Never Ending Footsteps

Cost of Travel in Sri Lanka: My 2024 Budget Breakdown

budget travel sri lanka

Sri Lanka is one of my favourite countries in the world, and one that instantly captured my heart.

After two decades of internal conflict, a tsunami that killed tens of thousands, and an economic crisis that saw the country run out of basics like fuel, tourism is finally starting to pick back up in this beautiful teardrop-shaped island off the south coast of India.

Now, visitors have the opportunity to fall deeply in love with the islands’s laid-back beaches, stunning train rides, delicious cuisine, and welcoming locals. Sri Lanka is a fantastic place to travel through, whether you’re a backpacker on a shoestring budget or a luxury traveller in search of excellent value.

My best friend is Sri Lankan, so I grew up hearing stories of her homeland and seeing photos of the most beautiful tropical beaches. I couldn’t wait to visit. As soon as I booked my flight into the country, I was therefore pestering her for travel tips and advice, then taking everything she recommended on board so that I could plan the perfect Sri Lanka itinerary .

And did Sri Lanka meet my already-sky-high expectations? Did it ever!

Without a doubt, Sri Lanka has some of the most incredible natural landscapes I’ve ever seen and some of the friendliest people I’ve ever met. I built a deep bond with one family in particular, but that’s not unusual — every visitor to Sri Lanka seems to form a connection with the locals as they travel around. Whether it’s being invited to stay with a family in their home, being begged to play a spontaneous game of cricket, or being offered home-cooked food on yet another spectacular train journey, you’re going to feel so loved while you’re in this country.

And the fact that it’s inexpensive while offering great value for money? That’s just the cherry on the top.

I never felt like I was pushing my budget during my time in Sri Lanka and most things felt very affordable. Depending on where you’re flying in from, flights could be pricier due to the island’s location. But don’t let that scare you off, because once you land, you’ll find it to be one of the best-value budget destinations in Asia. 

What’s Included in This Article

This budget breakdown covers how much I spent on accommodation, transportation, activities, and food while I travelled around the country.

I’ve not included my flights into and out of Sri Lanka as this is going to vary significantly based on where you’ll be arriving from.

The amounts in this guide are listed in U.S. dollars, simply because the vast majority of my readers are from the U.S. but I also included some prices in Sri Lankan Rupees (LKR), as this is the local currency that you’ll be using within the country. 

Okay — let’s get started!

How I Spent Two Weeks in Sri Lanka

budget travel sri lanka

To give some context to my budget breakdowns, I always like to share how long I spent in the country and where I visited. In Sri Lanka, I spent two weeks travelling in the southwest of the country. This is the region that offers up the vast majority of tourist attractions, so you’ll likely be hitting up all of the spots that I did.

Most visitors to Sri Lanka choose to circle the southwestern parts of the island in a clockwise direction. I, however, recommend doing the exact opposite. When you travel counter-clockwise, you’ll see all of the epic parts of Sri Lanka, but the transportation will be way less crowded. In particular, on the famous train between Kandy and Ella, you’ll have a much easier time getting tickets if you’re travelling in the opposite direction to everybody else. Tickets on this route sell out every single day, so having less competition makes for a less stressful trip and a higher chance that you won’t have to miss out and take the bus instead.

Here’s how I spent two weeks in Sri Lanka:

  • Day 1: Colombo (A quick in-and-out! I didn’t love Colombo and minimised my time there)
  • Day 2: Galle (I love Galle! Spend your time here wandering through the beautiful fort)
  • Day 3: Galle (More wanderings, interspersed with shopping, tea-drinking, and admiring the architecture)
  • Day 4: Mirissa (A hub for backpackers, with epic beaches)
  • Day 5: Mirissa (Take a surf class or kick back and relax on the sand)
  • Day 6: Tangalle (Less overrun with tourists — this is another great beach)
  • Day 7: Yalla National Park (Take a safari to see wild elephants and cheetahs!)
  • Day 8: Yalla National Park (One safari is never enough, so venture out on another one!)
  • Day 9: Ella (Hill country! One of my favourite parts of the country, surrounded by tea plantations)
  • Day 10: Ella (Spend today hiking or touring a plantation)
  • Day 11: Ella — train to Kandy (You must take this train while you’re in Sri Lanka!)
  • Day 12: Kandy (Sri Lanka’s capital — worth a night to take a look around)
  • Day 13: Sigiriya (Sri Lanka’s iconic rock fortress — a must-do!)
  • Day 14: Sigirya – day trip to Dambulla (Take a day trip to Dambulla to see the cave temples)
  • Day 15: Negombo (A beach town close to Colombo, but much nicer! Plus, the airport is right here)
  • Day 16: Time to leave!

With that out of the way, let’s take a look now at how much you can expect all of this to cost.

The Cost of Accommodation in Sri Lanka 

budget travel sri lanka

From my experience, the best accommodation options in Sri Lanka are Airbnbs or homestays, with the occasional splurge in a nice hotel. Sri Lanka has a reputation for outstanding hospitality and you’ll encounter this especially in smaller, family-run places. 

When I stayed somewhere that was family-run, I always felt at ease—something that’s incredibly valuable as a female traveler. Not to mention, for only around $30 a night , you’re supporting a local family while getting a home-away-from home experience. On top of that, you still get your own clean, private room.

If you’re on a tight budget, housesitting  is a great option for  free  accommodation. This is where you’ll take care of somebody’s house while they’re away, and usually look after their pets, too. It’s best for long-term travellers or retirees as you can’t pick and choose dates and destinations, so you need to have a lot of flexibility as to where you go and at what time of year.

If you  do  have that freedom, it’s a wonderful way to cut down your travel expenses, soak up some home comforts, and live like a local for a while. I have friends who have housesat in castles before! For free!  Trusted Housesitters  is the best site for getting started with housesitting, as they have the highest number of listings. There aren’t a lot of them in Sri Lanka in general, but it’s worth a look: opportunities definitely do still pop up!

If you feel like luxing it out a bit more at a fancy hotel, it’s fairly easy to find something that’s still within a reasonable budget. You can stay at some pretty decadent hotels or private villas for $75-125 per night . 

Here’s a list of my favourite accommodation options in Sri Lanka. All prices are for two people staying in a double or twin room:

Colombo — OYO MotelVIP ( $31 a night ): To start off your time in Sri Lanka, spend a night or two in the capital at this comfortable, clean and welcoming motel. It couldn’t be better value for money. Not only is the location great for travelers (you’re close to the beach and some good restaurants), but each standard double room is equipped with air conditioning, a flat-screen TV, a fridge, and a very comfortable mattress. This place hits the mark by being both budget-friendly and high quality. There’s a shared lounge, kitchen and garden for you to enjoy, plus the couple that owns it will thoughtfully respond to your requests and help you plan anything you need help with! 

Galle — Khalid’s Guest House ( $85 a night ): For the price, location, and quality—you can’t get much better than this charming guest house! It’s a beautifully furnished hotel in a restored heritage building situated right in the centre of the historical Galle Fort. So you can wake up and easily explore the walled remains of the old Portugese fortress and all the quaint corners. Even better, a delicious breakfast is included in your stay, an added bonus to the clean and comfortable rooms. The host and his staff are also incredibly hospitable and can help arrange any tours or transport that you need. 

Mirissa — D Canal House ( $77 a night ): This is a little piece of paradise in Mirissa! It’s a quiet and calm hotel located about a 10-15 minute walk from the main strip, but this tranquil oasis is worth it. The rooms and interior design are beautiful and comfortable. And on the outside, you’re basically surrounded by a jungle. You’ll quickly settle into the peace and joy of waking up to the sounds of birds singing around the lush ecosystem around you, enjoying a fresh Sri Lankan breakfast on your private balcony and getting some good R&R in by the gorgeous swimming pool. Nevertheless, if you want to go to the beach or into town, a free tuk tuk service to the main road is included in your stay! 

Tangalle — Amour at Turtle Beach ( $32 a night) : After Mirissa, I made my way further along the coast to Tangalle, which is a little less touristy and a lot less expensive. And while I was there? I stayed in one of the best-rated guesthouses in the entire country! My double room was clean and spacious, and I was only a short walk to the beach. But it’s the local host family that lives behind this home that makes this place memorable and special. They never hesitated to make me feel at home, whether it was driving me to a nearby attraction or welcoming me to a family birthday dinner. 

Ella — Happy Horizon Homestay ( $36 a night ): If you plan on taking the famous train ride to Kandy (you know, the one where you see people leaning out of windows overlooking lush greenery), then Ella will definitely be a stop on your Sri Lanka trip. This small mountain town is the perfect place to chill out, and Happy Horizon Homestay the ideal accommodation to do it in, with clean, simple rooms and gorgeous mountain views from the balcony. The family hosts are also incredibly welcoming and accommodating, happy to help with anything from tuk-tuk rides, to laundry to suggestions on what to see. They also make a wonderful Sri Lankan breakfast! Book at least a few nights here—you won’t regret it. 

Kandy — Riverview Kandy Room 2 ( $19 a night) : I decided to stay in an Airbnb during my time in Kandy, and I’m so glad I stayed in this one. The location is a little outside Kandy’s city centre, but not far enough to make it a problem for exploring the city: tuk-tuks are inexpensive and always available. When you’re waking up to peace and tranquility along the river, the extra few minutes it takes to get into the heart of the city will definitely feel like they’re worth it! Each room in this beautiful bungalow has its own private balcony for admiring that river view, and the host is incredibly friendly and will make you a delicious Sri Lankan breakfast during your stay. This place truly felt like a home away from home—it’s no wonder I stayed for a week!

Sigiriya — Nice View Lodge ( $26 a night ): Sigiriya is a small town most known for the ancient rock fortress that stands nearby. One look out your window and you’ll understand why Sigiriya means “Lions Rock”; it looks like something right out of “The Lion King”. You’ll likely only need a night in Sigiriya, but you should still stay somewhere memorable. Nice View Lodge is a well-maintained property only a few minutes from the famous rock, with a great terrace overlooking gorgeous rice fields and gardens. The warm, friendly family are happy to arrange anything you need, from scooter rental to onward transport, and cook up a mean breakfast each morning as well. 

The Cost of Transportation in Sri Lanka 

budget travel sri lanka

Transportation around Sri Lanka is easily accessible and very affordable. It’s also quite a small country, making it easy to get from place to place in a short amount of time. There’s really no need to fly domestically: there are limited options, and it just doesn’t make sense logistically. Besides, it’s a beautiful country that’s worth seeing through ground transportation. 

Here are the most common forms of transportation in Sri Lanka: 

Tuk-Tuk — Also known as auto rickshaws, tuk-tuks are a common and economical way of getting around the various towns and cities in Sri Lanka. They’re basically everywhere and take the place of taxis. 

The most important thing to be wary of is tuk-tuk drivers that scam you into overpaying for a ride because you’re a tourist. Before going anywhere, talk to the locals that work at your accommodation about the average costs. Or better yet, ask if they have a reliable driver that they partner with to take you places, then negotiate a fair price before you get in. Even though all tuk-tuks should charge based on their meter, this isn’t always the case. 

If you want to hire a tuk tuk driver to take you around for the day, then an honest price would be around $25 (8000 LKR) . And an average one-way ride should cost you around $0.35 (100 LKR) per kilometer for short trips, with a cheaper per-km rate for longer journeys. 

You can also download PickMe, Sri Lanka’s version of Uber, to book a taxi or tuk-tuk from your phone. This way, the cost is already calculated on the app, and there’s no need to negotiate. You can use PickMe in cities like Colombo or Kandy, but in smaller rural towns, you’ll have to hail on the street. 

budget travel sri lanka

Train — A Sri Lankan train journey is like no other, especially the famous Kandy to Ella route. Taking this particular iconic train ride is more about the experience than getting from point A to point B, but since the rail system in Sri Lanka runs throughout the entire country, you’ll likely use it several times during your stay.

Trains in Sri Lanka have three classes. First class is air conditioned and has numbered, cushioned seating. Second class has cushioned seats and no air conditioning, but the windows are usually always open. Third class has benches and might fit three people per row as opposed to two, but it’s still not a bad option.

I took third class from Kandy to Ella and it surprisingly wasn’t that busy. I found it fun being able to freely get up, move around, and stand beside the doors watching the tea plantations go by…not something you can do on most trains these days!

Depending on which train you’re on and which class you’re in, you can expect to pay anything between $5 and $20 for your seat when booking online . You’ll probably save a small amount by doing it in person at a train station, but on this route in particular, you’ll want to book well in advance.

I ended up having to push my departure from Ella back by a day, just because I couldn’t get a seat on any train for the next three days when I enquired at the station on the afternoon I arrived. The journey is scheduled to take seven hours, but often takes anything up to ten. 

As you can see, train travel is relatively affordable. At the end of the day, choose your ticket and class based on your comfort level and price range, and book well in advance for popular routes or if you want to be seated in first class.

Buses — There are some instances where taking the train isn’t possible, either because it just doesn’t go anywhere near your intended destination, or because you need to jump on a bus for the final part of your journey. These buses are just as affordable as the train, but tend to be a bit more crowded and definitely have less room for luggage.

I took the bus a few times in Sri Lanka and never had a bad experience! Added bonus: you’ll have plenty of opportunity to chat with your fellow passengers. Dave spent several hours immersed in a conversation with one man about the respective fortunes of the New Zealand and Sri Lankan cricket teams on a bus ride from Tangalle, which ended with an invitation to stay the night at his house instead of continuing on to Ella!

Short trips in the city only cost around 20c (70 LKR) , while long journeys that take several hours still only set you back around $3-4 (950-1250 LKR) .

The Cost of Food in Sri Lanka

budget travel sri lanka

Local Sri Lankan food isn’t just cheap, it’s incredibly flavorful and appetizing. I’m literally just licking my lips right now thinking about the food I ate in Sri Lanka. 

Of course, you have classic rice and curry dishes, both vegetarian and meat-based, and you’ll find them pretty much everywhere. My favorite is probably kottu roti, which made using shredded pieces of roti bread mixed with spices, vegetables, seafood, and/or meat. It’s then all chopped up together, stir-fried, and tossed with hot sauce. You’ll quickly become familiar with this popular street food dish once you’re in Sri Lanka: the sound of intense metallic chopping will be heard from a mile away. 

I was also pleasantly surprised by how good a typical Sri Lanka breakfast is, and looked forward to it every morning, especially when it was freshly prepared at a homestay. The star of this meal is the string hoppers, which resemble noodles made from rice flour. You take the hopper with your hand and dip it into side dishes of coconut or onion sambal, curry, and/or dahl. Sometimes breakfast will also include egg hoppers (a thin fried pancake with an egg in the middle) or sweet roti pancakes. 

Seafood features heavily on the menu all around the coast, with fish or shrimp curries often appearing on the menu, along with devilled fish and rice, calamari, and, sometimes, grilled whole fish options as well. In the interior, you’re more likely to see chicken or vegetables instead; they’re probably the safer option anyway, as you can’t always guarantee how well refrigerated the seafood was on its journey to your restaurant!

Prices vary throughout the country, and you should expect to pay more in tourist-heavy locations like Galle Fort than elsewhere. As an example, though, here’s what you can expect to pay for various breakfast, lunch, and dinner options in a restaurant in Sri Lanka:

  • Local breakfast of hoppers and a cup of tea or coffee: $4
  • Western-style breakfast of avocado toast and coffee: $8
  • Chicken kottu rotti: $3.50
  • Devilled fish and rice: $5
  • Grilled fish or calamari and fries: $7-10
  • Seafood platter to share: $16-25
  • Burger: $5-7
  • Large bottle of local beer: $3.25
  • Large bottle of water: $0.50

Because breakfast is included with most accommodation, if you stick to street food and small restaurants that are popular with locals rather than tourists, you can easily go a day spending only around $10 (3000 LKR) for food. If you eat at Western-style cafes or restaurants and have a couple of drinks with your meals, you might spend closer to $30 (9500 LKR) per day. 

I found a good mix between the two while I was there, and usually spent around $20 (6300 LKR) per day if I ate one local meal and one more Western-style meal. 

The Cost of Activities and Entrance Fees in Sri Lanka   

budget travel sri lanka

Sri Lanka has plenty to see and do, and I loved the variety of activities that were possible. From cooking classes to temples, hiking, surfing, or just lazing around on the beach—there’s a lot of fun and adventure to be had in this country, no matter what you’re into.

One of the more popular activities, and a personal highlight, was going to Sigiriya Rock. But instead of climbing the rock itself, I’d recommend hiking up nearby Pidurangala Rock instead. You get an epic view of Sigiriya Rock from the top, and it’s a fraction of the price!

I found that the interior of Sri Lanka was a great place to do hikes, cooking classes, and safaris, while the south is perfect for lazy beach days and water activities. I’m not much of a surfer, but I did indulge in a couple of surf lessons to learn the ropes a bit more. If surfing is your jam, then the southern beaches will be right up your alley. 

One of my favorite experiences was doing a cooking class while I was in Kandy. My guide took me to the market first to pick up our ingredients, and then we cooked up about half a dozen Sri Lankan dishes from scratch. I love spending money on a cooking class: not only do you get to learn more about the traditions and food culture of a place, you also get to eat everything afterwards!

Here’s a breakdown of some popular attractions in Sri Lanka and their respective costs: 

  • Sigiriya Rock / Pidurangala Rock: $30 / $3
  • Surf Lessons: $12-20 per hour 
  • Scuba Diving: $75 for two dives
  • Whale watching in Mirissa : ( $71 )
  • Cooking Class (Kandy) : $28 
  • Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic (Kandy): $6.50
  • Nine Arch Bridge (Ella): FREE
  • Little Adam’s Peak (Ella): FREE 
  • Private safari with an experienced guide (Udawalawe National Park): $85 
  • Half-day safari at Yala National Park ( $153 )

The Cost of Miscellaneous Expenses in Sri Lanka

budget travel sri lanka

A local SIM card:  I don’t know about you, but one of my least favourite aspects of arriving in a new country is having to figure out how to get connected. Specifically: buying a local SIM card so that I have data to use while I’m in the country.

There’s locating a store that will sell you one, language barriers to deal with, various forms of ID you might need to bring, scams to navigate, and… well, it’s a headache.

This year, I started using  Airalo , which sells local e-SIM cards for travellers. What that means is that you can buy your SIM card online  before  you arrive in Sri Lanka, and then as soon as you land in the country, you can switch on your data and start using it. It’s worked flawlessly for me and now, I’ll never go back to physical SIM cards. You’ll pay  $7 for 1 GB of data  or $13 for 5 GB for Sri Lanka and can also top-up through the Airalo app.

Make sure you have an e-SIM compatible phone before purchasing — all recent iPhones and many Androids are.

Travel insurance : If you’ve read any other posts on Never Ending Footsteps, you’ll know that I’m a great believer in travelling with travel insurance. I’ve seen far too many GoFundMe campaigns from destitute backpackers that are unexpectedly stranded in a foreign country after a scooter accident/being attacked/breaking a leg with no way of getting home or paying for their healthcare. These costs can quickly land you with a six-figure bill to pay at the end of it.

In short, if you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel.

Travel insurance  will cover you if your flight is cancelled and you need to book a new one, if your luggage gets lost and you need to replace your belongings, if you suddenly get struck down by appendicitis and have to be hospitalised, or discover a family member has died and you need to get home immediately. If you fall seriously ill, your insurance will cover the costs to fly you home to receive medical treatment.

I use  SafetyWing  as my travel insurance provider, and recommend them for trips to Sri Lanka. Firstly, they’re one of the few companies out there who will actually cover you if you contract COVID-19. On top of that, they provide worldwide coverage, don’t require you to have a return ticket, and even allow you to buy coverage after you’ve left home. If you’re on a long-term trip, you can pay monthly instead of up-front, and can cancel at any time. Finally, they’re more affordable than the competition, and have a clear, easy-to-understand pricing structure, which is always appreciated.

With SafetyWing, you’ll pay  $1.50 a day  for travel insurance.

How Much Does it Cost to Travel in Sri Lanka? 

budget travel sri lanka

It’s time to tally up all of my expenses to see my total travel costs!

  • Accommodation: $44 per day for two people ( $22 per person)
  • Transportation: $7 per day
  • Food: $21 per day
  • Activities/Entrance Fees: $24 per day

Average amount spent in Sri Lanka: $74 a day!

Related Articles on Sri Lanka 💰 Scammed in Sri Lanka: the Shady Tuk-Tuk Driver

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Lauren Juliff

Lauren Juliff is a published author and travel expert who founded Never Ending Footsteps in 2011. She has spent over 12 years travelling the world, sharing in-depth advice from more than 100 countries across six continents. Lauren's travel advice has been featured in publications like the BBC, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and Cosmopolitan, and her work is read by 200,000 readers each month. Her travel memoir can be found in bookstores across the planet.

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What a lovely, useful post Lauren! I’ve been to India several times before but I can’t wait to visit Sri Lanka (and Nepal too!). It seems like Sri Lanka is beautiful with friendly people and not as stressful as India!

Thank you so much, Sadye! That means a lot :-) And you’ve got it right — Sri Lanka is wonderful and definitely not as stressful as India. I often have referred to Sri Lanka as India Lite for travellers. If you want to travel around India but feel intimidated, Sri Lanka is a great stepping stone for dipping your feet into South Asia travel!

Of course, Sri Lanka has plenty to offer in its own right, so spend as much time there as you possibly can. It’s such a beautiful country.

Hi Lauren, Thank you for your post. It was exactly what I was looking for. I’m going to be traveling in Sri Lanka for the next three weeks and wasn’t sure how much I should expect to spend while I’m there. This gives me a really good idea and has left me itching to get there so I can start exploring. And start eating all of that delicious food!

Amazing, amazing! Three weeks is a great amount of time in Sri Lanka and you’re going to have the absolute best time while you’re there. And the food! You’re going to love it. Prepare your mouth for plenty of spicy food :-)

Hey Lauren – what time of year were you in Sri Lanka? What’s the best time for weather, etc. Thinking about going in November or December but I’m a bit worried about the monsoon. What do you recommend?

Well. First of all, Sri Lanka is pretty interesting because different parts of the country get the monsoon at different times of year. This makes it impossible to plan a trip that allows you to see the entire island without encountering some rain!

So, here’s a primer:

*In the south-western parts of the country (Like Colombo, Negombo, Galle, and Mirissa), the monsoon occurs between May and September, with the dry season coming around between December and March.

*In the north-eastern parts of the country (Jaffna, Dambulla, Trincomalee), you’ll encounter the monsoon between October and January, and the dry season runs between May and September.

*On top of that , there’s a mini-monsoon season between October and November, where the rains can occur anywhere across the entire island.

*The best weather for visiting the entire island is between December and April — primarily because most tourists don’t venture into the north east of the country as much as the south west.

I visited the southwestern parts of the country in August and September, so during the monsoon season, and I was totally fine. While it certainly did rain, it’s like much of the tropics in its nature: heavy rains between around 3 and 5 in the afternoon, but blistering sunshine at any other part of the day. It didn’t disrupt our plans at all while we were there.

So if I was you, I’d aim for a December trip and plan to spend most of your time in the south-western parts of the country :-)

Great post!! I was wondering if you’d advise pre-paying for activities before going to Sri Lanka, or can you arrange and book when you’re there easily i.e. cooking classes, safari?

Thanks Lauren,

Excellent tips. Much appreciated.

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Is Sri Lanka Cheap: Detailed Sri Lanka Travel Budget

By: Author Lotte

Posted on Last updated: December 29, 2022

Categories Sri Lanka

After spending a month in Sri Lanka exploring the West, South, Middle, and North of the country I did a roundup of our Sri Lanka travel budget and was surprised to learn that Sri Lanka is the cheapest country I’ve traveled to so far!

In this post, you will find a full Sri Lanka trip budget breakdown and clever budget-saving tips in order to make the most of your money in Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka travel budget

View from Little Adam's Peak in Ella, Sri Lanka

Disclosure: Some links in this post are affiliate links. If you make a purchase through one of these links, we may earn a small commission (at no extra cost to you!). We're very grateful when you use our links to make a purchase:-).

Sri Lanka budget trip

When we traveled around Southeast Asia our daily budget was usually around €60 per day (€30 per person).

In New Zealand and Japan , it was around €100 per day (€50 per person). However, o ur Sri Lanka daily budget was just €44 per day (€22 per person)!

So is Sri Lanka cheap? Yes it is!

In the infographic below you can find a detailed budget breakdown of our Sri Lanka trip costs and find out exactly how much we spent on accommodation, transportation, food, activities, and our visa.

The goal of the infographic and this Sri Lanka budget post is to give you a quick overview of how much (or actually how little) you can spend during your trip around Sri Lanka.

However, it's important to keep in mind that amount you'll spend depends on your style of travel, the length of your trip, and the type of accommodation you choose.

How much money do I need to backpack Sri Lanka?

Generally speaking, you can travel around Sri Lanka on a budget of $25-$50 per day (per person).

With a budget of $25 a day, you'll stay in budget hotels, travel with public transport, make the most of the (many) free activities Sri Lanka has to offer, and eat (delicious) local food.

On the other hand, with $50 per day, you can opt for more luxurious accommodation (there are lovely boutique hotels in Sri Lanka), book a couple of organized tours, and spend a bit more on food and transportation.

All in all, Sri Lanka is a beautiful country waiting to be explored. The Sri Lankans have had a rough couple of years, with the Sri Lanka Easter bombings in 2019, COVID-19 and the subsequent absence of tourists, and hyperinflation in the second half of 2022.

What I'm trying to say is: your money goes a long way in this wonderful and hospitable country and you can support many people that are dependent on the tourism industry.

Travel Sri Lanka on a budget! Our Sri Lanka daily budget was €44 per day for us as a couple (€22 per person). Check out the post and infographic for more details (info about accommodation, transport, food, activities, visa and more). #SriLanka #Ceylon #Travel

Sri Lanka on a budget: important facts and figures

  • I traveled to Sri Lanka with my husband, all expenses mentioned in this Sri Lanka trip budget are for the two of us together.
  • I quote prices in Sri Lankan Rupees (LKR) as well as € and $. When we were in Sri Lanka, €1 was around 160LKR and $1 was around 150LKR.  However, due to hyperinflation, this is very different nowadays. Be sure to check the current exchange rate on .
  • I spent almost a full month in Sri Lanka, 26 days to be exact. In total, we spent 182.000LKR/€1144/$1222, which comes down to an average of 7000LKR/€44/$47 a day for us as a couple .
  • The budget breakdown includes all our expenses in Sri Lanka , but it doesn't include our airplane tickets to Sri Lanka.
  • I’ve also excluded the costs of the dives we did in Sri Lanka, as this isn’t an activity everybody would do and it’s relatively expensive. I’ve added more info about diving in the activity section further on in this post.
  • My trip started and ended in Colombo ( Negombo airport to be precise).

How to save money when planning a trip to Sri Lanka

As mentioned above, traveling Sri Lanka on a shoestring budget is definitely possible. That being said, it's important to plan carefully, look for discounts, and be flexible with your itinerary to make the most of your travel budget for Sri Lanka.

I hope this post will give you an idea of the costs of traveling in Sri Lanka, as well as some practical tips about how to stretch your travel budget.

Dambatenne Tea Factory in Haputale, Sri Lanka

Avoid high season (travel during shoulder season instead)

Start by researching the best time of year to visit Sri Lanka as the cost of flights and hotels vary throughout the year.

There are two different monsoon seasons in Sri Lanka ( Yala and Maha ), and as such also two peak seasons.

  • The South-West monsoon is called Yala and lasts from May to September (though most rain falls in May and June).
  • Subsequently, December until March are the busiest months on the West and South coast of Sri Lanka, as well as in the hills and mountains around Ella and Haputale,
  • On the other hand, the North-East monsoon is called Maha and lasts from December to February.
  • Therefore, peak season on the east coast (Arugam Bay) and the North of Sri Lanka (Jaffna) is from May until October .

During these months accommodation prices are at their highest. If you have the option to be flexible with your travel dates and able to travel in the low season (just before or after the monsoon season), this is a great way to save money on your Sri Lanka trip.

Wild elephant in Udawalawe National Park Sri Lanka

Save money on flights

You can look for discounts on flights to Sri Lanka on websites like . Try different travel dates and see how this affects the price of your flight.

Generally, the cheapest days to fly are Tuesday, Wednesday, and Saturday. Airlines often offer discounted fares on these days, so it's worth checking the booking sites and comparing prices on different days of the week.

You’ll get a better deal by booking your flight in advance. For international flights, it’s best to book 2-8 months in advance.

Lastly, you may be able to find cheap flights if you're willing to be flexible with your departure and arrival times.

Sure, it’s not ideal to arrive in the middle of the night, but if it saves you hundreds of dollars it’s worth losing one night of good sleep.

✈️ Click here to find the best ticket deals

Book your accommodation in advance

Once you've got your flights booked, it’s time to research budget accommodation. I always use Agoda and Booking to find the best value-for-money accommodation for our trips.

I recommend checking both platforms before you book to make sure you get the best deals.

Please note that Agoda includes taxes in their price whereas Booking doesn't always include this. Make sure to check this before finalizing your booking.

Also, if you're in a country with hefty ATM fees or a limit on how much cash you can withdraw per transaction it can be better to book with Agoda as you can often pay online with your credit card (thereby reducing your need for cash).

Cost to travel Sri Lanka: our average daily budget

Now that you know some great ways to save money in the planning phase of your Sri Lanka trip, it's time for a deep dive into our Sri Lanka expenses.

Sri Lanka daily budget - expenses per categorie - travel on a budget

Sri Lanka backpacking budget

  • Accommodation: 36% of daily travel costs
  • Transportation: 6% of daily travel costs
  • Food: 36% of daily travel costs
  • Paid activities: 13% of daily travel costs
  • Visa: 6% of daily travel costs
  • Miscellaneous: 4% of daily travel costs

1. Accommodation costs in Sri Lanka

budget travel sri lanka

During our trip, we stayed in private rooms at homestays and hotels that I booked via Agoda and Booking . 

Prices for hotel rooms varied between 1000LKR/(€6/$7) and 4000LKR (€25/$27) but on average we paid 2500LKR/€16/$17 per night.

Note: our trip to Sri Lanka was a couple of years ago and prices have increased. However, there are still plenty of excellent budget accommodations available in Sri Lanka. While we've personally stayed at most of the hotels listed in the table, some hotels we stayed at during our trip are no longer available due to Covid-19. I've done my utmost to find a suitable alternative that I'd be happy to book myself.

I list the Sri Lanka budget accommodation prices in USD and Euro. Again, check the current exchange rates for the Sri Lankan Rupees (LKR) on .

I've also written a separate post about our budget accommodation in Sri Lanka in case you want to read more about these hotels.

Note: Prices for these hotels depend on the time of year and how far in advance you book. Therefore, the prices mentioned above are a rough indication of the price per night to help you compare the different options. Use ‘click here' to see the latest prices on Agoda and Booking and book ahead to get the best deal.

budget travel sri lanka

2. Transportation costs in Sri Lanka

Nine Arch Bridge Sri Lanka Ella train

Let’s take a closer look at transportation in Sri Lanka. There are many ways to travel around the country, such as the train, bus, taxi and tuk tuk, and minivan.

A budget-friendly way to travel in Sri Lanka is by catching a local bus. Bus services are available in all of the larger cities and even most small towns, and they’re a great way to explore Sri Lanka.

Bus rides are a fairly chaotic affair but a lot of fun, with loud Sri Lankan music booming from the speakers and the bus honking loudly at every corner.

This is a great way to explore parts of Sri Lanka where there aren’t any train tracks. That being said, one of the best ways to explore Sri Lanka is by taking the train. I really enjoyed train travel in Sri Lanka!

In fact, one of the most beautiful train rides in the world runs from Badulla to Haputale. A train ticket for this amazing trip costs a mere 80LKR/€0,50/$0,50 per person.

Tuk-tuk rides are slightly more expensive and require some bargaining skills. But still very affordable compared to taxi fees anywhere in the world.

Altogether, (public) transportation is where Sri Lanka is really a lot cheaper than any other country I've visited, which basically means you can visit more beautiful places without breaking the bank!

The average cost for transport was 400LKR/€2,50/$2,75 per day . You can find detailed information about how to travel from A to B in Sri Lanka in this post .

3. Cost of food in Sri Lanka

Kotthu Sri Lanka signature dish

Sri Lanka has a wide range of delicious and unique culinary options that are worth trying. Some of the must-try dishes include:

  • Lamprais: a rice and curry dish steamed in a banana leaf
  • Kottu roti: a dish made with flatbread and vegetables (pictured above)
  • Seeni sambol: a sweet and spicy condiment made with onions
  • Hoppers: a type of bowl-shaped pancake.

For dessert, you should try watalappan, a custard-like dessert made with coconut milk and jaggery.

How much did we spend on food and drinks in Sri Lanka?

Good news: Sri Lankan food is not only really tasty, but it's also very affordable. That is if you eat local food at local restaurants. Eating Western Food always triples the price of dinner when traveling around Asia.

So when it comes to food, explore local markets and eat at local restaurants to find inexpensive meals. Also, try delicious street food whenever you have the chance!

Anyway, let's talk numbers .

We rarely spent more than 500LKR/€3/$3,50 per person on a meal, and more often it was just 100-250LKR per person!

As mentioned above, there are many delicious dishes to try, such as coconut roti, egg roti, vegetable roti, hoppers, rice and curries, and much more. Fruit juice is also widely available (pineapple is my favorite) and it's usually between 100-200LKR per glass.

On average we spent 2500LKR/€16/$17 per day . This also includes the costs for water, a 1.5-liter bottle costs 70-80LKR.

4. Cost of activities in Sri Lanka

Temples in Anuradhapura Sri Lanka

Make sure to take advantage of the many free activities that Sri Lanka has to offer, such as hiking in Ella (or in one of Sri Lanka's 26 National Parks), exploring the tea plantations in Haputale, visiting cultural sites in Kandy, and snorkeling in Talalla.

Doing so will help you make the most of your vacation while still sticking to your budget.

When planning your Sri Lanka trip, it's worth looking into tour companies that offer affordable tours that can help you save money while still having a great experience.

Klook is the largest tour operator in Asia, but Get Your Guide has been working really hard on growing their offers as well so be sure to check out those websites as well when you're planning your Sri Lanka activities.

Some of the most worthwhile tours and activities in Sri Lanka are:

  • Colombo private city tour: visit top Colombo attractions such as the National Museum, soak up the Indian Ocean views along Galle Face, dive into bustling Pettah Market, admire the Gangarama Temple, and more. Check availability .
  • Sigiriya and Dambulla day trip (from Colombo) : visit the historic rock fortress of Sigiriya and explore the large cave temple complex of Dambulla on a full-day trip from Colombo with a private driver. Check availability .
  • Wildlife safari in Udawalawa National Park : explore an untouched wilderness and pristine nature as you look for herds of elephants and other animals with your experienced guide. Check availability .
  • Ella Rock sunrise hike (with a guide) : take an early morning hike up Ella Rock to meet the sunrise with breathtaking views of Hill Country (that's how this part of Sri Lanka is often referred to), mountains, and valleys. Check availability .
  • Anuradhapura half-day tour : explore sacred places in Anuradhapura, such as the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi, Ruwaneeliseya, and much more. Travel with a knowledgeable English-speaking guide and learn about the ancient history of this fascinating temple complex. Check availability .

View from Ella Rock

How much did we spend on activities in Sri Lanka?

On average we spent 900LKR/€5,50/$6) per day on activities. In Colombo, Galle, and Kandy we did some city sightseeing. On the South coast, we went diving, snorkeling, and surfing.

In Ella and Haputale we did a couple of hikes and in the North, we explored Anuradhapura, Sigiriya, and Jaffna. Below you can find the details of all our paid activities:

Travel Sri Lanka on a budget! Our Sri Lanka daily budget was €44 per day for us as a couple (€22 per person). Check out the post and infographic for more details (info about accommodation, transport, food, activities, visa and more). #SriLanka #Ceylon #travel

We obviously did a lot more during our 1 month trip to Sri Lanka, but the rest of the activities were free!

Note: I didn’t include the costs for diving. We went diving in Weligama at Weligama Bay Dive Center . We paid $60 per person for 2 dives (including equipment, water, and fresh fruit).

5. Visa costs for Sri Lanka

We applied online for an e-visa to Sri Lanka. The visa was $35, and we paid online with a credit card, an easy breezy process.

As was getting through customs in Sri Lanka. Since we spent 26 days in the country, the average daily cost for the visa was 400LKR/€2,50/$2,75 .

Galle historic center Sri Lanka

6. Miscellaneous costs in Sri Lanka

Some random costs in our Sri Lanka backpacking budget were laundry, mosquito spray, toothpaste, and (very important when you are trying to run a blog while traveling) a local SIM with lots of data.

We bought a SIM from Dialog, they have several plans but it's important to know that all plans are day/night plans.

This means that you’ll get part of the data for usage between 8 am-12 midnight and the other part of the data can only be used between 12 midnight and 8 am.

Anyway, on average we spent 300LKR/€2/$2 per day on miscellaneous items.

7. Travel insurance costs

I didn't include the cost of travel insurance in our Sri Lanka budget breakdown because we use our travel insurance for all our trips, not just for our Sri Lanka itinerary.

However, that doesn't take away the fact that making sure you have proper travel insurance is super important .

It helps protect you and your belongings in the event of a mishap during your travels. Furthermore, it provides coverage for medical expenses, trip cancellation, lost or stolen items, and more.

Also, having good travel insurance will provide you peace of mind, knowing that if something goes wrong, you have a safety net in place.

With so much to consider when planning a trip, having the right travel insurance can help ensure a smooth and enjoyable journey without stressing out about things that can go wrong.

Plan your trip like a pro with these tools: ✈️ Find the best flight deals on . ? Get the best car rental deal for your road trip on . ?️ Find your dream accommodation on or Agoda . ? Book the best tours via Get Your Guide , Viator or Klook . ? Plan your journey with the  Lonely Planet . ?️ Travel safely and get reliable travel insurance from Safety Wing .

Beautiful sunrise over the jungle in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka budget: in conclusion

So for everyone wondering: how much will a trip to Sri Lanka costs, you now have the answer! I hope this post convinced you to travel to Sri Lanka, it's a wonderful and very affordable country.

You can download the budget infographic below. Feel free to ask any questions by leaving a comment or sending me an email .

Travel Sri Lanka on a budget! Our Sri Lanka daily budget was €44 per day for us as a couple (€22 per person). Check out the post and infographic for more details (info about accommodation, transport, food, activities, visa and more). #SriLanka #BudgetTravel #Ceylon

This post was updated in December 2022.

Saturday 23rd of March 2019

Hello, thank you for the article. My question is about the Sri Lankan people: are they helpful? And is it a problem if the only language you know is English?

Wednesday 27th of March 2019

Thank for reading! The people of Sri Lanka are very friendly and helpful and most people you'll encounter in touristic areas speak English. We didn't have any issue during our trip and only spoke English. Enjoy your trip to Sri Lanka:-)

Thursday 7th of February 2019

Thank you for the detailed expenses!! Regarding the Safari in Udawalawe National Park you mention a price of 4500 LKR Where/how did you get this price? Reading in internet I find only very expensive tours. Did you contacted a tour agency before or how did it exactly worked? Also in regard to Anuradhapura,I suppose the temple tour by tuk tuk didn´t cover the entrance to the Ancient city for that price you mentioned of 2000 LKR? Did you enter the ancient city? where the temples you visited by tuk tuk worth it? I have read also, that it is possible to visit the temples renting a bike?

Thanks for the info!!!!

Monday 11th of February 2019

Hi Alexandra,

Thanks for reading! Regarding your questions: 1. We negotiated the price for the Udawalawe Tour at our Guesthouse (A to Z Family Guesthouse) the day we arrived there. We went on the tour the next morning! 2. In Anuradhapura we didn't pay the entrance fee as our tuktuk driver took us to a couple of temples that were free. He also took us to a 'secret' entrance for the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi tree and Ruwanwelisaya Dagaba which didn't require us showing a ticket to the Ancient city. I thought the temples were impressive and worth the visit. However, Angkor Wat remains my favorite temple complex so far;-) You can visit by bike but the site is quite extensive (40 square kilometer) and temples can be far from each other so you would need a lot of time (and water) to visit them.

Enjoy your trip! Lotte

Wednesday 30th of January 2019

An excellent article. We leave on an early morning flight. 2am. We'd like to stay at a beach not too far from the airport for a couple of days before we leave. Is there anywhere that you would recommend Lottie. Thank you

Friday 1st of February 2019

Hi Catherine, thank you! Regarding your question, I personally stayed at Kalpitiya the days before we left Sri Lanka but this isn't that close to the airport. I heard Negombo beach is nice and while it's probably not the prettiest beach Sri Lanka has to offer, it is close to the airport. Perhaps that would be a suitable place to end your Sri Lanka vacation? In any case, happy travels!

Wednesday 16th of January 2019

At the point of entry, was there a specific money you needed to show proof? I’m planning to spend 26 days there as well.

Saturday 19th of January 2019

Dear Israel,

No we didn’t have to provide any proof (also no exit ticket). But it never hurts to have a print screen from your bank statement on your phone so you can show this at customs if necessary.

Love your blog about Sri Lanka. I'm hoping for a trip with my son next year maybe. In january? My son is 12 years old. I would like to get a little around a not stay at the same place. Did you book it all from home or under your trip? Best Regards

Hello Rikke,

How wonderful you’ll be traveling to Sri Lanka with your son! We didn’t book any accommodation before our trip. Usually I booked our accommodation once we decided where to go next. Most of the time that was the day before or 2 days before our stay.

Have a great trip! Lotte

Nomadic Matt's Travel Site

Travel Better, Cheaper, Longer

Sri Lanka Travel Guide

Published: December 6, 2023

A bright blue sky over the Nine Arches bridge going through the jungle in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka was a wonderful surprise. I didn’t know what to expect going into my trip, but I ended up loving every bit of it.

It is a divided country, with the south dominated by Buddhist Sinhalese and the north by Hindu Tamils. After the British left in 1948, the Sinhalese controlled the government and enacted a series of laws that limited Tamil participation in society. Eventually, Tamil protests escalated and a 26-year civil war ensued, only ending in 2009.

Though it has been some time since then, Sri Lanka is still very much recovering — but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t visit. In fact, my time there was especially memorable due to my experiences meeting and getting to know the incredibly friendly locals. No matter where I went, Sri Lankans welcomed me with kindness and open arms.

Traveling around Sri Lanka is relatively easy and very budget-friendly. English is widely spoken, so once you get used to the chaos, it isn’t too difficult to get around.

With that in mind, here’s my Sri Lanka travel guide so that you can save money, have fun, and make the most of your visit to this beautiful country!

A note on prices and currencies : Costs for attractions in this guide are in USD, while costs for restaurants and accommodations are in LKR. This is to most accurately represent the currency in which you will see prices. Foreign visitors are charged a different price from locals at most attractions, quoted in USD. Registered tourist establishments are required to accept only foreign currency from nonresidents, as part of a governmental scheme to build up the country’s reserves of stronger currencies.

