
Packing cubes can help you keep your stuff organized inside a backpack, even when you are unorganized. I’d also recommend taking some dry bags to store your electronics – your camera, cables and whatever else you don’t want to get wet.
If your trip to Sri Lanka will involve a bit of everything, you need to pack a bit of everything when it comes to shoes. In general, comfortable shoes are what to wear in Sri Lanka.
This is a list of shoes that should go in your Sri Lanka packing list.
- Salomon X Ultra 3 Mid GTX – if you plan to hit the trails, you can’t go without hiking shoes.
- A pair of flip flops – perfect to wear when it rains.
- Alternatively, a pair of good walking sandals will do – you need something that dries quickly and that has a good grip even in wet conditions.
- A pair of good walking shoes such as Tropicfeel – these will be your every day shoes, which you will wear to explore cities, villages, to bike around and to visit temples.
The first thing to keep in mind when packing for your trip to Sri Lanka is that unless you are going to the beach, you really have to dress modestly. This definitely applies when visiting temples and holy sites, but it also applies when exploring cities and other places. As a rule of thumb, I recommend following the local style.
Since you won’t see people in Sri Lanka wearing shorts, mini-skirts and tank tops, the same applies to you. Cover your shoulder and knees: modest clothing is what to wear in Sri Lanka.
Another thing to consider is that it will be hot most of the time, but it rains a lot. And if you visit Nuwara Eliya or hike Adam’s Peak, you will need some warmer clothes.
If you want to look pretty and at the same time comfortable and modest, Kuhl clothes are perfect. They are good for hiking, stylish, comfortable, easy to wash and just as easy to dry.
This is a list of what to pack for Sri Lanka:
- 3 pairs of pants. Take a pair of hiking pants, a pair of comfortable cotton or linen pants, and a pair of light jeans or everyday use pants. My go to pants are Kuhl Cliffside Convertible for hiking; Kuhl Cabo pants for everyday use; and Freeflex Move for something extra comfortable.
- A pair of shorts for your days at the beach. I love Kuhl Horizn shorts.
- A combination of 4 t-shirts, one of them long sleeves. Go for 100% cotton for the summer ones. My favorite are the Kuhl Sora t-shirt, and the Kuhl Wunderer shirt. For short sleeves I recommend the Kuhl Kyra and Kuhl Sora.
- A large comfortable t-shirt to use as a pajama.
- A sweater or a micro fleece are essetial when visiting colder places. I use the Kuhl Lea Pullover and if I want something extra warm I take my Kuhl Alska.
- 6 pairs of comfortable underwear and the same amount of socks. You may want to bring a pair of hiking socks too.
- A sports bra and a normal one.
- A rain jacket or a poncho – it’s what to wear in Sri Lanka when it rains. I use Kuhl Airstorm rain jacket – it’s comfortable enough to wear layers underneath, in case it gets cold.
- A light scarf – you can use it when it is cold, or to cover your shoulders in holy sites.
- A swimsuit, in case you go to the beach or the pool.
- A pretty dress. I am a fan of Kuhl as they are comfortable, easy to wear and with the right accessories they can become very smart. My favorite is the Kyra dress.
Your Sri Lanka packing list should include any personal care items you may need during the trip. Make sure to bring good toiletry bag like this one, which you can hang and with multiple pockets to store all your toiletries. Other than the obvious, remember to pack:
- Sunscreen with very high SPF.
- Hand sanitizer.
- All purpose biodegradable soap bar – it’s great to shower, wash your small items in the sink, and even as a shampoo if you ever run out.
- Mosquito repellent – because the country is unfortunately not mosquito free and there have been cases of dengue fever in Sri Lanka.
- Tea tree oil to medicate minor cuts, or for insect bites.
Make sure to carry any prescription drugs you have to take on a regular basis, and bring a small first aid kit that should include:
- basic pain relief medicines such as paracetamol.
- imodium or any other diarrhea medication.
- bandaids and other bandages.
- antiseptic wipes and cream.
- cortizone cream.
You’ll have plenty of photo opportunities in Sri Lanka, so make sure to carry at least some basic camera gear. I can’t tell you what to pack for Sri Lanka in terms of camera stuff, but I can tell you what I took – keep in mind I love photography though!
- A good DSLR camera. I have a Nikon D3300.
- A couple of good lenses. I have a 18-105 mm or wide angle and landscape, and a 70-300 mm for wildlife.
- A couple of memory cards.
If you aren’t into photography as much as I am, you can take a good compact mirrorless camera. A smartphone with a good camera sometimes does wonders too!
Other tech items
Other items to pack for Sri Lanka are:
- A smartphone – make sure it is unlocked, so you can buy a local sim card.
- A power bank – to charge your phone on the go.
- A universal plug adapter – there are two different plug sockets in Sri Lanka, so universal is the way to go.
- A kindle – if you are a fan of reading.
- A lock – in case you stay at a hostel.
Other important stuff
Other things you should consider taking to Sri Lanka are:
- A quick dry towel
- Head lamp – you won’t really be doing much night walking, but you never know
- Water bottle and filter – avoid using plastic.
- An umbrella – you’ll be glad to have one, trust me.
- Protein bars – because let’s be honest, there will be days when the thought of another curry will make you sick!
- A couple of pins and a clothing line – to hang your laundry to dry
- A Sri Lanka guide book – because you don’t always have internet to find information
- Notebook – for when you want to write down your thoughts or need to take some notes
By all means, make sure to get a good travel insurance for your trip to Sri Lanka. If you are still wondering whether you need it, check out my post “Why You Need A Good Travel Insurance.” Otherwise, you can get a good travel insurance here.
Do you have any other tips on what to wear in Sri Lanka?
Further readings about Sri Lanka
Make sure to read my other posts about Sri Lanka:
- 20 Fabulous Places To Visit In Sri Lanka
- Everything You Should Know Before Backpacking Sri Lanka
- 13 Incredibly Cool Things To Do In Colombo
- A Very Useful Guide To Ella Sri Lanka
- A Complete Guide To Nuwara Eliya
- A Guide To The Most Unique Temples In Sri Lanka
- A Great Guide To Anuradhapura
- A Guide To The Things To Do In Sigiriya
- A Complete Guide To Kandy, Sri Lanka
- A Complete Guide To Galle Sri Lanka
- A Guide To What To See And Do In Trincomalee Sri Lanka
- A Complete Guide To Hiking Little Adam’s Peak
- A Complete Guide To Visiting Nine Arch Bridge
- 9 Fabulous Things To Do In Mirissa Sri Lanka, And One Not To
- 13 Things To Know About Whale Watching In Mirissa