35 min read

A Digital Nomad's Guide to Sri Lanka: Exploring the Beauty of Ceylon

A Digital Nomad's Guide to Sri Lanka: Exploring the Beauty of Ceylon
Photo by Harshitha B J

I've been in Sri Lanka for over two months now. My trip here started in late 2023, at the beginning of the South surf season. I started with Midigama, in between Galle and Weligama.  I like it here. Sri Lanka would not suit every Digital Nomad's taste for sure, especially women due to safety issues. But if you can navigate life's inconveniences I would say Sri Lanka is an awesome place for a few winter months. I would not live here long-term though. In short, this place has amazing nature, a friendly culture, an ocean full of turtles, and crystal clear waters. On the flip side, Sri Lankan society is struggling with a recent financial collapse, road safety is worse than in Thailand or Indonesia, and female harassment is shockingly frequent.

This post about the digital nomad life in Sri Lanka ended up longer than I planned. I went pretty deep into a lot of aspects of life on this tropical island.

The TLDR: I share my personal experiences and reflections on life as a digital nomad in South Sri Lanka. I cover the following topics:

  • Why visit Sri Lanka - great nature and unique culture
  • The history and Culture of Sri Lanka - the island is diverse and has accumulated thousands of years of cultural artifacts
  • The weather - the island has two monsoon seasons and the South is great for the winter months
  • The best place to live in Sri Lanka as a digital nomad - Ahangama-Weligama stretch of the South Coast. But I'm biased towards surfing.
  • The social life - there's enough nightlife and restaurants in the South for pleasant living
  • The nomad community - there's a vibrant nomad community in the South Sri Lanka
  • The cost of living - the prices are comparable to Thailand although the quality you get for the same prices is far from Thai
  • Transportation options - it is fairly easy to get around, but ride-hailing services like PickMe don't work well outside of the capital
  • Mobile data - around 2-3 USD for 5GB of 4G connection. 10 USD will get you a basic unlimited plan
  • Workspaces - South Sri Lanka has a good mix of coworking spaces and cafes with stable internet connection.
  • Personal observations
    • The Good - great nature, mostly kind people, nice surf
    • The Bad - lack of quality in services and products, crime is high in the South, and lots of scams to watch out for
    • The Ugly - road safety is horrible and sexual misconduct towards women is rampant. Answers the "Is Sri Lanka safe for female travelers?" pretty well
  • Smart survival tips - an assortment of hacks I've gathered with experience living around the world

Why Sri Lanka?

I’ve been stuck in the SEA triangle - moving between Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia, ever since the pandemic ended. I started to feel like exploring a new culture. My bestie suggested a surf adventure to Sri Lanka coz “it feels like Bali in the good ol’ days”. I did not hesitate much and booked the flights straight away. The feeling was this trip would be a memorable adventure.

Who else remembers the good ol' days of empty Canggu streets?

A bit of Sri Lankan History

Here’s a crash course into Sri Lankan history in just four minutes:

Crash course into Sri Lankan history

The short version with big gaps for those who are not into history :) Sri Lanka has a rich and ancient history that dates back to the times of the Ramayana. In the Ramayana, Sri Lanka was known as Lanka, and it was where the evil demon Ravana held Princess Sita captive. Fast forward a few thousand years, the country was colonized by the Portuguese, Dutch, and British. After the colonization finished, the country suffered a civil war that lasted for nearly half a century and finally ended in 2009. Recently, Sri Lanka has been recovering from an economic collapse that occurred in 2019 and lasted until the end of the Covid pandemic.

To get an idea of the economic situation for locals, it's worth noting that the median salary in the country is currently around 80,000 LKR, which is roughly equivalent to 260 USD (source). Additionally, a dozen eggs cost around 600 LKR (~1.90 USD). You can check out this Numbeo page to explore the detailed cost of living in the capital city of Sri Lanka, Colombo.

The weather

I came here mostly to surf, so picking a suitable location for the winter was the number one priority.

Sri Lanka offers year-round surf, with the east and west coasts peaking at opposite halves of the year.

Best time to surf in the East Sri Lanka: March through September
Best time to surf in the West Sri Lanka: October through March

A little bit of nerdy surfer details. The island is seasonal, meaning there are Southwest and Northeast monsoon seasons that affect livability in certain areas and the quality of waves. For the winter months of November-March, it’s the time of the Northeast monsoon. This means there’s a lot of offshore wind and relative dryness in the south of the island. The monsoon also coincides with the ocean swells working on the south coast of Sri Lanka. These weather patterns create great conditions for surfing 🏄‍♂️

From personal experience, it was getting pretty hot during my time here. Most afternoons were a steaming 29C outside! I’ve spent most of the daylight hours locked in my room with an AC running at 22C - most cafes and even some of the coworking spaces do not have AC!