Table of Contents

  • Things to See and Do
  • Typical Costs
  • Suggested Budget
  • Money-Saving Tips
  • Where to Stay
  • How to Get Around

How to Stay Safe

  • Best Places to Book Your Trip
  • Related Blogs on Sri Lanka

Top 5 Things to See and Do in Sri Lanka

The lush hills of a tea plantation in Sri Lanka

1. Tour a tea estate

When the British colonized the island in the early 19th century, they quickly realized that the central highlands had the perfect climate and topography for growing tea. One of the largest, lasting impacts of colonialism is that a significant portion of the country is still covered in tea plantations or estates.

The town of Hatton is known as the tea capital of Sri Lanka, as it’s the central point of a few regions where the plant is still plucked by hand (and one of the few places in the world where this still occurs). Going on a plantation or factory tour is a great way to learn about this integral part of the country’s economy and culture. Tours are often free, though if there is a fee, it’s only around 250 LKR. Tours usually include a tea tasting at the end.

2. See the wildlife at Yala National Park

This is Sri Lanka’s second-largest and most popular national park. It’s well known for its abundant wildlife, especially the elephants and leopards that make their home here. In fact, it’s the best place in the world to try to spot leopards, as it has the highest density of them! The area is culturally significant as well, with two important Buddhist pilgrim sites, Sithulpahuwa and Magul Vihara, located within the park. Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims visit these sites each year. While a guide isn’t required to enter the park, joining a safari led by an experienced local guide is the best way to experience Yala, as you’ll be able to ask questions as they point out animals to you. Safaris are quite affordable too, starting at just 8,600 LKR.

3. Hike Sigiriya Rock

Also known as Lion’s Rock, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is the country’s most famous tourist attraction. In the fifth century, Sri Lankan ruler King Kashyapa decided to build his fortress on this massive column of granite rock. While it was abandoned shortly after his death, its remote location meant that the palace remained untouched over the centuries, and today it remains a fascinating example of ancient urban planning.

You can hike to the top for stunning views over the lush landscapes below; it takes an hour to walk up, as it’s single file all the way. As it’s one of the most popular things to do in Sri Lanka, you won’t have this place to yourself. Get there when it opens at 6:30am to avoid huge lines. If you are there after 10am, the crowds are so overwhelming, it’s not worth visiting. Admission is $30 USD ( guided day trips from Kandy that also include visits to the cave temples of Dambulla are $70 USD).

Pro tip: if you’re on a budget, climb Pidurangala Rock instead. It’s much cheaper (500 LKR), plus you’ll actually get views of Sigiriya Rock itself! (Just note that the trail does involve some scrambling at times, while the trail to the top of Sigiriya is steep but easier, with metal steps and staircases.)

4. Take the train

The British built the Sri Lankan railway system in 1864 to transport tea and coffee from plantations to Colombo, where these goods were then shipped out internationally. The train lines are still in use and provide a scenic way to explore the country. There are three main lines, but the ride from Kandy to Ella is widely considered one of the most beautiful in the world. It lasts seven hours and takes you through lush mountains, tropical forests, and endless tea plantations; the picturesque 20th-century Nine Arches Bridge is on this route as well.

If you’d like to take this journey, it’s best to book with a travel agency in advance as seats sell out quickly. Just adjust your expectations regarding timeliness and speed. Don’t be in a hurry when riding the rails in Sri Lanka!

5. Visit Anuradhapura

Anuradhapura was the very first capital of Sri Lanka and remained so for around 1,300 years. Today, many of the old ruins still survive and have been restored to their former glory. This archaeological complex and UNESCO site contains many of Buddhism’s holiest places, including Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi, the fig tree where it is believed that the Buddha himself obtained enlightenment. It’s also home to Jetavanaramaya Dagaba, which at 122 meters (400 feet) is the world’s tallest stupa. Most people either rent a bicycle or hire a tuk-tuk to take them around the complex. Admission to the five main temples is $25 USD, though there are many smaller temples and sites that are either free or just a couple of dollars.

Other Things to See and Do

1. visit kandy.

The country’s second-largest city was also the last capital of Sri Lanka’s monarchy, the Kingdom of Kandy, which arose in the late 16th century and resisted both Dutch and Portuguese rule before finally succumbing to British colonization in the early 19th century. Kandy is known for its well-preserved historic colonial center (now a UNESCO site), as well as the Buddhist shrine the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic (supposedly an actual tooth of the Buddha). Many visitors come here because it’s the starting point for the scenic train to Ella, but make sure to spend a few days exploring the bustling streets, enjoying Kandy Lake, and wandering through the Royal Botanic Gardens of Peradeniya, the nation’s biggest and most impressive botanical garden.

2. Explore Ella

If you take Sri Lanka’s most scenic train ride, you’ll end up in the town of Ella, which, though small, is a popular destination. Even if you don’t take the train to get here, the iconic Nine Arches railway bridge is one of the biggest attractions in the entire country. You can get to the lookout by hiking through the forest, and then waiting for a train to go by if you want that iconic “Sri Lankan postcard” shot. Other things to see and do here include traversing the surrounding rainforests to see stunning waterfalls, hiking Little Adam’s Peak or Ella Rock, and visiting the endless tea plantations.

3. Travel up north

After decades of war, the north has a legacy of destruction that has yet to go away. For that reason, most travelers focus on the southern half of Sri Lanka, with its plentiful hiking and charming beach towns. But seeing the north gave me a more nuanced perspective on a portion of the country without hordes of other tourists. In fact, in my time there, I saw only four Westerners.

As the area is mainly Hindu, you’ll find lots of beautiful temples here, including the impressive Nallur Kandaswamy in Jaffna. The north also offers beautiful yet uncrowded beaches, a plethora of tranquil islands to explore, and delicious food with a strong southern Indian influence.

4. See the temples

Sri Lanka has an astonishing number of impressive temples. Everywhere you go, there’s a beautiful temple! Some of the most famous include Temple of the Tooth (in Kandy), Sri Kailawasanathan Swami Devasthanam and Gangaramaya (both in Colombo), Dambulla Cave Temple (in Dambulla), and Nallur Kandaswamy Temple (in Jaffna).

When visiting, be sure to dress appropriately, as these are active places of worship. Also, bring flip-flops to temples, since you’ll have to take your socks and shoes off before going inside. Entrance fees range from free to around $10 USD.

5. Take a cooking class

While I didn’t know much about the country’s food before arriving, I quickly became hooked on the delicious curries of Sri Lankan cuisine. Colombo Cooking Class offers three-hour sessions in which you make 10 dishes, including curries, coconut sambol, and papadam. The class takes place in the owner’s home, and it really feels like you’re learning to cook with a friend! The cost is around 20,000 LKR.

6. Hit the beaches

Since it’s a huge island, Sri Lanka’s coastline spans over 1,340 kilometers (830 miles), meaning there are countless beaches to enjoy. There are white-sand shores to stroll on, coral reefs perfect for snorkeling, picturesque sunsets to admire, and breaks great for surfing. No matter what you’re into, there’s a beach for you in Sri Lanka.

Arugam Bay and Mirissa Beach are some of the most well known, mainly as world-famous surfing destinations, but they both have nice beach towns to visit even if you don’t surf.

7. Day trip to Galle

Founded in the late 16th century by the Portuguese and later conquered by the Dutch in the mid-17th century, Galle (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) is a beautifully preserved old fort town that’s worth a visit. A visit here is best spent just wandering around, admiring the Dutch colonial buildings, walking the perimeter of the old fort, shopping at the artisanal craft stores (or taking a workshop to learn how to make jewelry in the traditional style ), touring the National Maritime Museum, and eating fresh seafood.

But as that’s about the extent of what there is to do, I recommend visiting Galle as a day trip from Colombo rather than staying overnight. It’s super easy, as you can take the train directly, which takes about two hours.

8. Climb Adam’s Peak

Adam’s Peak is Sri Lanka’s most sacred mountain and an important pilgrimage destination. Hindus and Buddhists believe the mountain is the footstep of Shiva and the Buddha, respectively, while Muslims and Christians revere it as the first place Adam stepped on earth after his ousting from the Garden of Eden.

But even if you aren’t religious, trekking to the top of Adam’s Peak is a rewarding experience for both the challenge of the ascent and the magnificent views. It is a steep climb, with over 5,000 steps to get to the top, though there are many teahouses to stop at along the way. Most hikers start their climb from the village of Dalhousie around 2am in order to reach the top by sunrise. Depending on your fitness level, the entire journey takes around 5-7 hours.

9. Go whale watching

While countries like Iceland get all the press for whale watching, Sri Lanka is actually one of the best places to view these awe-inspiring creatures. Many species — including the blue whale, the largest animal on earth — migrate annually around the southern tip of the island, swimming closer to shore here than anywhere else in the world.

Mirissa Beach is the best place to depart from, and there are many operators offering tours. Be sure to go with a company that adheres to responsible international whale watching standards, which include stipulations like not getting too close, not feeding the whales, etc. I recommend Raja and the Whales, where an adult ticket is around 20,000 LKR.

10. Explore Colombo

As the country’s capital and location of its major international airport, you’ll undoubtedly be flying in and out of Colombo. This busy city is a bit of everything, with modern cafés and bistros right next to traditional Buddhist and Hindu temples. It’s worth spending a couple days here, getting your bearings and enjoying the cultural offerings.

Sri Lanka Travel Costs

A group of elephants standing in a stream in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is cheap to visit. Even when you splurge, it’s not that expensive, especially if you stick to delicious local cuisine, travel on trains and buses, and don’t go crazy with your accommodation.

Accommodation – There is a lot of cheap accommodation throughout the country (and a growing number of hostels), though they’re really basic, with just a fan, mosquito net, and shower. At 2,000-4,000 LKR per dorm bed, you can’t go wrong though. Private rooms in hostels start around 6,500 LKR.

Guesthouses are more plentiful and affordable, with private rooms that have an en-suite bathroom starting at 5,000 LKR per night. Two-star budget hotels start around 8,000 LKR. In both cases, you’ll usually get free breakfast and Wi-Fi too.

You can find some unique Airbnbs in Sri Lanka, though they tend to be pricey. Prices range from 7,000 LKR per night for tree houses and cabins to 25,000 LKR and up for villas and larger properties. Most of the midrange options on Airbnb are hotels and guesthouses.

Food – Incredibly flavorful and packed with fragrant spices, Sri Lankan food is influenced by the culture and cuisines of foreign traders from all over the world. Middle Eastern, Indian, Portuguese, and Dutch flavors are particularly common due to trading routes and the country’s colonial history.

Cinnamon and black pepper are the two most important spices, though cardamom, pandan leaf, and lemongrass feature heavily too. Sri Lankan cuisine can be quite spicy, and dozens of types of peppers are grown and used on the island.

And, as an island nation, it should come as no surprise that fresh seafood plays a major role in many Sri Lankan dishes. Maldives fish (cured tuna produced in the Maldives) is a staple flavoring element. Coconut and rice are also two ubiquitous ingredients that you’ll find on the table at every meal and part of many street snacks.

Popular dishes include various curries (including fish, crab, or lentil), biryani (meat, fish, or vegetables cooked with rice and seasoned), pittu (cylinders of rice flour mixed with grated coconut), kiribath (rice cooked in coconut milk), roti (flatbread made from wheat flour), wattalapam (rich pudding made with coconut milk, jaggery, cashews, eggs, and spices), kottu (roti, meat curry, scrambled egg, onions, and chilies, chopped together with a cleaver on a hot griddle), appam (a thin pancake made with fermented rice batter and coconut milk), lamprais (rice cooked in stock, accompanied by meatballs, and baked in a banana leaf), breudher (a Dutch holiday biscuit), and bolo fiado (Portuguese-style layer cake).

Besides being delicious, food is also really cheap here. At a casual traditional restaurant, starters and snacks like roti or dosa are 240-550 LKR, while biryani costs 450-900 (depending on the meat chosen), and a typical curry dish costs 550-950 LKR. A fast-food combo meal is 750 LKR.

At restaurants with table service or for a more “Western” meal, a pizza is 2,500-3,500 LKR, a pasta dish is 1,500-2,200, and a burger is around 1,100-1,500 LKR. At an upscale restaurant, fish or crab curry is 3,500-4,000 LKR, while a chicken or vegetable curry is 1,000-1,500 LKR.

A bottle of water is 100-150 LKR, a cappuccino is 600 LKR, and a beer is around 500-600 LKR, though don’t expect too many chances to drink alcohol. Outside the coastal touristy beach towns and the capital of Colombo, there isn’t much nightlife or opportunity to drink. While you can always crack a beer at your guesthouse, Sri Lanka isn’t home to a big drinking/nightlife culture.

Some of my favorite restaurants were Balaji Dosai and the Slightly Chilled Bar in Kandy; Ahinsa in Sigiriya; and Upali’s and the Ministry of Crab in Colombo. The last one is an expensive seafood restaurant, but the food is delicious! Sri Lankan crab is famous worldwide — and gigantic. It’s not cheap, but sometimes you just have to treat yourself.

Backpacking Sri Lanka: Suggested Budgets

On a backpacking budget of 9,700 LKR per day, you can stay in a hostel, eat cheap meals like street food (with limited drinking), use public transportation to get around, and do free activities like walking tours, hiking, and hanging out at beaches.

On a midrange budget of 18,000 LKR per day, you can stay in a guesthouse or private room in a hostel or Airbnb, eat out for most meals, drink more, take taxis to get around, and do more paid activities like museum visits or whale watching.

On an upscale budget of 35,000 LKR or more per day, you can stay in a hotel or private Airbnb, eat out pretty much anywhere you want, drink at the bar, rent a tuk-tuk or car to get around, and do as many guided tours and activities as you want. This is just the ground floor for luxury though. The sky is the limit!

You can use the chart below to get some idea of how much you need to budget daily, depending on your travel style. Keep in mind these are daily averages — some days you’ll spend more, some days you’ll spend less (you might spend less every day). We just want to give you a general idea of how to make your budget. Prices are in LKR.

Sri Lanka Travel Guide: Money-Saving Tips

Sri Lanka is very affordable, but there are still plenty of ways to help keep your costs low. Here are my top money-saving tips for traveling in Sri lanka:

  • Get your visa in advance – You’ll need to get a visa for entry into the country. You can do this either online starting three days before you arrive, or upon arrival. It’s slightly cheaper if you do it ahead of time, plus you’ll skip the lines at the airport.
  • Eat the local food – Outside of the major cities of Colombo and Kandy, you won’t find many non-Sri Lankan or non-Indian food options. What you do find is overpriced, subpar Western food that’s more often than not a chain. Skip it and stick to the local cuisine.
  • Bring a water bottle – You shouldn’t really drink the water in Sri Lanka. And since the weather here is really hot, you’ll need to buy a lot of bottled water to stay hydrated (you’ll probably spend 300 LKR per day on plastic bottles of water). Instead, bring a reusable water bottle with a filter instead to save money and reduce your plastic use. LifeStraw is my go-to brand as its bottles have built-in filters to ensure that your water is always clean and safe.
  • Stay with a local – Couchsurfing is a great way to save money on accommodation while also getting some insight from residents. You might have better luck in the larger cities, but be sure to request early, as they also see the most requests.
  • Visit in off or shoulder seasons – Visit during monsoon season or shoulder season to save money. Even though you will experience some rain, it doesn’t rain 24/7, and you’ll still be able to get out and explore.

Where to Stay in Sri Lanka

Guesthouses are the most common and affordable option in Sri Lanka, though there is a growing number of hostels here too. Here are my recommended places to stay around the country:

  • C1 Colombo Fort (Colombo)
  • Palitha Home Stay (Sigiriya)
  • Jaye’s Home Stay (Kandy)
  • Backpacker Galle Hostel (Galle)

How to Get Around Sri Lanka

Tuk tuks and buses on a road lined with palm trees in Sri Lanka

Bus – This is the cheapest and most widely used way to get around the country, though it can be a very crowded and at times harrowing experience. There are two types of buses: red Sri Lanka Transport Board (SLTB) buses that are run by the state, and blue, pink, or green buses that are run by private companies. Private buses tend to be more crowded, as there are more seats, and drivers try to cram on as many passengers as possible.

Since you’ll most likely be flying in and/or out of Colombo, the blue Colombo Express Bus is the cheapest and easiest way to get from the airport to the city center. It’s just 110 LKR (the same price as the regular bus), leaves every 30 minutes (5:30am–8:30pm), and takes about an hour. In town, it stops at (and leaves from) the Central Bus Stand, Pettah Fort, and Colombo Fort Station. Alternatively, a taxi is about 2,700 LKR.

Tuk-tuk – All throughout Sri Lanka, you can hire drivers cheaply. Any tuk-tuk driver will let you hire them for the day, for around 10,000 LKR. Moreover, they are pretty honest — except in Colombo, where they may try to scam and overcharge you. Elsewhere in the country, you’ll get a fair deal, so there’s no need to try to bargain hard.

Ridesharing – Uber is available only in Colombo and is often more expensive than taxis, especially during rush hours. PickMe is a local taxi-hailing app that you can also use to hire tuk-tuks.

Train – Train travel, while slower, is the most scenic and culturally immersive way to get around Sri Lanka (plus, the island is so small that taking an expensive short flight doesn’t make sense). Sri Lanka Railways runs all trains, and you can find schedules and make reservations on its website.

There are a variety of classes from which to choose: first, second, third, and reserved or unreserved (third class doesn’t have reserved seating and doesn’t sell out). Seat reservations can only be made up to 30 days prior to departure.

Some typical train routes and their approximate prices include the following:

  • Colombo to Jaffna (7–8 hours): 2,250 LKR
  • Jaffna to Anuradhapura (2.5–3.5 hours): 1,600 LKR
  • Kandy to Nuwara Eliya (3.5–4 hours): 2,500 LKR
  • Colombo to Galle (2 hours): 1,600 LKR

For more details on train travel in Sri Lanka, I recommend The Man in Seat 61 . It’s the best resource for train travel information.

Flying – As Sri Lanka is a relatively small island, flying domestically doesn’t make much sense. There is only one airline that even offers domestic routes (Cinnamon Air) and those are expensive, starting at 77,000 LKR for a 30-minute flight. Skip the flights.

When to Go to Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is effected by two different monsoon seasons, so if you want the best weather during your trip, you’ll want to keep that in mind.

If you want to visit the beaches in the south and west, go December through March. April to September is best for visiting the north and east.

The good news is that temperatures stay fairly consistent throughout the year. Coastal regions generally have average temperatures of 25-30°C (77-86°F) while in the highlands you can expect an average of 17-19°C (63-66°F).

While there is a lot of rain during monsoon season, it doesn’t rain 24/7 so you can still enjoy the country. But no matter when you visit, make sure to bring a rain coat just in case.

Sri Lanka is a safe place to backpack and travel — even if you’re a solo traveler. Violent attacks against tourists are rare. Petty theft is the most common type of crime, especially around popular tourist landmarks. Always keep your valuables out of reach on public transportation, in crowds, and at the beach, just to be safe. A little vigilance goes a long way here since most thefts are crimes of opportunity.

The main scam to watch out for is paying the “tourist tax” (elevated prices for travelers). If you’re worried about others, read this blog post about major travel scams to avoid .

Solo female travelers should generally feel safe, though verbal (and at times physical) harassment unfortunately occurs more often here than in other countries. It’s a good idea to dress conservatively and avoid walking around alone at night.

Other issues that you may encounter involve civil unrest and the current economic crisis. Stay aware of any demonstrations that may be occurring (usually in Colombo). While they are generally peaceful, like anywhere, there is the potential for these protests becoming violent. Steer clear to avoid getting caught in the middle.

Also be aware that shortages of supplies are common, and fuel is currently being rationed. If you need medications, bring a full supply with you.

Make copies of your personal documents, including your passport and ID. Forward your itinerary along to loved ones so they’ll know where you are.

If you do experience an emergency, dial 119.

The most important piece of advice I can offer is to purchase good travel insurance. It protects you against illness, injury, theft, and cancelations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong unexpectedly. I never go on a trip without it, as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. You can use the widget below to find the policy right for you:

Sri Lanka Travel Guide: The Best Booking Resources

These are my favorite companies to use when I travel. They consistently have the best deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and overall, are better than their competitors. They are the companies I use the most and are always the starting point in my search for travel deals.

  • Skyscanner – Skyscanner is my favorite flight search engine. They search small websites and budget airlines that larger search sites tend to miss. They are hands down the number one place to start.
  • Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
  • – The best all around booking site that constantly provides the cheapest and lowest rates. They have the widest selection of budget accommodation. In all my tests, they’ve always had the cheapest rates out of all the booking websites.
  • Get Your Guide – Get Your Guide is a huge online marketplace for tours and excursions. They have tons of tour options available in cities all around the world, including everything from cooking classes, walking tours, street art lessons, and more!
  • SafetyWing – Safety Wing offers convenient and affordable plans tailored to digital nomads and long-term travelers. They have cheap monthly plans, great customer service, and an easy-to-use claims process that makes it perfect for those on the road.
  • LifeStraw – My go-to company for reusable water bottles with built-in filters so you can ensure your drinking water is always clean and safe.
  • Unbound Merino – They make lightweight, durable, easy-to-clean travel clothing.
  • Top Travel Credit Cards – Points are the best way to cut down travel expenses. Here’s my favorite point earning credit cards so you can get free travel!

Sri Lanka Travel Guide: Related Articles

Want more info? Check out all the articles I’ve written on Sri Lanka travel and continue planning your trip:

The Ultimate Guide to Sri Lanka: Costs, Itineraries, and Favorites

The Ultimate Guide to Sri Lanka: Costs, Itineraries, and Favorites

Sri Lankans: Making a Stranger Feel Like Family

Sri Lankans: Making a Stranger Feel Like Family

How to Plan a Trip to a Place You Know Nothing About

How to Plan a Trip to a Place You Know Nothing About

Get my best stuff sent straight to you, pin it on pinterest.

  • Where To Stay
  • Transportation
  • Booking Resources
  • Related Blogs

Magnificent Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka travel guide

Ultimate Guide to Budget Travel in Sri Lanka

If you are looking for a destination that you can really enjoy on a budget, Sri Lanka should be at the top of your list.  Renowned as a pretty affordable travel destination, Sri Lanka has many budget-friendly activities for everyone. This vibrant and culturally rich island offers a multitude of experiences to enjoy without spending a lot. From its stunning beaches , ancient cities , and lush jungles to amazing wildlife , you can do many new things with a limited travel budget.

Sri Lankan currency is Rupees

With cheap accommodation and transportation, Sri Lanka considers a budget travelers’ paradise. You can just travel like a local, eat the local food, select your activities carefully, and explore this wonderful island even with a tight budget.

Here we will provide you with all the valuable tips and insights to budget travel in Sri Lanka. Certainly, this ultimate guide will help you to save money and travel in style without lowering the quality of your experience.

1. Visit in the low season

There are two prominent tourism seasons in Sri Lanka. December to April is the high season and May to October is the low season . Due to the mild temperatures and less rainfall, more visitors prefer to travel in the peak season. Therefore, prices for accommodations and transportation tend to be higher during this peak tourist season. Hotels and lodgings are quite expensive in these months due to the high influx of travelers.

Mirissa Beach in Sri Lanka

One of the best ways to save money while traveling in Sri Lanka is to plan your trip during the low season from May to October. You can find unbelievable discounts and offers during this season. Moreover, you can take advantage of lower hotel rates, discounted tickets, and fewer crowds. Thus, visiting Sri Lanka in law season helps you to save a lot of money.

Tourist in Sri Lankan Beach

2. Stay in hostels or homestays

A few years ago, the only tourist accommodation available in Sri Lanka was luxury or semi-luxury hotels. Affordable, quality lodging was harder to find throughout the island. Currently, Sri Lanka offers plenty of choices for tourists, from budget-friendly hostels , guesthouses to homestays.

Hostels in Sri Lanka

Particularly, hostels have become Sri Lanka’s favorite accommodation that gives a home away from home. With dorm beds starting at just 6 USD, Sri Lankan hostels are backpacker-friendly and help you to meet fellow travelers. Even the most elegantly designed hostels usually only cost around 10-15 USD per night.

Find new friends in hostels

Moreover, homestays are becoming a more popular option for budget travel in Sri Lanka. They are smaller than guesthouses, often with only a couple of rooms for guests. These family-run homestays are pretty popular because the hosts are quite friendly to the guests. You’ll get the chance to live more like a local and eat home-cooked meals during your stay. You can interact with friendly locals and experience the Sri Lankan way of life.

Homestays in Sri Lanka

As well, you can use and find out quick deals to find cheap accommodation. Instead of staying at expensive luxury resorts or international hotel chains, consider choosing local hotels with discounts. These deals not only offer comfortable and affordable accommodations but are also pocket-friendly to save your travel budget.

3. Always use metered taxi

Tuk tuks are the easiest way to travel short distances within the country. Unfortunately, they are infamous for ripping off tourists and even the locals. Sometimes, foreign travelers are overcharged double or triple the regular price. Thus, always remember to use a metered taxi for your rides. You can use the PickMe or Uber app to book your ride easily and cheaply. These taxi-booking apps are quite useful for budget travelers in Sri Lanka.

Metered taxi in Sri Lanka

4. Eat the local food

You will find plenty of high-end restaurants serving international cuisine in Sri Lanka. But these Western foods like Pizza, Hamburger, or KFC is quite expensive and a meal usually costs 15-30 USD per person. Enjoying these foods in Sri Lanka isn’t pocket-friendly for budget travelers. Therefore, eating at local restaurants is the best option and a delicious way to immerse yourself in Sri Lanka’s culinary scene.

Sri Lankan Lamprais

The local eateries offer authentic flavors at a fraction of the cost compared to fancy restaurants. You can taste delicious local meals for as little as 1-3 USD per person. These traditional dishes give a yummy taste. Fish or chicken are prepared as spicy red curry, but they are delicious and quite popular dishes among tourists. If you don’t tolerate spicy food, many restaurants in tourist hubs offer less spicy versions. Thus, remember to enjoy these yummy local culinary delights and save your money in Sri Lanka.

Sri Lankan spicy chicken curry

Although rice and curry are the staple on the island, you can try various other popular dishes in Sri Lanka. Try to expand your palate by tasting yummy hoppers , string hoppers, kottu , or Lamprais . These traditional dishes are scrumptious, filling meals that will keep both your belly and your wallet full. Vegetarian meals have the lowest prices while adding meats like chicken, beef or seafood will slightly increase the price.

Sri Lankan egg hoppers

5. Use public transportation 

Bandaranaike International Airport is located around 35 km from the main Colombo city centre. Unless you are traveling as a group, airport taxi charges are quite expensive for budget travelers. Therefore, you can catch the shuttle bus between Colombo Airport and the Katunayake Airport Bus Station which is located 50 m from the terminals. Then, catch the direct expressway public bus to reach Colombo (Pettah) central bus stand within 30 minutes. From there, you will be able to travel to any part of the country. This is the cheapest way to reach Colombo to save your transportation cost.

Sri Lanka airport bus

Many visitors to Sri Lanka tend to hire a taxi and driver for their trip because it is more convenient. But the taxi cost is quite high and it will take a considerable amount of your travel budget. Instead of hiring private taxis, consider using public transportation to get around the country. The bus fares are pretty affordable and they are readily available. Buses can take you anywhere for a very cheap price.

Sri Lanka public bus

Trains are a pretty low-cost option and the journey will be more comfortable. In particular, upcountry trains offer scenic routes through tea plantations, providing an opportunity to witness the country’s natural scenic beauty. Remember to book your train tickets in advance, especially for popular routes such as Kandy – Ella train ride . Definitely, traveling by train helps you to save a lot on your travel expenses.

Sri Lanka Kandy - Ella train

6. Select the attractions

Selecting attractions is one of the most important tips for budget travel in Sri Lanka. If you are traveling on a tight budget, you can avoid costly attractions and select cheap ones. For example, one of the major tourist attractions in the country is Sigiriya Rock Fortress . But the entrance fee is quite expensive and it costs 30 USD. Thus, many budget travelers visit nearby Pidurangala Rock instead of Sigiriya, by paying only 3 USD. Although these two places aren’t similar, it gives a more economical experience to budget travelers.

Hiking Pidurangala

Moreover, foreigners are charged 35 USD plus the safari vehicle fee to enter the national parks in Sri Lanka. If you want to visit several national parks, it will make a large hole in your pocket. In order to save your holiday budget, select one national park where you can enjoy the amazing wildlife to the fullest, such as Yala National Park .

Yala National Park in Sri Lanka

There are also plenty of free destinations to visit in Sri Lanka. The Hill Country is famous for its spectacular scenery and natural beauty. Thus, you can plan a hike in one of the breathtaking hiking trails in Sri Lanka. There are no entry fees for hiking and trekking where the journey will reward you with amazing sceneries.

7. Find the cheap air tickets

The official airline in the country is Sri Lankan Airlines. You can browse all the exclusive Sri Lankan Airlines special offers on this official webpage . They offer the best airfare deals with brand-new offers updated regularly. Choose from the best discount flights and remember to check back for the latest deals. Since travel agents often add a service fee, booking directly with the airline helps you to save a lot of money.

Sri Lankan Airlines

If you like to choose some other carriers, check out pages that offer cheap airfares and book it as soon as possible. You can use  Skyscanner  or any other flight ticket booking flatforms to find more economical flight tickets to Sri Lanka. These cheap flight offers are available only for a limited time and you need to grab them quickly.

8. Share the safari vehicle

This is one of the most important budget travel tips in Sri Lanka. When you are planning a safari trip , try to visit as a group with some friends or fellow travelers. By sharing the cost of the safari vehicle, you can save money.

Sri Lankan safari jeep

For example, the Yala National Park entrance fee per foreign adult is 35 USD. Jeep hire is separate, often something between 35 – 45 USD for a half-day safari and double for a full-day safari. The rates are for 1 jeep and you can include up to 6 people. By sharing the jeep with 6 travelers, your safari cost will be greatly reduced.

Sri Lankan electric cart

You can follow the same procedure when using the electric cart to explore the botanical gardens in Sri Lanka. When visiting botanical gardens, you need to buy the entrance ticket and a separate ticket for 2000 LKR to use the 7-seater electric cart. If you are traveling as a group with seven friends or fellow travelers, it helps you to share this cost and save your travel budget.

9. Rent a scooter or tuk tuk

If you like to drive yourself, renting a scooter is the most economical way to explore Sri Lanka. In this way, you can avoid crowds in public transportation and travel comfortably throughout all corners of the island. Most importantly, this is the cheapest way to move around the country. The charge is starting from 6 USD per day and it will save a lot of money on your transportation cost.

Renting a scooter in Sri Lanka

Renting a self-drive tuk-tuk is quite cheap where you need only 14 USD and you can drive around 150 km per day. First, you should get a short training and license paper, then you are ready to go. Driving a tuk-tuk is very easy and just needs little attention to the gear system. This will give you the maximum freedom to travel anywhere like a local and have a budget-friendly vacation in Sri Lanka.

Renting a tuk tuk in Sri Lanka

10. Join travel communities

Joining Sri Lanka travel groups is something quite important for tourists. One of the most famous travel forums in Sri Lanka is the TripAdvisor travel forum where you can get a lot of valuable information. In this forum, you can meet like-minded travelers who like to share their experiences. You can ask any travel-related question and experts will answer within seconds. Moreover, if you like to share the taxi costs, you can ask other fellow travelers to find a travel buddy.

TripAdvisor travel forum

Another important Facebook community is the Sri Lanka Travel and Tourism Group . There are more than 47 K members to share travel-related information. The members include travelers, bloggers, writers, tour companies, tour guides, coach operators, accommodation providers, and knowledgeable reviewers. They contribute to cheap accommodation and transport options to help travelers.

Sri Lanka Travel & Tourism Facebook group

To sum up, Sri Lanka offers plenty of budget-friendly activities that won’t break the bank. Here we have mentioned the most important budget-travel tips for you. Moreover, you can bargain when shopping for Sri Lankan souvenirs , clothes, or handicrafts. This is a common practice in Sri Lanka where you can often secure better deals and save money. Additionally, be cautious of tourist traps and avoid scammers before making expensive purchases such as gemstones and jewelry. Welcome guys, enjoy a budget-friendly travel in Sri Lanka.!

budget travel sri lanka

Text by Magnificent Sri Lanka. Images from Wikimedia Commons, Pixabay, Unsplash, Facebook, and Twitter. all the copyrights are reserved by the original authors.

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A Budget Traveller’s Guide to Sri Lanka

budget travel sri lanka

Sri Lanka. Empty beaches and crowded cities. Terraced tea plantations and wild jungles. Elephants and leopards, whales and monkeys, friendly people and incredible food.

Ignored by travellers during two decades of civil conflict, tourism is only now starting to reappear on this teardrop-shaped island off the bottom of India.

While package tours are popular, they’re far from the only way to see the best of what the country has to offer. I spent three weeks travelling independently around the southern and central parts of the island by bus, train and tuk-tuk. The experience put Sri Lanka firmly near the top of my list of favourite destinations.

If you’re considering budget travel in Sri Lanka, here’s what you need to know.

Note: this post is long and detailed! I’ve broken it down into several sections, which you can skip to using the links below.

Budgeting for Sri Lanka

First things first: Sri Lanka isn’t a super-cheap destination in the same way as India, Nepal or most of South East Asia. Accommodation and food are more expensive than neighbouring countries, and the entrance fee to major attractions for foreigners is disproportionately high.

Expect a daily budget of $30-$50 per person on accommodation, food, drinks, and transport. That cost is based on staying in guesthouses and homestays, and eating at local restaurants or your accommodation. Hostels aren’t all that common outside the cities, but when you can find them, you’ll save a few dollars if you’re travelling alone.

View of a waterfall in hilly country, with a road in foreground

If you decide to take in most of the main sights, you could easily spend the same amount again on entrance fees and tours. In the end, the high cost of attractions put me off visiting many of them.

Travelling alone for much of my time in Sri Lanka, and unable to split costs, anything that required hiring a driver or guide was out of reach. Luckily, many of the best parts of the country — food, beaches, and people in particular, cost little or nothing to experience.

Sri Lankan keeps the visa process simple. The Sri Lanka Electronic Travel Authorisation site isn’t the most attractive in the world, but it works well.

Unless you come from one of a small number of nearby countries, you’ll pay $30 USD for a 30-day double-entry visa. The site accepts credit cards, and you’ll receive a confirmation email within 24 hours with the details you need.

If you want to be particularly organised, feel free to print it out. I didn’t, and although I’d saved the email on my phone, nobody asked to see it.

Two-day transit visas are free if you’re just passing through, and longer visas are available if you need them. It’s also possible to extend a tourist visa within the country, if you happen to fall madly in love with Sri Lanka and can’t bear the thought of leaving.

The currency in Sri Lanka is the rupee (LKR), which at the time I travelled was worth around 130 to the US dollar. ATMs are common throughout the country, although on one occasion I did need to take a tuk-tuk to the next town a few miles down the road to find one.

Sri Lankan money

All of the ATMs I tried accepted international cards, with only a small fee (around 50c), but withdrawal limits vary significantly by bank. If the machine you’re using won’t give you enough money in a single transaction, just find another that does.

As far as budget travellers are concerned, Sri Lanka is primarily a cash economy. Don’t expect to find credit card facilities in guesthouses or local restaurants. Small bills are always appreciated, and many vendors won’t be able to make change if you hand them a 5000 rupee note.

Like most visitors, I arrived in Sri Lanka via Bandaranaike International Airport around 35km from Colombo. Immigration and luggage reclaim were painless, and the terminal was clean and reasonably modern.

Getting local currency was straightforward, with the staff of several foreign exchange booths vying for attention as soon as I left the baggage area. They offered a competitive rate, but there were several ATMs nearby if you’d prefer to withdraw money instead.

I picked up a local SIM card before leaving the terminal, then headed out to brave the morning heat and taxi drivers. Due to the captive market and distance from Colombo, private transport options from the airport are expensive for budget travellers unless they’re in a group.

You’re looking at around 2500 LKR (~$19) for a taxi into Colombo, and 1500 LKR ($12) for a seat in a shared minivan.

Local buses into the city cost 150 LKR (~$1.20) – there isn’t an airport stop, but should be a free shuttle to the bus station. Luggage space will be at a premium, so don’t expect to get on with large suitcases. You’ll be able to ask an airport official where to catch the shuttle from (and if it’s running).

Since I was taking the train down to Galle the same day, I needed to get to Colombo Fort station. While there is a train service that runs there directly from the airport, it only operates twice a day. The schedule is much more regular from Katunayaka South station, less than ten minutes from the airport in a tuk-tuk.

Katunayaka South train station, a small single-track station with a concrete platform.

I couldn’t find a driver who would charge less than 250 LKR (~$2) per person for the journey, but if you’re in less of a hurry and a better negotiator than me, you should be able to pay less.

From there, the third class train into Colombo cost around 25 LKR (20c), and took about 75 minutes to get to Fort station. It ran at least once an hour, and serves as the perfect introduction to Sri Lanka. You’ll likely be the only foreigner on the train as it winds through the countryside and Colombo suburbs.

Sri Lanka has two official languages, Sinhala and Tamil, and you’ll see their gloriously looping forms on signs everywhere. English is also quite widely spoken and usually found anywhere visitors are expected to be.

Bus destination boards, road signs, many shops, and even advertising billboards often include an English translation. Communicating with locals was rarely an issue.


Before arriving in Sri Lanka, I’d been concerned about the cost of accommodation based on what I found online. As it turned out, my concern was only somewhat justified – mostly because in August, it was rarely hot enough for lack of air conditioning to be a problem.

Opting for rooms without a/c bought the price down. I found anywhere near the ocean had a fan and enough breeze to keep things cool.

On average, I paid $20-30/night for a clean private room with hot water and (usually) breakfast. If I’d had my own transport, I could have reduced this a bit -– there were some good options outside the centre of many towns.

Since I didn’t want to have to take a tuk-tuk or walk 30+ minutes in the midday sun every time I went anywhere, however, I generally stayed close to the action.

I often booked a room the day before arriving somewhere new, just so I could ignore the crowd of “helpers” that meet every bus. It’s definitely possible to just turn up and find somewhere to stay, though, and doing so usually yielded a good result.

Just be prepared to spend some time tracking down a place that works for you, and don’t be afraid to negotiate.

Young girl playing peek-a-boo at an outdoor table

Stay in at least one or two homestays during your time in Sri Lanka. They tend to be smaller than guesthouses, often with only a couple of rooms for guests , and entirely family-run.

Breakfasts will almost always be included, and you’ll often be able to have dinner with the family for a few dollars as well. Take up the offer if it’s extended – the food will be even better than in local restaurants.

You can compare prices on , which saves a bunch of time on slow Internet connections. You’ll find plenty of those in Sri Lanka.

Ahh, the food. I’ll freely admit I didn’t know much about Sri Lankan cuisine before arriving, naively assuming it’d be similar to that in India. While the basic components of many dishes were familiar — rice, curries, papadums, and roti — that’s about where the similarities end.

Rice and Curry

I don’t think I’ve ever eaten as well (or as much) as I did during my time in Sri Lanka. Other travellers have spoken of getting sick of the ubiquitous “rice and curry”, but god knows I never did. The simple name hides the fact that despite eating this dish at least 30 times during my trip, I was never served the same meal twice.

Rice and curry in metal bowls on a table

The meal consisted of a large plate of rice, plus anywhere between four and a dozen different curries in little bowls. There’d usually be a meat option – salted fish or chicken being most common – along with some fluffy dahl, but after that it was hard to predict.

I had fruit and vegetable curries of almost every flavour – potato, pumpkin, beans, jackfruit, beetroot, eggplant, and many others I couldn’t identify. The only similarity was that they were all damn delicious. Every. Single. One.

Breakfasts varied, too, but my favourite was string hoppers. Resembling noodles and made from rice flour, the actual hoppers were pretty bland — but adding a healthy spoonful of the coconut or onion sambal that came with it made a life-changing culinary explosion go off in my mouth.

I wasn’t as excited by egg hoppers (a thin fried pancake with an egg in the middle) or the sweet, sticky roti pancakes. What I did learn, though, is that there are at least a million different ways to use a coconut at breakfast time.

I won’t go into detail about everything I ate in Sri Lanka, but there’s no way I couldn’t mention kottu roti. You’ll likely hear the distinctive metallic chopping sound of its preparation long before you order it, serving as a beacon for hungry passers-by.

It’s simply shredded pieces of roti bread mixed with spices and vegetables, seafood, or meat. Chopped up, stir-fried, and served with a hot, spicy sauce, it’s the perfect street food, and goes down extremely well with a cold bottle of Lion beer. Say, for example.

It’s the spices, though, that will always remind me of Sri Lanka. Cumin was ever-present, but my uneducated nose and taste buds struggled to identify the complex mixtures after that. Coriander, turmeric, cinnamon, and undoubtedly many more.

Chilli, both ground and chopped, always made an appearance. I like spicy food, and only rarely found a meal too hot to handle, but if you’re not a fan of chillies you’ll want to mention that when you order.

Rice and curry with bottle of beer on an outdoor terrace overlooking the water on Lonely Beach

Food prices varied widely depending on where I chose to eat. It wasn’t unusual to see prices as high as 1200 LKR (~$10) for rice and curry in the most tourist-friendly parts of town, but following the locals yielded better food for a dollar or two.

As always, look for the crowded restaurants and street stalls, and don’t worry about the state of the furniture. It’s the popularity and fast turnover that keeps you happy and healthy, not the presence of a tablecloth.

Many well-heeled visitors to Sri Lanka hire a car and driver for their stay, but if you’re a budget traveller and not in too much of a hurry, there’s really no need.

The rail system dates back to colonial times and is extremely slow. It’s also cheap, reliable, and travels through some spectacular countryside.

There are first class air-conditioned carriages on a few routes, but they quickly fill up with tour groups. If you’d prefer to save money and spend your journey chatting to locals instead, buy a second class ticket. The breeze blowing in through the open windows and doors cools all but the most crowded trains.

Many shorter routes only have a third class option, which is basic but fine. You’ll also be able to take much better photos from the cheaper carriages, especially if you’re happy to hang out the door to do so.

Some trains on the popular Colombo to Badulla route include a fancy, privately-operated carriage that can be booked online, but tickets for the government-run carriages need to be purchased at a station.

Advance tickets go on sale ten days before departure, but you may not be able to buy them from the smaller stations. I was advised to go to Matara or Galle when trying to book a ticket in Weligama, for example.

Train from Ella to Kandy curving around a hill

The trip from Ella to Kandy is widely regarded as one of the most scenic rail trips in the world, and has the popularity to match. Every ticket for the famous observation car was sold out for the next ten days, so I booked the last second-class seat for a train leaving three days later.

Long story short: if you’re planning to take that train journey (and you should, because it’s amazing), book your outbound ticket from Ella as early as possible.

Unfortunately, the train lines don’t run everywhere in the country, so at some point you’ll end up on a bus. These are far more plentiful, and will get you close to anywhere you want to go. They’re as cheap as the train, often more crowded, and will always involve plenty of time on the wrong side of the road.

