Gay Sri Lanka travel: a complete gay guide for LGBTQ travellers

Stefan Arestis

Sri Lanka is a little pearl in the Indian Ocean. This paradise-like island has some of the most delicious food we've tried in Asia, the best safaris outside of East Africa and our favourite train journeys. Sri Lanka also has beaches, stunning landscapes for trekking and kind, warmhearted people who love welcoming foreigners, straight or gay.

For such a small place, Sri Lanka offers so much that many come here for their honeymoon. Yet the sting in the tail comes when you quickly realise that the country still clings on to its anti-gay laws introduced by the British during the colonial years in the 1880s. Even though the courts have declared these laws to be unenforceable, the fact that the Sri Lankan government refuses to get rid of them is a sad sign that Sri Lanka is still very much a conservative society where you do need to tread cautiously as an LGBTQ traveller.

We explore the anti-gay laws along with other general advice for LGBTQ travellers in this comprehensive gay country guide to Sri Lanka.

LGBTQ rights in Sri Lanka

On the face of it, it's illegal to be gay in Sri Lanka. Section 365 of the Sri Lankan Penal Code dating back to 1886 criminalises “carnal intercourse” with up to 10 years in prison and a fine.

This law dates back to the British Colonial days. Ask a local and they will enthusiastically tell you “but it no longer applies!”, which is both technically right and wrong.

On the one hand, the Sri Lankan government refuses to repeal the anti-gay laws and often makes openly homophobic statements. They have even embellished the anti-gay laws. For example, in 1995, the Sri Lankan judiciary amended Section 363 to add “gross indecency” as a crime punishable with a fine and up to 2 years in prison (section 365A) without giving any guidance as to what constitutes “gross indecency”. As such, the LGBTQ community can either be arrested for “carnal intercourse” (if caught in the act), or for the more loosely defined “gross indecency”.

Yet, on the other hand, the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka also declared that these laws are now unenforced and dormant. We're hoping that the fact that big sister across the waters – India, decriminalised homosexuality in 2018, will surely inspire Sri Lankan lawmakers to also do away with their anti-gay laws.

Is Sri Lanka safe for LGBTQ travellers?

As disdainful as the anti-gay laws of Sri Lanka are, we don't think this should stop you visiting. Sri Lanka is a beautiful country, with so much wildlife, safaris, beaches and a rich cultural heritage. As a gay couple travelling in Sri Lanka, we felt very safe. Sri Lankans are very welcoming people and super curious towards foreigners whether straight or gay. At worst they thought we were twin brothers! We never felt in any danger for being gay nor ever experienced any homophobia; put it this way – we never thought twice about booking a double bed anywhere in Sri Lanka.

There is even a growing number of hotels specifically targetting gay travellers. For example, Gomez Place in Negombo is a male-only resort and the Dickman and Binnacle resorts (also in Negombo) are notorious for being gay friendly.

For LGBTQ Sri Lankans, however, the situation is very different. Society remains socially conservative and frowns on homosexuality. The mere existence of anti-gay laws (even if unenforced) simply validates violent crimes against the local LGTBQ community, particularly by policemen who use it as a way to get bribes. Read more in our interview with local boy Kaluu from Colombo about what it's like growing up gay in Sri Lanka.

We strongly believe that the more we (as LGBTQ travellers) visit places like Sri Lanka, the more visible we become, which can only serve to alter and change locals' attitudes towards us for the better.

LGBTQ rights and gay travel in Sri Lanka
LGBTQ rights in Sri Lanka are progressing slowly but surely! Source: GayStarNews

The gay scene of Sri Lanka

In light of the anti-gay laws of Sri Lanka, there is no official gay scene anywhere in the country. However, this is not to say there is nothing for LGBTQ travellers here. We discovered quite a vibrant underground scene in the main cities, particularly in the capital, Colombo, and the beach resort town of Negombo:

The gay scene in Colombo

In the absence of a gay scene, there are no official queer hangouts in Colombo. However, the city has a large LGBTQ community living here. We strongly advise using gay dating apps and social media to tap into the local scene and find out about any underground ad hoc parties/events taking place. For example, the Lazaani Hotel often hosts gay parties and events – see video clip below.

When we visited Colombo we found that the bars and restaurants linked to the large hotel chains were the most gay friendly, where we felt most comfortable with PDAs. Examples include the Cinnamon Grand Hotel, Juliana Hotel and of course the Lazaani Hotel.

In terms of gay cruising in Colombo, local friends there told us the best spots (where both straight and gay men go) include: the bushes of the Wellawatte Railway Station, Bambalapitya beach, behind Majestic City and around the Colombo Fort area after sunset

The gay scene in Negombo

Negombo is a beach resort town around 40km (25 miles) north from Colombo. It's one of the most liberal places in Sri Lanka, which has allowed a more commercial LGBTQ scene to develop.

Negombo has a few “unofficial” gay hotels worth checking out. The main one is Gomez Place, which is men-only. The other gay hotels of Negombo include the Dickman and Binnacle – both of which are “adult-only”. In terms of LGBTQ hangouts, the bars we felt most comfortable as a gay couple were Rodeo Pub and the Serendib Pub. Negombo Beach is also a popular gay hangout spot during the day. After sunset, look out for the “beach boys” (local name for escorts) cruising for clients along the beach.

Gay couple on beach in Negombo
Watch out for these feisty “beach boys” in Negombo!!