The weather pattern on a typical day in South Sri Lanka. Recorded for February 1st, 2024

Sometimes it rains a little in the evening but nothing to be concerned about. Have your rain jacket ready just in case and you’ll be fine.

The humidity is also bearable. It’s much more comfortable compared to Bali in the rainy season. I would still suggest getting a place with an AC as you'll probably run into mold issues, which ruin your clothes and electronics.

Where I stayed in Sri Lanka (South)

I like hanging in the areas with lots of nomads but fewer tourists. The Ahangama to Mirissa stretch of the coast ticks this box easily. Midigama was smack-bang in the middle of this area, so that’s where I decided to stay during my first visit. My Airbnb was within walking distance of the Coconuts and Plantations surf spots, and the drive to the nearest coworking space was about 10 minutes by motorbike. For the second half of my trip, I decided to move to Ahangama, as it was close to my favorite Marshmallow break.

Social life

Oh, it’s popping here! When I just landed in November, things were a bit slow. For example, some restaurants looked abandoned and there were not that many people at the beach. After returning in mid-January, there were crowds everywhere and even a few new cafes popped up! Unfortunately, the surf breaks got affected too 😅

There are plenty of hip cafes by the seashore in the Ahangama-Midigama stretch. Weligama Bay is slightly more touristy but also offers lots more options in terms of food choices. It’s easy to find anything from cheap local $3 buffet meals to the $10 avo-toast kinda places. Mirissa seems to be good too, but because it’s on the “edge” of all the surf breaks and the town is even more touristy I don’t go there often.

Surprisingly, apart from a gazillion yoga studios and retreats, there’s a little bit of an underground music scene going on around here. There are these “secret parties”, which aren’t secret if it’s all over Instagram 😂 This place is not Berlin or Bangkok, so don’t expect either Amelie Lens or Partiboi69 to play here. But hey, it’s decent and fun!

Noteworthy places to socialize:

Yin Yang - techno nights during weekends and hip Sunday market. The parties are by “Under The Radar” name, check an example lineup here.

Nomad community

There’s a vibrant digital nomad community in the south of Sri Lanka. The Ahangama to Weligama stretch is full of digital nomads with regular meetups, events, and whatnot. It’s not a Chiang Mai kind of digital nomad mecca, but the area has enough people to have social interaction and get support when just landing here.

Discoverability of WhatsApp groups sucks. But you should know there's a great group called "Sri Lanka Digital Nomad community". If you are looking for a community join the wholesome group here.

While a few friends were here over the winter season, we organized a small meetup for indie hackers - Hackagama. The meetup is a local version of Hackagu located in Canggu, Bali. The idea is simple: indie hackers get together every Thursday in one of the coworking spaces or cafes and give each other feedback on whatever internet business we are working on. The day starts with pitching the idea or direction you’d be working on through the day and we finish with a standup at the end of the day presenting progress. It’s a neat way to get feedback from fellow online entrepreneurs and just hang out with like-minded people. If you are around in the winter of 2024, feel free to shoot me an email and I’ll send you an invite to our Telegram group!

Is Sri Lanka a Cheap Nomad Destination?

I’ll break down the cost of living in Sri Lanka for a digital nomad based on my own experience. I’ll cover the main expenses such as rent, food, transportation, internet, and workspace costs. Let’s dig in!

Rental Prices in South Sri Lanka

It’s a pretty strange place for digital nomads who want to rent for the mid-term (1-3 months) lease periods. On one hand, you can find plenty of cheap rooms and villas further inland without AC for under 500 USD/month. For example, this villa I was considering renting out but bailed. Then, there are higher-end hotels and boutique options that start from 80 USD/night. A room in Jamu guesthouse costs 2000+ USD/month, but you get to walk to the beach and eat fancy smoothie bowls at their cafe. There’s a very low supply of “in-between” options for about 1000-2000 USD with basic comforts.

Pro tip, if you arrive in the South before the season starts in December it’s fairly easy to find a two-bedroom villa for 400-500 USD/month with aircon and some conveniences. The best way to find these deals is to get on a bike and drive around the area you want to live in. Search “for rent” signs and talk to people directly. Local Facebook groups are full of good listings before the season too.

During the first stay, I used Airbnb to book a room in a shared house. It was a total ripoff as I later found out 😂 Paid 900$ for an en-suite room with 3 housemates. On the flip side, it was somewhat fun living with other people for a change. For the second stay, I did manage to find a studio for 500$ that was just built with a queen bed, AC, a small table, a shared kitchen, and a pool. It was a lucky one because I reserved the room while it was still a construction site!