Most buses will have limited space for your luggage, either beside the driver or sometimes in the back. Sri Lankans seem to travel light around their own country, so as long as there aren’t many other foreigners on your bus, you’ll find somewhere to stow a backpack or small suitcase.

Failing that, you may be able to buy an extra ticket and put your bag on the seat beside you, or resign yourself to having it in your lap for a few hours.

Timetables do exist, but as buses leave when full they’re more of a guideline than a rule. The easiest option is to ask your guesthouse owner how often buses run to your next destination, then turn up at the station with time to spare and ask around.

Random strangers are usually incredibly happy to help out the lost-looking foreigner. They’ll often do everything from showing you where to stand to keeping an eye out for the bus for you, waving it down, explaining to the driver where you’re trying to go, and helping you with your luggage.

Even if you’ve been told you’ll need to change somewhere, it’s always worth asking if there is a direct bus to your destination. Sometimes they only run once or twice a day, if they exist at all, but you never know.

It’s worth keeping a collection of small notes and coins handy to pay for your ticket. Expect to pay as little as 30 LKR for a short journey between neighbouring towns, and 200-300 LKR for a trip that takes several hours.

Other Options

If you don’t want to hire a car and driver, but dealing with long days on public transport doesn’t sound appealing, there are a few other options.

I met a French couple who had hired a small car and driven around much of the country with it. They said it was nerve-wracking most of the time, but the freedom and flexibility made it worth the occasional scream.

I also ran into a British couple who had just finished a multi-week motorbike trip. They’d rented a 250cc bike that was appropriate for getting well off the main roads, but scooters are also available if that’s more your style.

And, of course, there are auto rickshaws (tuk-tuks). These take the place of taxis in much of the country, and you’ll see them everywhere.

While many of the tuk-tuks look much the same, every driver is different. They’re not all out to scam you, but many do love to overcharge foreigners. I was told by a guesthouse owner in Mirissa that the going rate for tourists was double the local price.

Tuk-tuk at a small marina with boats in the background

You can always bargain, and will usually get a cheaper price when you do. Be very clear about where you’re going however, and what the final price will be.

You may even want to write the address and price on a piece of paper to show your driver for their agreement. And to use as evidence if you still end up having an argument at the end of the trip.

Finally, if you love the sound of a tuk-tuk but not the idea of haggling with drivers all the time, you can rent one to drive around the country yourself. Some fellow travel bloggers did exactly this , and put the idea in my head for my next trip to Sri Lanka. Because, seriously, how amazing does it sound?

I found Sri Lankans to be some of the warmest, friendliest, and most helpful people I’ve ever met. Strangers on a train or bus would strike up a conversation within a minute. If I was travelling alone, restaurant staff would want to know if I had a girlfriend. If Lauren was with me, they’d ask when we were getting married.

I barely had a chance to look lost before someone would approach to see if I needed help. If they didn’t speak English, they’d call a friend who did and get them to translate. Kids, families, old men and women would break into smiles when I wandered past, and it was almost impossible to walk more than a block without someone calling out a greeting.

In some parts of the world this kind of interaction with locals seems a little forced, but in Sri Lanka it rarely did. There seemed to be a genuine interest in talking to visitors, finding out what they thought of the country, and what had bought them to Sri Lanka.

Lauren standing beside a pink tuk-tuk

The only real exceptions were tuk-tuk drivers, but that’s fairly common anywhere in the world. Even then, I had a couple of great experiences.

There was the guy in Galle, for instance, who serenaded us with Bob Marley songs as we zipped through the streets in his bright pink rickshaw. A few days later, hearing I was interested in renting a tuk-tuk of my own, a driver in Mirrisa insisted we swap seats so I could get some practice ahead of time.

Travelling as a Solo Female

As I’m not a woman, it’s hard for me to gauge what travelling as a solo female is really like. However, although Lauren and I travelled together for most of her time in the country, she did spend 24 hours on her own as she made her way back to Colombo. She had quite a different experience to when she was with me, and I quote it in full below:

I felt incredibly safe in Sri Lanka with Dave by my side but sadly didn’t feel the same when venturing out alone. While wandering around by myself, I noticed stares from 90% of the local men I passed, and the majority of them would try and strike up a conversation with me.

This didn’t happen when I was with Dave, when I was mostly ignored. It was a huge difference and one that greatly unsettled me.

I took a solo train journey, where I was sat by the window, and at each train station we passed, the local men on the platform would see me and gather by my window, staring. Not saying anything, not doing anything, just relentlessly staring. A huge crowd! It spooked me so much that I stopped using public transport alone and went with taxis instead for the rest of my time in the country.

So, it’s tricky. I can’t say it’s unsafe for solo female travellers when nothing bad happened to me. Nobody even attempted anything untoward. But the stares? They left me uncomfortable and feeling vulnerable.

Yes, cricket. That odd sport played by Britain and its former colonies. The only game that can last for five full days and still end up in a draw.

If you’re from a cricket-playing country, you’ll have immediate common ground with any Sri Lankan male old enough to hold a bat. If you know the slightest thing about the sport, you’ve pretty much made a friend for life.

My time in Sri Lanka happened to coincide with a cricket tour by the Pakistan team, and I ended up being in Galle for the first four days of a match. In an inspired move by the authorities, ground entry was free. I could just turn up to lie on the grass and watch the game for a few hours each day, coming and going as I pleased.

Vendors walked past with spiced peanuts, ice-cream, cold drinks, and a random selection of fried goods, and there was always a group nearby to share the twists and turns of the match with.

Cricket match being played at a ground in Galle, with a road visible in front

Blissed out in the sunshine, listening to the sound of bat, ball, and an assortment of out-of-tune instruments, I was about as happy as I’ve ever been on my travels. Best of all, Sri Lanka won in the dying minutes of the final session. Perfect.

Power and Internet

Wi-Fi was available in all of the places I stayed, as well as many restaurants, bars, and cafes. Speeds varied much more than I expected, from an astonishing 17Mbps connection at a guesthouse on the beach near Tangalle, to some that were too slow to load a web page.

Typical speeds were around 3Mbps download and half that for uploads, which was fast enough for anything I needed to do online.

Note that Colombo Airport doesn’t officially provide free Wi-Fi, but there is a coffee shop in the transit area that offers a glacially-slow connection if you buy their overpriced beverages.

I wrote an entire post about the process of buying and using a SIM card or eSIM in Sri Lanka . Briefly, though, prices were reasonable, coverage was good, and speeds were quite quick.

Power, too, wasn’t a problem. Over the course of three weeks I experienced two blackouts, once for a couple of hours after a huge storm in Ella, and the other for a few minutes in Tangalle.

Seasons and Weather

Despite its small size, Sri Lanka experiences very diverse weather. The island has two distinctive monsoon seasons, one in the southwest and one in the north and east.

I visited the southern coast during the monsoon. Despite being prepared to change my plans if the weather was causing problems, however, there was no need. While there were some heavy downpours overnight and some afternoons, they didn’t stop me from doing anything I’d planned.

Wet road and falling rain visible

Temperatures on the coast were hot and relatively humid, although sea breezes made a big difference. In the highlands, temperatures were somewhat lower during the day and much cooler overnight, with fog and rain not uncommon in the afternoon in Ella.

Pack sunscreen, a hat, walking shoes, and a rain jacket, and you’ll be fine pretty much everywhere!

Cruising Along the Coast

Sri Lanka is renowned for its glorious beaches, and I made a point to visit several along the southern coast.

After only planning to spend one night in Galle, the gorgeous old colonial buildings and cricket match I mentioned forced me to return for another few days. Galle Fort, the UNESCO-listed part of town, was by far the most touristed place I visited in Sri Lanka, with food and accommodation prices to match.

Galle lighthouse beside the ocean

I spent most of my time in the city exploring the old town, wandering along the walls, and admiring the restored buildings. When I wasn’t sightseeing I was watching cricket from inside the ground or atop the ramparts.

If there isn’t a game on (or you’re a bit strange and don’t love cricket), you only need a couple of nights in town to see the best parts before leaving for somewhere a little more budget-friendly.

I’d highly recommend eating outside the walls of the fort, both for the savings and the quality of the food. I found a little place between the train and bus stations offering fish, rice, and curries for 200 LKR ($1.50.) The food was plentiful, delicious, and definitely not toned down for foreigners. There wasn’t much English spoken, but pointing and smiling worked just fine.

Where I Stayed

It was hard to find a decent private room for under 4000 LKR in Galle Fort, although there were also a few places offering dorm beds. I stayed in two different rooms at Inn64 in the heart of the old town, and preferred the room overlooking the road — it was a little smaller, but being able to sit out on the balcony was great.

This was one of the few places I stayed that had air-conditioning, but it wasn’t really necessary. The wi-fi was fast, the owner was friendly and it was in a great location. All in all, I liked it a lot — although it was expensive by Sri Lankan standards, it was good value for Galle. We paid 4500 LKR ($35) as a walk-in rate.

How I Got There

The train from Colombo Fort to Galle took a little over two hours, and a second-class ticket cost 180 LKR (~$1.40). It was pretty crowded, so I had to stand up for most of the journey, but the coastal views were enough of a distraction from my aching feet.

A little further along the south coast lies Mirissa, a laid-back little coastal town. We spent most of our days on the long, narrow strip of beach, watching the surf endlessly crash onto the sand. The waves were impressive during monsoon season, and more than a few minutes in the ocean left me feeling like I’d been put through a spin cycle.

The big tourist draw in Mirissa is whale watching, but it wasn’t really the right time of year to see them when I was there. Prices seemed reasonable enough at around 6500 LKR ($50) for a half day excursion, but I amused myself by wandering round the harbour chatting to fishermen instead.

Sign saying Central Beach Inn, beside a beach

There weren’t all that many dining options, but it wasn’t hard to find a couple of decent places. Most lunches consisted of a beer, rice, and curry on the sand at Central Beach Inn. Dinner was from Dewmini Roti Shop, a great little place a few minutes off the main road.

We spent three nights at Bon Accord , a small, immaculately-kept guesthouse near the western end of the beach. The owner cleaned the entire place twice a day, and it could well be the most spotless accommodation I’ve ever had in Asia.

The multi-course breakfasts were outstanding, and playing with the puppies while watching peacocks land on the neighbour’s roof each day was an added bonus. We paid 4500 LKR ($35) for a fan room with balcony – again, expensive for Sri Lanka but worth every penny. Highly recommended.

Buses run regularly through Mirissa from the main station in Galle, and take around 40 minutes. I don’t recall the exact cost, but it was around 50 rupees (40c).

I spent the remainder of my time in Sri Lanka travelling solo, starting with three nights just east of Tangalle. There wasn’t much to the town itself, but the beach was remarkable.

There were miles of almost empty sand, broken up only by the occasional hotel or shack of a seafood restaurant. The surf was even heavier than in Mirissa, if that’s possible, so I observed it from the safety of my towel.

Long, almost empty beach with palm trees and ocean

There was little else to do without taking a tuk-tuk back into town, and that suited me just fine. I whiled away my days reading, snoozing in the hammock, and trying to digest the enormous meals coming out of the guesthouse kitchen.

I stayed at Lonely Beach Resort , where I passed on the ocean view and picked up one of the cheaper fan rooms for 2800 LKR (~$21) per night. It overlooked a nearby swamp instead, but it was clean and spacious, had a large balcony and there was always enough breeze to deter the bugs and keep me cool.

Wi-Fi was patchy in the room, but very fast when sitting in the restaurant with a beer – so that’s exactly what I did when checking emails. I’m not sure if the beer was a requirement to get the faster speeds, but I wasn’t prepared to risk it.

The food at the guesthouse seemed a little expensive, especially given breakfast wasn’t included in the room rate, but it was uniformly excellent. I also ate at the hotel restaurant next door a couple of times, which had a slightly better view and slightly worse food.

The bus ride from Galle to Matara lasted a couple of hours, and after a short wait, the next bus to Tangalle took about the same amount of time.

Each ticket cost under a dollar – as usual, the ten minute tuk-tuk ride to my final destination cost more than the several hours of buses that preceded it.

Two weeks after leaving the coast to head inland, I returned for my last few nights in Sri Lanka. Negombo is the closest stretch of coast to the airport, and felt like it. Prices were generally higher, restaurant food was generally worse, tourists were more plentiful, and touts were more persistent than elsewhere in the country.

Long golden-sand beach at Negombo in Sri Lanka, with a few people on it

The beach, though, was impressive – long, wide and empty, at least at the northern end of town where I spent most of my time. Locals played football and cricket in the evening, with only complete darkness ending those simple pleasures.

I did manage to find a great little rice and curry restaurant on the main road, half the price and twice as good as anything else I’d walked past on that long strip of souvenir shops and travel agents.

It says something about the lack of decent alternatives that despite the restaurant being a half-hour walk from my guesthouse, I went back again for lunch the next day.

I spent three nights at Suriya Arana Hotel , a family-run place with clean, large a/c rooms, and an included breakfast. It was totally worth eating dinner there as well – the meals weren’t all that cheap, but they were very good.

A recent storm meant the Internet wasn’t working during my stay, but the couple that run the place were both lovely, and I’d happy stay there again. It was good value for Negombo, at 3000 LKR ($23) per night.

My homestay owner in Sigiriya dropped me off at the bus stop in Dambulla, where a crowded bus negotiated endless roadworks to drop me in Kurunegala for 180 LKR ($1.50) a couple of hours later.

An air-conditioned minivan then took me on to Negombo for around 300 rupees ($2.40), where I asked to be let out on the side of the road to walk the last mile to the hotel rather than backtracking from the bus station

Hitting the Highlands

Even though the highlands are under 100km from the coast, they feel like a different country. Towering mountains, green jungles, misty valleys, cooler temperatures, and tea plantations as far as the eye can see. If you stick to the coast, you’re only getting part of the Sri Lankan experience.

The small hill town of Ella wasn’t quite what I expected. There’s not much to it — several guesthouses, restaurants, and convenience stores spread along a chaotic main street full of wandering tourists, creaky buses, and barking street dogs.

Fortunately, I found a homestay a few minutes away down a side street that was much more peaceful, giving me the chance to enjoy what everyone really goes there for: the stunning countryside.

View of mountains and distant road from Little Adam's Peak, Ella

Although I’d only planned to stay a couple of days, I ended up extending to five -– I loved my homestay and the cool, fresh air, and was in no hurry to leave.

Other than working my way through my Kindle when the rain rolled in every afternoon, I spent one morning hiking up Little Adam’s Peak, and another walking a few kilometres back down the road to a waterfall I’d passed on the way in. Both were well worth the effort, but I’d suggest starting early to avoid the heat.

There were a few good food options in town, with delicious cheap fish kottu roti at the Ella Curd Shop, and higher-end options with a great view at AK Ristoro.

After searching fruitlessly for half an hour on the main road, a tuk-tuk driver convinced me to let him drive me round several accommodation options on the hilly side streets.

It ended up being a good decision, as I discovered Blooming Rose Inn . Run by a lovely, warm family, it was pretty much everything I could have hoped for in a homestay. I got a large clean room, fantastic food, plenty of helpful advice, and at 3000 LKR ($23)/night including breakfast, a reasonable price.

There was no fan or a/c, but surprisingly, the room didn’t need them. It got positively chilly at night in Ella!

I managed to catch a 10am direct bus from Tangalle to Ella, which took four hours and cost around 260 LKR ($2). It was crowded, but I was able to get a seat after the first hour or so.

Despite being the cultural capital of Sri Lanka, I wasn’t overly excited by Kandy. It seemed busy and noisy, with surprisingly lousy food options. Walking around the lake was mildly interesting, but the main highlight for me was the Botanical Garden.

Large tree with exposed roots at Kandy Botanical Garden

It was easy to get to by local bus, and I spent several hours wandering around admiring the diverse trees, plants, monkeys, snake charmer, and, in one memorable encounter, a scorpion. As with most other attractions in Sri Lanka it was relatively expensive for foreigners, at 1100 LKR ($8.50).

Most accommodation in Kandy seemed pricey, so I was pleased to find Sevana City Hotel within walking distance of the train and bus stations for 2500 LKR ($19) per night.

Although a little soulless, it was excellent value — clean, with hot water and working air-conditioning. The wi-fi was terrible, but I could put up with it for a couple of nights.

While Kandy didn’t do much for me, the train ride there from Ella was a big highlight of the trip. It took around seven hours and cost 230 LKR ($1.75) for a second class ticket. Given the incredible scenery along the way, the ticket is worth far more.

The mountain fortress at Sigiriya is arguably Sri Lanka’s most well-known attraction, and I couldn’t leave the country without having climbed it.

Sigiriya Rock, a very large rock with trees visible on the top.

While it’s possible to visit on a day trip from nearby towns and cities, I chose to stay in Sigiriya village. That turned out to be a good choice, making it much easier to be at the ticket office at the 7am opening time to avoid almost all the other visitors.

I’d very highly recommend doing the same – I actually ended up at the summit of Sigiriya Rock entirely alone for 20 minutes, a magical experience as I gazed out over the surrounding landscape. The longer I spent there, the more people showed up. By the time I headed back down late morning, I was passing large tour groups the whole way.

Despite the ridiculously high cost for foreigners (3300 LKR, or $30 USD), it’s worth making the trip to Sigiriya. Give yourself at least half a day, so you can explore the side trails and small museum as well.

Note that hornets can be a problem on the final climb to the summit. They nest in cracks in the rock, and you’re very exposed as you climb the metal staircase beside them. While a shelter and protective clothing are provided if you need them, I’d suggest taking a jacket and long pants with you as well.

I had to delay starting my descent for half an hour due to hornet activity, but didn’t get stung.

I booked two nights at this wonderful homestay , and loved it. The family was great, the food was wonderful (including an impromptu kottu roti cooking lesson one night) and although there were a few bugs due to the location, the fan room was clean and tidy.

Monkeys played in the trees nearby, and apparently wild elephants roam along the street at night. You’re advised not to wander round after dark as a result. In the end, I decided to stay an extra two nights rather than move to nearby Dambulla. That felt like the right choice – it was much more peaceful in Sigiriya!

I took a long and bumpy bus ride from Kandy to Dambulla for 200 LKR ($1.50), then swapped to a local bus for the last half hour to Sigiriya.

I ended up just taking a day trip into Dambulla to visit the cave temples and Golden Buddha, which were more impressive than expected despite the crowds.

Were they worth the 1500 LKR ($11.50) entry fee? That’s debatable. If you’re in the area anyway, though, they’re probably worth the money and sweaty 10-15 minute climb from the entrance.

Several golden Buddha statues in Dambulla

Don’t forget to pay for a ticket as you enter the complex. You can’t pay at the top where the caves are, and won’t appreciate the climb back down and up again to do so.

My homestay family in Sigiriya was heading into Dambulla anyway, and offered me a ride.

Do you have any other questions about budget travel in Sri Lanka? Leave them in the comments!

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I had rice and curry for breakfast, lunch and dinner on my last trip there, and forecast doing exactly the same when I return in November 😉

A man after my own heart…

I travelled Sri Lanka for a week backpacking by myself , moving around only with public transport: buses, 3rd class trains, walk etc… and never felt unsafe.I do agree that I attracted many man stares despite always wearing sweat pants and trainers, but to me it felt a lot more like curiosity then anything else. I loved my solo week there and can’t wait to be back!!! 🙂

Yeah, I’ve definitely heard differing reports about travel as a solo female. I guess a lot of it comes down to personal comfort levels with the amount of attention you’re getting. Even as a guy, I got curious stares fairly often!

Hi Erica, I’ve just seen your post, I’m hoping to do the same as you, backpack on my own in Sri Lanka but was a bit wary of the whole men staring thing as well as getting around on the buses that don’t seem very regular. I only have a week so am wondering if to do it on my own or book an overpriced tour that my agent is trying to get me to buy.. Any help/tips would be much appreciated! Silvia [email protected]

WOW is this thorough!! I am with Lauren in regards to being a solo female in Sri Lanka. I was only in the country for a week, and I was with a group. But, the few times I was alone, I felt very uncomfortable by the unwanted attention from the men, particularly in Colombo and particularly from the tuk tuk drivers. I never felt threatened though. The country and the people are quite lovely! Unlike you, I did get a bit exhausted from the rice and curries and on the last day, when we were at a mall in the capital, I found a pizza place. I was SO EXCITED for the pizza but when I bit into it, the sauce was ketchup. I don’t think I have ever been so bummed about food before. Great job, Dave!!

Hehe. I think the bravest thing you did in Sri Lanka was order that pizza and expect it to be any good. 😉

Pretty thorough job Dave. Photos are great! Yes the article is long but very informative. I especially enjoyed Lauren’s input on solo female travel.

Thanks Cynthia!

This is like a lonely planet guide all in one. I have no plans to visit Sri Lanka just yet but I am certainly bookmarking this for the future

It’s very much worth adding to your list — I loved my time there (can you tell?). 🙂

I actually stopped reading this article after your reference to Rice and Curry. I agree, I could never get sick of eating it. I’m drooling now. So, anyway, based on that, I’m sure the rest of your article is accurate 😉

Love it! I love Sri Lanka, and this is such a comprehensive guide – thank you! I’ll be using it on my next trip there! 🙂

Thank you for your recommend about our Place

Great info Dave, along with the posts by 20 years hence I feel a lot more knowledgable about the ins and outs of travelling in Sri Lanka. Was there anywhere in the coutnry that you feel you missed out on seeing and do you think that 3 weeks was a decent amount of time to travel around the country? I will have 3-4 weeks there myself next year

Thanks! I would have liked to get to the eastern beaches for some diving, and up north to see a different (Tamil) side of Sri Lanka, but was happy to save that for the next trip. The wildlife safaris were also somewhat appealing, but having spent a bit of time in Africa, they weren’t a high priority given the cost. Three weeks felt like a minimum, although I do travel slowly due to trying to work at the same time. You could probably rush through the areas I covered in two weeks if you really wanted to, but if you prefer a more sedate pace or want to cover a larger area than I did, I’d suggest 3-4 weeks is good.

Looks like Sri Lanka is in the sweet spot for being developed enough to make for a great trip, but still not fully discovered by the forces of mass tourism … I need to go as soon as I can, great post!

Yeah It used to be.But now the hectic war ended in 2009 and almost everywhere is discovered and lots of tourists are everywhere.. 🙂

What a through guide to Sri Lanka … this country will top my list for 2015!

Many thanks for this excellent informative article. I will be heading to Sri Lanka travelling on my own Mid- March 2015 for a few weeks. I don`t fancy hiring a driver for financial reasons so it`s great to know it`s possible through public transport.

Thanks again!

Going alone in a couple of weeks and just been doing some research, this is so perfect, you’ve just summarised a day browsing the web in one page, wish I’d found this earlier!! Super helpful advice, Thanks 🙂

Hi Becky, Did you take your solo trip to Sri Lanka? How did you enjoy your time? We’re you uncomfortable as a so,o female traveler? Thank you!

Hi! I came across your blog on google and I’m so glad I did! I have taken lots of notes from your notes. A friend and I are backpacking for three weeks in Sri Lanka in July and have noooooo idea where to start with organising things!! Your blog has helped a lot. Do you think it’s ok to book accommodation along the way? Or do you recommend pre booking everything? I’m really interested in home stays and guest houses. Any advice would be awesome 🙂

Hi Colina, thanks so much!

In terms of accommodation, I did a bit of both when I was there in August, and both were equally successful really. I’d recommend having something lined up for at least your first night, especially if you’re coming off a longhaul flight. After that, you can either book online the day before once you know where you’re likely to go, or in most cases, just rock up and find something. It’ll likely be a little cheaper if you just turn up, as you can negotiate the rate.

FWIW, I prebooked in Mirissa, Galle (the first time), Kandy, Sigiriya and Negombo, and just turned up in Galle (the second time), Tangalle and Ella.

Great read, thanks mate. Will definitely use the info while ‘getting lost’ around the island during on my month long motorbike trip in July. Will also visit the far north and also try to get to some festival hopefully further south if possible. Travelling alone so hope I bump into some of your other readers along the way… Keep positive, positive things happen 🙂

Looking forward to read of your other experiences too

more that the reading, I enjoyed looking at the pictures frankly.

So scenic and mesmerizing.!! Complete Serendipity.

Thanks for sharing!! Cheers.

Hi I was really pleased to find your site at 6am whilst I sit in bed reading in our rooms in Nuwara Eliya this morning. We have spent 8 days backpacking in SL so far & have another 3 weeks. We were starting to lose hope as our experiences seem a bit of a struggle so far. Your recommendations come at the right time. As a blonde, one suggestion I would add to solo female traveller article, is do not sit in aisle seats on public buses! I would echo everything else in Lauren`s article. We are really struggling with getting transport information. As budget travellers it just doesnt seem to exist! Our next journey is to get from Ella- Udawalwe- coast. I just hope we can get some info in Ella. Any tips? I look forward to catching up with the rest of your travels now Ive found your blog… thanks

Yeah, backpacking in Sri Lanka was a bit of a challenge at times — overall I definitely loved my time there, but then again, I’m not female and can imagine that there is an extra degree of hassle involved every day for you!

In terms of information, you’re right — unless you happen to find someone’s blog post, there’s almost nothing online in the way of transport information for buses (you can usually find a train timetable somewhere). In the end I just gave up trying to get assurances about anything to do with buses ahead of time, and asked my guesthouse owners what the real story was. They always knew!

I think unless you’re really getting off the beaten track, you’ll be able to get to anywhere by some combination of bus and taxi/tuktuk. It just won’t always be particularly direct or fast. 🙂 I don’t have any information about the Ella – Udawalwe – coast route you’re looking at, and there’ll almost certainly be a change of bus involved somewhere — again, someone in Ella will definitely know. Hope your trip improves!

Excellent article. You have come really handy & at the right time, since I am going to Sri Lanka on solo travel from 10th June 2015 for 7 days. So, glad to have found you.

Anyway, I wish to know if there are any good gyms there in Galle, Kandy and Colombo ? I know gyms would be the last thing tourists would want to see. But still ! I am fond of physical fitness and would want to spend couple of hours each day working out. Please respond.

Regards, Shaunak Marulkar Pune, India

Sorry, I wouldn’t have a clue about gyms in any of these cities — they weren’t something I was looking out for. You might be best to find Sri Lanka expat groups on Facebook and ask your question there, I think.

Okay, in any case I appreciate your quick response. Thanks a ton !

Hi, Dave. I’m so happy I came across this post. I’m going to Sri Lanka on the 20th! Your detailed report is definitely going to help me. I’m so glad it includes accommodations. Like you, I’m seeing now that the prices are kind of high.

My first stop, btw, will be Negombo. I’m going to need a couple nights to recover after my flights. 🙂 At some point, I hope to go north and east–in addition to the southwest. A lot will depend on the weather.

Thanks for sharing such great info!

Enjoyed reading that you seemed to have covered everything!

I have read on the comments here that Sri Lanka can be a difficult place to travel. Me and my gf are starting a six month trip of SE Asia in Sri Lanka but have not really backpacked anywhere before. Do you think this will be a major problem.

Also would you suggest staying in Negombo or Columbo for the first few nights after we land?

As a guy, I actually found Sri Lanka a little easier to travel around than other countries I’ve been to in South and South East Asia, but women can sometimes have a bit of a hard time (especially solo). If you haven’t really backpacked before, you’ll definitely encounter some challenges — but you’d encounter most of them elsewhere in the region too. Don’t worry about it — the challenges are all part of the fun (although maybe not at the time!) and after a week or two you’ll be fine. 🙂

I didn’t stay in Colombo at all, which in hindsight may have been an oversight. If you want a bit of beach time for the first few days, Negombo is fine — but it felt very touristy to me compared to other places I went. The food was generally watered down and overpriced as well. If you want to throw yourself into the thick of things straight away, head to Colombo!

Hi Dave Thanks for sharing your wealth of information about your travels to Sri Lanka and Asia. This is the best site I’ve come across whilst I’m planning for my backpack adventure in 2016.

Here’s a tricky question…… If I have to choose between 3 weeks in Asia, would you suggest Sri Lanka or Vietnam . Both look amazing places , and I get a sense from your blog , that you have a leaning toward Sri Lanka . I’d appreciate your thoughts

Best wishes for your walk in Spain too. I,ve walked the Spanish and Portuguese Camino and definitely hooked on epic walks. Planning to walk the via francigena next year ….check it out if you get the walking bug. Thanks heaps for a great read J

Honestly, they’re both fantastic. Vietnam will be cheaper, the food is equally wonderful (although quite different) in both countries, and there’s so much to see and do in a three week stint that you definitely won’t get bored. You really can’t go wrong with either option, so go wherever appeals the most!

i just went through your article, i have to say I’m shocked ! you paid what for accommodation? i mean, i did the very similar trip in lets be fair , backpacking conditions, commuting by local transport eating local food, staying in homestays and guest houses. I have never paid more than 900lkr for double room in above locations . my daily budget for two people including 2 r&c and a beer local snacs and acco was somewhat 1500-1700LKR per day FOR TWO people.

based on article like yours many backpackers will be surely put off, please don’t share this under backpacking theme, its far away from backpacking .

to my taste of course.

Thank god you stopped by to tell me how to be a real backpacker, Joe. I would have been lost without you.

Are you saying you paid about €10 per day on food and accom , total for two people? as id like to think we are great at barganing etc, but this blog is quit off putting for sri lanka, which im planning to head to for two months in november.

Thanks Bert & Sara

Hi- I never post on blogs, but just had to sayTHANKS! I am planning a trip next month and this helped me so much! I have bookmarked your site!

You’re more than welcome! 🙂

Good article, just say this for backpacking totally how much LKR is needed for Colombo, Galle, Marisa, Mandy,sigiriya, Yale national park

What was the total cost incurred in this trip excluding flights to & fro the country

I’ve no idea, I’m afraid — I didn’t track my expenses in that level of detail.

Thank you so much for this, has being really helpfull. Im going to travel there solo women and i’ve being scared about how is going to be. Besides that im concerned about bagpack or lugagge, im going for 10 days only and being alone i dont know how is better for moving around, traveling by train i dont know if a small lugagge is suitable. How did you move from Ella to Galle? Train? Im planing to my last days staying in Bentota, you know about it? Thank you for this info

Small luggage is definitely better on buses, as there often isn’t much room. On trains, you’ll have less of a problem with a medium sized suitcase, but remember that if you need to walk with it anywhere, temperatures are hot and pavements often aren’t very smooth, so a light backpack will be easier.

I travelled from Galle to Mirissa to Tangalle, spending a few days in each, and then took the bus up to Ella. There’s no train that goes from the south coast to Ella or vice versa, so you’ll either need to backtrack to Colombo and take the train down to Galle, take buses like I did, or hire a car and driver.

I’m not familiar with Bentota, sorry.

I will try to travel better with a bagpack specially for moving alone makes me feel easier to move around. I will go from Colombo to Kandy by train and i was thinking a next train to Ella. But i havent heard good reviews about buses and going from Ella to like Galle seems that only a bus works. I will try to hire a driver. That sounds good. Thank you for answering. Helps a lot!!

If you’re short on time and/or don’t want to take the bus, then the car/driver option will be quicker and more comfortable (although quite a bit more expensive, obviously).

This was great, thanks so much! I’ve done a ton of research on Sri Lanka already (mainly as a way of procrastinating from my studies) as I’m going there in August for 16 days – but your writing included a lot of things I didn’t know!

I also really appreciated the note of being a female alone in Sri Lanka: I’m planning to do that in two areas: Ella and the “Cultural Triangle” (Polonnaruwa, Dambulla and Sirigiya) and while I don’t think I will like the stares and the attention, I am happy to hear that it’s more of a discomfort and not physical assaults. Of course, keeping in mind not traveling at night and staying aware of personal space and items.

I also find it really interesting that you didn’t see a quality difference from paying $10-15 per night, to $40 etc. a night. That’s really good since my budget definitely calls for $15 a night haha!

Anyways, thanks so much!!

This is great…thank you so much! I have got a lot of information needed and can now plan a solo trip to srilanka:)

It was a helpful and great article over there.

I am travelling to SL on 17/7/2016 for 14 days alone as a backpacker.

I will be on budget. Hence, would stay in guest hotel, using public transport and eat street food.

I would like to go on Ramayana based tour with Singiriya and Unawantuna as add on.

Since this is first time I will be in SL and first backpacking tour ever , hence do you have any advice or suggestion ?

Please do share.

Hi Sakthivel,

I don’t really have any advice on budget travel in Sri Lanka beyond what’s offered in this article — I put down everything I could think of in the post. Sorry!

Hi Sakthivel

How did ur Lanka trip go ?

Devaprasad, Mumbai, India

A very helpful article! Question: best way to get to Polonnaruwa from Negombo? How about polonnaruwa to Kandy? I don’t think there is a train between them, so a bus? Then from Kandy I need to get to Hikkaduwa/Galle, how do I get there? Would love your help. Cheers

Negombo to Polonnaruwa — there’s a train from Colombo Fort station to Polonnaruwa. It runs twice a day, but unless you want to arrive at 1.30am, you’ll want to catch the early morning train. You’ll be looking at a very early taxi ride from Negomobo to do that, or better idea, stay in Colombo the night before. See this site for timetables etc.

Polonnaruwa to Kandy — there’s no train on that route. I’m not sure exactly which way the buses go, but there may well be a somewhat-direct bus. If not, make your way to Dambulla and do the reverse of the trip I did.

Kandy to Galle — you’ll be going via Colombo regardless of whether you take a bus or train. There’s apparently one direct train per day that leaves early in the morning from Kandy — it still goes via Colombo, but you don’t need to change trains. If you don’t want to get up early, check out the bus options, or expect to change trains in Colombo.

Hope that helps!

This is a brilliant story! Helped me out a great deal with regards to approximate pricing etc. And the to and from place to place. Will definitely be looking into the option of motorbike or tuk tuk rental 🙂 happy travels!

Staring Men in Sri Lanka

I have noticed this comment by many tourists to Sri Lanka, whether they are female or male. There are two main reasons i see for this. The first one is curiosity they have toward a foreigner especially a white in complexion. And the other well known reason to me is looking for an opportunity to make few rupees. Most of the locals think fair complexion of a foreigner is a sign of spending money lavishly even for picking a friendly conversation with them. I understand many male sri lankans try their fortune on this. When you mention men are staring, our culture shows men are breadwinners of the family & this could be a reason the starer’s are usually men. And thirdly i would say every society has its own production of bad apples.

Hi Dave, there is finally an islandwide taxi sharing resource at, its done by the Arugam Bay Traveller and seems to be working nicely.

Hi Becky, First of all thank Dave for visiting my country and left this kind of long and detailed information for people who willing to come in future..And Becky thank you too for my vising my country. I think I have to mention something about the solo trip for female. Actually as u and some other people mentioned that staring at you is normal here. not only for female but also for men if you are not brown skinned. Actually I’m sorry if you felt uncomfortable and awkward by people staring at you. I can guaranteed there will be no harm for a lonely lady in Sri Lanka. But you will get some extra care and safe people will always happy to help and giving hand when u want for no money.The reason behind people staring at you is simple ,its the colour of your skin. more than 95 %Sri Lankan have brown skin. we see white skin/black skin just from TV, Internet or tourists. So it not because you are female. . they not look at you as perverts 😛 😛 😛 hahaha..Actually unlike our neighbor countries Sri lanka is very safe country to female travelers. there will be no harm or haressments for you people in sode my country ..So please don’t be afraid come here for a solo tour when someone stare at you for no reason just give them a warm smile.they will smile back nad you will feel comfortable .you will be safe an u can have the best of your me..

Hi, My sister and I are planning 2 weeks in Sri lanka .. I definitely looking to do South western and central Sri Lanka do you think we will have time? Colombo- Kandy- Ella- Arugam Bay- Yala- Marissa – Colombo? I am interested in hiking/ beaches and seeing the wildlife.

You’ll probably feel a bit rushed, but it’s manageable.

Hi Dave, thanks for the really comprehensive review! My brother and I are heading over to Sri Lanka for the first time this Christmas, and hope to bump into other backpackers who will be there at the same time. Since it’s just a ten day trip for us, we are thinking of concentrating on Unawatuna and Marissa, but Trincomalee, Dambula and Pidurangala rock are also incredibly tempting!! Just putting out itinerary together now, so if you have tips that would be amazing!

I packed all my tips and thoughts into this post — nothing more to offer, sorry! 🙂

I am not a fellow traveler but a native Sri Lankan, so pleased to see all your positive comments about my country, just following up on the #stares, its just because of the deference in wardrobe, don’t mind that most of the time our people mean no harm 🙂

hi, nxt month am traveling to srilanka .thnx for the valuable info.

Thank you for your positive comments about my country.I know this is an old article but i saw it today and I really wanted to say thank you. I will like to give some advises for the travelers who are planing to visit sri lanka. If you are planing to travel by train without pre booking try to avoid office trains(around 7 am to 8 am and 5 p.m to 7 p.m).It will be it will be crowded. And if you are traveling in Fridays or in a long weekend I will recommend you the pre bookings. If you want to travel from Katunayake airport to colombo or colombo to Galle/Mathara you can use highway buses (bit expensive than the normal buses).They are comfortable and take less time than normal buses Always be tricky when you dealing with tuk tuk drivers. Definitely there are so many good and helpful tuk tuk drivers but there are some cunning drivers also.Try to use meter taxis and always ask from someone about taxi fees before asking it from the tuk tuk drivers. Whenever you want a help talk with Sri Lankan people they always like to help you(There will be language barriers because it may be hard to understand to your accent but people will manage it.Try to talk slowly and clearly :)) About staring;I’m really sorry for it,it’s because of curiosity and I’m sure they are not going to harm you. Try visit different parts in Sri Lanka you will get lots of different experiences in this small country. Thank you again and welcome to Sri Lanka. 🙂

Nice write up

Which hotel/guesthouse did you stay at that had good Wifi nr Tangalle. We checked into a place, but it barely works so would like to move tomorrow 🙂

It’s in the post – Lonely Beach Resort. Wifi was excellent!

Hey thank you for this post, still very very useful a couple years on.

Planning a solo trip for 3 weeks in June. Nervous about travelling between destination’s as a solo female. Also hoping there will be a chance to meet other solo travellers??

I’ve talked to a few women who’ve travelled solo in Sri Lanka, and none of them have reported any problems beyond the curious staring and conversations that Lauren and others have mentioned here. That’s not a guarantee, of course, but I’ve not heard of any issues myself. There are plenty of solo travellers in the country, so you shouldn’t have a problem meeting other people in any of the touristed places. 🙂

I agree with the many posts above, this is a great source of information on Sri Lanka. My partner and I are hoping to spend 2 months there starting next January 2018. We almost canceled it after looking at the cost of accommodations, especially in the beach areas. It looked impossible on our usual budget of $25-$35 US-Dollars. The problem being that we live in a cool climate here in Northern California and hot humid places without air-con are difficult for us even with the ocean breezes, which in my experience in SE Asia and India beach ares are sporadic at best. We are continuing to look into it after reading your post even though the beach areas still look out of our budget. Even without air-con those you listed are notably higher for Jan-Feb than you posted probably due to the fact you were visiting that area off season. We are still on the fence about spending 60 days there, but at least your excellent blog got us reconsidering. Thanks!

Hi! did you ended up going? I am in LA area and looking to go for a few weeks for vacation. Starting to research to visit next year but looks a quiet expensive trip and long hours flying that I am thinking it may not be worth to go for less than 2 weeks. Any advise you can provide would be great. Thank you!

Nice article Dave. Keep up the good work.

Solo female. I travelled alone in Sri Lanka for 5months and never had any inappropriate attention. If your companion was wearing the tight tank and flouncy short skirt as in the photo that was why. Too much skin on show. Wear modest clothing or even just drap a shawl and you will be fine.

Also possible to get a bus from Tangalle to Haputale/Ella in a day with just a couple of easy changes.

Nope, that photo was an anomaly (it was laundry day) — other than at the beach, the rest of the time her legs and arms were fully covered, in non-revealing/non-tight clothing.

I mentioned in the article and again in the comments that I was able to get a direct bus from Tangalle to Ella, but yes, it’s also possible to do it with changes if you miss the direct one.

Staring men → It is same like summer in Europe like men much attention on beauty of the women..More attention mean you are so awesome, lovely, like to talk with you !! This doesn’t mean any sexual harrasments but you are too awesome for others…And country like Sri Lanka they like to talk with strangers ‘ The 1st thing ask, Hello, which country you are from’..Means they like to know about your country..Sometimes your self…And they might like to ask contact numbers for making freindship… That’s all…!!

Thanks for this post. Really informative. I am from India & planning for 6-7 day tour with my wife to Colombo, Kandy, Galle & Bentota.

Planning a trio to Sri Lanka soon, this is very helpful!

Wow, such a detailed post, really covered every aspect! I think $30-50pp a day is the upper end of a budget travel cost, although it was 2 years ago we spent less than this as a couple, though we were staying in some pretty questionable accommodation!

Yep, you can definitely save on accommodation if you’re not too bothered about the quality of it. Same as anywhere in the world, I guess. As mentioned in the post, I was also travelling alone for most of my time in Sri Lanka, which obviously pushes the individual cost up a bit. Accommodation prices also fluctuate a lot depending on the time of year — low season (for whatever part of the country you’re in) is noticeably cheaper.

How much time is a perfect time to visit Sri Lanka? The US doesnt give much vacation and it is 24hrs flight plus hour differences I kind of lose like 3 days traveling r/t. Any advice? will 2 weeks be enough?

If you’re happy to limit how much of the country you see, 10 or 11 days would be do-able. An extra week would make a big difference, though, since you could see more and travel slower rather than having to rush from place to place.

If you can only get two weeks, I’d seriously consider hiring a car and driver to reduce transit times, rather than relying on public transport.

2 weeks will not be enough to cover all cities in srilanka.but you can cover most important beautiful places..