Top experiences in Sri Lanka for gay travellers

This is a country rich with cultural experiences, especially if you're into wildlife and nature. Sri Lanka also has some of the most incredible train journeys we've ever been on, as well as bloody good food! Then there's the trekking, safaris, surfing…

Suffice to say, you won't get bored here. Here are some of our top experiences in Sri Lanka:

Incredible train journeys through tea plantations

The best way to enjoy some incredible scenery in Sri Lanka is by taking a train journey through the lush landscape

One word, stunning! Even with all the train travelling we've done from the Trans Siberian railway to the high-speed Shinkansen trains of Japan, nothing compares to the train journeys we took in Sri Lanka. The most impressive leg is from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya and then the train ride to Ella. The journey takes you through the lush green tea plantations then powers into the spectacular cloud forests. Locals get on and off at each stop while school children run along the tracks to catch up with the train so it can take them home. It's truly an experience you'll never forget, especially if you sit by the doors of the train.


Safaris to see elephants, leopards, peacocks and more…!

Join a reputable tour company to go on safari in Sri Lanka where you might spot elephants, leopards and stunning peacocks.

The National Parks of Sri Lanka offer some of the best safaris outside of East Africa. The most famous is Yala National Park where you can spot leopards and elephants in the wild. Our favourite is the less frequented Udawalawe National Park. Udawalawe is fantastic because with fewer visitors it means fewer jeeps blocking your way and therefore a more rewarding safari. At one stage during our safari at Udawalawe, we spent an hour in our jeep watching a family of leopards interacting, just metres away! Read more about these two parks in our article comparing a safari in Udawalawe and Yala National Parks.


Trekking in Ella

Active gay travellers to Sri Lanka will love the Ella Rock trek for some impressive views

There are many famous treks in Sri Lanka, the most talked about being Adam's Peak, which is more a hardcore pilgrimage trek for Buddhists, involving a very early wake-up. However, we instead recommend basing yourself in the pretty small town of Ella, which is surrounded by beautiful mountains and hills. Our favourite trek here was to Ella Rock, which is slightly hard but not too laborious. The views however from Ella Rock are something else! You can trek to Ella Rock yourself and it only takes around 4 hours from start to finish, so can be done at any time of the day you fancy. The other popular trek to do in Ella is the shorter and easier Little Adam's Peak.


Whale watching at Mirissa

Sri Lanka is a wonderful destination for spotting the majestic Blue Whales who come here to mate and feed

We loved spotting orcas in Argentina so we jumped at the chance to do it in Sri Lanka. The south coast of the country is the best place for spotting blue whales, particularly around Mirissa. This is because the waters here are particularly rich in plankton, which almost guarantees sightings whenever sea conditions are good. The ideal time of year to come is between November to April when sea conditions are most likely to be optimum. When we came, we got lucky and saw a male blue whale wooing a female during our trip – absolutely incredible! Then on the way back, we spotted many dolphins and even a pair of turtles mating! The one thing we strongly advise is only going with a responsible company who abide by the criteria set by the WDCS (Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society).


Exploring Sri Lankan food

Learn how to make Sri Lankan food at a traditional homestay

Whilst doing a cooking class may sound obvious and slightly cliche but hear us out; Sri Lankan food is one of the best we tried in all of Asia. With so many different nationalities leaving their mark, the island offers up a variety of cuisines. You can read more about our favourite Sri Lankan dishes below, but even better, try to do a cooking class or ask your hostel / guesthouse host if you can cook with them. We did this with our hosts in Ella and Negombo who were both happy to show us their recipes for rice with curry and devilled prawns.


Visit a tea factory in Nuwara Eliya

Visiting a tea factory is a fascinating way for gay travellers to Sri Lanka to learn about the country's tea industry

The tea industry of Sri Lanka is immense. During the British Colonial years, the tea industry flourished in Sri Lanka, which is why the trains were built across the tea plantations – to take it to the coastal ports so it could then be shipped over to Europe. Nuwara Eliya is the most famous place in Sri Lanka for tea plantations. It is nicknamed “Little England” because the British Colonists established it in the 1840s as a base. In Nuwara Eliya, you can visit one of the many tea plantations to take a tour, have a tasting session and learn more about how the herbs are harvested and made into the tea bags we buy in the supermarkets.


Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic in Kandy

The Buddhist Temple of the Sacred Tooth is a stunning building and a must-see while visiting Kandy in Sri Lanka

If you read all the guidebooks and online accounts of Sri Lanka, they'll rave about Kandy. We'll be honest, we weren't blown away by it. The most famous sight in Kandy is the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, which is a Buddhist temple in the old city. It's famous for housing the relic of the tooth of the Buddha, but you don't actually get to see it. It is instead kept in a golden casket shaped like a dagoba (stupa), which contains a series of six dagoba caskets of diminishing size. The temple is quite impressive, but we felt that it was perhaps more impressive and meaningful to people who were devout Buddhists.


Vitamin Sea and impressive sunsets

The beaches in Sri Lanka are beautiful, with romantic sunsets and lots of surfing spots

Whilst Sri Lanka doesn't have the best waters (it's choppy and quite rough!), the beaches are lovely. Some of our favourites were Mirissa and Unawatuna, both on the south coast. The sunsets every evening were truly something to marvel at. As mentioned, the water itself is rough and therefore not great visibility, so don't come here expecting to snorkel. However, if you love surfing, this island was made for you, with many excellent surfing spots, as well as choices for those with varying degrees of skill. The best thing is, Sri Lanka is a year-long surfing destination so whenever you visit you can hit those waves.