I speculate that because of the high seasonality of the south coast, it rains cats and dogs between April and November, there is little incentive to build new units in the middle range pricing. It’s either old houses that have been there since Sri Lankan Civil War times or high-margin tourist short-term rentals to make a return on the investment in the 4 months the season lasts. I might be wrong! Would be curious what you think about it - leave a comment in the section at the bottom ⬇️


Food prices are all over the place. The prices depend if you are keen to eat local or have a preference for a foreign cuisine. A local buffet lunch costs around 800-1000 LKR per plate (~2.50-3 USD), regular curry and rice would be around 2000 LKR (~6 USD) and a drink like papaya juice would cost you another 500-800 LKR. The more upscale places usually are around 2000-5000 LKR (~6-16 USD) per plate and non-alcoholic drinks are going for around 1000 LKR. For example, here’s a menu from a local place.

Check out the food section of my map for some crazy good places to eat at!

10 eggs in the local market would be 600 LKR (~1.90 USD) and a kilo of bananas goes for 200-600 LKR (~0.80-1.90 USD) for a kilogram. For some reason, carrots are super expensive around here and cost north of 3000 LKR per kilo, that’s a whopping 10 USD! Can you believe it!?

Carrot prices went back to normal at 1000 LRK per kilo two weeks later. This should give you an idea of how volatile Sri Lankan prices could be.

Look around for this kind of place to find the freshest fruit and vegetables. Sellers are nice, and sometimes they even throw a bunch of bananas extra into your grocery bag as a thank you. Sri Lankans are great!

A typical fruit stall from a local market

Here's an example of a morning shopping I've done recently:

Morning shopping during durian season. Shopping total: 1900 LKR (~5.35 USD)

Getting around

Transportation is fair around the area. It is not as easy as Bali or Thailand, where you have GoJack, Grab, and AirAsia to pick from, but you still can get places. You have a few options: rent a tuk-tuk, rent a motorbike, hire tuk-tuks on demand, hire private cars with drivers, or go around using a crazy bus. My personal preference is to have as much freedom as possible, so I’ve rented a motorbike with a surf rack to be able to surf whenever. Safety-wise, it might not be a choice for everyone, so maybe get a tuk-tuk if you are not used to riding bikes in dangerous conditions.

Note, that riding a motorbike without an International Driving License (IDP) as well as mounting surf racks is illegal in Sri Lanka. Many people still do it at their own risk. Also, you have to convert your IDP to local license upon arrival in Colombo. The international IDP is not recognized by local police.

Monthly rentals are always cheaper than daily and the prices are something like this:

  • Motorbikes - 35k-65k LKR (~110-210 USD) per month. The price was 25-35k LKR (~80-110 USD) in mid-November when renting for multiple months. Arugam Bay is even more expensive during the season, with rental prices going up to 60k per month.
  • Tuk-tuks are at - $20 per day or 120,000 LKR (~385 USD) per month.

Having a local tuk-tuk driver take you around would usually be around 300-2000 LKR (~1-6 USD) per trip depending on distance, time of the day, and driver's mood. Pro tip, use the PickMe app to find rides or estimate the ride cost when the driver doesn’t arrive. Tuk-tuk drivers can be quite a ripoff at times, so always make sure to haggle for a better deal, but don't show them the PickMe app - they hate it! It might be difficult to catch rides in the South due to the tuk-tuk mafia, oftentimes bookings get canceled.

Buses are dirt cheap here. The one-way local ticket would be less than 50-100 LKR (~0.15-0.30 USD). This comes with a need to walk to the bus station on a main road (there are no sidewalks here) and good luck getting your surfboard into a crowded bus! Here’s a link to local bus fares with lots more details.

Mobile data

Prepaid 4G plans in Sri Lanka are cheap and the connection is reliable in most populated areas. There can be issues in more remote areas like Arugam Bay. The best coverage is at Mobitel and Dialog. Mobitel dominates in the East areas like Arugam Bay and Dialog is better in the South areas like Weligama. I had no problems while roaming around the island on Dialog. You can get a SIM card at a local grocery store pretty cheap and for about 2-3 USD you can buy 5 GB of data and for 10 USD you can get an unlimited package. The Dialog provider also has eSIM available, which might be handy to avoid getting yet another piece of plastic.

Pro tip, if you are here for just a few weeks and look for convenience Mobitel sells SIM cards at the airport at reasonable prices. I would not bother looking for local reseller if you are not staying for longer.

Here’s the coverage map for Mobitel and Dialog as of today:

The WiFi in cafes is also pretty good. Here’s a speed test I did at Kaffi Ahangama the other day:


And another speed test from Samba Ahangama:

Internet Connection test from Samba coworking space

And the latest contender opening an AC coworking space Plan B has some of the best internet in the area. Check this out:

If you are getting a villa, check if you get what they call “fiber” connected to your place. "Fiber" doesn’t give the real fiber speeds though! This fiber connection comes with unlimited packages and fairly good speeds. My friends were happy with the SLT Mobitel fiber for around 2400 LKR (8 USD) for 50GB of data.  Sometimes if your connection becomes sluggish in the middle of the day it means you’ve reached the cap on your “unlimited” plan and are automatically downgraded to 1mbps speed. Check with your landlord to get a higher plan then. 