Hi Dave, I really appreciate your activity to promoting my country as best tourist destination. I read your web page, some comments and concerns rise from various country and varies type of travel persons, and I feel them. I’m so much interest tourism. It’s not related to my profession and I work as Engineer in foreign (@ Maldives) project. But I so interest to tourism, why it’s generate big portion to my country economy. I did some research regards tourism in Sri Lanka for my MBA. In accordance to static figures most of tourist are from Europe countries. I another time thank full and gave my gratitude to them who chose to travel my wonderful country Sri Lanka. When I reading some forums webs regards tourist (like your web page) most of travelers trends to come as Back packers and free from 3rd party tour organizations. And they like to travel as individuals or as family. In this case most of are think their protection as tourist. I can feel them, when they travel in foreign country can face stress full situations. During reading your web forums you and your fans most of times illustrated how to travel as sole female, it’s protected way to travel and how made it happy without trouble. Some are comparing my country like as India but reality is total different behavior from India. In Sri Lanka most of peoples are not movement with other coulters and they had their own culture and behaviors patterns, it is totally different form Europe culture. Your page and similar pages are reporting travel as sole female feel as uncomfortable and unprotected environment but they not complain regards harassments. Actually Sri Lanka is not any unprotected environment but some travelers were feel. Why it happen. Its main reason is culture mismatches. This cultural different is collapse and make both party un-comfort situations and travelers feel more stress full situations. This comes with Sri Lankan culture base on south Asian and locals are believe dress according to the local culture. I propose, I suggest when use public transportation, make arrangement to match dress as locals not showing more in you. I’m sure it’s not happen or not make un-comfort situations. When our entering Buddhist temples make sure ware covered dress as locals. Most of the Sri Lankans can understand, speak English and you can consult them and they are very friendly if you are reach to their culture. You promote Back Packers, I like it. Because it directly involve to community development and if some tourist spend, it’s generate true value to both parties. Why I said like that tourist able to buy some thin in local price as similar to the locals and actually it’s cheaper comparing to systematic hotel retails shops. The second thin is what the local community directly involve and take benefit from it. Destinations. Seen when I go through the all advice made by web owners, most times describe the very few numbers of locations but reality is so may locations are there remain as hidden. If selected someone home stay, the traveler can move with local community and it may able to transfer more details of the hidden better locations. It’s case to two kind of advantages for both foreign traveler and local community, the travelers able to finds low cost destination with same feeling experience and way to access information. Develop hidden better attract locations and it’s take community benefits to locals. If you have any hesitation or query please contact me in Whatsapp +94777333033 or Email. [email protected]

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Sri Lanka on $10 Per Day: Budget Travel Guide

By daily living standards, Sri Lanka is a very cheap country to travel through.

However, if you start getting into the national parks and the stricly designated tourist attractions, the cost significantly shoots up.

My traveling style is more about exploring random places on foot, eating loads of authentic street food and doing most things at a slow-ish pace. I’m not big on tourist designated sights, so this budget guide will cover mostly the daily cost of travel in Sri Lanka .

Also throughout this budget I was traveling with one friend of mine, which is always a good way to ease the cost of travel.

Cost of 20 Days in Sri Lanka

Total amount I spent = 18,138 LKR Sri Lankan Rupees (ranges around $160 – $165)

Amount per day that I spent (average) = 906 LKR – that’s less than  10 USD bucks a day – in fact it’s more like $8!

My budget costs could have even been less had I not purchased 3,000 LKR ($27.18) of tea and spices upon leaving.

Minus the major attractions, day to day living in Sri Lanka is similar to the cost of travel in Egypt .

Main Places I Visited in Sri Lanka

  • Colombo – Spent over a week in Colombo getting my Thai visa and just hanging out, walking around and eating Sri Lankan food
  • Kandy – Spent about 4 days in Kandy, wandering around – not my favorite place in Sri Lanka
  • Pusselawa – Just a tiny little town that I visited because a friend lived there, spent around 4 days hanging out in the tea fields!
  • Jaffna – Was in Jaffna for 4 days and had an amazing time, Jaffna is a wonderful place to visit with a Sri Lankan Tamil culture and a lot of remains from the civil war
  • Galle – Actually didn’t even spend the night in Galle but just took a day trip from Colombo
  • Unawatuna – Also I didn’t have time to spend much time in Unawatuna as I did a lot of relaxing in Pusselawa and Jaffna – but if you enjoy the beach this area is fantastic

Cost of Food in Sri Lanka

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Sri Lankan food is extremely cheap.

I was eating giant meals that included a huge mound of rice and a mix of curries for less than $1 per meal. If you are a big eater like me, you’ll be happy to know that most of the normal restaurants give you a first plate of rice and you can ask for a re-fill!

Vegetarian meals are the cheapest, but seafood and fish are still quite affordable and chicken is a little more expensive.

  • Vegetarian curry and rice – 100 LKR ($0.91)
  • Fish curry and rice (includes veggie dishes too) – 150 LKR
  • Huge feast of paratha, daal, fish curry – 200 LKR
  • Plate of kottu – 100 LKR ($0.91)
  • Fresh coconut – 40 LKR ($0.36)
  • Bottled water (big bottle) – 60 LKR ($0.54)

Cost of Transportation in Sri Lanka

There are a few methods of common transportation in Sri Lanka: Bus, Train and Rickshaw (tuk tuk).

Transportation in Sri Lanka is cheaper than in any other country I’ve ever traveled…but you have to be willing to deal with not the most luxurious conditions.

Buses won’t leave until they are full (by that I mean all seats are taken and the aisle is full of standers). The bus drivers then proceed to drive at ferocious speeds and slam on their breaks as hard as they please. Buses aren’t the most relaxing in Sri Lanka – but they’ll be kind to your budget travel!

Train is good, but there aren’t too many routes and many tracks were under construction when I was in Sri Lanka.

  • 3rd-class train from Colombo to Kandy (3 hours) – 105 LKR ($0.95)
  • 5 kilometer rickshaw (tuk tuk) ride – 300 LKR ($2.72)
  • Semi-Luxury (it was pretty normal to me) overnight bus from Kandy to Jaffna (8 hours) – 465 LKR ($4.21) – that’s a good DEAL!
  • Bus from Colombo to Galle (3 hours) – 115 LKR ($1.04)
  • Local bus around Colombo – 20-30 LKR per ride ($0.18 – $0.27)

Cost of Accommodation in Sri Lanka

One of the ways I save a lot of money is through couchsurfing. I make a few contacts and sometimes end up finding great places to stay.

Here’s the break down of where I stayed for 20 nights in Sri Lanka :

  • Couchsurfing – 15 nights
  • Guest House – 3 nights
  • Bus – 1 night
  • Airport – 1 night

Guest Houses

I stayed at just two different guest houses while I was in Sri Lanka. Both of them were very adequate private double rooms with exterior bathrooms and cost 1000 LKR ($9.06) per night for two of us. I think that’s about average to low for a room in Sri Lanka, and closer to tourist beaches the prices might be higher.

  • Cost of a double room – 1000-1500 LKR per night ($9.06 – $13.59)
  • Cost of a dorm bed – 400-800 LKR ($3.62 – $7.25)

Cost of Tourist Attractions in Sri Lanka

Like I’ve mentioned before, I avoided most of the tourist attractions, and though I probably missed out on some cool things, my entire trip to Sri Lanka was amazing!

If you do want to visit the attractions here is a sample of the costs:

Things I did do:

  • Took a bunch of photos and videos of a cobra charmer – 100 LKR ($0.91)
  • Mandatory tip at Hindu temple to take photos – 100 LKR ($0.91)
  • 2 hour tour of Colombo on a Rickshaw – 800 LKR ($7.25)
  • Entrance to Gangaramaya Buddhist temple – 100 LKR ($0.91)
  • Entrance to Jaffna public library – 10 LKR ($0.09) – possibly the cheapest attraction that wasn’t  free that I’ve ever visited…they even gave us official tickets!

Things I didn’t do (which I’m sure are cool):

  • Sigiriya (I saw it from the outside, but it was a bit overpriced in my opinion – so I saved my money) – 3,300 LKR entrance fee (almost $30!)
  • Yala National Park – Around $15 entrance fee and $15 per person for vehicle
  • Kandy Botanical Gardens – $10 entrance fee
  • Temple of the Tooth – $10 entrance fee

Cost of Shopping / Souvenirs in Sri Lanka

I’m not big on shopping (for anything other than food) but if you are looking to bring something home from Sri Lanka I can recommend buying tea and spices.

  • 500 gram bag of loose leaf Ceylon tea – 500 LKR ($4.53)
  • Mixed bag of all kinds of spices – 300 LKR ($2.72)

Cost of Internet in Sri Lanka

Wi-fi is still not that common in Sri Lanka, but there are cyber cafe’s all over the country. 1 hour costs anywhere form 50 – 100 LKR ($0.40 – $0.91).

Final Thoughts / Overview

It would be easy to spend $20 -$40 a day in Sri Lanka if you go-go-go and visit national parks and all the “tourist guide” tourist attractions.

Daily cost of living in Sri Lanka is very low. If you choose to travel to Sri Lanka and are on a low budget (like I was) you can do things quite cheaply.

I spent just $10 per day and that included a bunch of tea and spices that I bought the last day of my trip – just remember I did a lot of couchsurfing.

Any other thoughts or more information about budget travel in Sri Lanka? Feel free to leave a comment !

budget travel sri lanka

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4 years ago

So nice to see your trip cost am looking for a weak and this information is enough to travel thank you so much

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Poor a bandarupalli

5 years ago

Very nice information thanks

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7 years ago

Thank you very much for information of sri Lanka is helpful

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In general I’m loving it. Every person should take a chance to go in Sri Lanka.

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Rathindra nath Chattopadhyay

8 years ago

This guide lines is very remarkable those who want to travel with budget cost.Great thanks.

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Good day! Did you notice any thing is cheaper than Indian price…or could you find any thing important to start a business over there without spending much capital investment?

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nurul amin barbhuiya

Hi my dear sir medam I will intrest srilanka visit but God bless take I visit srilanka I fiucher coming to in srilanka will I want come to srilanka I fevriet srilanka byyy

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OMG!!!!!!! Mark… I didnt expect you to find u here… after Chiangmai we are planning our next budget travel to Srilanka for about two months.. in July and august 2016 your feed back will be very valuable for us.. frankly speaking we r looking forward for a place to stay that is 10 $ a day ,,, please advice

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Sanesh Tiwari

9 years ago

You mentioned that you took an overnight “Semi Luxury” bus from Kandy to Jaffna. Do you have any pictures of the “semi luxury” bus that you took? Were the seats reclinable? Furthermore, were there luxury buses or “super luxury” (as described in Sri Lanka) available for the same route?

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Hi Sanesh, unfortunately I don’t have any photos of the bus, and it’s been so long since I was there that I don’t fully remember. I think the seats were slightly reclinable, but it’s wasn’t too nice of a bus. Could have used some maintenance for sure. Are you traveling in Sri Lanka now?

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this is a great overview of sri lanka, even though i am taking into account it was written a few years ago, it still gives my a great insight into places you visited and things worth doing ! thanks 🙂

Thank you very much Jasmine

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Sheikh Ashraful Alam

hi this is sumon & i live in dhaka capital of bangladesh. It was rally nice to read to ur sri lanka tour & i think it is varry good to know that what i eat,how its cost,wher i go, what ther cost etc. nice to help me to give this information & i think it is really helping me to visit sri lanka.

Hi Sumon, thank you for reading, glad this is helpful.

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An impressive share! I’ve just forwarded this onto a friend who had been conducting a little homework on this. And he in fact ordered me breakfast because I stumbled upon it for him… lol. So let me reword this….

Thanks for the meal!! But yeah, thanks for spending the time to discuss this matter here on your blog.

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vaan matheew

10 years ago

We just returned from a very enjoyable 12 days trip in Around Tour srilanka, visiting Sigiriya, Kandy, Nuwaraeliya, Ella , Yala and few days stay in Mirissa. we were very happy with the services provided by Srilanka budget tours & travels. Our driver was Chinthaka (chin) and we can highly recommend him to other travellers. He was a very careful and safe driver and never took any risks. The vehicle was excellent , very clean and comfortable. Cold bottles of water were always available.

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Anna Vo Nguyen

Hi Mark Wiens! I like your website. It’s so great, I didnt know that I can travel with cost less than 10 usd per day, it’s mean cheaper than cost for living in my country. Tks Mark Wiens, you are open the word doors for me.

Hey Anna, great to hear from you, thank you for checking out my website. Hope you’re doing well!

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This has been a very thorough article, especially about the variety of street food. And your experiences with transportation, lodging, avoiding touristy spots/entrance fees; that’s my way to travel. I’m about to book my ticket for May, thank you for your insight which has made up my mind!

Hey Pete, cool, thanks for checking this out. Hope you have a wonderful upcoming trip to Sri Lanka!

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Aruna Dinesh

Thank you so much for posting this. For some reason I have always thought it would be amazing to go to Sri Lanka, and never realized it would be so inexpensive. Thank you for breaking down the prices, too, because it is helpful to compare it to what you are being asked to pay when you know what others have paid. I will definitely push to have Sri Lanka be a stop on our upcoming journey!.Budget Travel to sri lanla

Thank you for taking a look Aruna, and glad it’s helpful!

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Jerry Karwowski

11 years ago

i have to admit, I admire the spirit in which this trip was taken. The issue I have is, I don’t think this is any sort of model on how to visit Sri Lanka. This itinerary to put it mildly, is unique and a bit bizarre. A lot of the great things about Sri Lanka were missed in this trip. Things that cost money lots of it. Sri Lanka is notorious for gouging tourists at every turn. Forget Horton Plains- the end of the world that’s 30 bucks, forget Yala 50 bucks easy, forget Polonaruwa that’s 25 bucks, forget Dambulla, 15 bucks plus a mandatory guide, Sigirya 30 bucks. Almost every museum or park is expensive. And they even try to charge you for leaving your shoes outside a temple. They suggest a donation at every temple, what should I do, be a jerk and not give one? Tuk-tuks with fast running meters, or no meter at all, surprise visit to a park where the guide asks for a donation at the end then gets mad if you don’t give enough. Sri Lanka is a fascinating, drop dead gorgeous country and the people not in tourism are warm hearted and friendly and kind too. I enjoyed my interactions with the local people very much. However, the people in tourism it’s a different story It’s almost like we as tourists are being punished for the horrific war they had and are rebuilding the country with tourist dollars, lots of them. I spent too much here. I did go to Colombo, Kandy, Nurawa Eliya, Ella, Tissa, Galle, Colombo, Negombo, Marawila, and the places mentioned above. It wasn’t cheap though. I worry if people choose this itinerary they would miss a lot. I think it’s cool not to follow guide books all the time, but this trip is definitely an off the beaten path trip. I admire it, but wouldn’t really recommend following it unless you’ve been to Sri Lanka before and haven’t seen the major stuff.

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Mark, Where did you stay in Sri Lanka, esp. Colombo?

We’re having trouble finding anything lower than $12-15/night for a room.

Thanks for the tips!

Hey Lindsay, I actually couchsurfed the entire time I was in Colombo. But another friend told me he stayed at the YMCA for a very budget price – like $5 or something like that.

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Excellent info. I’ll be putting it to the test next when I get to Sri Lanka

Great to hear that Corne, have a great trip!

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12 years ago

hi, As an old backpacker I found your piece on Sri Lanka very informative. Just want to add that I do believe their is a triangle cultural pass for $50.00 good for all the MAIN ATTRACTIONS in the area. So check that out if your eager to see these sites. thank you, gh.

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Thanks a lot for your valuable detailed description about the Lankan journey. I am planning to visit Sri Lanka in a short while without the help of any tourist or travel agency and also in a low-budget-frame. Your experience is really tempting me now. I cant wait even more. But can you tell me about the air charges also?

Hey Anoop, thanks for reading and for leaving a comment. Great to hear you’ll be taking a trip to Sri Lanka soon, it really is an incredible country with so much to offer. As for airfare, I flew from Bangkok, I think my roundtrip ticket cost around $250. Hope that helps.

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and in that video have some problem …. you need to start eating with your side …. or else it will be like king dutugamunus war 😀

Haha, thanks!

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I also saw your instructional video on how to eat using your fingers…BRAVO mark… 😀 so you too agree with the fact that food tastes better when mixed with fingers.. 🙂 it takes some practice, though to get it right 🙂

Thanks Menushka! Food just tastes a little better with your hands!

You don’t have to thank me Mark…Sri Lanka is my home, and I would gladly do anything to make a guest feel welcome in my country…i currently am residing in the United States, and am missing home very badly…hope to get back as soon as possible.. 🙂 Anyways, this is a great blog mark, where people can share first hand experience of their travels.. 🙂 Your work is much appreciated..THANK YOU for showing the beauty of my country.. 🙂 hope you had the chance to experience authentic sri lankan hospitality during your travels.

I really appreciate your kind words Menushka! I had an extremely great time visiting your country and I was treated with nothing but hospitality during me stay. I really enjoyed Sri Lanka, the people and the great food! Hope you are doing well and thanks again for visiting my website and for taking the time to leave a comment.

I am posting a link below wich allows you to view tourist attractions in 360 view.the temple of tooth is also included..hope you enjoy..

Regards Menushka

Wow, those are really cool, thanks for sharing!

Man the shot of the plate of food is MOUTHWATERING…how did you enjoy the spicy fried sprats??? It is a personal favorite of mine 😀 woah you have no clue as to how much i miss the dry fish (karawala).. 🙁 🙁

I totally enjoy with Zeno, you should have visited the Temple of tooth, Nuwara Eliya and the Kandy botanical gardens…yes they require entrance fees, but they are definitely not worth missing, especially when you pay thousand of dollars for an air ticket to and back from Sri Lanka, but since the whole point of your trip was budget travel, I presume they were strategic decisions. There is another absolutely breathtaking place called “Meemure” (pronounced meemoorey)…It is off Hunnasgiriya, which in itself is another beautiful place. But be wqarned, Meemure is a very remote area and ther eare only two guest houses there. So plan ahead if you wanna go. Another place you should visit is Riverston and the knuckles mountain range.Visiting the “veddhas” – the indigenous people of Sri Lanka would be a memorable trip too..the list goes on and on..:D

I really appreciate you taking the time to leave these great comments Menushka. This is fantastic advice! I got your comments corrected! Yah, as a traveler (with a limited budget) I have to really pick and choose the things I can afford to do or not, and sometimes I have to not do a few things in order to keep traveling the way I do. It would have been nice to visit some of the attractions, but hopefully there will be a next time! Meemure sounds way cool – I’ll keep that in mind!

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Hi! I’m a Sri lankan, Living in UK. I think Mark you have missed alot more. You should have visited Kandy botanical garden and yaala national park. It does worth paying for. You should also have visited Trincomalee where there is a natural harbour and alot of hindu temples, especially beautiful beaches. Koneshwaram temple is one of the famous and seven wells which has different temperatures in each of them (Natural temperatures). Then budhist temples in anuradhapura and surrounding ares.

Nuwara eliya is another tropical place you shouldn’t have missed. Waterfalls, mountains, farms and tea estates are just amazing places to visit. Hope that you will not miss those places next time.

Regards, Zeno

Also don’t miss fruits that are unique to the country. Karutha kolumban mango is one of the tastiest mangoes in the world, Jack fruit, Rambuttan fruit Etc…… Cheers

Yah, the fruit in Sri Lanka is fantastic! I don’t think I was able to sample a Karutha Kolumban Mango – that sounds great! How does it taste?

Hey Zeno, Thanks for all these great suggestions! I wasn’t able to visit the entire country this time as I only had 3 weeks in Sri Lanka. I think I could spend 1 year in Sri Lanka visiting all the cities and interesting attractions! I will definitely try to get to some of these places the next time I visit! What part of Sri Lanka are you originally from? Thanks for the comment! Mark

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Hi Mark! Again and again, you made a post about places that I actually am planning to go. After Southern China, now Sri Lanka! What a coincidence! 🙂 However I see that you didn’t go to Polonnaruwa, Anuradapura and Sigiriya. Is that true?

Haha, cool to hear that you’ll be going to Sri Lanka too Bama. You’re right, I didn’t make it to any of those historical sites, I really had to pick and choose as my budget and time ran out… I was in Sigiriya town for a day, but I didn’t end up paying the entrance fee to get in. Will you be going to those places? I’ll look forward to reading about them from you!

Yes, I am planning to go to those places (at least I will really try to make my time to go to Sigiriya and Polonnaruwa, because Anuradapura is located a bit far in the north). By the way, the fact that you went to Jaffna is already stunning for me. The word Jaffna always reminds me of war and landmines. But I’m glad the war is over now.

Cool Bama, will be great to hear about your trip to Sri Lanka!

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Nomadic Samuel

As usual, great breakdown of costs Mark. Sri Lanka is one country I’ve yet to visit even though I’ve done a lot of travel in Asia. Couchsurfing really helped keep your costs down and how can you beat curries for less than a $1 🙂

Thanks a lot Samuel! Can’t go wrong with $1 curries, when you’re in Asia…that’s for sure!

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how incredible! i can’t even fathom being able to live so well for so little!!! What kinds of spices did you buy??

i don’t know if i could’ve stopped myself from pocketing leaves & leaves of tea! 🙂

Thanks Jen! I bought a few bags that included a small assortment of about 6 different spices and then I loaded up on cumin, fennel seeds, a mixture of curry powder, cinnamon and cardamon pods. If you like tea, Sri Lanka is a great place!!!

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Sri Lanka is in my list but I was informed that it is quite expensive but your post suggests something different. I’ve bookmarked this post to refer to, when I actually plan to go there. Looks like it is even cheaper than my own country, India.

I liked your break down of all the costs. I would have done more shopping in the sense that 500 gm of Tea would not have sufficed for me. 🙂

You gave money to snake charmer on your own or he demanded it?

Thanks a lot Nisha! Just remember in this budget guide that I did mostly couchsurfing…so I only stayed in a guest house a few nights of my time in Sri Lanka. I like the way you think about the tea though – I bought about 2 kilos of tea but that’s all I could bring because I only had a hand carry bag. As for the snake charmer, I don’t think he would have performed had I not paid him a tip, plus I shot about 50 photos and a video so it was well worth it!

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hi i live in sri lanka and although you can live on $10.00 a day, this would be doing what our fantastic writer has done: live on street food, couch surf and view tourist attractions from the outside.

the price of a guest house for a nice clean basic double room start around 2000/- about $15.00, although i have stayed in cheaper places but they haven’t been as nice.

the price of tourist attractions, i think is quite steep. it’s fine if you are doing the odd one or two but to do all the attractions you will need a pretty big budget.

transport is very cheap, buses and trains etc and provided you’re good at negotiating you can get a good price on a 3 wheeler.

street food is very cheap and really tasty but if you are looking at more luxury places then you will be paying European prices. again $7 for a meal,

beer is cheap around $4 for a big bottle in a bar/restaurant. but wine and spirits are expensive.

a trip to the supermarket (not market), can be more expensive than shopping in the USA!

sri lanka is a beautiful and fantastic country and i love living here, but it is not cheap. i have traveled all over the world and lived in many places and for a developing country this has been the most expensive.and all my friends who have visited have been very surprised at what they have spent.

but don’t let this deter you from visiting… is amazing and stunning, full of cultural, history and fun! just be realsistic about the experiamce you want and how much money you need.

Hey Kristy, thank you very much for sharing your tips and insights. Yes, I can understand how it can be expensive living in Sri Lanka, but at least it’s possible to travel there on the cheap as well. I think specifically transportation and food is very affordable!

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mike postlethwaite

hi kirsty…I am retired and living VERY comfortably in beautiful chiang mai Thailand [population 200,000] for the last 18 months on about $600 US per mo. total…NO tourist stuff or bars at that price of course…a fair amount of walking between the probably 30 temples and at least 100 restaurants within a 15 minute walk from my apt. located on a quiet soi an 8 min. walk from city center….the only flaw is the poor air quality from agricultural burning in mar. & april [it also gets a bit too hot then]….I am looking for a place with these ”chiang mai qualities” to take an apt. and ”nest” for 2 or 3 months at that time of year….it sounds like you have an excellent handle on sri lanka …can you suggest city/s in sri lanka that have these qualities?….mike

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Roy Marvelous

Wow, the headline totally grabbed me. $10 a day? hadn’t even considered Sri Lanka…until now!

Awesome to hear that, thanks for checking it out Roy!

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Wow! $10 is cheap, cheap, cheap.

It’s really a great deal!

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Annie – FootTracker

Love your break down of all the costs, very enticing. I like how the tea costs more than food XDD

Thanks Annie!

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Great outline- although that snake is a little scary!

Haha, thanks Jade!

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Michael Figueiredo

It’s amazing what a bargain some less-developed countries can be, especially since you can have an equally unforgettable time traveling there. To me, seeing that snake charmer in the street would be priceless! I can’t wait to travel to that part of the world someday. Thanks for sharing!

Thanks for your added input Michael and I fully agree. Seeing the snake charmer in the middle of the street was pretty cool!

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50+ and on the Run

Good information; hope I get a chance to use it one of these days. Thanks!

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Sri Lanka was one of the cheapest destinations on our RTW trip – we spent even less there than in India. I don’t remember Sigiriya being that expensive but I did love it. The Kandy Botanical Gardens are worth it too -some of the most beautiful we’ve been to and a great way to relax for an afternoon. Your budget is impressive – we spent about $30 a day for two of us.

Thanks for sharing you experience Erin – and that’s a good comparison with India (I haven’t been yet). A couple Sri Lankan friends said that the price for entrance to Sigiriya had just increased recently, so I might have just gone as it became more expensive. I’d definitely say that $30 a day for 2 is pretty decent as well!

I hear if you want to see all the cultural sites in the triangle you can buy triangle pass for $50.00 and it is good for all the major sites so it works out much cheaper this way. I also read you can get this special pass near most of the sites.

Hey Gary, thanks for sharing, I didn’t know about this deal – that’s a great idea – and if I had known about that, may have gone for it. Thanks!

just to let you know, the sir lankan tourist authorities no longer do the triangle pass: you need to pay for each attraction separately: it can become very pricey

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Glad you had a good time in Sri Lanka. I was there for a few weeks 5 years ago, and it remains one of my favorite travel experiences! Unawatuna was great.

Thanks Ann – cool to hear that you’ve also traveled around Sri Lanka – it really is a beautiful country!

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•5 kilometer rickshaw (tuk tuk) ride – 300 LKR ($2.72)

This looks little expensive, usually it should be Rs.30 per km.

budget travel sri lanka

  • Trips & Itineraries

Sri Lanka on a Budget: How to Explore the Island Without Breaking the Bank

budget travel sri lanka

With its stunning beaches, lush jungles, and fascinating culture, Sri Lanka is becoming an increasingly popular destination for travellers. However, many people may be open to visiting due to the perceived cost of travel. Don’t worry; you can see Sri Lanka on a budget without giving up on the experience. This article will provide tips and tricks on exploring this beautiful island without breaking the bank.

Plan your trip in the off-season.

One of the best ways to save money when travelling to Sri Lanka is by planning your trip during the off-season. The peak tourist season in Sri Lanka is from December to March, and prices for accommodations, transportation, and activities can be much higher. So if you’re looking to save money, consider travelling to Sri Lanka during the shoulder season, April to September, or the low season, October to November.

budget travel sri lanka

Stay in budget accommodations

One of the easiest ways to save money on your trip to Sri Lanka is by staying in budget accommodations. Hostels and guesthouses are widely available throughout the country and offer affordable options for travellers on a budget. Many budget accommodations also offer complimentary breakfasts, making it a great way to save money on food.

When choosing budget accommodations, there are a few things to remember:

  • Location is critical. Look for accommodations near public transportation or within walking distance of attractions to save on transportation costs.
  • Check reviews and ratings online to ensure the accommodations are clean, safe, and comfortable.
  • Consider the amenities offered by the accommodations.

While budget accommodations may not provide luxury amenities, many offer basic amenities like Wi-Fi and hot showers. Some great budget accommodation options in Sri Lanka include hostels like Hangtime Hostels in Mirissa and Colombo City Hostel in Colombo and guesthouses like Mango House in Galle and Green Hill Hotel in Kandy. These accommodations offer affordable prices, comfortable rooms, and convenient locations, making them excellent options for budget-conscious travellers.

Consider homestays and Couchsurfing

Another way to explore Sri Lanka on a budget is by staying in homestays or using Couchsurfing. Both options provide a unique cultural experience and are often more affordable than traditional accommodation.

Homestays are a popular option for budget-conscious travellers. By staying with a local family, you can immerse yourself in Sri Lankan culture and learn about daily life there. Homestays can be found throughout Sri Lanka, and prices vary depending on the location and level of comfort.

Couchsurfing is another option for budget travellers. This online platform connects travellers with locals who offer a free place to stay. In addition to providing free accommodation, Couchsurfing hosts often offer insider tips on the best places to visit and eat in the area.

When choosing a homestay or Couchsurfing host, it’s important to research carefully and read reviews from previous guests. This can help ensure a safe and enjoyable experience.

budget travel sri lanka

Eat like a local

Eating like a local is not only a great way to experience the culture and cuisine of Sri Lanka, but it’s also a budget-friendly option. Sri Lankan cuisine is known for its bold flavours, fresh ingredients, and diverse dishes.

One of the best ways to try local food is by visiting street food stalls and local eateries. Street food is widely available throughout Sri Lanka and often very affordable, with dishes like kottu roti, samosas, and hoppers costing just a few dollars. Look for local markets and street food stalls to find the best deals on food.

In addition to street food, Sri Lanka has a vibrant cafe culture, with many local cafes offering affordable meals and snacks. Look for eateries that offer traditional Sri Lankan dishes like rice and curry, string hoppers, and parippu.

Suggested read: Popular Street Foods In Sri Lanka 

budget travel sri lanka

Use public transportation

Public transportation is a great way to save money while in Sri Lanka. Buses and trains are easy to find and don’t cost much, so that you can get around the country quickly and cheaply.

Buses are the most common transportation in Sri Lanka and are available on local and long-distance routes. Local buses’ fare ranges from a few cents to a couple of dollars, depending on how far you’re going. Long-distance buses are also available, offering a more comfortable option for longer journeys. Look for air-conditioned buses for a more comfortable ride.

Trains are another excellent option for transportation in Sri Lanka. The train system is extensive and offers routes to many popular destinations. Train fares are also very affordable, starting at just a few dollars for short journeys. The train system is also a great way to see the scenic countryside and experience local culture.

When using public transportation, it’s essential to remember a few tips:

  • First, be prepared for crowds, especially during peak travel times.
  • Be aware of your belongings and always keep them close to you.
  • Finally, make small changes on hand to pay for fares, as many buses and trains do not accept larger bills.

By using public transportation, you can save money on transportation costs and experience the local culture and scenery of Sri Lanka.

Sugessted read:

Colombo to Ella train Via Kandy

Anuradhapura Weekend Train  

Seethawaka Tourist Train 

Rent a tuk-tuk

Renting a tuk-tuk is a great way to save money on transportation while exploring Sri Lanka. Tuk-tuks are motorized, three-wheeled vehicles often used as taxis and are a popular way for locals to get around.

When renting a tuk-tuk, it’s essential to negotiate the price with the driver ahead of time. Rates can vary depending on the distance, duration, and destination, so it’s necessary to understand the cost before getting in the vehicle. It’s also essential to ensure that the tuk-tuk is in good condition and has a functioning meter or that you have agreed on a fair price before the ride.

Renting a tuk-tuk also allows you to go to places off the beaten path and learn about the culture there. You can also use a tuk-tuk as a base for a multi-day trip, packing your belongings and travelling to different parts of the country at your own pace.

When renting a tuk-tuk, it’s essential to remember the local traffic laws and safety regulations. Wear a helmet if possible, and avoid driving at night or during rush hour. It’s also essential to have a basic understanding of the local language or carry a translation app in case of any communication issues with the driver.

By renting a tuk-tuk, you can save money on transportation costs while having the flexibility to explore Sri Lanka at your own pace. Just negotiate the price beforehand and follow local traffic laws and safety regulations.

Get A TUK-TUK Rental Discount 

budget travel sri lanka

Avoid tourist traps

Avoiding tourist traps is essential when travelling to Sri Lanka on a budget. Tourist traps are places designed to attract tourists and often charge high prices for goods and services.

One of the most common tourist traps in Sri Lanka is souvenir shops. These shops are often found near popular tourist attractions and sell souvenirs at inflated prices. Instead of buying souvenirs from these shops, look for local markets and street vendors for more affordable options.

When visiting famous tourist attractions, being aware of scams is essential. For example, some tour guides may offer to take you on tour for a high price but then take you to places that are not worth the cost. Research popular attractions ahead of time and book tours with reputable companies to avoid scams.

Shop at local markets

Shopping at local markets is a great way to save money and experience the local culture while exploring Sri Lanka. At affordable prices, local markets offer various goods, including fresh produce, handmade crafts, and souvenirs.

One of the most popular local markets in Sri Lanka is the Pettah Market in Colombo. This market is known for its bustling atmosphere and wide range of products, including clothing, electronics, spices, and jewellery. It’s essential to bargain when shopping at Pettah Market, as prices are often negotiable.

Other local markets worth visiting include the Galle Fort Market, which offers a range of handicrafts and souvenirs, and the Kandy Market, which specializes in spices and fresh produce.

Knowing local customs and bargaining etiquette is essential when shopping at local markets. It’s also important to keep your belongings close and be cautious of pickpockets. Finally, wash it thoroughly when buying food or produce to avoid health issues.

Shopping at local markets supports local businesses and saves money on souvenirs and other goods. Just follow local customs and keep your belongings safe while shopping.

budget travel sri lanka

Take advantage of free attractions

Sri Lanka has many free nature attractions, including waterfalls, forest reserves, and beaches. Taking advantage of these free activities is a great way to experience the country’s natural beauty without spending money.

One of the most popular free nature attractions in Sri Lanka is the Ravana Falls in Ella. This stunning waterfall is located in a lush forest and is a popular spot for swimming and picnicking. Another famous waterfall is the Diyaluma Falls in Badulla, one of the highest waterfalls in Sri Lanka and offers breathtaking views.

Sri Lanka is also home to several forest reserves that are free to visit, such as the Sinharaja Forest Reserve and the Kanneliya Forest Reserve. These reserves are home to various flora and fauna, including rare bird species and endemic plants.

For beach lovers, Sri Lanka offers a variety of accessible beaches to explore, including Unawatuna Beach , known for its clear waters and coral reefs, and Nilaveli Beach , which offers stunning views of the sunrise and sunset.

By exploring free nature attractions in Sri Lanka, you can experience the country’s natural beauty and wildlife without spending any money. Just be sure to take care of the environment and follow the rules and regulations of each attraction to ensure that they remain accessible for future generations.

Explore Attractions

budget travel sri lanka

Go on a Safari in Low-Cost National Parks

Sri Lanka has many national parks offering incredible wildlife experiences, but some more popular ones, like Yala and Wilpattu, can be expensive. However, several low-cost national parks are equally stunning and can be a more budget-friendly option for those looking for a safari.

One option is Wasgamuwa National Park , located in the central province of Sri Lanka. It’s known for its diverse range of wildlife, including elephants, leopards, and sloth bears. The park offers affordable safari tours, and visitors can also stay at budget-friendly accommodations nearby.

Hurulu Eco Park , located near the ancient city of Anuradhapura , is another low-cost option. It’s a great place to spot Sri Lanka’s iconic elephant herds, and visitors can also see other animals like deer, monkeys, and crocodiles. Safari tours are reasonably priced, and many budget-friendly accommodations are available nearby.

Kumana National Park , also known as Yala East, is in the Eastern Province of Sri Lanka. It’s home to various bird species, including some migratory birds from Siberia. The entrance fee is affordable, and visitors can join budget-friendly safari tours.

Bundala National Park is another low-cost option known for its birdwatching opportunities. It’s home to many bird species, including flamingos, pelicans, and storks. Visitors can also see other wildlife, like crocodiles and deer. The entrance fee is very reasonable, and many budget-friendly safari tours are available.

Finally, Lunugamwehera National Park is located in the Southern Province of Sri Lanka and is home to elephants, leopards, and various bird species. The park offers budget-friendly safari tours, and visitors can also stay at nearby budget-friendly accommodations.

Suggested Read: National Parks and Safari in Sri Lanka 

Join walking tours

Another great way to explore Sri Lanka on a budget is by joining free walking tours. Many cities in Sri Lanka, such as Colombo and Galle, offer walking tours led by local guides, providing an excellent opportunity to learn about the city’s history, culture, and landmarks.

In Colombo, for example, you can join a walking tour that takes you through the city’s bustling markets, colonial buildings, and religious sites, such as the Gangaramaya Temple and the Old Dutch Hospital . Similarly, you can join a walking tour in Galle that takes you through the city’s historic fort and many shops and cafes.

Not only are walking tours a great way to learn about the city, but they also provide an opportunity to meet other travellers and locals. These tours are often led by passionate guides who are happy to answer any questions and provide recommendations for other budget-friendly activities in the area.

Just be sure to check the schedule and availability of the walking tours ahead of time and plan accordingly. And remember to bring comfortable shoes, sunscreen, and water to stay hydrated during the tour.

budget travel sri lanka

Opt for budget-friendly activities

While Sri Lanka is known for its luxurious resorts and high-end activities, plenty of budget-friendly options are available for travellers. Opting for these activities allows you to experience the country’s culture and attractions without breaking the bank.

One budget-friendly activity is visiting local museums and art galleries. Many of these attractions offer free admission or a low fee, allowing you to learn about the country’s history and art without spending much money. For example, the Colombo National Museum and the National Art Gallery in Colombo offer low admission for locals and a small entrance fee for foreigners.

Another budget-friendly activity is attending local festivals and events. Sri Lanka has a rich cultural heritage and hosts various festivals throughout the year, such as the Kandy Esala Perahera , Nallur Festival In Jaffna and the Duruthu Perahera. These festivals are free to attend and offer a unique insight into the country’s customs and traditions.

For those looking for outdoor activities, hiking is a great budget-friendly option. Sri Lanka has many hiking trails , including the Adam’s Peak and Knuckles Mountain Range. These hikes offer breathtaking views of the country’s landscapes and are free to access.

Overall, by opting for budget-friendly activities such as visiting local museums and galleries, attending festivals, and hiking, you can experience the culture and attractions of Sri Lanka without spending a lot of money.

Book tours with local operators

When planning your trip to Sri Lanka, it’s important to consider booking tours with local operators. Not only does this support the local economy, but it can also be a more affordable and authentic way to experience the country.

Local tour operators often offer a variety of tours, from hiking and wildlife safaris to cultural experiences and cooking classes. These tours can be customized to your interests and budget, and local operators are often more flexible and willing to negotiate prices.

Booking tours with local operators can also provide a more authentic experience. Local guides have a deep understanding of the culture and history of Sri Lanka and can offer a unique perspective that is not available with larger, more commercial tour companies.

In addition to being more affordable and authentic, booking tours with local operators also supports the local economy. By supporting local businesses, you can ensure that tourism benefits the local community and promotes sustainable development.

When booking tours with local operators, it’s important to research carefully and read reviews from previous customers. This can help ensure a safe and enjoyable experience. You can have an affordable and authentic experience by booking tours with local operators while supporting the local community.

budget travel sri lanka

Negotiate prices

When travelling to Sri Lanka on a budget, it’s essential to be comfortable negotiating prices. This applies to everything from accommodation to transportation and can help you save money and stay within your budget.

One way to negotiate prices is by doing research beforehand. Knowing the average prices for transportation and tours can help you negotiate a fair price. It’s also essential to know of any additional fees or charges that may not be included in the initial cost.

Another way to negotiate prices is by being willing to walk away from a deal. For example, if you feel the price is too high, politely decline and see if the seller is willing to negotiate. In some cases, they may be helpful to offer a lower cost to make the sale.

When negotiating prices, it’s essential to be respectful and courteous. Bargaining is common in Sri Lanka, but it’s important to remember that the person you are negotiating with is trying to make a living. Therefore, you can arrange a fair price while maintaining a positive relationship by being respectful and reasonable.

Take a cooking class

One of the best ways to experience a new culture is through its cuisine, and Sri Lanka is no exception. A cooking class can be a great way to learn about local ingredients, cooking techniques, and traditions while enjoying delicious food.

Cooking classes are offered throughout Sri Lanka, with many in popular tourist areas like Colombo , Kandy , and Galle . Classes range in price and duration, with some lasting just a few hours and others lasting an entire day.

During a cooking class, you’ll typically start by visiting a local market or food market to purchase ingredients for your dishes. Your instructor will then guide you through preparing and cooking traditional Sri Lankan dishes, such as rice and curry, hoppers, and string hoppers. Along the way, you’ll learn about each dish’s history, cultural significance, and techniques for creating the perfect flavours and textures.

Taking a cooking class can be a fun and rewarding experience, allowing you to learn about local cuisine and connect with locals and fellow travellers who share your love of food. And best of all, you’ll leave the class with new skills and knowledge to bring home to impress your friends and family.

budget travel sri lanka

Village Tours 

While Sri Lanka’s cities and tourist hotspots are undoubtedly fascinating, exploring the country’s rural villages can be just as rewarding. Village tours are a great way to experience traditional Sri Lankan life, learn about local customs and traditions, and connect with the country’s friendly and welcoming residents.

Village tours are available throughout Sri Lanka, with many located in areas like Habarana , Sigiriya , and Ella . Tours can be arranged through local tour operators or your hotel or guesthouse. They typically involve a guided walk through a village, during which you’ll have the opportunity to observe daily life, chat with locals, and even participate in traditional activities like farming, cooking, and crafts.

During a village tour, you’ll likely visit a temple or other religious site, as religion is a central part of life in rural Sri Lanka. You’ll also see how locals live and work, including farming practices, cottage industries, and other local businesses. Along the way, your guide will share insights into local culture and traditions and the challenges and opportunities facing rural communities in Sri Lanka.

Village tours can be a great way to get off the beaten path and experience a side of Sri Lanka that many tourists miss. They also offer a chance to support local communities and promote sustainable tourism in the country. If you’re looking for a unique and authentic experience during your Sri Lanka travels, consider adding a village tour to your itinerary.

Suggested Read:   Hiriwadunna Village Tour – Habarana  

Drink tap water

When travelling in Sri Lanka, staying hydrated is essential, especially in the hot and humid climate. While buying bottled water is easy, it can quickly become expensive and create plastic waste. Instead, consider drinking tap water or bringing a reusable water bottle and filling it up at your accommodation or other safe sources.

In Sri Lanka, tap water is generally safe to drink in most areas, although it’s always a good idea to check with your accommodation or a local expert. If you’re unsure about the safety of tap water, you can also use a water purifier or iodine tablets to make it safe for drinking.

Drinking tap water or using a water purifier not only saves money and reduces waste, but it also helps reduce tourism’s environmental impact. Tourism is one of the most significant contributors to plastic pollution in many countries, including Sri Lanka, so every tiny action to reduce plastic waste can make a difference.

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The Real Cost Of Travel In Sri Lanka

Published: October 2, 2023

Modified: December 27, 2023

by Hazel Tavares

  • Travel Destinations



Traveling is not only a wonderful way to explore new places and cultures, but it can also be a transformative experience. For those with a tight budget, the idea of embarking on a travel adventure may seem daunting. However, with careful planning and smart decision-making, budget travel is not only possible but can also lead to incredible memories and experiences.

Sri Lanka, known for its stunning landscapes, rich history, and welcoming locals, is a popular destination for budget travelers. From the bustling markets of Colombo to the serene beaches of Mirissa, this island nation has something to offer for every type of traveler.

When considering the real cost of travel in Sri Lanka, it’s important to take into account several factors, such as visa requirements, transportation, accommodation, food, sightseeing, shopping, health and safety, currency exchange rates, and communication options. By understanding these aspects, you can plan your trip in a way that suits your budget without compromising on the experience.

Whether you’re a solo explorer on a shoestring budget or a group of friends looking for an affordable getaway, this comprehensive guide will provide insights into the real cost of traveling in Sri Lanka and help you make the most of your budget while experiencing all that this beautiful country has to offer.

