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What to wear in Sri Lanka [+ Downloadable Packing List]

I had no idea what to pack on my first trip to Sri Lanka, and truthfully – I mucked up big time. Not only did I overpack, but I also packed the wrong clothes.

After visiting Sri Lanka a few times now (and another trip planned for later this year), making a few mistakes (*cough*jeans in humid rainfall*cough*), I have decided to share with you my packing list for Sri Lanka. This is a list of what to pack for two-weeks in Sri Lanka.

Just an FYI, this list does not include all the essentials but it includes the basics, important information about what to wear in different regions, and things you should remember to pack.

Oh, and PS: I put together a handy downloadable
Sri Lanka packing list with the essentials you’ll need
↓↓↓Scroll down! ↓↓↓

Need to know information about what to wear in Sri Lanka:

Packing for Sri Lanka is dependent on where you are going and what you are doing. If you are sticking to the beach or cities like Galle, a more relaxed wardrobe is fine. Temple hopping? Don’t wear black! Visiting Sri Lanka’s tea country? Bring a jumper. Small island, complicated weather, so many activities to choose from! Yes, choosing what to take to Sri Lanka seems complicated but I assure you that you can still pack light.

Sri Lanka is a hot country year round but monsoon season brings heavy rain to the west and hill country from May to September and then east coast from November to March. This makes Sri Lanka a great country to visit year round if you are mindful of the weather.

What to wear in beach towns in Sri Lanka:

The beach towns as Negombo, Galle, Tricomalee and Galle are, as a rule, fairly hot and people dressed in a more relaxed way. You can wear normal beach attire if you are near the beach; but do be considerate and cover up slightly more if you aren’t in the water.

I spent my time between in a soft silk maxi dress paired with sandals which could take me from the beach to dinner with just a swipe of lipstick.

During the day you’d find me on the beach or at the local market in fisherman’s pants and a simple lightweight t-shirt made from cotton or bamboo.


What to wear at inland and to temples in Sri Lanka:

If you plan to visit any temples or religious site such as Kandy, Dambulla or Sigirya, it is important to bring modest clothing to cover up. For both women and men this means no bare shoulders and being covered to below the knees.

At the Temples of the Tooth Relic in Kandy, several of my friends had to purchase sarongs from a nearby vendor because their maxi skirts had thigh splits (a big no-no to the split) and the boys weren’t wearing long enough pants. At Anuradhapura, you won’t be allowed into the temple if you are wearing black. Go for white or light colours.

I wore a maxi dress with a light-weight cardigan (your shoulders and knees need to be covered) because this area is more often stifling hot.

If you are climbing Sigiriya, or wondering what to wear hiking in Sri Lanka, most people will wear shorts or activewear for shorter routes. If you choose to visit the nearby temples you will be expected to cover your shoulders and knees. Try to go early in the morning to avoid the worst of the heat and wear long pants or consider purchasing an inexpensive sarong when at a local market to cover up when need be.

(Note: at most temples in Sri Lanka you will be required to take off your shoes so be prepared by wearing thongs or easy-to-remove shoes!)


What to wear in the Hills and Tea Country of Sri Lanka:

Sri Lanka’s Hill Country, where the tea plantations are, is much cooler than the rest of the country. In fact, having come from hot, humid Kandy, it amused me to see people selling fleece jackets and beanies along the main street of Nuwara Eliya!

Most people I saw wore long pants or long-sleeved tops. I found this to be perfectly fine for most of the day, but did keep my rain jacket handy for mornings and evenings when it was particularly brisk. The North Face Triclimate jacket I use comes with a detachable fleece and was perfect for every type of weather Sri Lanka threw at me; even the post-lunch downpour when I wanted to explore.

I also travelled with my Sassind oversized wrap which works as a scarf, shawl, and blanket depending on my need while walking, on the train from Kandy to Ella, and then on the bus back to my Sri Lankan hotel.



Is it to hot to wear jeans in Sri Lanka?

