Welcome to the ultimate Sri Lanka packing guide – your complete checklist to everything you need to pack for travels in this amazing country, plus some of your key questions answered about what to wear when you’re there too.
With sections about how best to dress as a women, especially given Sri Lanka’s diverse climate, through to packing for the tea highlands, the beaches, the cities and the country’s safaris, this complete packing guide will ensure you don’t forget a thing when it comes to prepping and planning for your trip to this amazing slice of south Asia.
This guide also includes some of my expert packing tips I’ve used the world over, in particular how to keep things light and flight-friendly, so here’s everything you need to know about packing for an epic Sri Lanka adventure…
- Best Time to Visit Sri Lanka
- Top 10 Day Sri Lanka Itinerary
- 21 Epic Things to Do in Sri Lanka
My stay in Sri Lanka was sponsored by Sri Lanka tourism but, as always, all views are my own.
This page contains affiliate links meaning Big World Small Pockets may receive a small commission on any purchases at no extra cost to you.
What to Wear as a Female Traveller in Sri Lanka?
Although it’s a fairly conservative country, with a mix of religions, Sri Lanka is, however, fairly relaxed when it comes to dress standards for travellers.
While you can wear shorts and short skirts, female adventures may feel more comfortable in long skirts or 3/4 length pants and tops that don’t reveal your chest.
Showing shoulders, by wearing singlets, is totally fine, but as most local women wear long trousers / skirts and tops that cover the top of their upper arms at least, you may fit in more if you follow suit.
T-shirts are great as an example, otherwise, I liked wearing a singlet and thin scarf combination when I was there.
This is true at least when visiting the cities and highlands of this country – the coast is slightly different and more relaxed in terms of dress code.
At the coast, shorts and swimwear + sarongs is totally fine.
As such, I’d advise female travellers pack a range of clothes that both extend below the knee and cover the cleavage, as well as shorter garments suitable for the beach and the heat!
Evening wear is also something you may want to consider if you’re staying in luxury hotels or heading to any fine dining restaurants.
That said, the country is quite casual in general and heavy make-up and heels are not normally dress standards – not least because of the humidity that means comfort is key!
In terms of shoes, I really do think you can limit yourself to 3 pairs – 1x comfy trainers / runners that can be used for any long sightseeing days or active adventures, 1x good support sandals like Birkenstocks and perhaps 1x casual flats or pumps for city sightseeing and evenings.
For more specific ideas about exactly what to wear in Sri Lanka as a female traveller, keep reading.
You can also download your own copy of my broader south Asian packing list by entering your details into the box at the end of this article…
What to Wear in Sri Lankan Cities?
When it comes to sightseeing in Sri Lanka cities, especially in Colombo and Galle, you’ll want to make sure you’re sensibly dressed – both for cultural reasons, but also to protect yourself from the sun when sightseeing.
A long thin skirt or three quarter length pair of trousers will be perfect for sightseeing in this country, as they’ll allow you to stay fairly cool and not feel too exposed.
I’d then advise either a T-shirt, or singlet and thin scarf, for the top half, so that you can ensure your chest and shoulders are covered.
This is especially true if you’re visiting any temples.
Overall, you want to choose clothing that is loose and cool, because you’ll want to be comfortable and cool when sightseeing in Sri Lanka’s hot and humid climate.
Sunglasses, a good sunhat and some sunscreen are also top items and I highly recommend bringing a good daypack you can put them all in and carry easily throughout your city time in Sri Lanka.
This Marmot Kompressor is ideal for the job as it packs down to nothing and is light, waterproof and comfortable.
And finally, you’ll also want to ensure you have some water with you for sightseeing days in this country and that you drink a lot to stay hydrated.
Rather than constantly buying plastic water bottles, I highly recommend you take a filter water bottle with you to Sri Lanka, which will allow you to drink the tap water here (or anywhere in the world) safely.
An amazing piece of technology, I highly recommend the ingenious Water-To-Go bottles.
Great for the environment and your budget, these fantastic bottles allow you to drink tap water safely across the world.
What to Wear at the Beach in Sri Lanka?
If you’re travelling to either the southern or eastern beaches of Sri Lanka, you’ll find that dress codes at these coastal spots are more relaxed than in Sri Lankan cities.
That’s why I always think one of these coastal areas make a good place to finish your trip in Sri Lanka and spend a few days chilling before your flight home.
With wonderful temperatures and sandy beaches, you’ll definitely want to bring your swimwear and a towel to enjoy these spots.
