Travel guide to clean water in Sri Lanka without single-use plastic

Written by Amy Quinton and Daniel Newman

Have you ever assumed that if it’s not safe to drink the tap water while travelling, then you must rely on single-use bottled water?

We did…

But the great news is this is no longer the case. Better options exist and smart, responsible travellers around the world are seeking them out.

Here are some insights to help you join your fellow travellers in giving single-use plastic bottles the flick.

We are not finanically or otherwise affiliated with any of the products or services mentioned in this blog.

Sri Lanka hydration guide

At the start of our Sri Lanka trip the number of plastic bottles we were consuming was growing at an alarming rate. We thought there must be a better way. And there was!

There are actually numerous clean water sources (some more obvious than others) that allowed us to significantly reduce our plastic bottle waste.

Personal purifier

Before getting into Sri Lanka’s network of water refill stations, a quick note on personal filter and purifier options. If you’re planning ahead for longer term or regular travel, having your own water purifier bottle or system can be great to cover your hydration needs. We now use “Travel Tap” water purifying systems which is very versitile and convenient, and there are plenty of other choices available.

But if you don’t have one of these magical water purifiers, never fear. Check out our tips below for staying hydrated in Sri Lanka without leaving a trail of plastic pollution behind you.

GetWater.Lk

GetWater.lk documents the network of water refill station options around Sri Lanka to help travellers avoid single-use bottles. You can check out Get Water’s website and use their nifty map to find water refill options near you. You can also contribute by adding additional clean water refill treasures that you discover during your travels.

Many of the places we found to re-fill our bottles weren’t yet recorded by Get Water. With this in mind, it’s definitely worth asking and looking around if Getwater.lk doesn’t show options near you. And if you find new options, add them!

Below we share with you just few of the many places and ways to refill, and things learnt along the way about water in Sri Lanka.

Arugambay

Waste Less ABay

On the main street in Arugambay you will find a free purified water refill station called WLAB. You can also drop off pastic water bottles for recycling there! It was actually WLAB who started the Getwater.lk initiative mentioned above!

Restuarants - Spice Trail & others

Find refreshing cold water served in a re-fillable glass bottle at restaurants like Spice Trail on the main road through Arugambay (picture of menu below).

Sigiriya

There are at least two free purified water re-fill stations in Sigiriya installed by Pina Organization, one in the Village (on Sigiriya Rd outside Central College) and one inside the main (western) entrance to Lion Rock.

How we discovered this

We first stumbled across a water station outside the school in Sigiriya Village. We took our bottles and refilled them before visiting Lion Rock. But we could have saved the extra walk because on arrival to Lion Rock we discovered another refill station specifically for tourists inside the entrance! Hopefully it is only a matter of time before these are more widely publicised.

Anuradhapura

You can actually refill at many of the local general stores in town for only 3 LKR per litre. Who knew?! A 1.5 litre plastic bottle costs between 70-150 rupees, so only 3 LKR per litre is quite a saving!

The photo below shows the kind of water tank to look for. This particular place was located on Niwanthaka Chethiya Road, Anuradhapura.

How we discovered this

We asked our excellent guest house, Heritage Lake View, if they had a verified clean water line like some other places. Our host said that wasn’t available at the property, and told us he re-fills his water drums in town for 3 LKR per litre. He took us to the general store to re-fill our water that afternoon (on our way to sightseeing) and even lent us one of his 7 litre drums to use during our stay.

So an easy option is to ask your accommodation where to refill, or if you can refill from their clean water supply (depending on the situation, you could offer a small amount to cover water costs, although this is usually not expected).

I’d tap that!

A note on “tap water”:

Not all tap water in Sri Lanka is created equal. While you can’t drink from just any tap, most accomodation and restaurants in certain areas actually have a special water line providing safe drinking water. It’s generally referred to as a “Government” or “Water Board” water line. Technically it comes out of a tap but it is not standard “tap water”. It is a potable water line verified by the Sri Lankan Water Board.

This was a big surprise to us. We started asking our accomodation if they had a Government water line. Often they did and were happy to refill our bottles for us. We understand some travellers may be wary. Ultimately you must assess the risk for yourself, but we drank a lot of Government line water without any issues, including in Trincomalee, Galle and Mirissa.