I’ll be honest: I wore jeans or fisherman’s pants most days. This is purely because I love wearing pants but I regularly had that kind of gross feeling when you peel pants off your legs in the humidity which is not fun at all (okay, that last part was just dead gross).

I would recommend packing pants (any kind) or activewear instead because it will keep you cooler. Shorts or skirts would be the best option.

Do note that you will likely need to wear pants when you go to Nuwara Eliya or Ella – Sri Lanka’s Hill Country – as it is significantly colder than the coast.

What to pack for Sri Lanka: the essentials

These are the items I packed for Sri Lanka that got the most use while travelling the country.

Bamboo or Cotton t-shirt

Sri Lanka can be ridiculously hot, so be sure to pack several t-shirts for your trip to Sri Lanka with a variety of sleeve lengths.

I prefer to bring cotton or bamboo tops as I find them the most breathable, but activewear tops also work great.

Personally, I packed two tank tops, four t-shirts, and a single long-sleeve shirt.

For womenWitchery Cotton Tee | ONNO Bamboo Tee
For men Country Road Cotton Tee | ONNO Bamboo Tee

Comfortable pants

This is fairly loose term. If you feel comfortable in a stylish pair of culottes, go for it; jeans more your cup of tea? Do it (but beware of them sticking to you); hiking pants make you feel bad ass? Wear those.

If pants aren’t your thing, go for skirts. I prefer mid-length or full-length to ensure I can access all areas. To deter thigh chaffing, simply add a pair of bike shorts underneath (I buy mine for less than $10 at K-Mart or Target).

If you are planning to hike areas like World’s End at Horton’s Plain National Park, I highly recommend you wear long pants and long socks to protect from leeches.

Shorts

The hot temperatures make shorts a must for days you aren’t temple hopping; then you’ll need to wear pants that cover your knee or simply pop a sarong over the top of your short-shorts.

For womenNike Women’s Shorts
For men Lululemon Men’s Shorts

Swimsuit

Be sure to take advantage of the great beaches and incredible surf spots while you are travelling in Sri Lanka. I prefer to travel with two pairs of bathers so I always have a dry one ready.

Lightweight Rain Jacket

A lightweight rain jacket is a useful addition to your suitcase. Whether you get caught in the rain (Sri Lanka is known to have a rainy season and for short bursts of heavy rain during this time), want to explore during rainy season or just for some extra warmth on early morning hikes, you’ll be happy to have one of these in your bag.

I like to use the North Face Condor which is both windproof, water resistant, and comes with a detachable fleece so it’s perfect for every occasion. Mine is 10-years old and still going strong!

For womenNorth Face Triclimate Jacket
For men North Face Venture Jacket

Buddha Tooth Relic Temple in Kandy, SriLanka
Stepping into one of Sri Lanka’s temples

Thongs/Flipflops

For the beach, for those days you just don’t really want to wear closed toe shoes, and even for the airplane ride over; a good pair of thongs (as us Aussies call them) will go anywhere and take up next to no room in your suitcase.

I wore thongs often on days I was visiting temples because you will need to remove shoes when visiting most of them and the process of removing shoes and socks became quite tedious.

Try theseHavaianas | Merrell

Hiking Shoes or Comfortable Sneakers

Take a sturdy pair of althetic or hiking boots if you are planning an active trip. If you are going to be climbing Adam’s Peak, I’d recommend sturdy hiking shoes, but if you are sticking to climbing Little Adam’s Peak or Sigiriya then comfortable sneakers will be just fine.

Just a note: your shoes will get dirty, so this is probably not the time to break out your fancy white sneakers. I also bring a spare laundry bag to keep them in while travelling to avoid the rest of my clothes getting dust and dirty over them.

Oh, and don’t forget to pack some comfortable socks!

Don’t leave home without these items

Wet Wipes – I don’t travel anywhere without Dettol Hand Wipes.

Worldwide power adaptor – There’s nothing worse than having to buy a new adaptor for every country you visit so get one of these worldwide power adaptors to use everywhere you go.