Here’s a speed test from my buddy Sander at his place, which is connected to the local “fiber”:

Speed test on local "fiber" connection

To sum up, these days there’s a decent internet connection on the island. It works well outside Colombo. Don’t expect to get 5G in the middle of the jungle tho! There has been much progress since 6-10mbps times back in 2018.


Some people like working from home, so they look for places with good AC and a desk. Some prefer going to cafes throughout the day and some like office-like coworking environments. Here’s a breakdown of the cost for these options.

Obviously, working from your place is almost free. The few things you’ll probably pay for are dedicated unlimited internet, which you’ll have to purchase separately for around 40 USD/month, and a higher electricity bill for AC use, probably another 100-150 USD. I have the AC bill included in the rent, so have no idea how much that would cost out of pocket, so giving a rough estimate.

The cafe goers have lots of options with different price points:

  1. Kaffi - It’s a cafe with a “laptop room” where they have six desks. The daily rate is 3000 LKR (~9 USD) per day and includes complimentary coffee and juice. Coffee is pretty good here, one of the best brews you can find in the area.
  2. Samba - I1. It’s a restaurant combined with a hostel. The place has a free (for now) coworking room with a strong AC. They do not charge for the room but the expectation is you’d buy drinks and food throughout the day. Prices are reasonable here and the food is tasty.
  3. Pasijou - It’s a mix of a restaurant and coworking. They have a dedicated AC floor for coworking and an upstairs open non-AC restaurant area to work from. The AC floor is at 2000 LKR (~6 USD) per day and the restaurant area is free as long as you purchase 3000 LKR (~9 USD) worth of food. The avo-toast here and the omelet are great. Also, try their cold soups and Ukrainian dumplings!
  4. PlanB - is a specialty coffee+coworking space in the middle of Weligama. It has a spacious coworking with ergonomic chairs and fast internet. PlanB offers a 5-hour, daily, and weekly passes. The 5-hour pass for 5000 LKR (~15 USD) was my favorite option as it came with 3000 LKR food credit. Coffee here is delicious!
When visiting Pasijou Weligama make sure to check out their "cold soup" it's a delicious treat for a hot day

If you are looking for a traditional coworking vibe there are plenty of options too:

  1. Outpost - It's a Coworking+Coliving space with a cafe and a pool. Located right on the beach and has a backup power generator in case of blackouts. Food options are much better at the “The Surfer” next door located on the rooftop.
  2. Nets - Comes at 9 USD for a day pass. The space is open 24 hours a day and has coffee, juice, and showers. It’s on the rooftop and has a bit of a jungle vibe. Great for those working US/EU timezones.
  3. Mellow - Is a hostel close to Kabalana beach with a cafe and a coworking space.
  4. Nomads - Is a Coworking+Coliving resort in Kabalana area located next to the Koggala lake in the middle of a lush jungle. My personal favorite feature - long pool suitable for laps.

Private Cook & House Cleaning Services

It’s quite common here to have a helper around the house to offload the annoying chores. If anyone is looking for a helper - pricing is based on tasks, or hours, unless discussed otherwise. Simple tasks within 2-4 hrs would be around 1500 LKR (~5 USD). You should discuss the tasks and payment before making a hire.

Some of my local friends would usually include a small breakfast/lunch but some helpers explicitly say that’s not needed.

To give an idea about tasks and prices helpers do around here:

My local friend asked her maid to clean a small 2-bedroom house, organize the closet/clothes, fold clothes, sweep, mop x2, and help cut vegetables or food prep (no cooking). This set of tasks costs 1500 LKR (~5 USD) plus breakfast and lunch.

Another friend of mine asks their maid to do grocery shopping, cook 2-4 dishes for two people (enough for three meals), do food prep, sweep/mop the floors, and fold clothes. Again, that’s about 1500 LKR  (~5 USD) without breakfast and lunch.

Usually, when the helper finishes the tasks, they leave. Sometimes it takes 2 hours and sometimes 4.5 hours. You’d pay the agreed-upon rate for either the half day or hours.

Personal Observations

And now some of my personal observations in The Good. The Bad. The Ugly. structure

The Good

The local people of Sri Lanka are nice, smiley, and welcoming. 99% of them at least. I’ll talk about the other 1% further down though. Something that you’ll probably observe after living in one place for a few weeks and visiting the same restaurant to get food, or going to the same grocer to choose the ripest pawpaw is that they will most likely recognize you, smile to you, and even give you some sort of gift because they like you. People here are trying to develop connections with each other, the culture does not seem to be purely transactional, it’s based on emotions instead. There's a strong community feel.

