Sri Lanka has accommodation to suit all styles of travel.

  • Guesthouses Family run guesthouses are found everywhere; they can provide very good value and offer a great way to interact with locals.
  • Hostels Geared to backpackers, these are rare but numbers are growing in the main tourist centres.
  • Hotels Range from modest to grand and from back-road to beachfront.
  • Resorts Offering one-stop luxury, the best resorts are found on the west and south coasts and around national parks.
  • Ayurvedic spas Stay at a spa for an accommodation-and-wellness package.
  • Rented villas Offer grand accommodation; some even have a private beach.

Accommodation in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka has all types of accommodation ranging from rooms in family homes to five-star resorts. With tourism booming, prices have increased rapidly. Accommodation is rarely great value (compared to other Asian countries), so expect to fork out more for your bed here compared to, say, India or Southeast Asia. Wherever you stay, try to bargain over the price, as negotiation is common.

Rates are very seasonal, particularly at beach resorts; look for good discounts in the low season. The high season is December to April on the west and south coasts, and April to September on the east coast.

Note that there are reports of a few hotels refusing to honor prepaid reservations made on sites like www.agoda.com. They'll tell you that if you want to stay you'll need to pay rack rate (always inflated) and that you will then need to get your money back from the booking website. This is usually a scam. Bring printed confirmations and have the local contact number for the booking website. One call should sort things out, as the hotel won't want to be banned from the booking website.

Some midrange and top-end hotels quote room prices in US dollars or euros, but accept the current rupee equivalent. Note that a service charge of 10% will usually be added to the rate you’re quoted. At many hotels an additional value added tax (VAT) and other local taxes can add up to 15% to your bill, which can make for a large surprise at check-out.

Note that many hotels are not licensed to sell alcohol (but are usually fine about you bringing your own). Most places are nonsmoking.

Types of Accommodation

Guesthouses and hotels provide the majority of places to sleep in Sri Lanka. In rural areas, almost every place is a guesthouse. The difference is that hotels will usually be larger and offer more services beyond a person minding the desk. Often guesthouses are family run.

Almost every place to stay will serve meals. Note that it’s easy to stumble upon places that are quite inferior, whether it’s a guesthouse renting rooms by the hour or top-end hotels that have ossified. There are almost always better choices nearby, so look around.

Budget

There are budget guesthouses, hostels and a few budget hotels across Sri Lanka; they vary widely in standards and price.

Expect the following amenities:

  • fans in most rooms, air-con in only one or two (fans are fine in the Hill Country and right on the beach)
  • maybe hot water
  • private bathroom (except in hostel dorms where shared facilities are more common) with shower and sit-down flush toilet
  • wi-fi
  • simple breakfast.

Midrange

Midrange guesthouses and hotels are the most common choices throughout Sri Lanka. Most provide a decent level of comfort, although some can be quite nice with a range of services and views. Choices include well-run colonial-era lodges and stylish places on or near a beach.

Expect the following amenities:

  • maybe a balcony/porch/patio
  • satellite TV
  • small fridge
  • air-con in most if not all rooms
  • wi-fi
  • maybe a pool.

Top-End Hotels

Top-end hotels range from small, stylish, boutique affairs in colonial mansions to lavish five-star resorts.

Expect the following amenities:

  • good service
  • usually enticing views – ocean, lush valleys and rice fields or private gardens
  • usually a pool
  • spa
  • restaurant (licensed to sell alcohol).

Villa rentals are taking off in beachy areas, especially along the south coast. Speciality accommodation includes the former homes of British tea-estate managers in the Hill Country, which have been converted into guesthouses or hotels, often with beautiful gardens and antique-stuffed living rooms.