Sri Lanka for Digital Nomads 2020
Sri Lanka is a beautiful island off the southeastern coast of India. With a temperate climate, nice beaches, and incredible mountainsides, Sri Lanka has it all! It makes sense that digital nomads want to explore the world’s best island while getting work done along the way. But like a lot of places in Asia, it begs the question: Is Sri Lanka a good digital nomad hub? In the month that we spent in Sri Lanka as digital nomads, we traversed 7 different cities. With incredible beauty, but low infrastructure available, I’ve created the ultimate guide to Sri Lanka for Digital Nomads.
Why Choose Sri Lanka as a Digital Nomad Hub?
It Has Low Tourism
With a turbulent history, Sri Lanka isn’t a very popular tourist hub. And after the Easter terrorist attacks that happened in 2019, tourism dropped off by more than half! Since then, Lonely Planet has even awarded Sri Lanka with the title of “Best Island in the World”! Imagine having the best island in the world to yourself! That’s exactly how we felt every day in Sri Lanka. Every single beach we visited felt like a private beach.
Sri Lanka has Amazing Activities
Sri Lanka has activities and scenery for every kind of traveler. I’m talking mountains, beaches, tea plantations, blue whale colonies, surfing, National Parks, elephant safaris and so much more! Daniel and I ended up renting a motorbike for two weeks and explored the southwest of the island loving every minute! This gave us the opportunity to try out surfing in Weligama, and even drive through Yala National park to see wild elephants.
The Food is Delicious
Seriously, I think Sri Lankan food has become my favorite food in the world. You don’t know good food until you’ve had booming rice and curry made by a mom at a curry shop. Even though I had rice and curry for almost every single meal, every restaurant has its own recipe and uses different vegetables. Don’t even get me started on their coconut sambal!
Also, get ready to put on a couple of pounds! Sri Lanka is famous for a dish called Kottu. The traditional Sri Lankan meal is composed of buttery flatbread chopped up into tiny pieces, almost like penne pasta. Then it is stir-fried with vegetables, some more butter, and meat if you’re into that kind of thing. Top it off with their signature curry sauce and your taste buds won’t know what hit them! This easy accessibility to great and cheap food makes Sri Lanka great for Digital Nomads looking to go off-the-beaten-path.
It is Extremely Affordable
Out of all of the countries we’ve been to, Sri Lanka was the least expensive of them all. We spent an average of $48 dollars a day between Daniel and I. This included accommodations, food, frequent bar trips, coffee shop purchases, SIM cards, surfboard rentals, train rides, and gasoline for our bike. We personally didn’t do any of the premium tours like blue whale watching, or the Yala National Park safari, which I suspect helped keep the budget low. For digital nomads looking to keep costs low, Sri Lanka is a good place to do that.
Mobile Data Plans are Affordable and Effective
The moment you land in Colombo airport, you will be overwhelmed with SIM card choices. I recommend you ignore all of the others and head straight to either the Mobitel (the one we used) or Dialog. These SIM cards cost us less than $20 for the month and gave us hotspot ability everywhere we went! This was especially handy during Sri Lanka’s beautiful train rides when I wanted to catch up on work.
Now, I must warn you. Sri Lanka is NOT for digital nomads that need to upload large file sizes. More on that later.
It’s a Content Creators Dream
With some many places to explore, and Sri Lanka being so untouched, Sri Lanka is a huge opportunity for content creators. I’ve been taking the time to document all of my experiences in the country because I had such a hard time finding info online. With waterfalls, caves, cultural activities, and wildlife, there is still so much of this gorgeous island to discover. And it gives the unique opportunity that not a lot of that information is already on the internet.
Why you shouldn’t choose Sri Lanka as a Digital Nomad Hub
Wifi is “available” but Not Really
Now, I loved Sri Lanka, but it comes with a BIG but. Wifi speeds at most hostels didn’t surpass 500KBPS and that’s if the wifi worked at all. If we were lucky it would spike to 3 MBPS, and then swiftly crash thereafter. Because of the inaccessibility of solid wifi, it was hard to get work done. We were thankfully able to use our Mobitel hotspot, but only for limited platforms and it’s not particularly fast. If your job requires you to have absolutely consistent internet, Sri Lanka may not be the best Digital Nomad hub for you. I want to stress that if you require consistent internet, I don’t recommend you spend more than two weeks in Sri Lanka. That way you can explore through the remote areas of Kandy, Nuwara Eliya, and Ella with time to stop off and catch up on work in Mirissa and Colombo.