The other great thing about this place is the nature. I will try hard to limit myself to one paragraph here. That’s a tough mission though! NATURE IS AMAZING IN SRI LANKA! I lived in New Zealand for a year and a half through the COVID-19 pandemic and while the nature there is unbelievable, there’s something else here in Sri Lanka that attracts me. It’s more real, more wild, more diverse. You’d wake up with monkeys on your porch, there would be this beautiful blue bird diving into your pool, the peacocks would be your alarm bell, and turtles would wave to you from the waves in the ocean! Everyday life is full of all sorts of animals and beautiful plants. If you want to experience some serene wildlife - there are countless national parks to visit for a safari and see elephants, eagles, and even leopards!

Elephant family chilling under the tree at Uda Walawe National Park

Lastly, the reason I’m returning to surf here even more - the wave quality is great for beginners and intermediates. Advanced surfers might be slightly disappointed with the power of waves. It is nothing like Indonesia or Portugal where the power of the wave is usually so big you end up in a vortex to another dimension if you screw up at any point. The waves here are mellow and not as punchy. It takes a while to get used to them and you need 4-6 more strokes to get going when comparing the more powerful waves. I’m not in the water to win WSL or become the next Kelly Slater. I’m content catching a dozen waves and heading back home in one piece 😄 This is exactly the experience Lankan waves are good for. There are some punchy reef breaks if that’s your jam, but I have not experienced anything close to what Uluwatu would throw at you on a bigger day.

The Bad

Even with all the awesome people Sri Lanka has there’s still that 1% that leaves an awful taste, unfortunately. Here are some of my personal experiences that I’ve dealt with straight after landing on the Island.

After passing the immigration I went to buy drinking water at the airport’s corner shop. This was my first experience interacting with local people outside immigration officers. The water was expectedly overpriced. That was a fair convenience cost as we landed at 10 PM and just needed some clean water to hydrate. It costs around 400 LKR per bottle (that’s ~1.30 USD). What really pissed me off was the situation at the checkout… I gave the cashier 5000 LKR expecting 4200 back, as I purchased two bottles. I do the math automatically in my head and most of the time it doesn’t even register in my brain that I’m counting everything around me. I got 3200 LKR from the cashier. I look at the money. I look the cashier straight in the eyes. He doesn’t even blink:

– The water was 400 a bottle, right?

The cashier hands out the extra 1000 Sri Lankan Rupees that he kept handy taken out of the cashier machine.

– Duuude. Come on!

Not even a “sorry” as a response. Blank stare back into my eyes. I take the money and walk away.

I Vented for a sec about the situation to my gang:

– Whatever, airports are probably like bus stations in Europe. Everyone tries to scam you for a bit of money.
– Yeah. Forget and move on.

But wait! But what happens next?

We found taxis to drive to the hotel. I pack myself into the first one along with surfboards. My friends went into the other car. I arrived at the hotel first. My driver was nice and helped out with the boards. I’m just chilling and waiting for the rest of the pack to come. I see their car parked at the gate and there’s some sort of commotion going on. My friends got out of the taxi with their bags and came to the entrance with their eyes rolled.

– What happened?
– The 1000 Rupees story all over again… Gah…
– What was the commotion about?
– The driver just took an extra 1000 without even telling us. When we noticed that he started explaining why he was keeping the extra 1000. And hey, we would have tipped after completing the ride, but it is on us to decide if the service deserved it. Well, he lost his tip.
– Everyone tries to scam you for a bit of money, eh?!

Gas station scam

While we are at the common scams note, here’s another one that will save you frustration and a few bucks. Be cautious when tanking gas at any gas station!

You fill up a few times “full from empty” and will probably notice the amount is different every single time. The difference is anything around 20-40%. You might think “Oh the inflation in Sri Lanka is out of hand”. Ha! No sweetie, you have not been paying attention to the gas meter at the moment they start pouring gas.

The situation usually goes like this. You come to the gas station and queue up. It’s your turn now, you are busy opening up the gas tank and the person handling the gas hose starts pumping right after you open your tank. This is where it happens - they usually don’t reset the meter from the previous person, who could have tanked just a few dollars worth into a plastic bottle. Boom! You start from a few hundred puppies on your counter :) Just make sure you keep your eyes on the gas meter and ask them to reset the damn thing if they start playing tricks.

Crime and Violence

From the available statistics South Sri Lanka is considered relatively safe. While living here I did not feel threatened at any point. Something felt pretty sketchy still. I went out to read a book by the ocean every other morning in Midigama. Oftentimes I saw a patrol of heavily armed military on motorbikes passing by.

A patrol of two motorbikes with AK-47s at the local surf break

Turns out the South is big on drug trafficking and drug-related violence. There was a shooting just when we arrived in Weligama. And there was this incident and this drug raid.

Apart from drug rings, there seems to be still tension on the island between Tamil and Sinhalese populations. One thing that is associated with the island nation is the Sri Lanka Easter Bombings that happened just 5 years ago, which was a result of these tensions. Nothing of that scale happened here since hopefully the tension is resolved with time. These topics are too nuanced for me as a foreigner to dig into. So I’ll keep it at that.

