Sri Lanka is a somewhat complicated place when it comes to choosing your holiday wardrobe. There are dry zones and wet zones (varying according to the time of year); hot, sunny beaches and cool, cloudy mountains; and cultural and religious dress codes to be observed. So here’s a bit of advice for your packing.
Sri Lanka can be surprisingly cool up in the hills, especially at night between December and March. Even if you’re only visiting places like Ella and Kandy you’ll need an extra layer to feel comfortable sitting out under the stars. Evening temperatures here at Jungle Tide (a shade under 1,000 metres above sea level) can get down to ten degrees on a January or February night, though fourteen is more typical. If you’re up in Nuwara Eliya, twice as high, slight frosts are not unknown and you will need a thicker outer garment and shoes and socks rather than sandals in the evenings. Although as British northerners we do still find the spectacle of Nuwara Eliya locals wearing puffer jackets, gloves and woolly hats in the middle of the day amusing.
Evenings are not so bad – you simply put on more clothes then at the end take them off and go to bed. The problem is when you have to get up early, for example to go to Horton Plains which can be fiercely cold at dawn. But by the time you’ve trekked to the spectacular inland cliff of World’s End the sun has been up for a while and you’re feeling very sweaty, and you have to remove half your clothing and carry it around with you. So a small backpack is always useful to take – for water etc. as well, of course.
We often get asked about rainwear. It certainly rains a lot in Sri Lanka, especially in the hills, and our next post will go into this in more detail. But we’re not fans of rainwear in the tropics. It tends to be either heavy and cumbersome when wet so you feel uncomfortable, or if it’s lightweight it can’t cope with the volume of water that falls from the skies in a typical tropical thunderstorm. Better to use a large umbrella, and if it’s not convenient to bring your own you can buy them cheaply or probably borrow them from the places you’re staying if you need to go out in the rain – you can certainly borrow ours. Or just get wet and dry out again quickly a little later. The rain doesn’t usually last all day.
Unless you’re a very serious hiker you won’t need boots, just a strong pair of walking trainers. Sea shoes are also useful for some of the beaches.
What about temples and other religious sites? First, check whether the historic place you’re visiting, even if it’s not currently in use as a temple, is regarded as a religious site, in which case the same dress codes apply as to temples. The basic requirement – for men as well as women – is to cover the shoulders and knees. Quite why knee and shoulder flesh are seen as provocative whereas areas of bare midriff or cleavages are not is beyond our western comprehension, but there it is. You can always pay to hire sarongs and similar garments if you forget but it’s best to come prepared. And you must remove shoes and sandals, but socks are OK. Now one would not normally choose to wear socks in the tropical heat but you might want to pocket a pair for some sites. Walking to the Dambulla cave temples on a hot day in bare feet across an expanse of flat rocks is not fun!
That’s more or less it, unless your holiday includes visiting a traditional club such as a golf club or the famous Nuwara Eliya Hill Club. Golf club dress codes are pretty similar the world over and if you’re visiting such a place you’re probably already familiar with the requirements. The Hill Club – which is a great place to visit just for dinner even if you’re not staying there but want to experience a bit of colonial history – requires jacket and tie, long trousers and shoes (not sandals) for men after 7pm. The code for women is more relaxed, a decent frock will suffice. But they helpfully loan out the required gear to men who didn’t bring their jackets and ties on holiday, though you’ll still need to have your own shoes. The sartorial results can be hilarious and the clothes are kept in a dressing room off the gents’ toilets. An unforgettable experience.