Pride and gay events in Sri Lanka

Due to the anti-gay laws, there is not much by way of exclusively gay events in Sri Lanka other than the annual Colombo Pride and the ABHIMANI Queer Film Festival, both in June. We've included these along with a few other events we recommend LGBTQ travellers in Sri Lanka to check out:

Atman Tribal Festival (January)

This is a week-long tribal gathering/festival of art, music and performances that take place each year on one of Sri Lanka's beaches. While it's kind of a rave for those who like psytrance/dark trance music, the organisation behind the festival also focuses on charity aid and eco-sustainable projects, so you can feel good about attending this inclusive dance event.

Galle Literary Festival (January)

Book-lovers will not want to miss out on the Galle Literary Festival, as it's one of the most well-known and highly anticipated literature festivals taking place in south-east Asia. The festival is for both authors and literary enthusiasts from around the world, with a variety of events taking place in the historic Dutch-influenced Galle Fort, which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The festival includes art exhibitions, talks, history walks, workshops, cooking classes and more.

Vesak Poya – Festival of Lights (March)

Vesak Poya is a festival that takes place in many Asian countries to celebrate the birth, enlightenment and the “nirvana-after-death” of Buddha. Vesak Poya is also known as the Festival of Light since Buddhists decorate their homes with paper lanterns, clay lamps and intricate ‘kudu’ which are large lanterns surrounded by tiny lanterns decorated in many colours. There are also roadside stalls erected all over the country offering free food as a meritous act, so it's definitely an interesting time to visit Sri Lanka and experience some culture.

Sinhala & Tamil New Year (April)

Both the Sinhala Buddhists and Tamil Hindus celebrate New Year in Sri Lanka around the 13th or 14th of April at the sighting of the new moon. Locals usually celebrate the New Year for seven days, taking part in religious activities and serving traditional foods with family. Coconut-based sweets and delicacies are particularly popular at this time of year. If you're visiting Sri Lanka during this time you'll see lots of festivities taking place, while many hotels and resorts will also include you in their celebrations.

Colombo Pride (June)

The capital of Sri Lanka, Colombo, has been hosting gay pride events for 15 years. Organised by The Equal Ground LGBTQ organisation, it has faced some pushback and intimidation in the past, but things are definitely improving. Colombo Pride events include a pride parade, a rainbow kite festival, parties, dance performances, art and photography exhibitions. Check out the Colombo Pride Facebook page for the latest information about the next event.

Abhimani Queer Film Festival (June)

Also organised by The Equal Ground is Abhimani, the only LGBTQ film festival in Sri Lanka. The festival presents a range of queer short and feature-length films from countries around the globe. Check the Abhimani Facebook page for more up-to-date information on the next festival.

The boys of Colombo Pride LGBTQ event in Sri Lanka
Some of the fabulous lads of Colombo Pride

Food and drink in Sri Lanka

Foodies will LOVE Sri Lanka – we sure did!

Sri Lankan food is hands down one of the best in Asia. These guys make a divine curry from absolutely anything, whether it's a jackfruit or an aubergine. Here is a summary of some of the best foods/drinks you need to try in Sri Lanka, but for a more in-depth guide, be sure to read our article about Sri Lankan food.

Rice and Curry

Sri Lankan curries are spicy and delicious, but not quite the same as the curries you'll get in India

Since Sri Lanka is located just off the southeast tip of India, it makes sense that it has some cuisine elements in common. However, the types of curry (usually served with rice) that you will come across in Sri Lanka are not exactly the same as those from India. Sri Lankan curries are usually thinner and more heavily spiced, partly due to the wide variety of international ingredients brought in by trade. We loved trying different curries during our time in Sri Lanka, some with seafood like fish, prawns or crab and others with pork, lamb, beef, chicken or even goat.


Deviled Prawns

Devilled prawns were one of our favourite dishes from Sri Lanka

If you ever see something in Sri Lanka that's called ‘deviled' then you know it's going to be spiiiicyy! Also known as ‘isso baduma', deviled prawns in Sri Lanka are usually served as an appetizer or with some pre-dinner drinkies. The contrasting sweet and sour notes create a mini-explosion on your tastebuds. A glass of Arrack (see below) pairs especially well with the sweet, sharp notes of the devilled prawns, or you could just enjoy them with a refreshing, cold beer.


Egg Hoppers

Egg hoppers are a yummy traditional breakfast food from Sri Lanka

Curry and rice are served at any time of the day in Sri Lanka, but egg hoppers are a bit of a breakfast staple that you'll find all over the country. Made from fermented rice flour and coconut milk, they're cooked in a bowl to make a kind of pancake shape, then a fried egg is added in the middle. The dough cooks up to be thick and soft on the bottom, thin and crunchy around the edges. You can use them to pick up the same sort of curries and other wet dishes that rice is often used for. You can get hoppers from roadside stalls, bakeries and hotels all over Sri Lanka.


String Hoppers

Rice hoppers are one of the kinds of tasty snacks you'll get to sample in Sri Lanka

As well as the egg version, string hoppers are another popular snack made in Sri Lanka. Also called ‘idiyappam', they're made from steamed rice flour noodles that have been pressed through a special extruder and then shaped into the cute little nests on the left of this picture. They can be eaten the same way as the egg hoppers, to scoop up curries and other dishes or even just as a snack. They're often served with a yummy thin coconut gravy or made into a sweet treat with the addition of sugar and coconut.


