There is no secret that we absolutely love staying with locals. And the homestays in Sri Lanka are one of our favorites so far. Ever since we did our homestay in Sapa, we have tried to skip hotels as much as possible. But backpacking in Sri Lanka has really helped us find homestays that we would definitely recommend.
Now you do have to know that the Sri Lanka hotels are pretty fabulous as well. You can easily find budget rooms as well as luxury accommodation that will make a hole in your bank account. You can check my words even by just scrolling the holy guide of Lonely Planet. Sri Lanka does know how to spoil its visitors. But still, the best places to stay in Sri Lanka are with the locals. And I will show you why.
How to choose your homestays in Sri Lanka
Oh, boy! This can sometimes be a difficult task. If you search for the best hotels in Sri Lanka or even better, for the best resorts in Sri Lanka, you will get tons of results back. But this is not going to happen when trying to find a good homestay.
When I say a good homestay, I don’t necessarily mean a luxurious room. What I mean is actually a clean room and most importantly, a lovely host. Because the number one reason for which we choose homestays is not the room price (sometimes we even ended up paying more for homestays than for a room in one of the Sri Lanka hostels). We choose homestays to interact with locals, to find out more about their culture.
Luckily, Sri Lanka is one of those countries where homestay booking can quickly be made. Actually, a lot of the locals have registered their homestays on sites such as booking.com or agoda.com. Yes, they sit proudly there among the top hotels in Sri Lanka. But how do you start your search for a homestay?
What I usually do when trying to find a homestay is first to decide on the area. If I want to do a trek, then I will start looking on the map for places close to mountains. Or maybe I want to spend a day at one of the amazing waterfalls in Sri Lanka. I research the area and only then start investigating our accommodation.
After I decide on the location, I use TripAdvisor. I try to find people’s recommendations of places to stay and even try to find a contact number or an email address for a potential host. Afterward, I start my research on homestay.com and end with the other booking websites. You will be surprised to see how many registered homestays there are for Sri Lanka.
Although I have to admit that during my researches I have seen a lot of cheap hotels in Sri Lanka offering good rooms, I managed to remain focused on our primary goal – to interact with locals and thus opting for homestays.
Yes, reviews are sometimes very subjective. But still, they can offer you an idea about the place where you want to stay. We don’t rely exclusively on reviews, sometimes we book a homestay even though we see that it also has a couple of bad reviews. However, not only once did we find a fantastic host that on the internet was described as grumpy or rude. In my humble opinion, it also depends on the person making the comment.
Try to know your host before you book
Some booking sites offer you the possibility of chatting with your host before making any reservation. Take advantage of this option as it will provide the insight that you need to decide on your future homestay.
Be polite and make it clear why you want to stay with them. Maybe it is because they have advertised that they have a certain expertize, or perhaps because reviews mentioned how good is the food prepared by that host. Either way, it is an excellent way to start your booking.
Homestays that are not homestays
After some epic fails in India, we were a bit worried about where to stay in Sri Lanka. Because in India it happened to us a couple of times to find a homestay, to book a room with the family and then when we got there had the surprise of feeling as in a hostel/guesthouse. Our room would be somewhere off the host family’s radar and there was zero interaction from their part. Don’t get me wrong! The rooms were excellent and the service impeccable. But it wasn’t a homestay.
So make sure that you do not fall into this trap as we did. The part where you get to talk to your host before booking plays an important role. And carefully read the description of the place to figure out whether you will get any interaction with the family or not.
What to expect when opting for a homestay in Sri Lanka
During our stay in Sri Lanka, we only did homestays (with only one exception on our first night). And not even once did we long for a bed in one of those fancy Sri Lanka resorts that we would sometimes pass by. Because for us, our hosts and our rooms proved to be the best option.
And we soon realized that even the high-end areas hid a homestay. Imagine we were able to find homestays even in the proximity of the best beaches in Sri Lanka. You just had to be patient and know what to look for.
Homestays don’t necessarily mean low prices. We met travelers who were sometimes paying in guesthouses half of what we were paying for a room with a local family. But this is something applicable all over the world, not only in Sri Lanka. Accommodation doesn’t have to mean only a room. So imagine that when you choose to do a homestay, you are also booking an experience.
And there is one crucial aspect to consider when reflecting on prices. You are investing in the local culture. You are giving money straight to a local family, the most straightforward manner to be sure that your money goes in the local economy. You can never know who is behind a guesthouse or a big hotel. But in the case of homestay, you will always know where your money goes.
Rooms may vary from very fancy ones, with your private bathroom and balcony, to very basic ones where you share the bathroom and the living spaces with the family hosting you. The rooms we had in Sri Lanka gave us null reasons to complain. And yes, they varied a lot. But for us, all that counted was for the room to be clean and not filled with bugs.
Our homestays in Sri Lanka were probably the cleanest of all the countries where we tried this type of accommodation. We had a comfy bed each time, and except for one time, we had a bathroom of our own. We are not looking for luxurious stays, mainly because when you think about it, you don’t travel to spend time in your room. You are out there to explore the world, not rooms.
Well, I guess you don’t have to worry about this when you stay in a guesthouse/hotel. But when you choose a homestay, you expect to have some form of communication with your hosts. Before booking, I always try to figure out if they speak English or not. This is sometimes tricky as there are so many programs to help you translate your messages.