Sunglasses, sun hats, sunscreen and sarongs are also a good idea, as is a dry bag for keeping things safe and sand / water free at the beach.
Don’t forget a good book (or Kindle) and your bluetooth headphones too!
What to Wear in the Sri Lanka Highlands?
And from one type of landscape to another, did you know that Sri Lankan also boasts some beautiful highland scenery in the centre of the island too?
This is where the tea plantations of the country are due to the elevation and fresher climate.
Yes in contrast to other parts of Sri Lanka, the central highlands are lush, green, hilly, forested and cooler too.
This makes them the perfect spot for a wealth of active and outdoor activities – including hiking.
As such, if you come to the highlands in Sri Lanka, and the beautiful tea growing areas here, you certainly want to pack comfortable clothing you can move in and thicker layers to keep warm, especially in the evenings.
Hiking pants and leggings are great bottom-half options and quick-dry t-shirts, caps, sunglasses, a good backpack, a thin waterproof jacket, an active fleece and a pair of sporty trainers are all good ideas too.
For the evenings, full length trousers, thick socks and fleeces or jumpers are recommended.
What to Pack for a Sri Lankan Safari?
Did you know you can safari in Sri Lanka?
Well surprise! You can!
Yes, newsflash – you don’t need to go to Africa seeing amazing animals in the wild!
In particular, leopards and elephants are 2 incredible animals you can spot in some of the national parks of this Asian island.
And when it comes to packing for a Sri Lankan safari, thin clothes in light colours are key.
While it can be very warm on safari in Sri Lanka, having longer-length items such as loose linen trousers and cotton shirts will help protect your skin from the strong rays.
Clothing that covers you well is also more appropriate for the landscape and viewing animals, and can be stripped off in favour of shorter layers in the main heat of the day.
Don’t forget sunglasses and a sun hat too.
If you’re undertaking a dawn or dusk safari in some parks it can be cool, so perhaps you’ll want a thin jacket and covered-toe shoes – as you’ll likely to safari in an open-sided vehicle.
Learn more about safari-ing in Sri Lanka here.
What to Wear on Your Flight to Sri Lanka?
Surprisingly the flight to Sri Lanka, which sits in the Indian Ocean, is a long haul flight from Europe, North America and Australia / New Zealand.
I always advise wearing comfortable, thin clothing you can layer on flights, as you never know how hot or cold a plane might be.
As always, I use Skyscanner to find the best deals for flight to Sri Lanka.
How to Pack Light for Sri Lanka?
And having the right bags is key to packing light for Sri Lanka – especially if you’re going to be travelling around the island on your trip.
If you want a good, wheelie suitcase, then it’s hard to get better than the hard-shell, spinner wheel ones from American Tourister.
If you’d rather opt for a backpack, the 50l Atmos from Osprey is a winner.
And within both these bags, you’ll want to have series of packing cubes that help organise and condense your gear.
Honestly, once you start using packing cubes to keep your luggage light, you’ll never go back!
And finally, we come to the clothes that will help keep your luggage weight down.
Firstly, layers are the key, so that you can build clothes up to keep warmer, rather than bringing bulkier cool-weather gear.
And on this note, bringing some travel handwash, so you can wash small items when you’re away and avoid having to pack so many clean items as a result, is great idea!
Also key is limiting heavier clothing items such as jeans, jackets and boots – outside of a think waterproof jacket, I’d leave these all at home!
And now I want to bring you a complete packing list for Sri Lanka – a handy item-by-item guide so that you’re fully prepared and packed for your trip here…
Clothes to Pack for Sri Lanka
Thin Windproof Jacket
Sri Lanka has a tropical climate, which mean rain can occur.
As such, I recommend taking a thin windproof jacket with you to this country – something light, compact and practical would be ideal and this North Face Venture 2 is perfect.
Thin Denim Shirts or Cotton Long-Sleeved Tops
Great for layering, in certain parts of the country you might not feel comfortable walking around with bare upper arms, which means some thin, light tops are crucial.
I always love a natural fibre long sleeve option to stop me sweating as much!
Thin Cardigans / Sweaters
Helpful in the evenings in the highlands where it can be cooler.
Singlets / T-Shirts
Choose a range of colours and styles that match the trousers / shorts / skirts you pack.
I recommend loose ones that will keep you cool and aren’t too revealing.