Below we share some information about water in Trincomalee and the South Coast, including some Government water line and filtered/mineral water options. (Some areas in Sri Lanka rely more heavily on ground water, which we understand varies in quality from place to place. We did not happen to drink ground/well water so do not comment further on this here.)

Trincomalee

Verified clean water lines are installed at most accomodation and restaurants in the area. Ask your accomodation if you can use their Government water line to re-fill your bottle.

The water tasted good and we had no issues. It is important to ask otherwise restaurants/accomodation tend to assume tourists whould rather single-use plastic bottles.

Sometimes we find it helps to explain we are trying to use less plastic to avoid leaving plastic pollution behind us when we travel. Our hosts have been very responsive to this and happy to accomodate this request! But if a host is reluctant or doesn’t understand our request, of course we respect that too.

How we discovered this

It was actaully a beachfront restaurant owner who first told us about this. He was concerned about plastic pollution, as were we, and he told us most properties in the area have at least one verified clean water line. A what in the who know?! How did we not know about this?! He went on to tell us that this was locally called a ‘sofia line’ (or something sounding like that!) after the french water company that installed the water infrastructure. We asked our accomodation (Sea Zone Hotel) and sure enough they had a line and showed us where to refill our bottles with clean, safe drinking water! There were separate water lines to the guest bathrooms (which are not safe for drinking) and there was only one drink safe ‘sofia line’ available outside and another one in the kitchen. The hotel owners told us it was mandatory for them to have that water line.

Galle Fort

Service water at resturants

Dinner at Pedlar’s Inn Cafe and Restaurant and coffee at Heritage Cafe and Bistro - both provided glasses of water free of charge. If you have your water bottle with you, you could ask your restaurant to re-fill it for you.

How we discovered this

At Pedlar’s Inn Cafe and Restaurant we noticed Sri Lankan people had glasses of water on their table so asked the waiter for the same. We’re not sure if it was from the Government water line or mineral water, but it tasted fine and quenched our thirst.

Our experience is that reputable establishments in Sri Lanka have water sanitation practices in place to prepare food, fresh juices etc. After enjoying drinks like Lime Juice that clearly had added water, we started to trust that water served at these venues would also be fine. And after 6 weeks and counting travelling in Sri Lanka, so far so good!

Unawatuna Beach, Galle

Hideout

The hideout cafe and restaurant offers free purified mineral water refills for patrons. We thoroughly enjoyed the tacos, burritos and bountry cake here too! If you just need water, we’re sure they would happily refill your bottle, maybe for a small fee.

Mirissa

We asked our friendly hosts at our Homestay (Sun Ray Rest) to use their Government / Water Board line for drinking water. They were very obliging and refilled our bottles for us. If you are open to trying this option, definitely ask your accomodation about it!

Dickwella / Hiriketiya Beach

Stay at Peak house for all your filtered water needs! We enjoyed the water filter here so didn’t need water from the Government line, however the host told us that most properties in the area do have a Government water line.

Verse Collective is trendy space in Dickwella that provides table water in re-fillable glass bottles rather than plastic. It has solid wifi too!

Winning the water game

Time to blow this single-use bottled water myth right out of the water!

Smart and experienced travellers around the world are seeking out alternatives to unnecessary and harmful single-use plastics. Forward thinking businesses and organisations are already offering solutions. Others are still developing the awareness and resources to do so.

So, now you know, join your fellow travellers in kicking the single-use plastic habit. Support organisations offering solutions and let locals know you want to help keep their country beautiful and ocean life healthy by not leaving a trail of plastic waste behind you.

Travel App feature?

Would you find it useful if patforms like Trip Advisor, Booking.com, Google Maps, AirBNB etc listed “water re-fill station” as a facility at the accomodation/restaurant/area? If so send them some direct feedback or let us know in the comments below to help get this added as a feature!

While using the tips shared here we have stayed healthy and never experienced any water related health issues in Sri Lanka. However, of course we cannot absolutely guarantee the quality of any drinking water supply.

Written on October 28, 2019