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Tourist shopping in Sri Lanka - Top things to buy and where to buy them


Tourists love shopping in Sri Lanka. High quality and affordability combined with Sri Lankan hospitality makes tourist shopping in Sri Lanka an exiting adventure. Plus the government is encouraging shopping buy setting up duty free zones and free services like gem authenticity testing.So what are the most popular tourists buys in Sri Lanka? Below is a list in no particular order. Click on any of them to quickly go to the relevant section.

  • Gem stones
  • Jewelry
  • Clothes
  • Handicrafts
  • Silverware
  • Tea
  • Tropical fruits

Obviously this is a general view of the items. For example handicrafts come in many forms like wooden masks, ivory carvings, wooden carvings etc. Similarly there are many variations of silverware as well. In the below section I'll explain them in detail.

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Sri Lankan gems, highly sought after by the tourists

Sri Lankan gems, highly sought after by the tourists

Buying Gemstones in Sri Lanka

From ancient times Sri Lanka has being renowned for its high quality gems fit for royalty. Which is probably why they are the most sought after tourist buy in Sri Lanka. They come in various shapes, sizes and colors, so with some searching you can find a stone that matches your budget.

The biggest reasons for the demand is that you can get a high quality product for a very low cost compared to countries like US and UK. Since gems and birthstone jewelry are somewhat expensive the difference in cost is vast if you're buying them outside Sri Lanka.

Rough uncut diamonds can be bought around half the price compared to US,UK markets and prices of cut and polished diamonds can be ten times high in the UK. If you are buying jewelry with gems embedded in them the variation in price is even higher. So it isn't surprising the many tourists want to buy them.

If you're going with a tourist guide to buy gemstones keep in mind that they get a commission for bringing you there. So naturally the commission gets added to your price. Better to go directly to a licensed gem store.

Because of this high demand you will find few crooked salesman prying upon gullible tourists. The government has taken strict measures to cut down cheating and protect the tourists. Most cities popular for gemstone have gem testing centers, where you can get your stone tested for a small fee. Since gemstones are a considerable investment its always a good idea to get them tested.

If you can visit The National Gem and Jewelery Authority, they have test centers where you can get your gem tested for free. Another measure the government has taken to cut down on selling fake gems is licensing gem selling stores. If you are buying a gem in Sri Lanka it is always a good idea to buy from a licensed gem store.

One of the best places to buy gems is the National Gem and Jewelery exchange in the world trade center, there are many shops there so you're sure to find somethings that matches your taste and because of the competition you can get a very reasonable price too. This is definitely a bit more expensive than buying from various other shops but you are guaranteed of quality and authenticity.

The best and the most cheapest way is to buy it via a local who knows about gems. The trust factor plays a major part here but many foreign traders take this route because it is far more cheaper. A friendly chat with your hotels manager or someone you already know in Sri Lanka can lead you to such a guy, so always make sure to explore this option.

Buying clothes in Sri Lanka is far cheaper than most other countries

Buying clothes in Sri Lanka is far cheaper than most other countries

Buying Clothes in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is one of the largest exporters of finished garments in the world and you can buy clothes at a very reasonable price in Sri Lanka. The variety of garments you can find in Sri Lanka shops is astounding.

One of the most popular places to shop of clothes in Colombo is the Odel. You'll find plenty of tourists visiting there for superior quality clothes. But there are plenty more shops where tourists can purchase clothes at very reasonable prices. There are simple too many shops to list down in this article.

Also most of the popular shopping malls like Majestic City, Liberty Plaza, Crescat etc. have clothing shops in them. The above mentioned shops have many choices so you're likely to find exactly what you're looking for. However some tourists want specific things like Indian sarees, hand woven garments, batik items etc. I will go through some of the in separate sections.

Indian Sarees in Sri Lanka

Indian Sarees in Sri Lanka

Buying Saris in Sri Lanka

From my experience many female tourists love wearing sarees. And there are whole streets in Sri Lanka dedicated to selling saris. If going through crowded streets is not your thing then there are also high end shops dedicated to selling saris. However sari shopping in these crowded streets is also a unique experience so you definitely should give it a try if you're feeling adventurous.

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Depending on the sari the price varies significantly. You can buy a plain looking sari for Rs.500 (~ $4) but a glittering Indian saree with beautiful works can cost well above Rs.100,000. Most tourists go for saris in the range of Rs. 3000 to Rs. 10,000 because they mostly buy it as a souvenir.

Wooden Elephant Handicraft

Wooden Elephant Handicraft

Buying Handicraft and Silverware

Handicraft and silverware are another two items popular with tourists. When it comes to handicraft wooden masks ( devil masks ), wooden carving of Elephants, artwork done using tree roots ( "Ruk Kala" ), wooden wall hangings , carved jewelery boxes are some of the most popular items. Elephants are like a symbol of Sri Lanka so you will find many tourists buying those and you will find various beautifully carved Elephant statues. These items can be found in almost any tourist attraction site and in major cities like Colombo, Kandy, Dambulla and Galle. Usually it is much cheaper to buy them near tourists attraction rather than buying them in shops in Colombo and other major cities.