T-shirts are best as they cover shoulders (good for avoiding sunburn), or go for my ventilation tactic – a singlet with a thin scarf draped around the shoulders and chest.
7 is a good number of tops as it means you have enough to survive without doing laundry for a week, because trust me, you will be sweating in Sri Lanka!
Thin Linen or Cotton Trousers
Good for the cooler tea plantation climate, as well as going out in the evening.
Just make sure they are thin and light – breathability is key in the humidity!
Long Skirts or 3/4 Length Loose Trousers
Great for wearing when sightseeing or in cities, these items help provide ventilation, keeping you covered but cool.
When visiting temples, you’ll also need to ensure you have items that extend below the knee, so these are perfect.
One of my travel essentials full stop, leggings are ideal when in the tea highlands of Sri Lanka because they are thin and breathable… if you get the right pair.
In fact, I strongly recommend bamboo fibre ones because they are breathable, hypoallergenic, soft, thin and compact down really easily.
Leggings are also good under a casual dress when you need to dress modestly, and are comfy to wear on any long bus rides you might have to make too.
Shorts are a must in Sri Lanka, especially for the coastal areas.
Summery / Maxi Dress
Another great item for Sri Lanka beach times.
Those who aren’t a fan of dresses may wish to double up on the shorts here.
If you want to enjoy any active adventures in Sri Lanka, such as boat trips or hiking routes like the Pekoe Trail or Sigiriya Rock, active leggings / shorts, sports bras, loose singlets, a cap and good socks are a must.
Don’t forget your surfing / kitesurfing gear if you’re heading to Sri Lanka for this too!
You can’t take enough sarongs travelling in my opinion.
As they are so light, I recommend 2 as a minimum!
Perfect for using as a beach towel, a headscarf, a shoulder wrap, a bathrobe, a sheet, a laundry bag or when visiting temples… the list goes on!
Check out my post about the 20 reasons why you should always take a sarong travelling for more ideas.
These ones from One World Sarongs feature some beautiful designs.
Ideal if you’re visiting any temples / mosques and need to cover your head.
Also good to cover shoulders – see above in the T-Shirt / Singlet section for more info.
Small and compact, 7 pairs is a good number to save the hand washing duties!
Bras & Sports Bra
Make them comfortable ones in this heat!
Bikini / Swimwear
Well you need something to enjoy Sri Lanka’s fabulous coast with that’s for sure!
I always love Rip Curl’s offering.
Most days you’ll probably be wearing sandals in Sri Lanka, but this is for those exceptional days when you’ll wear trainers – like when travelling in planes or buses, when enjoying active adventures, or at night in the highlands – and socks are a must to go with them.
You can always double up on your daywear here to save room if needs be.
Be warned that Sri Lankan nights are hot and humid!
Sun Hat & Sunglasses
I’d bring a cap for the beach and any active days in Sri Lanka – walking all day in the heat here can be tough!
A wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses are also a good idea.
Shoes to Pack for Sri Lanka
Trainers / Runners
Versatile, comfortable and essential if you want to see all the sights in this epic country, I highly recommend New Balance who create stylish city runners that you can still wear when sightseeing or being active too.
Flip Flops / Sandals
Personally, I love my Arizona Birkenstocks, which I basically lived in during my time in Sri Lanka.
The support they offer means you can sightsee to your heart’s content and never get sore soles!
Flats / Pumps
A great addition to any Sri Lankan packing list, if you want to go out for dinner at least a few times during your trip, or sightsee in something other than running shoes, a pair of pumps or comfy flats are a great addition to your luggage.
Toiletries to Travel With
Thin Toiletries Bag
This one is a great, affordable option with separate sections and a hook to hang up in bathrooms.
Shampoo & Conditioner Bars
I always go for shampoo and conditioner bars when I travel to save the plastic and keep the space down. Although they are a bit pricey, they last for ages.
I always pack a natural crystal deodorant when I travel as they last forever and are free from many nasty chemicals.
Keep your soap in a ziplock bag to prevent soap slime leaking on everything you own!
Toothbrush, Toothpaste, Floss
Facial Wash, Toner, Serum, Moisturiser
Cotton Buds / Pads
Hair Bands & Hair Brush
Razor & Spare Blades
Nail Scissors, Nail File & Tweezers
Glasses / Contact Lenses if you wear them
Medical / First Aid Not to Forget
Choose a 30 SPF or higher for those sunny rays in Sri Lanka and go natural if you can to keep the chemicals out of your skin.