Visa Requirements

Before you embark on your journey to Sri Lanka, it’s important to understand the visa requirements. Most travelers will need to obtain a visa to enter the country, with a few exceptions for passport holders from certain countries who are eligible for visa-free entry.

If you are planning a short visit to Sri Lanka, you can apply for an Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA), which grants you a 30-day stay in the country. This process can be done online and is relatively simple and efficient. The ETA costs around $35 for most countries and can be obtained in a matter of minutes or hours.

For those wanting to stay longer or engage in certain activities such as volunteering or working, it’s necessary to apply for a different type of visa, such as a business visa or a social visit visa. The cost and application process for these visas can vary depending on the duration and purpose of your visit, so it’s advisable to check with the Sri Lankan embassy or consulate in your home country for more details.

It’s important to note that visa policies can change, so it’s always a good idea to check for any updates or changes before your trip to ensure a smooth entry into Sri Lanka. Additionally, make sure your passport is valid for at least six months beyond your planned departure date.

By taking the time to understand the visa requirements and planning accordingly, you can avoid any last-minute complications or additional costs that may arise from not having the proper documentation.


Getting around in Sri Lanka is relatively affordable, with several transportation options available to suit various budgets and preferences.

One of the most popular modes of transportation for budget travelers is the public bus network. Buses are widespread and cover most areas of the country. They offer a cost-effective way to travel between cities and towns, with fares ranging from as low as $0.50 to $5, depending on the distance. However, keep in mind that buses can be crowded and may not always run on a fixed schedule, so it’s advisable to be flexible with your travel plans.

If you prefer a more comfortable and convenient option, you can consider using trains to navigate through Sri Lanka’s scenic landscapes. The train system is well-developed and offers breathtaking views of tea plantations, mountains, and coastal regions. Train tickets are relatively inexpensive, with fares starting from around $1 for short distances. However, it’s recommended to book your tickets in advance, especially for long-distance routes, as trains can get crowded, especially during peak seasons.

For shorter distances or when exploring within a specific city or town, tuk-tuks are a popular choice. These three-wheeled motorized vehicles can be easily hailed on the streets and offer a convenient and affordable means of transport. While fares can vary, it’s recommended to negotiate and agree upon a price before starting your journey.

If you prefer more flexibility and independence during your travels, renting a scooter or a motorcycle could be a great option. Daily rental rates are generally around $10 to $20, and fuel costs are relatively low. Just ensure that you have a valid international driving license and that you are comfortable navigating the sometimes chaotic traffic conditions.

Finally, if you’re traveling in a group or prefer the convenience of door-to-door service, hiring a private car with a driver can be a suitable choice. This option can be more expensive than public transportation, but it offers comfort and flexibility, allowing you to customize your itinerary. The cost will depend on factors such as the duration of hire and the distance traveled.

Overall, the transportation options in Sri Lanka offer a wide range of choices to suit different budgets and preferences. By selecting the option that best aligns with your needs, you can navigate through the country and explore its diverse landscapes without breaking the bank.


When it comes to finding accommodation in Sri Lanka, there are options available to suit every budget. From budget hostels to mid-range hotels and luxury resorts, you can find something that fits your preferences without overspending.

For budget travelers, hostel dormitories and guesthouses are a popular choice. These offer basic amenities such as shared bathrooms and communal spaces, allowing you to save on costs while meeting fellow travelers. Prices for dorm beds range from $5 to $15 per night, depending on the location and facilities provided. Guesthouses, on the other hand, offer private rooms at affordable rates, starting from around $15 to $30 per night.

If you prefer more privacy and comfort, mid-range hotels and boutique accommodations are widely available across Sri Lanka. These establishments offer comfortable rooms with private bathrooms and often include facilities such as Wi-Fi and breakfast. Prices for mid-range accommodations can range from $40 to $80 per night, depending on the location and the hotel’s amenities.

Those seeking a more luxurious experience can find numerous high-end resorts and hotels in popular tourist destinations. These establishments offer amenities such as spas, swimming pools, and fine dining options. Prices for luxury accommodations can start from around $100 per night and go up to several hundred dollars, depending on the level of luxury and exclusivity.

It’s important to note that prices can vary based on factors such as location, seasonality, and availability. To secure the best deals, it’s recommended to book in advance and compare prices from different sources such as online travel agencies and official hotel websites.

In recent years, another budget-friendly accommodation option has gained popularity in Sri Lanka – homestays and guesthouses. These offer a more immersive experience, allowing you to stay with local families or in traditional houses, providing a unique glimpse into the local culture and way of life. Prices for homestays and guesthouses can range from $20 to $50 per night, depending on the facilities provided.

Overall, Sri Lanka offers a wide range of accommodation options to suit different budgets and preferences. By choosing the option that aligns with your needs, you can rest comfortably and enjoy your stay without overspending.

Food and Drinks

Sri Lanka is a paradise for food lovers, offering a diverse and flavorful culinary scene. From traditional Sri Lankan cuisine to international dishes, there are plenty of options to satisfy your taste buds without breaking the bank.

One of the best ways to experience authentic Sri Lankan food is to dine at local eateries and street food stalls. These establishments offer a wide range of dishes, from rice and curry to hoppers (a type of pancake), kottu roti (chopped roti with vegetables and meat), and string hoppers. Prices for a local meal can range from $2 to $5, depending on the location and the type of dish.

For those who prefer international cuisine or have dietary restrictions, there are numerous restaurants and cafes catering to different tastes. In tourist areas, you can find a variety of options including Indian, Chinese, Italian, and Western-style cuisine. Prices for a meal at a mid-range restaurant can range from $5 to $15 per person.

If you’re looking to save on food expenses, consider trying the local “short eats” – small bites and snacks that are perfect for a quick and budget-friendly meal. These can include samosas, vadai (lentil fritters), and roti rolls, which can be found at snack stalls and bakeries throughout the country for as low as $1.

When it comes to beverages, tap water in Sri Lanka is generally not recommended for drinking. It’s advisable to stick to bottled water, which is widely available and affordable, with prices ranging from $0.20 to $1 per bottle depending on the size and location.

For those who enjoy a cup of tea, Sri Lanka is renowned for its high-quality tea plantations. You can visit tea estates and indulge in a cup of freshly brewed Ceylon tea while enjoying panoramic views of the lush green tea gardens. Prices for a cup of tea can range from $1 to $3, depending on the location.

Another popular beverage in Sri Lanka is fresh coconut water, readily available along the coastal areas. Drinking from a freshly cut coconut is not only refreshing but also a cultural experience. Prices for a coconut can range from $0.50 to $2, depending on the location.

Overall, exploring the diverse flavors of Sri Lanka can be a delightful experience, even on a budget. By sampling street food, dining at local eateries, and trying the traditional Sri Lankan dishes, you can indulge in delicious cuisine without straining your wallet.

Sightseeing and Activities

Sri Lanka is a treasure trove of natural wonders, cultural heritage, and adventurous activities, offering a wide range of sights and experiences for budget travelers. From exploring ancient temples to hiking through lush green mountains, there are plenty of affordable options to keep you entertained.

One of the must-visit attractions in Sri Lanka is the ancient city of Sigiriya, known for its iconic rock fortress. The entrance fee to climb the rock is approximately $30, providing you with stunning panoramic views of the surrounding landscapes.

For nature lovers, a visit to the central highlands is a must. The picturesque town of Ella offers mesmerizing views of tea plantations, waterfalls, and hiking trails. The famous Nine Arch Bridge is a popular spot, where you can witness the magical sight of a train passing over the bridge. Many of these attractions can be visited for free or at a minimal cost.

Sri Lanka is also home to several national parks, with opportunities for wildlife spotting and safari adventures. The entrance fees for national parks such as Yala, Udawalawe, and Minneriya range from $15 to $30 per person, offering the chance to see elephants, leopards, and a variety of bird species in their natural habitats.

If you’re a beach enthusiast, Sri Lanka’s coastline has plenty to offer. From the bustling beaches of Negombo and Unawatuna to the tranquil shores of Mirissa and Arugam Bay, you can enjoy sun, sand, and surf without spending a fortune. Beach activities such as snorkeling, diving, and surfing are available at reasonable prices.

To delve into Sri Lanka’s rich cultural heritage, you can visit ancient cities like Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa, where you can explore ancient ruins, temples, and stupas. The entrance fees for these historical sites are approximately $15 to $25 per person.

For those seeking adventure, trekking and hiking opportunities abound in Sri Lanka. The Knuckles Mountain Range, Horton Plains National Park, and Adam’s Peak are popular destinations for trekking enthusiasts. Most of these treks can be done independently or with the assistance of a local guide at affordable rates.

Lastly, don’t miss out on experiencing authentic cultural performances such as traditional dance shows and drumming ceremonies, which are held in various cities and towns across the country. Tickets for these cultural shows are reasonably priced, starting from around $5 per person.

With its diverse range of attractions and activities, Sri Lanka offers something for everyone, even on a budget. By carefully planning your sightseeing and activities, you can explore the country’s beauty and immerse yourself in its rich culture without breaking the bank.

Shopping in Sri Lanka can be a delightful experience, offering a wide range of products that showcase the country’s vibrant culture and craftsmanship. From intricately designed handicrafts to colorful textiles and tea, there are plenty of items to take home as souvenirs or gifts for loved ones.

One of the most popular items to purchase in Sri Lanka is tea. Known for its high-quality tea plantations, the country offers a variety of flavors and blends. You can visit tea factories and buy directly from the source, ensuring you get the freshest tea leaves. Prices for tea can vary depending on the brand and quality, but you can find affordable options starting from around $5 per pack.

For those interested in traditional crafts, Sri Lanka is renowned for its handwoven textiles, wooden carvings, and brassware. Places like Kandy and Galle are known for their bustling markets, where you can find a wide selection of handmade products. Prices for these handicrafts can vary depending on the intricacy of the design and the materials used.

If you’re looking for affordable clothing options, Sri Lanka is a great place to buy traditional garments such as saris and sarongs. These colorful garments are available in various designs and fabrics, and you can find them at reasonable prices in local markets or textile shops.

When it comes to spices and traditional Ayurvedic products, Sri Lanka is a treasure trove. From aromatic spices like cinnamon, cardamom, and cloves to herbal oils and skincare products, you can bring a taste of Sri Lanka’s natural remedies and flavors back home. Prices for spices and Ayurvedic products can vary depending on the quantity and quality.

When shopping in Sri Lanka, it’s important to engage in friendly bargaining to ensure a fair price. Remember to negotiate respectfully and have an idea of the approximate value of the item before starting the negotiation process.

It’s also worth noting that Sri Lanka has certain restrictions on the export of antiques and animal products. It’s advisable to familiarize yourself with these regulations to avoid any issues when leaving the country.

Overall, shopping in Sri Lanka offers a unique and affordable experience. By exploring the local markets, supporting local artisans, and bringing home souvenirs that reflect the country’s rich heritage, you can create lasting memories of your time in this beautiful island nation.

Health and Safety

Ensuring your health and safety while traveling in Sri Lanka is essential to have a worry-free and enjoyable trip. Here are some tips to keep in mind:

1. Vaccinations: Before traveling to Sri Lanka, it’s recommended to consult with a healthcare professional to learn about the necessary vaccinations. Common vaccines for Sri Lanka include hepatitis A and B, typhoid, tetanus, and influenza.

2. Food and Water: While exploring the local cuisine, it’s important to follow basic food and water safety measures. Drink only bottled water or boiled and filtered water. Be cautious when consuming street food and make sure it is freshly cooked and served hot. Avoid eating raw or unpeeled fruits and vegetables unless you can wash them with safe water.

3. Mosquito Protection: Sri Lanka is a tropical country, and mosquito-borne diseases such as dengue fever and malaria can be a concern. Use mosquito repellent, wear long-sleeved clothing, and consider staying in accommodations with screens or air conditioning. It’s also a good idea to sleep under a mosquito net, especially in more rural areas.

4. Sun Protection: The Sri Lankan sun can be intense, so protect yourself from sunburn by using sunscreen with a high SPF, wearing a hat, and seeking shade during the hottest parts of the day.

5. Travel Insurance: It’s highly recommended to have travel insurance that covers medical emergencies and trip cancellations. Ensure that the insurance policy provides adequate coverage for the duration of your trip in Sri Lanka.

6. Personal Safety: While Sri Lanka is generally a safe country to travel in, it’s always important to take basic safety precautions. Stay alert and aware of your surroundings, especially in crowded places. Avoid displaying valuable items and be cautious of scams or pickpocketing. It’s also advisable to keep a copy of your passport, visa, and important documents in a separate place from the originals.

7. Emergency Numbers: Make sure to have the emergency contact numbers of local authorities and your embassy or consulate saved in your phone or written down. In case of any emergency or need for assistance, you will have the necessary information readily available.

In the event of any medical concern or health issue during your stay in Sri Lanka, seek medical attention from a reputable healthcare facility or hospital. The larger cities in Sri Lanka have well-equipped hospitals and clinics with English-speaking staff.

By taking necessary health and safety precautions, you can enjoy a smooth and worry-free travel experience in Sri Lanka.

Currency and Exchange Rates

The currency of Sri Lanka is the Sri Lankan Rupee (LKR). When planning your budget and expenses, it’s important to consider the current exchange rates and understand the currency system.

Exchanging your currency to Sri Lankan Rupees can be done at international airports, banks, or authorized exchange counters throughout the country. It’s advisable to compare exchange rates and fees to ensure you’re getting the best value for your money. It’s important to note that currency exchange services may not be available 24/7, especially in smaller towns or rural areas, so plan accordingly.

ATMs are widely available in major cities and tourist areas in Sri Lanka. They accept major international debit and credit cards, allowing you to withdraw cash in the local currency. It’s recommended to inform your bank about your travel plans before your trip to avoid any issues with international transactions. Note that some ATMs may charge a withdrawal fee, so check with your bank for any associated charges.

When it comes to using credit cards, it’s advisable to carry cash as backup as not all establishments accept cards, especially in smaller shops and local markets. Visa and Mastercard are more widely accepted than American Express or Discover.

The current exchange rate between the Sri Lankan Rupee (LKR) and major foreign currencies can vary. As of [current date], the approximate exchange rate is [exchange rate]. It’s worth noting that exchange rates are subject to fluctuations, so it’s important to check the rates closer to your travel date for the most accurate information.

It’s recommended to carry small denominations of currency for day-to-day expenses, as some smaller vendors and local establishments may not be able to provide change for larger notes. It’s also a good idea to keep some currency in different forms, such as cash and cards, in case of any unforeseen circumstances or emergencies.

Before leaving Sri Lanka, it’s important to exchange any remaining local currency back to your preferred currency. This can be done at the airport or authorized exchange counters. Keep in mind that there may be restrictions on the amount of currency you can take in or out of the country, so it’s advisable to check the regulations beforehand.

By familiarizing yourself with the currency and exchange rates in Sri Lanka, and planning your budget accordingly, you can ensure a smooth financial experience during your trip.


Staying connected and being able to communicate effectively while traveling in Sri Lanka is important for a seamless and enjoyable experience. Here are some key points to consider:

Mobile and Internet: Sri Lanka has a well-developed mobile network, and getting a local SIM card is a convenient option for staying connected. SIM cards can be purchased at the airport, mobile shops, or from authorized vendors. Make sure to carry your passport and provide the necessary documents for SIM card registration. Top-up cards are widely available for recharging your mobile balance.

Internet access is readily available in most tourist areas, with hotels, cafes, and restaurants offering free Wi-Fi. However, the connection speed may vary depending on the location and demand.

Phone Calls: International calls can be made using SIM cards, but it’s recommended to check the rates and purchase a suitable call package or use internet-based calling apps such as WhatsApp, Skype, or Viber for cost-effective communication.

Language: The official languages of Sri Lanka are Sinhala and Tamil, but English is widely spoken, especially in tourist areas and by service industry professionals. You should generally be able to communicate in English, making it easier to ask for directions, seek assistance, or engage in basic conversations.

Emergency Services: In case of any emergencies, dial 119 for police assistance or 110 for ambulance services. It’s a good idea to have these emergency numbers saved in your phone or written down for quick access.

Maps and Navigation: Online navigation apps such as Google Maps or are helpful tools for navigating through Sri Lanka. Offline maps can be downloaded in advance to ensure access even in areas with limited internet availability.

Postal Services: If you need to send mail or postcards, Sri Lanka has a reliable postal service. Post offices can be found in most towns and cities, and postage rates are affordable for both domestic and international mail.

Time Zone: Sri Lanka follows Sri Lanka Standard Time (SLST), which is GMT +5:30. Adjust your devices and schedule accordingly to ensure you’re on time for any planned activities or transportation.

By staying connected and understanding the communication options in Sri Lanka, you can navigate your way through the country, stay in touch with loved ones, and seek assistance whenever needed.

Traveling on a budget in Sri Lanka is not only possible but also a rewarding experience. From the vibrant markets of Colombo to the serene beaches and lush tea plantations, this beautiful island nation offers a wide range of affordable attractions, accommodations, and culinary delights.

By considering the various aspects of travel in Sri Lanka, such as visa requirements, transportation options, accommodation choices, food and drink expenses, sightseeing opportunities, shopping delights, and health and safety precautions, you can plan your trip in a way that suits your budget without compromising on the quality of your experience.

From indulging in delicious street food to exploring ancient ruins, hiking through breathtaking landscapes, and discovering unique souvenir options, Sri Lanka has something to offer for every budget and travel style.

Remember to take necessary health precautions, stay aware of your surroundings, and have emergency contact numbers readily available. Be open to immersing yourself in the local culture and savoring the warmth and hospitality of the Sri Lankan people.

Whether you’re a solo traveler or embarking on a group adventure, Sri Lanka welcomes you with open arms and promises a memorable journey that won’t break the bank. So, pack your bags, prepare your itinerary, and get ready to explore the wonders of this enchanting island nation on your budget travel adventure.


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Vinod & Divya, parents of a three year old kid, are software techies by profession gradually driven towards travel by passion. They are the founder/editor of the travel blog Budget Travel Plans and are based in India. They have travelled across exotic destinations including Mauritius, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Srilanka, Bhutan and the Middle east. They aim to share their budget travel experience,Travel tips & tricks and also advice on travelling with little kids. You can also follow them on Facebook .

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How Much Does it Cost to Travel in Sri Lanka?

Categories On a shoestring , Sri Lanka

How Much Does it Cost to Travel in Sri Lanka?

Last Updated on March 2, 2023

I spent five weeks traveling around Sri Lanka just before the main tourist season started, still enjoying the bargain deals of the low season and seeing prices go up in the high season – this applies mainly to accommodation, however. I am breaking down all of my Sri Lanka expenses to give you an idea of what costs to expect when you budget for a trip to Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka

How much is a Visa for Sri Lanka?

A visa is required to enter Sri Lanka. Luckily it is easy to apply for a Sri Lankan visa online . The cost of a visa for Europeans, North Americans and Australians is US$35.

If you don’t apply for a visa online, you can get a visa on arrival at the port of entry in Sri Lanka for US$40.

These are the visas you can choose from when applying for a Sri Lanka visa online:

  • Tourist Visa Single Entry up to 90 days: US$35
  • Tourist Visa with Double Entry up to 90 days: US$35

sri lanka talpe beach

How much is accommodation in Sri Lanka?

Accommodation will be your biggest expense in your daily travel budget for Sri Lanka, but the value for money is usually very good.

The cheapest rates for a private double room I found was LKR1,500 (US$10.40), and in some of the beach towns I paid around LKR3,000-3,500 (US$21-25) for a double room (split between two people). Remember that this was in the off-season though.

In other places (not along the coast) LKR1,500 seemed to be the going rate for a basic double room, breakfast often included, and usually with free wifi.

hikkaduwa beach cinnamon infinity pool

How much are food & drinks in Sri Lanka?

Food can be dirt cheap, but it also can be pricey depending on if you’re willing to delve into the local cuisine or stick to western choices. A Sri Lankan dinner of kotthu, which is a favorite of the locals, costs around LKR165 – 200 (US$1.15 – 1.40), while a chicken curry in a beach town can cost you up to LKR900 (US$6.25). On average, expect to pay between LKR200 and 300 (US$1.40 – 2.10) for local food and LKR600 to 900 (US$4.15-6.25) for a dish in a tourist restaurant. Breakfast usually cost me LKR500 to 700 (US$3.45-4.85), including tea or coffee.

Speaking of coffee, if you are looking for good coffee, you’ll have to pay for it. The most expensive coffee I had was in Kandy at Natural Coffee , where I was charged LKR560 (US$3.90) for a cappuccino – more than I usually paid for an entire meal! There are some coffee shops in Colombo, and some cafes around the country that have a proper espresso machine, but they’re few and far between.

Sri Lanka food

How much is alcohol in Sri Lanka?

reefs edge hotel beach beers

How much is transportation in Sri Lanka?

train ride to badulla with nine arches bridge tunnel

How much are attractions in Sri Lanka?

Sri Lanka tours

Other expenses in Sri Lanka

Other expenses to consider when setting a travel budget for Sri Lanka include things like laundry, toiletries and a local SIM card. Here are some examples so that you know what to expect:

  • Laundry: LKR250-350 (US$1.75-2.45) per kilo
  • Shampoo/ conditioner 100ml: LKR150 – 180 (US$1.05-1.25)
  • Face wash 100ml: LKR150 (US$1.05)
  • SIM card : LKR399 (US$2.75) for a 4GB data package

Sri Lanka 2014

How much is a local SIM card in Sri Lanka?

Sri Lanka

Money and ATMs in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka

Tipping in Sri Lanka

Most places automatically add a service charge to the bill, so double-check before you tip if they’re already including it.

Generally, tips are NOT expected in Sri Lanka, but if you want to show your gratitude for exceptional service, tips are of course appreciated. For locals it is not customary to tip in Sri Lanka, but if you’d like to leave a tip: In small restaurants, less than 100 rupees is sufficient, in more upscale restaurants, 200 rupees is more than enough. If you want to bar tender, don’t tip per drink – leave a tip at the end of the night. 

Taxi drivers are not tipped in Sri Lanka, but feel free to round up your fare.

Sri Lanka Budget: Per day breakdown

Trail Wallet Sri Lanka Budget

As usual, I used the TrailWallet app to track my expenses.

How Much it costs to travel in Sri Lanka

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Saturday 16th of May 2020

Hi Dani, I found this blog about travel in Sri Lanka and it is one of the best blogs I found online. Your detailed description on all aspects from the arrival with finding a SIM card to travel around the country with your budget is excellent and very useful for a foreigner who wishes to go there. Some of the facts that you have found in your travel experience are very true and I haven't even thought of when I am there. By the way I am a Sri Lankan but live in the US and that's why I know all of your information is accurate. The safety wise I agree with you, but if it's a group I would say anywhere any time its 100% safe in Sri Lanka. You will also get the best hospitality in most of the rural areas of the country for foreigners. Thanks so much for your nice post about my country!!

Wednesday 17th of January 2018

This blog is fantastic- really helpful! How did you find the journey on the train- did you use any Taxis at all?

Tuesday 19th of December 2017

Thanks a ton !

Thursday 22nd of June 2017

i'm travelling the south coast of Sri Lanka for two weeks this July, how much do you think you spent in total? one of the hotels is already paid for but i'm unsure as to how much spending money i will need to take with me?

Monday 26th of June 2017

Hi Abbie, like I said in the article, I spent $20 – $30 per day (on a shoestring), or around $50 per person per day in nicer accommodations. But since your accommodation is already paid for and you're traveling in the south, you should be fine with $30 a day. It doesn't seem like you're going to visit the UNESCO sites which had a hefty price tag... so the only pricier activities might be something like whale watching, surfing lessons or a visit to Yala National Park? Put some extra cash aside for things like that, but transportation and food are dirt cheap. Enjoy Sri Lanka, and I'd love to hear from you when you get back how much you ended up spending!

The Ultimate Guide To The Cost Of Traveling The World

Friday 28th of April 2017

[…] from Globetrotter Girls spent between $20-$50 per day over five months […]

SRI LANKA ON A BUDGET | 1 Month for Under $500

Sri Lanka on a Budget Title

The island of Sri Lanka is fast becoming one of the most popular destinations for a budget backpacking trip in Southeast Asia and is one of the cheapest countries in the world to visit . It is a beautiful island with tonnes of golden beaches , quaint coastal towns and stunning mountain scenery. As well as being a brilliant country to visit, it is also ridiculously cheap. It is so easy to travel Sri Lanka on a budget and yes we really did spend a month here for less than $500 each . Find out exactly how we did it!

If you are organising a trip here, read our complete Sri Lanka itinerary to help plan your route.

While we definitely did it about as cheap as humanly possible, we never felt like we missed out on anything we wanted to do. We surfed several times, went on a safari at Yala National Park and rented scooters almost everywhere we went. Just because you are travelling on a budget doesn’t mean you have to miss out on all the cool things to see and do in a country. You might have to make a few sacrifices though.

Sri Lanka budget breakdown infographic

Total Sri Lanka Budget

$466 USD per person / 28 days spent in Sri Lanka = $16.64 USD each day

We saw loads of budget guides quoting $30 – $50 USD a day and in our minds $50 a day is not really budget travel. We could live like kings for that sort of money.  Our daily expenses ended up being an average of only $16.64 USD per person . Now that’s cheap. It is important to keep in mind that we travelled as a couple but most of this advice still applies to solo travellers. Check out how we managed to travel Sri Lanka on a budget.

The currency here is the Sri Lankan Rupee and can be written as either LKR or Rps. At the time of writing this $1USD = 176LKR. ATM’s are available when you arrive in the airport and we found they were available almost everywhere when we travelled across Sri Lanka.

Palm Tree Sunset in Sri Lanka

Budget Breakdown – Average Costs

Accommodation: 1200 – 2600LKR ($7 – $14.73 USD) per night for a private double room

Food: 110 – 500LKR ($0.62 – $2.83 USD) per meal

Water 1L:  70LKR ($0.40 USD)

Transport: 30 – 300LKR ($0.17 – $1.70 USD)

Beer: 200 – 400LKR ($1.13 – $2.26 USD) per large bottle

Safari: 6500LKR ($36.74 USD) per person

Surfboard Rental: 250 – 500LKR ($1.41 – $2.82 USD) per hour

SIM Card: 650LKR ($3.67 USD) for 9GB of data

Laundry: 350 – 400LKR ($1.98 – $2.26 USD) per kilo


Here is where you will either save the most money or spend the most money on your trip. If you are truly trying to backpack on a budget, then it is easy to find private accommodation for around 1750LKR ($10 USD) a night anywhere in Sri Lanka. This is for a private room that sleeps two people, meaning you can pay on average $5.00 a night each . That is crazy cheap. Most of the time this will even include a private bathroom, although some bathrooms will be shared. We even managed to stay for a night in Kandy, in a private double room, for 800LKR ($4.53 USD) for both of us. 

The hard part for most people is that you can only get a fan room for this sort of money and it will most likely have a cold shower. If you want air conditioning, then you can expect to pay at least double the price of a fan room. I find myself melting in the heat everywhere we go but I must say, staying in a fan room really wasn’t that bad. Most nights were quite comfortable and I was able to manage a good night’s sleep. If you are willing to skip the A/C, you are well on your way to saving a boatload of cash.

Sri Lanka Budget Accommodation

Food and Drinks

So far on our Asia travels, Sri Lanka has been both the cheapest and easiest place to eat. The Sri Lankan cuisine is sensational. Rice and curry is an absolute staple for the locals and should be for your trip as well. If you mainly stick to hole in the wall restaurants you will find that not only is the food very cheap but that it tastes absolutely delicious as well.

When we say cheap hole in the wall we really mean it. Look for a place full of locals instead of tourists, that has plastic furniture and that you could probably walk by quite easily without noticing. Eating in places like this should cost on average 250LKR ($1.42 USD) per meal .

You can pay anything up to and over 1000LKR ($5.67 USD) per meal in a fancy restaurant but this is totally unnecessary. The food served at the local restaurants will taste just as good if not better and offer a much more authentic experience.

It can be quite easy to get sick of eating the same meals over and over again but the great thing about rice and curry is that it is the house choice each night. This means even though theoretically you order the same meal every night, it will always be a different variation. If you decide to go for some western food you can expect this to cost at least 1000LKR ($5.67 USD) per meal, hence why eating local is the best way to go.

Across our month in Sri Lanka we drank very little alcohol. There isn’t too much of a party scene here anyway which made this quite easy. While the cost per beer doesn’t seem like much, (200 – 400LKR ($1.13 – $2.26 USD) per large bottle), it can quickly add up if you are knocking back a couple with dinner every night.

Budget Food in Sri Lanka

Public Transport

The public bus and train services here are actually quite good and the cost will fit perfectly with your Sri Lanka backpacking budget. Public busses are quite frequent and are the main way to travel around the island. The bus journeys are dirt cheap – often less than 60LKR ($0.35 USD) for an hour’s journey – and are definitely an experience you should have here. The local buses typically play loud music, are excessively decorated, and aren’t typically air conditioned. The bus drivers in Sri Lanka are crazy and the busses themselves are often packed full! There was never an issue taking our backpacks on the bus, even when it was busy as there is a space next to the driver where you can leave your bags.

The train doesn’t service the entire country but it does cover some of the main routes you will take, including the beautiful train ride through the mountains from Ella to Kandy , as well as from Colombo to Unawatuna . Train tickets cost just a couple of dollars and offer some of the best scenic views in the country.

Hiring private drivers and taking long tuk tuk journeys are a sure fire way of driving up your Sri Lanka travel budget. It may take a little longer but taking public transport everywhere will save you a lot of money across your entire trip.

Riding the Ella to Kandy Train

To be honest we didn’t really do many expensive activities in Sri Lanka which definitely helped keep our budget down. This was more due to the fact that most of the good stuff here involves hanging out at palm tree lined beaches, snorkelling with turtles and exploring the crazy landscapes. The one thing we did “splurge” on was a safari at Yala National Park . This cost us 6500LKR per person ($36.74 USD) for a full day out on a safari which is great value for money. You should easily be able to afford this anyway with all the money you’ll be saving!

Surfing is a huge reason why the country has become so popular so we made sure to head out and catch some waves. We found the cheapest place to surf was in Weligama, near Mirissa . Surfboard rental was just 250LKR ($1.41 USD) per hour from directly on the beach. In the more popular spots like Hiriketiya Beach you can expect to pay 500LKR per hour ($2.82 USD) but this won’t exactly break the bank either.

One of the most expensive activities in Sri Lanka is Sigiriya Rock. The entrance fee here is $35 USD and we had heard from loads of travellers that it just wasn’t worth it. This price is nuts when compared to the cost of everything else here. If you want an amazing Sigiriya Rock experience on a budget, consider hiking Pidurangala Rock instead. The entrance fee here is just 500LKR ($2.82 USD) and offers an incredible sunrise view of Sigiriya.

Jeep Safari in Yala National Park

Travel Tips

  • Stay in fan rooms – Staying in rooms with no air conditioning will half your cost of accommodation. This is the biggest single thing you can do to save money.
  • Get breakfast included – try and find homestays with breakfast included.
  • Eat simple breakfasts – If you can’t get it included then eat simple breakfasts like yoghurt or fruit which is cheap and readily available. Western breakfasts can be expensive to have in a restaurant.
  • Find accommodation with – The price is often cheaper when booking online rather than direct, which is the opposite to what you might expect. Some places even told us to book online rather than book direct as they wouldn’t match the price we found on .
  • Eat local – Eat in local, hole in the wall style restaurants. They offer great food at a cheap price.
  • Share meals – The portion sizes in most restaurants are huge. If you order rice and curry add a side of roti and this will easily fill two people. Even though meals are cheap the savings you can make from sharing will add up over time.
  • Drink less beer – All the drinks can add up quickly. If you are looking to travel on the cheap cut back on the beers.
  • Take public transport – Private transport and tuk tuk rides cost a fortune compared to the local transport. Take the train or ride the bus wherever possible.
  • Use the PickMe app – The app offers much cheaper tuk tuk and taxi rides although it is only available in the larger cities. It is a great way to get from the airport to your accommodation in Colombo.
  • Negotiate on price – Whether it’s a place to stay, a tuk tuk ride or buying clothes, the prices in Sri Lanka are almost always negotiable. Try and find out from the owner of your homestay what you can expect to pay for local fares so you don’t get ripped off.
  • Get Travel Insurance – Getting covered by travel insurance may seem like a big expense when you buy it but it could save you loads of money if something goes wrong. Our pick for the best travel insurers is World Nomads .

Disclaimer – This post may contain affiliate links, meaning we receive a small commission if you make a purchase at NO extra cost to you. This will never impact our reviews and we only recommend products and services we firmly believe in. Thanks for your support!

Tuk Tuk Ride

The Budget Mindset

Having a mindset that is always focused on a budget is one of the best pieces of advice that we can give you. Every little decision that you make to save money all adds up to help you reduce the travel budget of your Sri Lanka trip.  It can be easy to rationalise spending that little bit extra each time but this is what really pumps up your costs.

Always be willing to stay in the cheap room, walk places instead of taking a tuk tuk and embrace the cold shower to cool you down after a long day in the sun. Trying to always pick the cheap option creates this budget mindset and this is what will help you to travel Sri Lanka on a budget.

Sri Lanka Visa

In order to legally enter the country for more than two days, most nationalities will need to get a visa. While you can get a visa on arrival it is much easier to apply online before you go. You can apply for a tourist visa here . This visa applies to most nationalities and allows double entry to Sri Lanka for 1 month. They have now started offering this tourist visa for free for most countries in an attempt to help revive tourism.

Is Sri Lanka Cheap ?

YES! If you are looking for a destination that you can really enjoy on a budget, Sri Lanka should be at the top of your list. Not only is it an incredibly beautiful country with a diverse culture but it is super cheap! We scrimped and saved and did it almost as cheap as possible but even if you don’t want to go to the extremes that we did you can still travel Sri Lanka on a budget and not spend too much money.

In other countries we have found that certain things are very cheap while other stuff can be quite expensive. The great thing about Sri Lanka is that everything here is cheap . Accommodation, food, transport and activities all cost very little.

Spending less than $500 per person for a month here is something we are pretty proud of and we didn’t feel like we missed out on anything. Did you manage to do it even cheaper? We’d love to hear your costs while travelling Sri Lanka on a budget. Let us know in the comments if you did it cheaper or if you have any other great travel tips to help save money!

*Please note, prices are a reflection of our experiences while traveling Sri Lanka in March 2019 and are subject to change. Prices quoted in LKR were the exact prices we paid and USD conversions are listed for your convenience.

SRI LANKA ON A BUDGET | If you want to travel Sri Lanka without spending a fortune, then this is the guide for you. Find out how we spent one month here for less than $500! Include money saving tips and a complete breakdown of costs

Hey man I liked your post. It is refreshing to see other like minded travelers out there. Most people look down on you if they perceive you are trying to look for everything cheap. How did you find that? Did you notice a judgmental vibe from other travelers? Anyways, I also wanted to ask you if Sri Lanka was the no.1 absolute cheapest country you traveled to, is there a top 3 you’d like to share? Especially in Asia, but am also interested in other regions as well.

The Coastal Campaign

Hey! Thanks for the comment and checking out the blog. We didn’t find any judgement from fellow travellers but sometimes its hard to always be living on the cheap when you see others having drinks out each night and heading to nicer restaurants. But those little sacrifices meant we could travel for that much longer. In terms of other cheap countries, Vietnam was almost on par with Sri Lanka. The only thing that made it more expensive was that we splurged on a Ha Long Bay cruise. Malaysia was also pretty cheap and the food was awesome!

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Hi, we're Luke and Roxy, a travel couple from Ireland and Canada. We are all about finding awesome, off the beaten path adventures and love to find the cheapest way of doing things. Thanks for visiting our blog!

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Sri Lanka: The Ultimate Travel Guide

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  • 1 How much does a trip to Sri Lanka cost?
  • 2.1 Historical Sites and Temples
  • 2.2 Wildlife Safaris
  • 2.3 Beaches
  • 3 Flights to Sri Lanka
  • 4 Accommodation
  • 5 Sri Lanka Itinerary: 2 Weeks
  • 6 Sri Lanka Itinerary: 3-4 Weeks
  • 7 When to Go
  • 8 Eating and Drinking
  • 9.1 Public Buses
  • 9.3 Tuk Tuks
  • 9.4 Use PickMe
  • 10.1 Trails, Hiking, and Longer Treks
  • 10.2 Swimming and Surfing
  • 10.3 Kitesurfing
  • 10.4 Wildlife Safaris
  • 11.1 Related

I grew up in Kandy, the country’s hill capital. In the last three years, I've decided to explore the tiny corners of my island. I’ve peeped my head out of train windows uncountable times, solved riddles of an 8-year-old in a small mountain village in Nanu Oya, and have befriended dogs who have guided me to mountain tops. And now, I’m putting all of my “local knowledge” into this ultimate travel guide to Sri Lanka.

How much does a trip to Sri Lanka cost?

Let me cut to the chase. It depends on your traveling style. If you are the kind of traveler who wants to sip Ceylon tea while being pampered in a vintage tea bungalow in Nuwara Eliya (which we apparently named Little England) on a dime, then Sri Lanka is not the ultimate budget destination for you.

While Sri Lanka is comparatively a “cheaper” destination to travel to, it’s not as cheap as neighboring India, Nepal , Tibet , or Southeast Asia.

If you are the kind of traveler who stays in homestays, hostels, mingles with locals, uses public transport and eats local food, then it’s absolutely possible to travel in Sri Lanka with $30 a day . However, adding a bit more comfort (using taxis often and having your coffee fix at mid-range cafes) plus activity entrance prices, then a budget of $50 a day would be more realistic.

budget travel sri lanka

Historical Sites and Temples

The cultural triangle – made of the three major historical cities of Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, and Kandy – are often frequented by history buffs. However, inside the triangle, there lies a plethora of lesser-known historical sites deserving of a visit.

Lion’s Rock in Sigiriya is named as the 8th World Wonder, though the entrance fee of $30 USD is putting many budget travellers off. Lion’s Rock is an architectural masterpiece, and if you are a history buff, you can't miss this place. Nearby Pidurangala Rock has become Instagram-famous over the years. Pidurangala offers stunning views with Lion’s Rock as the backdrop, and the 1-hour hike to the top is totally worth it. A three-hour drive from Dambulla is Yapahuwa, the 4th kingdom of Sri Lanka. The citadel is built on a granite rock, rising about 100 meters from the surrounding lowlands in Kurunegala District. While rock inscriptions of Ritigala Monastery are quintessential storytellers of the bygone era, Jathika Namal Uyana is Sri Lanka’s largest ironwood forest and pink quartz mountain in Asia. The rosy  tones of the quartz are slowly fading away with time, so now is the time to go.

Gadaladeniya Rajamaha Vihara

Ambekke, Lankatilake, and Gadaladeniya temples close to Kandy are slowly opening up to tourists. The gigantic Buddha statue of Aukana and Buduruwagala in Wellawaya are fascinating sites to behold. Easily reached by nearby towns of Dikwella and Tangalle, Mulkirigala is another ancient rock temple which has become popular over the years.

The island is also home to a few world-famous Hindu temples. Devotees from all around the world flock to Seetha Amman Temple in Nuwara Eliya and Nallur Kandaswamy Temple in Jaffna when Hindu festivals and ceremonies are taking place.

Seetha Amman Temple

Wildlife Safaris

If seeing wildlife is on your list of things to do in Sri Lanka, avoid visiting unethical wildlife “conservation” centers such as Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage and unauthorized turtle hatcheries. Instead, consider visiting a national park to see wild animals in their natural habitats. Yala, Udawalawe, and Kaudulla have become insanely crowded over the years. But don’t lose hope – Sri Lanka has 26 national parks to explore.

peacock yala sri lanka

Kumana National Park, located south of Arugam Bay, offers an amazing safari experience. The park is home to elephants, wild boars, foxes, peacocks and many other species of birds. In Gal Oya National Park, you can go on a boat safari to spot wild elephants hang out in Senanayaka Samudraya, the largest tank in Sri Lanka. For an unforgettable marine life viewing experience, head to Pigeon Island in Trincomalee. Be warned though, during peak season (April – August), it does get crowded. While Bundala is a paradise for birdwatchers, Maduru Ganga National Park is one of the lesser-known wildlife destinations in Sri Lanka. The jungle-clad lowlands here offer stunning landscapes and a quieter place to see elephants in their natural habitats.  

budget travel sri lanka

Being an island nation, there are countless beautiful beaches to choose from, many of which you'll never find in a guidebook. Here are some top choices from a local:

South Coast

  • Mirissa, Weligama, Unawatuna Hikkaduwa: Immensely popular beaches, but very crowded, especially during the peak tourist season.
  • Hiriketiya, Thalalla, Dikwella, Tangalle: Secluded beach villages. Check out Goyambokka, Rekawa, and Gurupokuna beach.

North Coast

Aptly named for the Casuarina trees that decorate the beach, Casuarina Beach in Karainagar is a popular option among the Northerners

Nilaveli , Uppuveli , and Arugam Bay are popular east coast options, however, Komari Beach (16 kilometers north of Potuvil) and beaches in Oluvil offer more authentic experiences

South of Kalpitiya is a small fishing village named Kappalady , home to a long sandbank and turquoise blue waters. You’ll likely see not a soul in sight.

budget travel sri lanka

Flights to Sri Lanka

Most flights arrive in Bandaranaike International Airport (airport code CMB ) in Katunayake, an hour’s drive from Colombo if you use the expressway. When searching for flights, use Skyscanner to conduct a broad search (select “Entire Month” if you don’t have fixed dates to visualize the cheapest dates to fly).

SriLankan Airlines offer flights to Colombo from many destinations across the world, including a direct journey from Melbourne. If you are in South East Asia, AirAsia offers cheap flights to Sri Lanka, and Kuala Lumpur to Colombo has been the cheapest option over the years. Flights from Southern Indian cities (Chennai, Madurai, Kochi, Coimbatore, Hyderabad, and Bangalore) are common travel routes to Sri Lanka. Currently, IndiGo Airlines offers the cheapest flights to Sri Lanka from a number of Indian cities.


Sri Lanka has a wide range of accommodation options from luxe hotels to local-run homestays. While many luxury boutique hotels are priced at $200-400 USD, a private room in a typical luxury hotel normally begins at $100. Cinnamon Hotels and Jetwing Hotels are two popular luxury accommodation options. Check HotelsCombined , which compares prices of both hotels and hostels across a variety of booking sites.

Hostels are priced anywhere between $8-20 USD. Backpack hostels are often found in major cities and touristy areas such as Colombo , Kandy , Galle , Unawatuna and Ella . Hangover Hostels is one of the popular hostel chains on the island with four hostels in Colombo , near Airport , Ella and in Mirissa . Clock Inn , a pioneer in Sri Lanka’s backpack culture has a chic, modern hostel in the heart of Kandy. Pedlar’s Inn is the go-to place for budget travelers in Galle. In far-less-touristy areas, budget travelers can opt for local-run homestays and expect to pay anything over $15 USD.