Kothu Roti

Kotu roti is a yummy dish from Sri Lanka that makes the perfect snack after a night of partying

Also spelt koththu or kotthu, kothu roti is a uniquely Sri Lankan dish made from a type of flatbread (roti) which is shredded then mixed with vegetables, egg, meat and aromatic spices. Everything is chopped up and cooked together on a flat griddle with characteristic beating sounds. Street vendors often make kothu roti with a lot of dramatic flair and rhythm, so the dish is entertaining as well as tasty! It's also very popular with young people as a snack on the way home after a night of partying in Colombo.


Watalappam

Watalappam is a delicious dessert that you must try while visiting Sri Lanka

Believed to have been brought to Sri Lanka from Malaysia in the 18th century, watalappam (sometimes called watalappan) is a well-known and delicious dessert. It's kind of like a flan but made from coconut cream, jaggery (a type of palm sugar), eggs, cashew nuts and various spices. Watalappam is delicious and lighter than air, sometimes with chopped nuts on top to add a bit of a contrasting crunch to this soft dessert. It's very popular during weddings, festivals and religious celebrations.


Arrack

Arrak is a coconut-based alcoholic drink you have to try when in Sri Lanka!

Arrak is Sri Lanka's signature spirit. It's made from just two ingredients: water and the distilled sap of unopened flowers of Sri Lankan coconut palms. Men known as ‘toddy tappers' climb to the tops of coconut trees to collect the sap, which is then allowed to ferment. After 24 hours it becomes a mildly alcoholic drink (known as a toddy) and is then put into timber vats or copper stills to age, often for years. Arrack is actually one of the oldest distilled spirits in the world, older even than Scottish whisky, and very nice as part of a cocktail or mixed with some ginger beer. Just be wary of the hangover if you drink too much as it's very strong!


Tea

Some of the best tea in the world comes from Sri Lanka! Make sure you try some during your travels

During the British occupation of Sri Lanka, a tea plant was smuggled into the country from China and soon tea plantations started popping up all over the place. Tea production thrived in the climate of Sri Lanka, due to the humidity, cool temperature and rainfall, especially in the central highlands. Sri Lanka is now the world's fourth-largest producer of tea, which is pretty impressive especially considering its small size. There's a fascinating tea museum located near Kandy, or you can tour a plantation in Nuwara Eliya as mentioned earlier in this article. Whatever you do, make sure you enjoy a cuppa at some point during your time in Sri Lanka!


Gay travel agents in Sri Lanka

During our trip in Sri Lanka, we met several gay friendly companies who welcome LGBTQ travellers.

Our favourite is Master Campers, who organise luxury safaris in Yala and Udawalawe National Parks. We're offering a discount to our readers who mention us when booking with them.

Another favourite gay tour company is the British based Out of Office who organise 8-16 tailored trips for LGBTQ travellers in Sri Lanka.

Plan your trip to Sri Lanka

We've put together some handy hints and tips to help you plan your own trip to Sri Lanka. Read on to find out everything LGBTQ travellers should know before they go:

How to get there: Since it's an island, you will most likely need to arrive by flying into Sri Lanka. The main international airport is Bandaranaike, located north of the capital Colombo. There are buses to take you from the airport to downtown Colombo, although we usually prefer to book a private airport transfer with an English-speaking driver so that we don't need to deal with the hassle when arriving in a new country.


Visa requirements: Sri Lanka has an Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA) system which means visitors from many countries can apply online for a tourist visa and not have to bother going to an embassy. Residents of some countries do need to apply for a visa in person at a diplomatic mission, so make sure you allow plenty of time before your travels to check your personal visa requirements for Sri Lanka.


Getting around: Sri Lanka is a small country, so it doesn't usually take long to get from one place to another. Public transport consists of buses and trains, both of which are affordable, although the trains are much better than the buses in our opinion. Here is a more detailed guide to transport within Sri Lanka.


Power Plugs: Sri Lanka uses power plug types D, M and G. Unless you are travelling from the United Kingdom, India or some countries in Africa, you will most likely need to bring a travel adaptor with you to use your electronics.


Travel insurance: Sometimes when you're travelling, things just go wrong. Whether it's a cancelled flight, lost luggage or you fell down some stairs, you should never travel without travel insurance to protect cover unexpected costs. We've been using WorldNomads Travel Insurance for years and absolutely love them. They offer comprehensive cover and it's easy to make a claim online when needed.


Safety and Security: In order to ensure our safety when travelling, we like to use CloseCircle's ‘virtual bodyguard' app. Just by using your phone you have access to security alerts and can request help, ranging all the way from advice to emergency evacuation. Read more about CloseCircle in our guide on how to stay safe while travelling.


Vaccinations: Travellers to Sri Lanka should be up to date with all routine vaccinations (such as measles, mumps, rubella), while the CDC also recommends getting vaccinated for Hepatitis A and Typhoid. Depending on which parts of the country you are visiting/what you plan to be doing while there, you may need further vaccinations, so make sure to check the CDC website and speak to your doctor before you book anything.