Who shouldn’t use Sri Lanka as a Digital Nomad Hub
As full-time YouTubers, we found it quite frustrating to be on the hunt for a place we could upload videos. A good way around this was to edit videos in bulk, and then get to a good internet café, uploading 4 or 5 videos back to back. This still means being at the coffee shop for a FULL day, but at least you have options. However, if you’re a daily vlogger wanting to post videos daily, either skip Sri Lanka or come to terms with the fact that you will not be able to post everyday and travel at the same time.
Photographers Needing to Upload large file sizes
If you’re trying to upload high-resolution images to anywhere: a client, tailwind, and Instagram scheduler, you’re going to have to batch your work. The way that I got around the internet issues was capitalizing on the times I did have good internet. When I was offline, I wrote down all of the copy for my Instagram posts in a word document and then scheduled a couple of week’s worth of posts at one time. Limited wifi is the biggest limitation we came across in Sri Lanka, and batch working was crucial to us staying on top of our work.
Online English Teachers
From my understanding, most online English teaching platforms require you to have at least 15 MBPS of internet to teach a class. This is very rare in Sri Lanka, and if you do get it, it will be inconsistent. I’m not sure if mobile hotspots will help you teach your class, but you definitely won’t get the minimum MBPS to get your work done.
Who Could Get Away with Using Sri Lanka as a Digital Nomad Hub
The nice thing about blogs is that you can draft your blog posts offline on Microsoft Word, and then upload them to WordPress or whatever platform you use when you do get internet. My mobile hotspot worked perfectly for any time I needed to use WordPress, send emails, and even occasionally design simple graphics on Canva. If your digital nomad job is blogging, Sri Lanka would be a good option for you.
If you’re okay with batch working, my mobile hotspot allowed me to access my Instagram scheduler, Later. I would upload all of the images I planned on using for the week when I had good wifi. Then I would use my mobile hotspot to drag them onto the scheduler and write the captions. If you don’t use a scheduler at all, having a SIM card with a data plan in Sri Lanka will have you covered.
Where to Get Internet in Sri Lanka:
The easiest way to get Internet in Sri Lanka is by using a mobile hotspot. We used Mobitel as our phone provider. It was great because we could top up our data plan as we needed it and boost up the speeds, too. The hotspot is nice not just for people who work on their phones, but also for people who want to work on long train journeys, or in the remote mountains. Another great SIM card option is Dialog. We saw Dialog shops everywhere, touting that they were the “#1 4G Network in Sri Lanka”. But since we didn’t try it first hand, the jury is still out on that one. Feel free to comment below if you have experience with Dialog.
Like I mentioned earlier, Sri Lanka is not for digital nomads looking to upload large content online. The mobile hotspot can download at about 5 MBPS, but it cannot upload. We tried uploading an 8-minute video to our YouTube channel on several occasions, and it stayed at 1% for 3 hours before we gave up! I just want you to go to Sri Lanka with the correct expectations. It’s more like the Philippines in reference to access to internet, than it’s neighbor India.
In some cities around Sri Lanka, it’s easier to get wifi than others. Here are the places we went to, and how they stood on the internet scale.
Colombo as a Digital Nomad Hub
Colombo is by far the best digital nomad hub in Sri Lanka. With tons of co-working spaces, coffee shops, and trendy cafes, Colombo makes it easy. Though I won’t tell you that the speed was lightning fast, it at least let us upload YouTube videos while we were in the country.
The Best Places to Get Internet in Colombo:
Java Lounge- Jawatta
We ended up driving 45 minutes from Watalla into Colombo every single day so that we could work at this café! There are several Java Lounges in Colombo, but the only one we ever made it to was the Jawatta location because their internet was amazing. I’m talking the BEST on the entire island. They had a Fiber Optic network that they gave us access to because we went there so often. This gave us closer to 30 MBPS and is what allowed us to batch work the first week we were in Sri Lanka. We also loved that Java Lounge had great coffee and food! Comfy couches near outlets, AC, and amazing natural light were just bonuses.
Black Cat Café
I found this recommendation on Culture Trip, so I thought I’d check it out. The Black Cat Cafe is right next to a co-working space/ hostel and had about 5MBPS of internet consistently. We loved that the café was quiet, and had comfy seating. My biggest complaint was that the prices were outrageous for Sri Lanka standards. If I remember correctly, a burger came out to about 1,600 Sri Lankan Rupees (About $12 USD) compared to $3 for a delicious wrap at Java Lounge. But, if you’re a digital nomad in Sri Lanka, this is one of your better options.