For the rest of the “bad” things, I’ll just list some of them to keep this post at a sane length:

  • The “quality” is missing from people’s craft. For example, a surf repair shop would fix your board in a way that makes things worse - like using the wrong type of glue for the board material. Then they gladly take your money and say “Highest quality, sir”. A similar issue happened when we tried to order bikes with surf racks - the racks came on the wrong side of the bikes and two days late 🤷
  • Power cuts. This one is getting better with time but still annoying to have the AC and internet turned off every now and then. Here’s a link to the power outage schedule for the South region in case you ever need it.
  • Service in restaurants beats “Spanish relaxed”. Sometimes it can take three different waiters and an hour to get a meal.
  • Most nice things are not available here or are sold at a massive markup. Things like specialty coffee, nuts, peanut butter, oat milk, etc. are imported with a big tax on top. The rule of thumb is either bring your guilty pleasure with you when traveling or grab them when you see them at the grocery - they might not be there the next day.
  • Poya (full moon) days. I have mixed feelings about this one. It is a religious ceremony. It plays a big part in local life. It’s a day off so people are celebrating the full moon with prayers and dances. It’s pretty fun and beautiful. On the other hand - there are no noise control laws here. Chanting is going on through the night broadcasting the prayers through loudspeakers and blasting through the whole town. Sleep is impossible if you get unlucky and your villa is next to one of the loudspeakers. Lack of noise control laws brings another problem - your neighbor can throw a party until 2 AM cycling through late Bollywood hits. Earplugs with noise-canceling headphones are sometimes the only way to get some sleep 😬

The Ugly

This part of the section is harsh. If you like to keep your day positive, feel free to skip to the useful survival tips. Read on if you like to keep informed and stay away from trouble.

A week after publishing this article I was burglarized. First time in over 17 years of world travel. I didn't want to bloat this article, so added another entry to my blog. Follow the link to read Theft In Sri Lanka story.

Crazy Buses

Crazy bus drivers make driving on the roads a horrifying experience. There’s even a meme on YouTube about these busses, just try searching “Sri Lanka Crazy Bus” and you’ll find a gem like this:

The video doesn’t even come close to giving the real feeling of the danger. My blood freezes when I’m riding a motorbike next to these absolute maniacs. I’ve been riding bikes in Thailand and Indonesia for a good couple of years. I have never experienced such PTSD as I have developed here after only two months. Roads are mental over here!

I tried to dig deeper into the whole “crazy bus” as a local cultural phenomenon. I even had multiple conversations with locals and created a topic on Reddit. My takeaway is that the owners of the buses are in bed with corrupt police officers, so there’s no law enforcement going on. The incentive for the driver is to move as many people from point A to point B. They speed while chewing betel nut with no consideration for the safety of people being transferred or other traffic participants. Sometimes I wonder if the world's most addictive drug is not just an oral cancer magnet but also contributes to brain impairment?

There are frequent crashes involving crazy buses. For example, two tourists were recently killed in an accident with a bus right next to one of my favorite restaurants - news story here.

As digital nomads or visitors to Sri Lanka, the best we can do is adjust to the situation on the roads and be very careful when moving.

Next, I’ll describe the real local rules of moving around, so you can adjust your expectations and habits accordingly.

We all agree the traffic is mad here. At the same time, not everyone realizes the usual road laws do not work in Lanka. There are general rules, but the usual priority of movement is "unspoken agreement" - the bigger you are on the road the more priority you have. Again, traffic laws do not work here. If you come from a background of traffic rules written in the book and people following them, that does not work here, throw that knowledge out the window.

buses > trucks > cars > tuk-tuks > scooters > bicycles > pedestrians

This is the priority of who has a right to go first on the road. If you don't agree with these rules - don't drive yourself here or risk being sent back home in a coffin.

Surprisingly, there are very few accidents with locals compared to foreigners being involved. It seems to be the arrogance about unspoken rules that is at play.

There's also a pretty low value of human life in this country, so count that in when taking any risks.


Scene of usual mid-day traffic in Midigama, Sri Lanka

Is Sri Lanka safe for female travelers?

Sri Lanka is not a female-friendly country. Period. I have not been to India yet, but the culture here seems very similar to the stories I’ve heard from my female friends who traveled there. If you might get triggered by sexual misconduct stories, best skip to the end of this post. It is about to get uncomfortable.

I’ll preface the rest of this section with this: I’m a white dude, fairly well-built, and much taller than an average Sri Lankan. I’m lucky enough to feel secure in most places in the world. I can’t talk from the perspective of the opposite gender. Like all humans, I have a mother, so I try imagining her in sketchy social situations. How would I feel if it happened to her? The stories below make me feel sick to the stomach.

I’ve heard these stories firsthand from female friends, their boyfriends, and some I’ve dug up on the internet. Make conclusions for yourself. I am trying not to judge anyone here. I’m just spreading the information.