Currency: The currency used in Sri Lanka is the Sri Lankan rupee. The currency code is LKR and it's written as Rs. $1 US converts to about 181Rs, €1 is about 200Rs and £1 makes about 227Rs.


Tipping culture: There is a strong tipping culture in Sri Lanka, mostly owing to the fact that wages are low. Generally, if you receive good service, you would tip 10% for a restaurant bill and tip hotel staff around 1000Rs per day (which is about $5 US). Here is a detailed guide on tipping in Sri Lanka for more information.


Internet access: WiFi is usually available in hotels and hostels in Sri Lanka, as well as some internet cafes. If you want reliable access to the internet, or know you will need to use a lot of bandwidth for work perhaps, you may like to hire a portable WiFi device during your trip.


Online privacy: Following communal violence in Sri Lanka in 2018 and 2019, the government dramatically increased censorship online, including blocking sites like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Youtube. If you want to be able to reliably (and privately) access the internet, we recommend using a VPN service like ExpressVPN. Their service is very reliable and affordable, enabling you to stay connected with ease.


Accommodation: When looking for places to stay in Sri Lanka we always use (and love) Booking.com. With so many options, excellent 24/7 customer service and an easy to use online system, it's always our go-to when planning our travels.


Sightseeing and adventure: Our other favourite planning website, for finding the best activities and tours, is GetYourGuide. They have so many choices for fun things to do, all over the world, as well as an easy to use booking system and wonderful 24/7 online support.


When to visit: Sri Lanka's weather is dictated by two monsoon seasons, but luckily they affect alternating sides of the island, so you can pretty much visit year-round. For the best experience, visit the west/south coasts and hill country between December – March, and/or the east coast between April – September.


Follow our tips to plan a fantastic (and safe) journey to Sri Lanka
Soon you'll be looking as happy as Seby with his train pass for Sri Lanka!

Safety tips for gay travellers to Sri Lanka

Is Sri Lanka safe for gay travellers? On the whole, yes. This is not the place you'd want to be displaying any LGBTQ activism or PDAs though. Society is still very conservative and even though foreigners are highly respected, you run the risk of getting negative attention if you're open about your sexuality here.

When it came to booking a double bed, this was never an issue for us in any of the guesthouses, hotels or homestays we stayed at in Sri Lanka. Follow these safety tips to ensure you have a wonderful time in Sri Lanka.

  • Check official government advice before you go. We recommend all travellers do this for any destination so that you are aware of what is happening and what your country's government currently advises. For gay travellers from the United Kingdom, here is the current travel advice for Sri Lanka.
  • Whilst Sri Lankans are extremely warm, welcoming people, remember that homosexuality is illegal here and society has very conservative opinions about it, so it's best to avoid any PDAs.
  • Just like anywhere in the world, be aware of your surroundings, especially in Colombo. Tourists are usually seen as easy pickings for thieves and pickpockets, so make sure you are always paying attention to what's going on around you. Traffic in Sri Lanka can also be quite chaotic, so you want to be aware of what's happening in order to avoid an accident!
  • Avoid excess alcohol and drug use. Sri Lanka has some really strict laws especially in relation to drugs. As you arrive at the airport, a sobering sign at Immigration reminds you arrests for drugs can carry the death penalty! We're not saying don't have a good time, but be careful! In addition, people who are obviously intoxicated or high are going to be seen as much easier targets than others. Just try not to overindulge and be aware of your surroundings even while partying.
  • Don't wear valuables in public. This is basic common sense, especially in Colombo. Petty crime is common here, as it is in most big cities around the world, so the more bling you show off, the more alluring you become as a target. We recommend leaving your valuables and important items locked away in your hotel safe.
  • Invest in a good money belt. While you may be able to lock most items up in your hotel, you're going to need some cash and credit cards as you're exploring. Try not to carry everything with you and we also recommend investing in a good money belt which hides under your clothes so it's a lot harder for someone to try and rob you.

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Here's our gay travel guide to Sri Lanka, including advice on safety and all the best things to do in this beautiful country
Stefan Arestis

Stefan is the co-founder, editor and author the gay travel blog nomadicboys.com. As a travel nerd, he has explored more than 80 countries across 5 continents. What he loves the most about travelling is discovering the local gay scene, making new friends and learning new cultures. His advice about LGBTQ travel has been featured in Gay Times, Gaycities, Pink News, Gay Star News, Attitude and Towleroad. He has also written about gay travel for other non-gay specific publications including Lonely Planet, The New York Times, The Guardian and The Huffington Post. Stefan is also a qualified lawyer, having practised as a commercial property litigator in London for over 10 years. He left his lawyer days behind to work full time on Nomadic Boys with his husband Sebastien. Find out more about Nomadic Boys.

58 thoughts on “Gay Sri Lanka travel: a complete gay guide for LGBTQ travellers”

  1. I have been to Sri Lanka this last may 2019.
    Love it !
    Galle, Unawatuna, Candy, Negombo.
    In Negombo, i recommend this accomodation BINNACLE
    Binnacle, Dickman and Gomez place are in the same location.

    Bonjour de France

  2. Hello, I really Love this website, writing about Sri Lanka Gay travelling, Now sri lanka is changing LGBT Rights. acceptance from society.
    Anyone can travel in sri lanka. past year gay couple travel in sri lanka. they spent cool time in sri lanka.

    i see one of UK star Engaged in sri lanka
    OMG… Jimmy Essex and Charles get Engagement in Sri lanka while they vacation.