AirBNB is quite popular in Sri Lanka, but is usually pricier than hostels and homestays (you can get $40 USD off your first Airbnb trip with this coupon ). Apart from these options, there are many beachside cabana style accommodation options and eco-friendly tree houses in the wild. Back of Beyond offers an amazing, eco-friendly experience in several offbeat locations in Sri Lanka and their properties usually begins at $100 USD a night.  

budget travel sri lanka

Sri Lanka Itinerary: 2 Weeks

Sri Lanka Itineraries

To get an overall feel of Sri Lanka, one month is a good time. While slow travelers love to stay for 2-3 months, those who don’t have much time come for two weeks. This sample itinerary highlights what you can do and see in Sri Lanka in 2 weeks.

  • Day 1 : Arrive in Colombo. Explore Colombo’s street food scene at Galle Face Green .
  • Day 2 : Board the early morning train to Kandy and spend the rest of the day exploring. Go off the tourist trail to Bahirawakanda Temple and Udawattakele Sanctuary .
  • Day 3 : Day trip to the Knuckles Mountain Range and Pitawala Pathana . One needs to use private transport, and renting a car, tuk tuk, or a van costs 7000 LKR ($45 USD) from Kandy. You’ll come across some of the most fascinating landscapes on the island. Along the way, stop by Bambara Kiri Ella Falls .
  • Day 4 : Board the train to Nuwara Eliya. The train journey usually takes 3-4 hours. Nuwara Eliya has a relatively cooler, wet climate. Go for a walk in Nuwara Eliya town.
  • Day 5 : Take a trek in Horton Plains National Park (you can instantly book a tour with transport on Viator ). Start early morning and reach the park by 6.30 AM to avoid the crowds. The walking trail there usually takes 4 hours.
  • Day 6 : Board the early morning train to Ella. Go to Nine Arch Bridge in the evening ( this tour will take you there as well as Little Adam's Peak) and get a gist of the mountain town. Relax at one of the cafes.
  • Day 7-8 : Explore Ella — Climb Little Adam’s Peak ( book a tour here ), Ella Rock, and explore waterfalls (Diyaluma Falls, Ravana Falls, Dunhinda Falls).
  • Day 9 : Ella-Wellawaya-Tangalle: Board the bus to Wellawaya town from Ella. From there, you can board the bus to Tangalle
  • Day 10 : Beach day! Hire a scooter and explore hidden beaches. Talalla, Dikwella, and Hiriketiya are some of the most spectacular spots. Towards Matara is Dondra, where Dondra Head Lighthouse is located on the southernmost tip of Sri Lanka.
  • Day 11 : Day trip to Udawalawe National Park .
  • Day 12 : Beach day! Today is your day to soak up the tropical sun. Taste amazing local food, sip some arrack (the local spirit), and chill in seaside cafes.
  • Day 13 : Bus to Galle. The journey usually takes 2-3 hours. Explore Galle Fort . Stay overnight in Galle.
  • Day 14 : Board the train to Colombo. Take another train to Katunayake or the highway bus to the airport. Fly out.

Sri Lanka Itinerary: 3-4 Weeks

If you are coming to Sri Lanka for 3 weeks, consider heading to Jaffna (3 nights), Anuradhapura (2 nights) and Sigiriya (2 nights) before heading to Kandy and the highlands. Jaffna is relatively new to tourism. Northern Sri Lanka has a unique culture of their own and the cuisine is entirely different. Nallur Kandaswamy Temple, Point Pedro (the northernmost tip of Sri Lanka), Casuarina Beach, Jaffna Fort, Nainativu Island, Delft Island are some of the must-visit places in and around Jaffna. If you have 4 weeks, consider exploring the East Coast or Kalpitiya (if you love kitesurfing) for a week.  

Sri Lanka is a year-round destination. December to April is considered the high season. December and January are the peak months with relatively pleasant weather throughout the island, but expect chilly mornings and nights in hill towns such as Nuwara Eliya. The end of March to April is hot. Unbearably hot. Sri Lankan weather, however, is unpredictable. You are likely to have downpours in April evenings.

December to May marks the Adam’s Peak pilgrimage season. May arrives with monsoons, where several parts of the island are susceptible to frequent flooding every year. However, if you plan well, traveling in monsoons is a beautiful experience itself. While the northwest monsoons run from May-September, the beginning of April commences the east coast season, which runs till September. During this season, the east coast turns into a surfers’ paradise. August sees a rise in tourists due to Kandyan Perehera (a local festival held annually in Kandy). October to November doesn’t see many crowds, but it is in fact a perfect time to travel around the island.

Eating and Drinking

In Sri Lanka, eating out is cheap provided you stick to family-run restaurants, street food stalls, and hole-in-the-wall eateries. International cuisine such as Italian, French, or Bavarian will never have the authentic taste, but will be a Sri Lankan version. Your best bet is to stick to authentic Sri Lankan cuisine. 

While a few upscale restaurants serve authentic Sri Lankan cuisine in Colombo, I always find home-cooked meals in family-run restaurants to be the most delicious ones. Not only will you get a locals experience, but you'll also support the communities directly this way. Sri Lankan cuisine is punchy, red, and spicy. Most restaurant staff, even in rural areas, will ask you whether you like spice or not. In small places, a hearty meal will only cost you 200 LKR ($1.3 USD) but, the same meal will cost you $30 USD in an upscale restaurant.

If you are up for a drink, go for a Lion beer, the country’s own. A beer is usually 2-3 American dollars. Arack – distilled from nectar drawn from the coconut flower – is the Sri Lankan specialty, and best-consumed as a sundowner mixed with lime juice and king coconut juice.

fish curry

Rice & curry is Sri Lanka’s staple meal. String hoppers (steamed rice flour in a noodle-like form) are widely available in family-run restaurants for breakfast and dinner. Koththu is Sri Lanka’s heartbeat, a dish that perfectly reflects the ordinary middle-class man’s lifestyle. Koththu is a mixture of flatbread, fresh vegetables, eggs and any meat of your choice – chicken, beef, mutton and seafood being most common. Making koththu is chaotic, noisy, and interesting to watch. All the ingredients are added to a heated metal sheet and further cut up using two metal blades. The chopping can be heard from miles afar. Snacks such as vadai (tiny fritters made of lentils) are often found in makeshift stalls and mobile carts on the roads. You’ll also meet plenty of vadai and banda iringu (corn on the cob) vendors on long-distance buses and trains.


budget travel sri lanka

Public Buses

Although somewhat uncomfortable, Sri Lanka has an efficient bus network, and buses (and trains) are recommended for long distances. Ordinary buses can feel quite hectic to use. Private buses, while nicer, play loud music throughout the journey. Some routes are covered by more comfortable, air-conditioned Volvo services. If your journey takes more than 7 hours, board an overnight bus to save time and money spent on accommodation. Some Volvo and ordinary buses to outstations can be booked online via and . 

Trains cannot be booked online apart from a few online travel agents who charge twice the price or more. Except for long weekends and school holidays which fall on April, August, and December, you will always find a seat on long distance trains. Just turn up the same day of your journey at the station and buy your tickets! If you want to pre-book your seats, go to Colombo Fort Railway Station on the day you arrive and reserve your seats.

Ella train

Tuk tuks are auto rickshaws. They are frequently used for shorter journeys (1km – 10km). In Colombo, most tuk tuks have meters. Make sure your tuk has a meter before you board it to avoid scams. Agree on the price before you start your journey in outstations. The current standard rate for 1 km is 60 LKR (40 American cents).

As someone who lives in Colombo, I’m grateful to have PickMe . PickMe is a local alternative to Uber and functions better than Uber in Sri Lanka (yes, Uber is available here. Get a discount off of your first ride using our coupon ). The great thing about PickMe is that they have tuk tuks in their platform. For journeys longer than 2 km, it always works out a lot cheaper than taking a random tuk tuk on the streets. PickMe is available as a downloadable App. They also have a very responsive Twitter profile, but unfortunately, PickMe is currently only available in Colombo, Negombo, Kandy, and Galle city limits.

Trails, Hiking, and Longer Treks

The entirety of Sri Lanka is green… for now. Sadly, much of the country is swiftly clear-cutting jungle tracts to build skyscrapers. Day hikes are quickly becoming popular amongst travelers, especially in mountain villages such as Ella and Haputale. Some of the most picture-worthy scenery requires a bit of trekking, and it’s advised to hire a guide. Railway treks are quite popular, especially in the upcountry. Just keep an eye out for the occasional train.

Swimming and Surfing

Mirissa and Weligama in the South Coast and Arugam Bay in the East Coast are some of the world-class surf points of Sri Lanka. If you dream of having a whole beach to yourself, hire a scooter (usually only around 10 USD per day) and drive along the south coast. You will discover secluded beaches with soft, powdery sand and blue waters entirely to yourself.

budget travel sri lanka


Did you know that Kalpitiya Peninsula and Mannar are some of the world’s top kitesurfing spots? The peak season runs between the summer months of May – October while December – March is the shoulder season. Head to hidden villages such as Kappalady in Kalpitiya Peninsula to avoid the crowds. On the other hand, Mannar rarely gets any visitors. It’s slowly opening up to tourism after the Civil War, which ended in 2009.

As mentioned earlier, safaris cost a few bucks, but the price is worth it in exchange for a fully immersive (and ethical) wildlife experience. The prices are usually for the whole jeep/vehicle, and if you are a couple or a single traveler, it might be wise to team up with fellow travelers to split costs. A jeep usually costs anywhere between 3000 – 4000 LKR ($19 – $25 USD) for a safari in a popular national park such as Kaudulla or Yala . Keep in mind that this is only the price for the vehicle. You have to buy separate tickets for each person at the entrance as well.

Alternatively, you can browse safaris with photos/reviews and book instantly online at Viator . This saves you the hassle of finding tours in person or making phone calls back and forth. Many of these tours include the entrance fees for the parks and pickup from your hotel/hostel, so read the fine print to be sure of what is included, as these tours can often be the best value.

Safari prices and entrance fees for major historical attractions in Sri Lanka can be a little expensive (40 – 70 USD) but beaches come at no cost. And they are mostly never labeled as “crowded.”

budget travel sri lanka

The Thrifty Gist

  • Based on your style of travel, Sri Lanka can be either a cheap or an expensive destination. If you travel like a local, there’s a drastic reduction in the costs.
  • Use HotelsCombined to compare prices of both hotels and hostels, and Airbnb for homestays. Search “entire month” in the date field of Skyscanner to find the cheapest time to fly.
  • Use PickMe to book tuk tuks and taxis in Colombo, Negombo, Kandy, and Galle city limits.
  • Trains can be booked only at the station. Unless you board the train on weekends and during school holidays, which fall on the months of April, August, and December, booking ahead is not needed. Turn up at the station and buy your tickets.
  • The best local food is often found in local restaurants and homestays.
  • Sri Lanka’s pristine beaches come at no price. Most hikes and treks cost nothing or just a small fee. Safaris and major tourist attractions can be a little expensive for budget travellers, but offer an unforgettable trip experience.
  • Many safaris and tours can be booked online instantly with Viator . Check the fine print on each tour, as often transport and park fees are included, making a tour better value and less hassle than going yourself.

Creative Travel Guide


By Author Katie

Posted on Last updated: August 1, 2022


Heading to Sri Lanka? Vinod shares how to travel to Sri Lanka on a budget so you can plan a trip and save money. 

Sri Lanka is one of the most beautiful countries in South Asia, which is surrounded by water on all sides. Sri Lanka was formerly called Ceylon until it was officially renamed Sri Lanka in 1972. Sri Lanka is famous for beautiful beaches, tree plantations, wildlife sanctuaries along with a lot of sacred Buddhist temples, and it is one of the cheap destinations to travel in Asia.

Sri Lanka Visa charge

You can apply for a Sri Lankan tourist visa for a fee of 25 USD for people coming from SAARC nations and 35 USD for other countries, or you can get it on arrival for a fee of 40 USD for a stay up to 30 days. Children who are under age 12 can enter Sri Lanka for free!

cost of travel Sri Lanka

Getting to Sri Lanka

The recommended way to reach Sri Lanka is by flight. Bandaranaike International Airport in Colombo is the leading International airport in the country. And mostly, you will be arriving at this airport as this airport has more connectivity to international destinations.

Cost of travel in Sri Lanka

How to save on transportation in Sri Lanka

  • Use public transport where ever possible. Buses and trains are the primary public transport available in Sri Lanka, and they are very cheap. But the only problem is, the buses are often crowded and it’s the same case for trains and in some places, you won’t find buses frequently, and you are left with hiring Auto rickshaw (tuk-tuk).
  • Before boarding, the best thing I can suggest to you when hiring a tuk-tuk is to haggle for the cost.
  • When you approach the tuk-tuk, they will ask for the price more than double what they ask for the locals. Just ask them for less than 50% what they charged and walk away to next driver if you don’t make a deal.
  • You can find shared tuk-tuks in some places, and that will be relatively cheaper when compared to regular auto rickshaws.

Sri Lanka on a budget

Save money on Food in Sri Lanka

You must try the local foods when you are touring Sri Lanka, and they are very cheap. The famous local foods like Appam, Kottu Roti, Samosa, and kinds of seafood are the must-try ones in Sri Lanka.

Rice is the principal food consumed almost in every house in Sri Lanka along with curries (veg, Meat, and Fish). Also, Sri Lanka is very famous for tea plantations, and you can get good tea throughout the country, and you should try that.

You can also try pineapple curry, which is a unique dish in Sri Lanka.

Budget-friendly places to visit in Sri Lanka

how to travel on Sri Lanka on a budget

  • Arrive at Bandaranaike International Airport, Colombo and explore the nearby sites Colombo.
  • Pettah market is one of the busiest places in Colombo. You can find small shops on both sides of the road, and you can buy local items if you want. Remember, the bargain is the key here if you want to save a few bucks here.
  • You can also explore the Red Mosque (which is near Pettah market), Galle Face Green beach, the Dutch Museum, Colombo harbor, etc. Note: Galle Face Green beach will be more crowded in the evening as many local people tend to come here and there are no entrance fees. Also, you can find many people flying kites with the family in the evening.
  • You can also try to visit Dehwala Zoo if you are traveling with kids.

Sri Lanka trip cost

Kandy is another beautiful place to visit in Sri Lanka . The best way to travel from Colombo to Kandy is by train, and it is the cheapest option. Remember, the trains are more crowded in Sri Lanka, and make sure to check the train timings at least one day before as you can find trains only at specific times, especially long-distance trains and plan your day.

  • If you are coming to Kandy, then you must visit the temple of sacred tooth relics. It has a good history inside. As per history, the tooth of Buddha was kept inside the temple under a secret chamber which was secretly taken to Sri Lanka by a Sri Lankan queen. Note, that we can’t see the tooth as it is kept in a secret chamber.
  • Other essential places to see in Kandy are Kandy Lake, the royal botanical garden, and the Kandy Buddha statue

Sri Lanka on a budget

Ella is another most popular tourist location in Sri Lanka, and the best way to travel is by train. It will take around six hours to reach Ella from Kandy but trust me this is one of the most beautiful train trips you would have traveled, as you can see green plantations along with mountains landscapes with tea plantations throughout the travel.

  • Almost every people add this trip in their travel itinerary, so this makes the train more crowded and makes it very difficult to get the first and class tickets. So I advise you to book at least ten days before.
  • Other places to visit in Ella are the little Adams peak (one of the famous hiking spots in Sri Lanka), Ella rock and Ravana falls.

Sri Lanka on a budget


  • One of the most significant places to visit in Dambulla is Sigiriya (one of the World Heritage sites), and it is considered to be a must-do one on your Sri Lanka trip. Sigiriya is an ancient rock (5th century), and it is believed to be 1500 years old. It is 650 meters in height, and you have to climb up to 1200 steps to reach the top. Note, you have to pay 4500 Sri Lankan rupees as an entrance fee.
  • The Dambulla royal cave and Pidurangala are other prominent places to visit in Dambulla.

Sri Lanka on a budget

Nuwara Eliya

Nuwara Eliya is another significant place to visit in Sri Lanka, and Eliya is often called Little England. You can see a lot of buildings in the British style, and since it is a hilly area, you can feel the climate also similar to England. I recommend you spend a day or two in Nuwara Eliya.

Sri Lanka places with cheap hotels

Saving money in Sri Lanka

  • Don’t book a package directly from tour operators. Try to explore on your own. You can save almost 40 to 50% easily.
  • Get a local sim card at the airport or at any local shops. The recommended one is Mobitel and Dialog.
  • Make sure to keep enough local currency with you as many small shops won’t accept credit cards.
  • If you are traveling on a local bus and you have additional luggage try to get an extra seat so that you can keep your luggage freely.
  • Make sure to wear proper clothing while visiting temples as Sri Lanka has a lot of Buddhist temples and dress codes are essential to enter inside.
  • If you are curious about hiking, I strongly recommend trying Adam’s Peak, which is about 2000 meters in height, and you have to climb stairs up to 6000 steps, and this will definitely test your stamina and try if you are fit.

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Home » Asia » Sri Lanka » Backpacking Guide

Backpacking Sri Lanka Travel Guide (BUDGET TIPS • 2024)

Sri Lanka is a sheet of bubble wrap.

This past month, I’ve been wracking my brain for the perfect analogy for the backpacking Sri Lanka experience. Just now, it came to me (conveniently, as I was staring at a super-dope mountain).

Sri Lanka is a land of bubbles and all the spaces between. It’s a small island – travelling Sri Lanka is a breeze – and dotted around the island, you have Sri Lanka’s ‘best places to go’ : the tourist bubbles.

And everything in between the bubbles? That’s Sri Lanka.

This is a travel guide for Sri Lanka, so, of course, I’m going to cover the typical backpacking itinerary – where to stay, where to go, and what to do. I’m also going to cover some really cool stuff: the more uncommon places to visit on and off Sri Lanka’s backpacking trail. Places the fruit-shirt clad backpacker-men dare not tread.

Mostly though, I’ll just be honest. I hope that sounds like what you’re looking for: an honest travel guide for backpacking Sri Lanka. If you’re looking for a guide on the most Instagrammable spots in Sri Lanka, maybe look elsewhere…Because what’s the best part of bubble wrap?

Bursting the bubble.

Local on a beach in Sri Lanka skipping with excitement

Why Go Backpacking in Sri Lanka?

Let’s keep to this Sri Lanka is bubble wrap analogy. What’s something pretty much universally agreed on about bubble wrap?

That it’s fucking awesome!

How many hours have you spent red-eye blazed and playing with bubble wrap? (I could have written a baroque opera about smoking joints during that time.)

There are no shortages of truly beautiful places in Sri Lanka – and there are more than enough things to do (provided you like the beach). A long, vibrant, (and violent) history exists in Sri Lanka and backpacking through it very much retains the small island, ‘ everyone knows everyone ’ feeling (despite having a population of 20+ million).

It’s a South Asia-lite experience. Despite a different religious heritage, the feeling is similar to backpacking in India… but pulled back. Nothing feels so hectic, nothing feels so chaotic, and it’s considerably cleaner too.

wooden tables and chairs laid out in front of palm trees on the sand of the beach

Sri Lanka’s tourism sector is fairly set and the stops on the typical tour of the island are pretty well-tread: they’re well-developed and already come with expectations of what a tourist wants. The end result is that visiting Sri Lanka’s typical travel guide locales feels, well, like being in a bubble.

A shelter from the big, scary South Asia outside.

But that Sri Lankan-brand South Asian yumminess between the bubbles? It’s just as delicious as it’s always been! Once you step outside the bubble, you’ll find a country chock full of everything backpacking is supposed to be about: good food, good people, good vibes, and good views .

All in all, it’s still South Asia! Many people I meet backpacking in Sri Lanka – particularly those who are fresher to the game – can still find it overwhelming. Expect uncomfortable stares, moments of utter confusion, and personal boundaries occasionally being crossed.

There will be misadventures and mishaps. And my God, they’re gonna be a blast.

Best Travel Itineraries for Backpacking Sri Lanka

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Ok, this is usually the part where I whinge about itineraries, ‘ticking boxes’ , and tell you to go slow and never go home. (Na, you should go home sometimes; nothing beats Mum’s salad sandwiches).

I mean, you should still go slow – we’re running on Sri Lanka time here! But I do understand the need for a backpacking Sri Lanka travel itinerary .

Sigiriya - Lion's Rock - top 5 places to visit in Sri Lanka

Most of the people I meet in Sri Lanka backpacking tend to only be travelling short-term, and I meet very few travellers who extend past the initial 30-day visa.

So, as they always say, quantity over quality! Give the people what they want!

2-3 Week Travel Itinerary for Sri Lanka: The Maha Monsoon and the South Coast

Itinerary 1 Sri Lanka

You can check the ‘Best Time to Visit Sri Lanka’ section for more deetz, but there are two distinct monsoon seasons in Sri Lanka that create two distinct tour itineraries. When Maha Monsoon is in, head south.

It’s a ridiculously easy route to follow – courtesy of Sri Lanka’s grungy yet more-than-capable public transport. From Bandaranaike International Airport head to Colombo only for the train or bus.

Head south to Hikkaduwa to start on Sri Lanka’s south coast. I’ll outline some standouts but take your pick from all these impeccable beach towns.

A unique point of interest in Sri Lanka is Galle . It’s an old-timey city with colonial-era architecture and a fusion of cultures. This one isn’t for beach parties.

Follow the coast for smaller beachside stops catering to different levels of surfing and breaks. In order: Unawatuna , Midigama , and Weligama .

Mirissa is a major attraction of Sri Lanka’s south coast. More beaches, more surfing, more coconuts! There’s also a bunch of Sri Lanka’s top yoga retreats too.

Wait, what’s that? We’re leaving the beach now? Yep, we’re going to the mountains.

If you’re planning a safari you’ll be thinking about Yala National Park. However, due to the treatment of animals, I regret to say I don’t recommend this stop. (Check further down for more info.)

The next big stop (and one of my personal highlights of Sri Lanka) is Ella and the hill country . I saved here for last because, if you’re anything like me, mountains help you decompress. It’s a good send-off to Sri Lanka too.

From Ella, catch the famous Kandy to Ella train (making a stopover in Nuwara Eliya to break up the ride if there’s time). Maybe you won’t love Kandy but it’s better than Colombo.

2-3 Week Travel Itinerary for Sri Lanka: The Yala Monsoon, the East Coast, and the Middle

Itinerary 2 Sri Lanka

It’s a similar deal as before; only this time, the Yala monsoon is ruining tanning opportunities in the south. That sends you east and north.

Negombo makes a great chill alternative to Colombo for a night when you arrive. Then, cut straight to Kandy . 

Kandy isn’t mindblowing but the route from Kandy is. You’ve probably already guessed what comes next: the train to Ella ! Again, Nuwara Eliya makes a good stop on the way.

Ella is one of the coolest places to stay in Sri Lanka. Well, not in Ella – the surrounding area – but we’ll get to that…

If you came to Sri Lanka for the beaches, parties, and surfing, go to Arugam Bay. Give yourself enough time to get stuck for a bit – just in case. 

danielle with a surfboard at the beach in Sri Lanka

Heading north on the coast, you won’t find much until Trincomalee . It’s chill but a bit pricier and there’s no surf.

From here, head away from the beach to Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle , specifically, Sigiriya town – home of the simply magnificent Lion’s Rock (Sigiriya Fortress).

And now we’re heading north. ‘The North’? (Sounds so mysterious, right?) 

The next stop on your Sri Lanka itinerary is Anuradhapura , home of the sacred Bo tree where Buddha received enlightenment. It’s kinda important. It’s another of Sri Lanka’s famous travel places and also the train runs north from here to Jaffna . Now we’re in The North!

Up here you’ll find a different side of Sri Lanka and a deeper insight into Sri Lanka’s history. When it’s time to call it quits, the train runs all the way back to (near) the airport.

1-Month+ Travel Itinerary for Sri Lanka: I Eat Monsoons for Breakfast

Itinerary 3 Sri Lanka

Got a month and zero fucks to give about the rain? You’re my kind of traveller.

Here’s one last itinerary for Sri Lanka – something a bit jackfruit-ier to sink your teeth into. All you’re doing is combining the two previous suggested itineraries for a full circuit. If you want a clean circuit, you’ll need to skip some places, but I have a better idea.

Go south first from Negombo . Follow the previously outlined south coast itinerary but slow it down! Tangalle is a nice bonus stop (with quieter beaches).

Next, Ella . Hang around if you like or move on because you can always come back.

Head east, following the Sri Lanka Itinerary #2: Arugam Bay , Trinco , the inland Cultural Triangle , and then up to Jaffna . Afterwards, catch the train to Kandy and here’s where things differ.

Close to Kandy is the Knuckles Mountain Range , and, oh boy, it’s a goodun. If you’re after hiking in Sri Lanka, it’s the place to go. If hiking isn’t your thing, there’s a place you should go to in the Knuckles Range to really burst the bubble: Meemure village .

When Meemure is all said and done, catch the train: Kandy to Ella . Back to sweet, sticky, and sublime Ella. Go and watch the mountains until it’s time to leave. Yes, there is a direct bus to Colombo from right outside.

Lakegala, Meemure village: uncommon places to visit in Sri Lanka

Let’s divide Sri Lanka’s backpacking route into four areas. Travelling between these beautiful places to visit in Sri Lanka is easy as kottu.

  • North for many cultural things to do in Sri Lanka.
  • East for the backpacker beaches.
  • South has… well… more beaches (but more touristic than the east).
  • And in the middle , mountains.

South coast Sri Lanka – beaches and the most tourist-accommodated areas in Sri Lanka. With year-round swell, it’s the right direction if you’re seeking waves.

The east coast – a similar vibe but fewer destinations. The east coast doesn’t get year-round surf.

A female backpacker in Sri Lanka lies on a tourist beach with cows

The Cultural Triangle is for the cultural goodies: ruins, temples, monuments… Asia stuff! They’re sacred places for the locals; like a smoothie bowl and yoga beach shacks for tourists. 

The hill country, pure yum – I believe in mountains. (Title of my upcoming EP release.)

The North is a different feeling altogether; it’s well off any tourist trail and presents a different side of Sri Lanka’s history and culture.

Backpacking Colombo

Jokes! Colombo is a long, sustained fart in city form. Don’t even bother.

Photograph of rubbish and pig seen while visiting Colombo

Seriously, if you want somewhere to stay as soon as you leave the airport, just go to Negombo instead. It’s more chill, less sucky, and the beaches are nice. If you do get stuck in Colombo, well… At least the hostels in Colombo are nice, and there’s UberEats!

Backpacking Kandy

I enjoyed my trip(s) to Kandy! I feel it’s a much nicer alternative than staying in Colombo. If you have the spoons after landing, I’d suggest booking a hostel in Kandy and travelling straight from the airport.

Anyhow, you’re probably going to visit Kandy. It’s the starting point of the ultra-famous and mega-pretty Kandy to Ella train ride – considered one of Sri Lanka’s wonders – and most people’s main reason for travelling to Kandy. The train from Kandy runs through some of the most beautiful places in Sri Lanka with majestic sweeps of the hill country.

Most backpackers I talk to aren’t particularly enamoured with their visit to Kandy, and I can see their reasoning. There’s not so much to do in Kandy and what there to see isn’t strictly impressive. There’s no nightlife and the typical places to go kind of top out at “ Oh, yah, that’s cool. ”

All the same, I like Kandy. Sometimes you just like a place, ya know?

Visiting Kandy and the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic

I like how it builds down from the mountains to Kandy Lake in the centre. Or how the people living there still seem to not hate life. I like how, at twilight, thousands of bats cross the sky in a chequered blanket.

There’s cool stuff to see in Kandy, especially some of the Sri Lankan festivals .

Backpacking Ella and the Hill Country

The other end of the Kandy to Ella train . Also, one of the best places in Sri Lanka… sort off.

Sri Lanka’s hill country is a special place. There’s a sleepy little magic there that I adore. Ella itself is a bit crap though.

It’s a one-street town, purely touristic, and noisy from the traffic. That’s ok though because there are plenty of places to stay just outside Ella. In fact, I found the coolest place to stay in Sri Lanka here – where I met special people.

Ella: my coolest place to stay in Sri Lanka

Most of the things to do in Sri Lanka’s hill country and Ella revolve around nature: tea plantations, hikes, stunning panoramas, and waterfalls. To me, it’s Sri Lanka’s most beautiful place and shows a truly unique side of the island that you won’t find along the beaches.

The nine arch bridge and Little Adam’s Peak are really easy to reach from here. They’re free and really make beautiful memories in Sri Lanka.

Places to Visit in Sri Lanka’s Hill Country

So, other than Ella, what other places are there to go in Sri Lanka’s hill country?

waterfall over green covered orange cliff rocks on a sunny day

  • Nuwara Eliya – A Sri Lankan highland city in colonial English form. The architecture of the place makes it one of the more unique places in Sri Lanka to visit. Nuwara Eliya is also a gate to hill country. It’s home to some really interesting sightseeing plus some gorgeous nature to boot. Just a heads up, it is one of the coldest and highest places in Sri Lanka (though, that’s not saying much).
  • Adam’s Peak/ Sri Pada – Plus a whole host of other names. Adam’s Peak is well-known for the sri pada (sacred footprint) rock formation at the top and, depending on who you ask, it’s either the footprint of Buddha, Hanuman, Shiva, Adam, or St. Thomas (God, I love Sri Lanka).  The Adam’s Peak climbing season is December to May and it’s easily accessed from the town of Hatton (also on the train line).
  • Haputale – Another gorgeous town in Sri Lanka’s mountains. There are some really beautiful vistas in this area. Lipton’s Seat (yes, as in that Lipton) overlooks the plantations. On clear days, you can see all the way to Sri Lanka’s south coast from Haputale.

Backpacking Arugam Bay

Ahh, Arugam Bay: the number one destination on everyone’s east coast Sri Lanka itinerary. Some people take a holiday in Sri Lanka just to spend an entire surf season in Arugam Bay.

How can I say this… it’s a place where a lot of people slow down their travel , but it’s not mine. I’ll describe the vibe, you decide the rest.

Things to do in Arugam Bay: surfing!

Things to do in Arugam Bay if you’re not surfing: fuck-all! And then the occasional party to break up the fuck-all.

A man surfing in Sri Lanka at Arugam Bay falls off his board

There’s heaps of dope food around and local food at cheap bubble-prices. It’s damn good too!

You’ll find pretty much any drug you want and the parties feel more like a means than an end. The end being to get loose and a lay if you’re lucky.

It’s a beach town for travellers: it’s pretty straightforward, man. Days consist of surfing, food, a joint, a nap, more surfing, more joints, probably a kottu (ok, definitely a kottu).

Am I complaining? Hell no! This is paradise for most people. When you visit Arugam Bay, plan to do a whole lotta nothing!

Places to Eat in Arugam Bay

Well, you already know what to do in Arugam Bay, so instead, I’m going to tell you about my real favourite part… the munchies! Because that’s what I did do a lot of in Arugam: spliffs and food comas.

  • Thatha’s Tea Shop – It’s cheap, it’s yummy, and it’s near the beach. Moderate servings that are good for a light breakfast, or at least light for someone that likes to eat two breakfasts.
  • Shab’s Corner – Run by a ridiculously friendly man. It’s a shack at the very south edge of town and it’s got good local food at good prices.
  • The Blue Van/Truck – There’s actually like three of these in a row on the south side of town and they’re all cracking. It’s the closest thing you’ll get to street food in Arugam Bay. The first one specialises in hoppers, the next blue truck has my favourite kottu in town, and then the blue cargo container after has the best ready-made roti and pancakes. Catch them hot!
  • Mama’s Restaurant – Two buffets a day keeps the doctor away! I can’t recommend Mama’s enough. For 400 rups (lunch and dinner) you get all-you-can-eat rice and curry (6 types of curry) with the best eggplant curry I had in Sri Lanka. Remember: it’s a dishonour to the buffet gods to not get a second plate.
  • Bites – Go to bites and get a brookie. It’s a brownie-cookie. That’s all I’m saying.
  • Hello Burger – Ok, one recommendation for Western food. Hello Burger does hella good burgers but they’re hella expensive.

A lion cub in a food coma

Backpacking Trincomalee

A much, much quieter alternative to Arugam Bay to see some of Sri Lanka’s best beaches. I don’t know if it’s always that quiet; I was there in peak season, however, locals told me that year was especially slow.

There’s no surfing in Trincomalee but there is snorkelling, diving, and long sandy beaches. Also, they have volleyball nets on the beach which is great fun! I didn’t even realise I liked volleyball until visiting Trincomalee!

This is the other beach stop on Sri Lanka’s east coast. There’s not much else except, arguably, Pasikuda , but that’s more local-touristy (it’s actually a premier Sri Lankan honeymoon destination). It’s very quiet, pretty, and a good choice for backpacking in Sri Lanka alone by the beach.

Quiet Sri Lankan tourist beach near Trincomalee at Nilaveli

But Trinco, yeah. For where to stay in Trincomalee, there are two good options with very different vibes. Uppuveli is your typical tourist hub featuring Trincomalee’s hostels, restaurants, and beach bars. Nilaveli is a lot quieter and a lot more local; there are resorts and rooms by the beach and then the rest is Sri Lanka.

Snorkelling, diving, beach-beers, and local goodness outside the bubble. Pack for a beach day because that about sums up Trinco in a nutshell!

Backpacking Jaffna

Ok, so now you’re leaving Sri Lanka’s backpacking route. Nowhere is too far off the beaten track in Sri Lanka but Jaffna is off the typical itinerary. Make the trip to Jaffna and the northern islands to see some Sri Lankan temples, architecture, and food in a much different stream: the vibe is much closer to South Indian (and predominantly Tamil-Hindu).

Up in the north, you’re in the area most affected by Sri Lanka’s civil war (see the ‘Sri Lanka in Modern Times’ section ). The city of Jaffna is primarily inhabited by Tamils and you’re going to find a different perspective up there. The aftermath of the war still shows.

An abandoned house seen while backpacking in Sri Lanka's north

So, is Jaffna worth visiting? That depends on what you’re after.

Travelling to Jaffna isn’t for backpacking: it’s for culture and history. It’s different people, a different feeling, and a place to travel to in Sri Lanka if the feeling of the backpacking tour is wearing thin.

Backpacking the Cultural Triangle

The Cultural Triangle in Central Sri Lanka. The three points are Kandy , Anuradhapura , and Polonnaruwa with Dambulla and Sigiriya in the middle.

If your trivia knowledge on Sri Lanka’s points of interest is low – that’s a lot of weird names I just dropped on you. Don’t worry though, I’m gonna break this thang down in just a few seconds here, so shake it like a polaroid picture.

Train tracks and sign in central Sri Lanka warning of potential elephant encounters

Located in the central plains of Sri Lanka ( ”Rajarata” or King’s Land), it’s also the dry zone. You’ll get spurts of rain but for the most part, it’s humid and hot and the mosquitoes love it. It’s good for both an east and south-coast itinerary for Sri Lanka (depending on how you handle mosquitoes while travelling ).

There are still plenty of natural goodies in the region; Jathika Namal Uyan (Rose Quartz Mountain) is definitely a must-see in Sri Lanka’s steamy centre. However, the biggest tourist pulls in the area are definitely the archaeological sites and Old World delights. Most travellers give themselves a whirlwind tour of the region (highlighted by Sigiriya) and move one.

Places to Visit in Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle of Sri Lanka

Now don’t have me break this thang down for nothin’:

Ruins of temple complex in Polonnaruwa - historical site in Sri Lanka

  • Anuradhapura – The ancient capital of Buddhism within Sri Lanka and arguably its most sacred city. A lot of ruins, a lot of monuments, and, at the centre, you’ll find  Sri Maha Bodhi , home of the sacred Bo tree: the tree where Buddha received enlightenment (and the oldest human-planted tree in the world).
  • Polonnaruwa – One of the old capitals of Sri Lanka, Polonnaruwa is an extensive area of ancient temples, rock fortresses, and all manners cheeky Buddha grins. The area is pretty big so hiring a tuk-tuk driver, a bicycle, or a scooter for the day is the go-to.
  • Dambulla – More temples… Look, there are only so many flourishing words I can use to describe temples, ok? This one is in a cave… woo.
  • Sigiriya – Ahhhh, Sigiriya; I like Sigiriya. It’s still a fairly unique place to visit in Sri Lanka despite being in the top 5 on most backpacking itineraries. It also has the highest density of slacklines by area that I found in Sri Lanka. The main attraction (and what a goddamn attraction it is) is Lion’s Rock with Sigiriya Fortress perched atop. Now, you can pay 4500 rupees ($25 – eek) to walk up the stairs to the busy rock… Orr , you could pay 500 rupees to climb the adjacent Pidurangala Rock and see the sunset catch Lion’s Rock. The choice is yours (although I kinda loaded the question). Shenadi Restaurant in Sigiriya town does dope local food and Rastarant has bangin’ juices and a slackline!

Given the fact that the whole region represents thousands and thousands of years of a near-impenetrable cultural history, booking a tour is totally worth the consideration! You can get in, get a bunch of learning into your brain, and be back in Sigiriya for fruit juice by nightfall!

Backpacking Galle

Moving south now but before we start talking about the beaches, let’s cover Galle.

Galle is a small city and it’s a cool city! Much like Nuwara Eliya, it’s an example of the fusion flavours of Sri Lanka only this time it’s Portuguese and Dutch! You’ve got  Galle Fort (the old town)  which is a prime example of Sri Lankan old-money at its finest and then outside the Fort you have… well… Galle.

Galle (Fort) is interesting to me; not interesting enough to keep me there for more than a night but interesting all the same. The architecture is beautiful (it really feels like a European village that’s been invaded by the tuk-tuk mafia) and it’s not just touristy but also wealthy – like, really wealthy.

Backpacker in the tourist destination  Galle Fort poses against a white building

Sri Lankans go jogging in the morning in full track gear, finding a local feed is a mission in-of-itself, and it’s the only time in Asia I’ve ever been refused buying a single cigarette (I’m still feeling salty about that one).

Galle’s old city is delightful to stroll through for what it is and another of Sri Lanka’s very beautiful places. I’d say it’s still worth visiting Galle (Fort) but move on quick unless you came to Sri Lanka to sit in Western cafes drinking European coffee and eating chocolate cheesecake. I want my goddamn kottu!

Backpacking Sri Lanka’s South Coast

And now we’re moving south, back to Sri Lanka’s beaches. Same as I got bored of describing temples, expect me to get bored of describing beaches. There’s sand, water, and good butts to look at: it’s all you need in life!

The south coast presents more of Sri Lanka’s most beautiful places , as well as more of its party spots. It’s all the things to do on Sri Lankan beaches that you’d expect: surfing, snorkelling, diving, and Russians. Things to do… Russians… wait, that came out wrong!

Photographing the famous stilt fishermen while on a tour of the south Sri Lanka coast

The south coast of Sri Lanka is a haven for chilled-out life and stoned surfing. Mirissa and Hikkaduwa are ideal starter towns on a Sri Lanka guide to surfing . But I’ve even broken it down in sexy table format below.

Otherwise, you’re looking at more of Sri Lanka’s best beaches along with some of its best beach hotels. The south coast is more developed than the east in touristic aspects. Tuk-tuk drivers and touts are more lethal and the tourist bubble prices will kick you around more.

There are plenty of affordable yoga retreats in this area too. That’s worth a mention too.

The Best Beaches on Sri Lanka’s South Coast

This is probably why you came here: Sri Lanka’s world-famous beaches! Long stretches of sand decorated by delicious summer bods and stray pooches. Ok, maybe you weren’t expecting stray pooches, but this is beachside-fun South Asia style! Show them some TLC: they need it.

Some of the cute dogs you'll see while backpacking around Sri Lanka

What are the best and most beautiful beaches on Sri Lanka’s south coast? Here’s a sexy table to match that sexy core you’ve been toning in preparation:

Backpacking Yala National Park

Oh yeah, they have jungles!

First, a word on Sri Lanka’s national parks : they’re a bit shit. Not the parks themselves – they’re crazy beautiful – but the rules and regulations around them are a drag. Expensive permits only for “observing flora and fauna”, i.e. by way of safari.

That leads me to the safaris in Sri Lanka. We have a pretty clear-cut stance on animal tourism on The Broke Backpacker. We don’t engage and we don’t condone. After I arrived in Sri Lanka, I was hearing story after story from travellers who had visited Yala National Park about animal abuse.

Unfortunately, it seems the most ethical way to support the animals is to completely avoid any kind of animal tourism. So I hope you’ll consider doing the same.

Sightseeing Sri Lanka's wildlife from a safari in Yala National Park

Even without a trip down the ethical tourism rabbit hole, the safaris in Sri Lanka already have a fairly bad reputation . Not all pieces of animal tourism in Sri Lanka are so highly questionable, however, the evidence is there to suggest it’s better to simply not engage.

Alas, tourists gonna tourist! I get that not everyone feels the same on the matter as me and, considering a wildlife tour to see elephants and leopards is a fan-favourite backpacking activity in Sri Lanka. Ultimately, you do you.

Yala National Park is Sri Lanka’s most popular national park with plenty of jeep safaris and opportunities to see the aforementioned leopards and elephants. Though not as popular, Wilpattu National Park (on the northwestern side) is the largest national park in Sri Lanka with equal wildlife spotting opportunities.

The choice is yours, however, as always, please consider your impact and travel responsibly. Travel is a gift and a privilege.

Getting Off the Beaten Path in Sri Lanka

Can you get off the beaten track while backpacking Sri Lanka? Yeah, but surely you can everywhere?

I’ll reiterate what I’ve already approached: Sri Lanka is bubble wrap. Sri Lanka a small island and there aren’t too many hidden places remaining around it. But there are places off its expected itinerary.

The north and Jaffna is a good start. People still visit Jaffna for sure, but it’s not like other points of interest in Sri Lanka. It’s a historical city with only a handful of travellers.

Heading down the west coast, Mannar Island grabs my interest (though I missed out on visiting it). It’s the location of Adam’s Bridge or Rama Setu (depending on who you ask) which is either a chain of shoals or the remains of a bridge built across the Indian Ocean by an ancient Hindu god (depending on who you ask).

If you’re looking for beaches that are off Sri Lanka’s backpacking route, the southeast between Tangalle and Yala National Park are where things start to open up: wide, expansive, and much quieter.

Knuckles Mountain Range and villages - unique places to visit in Sri Lanka

Knuckles Mountain Range and Meemure are the only place I travelled to in Sri Lanka that really gave me those sweet-sweet-tingly stomach butterflies. There are still areas of this gorgeous spot that remain untouched, and it’s easily the best hiking place in Sri Lanka.

However, the Knuckles Mountains are perfectly capable of slapping you upside the face. They’re not to be trifled with.

Aether Backpack

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Because travelling to a far and distant land simply isn’t enough, we need some goddamn things to do!

1. Epic Waves and Lotsa Kooks: Go Surfing in Sri Lanka

Man surfing in Arugam Bay walks down a sunset beach

C’mon, as if this was going to be anywhere but number 1 on the list of things to do in Sri Lanka! Sri Lanka’s beautiful beaches draw in surfers of beginner, intermediate, and veteran status.