Best Place to Get Internet in Negombo
The Bloo Peacock in Negombo was the only place we found wifi that worked in the entire area. We loved this little coffee shop because it had cheap food, awesome budget-friendly coffee and about 10 MBPS of internet speeds. During our time in Negombo, Sri Lanka, we came to this café every day. You will need either a Tuk Tuk or motorbike to get there because it’s about 10 minutes from the tourist street. But if you need to get work done, it’s well worth the short drive.
Although a lot of cafes and restaurants claimed to have wifi, they had way too many people on the network for it to work. But if you find one that works for you, let me know down below in the comments and I’ll be happy to update the post.
Kandy, Sri Lanka for Digital Nomads
Surprisingly, Kandy was the one place we couldn’t find internet anywhere. I imagine that there has to be at least one coffee shop in this area, but we had to rely on our hotspot the entire time we were in Kandy. Rumor has it that OZO Hotel in Kandy has wifi throughout the property, but I couldn’t tell you their wifi speeds or consistency.
Nuwara Eliya, Sri Lanka for Digital Nomads
Our hostel in Nuwara Eliya, Sri Lanka delighted us with internet speeds between 500 KBPS and 5 MBPS on a good day. For the most part, though, we would go to:
The Grand Hotel Coffee Shop
This coffee shop is located across from the Grand Hotel in Nuwara Eliya and next to a booming Indian called the Grand Indian. They had amazing coffee, average seating areas with garden views, and snacks for sale. The adjacent Indian place was also a great value for the price! We saw tons of people on their iPads, and laptops and the coffee shop was very quiet.
Ella, Sri Lanka for Digital Nomads
Surprisingly, Ella had tons of cafes that offered wifi! Though the internet speeds weren’t very fast, I appreciated the effort. Out of all of the towns we visited, Ella had the most tourist attractions, western food, and solid coffee options.
Best Places to Get Wifi in Ella, Sri Lanka:
One Love Café in Ella
This multistory café, bar, and restaurant has the coolest hippie atmosphere in all of Ella. Featuring hammocks, floor mattresses, bean bags, and comfy couches, the vibe makes it a great place to work. Their wifi speeds lingered in the 2-5MBPS range, but their coffee, vegan options, and food make up for it. So long as you’re not doing any heavy uploading, you would really enjoy One Love Café in Ella, Sri Lanka.
Chill Bar in Ella
The most popular bar and restaurant in Ella, Chill Bar was an easy choice for working. Their upstairs area has nice seating options and they have close to 5 MBPS of internet. My favorite part about Chill Bar though is definitely their food. They had the most reasonable prices for Western food we found in all of Sri Lanka, which is great is you’re homesick! One thing to note: This restaurant is far from quiet and can get crowded. Get there when it opens!
Mirissa as a Digital Nomad Hub
Next to Colombo, Mirissa is the next best spot to get wifi in Sri Lanka. Almost every single hostel provides internet included in the price of the room. We loved Mirissa as a Digital Nomad hub because it provided the best work life balance. Every morning we would surf on Weligama beach and then work for the rest of the day from our hostel. We stayed at two hostels with great wifi:
Colours Hostel is located just a 10 minute walk away from Mirissa beach, has an AMAZING breakfast (the best of any hostel we’ve ever stayed at), and had between 5-10 MBPS of internet speed! For reference, it took about 3 hours to upload a 10 minute, 4K video to YouTube, which was much faster than a lot of other places we had to work from.
Space Garden Hostel
This hostel had the best wifi speed I found in Mirissa if you stayed in their downstairs café. The internet speed was between 10-15 MBPS which was perfect for getting work down. The prices at the café were also very cheap for real, freshly brewed coffee, and meals!
O Mirissa Bistro
If you don’t want to stay in a hostel, the only venue that I was able to find at least 5 MBPS was at O Mirissa Bistro, which also sells incredible pizza upstairs. For digital nomads that are homesick, the pizzas are the closest to gourmet US pizzas we’ve been able to find in Asia. If you’re a carnivore, the Meatball pizza is a fan favorite! The one downside about this venue is that is busy at all hours of the day. Seating is sometimes hard to find, and it can get quite loud. But if you need to get work done as a digital nomad, it’s a great place to go.
And there you have it!
Although Sri Lanka is definitely not a place I would recommend for digital nomads just yet, it has potential. And if you have been dying to explore this beautiful island, but have to get work down while you’re exploring, it’s not impossible from Sri Lanka, just more challenging than other places in Asia. I hope you found this post helpful and please let me know if you have found any other awesome wifi spots in Sri Lanka that I can add to this post!