  3. As a post millennial heterosexual that fully supports lgbtq rights, I just want to say that it’s getting a tad better. (Not legally.) Mostly it’s not an acceptance, more like a neutral reaction. This concept is not something new to SL now. They are slowly but surely getting used to it. It’s mostly the older generations that don’t like this change thus argue that it’s a stigma for the culture and religion is no way an obstacle for this. As for (majority of) younger generation, they are getting more and more open minded. There are few open homosexuals even in schools that doesn’t give a shit what others think. It’s really refreshing to see the change. So have hope!

  4. Hi Stefan and Seb…

    Thanks for this blog . by accident I found your blog, but I think this is grate, am very happy for this as it is a very difficult life if you are a gay in Sri Lanka. and what Kalu has said is the real truth and there are more to the fact and different personalities are facing different issues to fight. I do curse God for making me a gay as explained by Thushara and Few others it is greatest challenge for a Gay guy to live in Sri Lanka, if you are not married it is a big issue for a guy than for a Girl, the pressure is from all parts of the community.
    Mostly the pressure comes from your own family for not getting married, in my own situation since am not married I was not given any inheritance from the family estates, saying since am not married I do not need any. I am not been Invited to any Parties or weddings since my parents are also not living any more, even If I meet a relation an Auntie or a uncle the first Question they shoot is Marriage.
    Then comes the office or work place, if you are UN married it is a big Issue for the Subordinates, and then they stars assuming that you are Gay and teat you down and make all sorts of comments and embarrass you. They think been gay is a dirty habit, which we willingly have chosen to be gay and have sex with men. Most of the co workers are calling us Puff openly, was very hard to work so I have change jobs as I couldn’t coupe the harassment and injustice from fellow workers, this they do as I am not married. So in the latter part I declare that I am married and separated and my kid is Living with my wife , and even more I have to fill-in forms with fake names of My Wife and Kid when there are mandatory documents I have to fill.
    Then comes the Neighbors, they are also very nosy and want to know everything, even to rent out a Flat the first thing they ask is if you are married, if you are single the chances are very marginal. So I have decided to live isolated Life way from the general community and have minimal contact with them.
    I had a 4 ½ year old strong relationship with a Guy who was younger to me but due to the pressure from his Family he finally had to get married, it was a very difficult period for me and I still have not recover from it, now we hardly meet or talk over the phone as to support for my friends family life I do not bother him at all. Unless he needs some help from me. And he wanted me to get married but for the sake of making others happy I have decided not to put a woman’s life in jeopardy as I know that I am not heterosexual. But most of my friends have got married due to the pressure from the family and, most of their life’s are not normal, in fact just this morning a friend who got married last year call me to check if I know any drug such as Viagra as he is not having any feelings toward the wife and now both families are bothering him as they still not have a baby and now the guy is in misery. I know some older friends of ours who are gay and married but live a double life.
    So been gay and living in this part of the world is a terrible experience. Even I wish there is a organization who can help people like us to migrate to a Country so we can live at ease and Happy… I have thought of committing suicide when am badly hurt for the same issue. But our life goes on .. without a light as there is no one to talk to since this is a criminal offence

    Thank you for your effort to change the world

    Regards

    Ami

  5. Wow, these interviews are my favorite part of your blog. It’s so fascinating to read and learn about gay lives in other countries. it’s so sad to hear about it, but at the same time very important for us to learn. Sometimes we get too comfortable in our little bubbles where it’s safe.

  6. Bit late to be saying this but this post is great, and it makes me sad that I learned more about gay people in my country from reading it than by having lived here my whole life. It’s all rooted in the strange cultural view that a man is only a man if he can penetrate a woman and have a kids. I know that’s vulgar but aaarrgh.

  7. Hi Steph and Sebs,
    Great post. What ever kaluu was mentioned with you correct. Me too I am a gay, and from beautiful city of Galle. My dad was so strict. And I was grown up with 2 lovely beautiful sister’s. Until I became 15yrs I used to sleep inbetween them. I was so interested with young guys since age of 11 years. I felt being with elder brothers I can find love, warmth, kindness etc. So my story started with my relation great looking brother who lived just next door. He started to treat me very differently, with love, warmth and of course his touch. So of course I do not need to mention any other feelings to you guys.
    No one knows who I am until todate except few of my close friends. They still forcing me to get married, but as Kalu said that I really don’t want to put another innocent girl in a difficult situation. Twice I got cought with CID (criminal Investigation Department) officers..luckily they did not file a case in the court but I had to pay huge amount of money for them according to release me.
    It is so bad. Everyone in this world are allowed to feel love without any boundries. I understand religious or any other public places should be control with or not to be happen anything related to same sex or opposite sex. And I missed my beautiful country with beautiful guys, since I started new life in this Beautiful Vancouver city.

  8. Hi Stephan and Sebastian,
    Great post!Love how you guys encourage your own community while most of the gay people try to hide their interest in homosexuality .Glad to hear that you had a great time and folks treated you well in Sri Lanka.

    Just wanted to mention ,though the people who making law in Sri Lanka,consider LGBT relationship as a crime,my religion(Buddhism) hasn’t stated it as a crime or a sin,in order to remove a misunderstanding about my religion(Buddhism)
    As I feel,lack open minds of the people who follow the religion blindly is the reason of these rules but the Buddhism.
    Happy travels!