However, in Sri Lanka, we were fortunate. Absolutely all of our hosts spoke very well English. And generally speaking, you won’t have a problem with this as most locals know English. But for us, it was great to be able to have memorable long chats with our families and to discover their local culture.
Oh well, this is a sensitive one! Sri Lanka must be under some weird spell as each time we had a meal in our homestay the food was a-m-a-z-i-n-g. We were skeptical about food as before reaching Sri Lanka we had friends telling us that they had some nasty food poisoning there. So imagine how shocked I was when I realized that after one month of gallivanting in Sri Lanka my stomach was in heaven with no sign of irritation whatsoever.
And the reason why we managed to stay safe and never get sick from the food was the fact that we ate with our hosts 80% of the time. The women in Sri Lanka have magical cooking skills, and they will make you fell in love with their food. But there is also one downside – you will eat way too much. They will treat you like your grannie seeing you after a long time – they will stuff you and insist you have more.
Of course, you will pay separately for the food. But trust me, even though sometimes it was cheaper to eat in a restaurant, the food in the homestays was fresh and way more delicious. Almost all homestays had gardens, and you would get your vegetables straight from there.
And one more advantage – you can steal recipes and learn to cook. I cooked several times with the ladies in our homestays. They taught me some secrets of the local cuisine and showed me how to prepare traditional meals.
Their services and your manners
Always keep in mind that a homestay is not a hotel. So your host family is not working in the tourism industry, they are just a warm family that will share their home with you. I am convinced that as long as you are respectful and well-mannered, you won’t have any problems.
For us, it was a pleasure to help the families with chores such as cleaning the table or even leaving our room exactly as we found it. It’s common sense, and as travelers, we should get used to this. We never had not even one grumpy host. Sri Lankans are very friendly people so you should put on your friendly mode on when traveling there.
To do or not to do a homestay in Colombo
We got a lot of questions about where to stay in Colombo. Unfortunately, given the period we were there (December) we didn’t find an affordable and available Colombo homestay. And to be honest, the places to visit in Colombo and the Colombo attractions were not very high on our list, so we decided to look for accommodation elsewhere. This is how we ended up booking a room in a budget guesthouse in Mount Lavinia.
After we spent a couple of hours in Colombo, I cannot say I regret not spending a night there. It is definitely crowded and more expensive than the rest of the country. However, if you want to try some bits of Colombo sightseeing, you can find a room as there are plenty of options. The cheap hotels in Colombo that offer decent rooms and not exactly cheap, but then again, chances are you will only spend one night, max two there.
A list of some of our favorite homestays in Sri Lanka
Our homestay in Dambulla was our favorite one as the host Sriyani was an incredibly lovely lady. She made us the best local food we had in Sri Lanka, and he treated us like her kids. It was a pleasure to chat a bit with her during meals, and she made sure that we enjoy our stay with her.
The house was a bit outside the touristic route, but given that we had our tuk-tuk, we didn’t mind. We were actually glad as it was very quiet, making it the perfect spot to enjoy the evenings.
Another lovely homestay that we had was in Ella. Sri Lanka is famous for its tea plantations and hillside, and Ella is the perfect place to stay if you want to climb up Little Adam’s Peak or Ella Rock. Both sites offer an exquisite panoramic view of the surrounding hills. Ella was also the only place where we faced a problem with our reservation.
This was the most basic homestay that we did in Sri Lanka but also the most authentic one. We stayed with Shamalie and her son Tristan, and we really felt like part of their family. She gave us some tips for off the beaten path places, and we played with Tristan a lot.
Not many tourists choose Haputale, so this is precisely why you should visit it. We used it as our base to explore the surrounding areas, including Lipton’s Seat, but it was definitely a difficult thing to say goodbye to our family. Especially after she taught me how to cook a delicious pumpkin curry.
We stayed around five days in Kandy, and if it hadn’t been for our friendly family, we would have left earlier. It was probably the place that we liked the least in Sri Lanka, but the homestay was a lovely one.
What we loved the most was the mother in the family, Poornima, to whom I chatted a lot and learned some tricks from the local cuisine, and her parents-in-law. They had some marvelous stories from the war, and it was a great way to better understand the real history of Sri Lanka. The guidebooks will never give you the details that you will find out from locals.
Given that we are not huge fans of the beach, we weren’t in love with the homestays we found on the coast either. If you want that postcard-perfect Sri Lanka view, it will be difficult to find a homestay type of accommodation. You will be luckier in the best beach resorts in Sri Lanka. But those will also hurt your budget.
Sri Lanka is not on our top destinations beach wise, but we don’t regret having spent so much time moving from our place to another. We stayed in Tangalle, Mirissa, and Hikkaduwa. They were nice homestays, but not with the same family vibe that we felt in the other places.
However, I can recommend you the one that we had in Tangalle and the one that we had in Dodanduwa. The latter is very good if you want to be away from the hustle and bustle, but also to enjoy Hikkaduwa beach. Sri Lanka has dozens of beaches, I wouldn’t say that Hikkaduwa impressed us, but it undoubtedly was a pleasant beach to enjoy the New Year’s Eve fireworks.
If you want to start experiencing what it’s like to stay with a family than the homestays in Sri Lanka are definitely a great start. The friendly people, the finger-licking good food, the magazine-like views and the local culture are the perfect mix for ensuring that you will find some great families to host you. And remember, it’s more about the experience than it’s about accommodation!