Surfing in Sri Lanka is easily the biggest tourist activity on the island. And with good reason; it’s a primo destination for it!

Plenty of surfies bunker down near their favourite break too and just spend an entire season carving. That includes the locals too!

2. Ride the Kandy to Ella Train, South Asian Express

A backpacker riding the Kandy to Ella train in Si Lank

Yep, it’s mega-famous and mega-pretty and you’re almost definitely gonna catch it because the trains in Sri Lanka are excellent Asia-brand fun. Luckily for you, the complete Kandy to Ella Train Travel Guide is right here!

I still recommend catching the train unreserved for the local goodness, but if you’d like to guarantee a seat, you can book using 12Go . Fair warning though – the A/C carriages have locked doors and windows meaning that you don’t give your mum a heart attack with the photo-ops.

3. Rent a Tuk Tuk in Sri Lanka Because Why Bloody Not?

Two backpackers in their tuk-tuk rental in Sri Lanka - the best way to travel

So, this was totally accidental but I lucked into being a German couple’s (love you guys) 3rd-wheel in their 3-wheel rental. We travelled Sri Lanka together by tuk-tuk for a solid 3 weeks and I can say, without a doubt, that I now know way too much about their sex life… Also, that it’s fun as hell!

Check out the section on renting a tuk-tuk in Sri Lanka for price and logistic deetz cause I got the scoop and a little something extra for ya too. (And, also, protip – those surfboard racks are useless and an excellent way to waste $30.)

4. Eat Kottu Everyday

The best food in Sri Lanka - kottu and a Lion beer

Ok, not every day – I wouldn’t exactly call it good for you. Kottu is a greasy, fried, hot mess of chopped roti and vegetables and it’s the best. It’s basically the fish and chips of Sri Lanka!

If you happen to get into a week-long stoner-munchies bubble and eat kottu every day at the beach, I wouldn’t blame you.

5. Hunt Down Some of Sri Lanka’s Waterfalls

One of many famous waterfalls in Sri Lanka

Fun fact: Sri Lanka has the highest density of waterfalls by area of all the countries of the world. Now, I dunno if that’s actually true but a Sri Lankan dude told me that and he seemed pretty stoked about it!

Regardless, what I do know is that there is a near-infinite amount of spectacular waterfall wonders in Sri Lanka so get out there and, most definitely, go chasing waterfalls!

6. Party Down, Hook Up, and Get High

Man dancing at popular party spot in Sri Lanka

In the right spots, there is a party scene in Sri Lanka for sure. What’s the vibe like? What delicious treats can I put in my body?

Check out the appropriate section to examine my well-collected “ research ” (wink-wink-wink-wink).

7. Little Hikes and Big Hikes in Sri Lanka

With a local boy and cow on a hike through Sri Lanka's villages near Ella

Many of the natural attractions in Sri Lanka require something of a small hike to reach. It’s never really anything too strenuous – one to two hours of walking suited for a beginner hiker – and it usually results in a pretty badass view or waterfall.

For more serious hiking places in Sri Lanka, you’re going to want to check out that sexy, sexy Knuckles Mountain Range. There are plenty of multi-day trekking opportunities there, and the feeling of being lost isn’t hard to find. It’s no Nepal, but the mountains in Sri Lanka still carry their own special kind of magic.

8. Meditate on the Spiritual Consciousness after the Party Comedown

A fellow backpacker in Sri Lanka meditating at a viewpoint in Ella

Sri Lanka is primarily a Buddhist country and Buddhism and meditation go together like kottu and my mouth. There are places you can pay out the ass for meditation retreats or monasteries hidden on mountaintops that will adopt wayward travellers.

There are also vipassana retreats in Sri Lanka for when you’re ready to get really hardcore about your suffering and impermanence.

9. Play Carom

Maybe you’ve seen carom before depending on where your travels have taken you; it’s extremely popular around South Asia. To sum it up in a nutshell, it’s basically finger-pool. There’s a board at most of the hostels in Sri Lanka that I’ve recommended, so find a teacher, roll up, and git gud!

The boys playing Carom at Sri Lanka's best hostel

10. See Some Beasties at Millennium Elephant Foundation

Right, so The Broke Backpacker doesn’t condone animal tourism nor do I peddle the wares of Sri Lanka’s hyperactive Safari culture. However, we do support reputable elephant orphanages and ethical elephant tourism . And there is one particular elephant sanctuary in Sri Lanka that we do stand behind.

Logo of Millennium Elephant Foundation - an ethical elephant sanctuary in Sri Lanka

At Millennium Elephant Foundation, you can get up-close-and-personal with some of the most majestic beasts in Sri Lanka and not even feel a drop of moral anxiety about it! Millennium Elephant Foundation is an ethical means of experiencing Sri Lanka’s wildlife, and they’re so damn upstanding that even The Broke Backpacker is willing to get behind them.

Seeing elephants in Sri Lanka

These guys don’t let you ride the elephants. They used to let you ride them bareback, but now they’ve exchanged that program for their much more whimsical and respectable Elephant Walk Experience . It’s kinda like a first date: you get to hang out, go for a romantic stroll with your partner elephant, and even help them bathe at the end if you’re lucky. 😉

Was the first date divine? Then it’s time to commit because the Elephant Foundation accepts volunteers too !  Not only will you get to hang out, care for, and bathe with the lovelies, but you’ll help out around the property too with farming, veterinary work, and teaching!

Honestly, there’s zero reason not to drop the cash you were going to spend on booking a safari on this instead. It’s 1000 times more of an authentic experience, 1000 times less  morally reprehensible, and  100,000 times better than sitting in a jeep staring slackjawed at wild animals that really just wish you’d piss off…

Millennium Elephant Foundation - best place to go in Sri Lanka to see elephants

Wanna know how to pack like a pro? Well for a start you need the right gear….

These are packing cubes for the globetrotters and compression sacks for the  real adventurers – these babies are a traveller’s best kept secret. They organise yo’ packing and minimise volume too so you can pack MORE.

Or, y’know… you can stick to just chucking it all in your backpack…

Continuing the trend of being well-accommodated for both the frugal adventurer and the looser-pocketed holidayer alike, Sri Lanka’s cheap accommodation options are plentiful and numerous. Prices aren’t quite as low as other places across Asia, but there are some really cool places to stay around Sri Lanka

There are a few choice picks of Sri Lanka’s coolest hostels in particular which come with a little bit of a grungier vibe… The good type of grungy!

Depending on what kind of accommodation in Sri Lanka you’re after, the prices and amanities do vary:

  • Hostels and guest houses in Sri Lanka are pretty much anywhere that the whiteys go and usually range from the $5-$9 price range. You’ll nearly always find a social vibe too.
  • For travelling duos (or trios, you saucy minx) there are plenty of cheap rooms in Sri Lanka too. A decent room costing $14-$19 split two ways (or three-ways, wink-wink) will usually net you something better than a dorm room for roughly the same price.
  • Hotels are a thing in Sri Lanka too and they come in many flavours. Sri Lanka’s cheap hotels offer some light luxury at a good price ($27-$44) while the best hotels… Well, let’s just say Sri Lanka’s best hotels go wayyy outside my budget and area of expertise.

A man skips out on Sri Lanka's accommodation costs sleeping in a truck

Travelling by Couchsurfing is also definitely a thing here, and it’s an excellent way to both get a local’s perspective of the country and save some rups in the process! Also, considering the size and connectivity of Sri Lanka, Couchsurfing at one local’s house starts the chain of being hooked up across the island.

Finally, Airbnb in Sri Lanka is another sweet option and there are some sweet pads around: treehouses , bungalows, and rooms-with-a-view. Prices vary depending on the level of dope-ness, but there are some super cheap choices too.

The Airbnbs in Sri Lanka offer a nice respite if the constant flow of people is growing a bit tiresome, however, it’s never quite as fun as sitting around the common area in the hostel beating cute Israeli girls in shesh-besh .

The Best Places to Stay in Sri Lanka

All my favourite places to stay in Sri Lanka from all the backpacking destinations I mentioned. I really am making it too easy for you!

An Update on the Best Hostel in Sri Lanka

I am pleased to announce a happy update for my absolute favourite hostel in Sri Lanka (and one of the most wonderful, homey, hippy-dirtbag sticky places I’ve ever found in my travels): Tomorrowland Hostel , Ella. After a rough period being under shady management, it finally has a new owner. 

I won’t go into much detail about what happened. But the new owner has reached out to ensure that it is once again in good hands. We can FINALLY recommend this truly beautiful and special place once again. 

A few members of The Broke Backpacker team, our friends, as well has hundreds of other bloody hippies, have temporarily called this place home on our travels. It stung us in our hearts so strongly, we couldn’t even begin to explain.

Thanks to Menno, our special man, who doesn’t run the show now but without him none of this would have been possible.  We can’t tell you how excited we are to be able to go back in confidence. 

So, without further ado… the BEST hostel in Sri Lanka: Tomorrowland Hostel Ella !

I literally calculated my travel costs for the last 6 weeks in Sri Lanka a few days ago (to see if more smoke was in the budget), so I’m well-equipped to answer this.

Backpacking in Sri Lanka is not too cheap but not too expensive. It’s one of the more expensive places to travel in cheap Asia – let’s say falling between India and Thailand. Budget travel in Sri Lanka also depends on what type of travel you’re after.

Sri Lanka is well-used to tourism: they’re not as ferocious as the Thais but they still know what they can charge more for. Prices go up once you’re in the bubble (as always) and proper tourist activities in Sri Lanka (safaris, snorkelling, major attractions, etc.) are priced accordingly. There are definitely cheaper places in the world you can do them.

A budget backpacker in Sri Lanka playing ukulele at a famous waterfall

Before I give you my daily spending I’ll give you a rundown of how I backpacked through Sri Lanka:

  • Initially, I followed a pretty typical backpacking route and itinerary in Sri Lanka.
  • I tend to pass on expensive touristic things like safaris and snorkelling unless they really pique my curiosity.
  • There were a couple of parties, but it’s not why I travel.
  • I pretty much always sleep cheap and eat local in the bubbles.
  • This wasn’t nearly as rough as my previous journeys; I only slept out once and I lucked into that tuk-tuk rental.
  • I don’t drink.
  • I don’t really buy cigarettes.
  • Clearly, I smoke.

Ok, now that you have a point of comparison, the final total for my backpacking Sri Lanka budget: $20 a day (rounded up). You could take it lower and I’d say, on average, most travellers here spend in excess of that.

A Daily Budget in Sri Lanka

Money in sri lanka.

The currency of Sri Lanka is the Sri Lankan rupee (LKR) and they have pretty birds and pictures on them. No closeups of some old dude looking unsettlingly at you. Currently, 1 USD = 181 LKR so I’ve just been mathing it out as 2:1 for the sake of efficiency.

Money in Sri Lanka: Sri Lankan Rupee LKR

ATMs in Sri Lanka are frequent and aplenty and most (pretty much all) are going to charge you a fee. I haven’t encountered any issues using them though I do remember one local woman having her card eaten.

Most accommodation and hostels in Sri Lanka take card as do restaurants in the touristy places (or just if they’re fancy). Outside of that, I’d stick to cash, especially for local areas.

Sri Lanka is also haggling country, so brush up on your bartering skills . I never tried at a hostel but tuk-tuks, private rooms, souvenir shopping… test your might!

Travel Tips – Sri Lanka on a Budget

Sri Lanka is not so expensive but it ain’t strictly cheap either. After completing my backpacking route, I’ve quite comfortably settled into a routine of less than $10 a day. That covers my bed, an all-you-can-eat breakfast, and an all-you-can-eat dinner. Jai buffets!

A tourist visiting attractions in Sri Lanka - the Nine Arch Bridge tunnel

But as I mentioned, I haven’t taken my travels here quite as rough as I have in the past. If you want to keep your budget for backpacking Sri Lanka at the real cheap-ass level, there’s a few standard budget backpacking tips and Sri-Lanka specific tricks you can utilise:

  • Camp in Sri Lanka – The big one that’s really gonna save you some swagaliscious-casharoonies. It’s not common in Sri Lanka but it’s still Asia; as long as your not on someone’s porch, no one is gonna chase you off. Of course, for this, you’re going to need the right backpacking gear …
  • Haggle – And do it like a goddamn warrior!
  • Overeat – Rice and curry buffets are numerous and a dirtbag’s best friend. Space those meals wisely!
  • Leave the tourist bubble – Once you take a stroll out of the dedicated one-or-two tourist streets, you’ll start finding things closer to the local prices. Also, generally, the shopkeepers are pretty stoked to see you.
  • MRRP – Maximum retail rupee price: it’s nearly always printed on supermarket goods in Sri Lanka’s shops. Keep an eye on it and calculate your bill because it’s not uncommon (especially in the tourist areas) for the shopkeepers to charge a little extra tea money. Count your change too.

Why Should You Travel to Sri Lanka with a Water Bottle?

Plastic washes up on even the most pristine beaches… so do your part and keep the Big Blue beautiful!

You aren’t going to save the world overnight, but you might as well be part of the solution and not the problem. When you travel to some of the world’s most remote places, you come to realise the full extent of the plastic problem. And I hope you become more inspired to continue being a responsible traveller.

STOP USING SINGLE-USE PLASTIC! If you’d like some more tips on how to save the world .

Plus, now you won’t be buying overpriced bottles of water from the supermarkets either! Travel with a filtered water bottle instead and never waste a cent nor a turtle’s life again.

grayl geopress filter bottle

Drink water from ANYWHERE. The Grayl Geopress is the worlds leading filtered water bottle protecting you from all manner of waterborne nasties.

Single-use plastic bottles are a MASSIVE threat to marine life. Be a part of the solution and travel with a filter water bottle. Save money and the environment!

We’ve tested the Geopress  rigorously  from the icy heights of Pakistan to the tropical jungles of Bali, and can confirm: it’s the best water bottle you’ll ever buy!

Right, strap yourself in because I’m about to tell you about the weather in Sri Lanka! Is it complicated? Na – only a bit – but it’s complicated enough to warrant saying “strap yourself in” .

As I mentioned, there are two distinct monsoon seasons in Sri Lanka. That leaves the question of when to go to Sri Lanka a bit more open-ended… like a choose-your-own-adventure book!

The northeast monsoon (which shuts down Arugam and Trinco and soaks the hills as well) hangs about from November to March.  This means that the peak season for Sri Lanka’s south coast is in the winter  and it gets  busy .

The southwest monsoon – with the heaviest rainfall of Sri Lanka’s weather – hits the south coast from April to September. This makes summer and the surrounding months the time to visit Sri Lanka’s east coast and the hill country. During this time… oh, dude, it’s so hot . A humid inescapable heat; wherever you are, you want to be near water.

Stormy weather in Sri Lanka's Knuckles Mountain Range

October and November are the slowest months for Sri Lanka. Pretty much everywhere gets hit by rainfall regularly and thunderstorms scatter across the island.

The rain is the main thing you’re going to tussle with during your travels within Sri Lanka. Past that, temperatures are consistent. At higher elevations it gets colder but, otherwise, Sri Lanka is humid and it’s hot and there are no other real surprises.

What to Pack for Sri Lanka

The six things no adventure is truly complete without. Don’t forget to pack them while backpacking Sri Lanka:


Snoring dorm-mates can ruin your nights rest and seriously damage the hostel experience. This is why I always travel with a pack of decent ear plugs.


Hanging Laundry Bag

Trust us, this is an absolute game changer. Super compact, a hanging mesh laundry bag stops your dirty clothes from stinking, you don’t know how much you need one of these… so just get it, thank us later.

sea to summit towel

Sea To Summit Micro Towel

Hostel towels are scummy and take forever to dry. Microfibre towels dry quickly, are compact, lightweight, and can be used as a blanket or yoga mat if need be.

Monopoly Card Game

Monopoly Deal

Forget about Poker! Monopoly Deal is the single best travel card game that we have ever played. Works with 2-5 players and guarantees happy days.

Grayl GeoPress Water Filter and Purifier Bottle

Grayl Geopress Water Bottle

Always travel with a water bottle! They save you money and reduce your plastic footprint on our planet. The Grayl Geopress acts as a purifier AND temperature regulator. Boom!

For plenty more inspiration on what to pack, check out the full backpacking packing list !

Ok, so this is an important section to get right considering its chaotic history (and especially the terrorist attacks back of April 2019 which changed much of the official safety and travel advice for Sri Lanka). Despite a history of internal violence, Sri Lanka is a safe country to travel.

There’s still some levels of unrest here and the wounds of the past have not yet fully healed but there are no currently ongoing conflicts. That stuff generally stays away from the tourist bubbles and, as a whole, the Sri Lankan people just want to move forward. Forward and away from old divisions and away from a still exceedingly corrupt government.

Peace sign over Sri Lanka's flag

So what do you need to look out for:

  • Stick to metered tuk-tuks only in Colombo (or better yet Uber/Pick Me) and generally just keep a healthy level of distrust with tuk-tuk drivers. Make sure that they’re driving in the right direction.
  • Watch out for the typical scams if you’re shopping around Sri Lanka. Sapphires, in particular, are sketchy to buy.
  • Some of the stilt fishermen down south aren’t so much fishing as sitting. Snap a photo and you’ll be accosted for cash. I’ve seen tea pickers try and pull the same stunt.
  • Watch your pockets in touristy areas and your stuff at the beaches. Pack a secure travel money belt to protect your valuables!
  • Similarly, stick to filtered water (or, better yet, bring a filtered water bottle). I never got sick while backpacking in Sri Lanka, however, my constitution seems to have toughened up ever since that sunrise dip in the Ganga.
  • Avoid being coerced into taking a guide when around Sri Lanka’s tourist attractions. Pre-organise that stuff.
  • If you see a wild elephant or leopard, lucky you but keep your distance, yeah?

Overall, this is run-of-the-mill ‘how to travel safely ‘ stuff. Jerks are everywhere. Most locals I’ve met aren’t out to screw you over; just to rip you off a bit.

Oh, and it’s sad that I have to mention this, but don’t ride the chained elephants . Hell, don’t ride an unchained elephant. Please, just don’t be part of the problem.

 An interlude from Laura – Is Sri Lanka good for solo female travel?

budget travel sri lanka

You know, I was the person who told Ziggy to find his dirtbag home in Sri Lanka in the first place. It’s one of my favourite countries – easily . So how is backpacking Sri Lanka as a solo female traveller ?

I mean, really, it’s a perfectly packaged country. Excellent transport services, making friends at the drop of a hat, and it’s pretty damn safe as destinations go.  It’s certainly tamer than the likes of India.

Actually, Sri Lanka has one of the highest numbers of solo female travellers. That really says something.

Of course, you’re a woman and you’re alone so – like most places in the world – there are some things we have to consider. But in the depths of Asia, women’s rights still have a way to go. Sometimes you may experience awkward stares, an inappropriate comment – though it rarely goes further than that.

Walking around alone at night is a no-go… (Though please, don’t do that anywhere.)

That said, my memories of backpacking Sri Lanka are all rainbows and unicorns.  In many ways, I was actually treated better because I am a female. 

Always remember you’re a strong woman and you can do this! So yes , backpacking Sri Lanka is awesome for solo female travellers! Actually, it’s one of the best things you can ever do.

Sex, Drugs, and Rock ‘n’ Roll in Sri Lanka

Alright, now we get to talk about the good stuff! Why stay safe when you can get fucked up?

How’s the meaningless sex scene in Sri Lanka? Alive and kicking, same as anywhere! The beachside party spots in Sri Lanka are as rife with drunken one-night-stands as anywhere and – outside of poor decisions made under impaired cognitive functions – Tinder appears to be the gold standard with travellers these days (I feel so old).

I experimented with swiping (briefly) and I can tell you that I matched with way more locals than white chicks mostly centred in Colombo. I can also tell you that if it was a choice between getting laid in Colombo or not being in Colombo, I would choose the latter every time.

Summary of findings: Tinder still eats farts for breakfast.

The queen of the best hostel in Sri Lanka asleep with her king

Right, now for the good stuff: the things you’re putting inside your body! (There was a spectacularly inappropriate segue there too but my editor said it had to go…)

Starting at the bottom, booze is easily available and fairly cheap though, as always, the real killer for anyone backpacking Sri Lanka on a budget.

Lion is your go-to beer and the Lion Strongs are gonna give you the most bang for your buck (if getting royally shitfaced is the goal). Arrack is the local distilled option and the cheap swill tastes fairly close to rum.

How much is a beer in Sri Lanka? Usually around the $1.50 mark , a bit more at your hostel, and pricey at the tourist traps. Outside of beer and arrack, booze is expensive.

It also bears mentioning that cigarettes are expensive (which is very weird for Asia). A pack of cigarettes costs the same as in Germany ($7ish) and rolling tobacco is damn hard to find (though possible).

What about the real goodies? Teehee.

The Party Scene In Sri Lanka

Drugs first because some would say that’s my area of expertise (sorry, Mum).

I can confirm that you can get pretty much anything your heart desires (mushrooms being a notable absence). The prices are a lot higher than India or Nepal (honestly, some stuff can approach Australian price-levels) and the quality isn’t as high (pharmaceuticals notwithstanding) but they definitely do the job.

Now, on the topic of smoke, you have weed and you have hash. Ganja is cheaper, but it gets messed with – chemicals and the like. The locals call it KG (Kerala Gold but my hairy ass it’s Kerala Gold) and most local stoners won’t touch it except on the odd occasion.

Hotboxing our tuk tuk rental in Sri Lanka

Hash is yummy but pricey. You can get crap hash and you can get good hash; that depends on you. Also, expensive or not, this is still South Asia so get used to rolling big spliffs and sharing them around. Forget the puff-puff-pass BS; sharing is caring.

As for the party scene in Sri Lanka? Sri Lanka’s nightlife is not my vibe, but you’ll find lotsa parties at the beach towns ( Arugam Bay , Mirissa , and Hikkaduwa in particular). Think Thailand party vibes with more head wobbles: house and techno, dudes in fruit-print shirts, and hostel hookups navigating shared dorm spaces. (The dude I saw in Arugam that got out of bed and waited outside while his mate got a root is an absolute legend of time and space.)

Are there any good parties in Sri Lanka? You know the ones I’m talking about; with the good drugs and the weirdos. There aren’t many hippie places in Sri Lanka and disappointingly you’re not going to find the psy-hippy scene of (old) Goa but Tomorrowland in Ella is a very good start and also happens to be my absolute favourite place to stay in Sri Lanka. You’ll find some normal people there.

Getting Insured BEFORE Visiting Sri Lanka

Leopards, elephants, severe indigestion from rice and curry buffet overloads – a lot can happen in Sri Lanka! That’s why it’s always better to have full travel insurance when you’re moving.

Because shit happens.

ALWAYS sort out your backpacker insurance before your trip. There’s plenty to choose from in that department, but a good place to start is Safety Wing .

They offer month-to-month payments, no lock-in contracts, and require absolutely no itineraries: that’s the exact kind of insurance long-term travellers and digital nomads need.

budget travel sri lanka

SafetyWing is cheap, easy, and admin-free: just sign up lickety-split so you can get back to it!

Click the button below to learn more about SafetyWing’s setup or read our insider review for the full tasty scoop.

  • Best Travel First Aid Kits
  • Top Travel Money Belts for Backpackers

Well, it wouldn’t be much of a travel guide for Sri Lanka if I didn’t tell you how to travel it! How you’re getting in, how you’re getting around Sri Lanka, and, then, how you’re getting out again.

Some might say that’s incredibly crucial information. At the very least, I’d be shit at my job if I didn’t tell you.

Entry Requirements for Sri Lanka

Ok, this is a weird one. Prior to the COVID shutdowns, there were none (for the usual First-World players). A visa waiver program was initiated in Sri Lanka in response to the flagging tourism numbers following the 2019 terrorist attacks.

The government was trialling a 1-month-free visa-on-arrival for Sri Lanka, and it was stupidly easy to get. Show up with that stunning smile you’ve been perfecting, acquire the appropriate stamp, and then go receive your first “ Tuk-tuk? ” from the tuk-tuk mafia.

A tuk-tuk driver in Colombo waits for a tourist to get their Sri Lanka visa extension

The trial period for the zero requirements Sri Lanka visa was set to end on the 31st of January 2020 , then the program was extended, and then COVID happened. What will happen next is anyone’s guess, however, you can expect this section to be updated when we know. Regardless, when tourism reopens, you can expect the Sri Lankan government to want to make it as simple a process as possible.

I’m linking the official site for Sri Lanka visas so you can check everything yourself. If you are from somewhere that isn’t blessed with free entry, you’ll need to apply online before arriving or get a visa-on-arrival at the airport. It should be $35 for a visa online or $40 for a visa-on-arrival.

For the record, I had no onward ticket but that’s obviously very case-by-case. I haven’t needed one in my travels yet; it must be that winning smile!

Continuing on, extensions on your Sri Lankan visa are easy too! They’re also considerably more excruciating. The classic red-tape bureaucracy flavour with a South Asian twist!

A Sri Lankan man on a train in Colombo

Option one is to go to Sri Lanka’s Department of Immigration and Emigration in Colombo. Things to do in Colombo:

  • Get your visa extended.

The process is pretty painful, not gonna lie, although that may have been courtesy of the whopping ear infection I had at the time. Expect to be waiting a minimum of 4 hours among several different waiting areas so bring a Rubik’s Cube and snackos.

The fees for a Sri Lanka visa extension are cheap too. I paid $30 USD (as an Australian) for two extra months (3 months total) and a further 3-month renewal on your Sri Lanka visa is possible (for another $30 ). The process is convoluted but easy and there’s a useful guide on Sri Lanka visa extensions here in case you’re confused.

Option two , however, means you won’t even have to visit Colombo, and that’s a pretty damn good option! Not many people know this but you can renew a visa from anywhere in Sri Lanka via courier (and, yeah, that means giving the courier your passport). I’ve got this on good standing from an ex-pat living in Sri Lanka who’s used the service multiple times.

Get the ball rolling by emailing [email protected] and start the process by correspondence. It’s easy but it means you’ll miss out on the joys of Sri Lankan bureaucracy.

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Well, the good news is that it’s ridiculously easy: it’s almost too easy! The public transport in Sri Lanka is distinctly South Asian but also extremely capable. It helps that it’s a small island.

Something beautiful is never too far away!

Travelling by Train and Bus in Sri Lanka

The trains in Sri Lanka are tight! They run to a number of major points across the island and Sri Lanka Railway’s ticket prices are cheap . The rides are bumpy, slow, and teeming with local goodness.

A train in Sri Lanka passing a popular cultural tourist attraction

The buses in Sri Lanka are also ridiculously cheap! Will you get a seat? I dunno, guess you’ll just have to show up to find out!

Bus ticket prices in Sri Lanka are based on the grade/type of the bus and that topic is a hot mess. Let’s just summarise it as cheap, local, unreserved buses vs. expensive, AC, reserved ones  Again you’re looking at bumpy rides and the local buses tend to play loud music so settle in with favourite pair of travel headphones and watch the sky.

Travelling by Tourist Transport Services in Sri Lanka

If you’re happy to pay more, the going only gets easier. Tuk-tuks, share taxis, vans, probably hot-air balloons: there’s plenty of tourist transport services in Sri Lanka! Sri Lanka has magic tuk-tuks; they just always seem to appear.

Booking is as easy as going into town and haggling a good price. Option two is to just ask through your accommodation but probs-defs at a higher price than your devilish silver tongue can acquire.

Two boyes in Sri Lanka cross a busy street full of buses

Honestly, dude, getting around Sri Lanka is a piece of cake. Even at the bottom-rung of dirtbag style, it’s easy. Uncomfortable and unpredictable at times but still the best I’ve seen this side of Myanmar.

In terms of buying tickets for the trains and buses in Sri Lanka, it’s a matter of showing up and saying the name of your destination (perhaps with that dazzling grin again). That’s for the el cheapo unreserved seating. The fancier classes require more pre-thought.

In terms of booking the fancy-pants classes, go to the station, talk to your appointed legal guardian at your hostel, or, option three, book online. Check out for booking trains and buses in Sri Lanka because Sri Lanka is in Asia. Couldn’t be simpler!

Tuk Tuk Rental in Sri Lanka

How about the absolute best way to travel Sri Lanka? Well, that’s probably still a motorbike. The runner-up is definitely a tuk-tuk though… unless you find that hot-air balloon.

Ok, so I promised I’d spill the deetz on what a tuk-tuk rental in Sri Lanka is like. First things first, it’s more expensive than public transport, no doubt. Between fuel costs and rental prices (20 bucks a day) , it’s not even a competition. So why is it the second-best way to travel Sri Lanka?

You’re paying a premium to drive a goddamn tuk-tuk in Sri Lanka! Think about it: this (wonderful) couple rolls into the most – potentially only – hippie place in Sri Lanka – and recruited yours truly… They basically paid to travel with me!

A rental tuk-tuk in Sri Lanka of the beaten path in a rural village

And what an adventure! There were joints and middle-of-nowhere-rotis. There were wrong turns and elephants. There was actually driving to the dealer’s house – instead of waiting for him to come back – and smoking up with him beneath the watchful benevolence of a giant Buddha statue! It was dope (heh).

Have I piqued your curiosity? Good, then check out These guys run a real tight ship on the whole operation.

They’ll figure out your Sri Lankan driver’s licence (it’s a lot easier than you may have heard), sort out your insurance, and give you a jam-packed instruction booklet on… well… everything! That thing is stacked – discounts and all!

So, what do you do? You follow the link, scope out if renting a tuk-tuk in Sri Lanka is for you, and then enter the code brokebackpacker at the checkout for a discount. And remember:

Drive Shanti; we’re running on Sri Lanka time.

Plus… those buses will smoke ya.

Hitchhiking in Sri Lanka

Well, this is definitely the cheapest way to get around Sri Lanka provided you don’t accidentally hail an unmarked taxi. Locals will tell you it’s “ not possible ” but it is. The best part is you’ll definitely end up in some of Sri Lanka’s more uncommon places to visit!

There’s no ‘Hitching Sri Lanka Guidebook’ (although we do have this sweet Hitchhiking 101 Guide ), but here are a few tips specific on grabbing a ride in this part of the world:

  • Wave your hand, signal the direction you’re going, wobble your head (seriously, try it): a thumb may still work but it’s not a universal symbol here.
  • Get someone to write you a sign in Sinhalese and Tamil if possible. It’ll grab attention at the very least.
  • If the communication levels are there, remember to explain you only need to go in the direction  of ‘X’.
  • In smaller towns and areas (Ella comes to mind), you can grab local hitches pretty easily. Truck drivers are super chill about you just sitting in the trailer.

Even with the dirt-cheap public transport, hitchhiking will bring your cost of travel for Sri Lanka down quite nicely. It does, however, come with the caveats of hitching in South Asia.

Hitchhiking in Sri Lanka in the back of a truck trailer

It’s just, like… exhausting, man. Tuk-tuk drivers stop and linger thirstily, locals constantly question you and argue the feasibility of what you’re doing, and deciphering potential rides from unmarked taxis takes a developed hitcher’s second-sight. If you do get a ride, more times than not you’ll be asked for money at the end (giving a tip is alright but there’s a line).

For the challenge and adventure, yeah it’s definitely worth it! Otherwise, considering the stupidly cheap transport, it’s not. I’ll just tell you what I always tell people about my long-distance hitch across India.

“ I’m so goddamn glad I did it, and I’d never do it again. ”

Onwards Travel from Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is an island so unless you happen to be a polar bear, you’re catching a plane. There’s no ferry from Sri Lanka to India (which pains my overlander’s heart). There is, however, an underwater bridge built by ancient gods, but I’ve heard it’s kinda hard to find.

Actually, I’m going to be serious for a second. Considering most travellers I meet here are either short-term, relatively fresh, or travelling from Southeast Asia , I’m giving some sincere, genuine advice (as opposed to all that false advice I give you to maliciously mislead you… muahahahah).

The Himalayas seen from Pokhara, Nepal - next destination after Sri Lanka

If you haven’t yet explored South Asia, fly to Nepal . Go see the giants, roll some joints with them, and then, when you’re feeling appropriately levelled-up, cross the border to Mama India . That’s a nice progression.

Hell, if you still got some spoons after that, head travel west to Pakistan – now we’re cooking with crazy! Why stop there? Go to Afghanistan ! (No, jokes, don’t do that)

All I’m saying is up the ante after your trip to Sri Lanka (if it’s calling you). Major airports in Asia are relatively cheap to reach (Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Incheon, etc.) but you’ve come this far. May as well go earn your Shiva Stripes!

I certainly did meet other travellers working in Sri Lanka, and it’s certainly a country I would consider fit for the digital nomad lifestyle (I enjoyed it anyhow). The WiFi is fairly tosh in most places you’ll stay, however, it does have its moments. There is some good WiFi in Sri Lanka if you’re willing to pay extra for a nicer bit of accommodation (or hunt around).

You’re also not looking at India-level mobile data, but again, it’s serviceable. I would definitely advise getting a local SIM card in Sri Lanka and to go with Dialog as your provider; they never caused me any grief. I’d also stay away from the tourist SIM cards you can buy at Bandaranaike Airport when you arrive.

Head to an official store once you’re in town. Take your passport, specify that you want data only (unless you do want phone credit), and top it up without any SIM purchasing fees. I got enough to last me nearly a month of travelling at medium-ish usage for $3 .

Sri Lanka is also a solid choice of country for teaching English abroad . Between a colonial history and an increased reliance on English in both administrative positions and the tourism industry, people (and their kids) are definitely seeking English teachers!

School girl on a bus in Sri Lanka

All in all, for people looking to extend their travels through working means, Sri Lanka may not be as obvious a destination as Thailand or Vietnam, but it still as a lot to offer. Bar moments of severe Jungle WiFi-induced frustration.

mockup of a person holding a smartphone in white background with Holafly logo

A new country, a new contract, a new piece of plastic – booooring. Instead, buy an eSIM!

An eSIM works just like an app: you buy it, you download it, and BOOM! You’re connected the minute you land. It’s that easy.

Is your phone eSIM ready? Read about how e-Sims work or click below to see one of the top eSIM providers on the market and  ditch the plastic .

Volunteering in Sri Lanka

Or, if you’re looking for a way to extend your travels (or just be a ten-outta-ten human), volunteering is definitely a thing there too! It comes with the necessary disclaimers about volunteering in developing countries – both concerning doing your research and not letting your guard down too much – but using a reputable platform for volunteering abroad is a great way to connect with local communities AND travel for longer.

There’s a decent chance you might sniff out a cool gig just backpacking around Sri Lanka. Some hostels are keen for a helper in exchange for a bed and daily curry and rice buffet! If you got the gift of the gab (or know like five yoga poses), you can probably hustle something up.

Alternatively, scooch on over to Workaway’s online platform or give our favourite volunteering organisation a shot – Worldpackers!

Worldpackers is another group connecting the well-intentioned dirtbag sorts to meaningful and rewarding volunteering opportunities. They tend to run a bit lower on actual gigs available, however, quality not quantity!

What gigs are available on Worldpackers are personally vetted by their hardworking crew and you can expect a whole host of the nifty community features to come along. PLUS, as a Broke Backpacker reader, you get a yummy discount! There’s a fat 20% off your signup fee if you use the code BROKEBACKPACKER at the checkout or, alternatively, just click the button below.

This is the part where I attempt to respectfully generalise a group of 20+ million people… fun!

As much as Sri Lankans hate the comparison, lines can be drawn to Indians – South India in particular – but with the unique Indian intensity considerably turned down. The head wobbles and rapid hand gestures are still in full force but the flow feels slower.

There are some key differences that I’ve felt while visiting Sri Lanka but please remember that this a very broad brush. It’s also worth mentioning that this is the experience of a white man backpacking around Sri Lanka (and, yes, that sadly makes a very big difference):

  • Sri Lankans smile a lot more and more often smile first.
  • They’ve still got the classic South Asia soul-burning stare but, generally, they come across as a bit shier.
  • The vibes are just… friendlier.

Some local pickers in Sri Lanka's mountain tea plantations

I don’t feel well-equipped enough to make pointed comparisons between the Sinhala and the Tamil peoples but, as a whole, the people are very inquisitive, friendly, and happy to help a traveller in need (even, sometimes , the tuk-tuk drivers).

A friend I made at a hippie place in Sri Lanka

Less-traditional Sri Lankans also tend to be super-chill with good vibes. Once you’ve got a crew, get used to sharing. Everything is passed around from cups of tea to cigarettes and the feeling of brotherhood runs very strong between friends here.

It is worth noting, however, that this is the experience of a traveller accustomed to this part of the world. Many greener travellers that I’ve met (usually just on a short trip to Sri Lanka) often still struggle with connecting with the local people. You can expect a cultural adjustment period and the odd moment of wanting to throw someone off the nearest overpass; that’s just called ‘travelling Asia’.

On a final note, I’ve heard traveller-reports that Sri Lankans aren’t nearly as concerned with squeezing your cash from you as in Indians. I can’t say I agree. White person tax is still in full effect here, and I’ve met no shortage of people who almost have Scrooge McDuck dollar signs explode in their eyes when they see a foreigner approach. As always, that stuff depends on the person; not on their race.

The Language in Sri Lanka

So, I’ll admit I haven’t put as much effort into the language here as previous places I’ve visited. I still, however, have picked up some phrases and a minimal understanding of the grammar of Sinhala (Sinhalese). Not enough to discuss the metaphysical quandaries of the universe or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, mind you, but enough to make a Sri Lankan grin appropriately.

Attempting to master the Sinhala language means you’ll need to wrap your head around the first thing necessary when learning a new language for travel : the grammar . Sinhalese’s grammar is typically similar to that of many Asian countries: sentences end with verbs and unnecessary exposition is often omitted contingent on context. Friends are generally casual with each other and even strangers prefer a subtle movement of the head than the word for ‘thank you’ .

A Sri Lankan man stands in a street in front of Sinhalese posters

Learning to talk with your hands and head-wobbles and bobbles while backpacking Sri Lanka will go almost as far as learning the language itself. It’s no different to mastering your slight-bow and affirmative ‘un’  for those backpacking Japan.

It’s worth noting that there are two major languages here: Sinhala is the most widely spread (spoken by the Sinhalese people) with Tamil spoken by the Tamils. Minimal-to-competent English is also common in the cities and most of the top travel places in Sri Lanka but the further out in the sticks you head, the less you’ll find.

Useful Travel Phrases for Sri Lanka

If speaking conversational Sinhala is the goal, I wish you luck. They talk hard and they talk fast.

After hanging out smoking with Sri Lankan dudes, I can tell you they like to talk a lot of shit and all at the same time. It reminds me of the boys back home. Cultural differences aside, people really ain’t so different.

I’ve got a few practical phrases I’ve picked up that may net you a lower price if you use them right. Otherwise, just a few words to use when you make some mates:

  • Hello –  Hallo (is most common)
  • Thank You – Isthutee  (ee-stoo-tee) / Nandri  (in Tamil)
  • Bye – Bye (is most common)
  • Yes/No –  Ou/Nehe  (oh/neh)
  • Excuse me/Sorry –  Samavenna (sah-mah-vehn-nah)
  • How are you? – Kohoma-dha
  • Good – Hondai
  • Ok ok, no problem. – Hari hari, owoo lak nehe
  • Enough, enough – Heti heti
  • Brother – Machan/Bhang
  • How much? –  Keeya-dha
  • It’s too expensive. –  Ga nang vedi
  • I want ___ – Mata ___ one  (o-neh)
  • Water –  Vathura  (Vah-too-rah)
  • I’m hungry. –  Mata badagini  (bah-dah-gee-nee)
  • I want to go to (the) ___ – Mata ___ yanna one
  • Smoke one joint. –  Joint ekkak gahomuu
  • Respect phrase when passed the joint –  Boom bhole/Boom Shiva  (bhom bo-lay)
  • Awesome – Vassi
  • Let’s go! – Yamu!
  • Pronunciation is tough and has those airy voiced-sounds of Sanskrit/Brahmi-based languages (that’s only for the language nerds; if you don’t know/care what I mean, don’t worry).
  • ‘Nehe’ is good for saying something does not exist (eg., Vathura nehe – No water) and also for seeking agreement (eg., Hondai, nehe? – Good, no?).

What to Eat in Sri Lanka

I’d say you’re going to go one of two ways with the food in Sri Lanka:

  • Either you love curry and every new curry is a whole new world; therefore, the food in Sri Lanka is so varied!
  • All curries are the bloody same; therefore, the food in Sri Lanka is boring.

Sri Lankan street food - rice and curry buffet

Truthfully, you’re not going to find the massive spread in Sri Lanka that many other Asian destinations (like Thailand, for example) offer. Sri Lankan cuisine is very similar to Indian – including a number of shared dishes – with the differences only being noticeable for those with more nuanced spice palettes.

Expect plenty of dahl, fried snacks, heaps of coconut, and to consume more rice daily than you ever have in your entire life. Oh, and chilli! Things are gonna get spicy.

If you can’t handle chilli, remember to always tell the chef “no chilli” and to still expect your food to be kinda spicy when it arrives regardless. If you love your heat, remember to specify in the tourist bubbles that you like your food “Sri Lankan spicy” or you’ll be eating bland dahl for din-dins!

Must-Try Dishes in Sri Lankan

Oh, you want more. Fine… Here’s the best-of-the-best Sri Lankan food! (Minus kottu because I think you’ve got the idea already.)

  • Rice and Curry – Naturally… what else were you expecting? Rice and curry is a breakfast, lunch, and dinner food. It’s also a way of life! Curries come in a variety of types: eggplant, dahl (obviously), beans, jackfruit (the most surreal meat substitute after facon)… Sometimes, you get six curries; sometimes you get three. Probably, you’ll get papadams, and maybe it’s a buffet too (do not underestimate the sway a buffet has over me). The point is, get used to rice and curry. Definitely get used to rice.
  • Coconuts – I’m not sure how many coconuts I’ve seen in my life but I think after Sri Lanka it may have broken seven digits. Roadside coconuts are everywhere for drinking, they’re in the curries, and they’re used for both sweet and savoury Sri Lankan dishes.
  • Sri Lanka’s Street Food – Including the pre-cooked bites you see in shop windows. Roti stuffed with vegetables or egg, samosas, dosa… once I found a bag of lightly fried and seasoned chickpeas and that was so damn good!
  • Sri Lankan Tea – As described by a Dutch ex-pat as “ Not a lot of tea with a lot of milk and sugar! ” He’s spot on and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
  • Hoppers – Specifically, egg hoppers. A hopper is a bowl-shaped pancake served with sambol on the side. An egg hopper has a freshly-steamed egg sitting in the middle so it’s a direct upgrade.
  • Ice-Cream – At any old shop that has an ice-cream freezer you can buy an ice-cream for 25-50 cents. That’s not exactly Sri Lankan food but it is cheap ice-cream!