  9. hi, im chathuranga, and 22 years old. It is pleasure to talking about Sri Lankan gays. I’m also a gay lover who live in Sri Lanka. actually it is so sad here situation for gay lovers. still we don’t know what happened to our affair, but still we are together here. my some of straight friends know about me that I am a gay, some one are accept it and some guys tharally reject it. but I don’t want to marry a girl never. lot of guys finally select this way to live with their family and friends. but I believe we should live together, we are trying to go overseas country to live where it is acceptable. but it is not easy to go there, we will try it. it is the my wish. I love him so much and i need him. i have no life without him.

  10. Thank you for all these touching testimonies and nice comments… Having traveled several times for long stays in SL since 2012, I didn’t find the gay issues in this country very different than what they are in other neighboring countries (like India for instance). Officially, laws, religious codes, social / family constraints, etc. are obviously a relatively big part of the picture and, if, as a gay foreign tourist, I always felt very relaxed, it was not the case for my friends/partners… But, having said that, there is another part of the picture, surely much more hidden and not very clear for short time tourists : the reality of the day to day sexual life of Sri Lankan guys, before and after marriage, is an important presence of same-sex activities and, sometimes, relationships… This phenomenon seems well known by big portions of the population (more men than women apparently) even if not mentionned, refered or told… Like in many other developing countries, it can be partialy explained by the difficulty for young men to have sex with girls whose virginity is regarded as part of their family’s honor and a condition for them marrying properly one day. But, this explanation is insufficient and, actually, same-sex activities/relations take place and are even seeken in a relative climate of acceptance as part of a kind of “never expressed underground culture”…. No doubt that we are very far from the western gay culture and a SL guy will rarely define himself as “gay” even if there’s no girl in his sexual life… But no doubt also that this “traditional” same sex activities/relationships is nowadays very much disturbed by the irruption of this western gay culture through the growing number of western gays visiting Lanka as well as by the huge sources of information provided by social medias and the Net in general… Despite what we could attend at the present, I have the strong feeling that things will change very, very fast in the coming years for gays in this country : 1) Neighboring mastodon India is changing its rules in this regard (just check the statements done this week by Union finances minister Arun Jaitley about section 377 of the Penal code) and such a change will necessarily concen SL. 2) One of the top Sri Lankan leaders is gay (I don’t name him by discretion but all SL gays know who he is) and, if he will probably not take the lead of legal changes, he will certainly favor them. 3) Tourism industry is in its fast growing phase and none of its big men wants the country to be regarded as an homophobic bastion surrounded by opened-minded competitors in this business. 4) Last but not least, mentalities are changing very fast in this country which main religions, Buddhism and Hinduism, are not amongst the more homophobic in this planet … To make it short, when a young guy writes in the main picture of his facebook page “My life, my rules” believe me or not, it’s a bomb and it will blow out centuries of bigotry, male chauvinism and paternalism…

    • This is amazing – thanks so much for your comment Santiago. I can’t wait to see these changes unfold in both India and Sri Lanka 🙂

    • Hi Santiago, you are very correct on one thing that is regarding the Top Officials in the Government, it is the number two man he is Gay and he facke a marage with a Lesbian Woman, it was a convenience Marriage for him to Do Politics as it is not easy for a gay to do politics there are many GAy Ministers and MP s in the parliament who are members of the present UNP governments . The Former Foreign Affairs Minister openly Admits that He is gay.
      But None of them will or can change the legality towards Gay and LGBT
      It is sad not in near future

  11. Many thanks to you and “Kaluu” for sharing his experiences and insights of contemporary LGBT life in Sri Lanka. Really interesting. And thanks too for blogging about “Funny Boy” – I’ll add that to my reading list for when I visit Sri Lanka later this month.

  12. This is a very interesting article. I am an American gay man, who is in a relationship with a Sri Lankan man who has lived here for the past 24 years. (I’m 27 and he’s 41) We have been together for almost a year. He is out to his brothers, but not his parents or any family back home. This does not trouble me really, but his mother is setting up dates with women for him here in New York, and this is becoming an issue in our relationship. He only gets to see her once a year when he goes home for the holidays, and does not know how or even if he should tell her. This is very frustrating for me, because he wants to meet this girl, he says to keep his mother happy, but no matter how much I say I understand his situation, I cannot say I approve or am OK with it. I don’t know what to do- Am I being an unsupportive boyfriend if I stand my ground on this (We’re talking about a partner going on dates with other people here, come on, I’m not crazy, right?) or should I be more sensitive and flexible to the filial piety that is expected of a first son?

    • Hi Gabriel and thanks for your comment. I agree it’s awkward, but wouldn’t really call him meeting people he’s not attracted to a date from our gay point of view right? Coming from a Greek family which is similar in its lack of approach to gays, I can empathise but to a limited extent as I was fortunate to grow up in place like London.

      I asked Kaluu what he thought and he replied with:

      “His boyfriend is lovely. He is trying to understand it and is very honest with his feelings. I think they should talk with each other honestly and be honest with their feelings”.

    • I wanna speak to you. I’m from Sri Lanka and 24 years. Let me know and I will give you my contact details via the Nomadic Boys.

