Ultimate Sri Lanka Packing List: What to Pack and Wear
Need a Sri Lanka packing list? I am here to help.
White and gold-sand beaches, jungled hilltops, vibrant culture, spicy curries, and smiling locals make up the modern utopia of Sri Lanka. Located off the southernmost tip of India, this stunning island takes its influence from its Indian, colonial and native heritage.
If you need more convincing, check out my guide to Sri Lanka’s top highlights to cement this as your next holiday destination.
Now, what to pack?
I’ve got you covered below with information on the weather, what to wear for beaches, temples and hills, and a comprehensive list of the best essentials to pack for your trip to Sri Lanka!
Take the stress out of planning your trip. Here is my recommended 3 week Sri Lanka itinerary
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What to Pack for Sri Lanka – And What to Wear!
Sri Lanka Packing Essentials
SRI LANKA DRESS CODE | Sri Lanka is generally modest when it comes to clothing due to its religious culture. As visitors to their country, we are responsible for respecting their way of life as much as we can. So, leave that new string bikini at home, and try to keep cleavage and upper thighs covered when you aren’t on the beach
PACK LIGHT | It’s always tempting to pack as much as you need for your entire trip so you don’t have to bother with getting things washed. Well let me tell you, it’s super easy and quick to get things laundered in Sri Lanka. Most hotels or local shops offer this service and can get it done overnight for as little as 100 LKR per kilo. Less is more.
PACK LIGHT COLOURS | The sun in Sri Lanka can be quite intense, so make sure your wardrobe consists mainly of lighter colours like white and beige. These colours are better at reflecting the sun’s harmful rays.
PACK LIGHT FABRICS | Further to packing lighter colours, light fabrics will make your trip to Sri Lanka so much more comfortable. Cotton and linen are your best bet.
DON’T BRING EXPENSIVE CLOTHES | Sri Lanka is hot and humid for the most part, so your clothing will get sweaty no matter what. Avoid bringing that $400 pair of shorts and opt for more casual wear for your trip. Always have one nice polished-looking outfit (can still be inexpensive!) for dinners at a nice local restaurant or at a local’s home.
PACK FOR VARIABLE WEATHER | Although the weather in the south of Sri Lanka barely fluctuates (between 29 – 31 celsius), the hill regions can see temperatures as low as 14 degrees celsius in the evenings and early mornings.
PACK EXTRA TOILET PAPER | This one might seem a bit out of place but please always pack an extra roll of toilet paper to keep in your daypack. Many restroom stops do not provide it.
PACK SNACKS | You will most likely be taking a train ride sometime on your trip to Sri Lanka, and sometimes those trains can be delayed. You can find yourself waiting in the train station with no access to food. Pack a couple of non-perishable food items, like granola bars or a small baggie of nuts to keep that hunger at bay.
Sri Lanka Climate
To better assist you in packing for your trip to Sri Lanka, here is some information on the weather depending on what month and region you plan to travel to:
Sri Lanka is affected by two major monsoon seasons. The first affects the southwest side of the island, the second affects the northeast. Both happen at opposite times of the year.
Southwest Sri Lanka
The weather in the southwest region of Sri Lanka is ideal between December to March, but give it a chance in October and November and you won’t be disappointed. Rain here only lasts for a couple of hours a day. Plenty of time to get in some surf in the morning and hunker down in a cafe for the afternoon while the rain passes. Destinations in the southwest region include Galle Fort, Weligama and Mirissa.
Northeast Sri Lanka
The northeast regions of Sri Lanka are opening up to better weather from April to September. August and September are generally the driest, making it the ideal time to visit Jaffna for culture or head out to Trincomalee for some surf and water activities.
Central Sri Lanka
March is the optimal month to visit the green centre of Sri Lanka. Ella and Nuwara Eliya are pleasant during this time. But don’t be dissuaded if your trip doesn’t land in March, you can visit the hill region from January to April and experience nice conditions. Destinations here include Sigiriya, Kandy and Ella.
What to Wear in Sri Lanka
What to Wear in Sri Lanka Beach Towns
This is where you’ll find a more laid-back attitude toward dress. Here it is okay for women to wear bathing suits on the beach, but once you leave the water to eat or cruise the main strip of the beach towns, it’s considerate to throw on a sarong, cover-up, dress, or comfortable top and shorts.
READ | My ultimate guide to Weligama – Sri Lanka’s surf capital
What to Wear in Sri Lanka Temples
Temples in Sri Lanka observe strict clothing requirements. Here you will need to cover your knees and shoulders as a sign of respect for their religion. I’d recommend packing a sarong for these occasions so that you can either tie it around your waist to cover your knees or around your shoulders. A mid-length t-shirt dress or flowy linen pants and T-shirt are the perfect attire for this occasion.