This doubles as a great moisturiser, soother and aftersun.
SPF Lip Salve
Very important for those strong UV conditions, Burt Bees are always my go-to brand, as they never dry out my lips.
Natural Bug Repellent
An ideal remedy for headaches, sore muscles and insect bites, tiger balm is a super versatile, travel essential for me!
Tea-Tree Essential Oil
A powerful antiseptic, anti-mould and anti-fungal treatment, tea-tree oil is also great to throw in with your washing, or you can use a few drops to freshen up smelly bags / laundry etc!
Get an organic tea-tree oil if you can.
Paracetamol, Antiseptic Cream, Antihistamines & Band Aids
The basic first aid kit you need.
The best way to deal with your time of the month when travelling ladies.
Check out the best prices for them here.
Electrical Items to Take
Smartphone & Headphones
Taking your smartphone to stay in touch with those at home, check maps, book activities and upload some pics while you’re in Sri Lanka is a no-brainer!
I’d also download some audiobooks and music onto your phone before you leave home – a good shout for travel days.
I recommend Amazon Audible and Spotify Premium for these purposes and wouldn’t travel anywhere without either these days.
Portable chargers are great when travelling without a solidly reliable charging source.
I recommend the Anker PowerCore which allows me to charge both my phone and my camera no matter where I am.
Camera, Lens, Spare Battery & Charger
I love my Sony A600 mirrorless camera, which I’ve used across the globe.
Light, compact and sturdy, it’s perfect for travelling.
I’d also recommend a GoPro for Sri Lanka if you want to capture some of that coastal and highland action!
Take a large memory card if possible – like this 64GB one.
High-speed memory cards are also a good idea for snappier processing times.
How are you going to charge all your devices without an adapter?!
Sri Lanka uses a mix of plug sockets, including the UK, European and Indian types!
As such, I recommend you splash out on a worldwide adapter – good value if you’re travelling elsewhere in Asia afterwards too.Skross are a reliable brand I highly recommended.
Headlamp & Spare Batteries
Never travel in Sri Lanka without a headlamp and try to choose a product that uses commonly found batteries and has a red night light function.
I love my Black Diamond Storm, which has served me well during my time across the globe!
A VPN service is a must for me when I travel for keeping my details secure online.
I love NORD VPN who offer a huge number of global servers for quick and seamless connections.
Do Not Forget to Pack: Practical Items for Sri Lanka Travel
I recommend Latrek travel towels, because they are cheap, compact, soft and don’t smell.
Love, love, love mine! Read my review here.
Good for sightseeing and beach days, this one from PacSafe is perfect.
I also really like the Marmot Kompresser for its featherweight and easy pack-down features.
Eye Mask & Earplugs
Key for sleeping on overnight flights and in any noisy hostels / hotels!
This eye mask from Alaska Bear is super comfy and a great travel treat.
Filter Water Bottle
Amazing pieces of tech, filter water bottles allow you to drink the tap water, anywhere in the world, safely.
My go-to brand are Water-To-Go bottles, which are inexpensive, but very reliable and will allow you to drink Sri Lanka’s non-potable tap water without any problems.
These great bottles also help prevent more unnecessary plastic waste from polluting our planet – double win!
Great for doing emergency washing such as underwear in a sink, travel handwash is always a must when I adventure anywhere.
A great shout for rainy season in Sri Lanka.
Documents Needed for Sri Lanka Travels
Passport & Photocopies
Cash in Small, Thin Purse
World Nomads offers simple and flexible travel insurance. Buy at home or while travelling and claim online from anywhere in the world.
Alternatively, if you’re a long-term traveller, digital nomad or frequent remote worker seeking travel health cover, check out Safetywing’s Nomad Insurance policies.
Credit Cards and Debit Cards
ATMs in Sri Lanka accept both Mastercard and Visa.
When it comes to using ATMs, or paying for things on card here, you want to ensure you’re not being charged overseas transaction fees or getting poor exchange rates, which is why I always take my Wise Card away with me wherever I travel.
The easy way to spend abroad with real exchange rates, no markups and no sneaky transaction fees, you can use your Wise card just like a debit card in Sri Lanka… and it links easily with Google and Apple pay – sold! Get yours here.
SAVE IT TO PINTEREST!
So that’s it, my ultimate Sri Lanka packing guide, including what to wear in this country.
Have you been to this gem of an island?
What else did you pack that I might have missed?
Please let me know in the comments box below…