        • shani you can contract me use full l.am working saudi.arabia riyadh ok just call me to my phone other wise better whats.app also same number my job his medical tecknology my e mail not working call me ho imo ho other soon assposiable phone 966554375401

    • It’s really sad to hear these stories. I’m a srilankan girl and I have similar problem too. So I understand how hard this situation is. I’m working in abroad so I can stay away from the society. Now a days my family wants me to get married. I even don’t like to hurt their feelings. If anybody wants to married juat to make parents happy ur most welcome to contact me. We can be a good friends too.. My email: help02016@gmail.com
      Thank you!

    • Oh my gosh I hope this issue has resolved itself by now? It is totally understandable to feel as you do & in my opinion your boyfriend is being extremely selfish doing this!?! How would he feel if YOU did it to him (he would say he understands but he wouldnt like it… believe me!?!) Stand your ground… if he doesnt have the courage at his age to tell his parents the truth now for you he never will. You deserve better!
      Best Wishes
      Pagan Darling

  13. Quite fortunately, my life since coming out at 19 has been one that got better by the day. I was born to a Buddhist family in Kandy and moved to Colombo for work and studies after school. I’ve always stood my ground and valued my human life just as much as anyone else values their own. I have gone through tough times with my family since coming out but they thankfully could open their minds eventually. I’m open at my workplace too and never have I had any trouble or prejudice – I see myself as a role model for gay people around me – change starts from you they say! It’s been a long process. I once sat down with Amma for tea at home and she asked about my bf whom I was seeing back then. She was sweet enough to finally admit that she doesn’t have anything against me but the society and that I would better fit in a more progressive western country. Just shared my story to say that it isn’t all that bad but having said that, I think I’m one of those very fortunate ones! Keep smiling 🙂

    • Hi Declan. Thanks for reading and what a lovely story to read 🙂

      What’s your job out of interest? Great you can be open at work and with family.

    • Great positive post Declan, a role model indeed. Really interesting articles guys. I live in London and came out to my parents who live in Colombo many years ago. Although they weren’t hostile they never acknowledge my sexuality. That is a small price to pay I guess as they are always very welcoming to any partners I have introduced to them.
      I have never met any other Sri Lankan gay guys and always wonderd what it is like to be gay in that society.

      • Lovely to meet you Desh and thanks a lot for your comment. Definitely doesn’t seem to be the easiest place for a young gay boy to grow up in 🙁

  14. I think you guys should put together a book of all these interviews, they’re so interesting. Of course, it is very sad too to hear about people living in such oppression and secrecy.

  15. Actually there are more problems that you have face if you a gay guy in sri lanka. Sri lanka call as a buddhist country and the place which people believe their cultural norms highly. In sr lankan law system gay practices has to be a point of criminal behavior. But we have to ask how being gay can be a criminal offence. In practice majority of Sri lankan people use to think being a gay is a criminal thing,abnormal thing, psychological issue, personality disorder, brake down the cultural norms, the thing cut down social values, destroying parents and relatives dreams.

    But it is not value gay people’s thoughts, feelings, relationships in there, because of non confirming behavior. I have argued with my straight friends and some of anty gay friends above these. ” how can be human feeling a criminal offence or abnormal behavior? then they said it. is not confirming thing in sri lanka. But then I asked again is there any deference for people in country vice? then they said it is not match for our culture. according to peoples thoughts about gay I think in Sri Lanka there is no common reason to be despite for gays. But in practice there are more gay guys living in sri lanka majority for sexual purposes and some are for relationships. For relationships it is not a value. because they have to fulfill parents dreams and hopes with marrying a woman .

    I have a nice affair with a guy over four years and we are facing these kind of incidents badly. We have fight over three years with our families and relatives to solve this problem. Since last three years we are force to get marry a woman. Finally we decide to tell our gay identity for our families. After hear these massage they got this affair as an abnormal thing and also a psychological problem. some of them use to think it as a shit thing and some of started to hate us. How ever still we are argue with them to find a way to settle with them happily.

    Finally we thought to migrate to another country which people living in free minded for gays. then we applied for Canada for Federal skilled working visa and after get to PR. But unfortunately our documents failed for second time and now we are waiting for applying another country. This is very impressionable situation in Sri Lanka. According to these barriers most of gay guys use to express their feelings only with gay sex practicing, because they know one day they have to marry a woman.making a children to fulfill parents dreams.
    But as a human Sri Lankan gay people living in a dilemma with seeking a better way. But for sex it is going as badly. risky sex ( with out using condoms), can be caught to police, bribe, physical and psychological harms could be occur.

    Me and my partner looking an opportunity to work or study any where we can living together happily. Because we did not stop our relationship and every time we use our time to find something for our future. But most of gay guys not like us.

    thank you for a sharing ideas with me

    cheers

    Thushara.

    • Hi Thushara,

      Thanks so much for reading our post and for your comment. It is very sad to read this and we wish you the best of luck in trying to emigrate somewhere more open to your relationship.

      Do you think there is any hope for change with Sirisena’s new government?

      Regards,

      Stefan.

    • Dear Thushara…
      I have just read your very moving account of life as a gay man in Sri Lanka and your hopes of moving somewhere new with your partner!
      It is 2018 I notice this was all written in 2015 so I can only hope that all your dreams have come true?
      I am a bisexual woman with a lesbian friend in SL & I am going there next month gor 4 weeks. I told my friend (who is much younger than me & onky out to her mother nobody else) & I am hoping as a western woman to be able to take my friend to gay places where tbere are also lesbians. If you know of anywhere please email me?
      Best Wishes 🌈
      Pagan xxx

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