Books to Read About Sri Lanka

“Today I’m going to stay in the hostel and read.” Six hours and three joints later, two pages were read. All the same, here are some books about Sri Lanka to read when you find the time…

A backpacker in a hostel in Arugam Bay not reading books about Sri Lanka

  • Trainspotting – This is in no way a book about Sri Lanka whatsoever, but it’s the book I was reading while backpacking around the island and it’s damn good! Junkies in Scotland glassing each other and injecting skag into their Willy Wonkas. What’s not to love?
  • Elephant Complex: Travels in Sri Lanka – A travelogue written by a traveller – like you! Elephant Complex documents John Gimlettes journey and all the people he met along the way. This dude didn’t backpack through Sri Lanka; he travelled it.
  • Chinaman: The Legend of Pradeep Mathew – Yeah, it’s backdropped against cricket but don’t tune out yet! Chinaman follows one alcoholic sports-journalist attempts to uncover the truth of Sri Lanka’s lost legend of the field and in doing so presents a humourous yet a sobering journey through the turmoil of Sri Lanka’s politics. You had me at alcoholic sports-journalist.
  • This Divided Island: Stories from the Sri Lankan War – Something concerning the topic of Sri Lanka’s violent and troubled history. The Divided Island is not a straight historical recount of the war but rather a collected oral history through the eyes and experiences of many Sri Lankans from many walks of life. A very good read on the civil war.

A Brief History of Sri Lanka

Right, I’m about to attempt to summarise the entire history of Sri Lanka in 600-words-or-less… Yamu!

The division between the Sinhala and Tamil people only becomes more apparent once you start examing the ancient history of Sri Lanka. Every sacred site, village, and piece of history carries a different story and name attached to it.

Image of the epic fable Ramayana portraying the building of Rama Setu

Even the great epic of Ramayana carries two versions. The fable tells of the Hindu god Rama building a bridge of rocks (Adam’s Bridge) across the Indian Ocean from Deep South India to Sri Lanka to rescue his beloved Sita from the clutches of Ravana. Ask the Sinhala people and they’ll tell you that Ravana was a real upstanding dude; ask the Tamils and they’ll tell you he was a total dick.

In truth, the Tamils and Sinhala may not be so different after all. Sri Lanka has long-standing historical evidence of immigration from South India, Southeast and East Asia, and the Middle-East. In time, the people have intermarried and assimilated.

A famous stupa and historical site in Sri Lanka

Regardless of this, the ethnic division became a mainstay of the Sri Lanka isle. As South Indian Tamil kingdoms solidified power in the northern region of Jaffna and below, Sinhala and Buddhist power increased further south initially in the capital of Anuradhapura before moving to Polonnaruwa and then later heading further southwest.

Centuries past and the separation of the Sinhala people and the Tamils only increased. A large buffer zone through the jungles of central Sri Lanka further divided the two people and the two kingdoms developed relatively isolated from each other.

And then the white man came.

Sri Lanka in Modern Times

We’re fast-tracking through the colonialism stuff. Suffice to say, first, the Portuguese did their damage followed by the Dutch and ending with the British. The advent of colonialism in Sri Lanka further upset the already unstable natural divides of the country. By the time Ceylon  (Sri Lanka’s name at the time) achieved independence, Jaffna had lost it’s considerable power and Tamils had spread throughout all of the island.

That set the stage for what happened next.

In the wake of the British, a corrupt – and now independent – government (it’s usually the way) repeatedly enforced legislation that served to bolster the Sinhala and subjugate the Tamil people. The government of mid-20th-century Sri Lanka crafted an assault of fear-mongering against the Tamils.

Black July Massacres in Colombo, Sri Lanka, 1983

Twenty-six years: that’s how long the civil war lasted, and it was bloody. The mid-70s saw the rise of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE or colloquially the ‘Tamil Tigers’); terrorists or revolutionaries depending on who you talk to. In 1983, the Tigers ambushed and killed 13 Sinhala soldiers and hell broke loose.

‘Black July’, the event of the Tamil massacres in Colombo; 400 to 3000 Tamils were murdered and brutalised – beaten, clubbed, burned, raped, shot, hacked apart… The resulting flood of Tamil war refugees migrating to other countries caused the world to start taking notice of the events occurring in Sri Lanka.

The following 20+ years were marked by bloodshed. At a civilian level, the people just wanted peace but extremists from both sides and a petulant government perpetuated the conflict. Despite the half-hearted calls from the global community to cease the violence, they didn’t…

Until April 2009 when the Sri Lankan military confined remaining LTTE fighters and tens of thousands of Tamil civilians to a single beach in northeastern Sri Lanka. What ensued was a massacre. LTTE fighters shot Tamil citizens attempting to flee, government officials murdered and raped many who surrendered, and what is truth and fiction remains impossible to separate.

Three men in Sri Lanka walk the train tracks in the hill country

What I do feel comfortable saying is that the world failed Sri Lanka. Throughout the war, countless Sinhala and Tamil people needlessly died while the world watched apathetically.

Despite the recent bomb attacks, Sri Lanka is now a peaceful country. The government still sucks (big surprise) and assholes still exist (even bigger surprise), but that is not representative of the people. The people just want peace.

Here’s a relevant quote I found from a Sri Lankan:

“Everyone agrees they’d rather die than live through the war again.”

You’ve got questions and rightly so. So here are some answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about backpacking Sri Lanka.

How long do you need to backpack Sri Lanka?

With 2 – 4 weeks, you’ll have time to see some of the best parts of Sri Lanka and also have some time to make a more flexible itinerary for when you find those magic spots. With anything less, you’ll find yourself very pressed for time.

Is Sri Lanka good for solo travel?

Absolutely! It’s more than good: it’s one of the best places to solo travel. Even for female travellers, backpacking Sri Lanka is super accessible and very safe.

What the… is Kottu ?

Oh, you’ll find out before long. It’s basically stir-fried roti mixed with… whatever they’re making. It’s cheap, it’s everywhere, and you’ll have a love-hate relationship like every other backpacker in Sri Lanka.

Is backpacking in Sri Lanka cheap?

Yes, Sri Lanka is a cheap country to travel. You can get by on as little as $10 a day if you’re a true dirt bag traveller. With a bigger budget, you’ll find you can travel very well.

Hey, mate, got any tips?

Yeah, I got a tip… buy your own tips! Na, I’m just kidding; tips are for everyone. Roll that sucker up.

Have some Sri Lanka backpacking tips in your travel guide! But just the tip. Aww… maybe a little bit more.

A Few Final Tips of the Sri Lanka Backpacking Travel Guide

Consider this section your little guide book for Sri Lanka. A few miscellaneous tips I wanted to mention to keep you operating smoothly when you’re on the island.

Sri Lanka Backpacking Travel Guide

  • For Shiva’s sake, please do not ride the elephants.  If you do, I’ll come find you, put chains on your feet, and ride you through town while someone stabs you repeatedly in the ankles with a bullhook. Guys, let’s be better, please.
  • Similarly, animal abuse is a sad cultural truth in this part of the world. You’re gonna see a lot of unloved and diseased pooches and you’re probably going to see them struck. I really, truly do hate saying this but you gotta keep your cool: you’re not the Batman for Asian canines.
  • Although demonisation of LGBTQ locals is common, reports from LGBTQ travellers is quite positive. The foreigner card trumps your sexuality here.
  • Don’t even bother with hailing tuk-tuks in Colombo: stick to Uber. UberEats is also a thing in the capital and it kicks ass!
  • It’s customary (and respectful) to exchange money (or anything for that matter) with the right hand only. Nobody wants your left hand; we all know what you’ve been doing with it.
  • When sharing drinks from bottles, it’s also customary to air-sip .
  • Respect for Buddha is taken seriously in Sri Lanka; people have been deported for displaying tattoos of Buddha. Don’t turn your back to Buddha and no.. no selfies.
  • Try to keep your knees and shoulders covered – especially at temples. There are some more touristy spots where you can get away with more skin showing. Just try to be respectful. 

One of the best lines I’ve seen was written by a hostel in Sri Lanka (about themselves) and I feel it summarises South Asia perfectly: We know we are not perfect. Sometimes things work and sometimes they don’t. Expect confusion and when it’s not going right, understand that there’s probably a reason for it even if you don’t know it. If your laundry doesn’t arrive “ on schedule ” take a chill pill and remember that you paid the same price as a large cappuccino.

Be Good to Yourself and Sri Lanka

Be good: nothing summarises it better. I’ll tell you what a wizard in New Zealand told me.

“ A traveller is a visitor and a visitor shows respect. “

Have fun on your backpacking trip to Sri Lanka. Drink the Lions, smoke the fineries, gorge on Sri Lanka’s street food, and let loose! Just don’t lose yourself.

I’m not gonna lie: sometimes travelling over this way is fucking infuriating. Try being stranded in a leech-infested jungle in a storm, tripping dicks, shoe-less, and still being asked for money by a local to be guided out. Take a breath and remember that one shitbag is not representative of the whole; blame will be the cause of World War III.

He didn’t represent the local people and you don’t represent the tourists. That wall will always be there no matter what you do. You represent yourself.

Don’t be a holidayer, don’t be a tourist, and don’t be an ‘ influencer ‘.

Be a traveller. Be a visitor. Be respectful and be good.

A kind backpacker travelling Sri Lanka cuddles a dog at Sigiriya

If I have to explain to you how to not be a jerk, it’s probably time to drop a tab of acid, go back to the drawing board, and figure out what the hell went wrong. I will say, however, I don’t think it’s just about being polite.

It’s about showing an interest and a willingness to partake: a sincere desire to learn about the culture you’re in. To walk the land and be amongst the people you’ve chosen to enter the home of.

Don’t let Sri Lanka be the means to an end; the end being your no-filter-needed beach-holiday bender. You’re there for Sri Lanka. Be a damn traveller.

And remember to smile.

And we are done! Man, oh man, that is a hella  full-power travel guide for Sri Lanka! We had some twists, we had some turns, we got too political at points, and now we’re bringing it full circle.

Yeah, at times I felt jaded; I grew up in a tourist bubble, so I’ve got a chip on my shoulder for the bubble wrap. But what’s the universal truth of bubble wrap?

School girls walking amongst palm trees near a beautiful tourist beach in Sri Lanka

It’s downright sick! Absolutely vassi , man. Sri Lanka has something for most people. Not everyone, mind you, but most people.

It’s not a hard country to travel and that suits a lot of people just fine. It’s also considered a step above the ‘easy’ Asian countries in the backpacker hierarchy. Consider it your warm-up to where things get really crazy.

Initially, backpacking Sri Lanka’s typical tourist trail burnt me out somewhat. It left me with a sour taste in my mouth over the vibe of the travellers here.

And then I stopped somewhere and I planted my feet; I travelled the way that I like to travel. I spent time somewhere and truly began to know the people that surrounded me. And through them, I started to see the nuances of the culture.

Not the old temples, and famous rocks, and pretty beaches, but the people; the real people. The people that call Sri Lanka their home. I found my boys to boogie with, and I started to see the little bit of magic flowing through the wonders of Sri Lanka. I saw it reflected in the smiles of my friends.

So, should you travel to Sri Lanka? I dunno, I just wrote a mammoth backpacking Sri Lanka travel guide; read it and make up your own damn mind! I’ll tell you it’s an exquisite country though and I’ll tell you that I miss it.

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Fold-out sleeping chairs - best thing to do while backpacking Sri Lanka

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Ziggy Samuels

Ziggy Samuels

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Great article – full of valuable and insightful information without all the the usual tourist jargon. I visited Sri Lanka in January ’24 as a solo 72 year old backpacker. As an experienced traveller, I loved Sri Lanka and the people – full of diverse experiences. I did the usual touristy tour of Colombo- Sigiriya ( Lion Rock)- Kandy ( train ride) – Ella and the southern beaches ( Talalla was my favourite). I was also invited to join the backpacker WhatsApp group during my time there which was a great tool to find places to stay, off the beaten track accommodation and links to people travelling to various locations or just partying ( not much to contribute there apart from 70 plus years of learning from mistakes !) I was surprised how the backpacking community accepted an old ‘dude’ into their community. I am just about to return to SL in early May to travel round the eastern coast and possibly Jaffna – your advice has been excellent. Thank you.

Ace article! I’m in Sri Lanka right now and having an amazing time. Anyone who enjoys hiking should check out the Pekoe trail, a 22-stage hike through the hill country. They’ve not opened up all stages yet, but some stages can be found on All trails. I did stage 1 (Kandy to Galaha) and had an amazing view over tea plantations, met loads of locals and didn’t see a single other backpacker.

Incidentally another tip that I’ve found helpful is the bus information that you find online is not accurate! Don’t be discouraged if Rome2Rio says that the only way from one destination to another is by expensive taxi. Local buses will get you all over, just ask around or ask at your accommodation.

Great great article. So much fun to read. Thank youuuuu

I had so much fun reading this and it made me so keen to travel there in March! Thank you Ziggy 🙂

This is an outstanding article. Comprehensive and engaging. Thank you Ziggy.

Oh wow! I’m a Sri Lankan, living in Sri Lanka and I feel like you have done a better job of describing everything than I ever could 😀

Best broke backpacker review I’ve read yet

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  • Sri Lanka On A Budget: A Handy Guide To Explore More In Less Money

23 Mar 2023

A beauty as flawless as a wallpaper, a charm which is unmatched, and the cultural aesthetics that are so strong is Sri Lanka for us. Many people think of traveling to this stunning destination but rather chose some other destination because of budget constraints. With so many responsibilities and low income, many people drop their plans to visit a foreign country. So, if you are someone who is planning a trip to Sri Lanka without burning a hole in pocket, then go forward to reading this detailed guide which will help you plan a trip to Sri Lanka on a budget .

Best Time To Visit Sri Lanka On A Budget

Best Time To Visit Sri Lanka

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In order to get the best deals on hotels, cafes, pubs and other tourist places, it is best to plan a trip to Sri Lanka during the off tourist season which is from May to September. Due to rainfall and humidity in the air, many tourists avoid visiting Sri Lanka during these months and this is when you can grab great discounts and deals on accommodation options and other activities.

5 Places To See In Sri Lanka On A Budget

If traveling is your motto and you are low on budget, then do not worry. A trip to Sri Lanka can be completed on a low budget too with just the right amount of planning. Here is a list of places to visit in Sri Lanka if you have budget constraints.

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1. Dambulla Cave Temple

Dambulla Cave Temple

One of the best places to visit in Sri Lanka where yo do not have to pay anything is the Dambulla Cave Temple. Temples are the highlights of Sri Lanka tourism and Dambulla Cave Temple is one of the best temples here. This giant granite cave has around 150 statues of Buddha along with rich Buddhist paintings.

Entry fee: Free

Must Read: Sri Lanka In September: Explore The Eastern And Northern Parts Of This Island Country

2. Bentota Beach

Bentota Beach

Sri Lanka backpacking on budget is possible due to the presence of many beaches in Sri Lanka, the entry to which is free and also the water sports activities are not highly charged. The beach offers mesmerizing views of the sunset with a stunning coastline of palm trees.

Places to visit nearby: Bentota River, Kasgoda Turtle Hatchery

Suggested Read: Trips To Sri Lanka From India: An Ultimate Guide For A Lovely Vacation

3. Adam’s Peak

Adam’s Peak

Another enthralling place to visit in Sri Lanka on a budget is definitely Adam’s Peak. There is no cost of getting to the top. The only cost you pay here is your hard work which will repay you with stunning views of the landscape. There is a flight of around 5500 steps before you reach the top. The climb is a bit tough but definitely worth it.

Suggested Read: 10 Amazing Things To Do In Dehiwala-Mount Lavinia On Your Sri Lankan Vacation

4. Bambarakanda Falls

_Bambarakanda Falls

Located in Ohiya from a height of about 263 meters, Bambarakanda Falls looks very enchanting and soothing to the senses. The whole area surrounding the waterfalls is very serene, tranquil and covered with lush greenery. One must definitely visit this place for some soul satisfaction experience.

Suggested Read: Dig Into 10 Sri Lankan Street Food Items That Are Pure Delight!

5. Nuwara Eliya


Nuwara Eliya is the most happening hill station of Sri Lanka with stunning landscapes, lush green misty valleys, and rugged hills. It is famous for its tea estates and also for its scenic train rides that offers great views of the nature. Make sure to add Nuwara Eliya in your itinerary if planning for Sri Lanka travel on budget 2023 .

Suggested Read: Sri Lanka in Winter: A Complete Guide To Plan Your Holidays In Cold

Top 3 Budget Hotels in Sri Lanka

With a vast range of accommodation options, it becomes difficult to find out the ones which are budget friendly and with good amenities at the same time. We have jotted down a few of the best budget hotels in Sri Lanka for a comfortable stay.

1. Ocean View Cottage, Hikkaduwa

Ocean View Cottage

This is a great budget hotel in Hikkaduwa in Sri Lanka. With facilities like mini fridge, mosquito nets, and ac or non-ac rooms, this hotel also offers great views from the balcony of rooms. One who stays here gets access to beach, gardens, and swimming pool. Overall, you will have a great experience staying at this cottage in Hikkaduwa.

Website | Reviews

Suggested Read: Let These 12 Sri Lankan Desserts Awaken Your Taste Buds On Your Next Vacay!

2. Ranga’s Beach Hut, Arugam Bay

Ranga’s Beach Hut

This is one of the best places to stay in Arugam Bay area with stunning views, and mind-boggling facilities. The food they offer is very satisfactory and up to the mark. Cabanas, treehouse cabanas, villas, and the rooms are the accommodation options available at Ranga’s Beach Hut. Their cabanas are made from natural products and hence are very eco-friendly.

Suggested Read: 30 Best Beaches In Sri Lanka To Visit That Will Make You Go ‘Wow’!

3. Surfing Life Guesthouse, Madigama

Surfing Life Guesthouse

A small and cozy area which was once a home and now converted to a small hotel is set amidst a natural green environment. There are no ac rooms here but you won’t feel hot either. It is very budget friendly hotel with great home like feel to it. There is a small garden with a hammock where you can just relax and chill.

Tips For Budget Travel to Sri Lanka

budget travel sri lanka

  • Make use of public transport for local commuting as far as possible as these are comparatively cheap. Avoid taking taxis which are way too costly.
  • Make the bookings for hotels and major sightseeing places that require entry fee in advance to get good deals and offers.
  • Plan a stay in hostels, guesthouses, and beach side small resorts as they are comparatively cheaper as compared to hotels in cities.
  • For shopping, try to shop from street markets rather than big shops and expensive shopping malls. Not only you will get cheap items but also unique items.
  • Eat at small cafes and street shacks as the food is equally good and there is a lot of difference in price.

Further Read: 22 Places To Visit In Nuwara Eliya: The Mini London Of Sri Lanka!

For travelers who are perplexed about the thought of how much money do I need to visit Sri Lanka? On a budget trip to Sri Lanka , one needs to carry 1500 to 2000 INR for a day’s expenses in Sri Lanka which is a very decent price for a spectacular country like Sri Lanka. With this detailed guide on Sri Lanka budget travel, we hope you plan your trip to Sri Lanka super soon without thinking of money anymore. Traveling to Sri Lanka on a budget is super easy if you plan wisely and follow the tips given in this blog.

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frugal traveler

Sri Lanka, an Island Nation That Is Best Savored Slowly

A train trip is one way to experience the natural beauty of the country, even if you have only a few days. But advance planning is essential.

budget travel sri lanka

By Lucas Peterson

It’s common while traveling to be approached by locals trying to make a few a bucks by offering to show you around. I typically respond with a polite “no,” but on this particular morning in Kandy, a small city in the center of Sri Lanka, I was looking for someone to take me on a tour of the sights. Santha, a small, middle-aged man with a big smile, must have sensed it, because he made a beeline for me as I approached the small park near the Kandy Municipal Market on Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe Mawatha Street in the center of town.

After a quick negotiation we were off, crammed into the back of a blue tuk-tuk, zooming down streets slick from the morning’s rain and smelling of wet leaves. Santha yelled to me over the loud buzz of the auto rickshaw’s engine: “I was born in Kandy, raised in Kandy and married in Kandy.” He added, “And I will die in Kandy!”

I could easily have spent months in Sri Lanka, the small island nation off the southern tip of India. Full of fantastic food, kind people and astonishing natural wonder, Sri Lanka is a place best seen slowly, even if you only have four days on the ground like I did. The train was my preferred means of transport (when I wasn’t in a tuk-tuk), winding from Colombo to Kandy, in the middle of the country, before taking another train down to Ella, on what was one of the most beautiful and scenic train rides I’ve ever experienced. And as far as cost goes, I was able to keep my expenses comfortably under control.

First, some logistics: A train trip in Sri Lanka requires planning. Many popular routes, including the one from Kandy to Ella, can sell out reserved seats weeks in advance. The Sri Lanka Railways website isn’t going to be much help here: you can only reserve tickets in person or through your local mobile phone. I consulted the website The Man in Seat 61 and eventually decided to place my trust in Visit Sri Lanka Tours to make my bookings.

My ticket in the observation car from Colombo to Kandy, with comfortable seats and a big picture window at the front of the compartment, cost 11 British pounds, or about $14 for the two-and-a-half hour ride. (The agency is U.K.-based and charges in pounds, payable through PayPal.) I snagged the last reserved second-class seat on the Kandy to Ella route — this is with booking 20 days in advance — and paid 13 pounds for the more ponderous, nearly seven-hour jaunt through the green hills and tea plantations of central Sri Lanka.

The Airtel SIM card I purchased in India didn’t work when I landed at Bandaranaike International Airport on my SriLankan Airlines flight (about $180 for a one-way flight from Chennai, India). Luckily, I had bought an AIS travel SIM card for about $18 ahead of time, which is good for eight consecutive days of travel in over a dozen Asian countries, including Sri Lanka. I can’t speak for service in the other countries on the list, but I had no trouble plugging it into my unlocked iPhone and using it over the next several days in Sri Lanka.

I picked up my ticket at Colombo’s Fort Railway Station and had just enough time to stop at the nearby Highland Milk Bar for a quick snack: a creamy chocolate milk from a glass bottle and a bag of chips cost me 120 Sri Lankan rupees, or about 65 cents. The first part of the ride heading east was unexceptional, but things changed around Rambukkana. Suddenly the air seemed heavier, and the vegetation became thicker and denser as we passed each successive train station, painted in muted pastels.

Pelting rain greeted us as we entered Kandy, once its own independent kingdom on the island until it fell victim to British colonial power in the early 19th century. I put on a poncho I’d brought for the occasion and walked down William Gopallawa Mawatha Street in search of my lodgings. “Gamage?” I asked passers-by, unsure how to pronounce the name of the family who was hosting me. Eventually, someone pointed me toward a fluorescent light inside a small grocery, and I sloshed toward it. A woman peered out the door and waved. “Peterson?” she yelled from across the street.

The lovely Gamage family (pronounced GAH-mah-gay), consisting of parents, children and extended family all under one roof, put me up for two nights in their home for about $10 per night, booked through the site . My room was basic but comfortable, and came with an outstanding breakfast spread every morning: curried mango, daal, beans, beets, rice, eggs and tea. Mrs. Gamage told me I could easily find someone in a tuk-tuk to show me around town.

When I found Santha the next day near the park (or rather, he found me), we quickly agreed on a price for a tour of the city: 2,000 rupees (a little more than $11). “We have very good history here,” he said to me as the tuk-tuk labored uphill toward Sri Mahabodhi Maha Viharaya Buddhist temple , a little over a mile from the town center. Sri Lanka is a majority Buddhist nation, and many of the culturally and historically significant places of worship are Buddhist.

After spending some time admiring the giant statue of Buddha that the temple is famous for (and paying the 250-rupee entrance fee), Santha, our driver and I made a few more stops in the area. Some were clearly an attempt to get me to buy something, but I didn’t mind: At the Pilimathalawa Tea Factory, for example, a quick and interesting tour of the grounds was followed by an elaborate tasting and sales pitch to try to get me to buy tea. When I bought a package of broken orange pekoe tea for 1,200 rupees — which I was going to buy anyway — the salesman immediately said that if I bought a second one, I’d get the third for free. He balked when I suggested he give me one package for 800 rupees, however, and I walked out with my single package of tasty, locally grown tea.

After a visit to a government-run medicinal garden and a stop for a quick beer (100 rupees buys you a local Anchor beer from the supermarket), we zoomed back toward town, Santha narrating as we went along. “Very dirty right now,” he said as we crossed a muddy-looking Mahaweli River. Why would I choose to visit Sri Lanka now, during rainy season? he asked me. I didn’t have a good answer.

The Royal Botanic Gardens was the final stop on our tour. Despite the relatively hefty entrance fee (1,500 rupees for foreigners, 60 for locals), I found the gardens a lovely respite from the traffic and hubbub of the area. They seem more like an arboretum than anything else, and I admired mazelike java fig trees, a towering smooth-barked kauri and a fascinating cannonball tree, which holds dozens of large, spherical fruits.

The food is wonderful in Sri Lanka; bright flavors, sharp spices and complex curries usually eaten with rice as the centerpiece. I thoroughly enjoyed the Flavors of Sri Lanka cooking class I booked as an Airbnb experience ($22), with the friendly Chitra taking the lead and her daughter Hasara assisting. Learning about the different spices and produce was a delicious and elucidating education, like gotu kola, an herb, and goraka, a small, sharply acidic fruit that’s commonly dried and used to flavor meat and fish.

A 400-rupee tuk-tuk ride from Chitra’s house on the western side of town took me to Sri Dalada Maligawa , or Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic (1,500 rupees admission) just in time for the 6:30 p.m. puja, or worship ceremony. Hundreds of people packed into the temple, fragrant with flowers and ringing with the rhythm of drums beaten by men in traditional dress. After the puja, I wandered north along a narrow moat until I came to a man standing in front of an old, regal-looking building. He introduced himself as Vipula, and we chatted about the building, which was the residence of Kandy’s king until the British seized the kingdom in 1815. The king, Vipula said sadly, was betrayed by his own people.

After an early breakfast the next morning, I boarded a bright blue train to Ella, a small town southeast of Kandy. Traveling by train is one of my favorite ways to get to know a place: While allowing one to truly have a sense of moving from one place to another, it also creates a sense of community and shared experience with others aboard. From my second-class seat (about $16.50, again booked through Visit Sri Lanka Tours), I could enjoy the percussive clacking of the train as it wound through the intensely lush, hilly terrain, with row after row of perfectly manicured tea plants dotting every slope.

With tourists and locals hanging out of the doors and windows — some to get a good selfie, others to get some air — we pulled into Ella station. I made the short walk to the Sunnyside Holiday Bungalow , where I had booked a room for just under $30 per night. The owners are kind and the property, with gardens and a big shaded porch, is beautiful. The one downside is that there seems to be a trash processing facility across the road, which can be slightly irksome when the wind blows the wrong way.

Ella’s downtown is geared to tourists and backpackers — think Western-style coffee shops, bars and souvenir stores — so I didn’t spend much time there. My first morning in Ella, I set out to find the Nine Arch Bridge , a gorgeous old colonial-era railway bridge that has, as you might expect, nine big arches. I was fortunate to arrive just as a big red and green engine with a few cars behind it came barreling around the bend.

After a morning of walking around, it started to pour. I ducked into the restaurant at the 98 Acres Resort & Spa , which sits atop a hill and provides an awesome view of the surrounding countryside, even in the rain. I sipped a cappuccino (400 rupees) and lamented the weather.

But an hour or so later, I had my chance. The downpour had eased to a light smattering, and I set out to hike Little Adam’s Peak , a slightly rigorous but very doable trek to the south. It was a bit more difficult after the rain, but the trade-off is that I had it all to myself; I didn’t meet a soul on the way up.

Nor was there anyone at the summit. I approached a small shrine that had a covered golden Buddha statue and multicolored prayer flags fluttering lightly, and admired the vista of low-lying clouds resting gently on what seemed like an endless series of rolling, green hills. Even through the rain, it was a spectacular sight.

Follow NY Times Travel on Twitter , Instagram and Facebook . Get weekly updates from our Travel Dispatch newsletter, with tips on traveling smarter, destination coverage and photos from all over the world.

Lucas Peterson is the Frugal Traveler columnist. He has written for GQ, Lucky Peach, Eater, LA Weekly and Food Republic. His video series for Eater, "Dining on a Dime," is now in its 11th season. More about Lucas Peterson


Sri Lanka Travel Guide on a Budget

[email protected]

April 8, 2023

Sri Lanka Travel Guide on a Budget

Sri Lanka, the pearl of the Indian Ocean, is a mesmerizing island country known for its stunning beaches, lush greenery, diverse wildlife, and rich cultural heritage. From ancient temples to lush tea plantations, and from bustling markets to serene beaches, Sri Lanka offers an array of experiences for every traveler. This budget travel guide will provide you with essential tips and recommendations for exploring Sri Lanka on a shoestring, ensuring that you can experience the best of this enchanting country without breaking the bank.

Getting There and Around

Affordable Flights

Bandaranaike International Airport in Colombo is the main international gateway to Sri Lanka. To save on airfare, consider booking your flight during the off-peak season (April to June and September to November) or using budget airlines such as AirAsia, IndiGo, and Flydubai. Additionally, utilize search engines like Skyscanner and Google Flights to compare prices and find the best deals.

busy street 4534537 1280

Public Transportation

Sri Lanka’s public transportation system is affordable and extensive, with buses and trains being the most popular modes of transport. Buses connect virtually every corner of the island, while trains offer a more comfortable and scenic journey, especially through the hill country. Be prepared for crowded buses and book train tickets in advance to secure a seat.

Budget Accommodation

Hostels and Guesthouses

Sri Lanka has a growing number of hostels and guesthouses catering to budget travelers. These accommodations offer affordable dormitory-style or private rooms, often with communal facilities and a friendly atmosphere. Examples include Hangover Hostels in Colombo and Mirissa, and Ella Escapade Hostel in Ella.

Homestays provide an authentic and budget-friendly accommodation option in Sri Lanka. Staying with a local family not only offers insight into local customs and traditions but also allows you to enjoy delicious home-cooked meals. Websites like Airbnb and are great resources for finding and booking homestays across the country.

Budget Hotels

Budget hotels can also be found throughout Sri Lanka, offering basic but comfortable rooms at affordable prices. To get the best deals, consider booking your accommodation during the off-peak season or using booking websites like Agoda and to find special offers and discounts.

Sightseeing on a Budget

Ancient Cities

Sri Lanka’s ancient cities, such as Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, and Sigiriya, are a must-visit for history enthusiasts. While entrance fees can be pricey, you can save money by exploring the sites on a bicycle, which can be rented for a small fee. Additionally, the ancient city of Dambulla, home to the impressive Dambulla Cave Temple, is free to visit.

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Sri Lanka is blessed with a stunning coastline, and many of its beaches are free to visit. Relax on the golden sands of Unawatuna, Mirissa, or Arugam Bay, or explore the more secluded beaches of Tangalle and Nilaveli. For a unique experience, visit the stilt fishermen of Koggala and witness their traditional fishing technique.

National Parks

Sri Lanka is home to numerous national parks, offering opportunities to spot diverse wildlife such as elephants, leopards, and a wide variety of bird species. While park entrance fees and safari costs can add up, consider visiting lesser-known parks like Wasgamuwa or Lunugamvehera, which have lower fees and fewer tourists.

sri lanka 2726040 1280

Temples and Religious Sites

Many of Sri Lanka’s temples and religious sites can be visited for free or for a small donation. The sacred city of Kandy is home to the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, which houses the relic of the tooth of Buddha. While there is an entrance fee for the temple, you can explore the surrounding area and enjoy the serene atmosphere without entering the temple complex. In Colombo, the Gangaramaya Temple and the Seema Malaka Temple are must-visit sites that showcase Sri Lanka’s rich religious heritage.

Budget Dining

Street Food and Local Eateries

Sri Lanka’s street food scene is both delicious and affordable. Indulge in traditional treats like kottu roti (chopped flatbread stir-fried with vegetables and meat), hoppers (bowl-shaped pancakes), and samosas from street vendors and local eateries. These tasty snacks not only offer great value for money but also provide a taste of authentic Sri Lankan cuisine.

Rice and Curry

No trip to Sri Lanka is complete without trying the staple dish of rice and curry. This filling meal is available at most local eateries and can be enjoyed for just a few dollars. Don’t miss out on the flavorful curries made with local ingredients such as jackfruit, okra, and various types of fish.

Markets and Grocery Stores

Save money on dining out by purchasing groceries from local markets or supermarkets and preparing your own meals. This is especially convenient if you’re staying in a hostel, guesthouse, or homestay with shared kitchen facilities. Explore bustling markets like the Pettah Market in Colombo or the Kandy Central Market for fresh produce and spices.

Budget Entertainment

Cultural Performances

Sri Lanka has a rich cultural heritage, and attending a traditional dance or music performance is a great way to experience it. In Kandy, the Kandyan dance and drumming show is an affordable and entertaining evening activity. Similarly, the coastal town of Galle often hosts cultural shows and performances at its historic Dutch Galle Fort.

Sri Lanka’s vibrant festivals offer a unique insight into the country’s traditions and are often free to attend. The annual Esala Perahera in Kandy is a spectacular procession featuring traditional dancers, drummers, and adorned elephants. Other noteworthy festivals include the Hindu celebration of Thaipusam, the Buddhist Vesak Festival, and the Sinhalese and Tamil New Year celebrations.

Budget Shopping

Souvenir Shopping

When shopping for souvenirs, avoid the overpriced tourist shops and head to local markets and handicraft centers instead. Sri Lankan handicrafts, such as wood carvings, batik textiles, and handwoven baskets, make unique and affordable gifts. The Laksala handicraft shops, which are government-run, offer a wide range of souvenirs at fixed prices.

Tea Plantations

Sri Lanka is famous for its tea, and a visit to a tea plantation is a must for any budget traveler. Explore the lush tea estates in the hill country, such as those around Nuwara Eliya and Ella, and purchase high-quality tea at factory prices.

Sri Lanka is a diverse and captivating destination that offers a wealth of experiences for travelers on a budget. With its stunning landscapes, rich cultural heritage, and friendly locals, Sri Lanka is a must-visit destination for any budget traveler. By planning ahead and following the tips and recommendations in this budget travel guide, you can make the most of your Sri Lankan adventure without breaking the bank.

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Budget Travel in Sri Lanka: How Much Do You Need

By: Author Ruben Arribas

Posted on September 2, 2023

Categories Sri Lanka

Planning to visit Sri Lanka? We have been already writing about all the 50 best things to do in Sri Lanka . Today, we will write about budget travel in Sri Lanka. How much money do you need per day to explore the amazing beaches, surfing, and doing beautiful train journey?

Tourism is growing a lot in Sri Lanka comparing to my first trip in 2011. More tourists come to visit the place, prices are very affordable especially transportation, food and accommodation.

Read here 10 Most Instagrammable places in Sri Lanka and our favorite 25 Sri Lanka Tourist Spots !

Read here Sri Lanka Travel Tips , Colombo airport to Galle , Colombo airport to Negombo and   Colombo airport to city center

Table of Contents


Yes, it´s very safe to travel in Sri Lanka. The trains can be crowded and traffic is intense but it is easy to ask for directions and you can always find someone who can converse in English.

If you are a solo female traveling in Sri Lanka , it would be very wise to always be careful. As Rachel happened to ride alone with a guy in his car. The guy did not act normal, he was acting inappropriately and even went as far as trying to touch Rachel’s knees, it was really a weird moment for her in Sri Lanka. Everything was fine luckily!


You can read  Heymondo Vs Safetwing cheapest travel Insurance . You can get for  $135 USD  your  Heymondo   Travel Insurance  with Heymondo discount code  valid for 90 days. Read our full  Heymondo Travel Insurance Review

You can get  Safetywing Travel Insurance  for Digital Nomads valid for 28 days  Safetywing for $50 USD per month with kids until 10 years old included


The weather can be a little bit confusing in Sri Lanka. There are two monsoon seasons. So we can’t say exactly when could be the best time to travel to Sri Lanka. The temperature goes around 26-30 degrees and there is high humidity, depending on which part of the island. December to March would be the best time if you are visiting West and South Coast, and April to September for visiting the East Coast.

Click here to know more about the weather in Sri Lanka !


You can apply the ETA before your trip . Prices are around $20-40 USD for a month . We didn’t apply in advance and we paid $40 USD each for a month Visa on arrival in the airport.


You will find ATMs and office where you can exchange your money almost everywhere. The exchange rate is around $1 USD 160 Sri Lankan Rupees, and the ATM does not take commission to our card. Click the link to see the current exchange rate.


If you are work online like us, the connection in Sri Lanka works good. We can usually find stable internet connection and the data was very cheap , one of the cheapest that we found traveling around the world. We didn’t have any issue with internet in Sri Lanka unlike we usually had in the Philippines or Maldives .

Read here best Sri Lanka sim card and best  Sri Lanka eSim

You can find the cheapest Sri Lanka eSim with  Airalo Sri Lanka eSim prepaid  for  $7 USD with 1 GB  data valid for 7 days ( USING DISCOUNT CODE GAMINTRAVELER 10% ). For  $15 USD  with  3 GB  data valid for 30 days.

Holafly Sri Lanka eSim for less than $60 USD  if you use our code  GAMINTRAVELER  you will have unlimited internet for 30 days eSim in Sri Lanka for just  $2 USD  per day.


If you decide to eat street food and local restaurants, you will find meals starting from $1-3 USD. In local places we didn’t see so much variety at night, sometimes there are just a few options for dinner. Our favorite meal was Kothu, Hoppers, Vegetarian Rotis and as for dessert, Pineapple Curry was our favorite one.

Juices and fresh coconut were so delicious. Prices start from $1 USD and we loved the papaya juice with lime which was served for breakfast in most of the hotels that we stayed in Sri Lanka. Beers are cheap for $1 USD and you will find them in the liquor store, my favorite one was Lion beer and it was good!


You can get accommodation starting from $15-20 USD for a room in a guesthouse. Can you imagine if you are two of you traveling in Sri Lanka it will be $10 USD each.  If you are looking for budget accommodation in Sri Lanka you can also try AirBnB starting from $15 USD.



We mostly went to the beaches in our trip in Sri Lanka, so we almost didn’t pay for fees there. As Sri Lanka is becoming a place for many tourists to visit, there are more tours and fishermen in Unawatuna and the beaches around asking for payment when taking pictures, as well as using a rope swing.

Anyway small fees, in the Northern parts like Sirigiya cost $30 USD, and the entrance and the view are amazing. There are fees for visiting Elephant Sanctuaries and National Parks but don’t worry about that adding to your budget.

We did almost everything by ourselves. You can go for day tours with a local guide, diving, snorkeling and they usually cost around $20-30 per day with lunch included.


Transportation is incredibly cheap in Sri Lanka. Buses and train rides will cost you $3-5 USD for long distances. The most challenge thing is dealing with the tuk tuk drivers. They always try to hike up the prices especially with foreigners, just be calm if they do and ask around about how much is the usual price so you can avoid paying absurd prices for the ride.

Trains and buses are super crowded and som etimes you will have to go standing for a few minutes or a few hours like riding the bus from Ella to Matara. And also the famous train ride from Kandy to Ella.


Your travel budget in Sri Lanka can go easily for $20-30 USD per day including food, accommodation and transportation. If you are traveling as a couple like us, you can easily just split the accommodation.

The price for a small room in Sri Lanka isn’t as cheap as you can find in countries like Maldives ,  Cambodia ,  Vietnam ,  Laos , Thailand ,   Myanmar , and the Philippines in Southeast Asia. If you hire a tour/day trip or other activities such as diving, you will have to budget around $40 USD per day budget travel in Sri Lanka.

Feel free to use our links for discounts. Using our links will help us to continue with the maintenance of the website and it will not cost you anything. Thanks for the love guys

Read an itinerary to the East coast of Sri Lanka !

Read why Sri Lanka should be your next family vacation !

Happy Travels!

Ruben Arribas

About the Author : Ruben , co-founder of since 2014, is a seasoned traveler from Spain who has explored over 100 countries since 2009. Known for his extensive travel adventures across South America, Europe, the US, Australia, New Zealand, Asia, and Africa, Ruben combines his passion for adventurous yet sustainable living with his love for cycling, highlighted by his remarkable 5-month bicycle journey from Spain to Norway. He currently resides in Spain, where he continues to share his travel experiences alongside his partner, Rachel, and their son, Han.

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budget travel sri lanka

I went on a budget holiday to the Maldives, here's how I did it

  • Natasha Whitley, 28, went to the local islands where it is much cheaper to stay
  • READ MORE:  The cheapest and most expensive weeks to take a summer holiday 

A woman travelled to the Maldives on a budget and spent just £416 for a six-day holiday which included food, activities and a room overlooking the ocean.

Travel influencer Natasha Whitley, from Bournemouth, Dorset, had planned a trip to Sri Lanka and with the Maldives being just a 90-minute flight, she decided to make a stop there along the way.

Accommodation in the  Maldives , which is known for its sandy beaches and turquoise water, can cost up to £1,300 per night.

But instead of staying in the resort islands, the 28-year-old decided to stay in the local islands and was able to book a room overlooking the ocean for just £25 a night.

The local islands, which only opened to tourists in 2009, are less popular with tourists because  alcohol is banned and only certain beaches allow you to wear bikinis.

Natasha said: 'It had always been high on my bucket list but I never thought I would be able to afford it.


Flight to Sri Lanka via The Maldives: £905

Transport: £32 (four ferries and one speedboat)

Food: £95 (avg £7 per meal)

Swimming with sharks: £88

Deserted island trip: £28

Floating bar: £12

Miscellaneous: £28 (atm fees, souvenirs, airport storage)

Accommodation: £133

Total (without flights): £416 per person 

'Since I saw a TikTok about doing the Maldives on a budget, I googled it and looked at what hotels were costing and was shocked at how cheap it was.'

The pharmacist and her friend Kara Wildbur, 23, set off on their travels on April 1 and spent six days in the Maldives before heading to Sri Lanka, where they both are now.

They split their time between the islands of Thulusdhoo and Dhiffushi staying in two beautiful beach-front rooms at the Beach House by Sii Hotels and the Batutu Surf View Hotel.

Natasha said: 'Rooms on Thulusdhoo and Dhiffushi islands were around £30 a night for a room per person.

'Ferries and transport were also cheap so it was much more affordable than it looked.'

Natasha, who is also a content creator, and her friend took advantage of the cheaper prices and did lots of activities.

They went swimming with sharks for £88 and took a trip to a deserted island for £28, which both included jet ski rides.

They also paid a modest £12 each to take a trip to a floating bar, which is common on the local islands because they can't serve alcohol on land.

Natasha said: 'We went swimming with sharks and we got an excursion to visit a deserted island.

'We also took a jet ski ride and spotted dolphins, manta rays, stingrays, turtles and flying fish.

'There is no alcohol allowed due to religious reasons either, so we got a dinghy to a floating bar in the sea too.'

Food was also very affordable with a meal costing an average of £7 a day per person with breakfast included with their rooms.

The most expensive part of their trip were flights - from London to Malé and then Malé to Colombo - which came up to £905.

Natasha has also started running affordable group trips for solo travellers, and has trips planned to Iceland and Costa Rica.

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