There are cities and towns specialized for different kind of handicrafts ( eg :- wooden masks -> Ambalangoda ), so if you can visit one of those cities or villages then you can buy it much cheaper.

When it comes to silverware and brass items brass elephants, wall hangings and jewelery boxes are considered top buys. Kandy is the best place to visit if you want to buy silverware and you can get them for a much cheaper price too. Although not as common as wooden and straw handicrafts you can find them near major tourist attractions too.

Batik wall hanging of Kandyan dancer

Batik wall hanging of Kandyan dancer

Buying Bathik Items

Bathik items are some of the most popular buys in Sri Lanka, its cheap, its lightweight, easy to pack and carry and most of all its beautiful. Batik items comes in various forms like shirts, sarongs, wall hangings, table clothes and as ladies wraps and dresses. These are really colorful items perfect for wearing in tropical countries which is why you will find many tourists wearing those. Batik wall hangings are also popular because the capture some of the things most unique to Sri Lanka. Wall hangings of the Kandy Perahera, Kandyan dancers, Elephants and Sigiriya wall paintings are some of the top picks when it comes to Batik wall hangings. These are made out of cotton, washable and durable making it a wise investment.

Buying Jewelry in Sri Lanka

Another popular item among tourists and as with gems best place to buy jewelery in Sri Lanka is the Sri Lanka Gem and Jewelery exchange at the world trade center. Most popular items include rings embedded with gemstones, pearl necklaces, necklaces made of colored glass and various other items made out of gold and silver. There are few duty free shops within the Colombo area where you can buy them at a lower price provided you have a valid passport. Most top class hotels in the Colombo area also have there own jewelery shops but normally they are very expensive since they are mostly targeted towards tourists.

Final Thoughts on Shopping in Sri Lanka

Listed above are some of the most popular shopping items in Sri Lanka, especially among tourists. Sri Lanka is growing rapidly so the prices are on the rise, but most of the items listed above are cheap compared to other countries.

When going on shopping it would be great if you have someone from Sri Lanka with you. Makes the communication easy and you'll have less chance of falling into tourist traps.

As mentioned before this beautiful island is growing rapidly so offers many investment opportunities for foreigners as well. Foreigners are very interested in buying beach villas, estates in the hill country ( weather similar to Europe ) and hotels ( as investments ). If you're foreigner check out Lanka Real Estate one of the best sites to buy real estate in Sri Lanka.

Bought anything from Sri Lanka, share your experience

tvrao on October 13, 2016:

Brief and direct info. Good.

lankanwriter (author) on November 08, 2014:

Hi Darshana,

Unfortunately I can't help you with that questions. I think you need to directly contact the Sri Lanka Customs to get that information.

Darshana Pandey on October 15, 2014:

What is the maximum limit of gemstones which a tourist can buy from Sri Lanka and would be exempt from customs duty? Anyone there to answer or the website content writer?

Doc_Holliday on March 11, 2014:

I am yet to visit Sri Lanka. When I do go (and can tear myself away from the cricket) I will keep an eye out for the gemstones.

fashionyahoo on June 16, 2012:

love, like it, want more of it, great lens

vkumar05 on January 30, 2012:

Excellent Lens,

Ronald Tucker from Louisville, Kentucky on January 08, 2012:

I would love to visit the beautiful nature reserves and national parks...then buy some Gemstones.

mplgmg on December 31, 2011:

Gems are much famous in Sri Lanka

shwetasoni05 on November 24, 2011:

Lovely products!1

anonymous on October 10, 2011:

I've never been to Sri Lanka, hope to get there soon enough. Thanks for the tips.

anonymous on October 05, 2011:

Recently on 18th We were @ Srilanka ,Kandy. I went to Isini Jeweller shop on 18th morning because DAniel, agent of Apple Holidays suggested. Mr Tony sold me 18 carst jewel with Gem . It was bargained and accepted by Mr Tony to fix the sale price @INR 22,500. He took 55,000LKR after telling it as correct exchange rate @2.40 LKR per ! INR. When I questioned about the propriety, he assured maximun there may not be any variation more than INR 50 to 100. Howevr After my return back to India, I found the exchange rate is only 2.22 on that day. While between 17th and 22nd Seept 2011 ,all the purchases made @ srilanka (9 other purchases) correctly clained only 2.22 LKR per Re 1 INR, ISINI JEWELLER KANDY over charged us by 5000LKR. p HAD SENT 3 EMAILS TO tony, BUT NEVER BOTHERED TO REFUND THE EXCESS CHARGED. error can be rectified id it's a genuine jeweller, but CHEAT? Never buy from ISINI, KANDY AND SPREAD THIS MESSAGE AS FOR AS POSSIBLE. K RAJARAM I R S INDIA, TIRUNELVELI, TAMILNADU

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