READ | Best things to do in Kandy, Sri Lanka
What to Wear in the Sri Lanka Central Hill Region
The mountains of the Green Centre will invite you to be a bit more active than anywhere else in Sri Lanka. A good pair of athletic leggings and sneakers are a must here and do carry around a light rain jacket, just in case. I found the weather in the hill region can swing from morning to night. I was extremely hot hiking Little Adam’s Peak in Ella during the day, but quite chilly and humid when venturing out to Horton Plains out of Nuwara Eliya in the morning. Do your best to pack for variable conditions.
READ | Guide to the green centre of Sri Lanka – Ella
Sri Lanka Packing List: The Luggage Essentials
The Main Bag
Sri Lanka is a relatively clean country, with influences from Britain, Portugal, and the Netherlands over the past 400 years. It is also pretty easy to travel between destinations like Kandy and Ella, as trains, busses, and tuk-tuks are readily available, not leaving you dredging along the road trying to find your guesthouse.
For that reason, I recommend a soft-shell roller bag instead of a full-on backpack. The pliable nature of a softshell bag comes in handy when pushing your bag into overstuffed overhead train compartments and the wheels are great for airports.
My Sri Lanka suitcase recommendation:
DAKINE LUGGAGE | I have used Dakine luggage for the last 10 years and I can highly recommend them, especially at the price. Dakine brand is made with a lightweight and protective rib cage structure and plenty of compartments for sorting your gear
BUY | Dakine 110L Split Roller Travel Bag
The Day Bag
Perfect for leaving your large suitcase behind, your day bag can hold your valuables plus snacks, a water bottle and a rain jacket so you are prepared for the day without toting all of your belongings around with you.
My Sri Lanka packing list recommendation:
WANDRD PRVKE | If you are bringing along a digital camera and don’t want a separate bag for just your camera equipment, this is your dream come true. With a combination of camera compartments and free space for all of your knick-knacks, this is my top recommendation and the bag I personally travel with.
BUY | WANDRD PRVKE Backpack with Photography Bundle
The Collapsible Beach Bag
I found myself using a collapsible beach bag almost every day on my trip to Sri Lanka when even a carry-on-sized backpack felt too cumbersome. Quick beach visits in Weligama or perusing the fruit markets in Galle were both made better and easier with the addition of a collapsible day bag. Here is a couple of my go-to’s:
BUY | Packable Day Bag
I’m pretty sure packing cubes were dropped down from heaven. No, but seriously, they will change your life. These little morsels of organization keep everything in my bag where it belongs. I categorize my packing cubes so it’s easy to find that pair of socks or that sweater depending on which cube you put them in.
The dirty/clean split cubes come in handy when you need to store that sweaty t-shirt somewhere. Get one of each size.
BUY | Eagle Creek Packing Cubes
Sri Lanka Packing List: The Travel Essentials
Below is a list of travel essentials I used repeatedly throughout my trip to Sri Lanka:
Reusable Water Bottle
Nothing contributes to the destruction of our planet more than plastic. I highly recommend bringing a reusable water bottle with you on your trip to Sri Lanka, so you aren’t that person. Here are a couple of my favourites:
SWELL | The insulated stainless steel reusable water bottle can keep your water cold for 48 hours
BUY | S’well Reusable Water Bottle
LARQ | Aesthetically pleasing and water purifying, the LARQ bottle neutralizes harmful bacteria in 60 seconds using UV-C light
BUY | LARQ Purifying Reusable Water Bottle (my current fave!)
GRAYL | Perfect for hiking, the Grayl water bottle uses a manual geo press technology to purify water and donates a minimum of 1% of each sale to environmental charities and nonprofits
BUY | GRAYL Purifying Reusable Water Bottle
Reef Safe Sunscreen
Sunscreen, we all love to hate it. It can be a nuisance to put on every 2 hours, but the alternative is harmful rays from the sun wreaking havoc on our delicate epidermis. As always, let’s do our part and choose a reef-safe sunscreen.
SUNBUM | Sunbum products are reef safe, broad-spectrum, waterproof for up to 2 hours and non-toxic. The 50 SPF will provide the most protection from the sun.
BUY | Sunbum 50 SPF Waterproof Sunscreen
Sunglasses with Polarization
You can’t leave home without a good pair of UV-protected sunglasses or you’ll be squinting your way around the beautiful island of Sri Lanka your entire trip.
CARFIA | These stylish modern sunglasses come in classic wayfarer shapes and are polarized and lightweight.
BUY | Stylish Polarized Sunglasses
Yes, like most beautiful beach destinations, Sri Lanka has mosquitos. The peak seasons for Dengue Fever in Sri Lanka are October – December and May – July. Don’t worry, there isn’t a ridiculous amount of them, just a few in the hill regions of Nuwara Eliya and Ella and the inland jungle in southern Sri Lanka. Just ensure you are using something like deet-free Natrapel when you head outdoors.