Special thanks to all the women who shared their stories with me and allowed me to publish them online!

The gardener

The first story is from a digital nomad couple I’ve met in Sri Lanka. They rented a villa nearby and we shared many meals. Their villa came with a gardener. A normal thing around here. The gardener seemed like a nice guy at first. He did his job fairly well and was friendly when everyone was home. Gardener’s behavior changed every time the boyfriend left the villa - the helper suddenly was extra friendly with the girlfriend who stayed home. One time the gardener allowed himself to lightly touch the women's back, which was met with a strong “no” and raised a first red flag. The couple didn’t know what to think of it and hoped it was some cultural thing. Maybe the gardener would stop after a very clear “no” message. Unfortunately, the next time the boyfriend left the villa, the gardener tried to go for a kiss without any invitation.

Quote from my friend:

He actually did kiss me and attempted to pull me into his arms. I stopped (him) and held one arm away from me and he ended up caressing my breast. I pushed him away and he just chuckled and said "Right right".

No remorse or at least pretending it was a mistake or anything.

I had simply asked to borrow a tool and he was helping me fix a blender outside at the front door when it happened.

He is a 70+ year old man. He just seemed like the sweet grandfather type. He would bring us treats and check up on us during power cuts, made sure everything was locked up during a power outage, deliver water for us, and he helped us with whatever we needed.

My friends were shaken. They notified the landlord immediately and the gardener got fired on the spot. The couple has never seen the creep again.

This experience was described to me as emotionally damaging for the couple. There were fears about general safety staying at the villa. Did that take an appropriate course of action? The person has lost their job after all and might retaliate. Remember, this is Sri Lanka, laws are loose, and human life is sometimes at stake when there’s conflict.

The creepy massage therapist

This one is a screenshot from a message in a Sri Lankan digital nomad group. A better way to handle this situation would be to put up a public Google review. However, there are safety concerns as the therapist did home visits, so leaving a review in public would put this women in danger. The boyfriend of this girl even messaged the creep. Unsolicited messages continued on...

Screenshot of a warning message from a Sri Lanka Digital Nomads WhatsApp group

The night visit

This story is from a surfer girl I used to share a villa with. She is one of those tough Canadian surfer ladies who seem very strong physically and emotionally. This experience did break her trust and love for the island. It made her question whether she should ever come back to Sri Lanka.

A year ago my surfer friend rented a local villa all by herself. The villa was slightly remote. After a few weeks, she noticed local guys observing her when she was coming back home. The look the guys gave was one of those dehumanizing, perverse, “nice piece of meat” looks. Eventually, these guys figured out my friend was living by herself. They started to hang out by her gate. At one point they started to enter the territory of the villa without any invitation. My friend was asking them to go away and was becoming anxious about the situation. As anticipated, the story culminated very soon. One night she woke up from a noise outside. A guy was peeking through her window. My surfer friend ran out with a big bottle of insect repellent. The perpetrator’s face received a dose of repellent. She shouted, scaring him away. My friend didn’t spend another night at her villa.

After the incident, she moved into a villa with her female friend. This arrangement did seem safe initially. There was no obvious group of people hanging around at any point, but there was a feeling of being watched. Her trip came to an end. Seemed like  “Oh nice, maybe it was just a one-off incident!”. The day she landed at home her ex-housemate called up. The villa was broken into. All the valuables were stolen.

My friend told these stories to me a year after the incidents happened. So yeah, she did return to the island, even after going through this traumatic experience. This time she shared the villa with me and a few other surfers. She’s never considering living alone in Sri Lanka - the risk is insane.

Quite unfortunately, while I was editing this post and shared it with a few friends a very similar incident happened to a close friend of mine. She has just read these creepy stories! She saw a guy peeking through her window around 11 at night. My friend started to scream and her boyfriend tried to catch the creep. They even called the police as there were a few petty things missing. A day after the incident, she’s still struggling with anxiety and the emotional damage the burglar has done.

Beach walks

I’ve heard this one from multiple female friends. It sounded almost the same with some variation - “was having a sunset walk at the beach” or “was checking out the waves at the surf break”… Out of nowhere, a guy shows up. He grabs me by an inappropriate area and runs away as I start screaming. 

There's another variation for beachwalk harassment - you might encounter a guy hiding in the bush. He would be observing you while masturbating furiously.