Waterproof dry bag – if you are spending any time near water or partaking in any water based activity, I recommend you take a waterproof dry bag. These lightweight airtight bags protect your valuables from water damage even if fully immersed in water. I even take mine when I go snorkelling!

Backpack – save your shoulders and invest in a good backpack. Whether you want one that can packdown small and fit in your suitcase when you aren’t on day trips or something larger to fit your laptop for everyday use; you can read more about my favourite backpacks here.

PacSafe Portable Safe – forget those teeny tiny hotel safes that can barely hold a laptop, let alone all your other valuable possessions. Why not bring your own safe with you that you can use everywhere? PacSafe Portable Safes are study, slashproof, portable sages that you can close and lock with a metal cable. All you need is a fixed object, like a pipe or a bed frame. Use it at your accommodation, when you are out-and-about, or any other time you feel like your gears needs extra protection.

Sunscreen – the sun in Sri Lanka is strong so don’t forget to pack protection! I would recommend packing a slightly stronger SPF than you are used to, particularly if you are planning to spend a lot of time outdoors, to ensure you don’t get burned. Packing a hat is also highly recommended.

Insect repellant – mosquitos are easy to find in Sri Lanka, so make sure to pack your favourite mosquito repellent when visiting Sri Lanka.

Travel-friendly Water Bottle – I know stainless steel is all the rage but when I’m trying to pack light and going on hikes in Sri Lanka I want something practical. These foldable water bottles pack down into next to nothing, are durable enough to withstand day-to-day use, and won’t weigh you down when out exploring!

Quick dry towel – whether you are drying off from a downpour or after a day at the beach, these microfibre towels dry really fast and then pack down small.

Packing cubes – I love packing cubes because they make my life easy. Keep your suitcase or backpack organised while on the go so you can spend less time searching and more time enjoying Sri Lanka! I use one for pants, one for shirts, one for underwear/accessories, and one for electronics. Easy!

GoPro – whether you want to capture great photos or video on land or in the sea, a GoPro is my go-to camera for any adventure.
GoPro’s are extremely durable and very affordable for what they offer. Pair with a selfie stick, underwater casing or dome (for those incredible photos that are half underwater, half above) for the best combo.

Laundry detergent packs – though laundry service is fairly inexpensive in Sri Lanka, I like to travel with a few laundry detergent packets so I can wash smaller items – such as socks or underwear – in between laundry drop-offs. It was also nice to wash out sweaty t-shirts. Also, I always travel with a stain remover pen for emergency stain removal!

Guidebook – I always travel with a guidebook to use as an on-the-ground reference. Don’t weigh down your bag with a heavy book, Lonely Planet offers digital downloads for Kindles, tablets and phones in both full-length guidebooks and for single chapters which will save you money and allow you to pack lighter to boot!

Travel insurance – I’m not sure if it’s because I’ve gotten so comfortable travelling without hassle or because it was a last-minute trip but I totally forgot to purchase travel insurance on my last trip. A big no-no. Thankfully, nothing happened on this trip but I have had to use travel insurance for an infected wisdom tooth, lost luggage, and even when I ended up in a Thai hospital after injuring my ankle. Don’t leave home without it.

Depending on where I am travelling and what extras I need I shop around for the right insurance for me. Two providers I recommend are World Nomads Travel Insurance (global cover and very helpful staff) and QBE Travel Insurance (global coverage for all types of activities). Both of these allow you to take out extra insurance for valuable camera gear and laptops for extra peace of mind.

Your Downloadable Sri Lankan Packing List

This packing list for Sri Lanka is filled with the basics you’ll need for a week long trip to Sri Lanka, but is the perfect basis for a multi-week trip as well.

I’ve also left some space at the bottom for extra important items to remember for your trip to Sri Lanka.

Packing list for Sri Lanka


Let me know in the comments below:

What else would you pack for your trip to Sri Lanka?


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1 Comment

  • Reply
    Haley
    April 16, 2019 at 1:25 am

    This is such a great post.

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