BUY | Deet-Free Insect Repellent
Quick Drying Towel
A must-have item in any hot weather suitcase is a microfiber quick-drying towel. These towels pack up small, dry fast and are non-bulky. Perfect for stuffing in your day bag for things like taking a dip in a waterfall after a long hike in Ella, or leisurely beach visits in Mirissa. Here’s a great one with multiple colour options.
BUY | Quick Drying Microfibre Towel
The good ol’ dryer sheet. Perfect for keeping your sweaty clothes smelling nice between washes, especially important in humid climates like Sri Lanka. I keep mine at the bottom of my suitcase. I got this travel hack from my mom, so you know it’s good.
In this modern age we live in, it’s common to have at least 2 or 3 pieces of technology with us on any given trip. A power bank ensures you can charge up your devices without access to electricity. Anker makes the best one at an economical price.
BUY | Anker Power Bank + Portable Charger
Good Book or E-Reader
Some of Sri Lanka’s best destinations are connected by a long bus or train ride. Be prepared with a good book or Kindle for the times when staring out the window won’t do.
BUY | Kindle E-Reader
Sri Lanka Packing List: The Clothes
Sri Lanka has it all, green hilltops for hiking, cities for culture, beaches for lounging and surfing, you name it. This means when it comes to packing for Sri Lanka, you should only pack what you need and get it laundered on the go, or you will end up with just way too much stuff.
Here are my suggestions on what clothing essentials you will require for your trip:
Sandals + Water Shoes
I’ve always shied away from bringing water shoes with me on a trip because most of the ones I see are bulky and let’s face it, downright ugly. I purchased a pair of Tevas as my walking sandals and they double really well as water shoes. Climbing over rocks on the beaches was a much more pleasant experience.
BUY | Teva Sandals
Closed Toe Walking and Hiking Shoes
Disclaimer, if you are an avid hiker and want to explore the many challenging peaks around Ella, you may want a sturdier shoe, but I went with a comfortable white sneaker for everyday walking and they were perfect for lighter hikes like Little Adam’s Peak and Ella Rock.
Ecco makes some really comfortable shoes with some stylish options. I’ve had mine for 5+ years and they’ve taken me all over the world. I highly recommend them!
BUY | Ecco Sneakers
Light Rain Jacket
Expect humid and cooler mornings up in the green centre of Sri Lanka in towns like Nuwara Eliya and Ella. A lightweight rain jacket is a must for hiking in this part of the country.
BUY | Waterproof Jacket
2 x Pairs of Linen Pants
I lived in linen pants on most days of my trip, except when I was hiking in Ella. Light and airy is the way to go in the humid tropical weather and these pants are perfect for going from beachside to temple in Sri Lanka.
BUY | Easy Breezy Linen Pants
1 x Pair of Athletic Leggings
Pack a pair of good athletic leggings for your climb up Little Adam’s Peak or Ella Rock in the hill regions of Sri Lanka.
BUY | Active Leggings
1 x Pair of Lightweight Shorts
If you are planning to just hang out at the beach all day and visit a couple of cafes then lightweight shorts are the way to go. I wore shorts in Weligama and Mirissa along the south coast of Sri Lanka as they are mainly more casual beach towns.
BUY | Lightweight Shorts
1 x Sundress or Coverup
A lightweight mid length sundress or coverup is an essential packing item on your trip to Sri Lanka. Perfect for when you get back from frolicking in the waves. I opted for one with short sleeves to cover my shoulders in respect for the local customs.
BUY | Women’s Coverup
3 x Light Cotton T-shirts
On most trips, my uniform is a tried and true cotton tee. Buy one of each: black, white and a cheeky colour, and you are good to go.
BUY | Basic Cotton Tee
1 x Long Sleeved Shirt or Light Sweater
An essential for cooler weather in the green centre of Sri Lanka, a long-sleeved shirt or light sweater paired with a rain jacket will be your attire for most mornings and evenings in the area.
Sri Lanka Packing List: The Essential Accessories
What a lifesaver a lightweight sarong can be on your trip to any religious country, especially when the weather is hot and humid. In Sri Lanka, it is common to wear shorts or summery dresses in beach towns but if you want to stop off at a temple it’s important to have one of these with you to ensure you properly cover your shoulders and knees.
The beauty of a sarong is its versatility. A sarong can also act as a beach throw or sun cover-up for those spontaneous beach excursions.
BUY | Versatile Sarong
Oh man, am I ever excited that the fanny pack has made a comeback. It can be worn around your waist or across the body. I used mine nonstop and stored things like valuables, hand sanitizer, sunscreen and lip balm. It even doubled as my passport and boarding pass keeper when I made my way through the airport. Here are my faves:
JANSPORT | Classic, classic, classic. Bring back those 90s vibes with multiple colour options.
BUY | Jansport Fanny Pack
MATT & NAT | If you want something stylish that looks and feels like leather, this is the bag for you. Made from vegan leather.
BUY | Matt & Nat Vegan Leather Fanny Pack
I’ll admit, the southern coastline of Sri Lanka was my favourite part of my trip. The opportunity to have leisurely beach hangs is what really makes a trip a vacation for me. A floppy bucket hat was a mainstay on my head for the entirety of my time there.
BUY | Classic Bucket Hat
I know it seems silly to have this one here, but I remember more than one occasion where I’ve forgotten my basics like underwear and socks.
Sri Lanka has some epic beaches and is situated right on the Indian Ocean so you will find yourself at the water’s edge sooner or later.
BUY | Women’s Swimwear
Sri Lanka Packing List: Toiletries
Luckily Sri Lanka isn’t Africa, so you will have access to pharmacies and grocery stores to get your essentials while you are there. Choosing eco-friendly products is imperative for the health of our planet so let’s be apart of the necessary global movement:
SHAMPOO BAR | an environmentally friendly choice with no plastic waste
CONDITIONER BAR | To go with your shampoo bar
DRY SHAMPOO | for when your scalp and hair get sweaty in between showers, because it will.
BAMBOO TOOTHBRUSH | instead of a plastic toothbrush, this alternative is compostable
SILK DENTAL FLOSS | easily glides between teeth and is better for the environment than the traditional synthetic nylon used in regular versions
JOJOBA OIL | This lightweight oil can act as a cleanser and moisturizer for your face so you don’t have to bring along all of your bulky products
MENSTRUAL CUP | Let me tell you ladies, this is the best thing since sliced bread and you will never have to go searching for tampons again
NATURAL DEODORANT | Most mainstream deodorants are toxic for your body. This one is free of aluminum.
Sri Lanka Packing List: Camera Gear
Sri Lanka is full of photo-worthy landscapes, animals, and scenes. Make sure you bring the appropriate equipment to properly capture your trip. Photos are memories!
MIRRORLESS CAMERA | You know what they say, the best camera is the one you have with you. If you already know that a full-frame camera is going to be too bulky and using it seems like a chore, then stick with your smartphone (they have great cameras these days!). I recently upped my game and bought a Sony A7iii and am really happy I did.
ALL ROUNDER LENS | It’s always a good idea to have an all-rounder lens so that you don’t lose time switching from prime lens to prime lens just to get a few shots. The Sigma 24-70mm is my go to glass for architecture, street scenes and beaches
TELEPHOTO ZOOM LENS | This is something I haven’t invested in yet, but I highly recommend a 70-200mm zoom lens if you are going to go camera-crazy in the national parks of Sri Lanka. I definitely regretted not having one when I was there
SD CARDS | Stock up on these. You will go through them quickly if you are anything like me
SD CARD HOLDER | Keep those SD cards organized and safe
SPARE BATTERIES + CHARGER | Don’t want to have your camera shut down in the middle of an epic safari? Bring some extra batteries and a camera charger
GOPRO | Any model will do. This is great for capturing underwater scenes
LENS CLEANING KIT | Can’t leave home without this if you are going to be investing in a good kit. Smears on your lens can really ruin a picture
DEHUMIDIFIER BEADS | these little beads of magic keep all your electronics dry in the humid Sri Lanka weather. Keep them inside your camera or computer case
See All Essential Sri Lanka Travel Guides
Want to continue planning your trip to Sri Lanka? Check out my 3-week Sri Lanka itinerary or if you prefer to determine the route yourself, read the specialized guides below for some of the best experiences in Sri Lanka:
KANDY | Bustling market streets, quiet strolls around the lake, lush botanical gardens, and ornate Buddhist temples, the cultural capital of Sri Lanka has it all
ELLA | Nestled in the green centre of Sri Lanka, this hiker’s paradise features trails with panoramic views of jagged green hills, deep valleys and rushing waterfalls.
YALA NATIONAL PARK | Majestic elephants, elusive leopards, and a myriad of bird species can all be found in one of the biggest national parks in Sri Lanka.
WELIGAMA | Where surf culture is alive and thriving, this central town is located on the golden south coast of Sri Lanka and offers the best surf beach for beginners, and an abundance of traditional and modern eateries.
MIRISSA | A small surf town located 15 minutes away from Weligama, offers golden beaches, surfing, serene spas, and healthy food.
GALLE FORT | Fortified stone walls, dutch and Portuguese style architecture, great food and shopping all culminate in this little town that was once a major Sri Lankan trading post.