Here's a first hand story from another good female friend of mine:

For women:
If you sunbathe on the beach, avoid quiet places and close to bushes. One time a local guy snuck up from the bushes behind me (probably hoping I wouldn't hear him), then he offered me a massage (and wanted to pay me for it), and finally, when I threatened to call my husband and turned away to grab my phone from my bag, he tried to touch me in the bikini area. I managed to push him away and hit him in the back before he ran away.
Before he did anything, he waited until no one was around.
It was just in front of Plantations
Screenshot of the beach harassment story from Sri Lankan Digital Nomads group

Fresh from the internet

Just as I was writing this post there was a post gaining attention in Sri Lankan Reddit. It’s a video from a solo female traveler. She was traumatized deeply by the behavior of local men. It’s an emotional video worth watching if you are planning to come to Ceylon:

Why I had to leave Sri Lanka :( & I became a part of a beautiful Family :) who restored my love

Ok. A little bit of personal opinion. My blood boils when I hear shit like this. I’m struggling to explain if it’s a lack of sexual education or what in the hell went wrong. It’s not acceptable and infuriating to even think about such behavior. Can’t imagine how it feels to be an object of such sickening harassment.

Final words for this grim section

A great word of caution for this ugly section comes from a women in the Sri Lankan Digital Nomad group:

I am sorry to hear about the experience of men manhandling and assaulting women. Please know that there is deep-rooted misogyny in South Asian culture. I know of it as I am Indian.

Women are not highlighted and respected. Foreign women are considered promiscuous. They (men) most often don't even see women as human.

It is all a cheap thrill to them.

With the ever-growing population and lack of proper education on sex etc., we have a long way to go.

I thus request that one maintain distance from local men at all times. I know inherently you want to treat everyone equally but, not in the case of local men. Best to keep your distance.

So many girls end up dating surfer boys/men. They all have wives back home. They also have physically hit these girlfriends at times.

That is why I appreciate some clubs not allowing locals because trust me, in Goa, it's a mess now. One always has to be careful and on the lookout.

Don't get me wrong. Predominantly boys SL and Goa are safe. But, men are assholes.

Our cultures in South Asia are beautiful. We believe in community, helping one another and so much more. Sadly, with women, they are still learning.

I felt depressed writing this part. Nevertheless, I think it’s important to show the dark side of the picturesque island and warn the nomad and travelers communities. Feel free to share your stories in the comments below.  I think it’s worth letting the world know, so that people can take the necessary precautions to stay safe.

Sri Lanka Tips For Survival

Below is a grab bag of random tips that I’ve made while living in Sri Lanka. Didn’t feel like they deserve a long story but might be helpful to others:

  • Two wallets - carry a second wallet in case the police stop you. At the moment of writing an acceptable bribe was 5000 LKR (~15 USD)
  • Travel with your favorite protein powder to the island. The local diet is low-protein and it’s almost impossible to find quality protein powders here.
  • Bring good chocolate - the stuff sold around here is “meh”. It’s mostly full of sugar and its substitutes. If you like your chocolate dark and high quality, bring a few bars with you.
  • Coffee beans - I brought 2kg of beans when flying to Sri Lanka. I did not manage to find a great local roaster in the South. Yet! Let me know if you know any great ones
  • Bring all your favorite surfboards. The rentals here are horrific and buying them here is 30-40% more expensive compared to Bali.
  • Bring all the rare foods you love with you!
  • Visa-related issues: +94 77 947 1979 - Sri Lanka Visa - Lanka Affairs Company
  • For cash withdrawals, the Bank of Ceylon and People's Bank work well with Revolut cards and has no transaction fees. Getting out 300$ (100k LKR) was not a problem.
  • Consider getting a dengue vaccine before coming to Sri Lanka, as they don’t seem to have much supply here. This vaccine is useful if you are coming for a longer time or will be living in the tropics next 4-5 years. I’ve talked about my experience getting Takeda’s QDENGA vaccine on my Twitter. Disclaimer: I am not a doctor. My personal opinion is that having 90% protection against hospitalization for 4.5 years is a great deal. Please do your research 🙏
  • If you need dental work done, your best bet is going to Colombo. The Havelock Dental practice has been highly recommended in multiple groups
My "favorite items that are missing in Sri Lanka" packing for a two-month trip. 3kg of whey protein, collagen powder, chocolate, specialty coffee beans, nuts, vitamins. I wish I had two suitcases to pack!


This post described my experience and reflections on life as a digital nomad in South Sri Lanka. My trip here started in late 2023 when I stayed in Midigama through November. I had mixed feelings after this month, so I immediately decided to come back after a little break for December in Chiang Mai. I settled in Ahangama for January-February to be close to my favorite Marshmellow. I also wanted to make up my mind if I’d like to ever be back to Sri Lanka again.

Sri Lanka attracted me with its mellow waves and untouched, wild nature. The waves are less powerful here compared to Bali or Portugal. Even when you get trashed occasionally it does not end up feeling too bad. On the nature side, because of how underdeveloped this country is, the wilderness somewhat reminded me of my favorite New Zealand. So why not check it out?

I hope this post is helpful to my fellow digital nomads who are considering coming to Sri Lanka. I’m still exploring the place and am excited to discover more of its beautiful parts!

If you have been to Sri Lanka I'd love to hear your stories in the comments section below or reply to this tweet: