Knowing what to wear in Sri Lanka will save you a lot of hassle when actually visiting.
Sri Lanka is gorgeous and it has something to offer to any kind of traveler. Whether you are looking for a beach retreat; unique culture; challenging hikes or a fantastic mix of all, you are bound to find it there. 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. Let me start by telling you a few things to consider before you get packing.
What To Pack For Sri Lanka – 7 Things To Consider
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. The driest season is between December and March, but even then places like the Hill Country will have very high chances of rain.
No matter when you visit, you’ll end up being caught in the rain every now and then – you will have 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, and humid. A mere 29°C (84°F) will imply heavy air, and you’ll be dragging your feet, desperate for fresh air. Wearing cotton or linen clothes that are 100% perspirant and that you can easily wash in the sink every day is key.
But not in Nuwara Eliya
Contrary to the rest of the country, Nuwara Eliya, also known as Little England, is always chilly. This lovely city in the heart of the Hill Country is famous for the many tea plantations. Set at 1,800 meters (5,905 feet) above sea level, the air is always cool (if not plain cold at night). It’s also very rainy – so you will want warm clothes and rain gear there.
There are some beautiful beaches
There are some gorgeous beaches in Sri Lanka – long, sandy, lined with palm trees and with clear waters and consistent waves. This means you need to include a swimsuit in your Sri Lanka packing list!
Modest clothing is the way to go
You will be visiting a few Buddhist temples in Sri Lanka, and to enter you’ll have to cover your shoulders and knees. In fact, it’s best to dress modestly all the time not to attract attention – locals are very modest, after all.
Think about your activities
What will be the main focus of your trip? Consider this when deciding what to pack for Sri Lanka! My advice? Bring a bit of everything as chances are you will do a mixture of activities.
Consider your transportation options
This will make a big difference when putting together your Sri Lanka packing list. 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!
Now that have a basic understanding of what to expect, let’s figure out what to include in your Sri Lanka packing list.
What To Wear In Sri Lanka – The Best Sri Lanka Packing List
For your trip to Sri Lanka, opt for 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. Opt for the smallest possible backpack and pack light.
I recommend something around 65 liters such as the Osprey Ariel 65 – which is what I swear by; or the Berghaus Trailhead 65 – a nice backpack where you can pack loads. There even is a 60 liter version – perhaps even better! Whichever backpack you pick, make sure that it comes with a rain cover.
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 need for the day. Make sure it fits comfortably whether you wear it in front of you, or on your back.
I am a fan of the Twentyfourseven 20 by Berghaus which is perfect for sightseeing and also for a short hike. Alternatively, the Zomake Lightweight is an excellent chioce: you can fold it, it’s extremely light and it comes in many colors. And it is very cheap.
Packing cubes can help you keep your stuff organized inside a backpack, even when you are unorganized. You will also need 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.
If you plan to hit the trail, make sure to carry a pair of hiking shoes such as the Salomon X Ultra 3 Mid GTX. You will also want a pair of flip flops – perfect to wear at the beach; and a pair of good walking sandals – you need something that dries quickly and that has a good grip even in wet conditions. You may want to thrown in a pair of walking shows too.
If you want to look pretty and at the same time comfortable and modest, Kuhl clothes are perfect for a trip to Sri Lanka. They are good for hiking and at the same time stylish, comfortable, easy to wash and just as easy to dry.
What to wear in Sri Lanka – hot weather
- PANTS – Take 3 pairs: a pair of hiking pants, a pair of comfortable cotton or linen pants, and a pair of light jeans or everyday use pants. I recomment Horizn Convertible for hiking; Kuhl Cabo pants for everyday use; and Freeflex Move for something extra comfortable.
- SHORTS – Strictly at the beach. I love Horizn Shorts.
- T-SHIRTS – Both short and long sleeves. Consider something like Kuhl Sona t-shirt, Kuhl Laurel shirt, and the Kuhl Acacia and Kuhl Sona t-shirt.
- UNDERWEAR – A large comfortable t-shirt to use as a pajama; comfortable underwear and socks. You may want to bring a pair of hiking socks too. A sports bra and a normal one.
- SWIMSUIT – In case you go to the beach or the pool.
- PRETTY DRESS – Check out Kuhl dresses as they are comfortable, easy to wear and with the right accessories they can become very smart. I love the Kandid Dress.
What to wear in Sri Lanka – cold weather
If you are visiting Nuwara Eliya or hiking Adam’s Peak, you will need some warmer clothes – temperatures are known to drop to 10°C (50°F) at night between December and February. I visited in September and sure enough it was cold! Rain gear is necessary throughout the country.
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).
Here’s what to take:
- SWEATER – Take a sweater or a micro fleece. You may opt for a Lea Pullover and if you something extra warm the Kuhl Alska.
- RAIN JACKET OR PONCHO – This what to wear in Sri Lanka when it rains. You may want to opt for Kuhl Hydroflex 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.
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. Here are some items you need to pack:
- SUNSCREEN – Take a good sunscreen with very high SPF. The sun can be fierce in Sri Lanka and you’re better off protecting yourself.
- MOSQUITO REPELLENT – Make sure to also pack a good mosquito repellent – because the country is unfortunately not mosquito free and there have been cases of dengue fever in Sri Lanka. You could also opt for something a bit more natural such as Cutter Lemon Eucalyptus Repellent, which is a nice non-oily product derived from the leaves of the Lemon Eucalyptus tree.
- TEA TREE OIL – It will help you medicate minor cuts, and is good to ease the itch of insect bites.
- HAND SANITIZER
- ALL PURPOSE SOAP BAR – It’s great to shower, wash your small items in the sink, and even as a shampoo if you ever run out.
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.
Other important stuff
Other things to include in your Sri Lanka packing list are:
- A QUICK DRY TOWEL – You can use it at the beach or at the pool or, if you are staying in a budget place, for the shower. Alternatively, opt for a sarong. This is very versatile as it can be used as a towel; you can wear it at the beach; and you can even use it as a shawl when you visit temples. Sarongs are super lightweight and dry really quick too!
- AN UMBRELLA – Take a compact one that you can easily fit in your daypack.
- WATER BOTTLE – Try to minimize the use of plastic. I love Supersparrow because it keeps water cold for hours. It comes in many sizes and colors too.
- HEAD LAMP – You won’t really be doing much night walking, but you never know.
- PROTEIN BARS – Because let’s be honest, there will be days when the thought of another curry will make you sick!
- SRI LANKA GUIDEBOOK – Because you don’t always have internet to find information.
- KINDLE – It’s lighter to carry than paper books.
- A UNIVERSAL PLUG ADAPTOR – There are two different plug sockets in Sri Lanka, so universal is the way to go.
- A POWER BANK – To charge your phone on the go.
- A LOCK – In case you stay at a hostel.
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!
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?
Make sure to read my other posts about Sri Lanka:
- 20 Fabulous Places To Visit In Sri Lanka
- 19 Things To Know Before Visiting 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
- A Guide To The Things To Do In Bentota, Sri Lanka
- Food In Sri Lanka: 25 Delicious Dishes You Should Try
- Where To Do A Safari In Sri Lanka