Sri Lanka Budget Travel Guide: $20 a Day or Less

Advantages of travelling in Sri Lanka

We have a great news for all budget travellers who are heading to Sri Lanka: it is a very cheap country (the cheapest we have ever travelled to so far and some people say it is even cheaper than India). It offers a lot, not only for solo backpackers, travel couples, holiday makers, but also for families with kids.

The incredible view from Yala National Park

The incredible view in Yala National Park

This country should be called the “Budget Travellers’s Paradise” instead of the “Tear-drop of India”. Why? There are plenty of reasons for this:

1) Sri Lanka is a very affordable country to travel through so you can do lots of new things (diving, snorkeling, elephant riding, experience safari, trekking) without a lot of money.

2) The scenery is stunning and you will be blown away by gold beaches, beautiful mountains, tropical forests or the variety of wildlife in Yala National Park.

Sri Lankan beach

This is one of the beaches we went to on our way back from Galle to Colombo

3) Sri Lankan cuisine- sweet and extremely spicy you might want to cry at some point. There are plenty of local restaurants from where you can buy some samosas, curry and rice, Sri Lankan dumplings, roti, hoppers or other traditional Sri Lankan meals. The food is very delicious and you can discover new flavours.

Sri Lankan cookies

If you don’t like spicy food, you can go for some cakes, pastries and cookies instead.

4) People are amazingly hospitable– when locals see backpackers and budget travellers they don’t try to rip you off. The prices might be increased for obvious reasons, but it doesn’t differ much from what locals pay for the food or accommodation. People are not pushy, they try to help you and they keep smiling.

Sri Lankan family

The family who hosted us at their home for one day in Pinnawala.

5) Travelling is trouble free– there is an easy access to any mean of transport you want to travel by, people speak very good English and Sri Lanka itself can be explored within a few days.

Disadvantages of travelling in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka can be perceived as a very overcrowded country (not as bad as India or China though) and you can see/feel it when getting into a train (push people hard or catch another train). Moreover, the country is very polluted and dirty.

Colombo Train Station

Just look what happens when the train is coming. Colombo train station.


Sri Lanka for $20 a day (based on our itinerary)

Budget: $20 per day= 2602.000 Sri Lankan rupees

Currency: Sri Lankan rupees ($1- 129 LKR)

Duration of stay: 7 days

Places visited: Colombo (2 days)—> Pinnawala ( 2 days)—>Ella and Yala National Park (1 day)—> Galle+ random beaches on our way (2 days)—> Colombo International Airport

Transport: Local buses (to travel inside the cities, never paid more than $0.50 per ride) and trains (to get from one province to another, never paid more than $1,20) + tuk tuk (rushing to the airport, $1)

Accommodation: Guesthouses, hostels (minimim of $8 and maximum of $15 per two) + 1 night hosted by Sri Lankan family (free)

Attractions: Elephant riding ($30 per person) and elephant bathing ($1 tip for the staff) + photo with a cobra ($15 per person)+ Safari experience at Yala National Park ($30)

Food: Local street food and dining out in local restaurants (maximum of $3 per person)

Additional expenses: Tips for locals ($4 in total) and souvenirs ($3)

Sri Lanka money

Sri Lankan rupees for those who are not familiar with the currency


Prices and expenses in different places

We have noticed that the prices differed depending on the place we stayed. For example:

Colombo– prices of food and accommodation were much higher in the city centre (obviously), but once we went outside the city the prices dropped by 40%. Colombo was very crowdy and the traffic was terrific.

Sri Lankan bus

Fabulous bus design in Colombo

Pinnawala was expensive in terms of attractions. You can’t bargain much as it is a very touristy place where you can see elephants and ride them, so locals ask you for tips and it’s hard not to buy a small souvenir at the market. The food and accommodation is cheaper than in Colombo though.

 

Watching elephants bath, Pinnawala, Sri Lanka

Watching elephants bath

Yala National Park was as expensive as the elephant riding. The safari experience costed us $30 per person (entrance ticket, 5 hours in the park, jeep rental and tips for the driver included), but it was absolutely worth it! The accommodation was the cheapest we have ever paid for in Sri Lanka, so we were still able to stick to the budget without any problems.

 

Yala National Park, Sri Lanka

Yala National Park

Galle and random beaches– we didn’t dine out in restaurants in Galle. The prices of food were way too high at the seaside areas . We did some shopping in supermarkets instead. The food served in restaurants was 5 times more expensive than in Colombo. We had our meals either in a park or in a hotel room.

Galle beach locals

Locals in Galle


Prices of food

We had three meals per day and two snacks drinking a lot of bottled water all the time and we never paid more than $5 per person a day. You can get a free rice with your curry and rice meal and one dish is more than enough for one person to feel full. As long as you eat Sri Lankan food you don’t need to worry about the money.

Sri Lankan curry and rice

Rice and curry for $3

  • A proper curry meal for two with a bowl of vegetables, fish and meat- $3
  • Samosas- $0.25 per one
  • Take away ham and cheese sandwich- $0.25
  • A bottle of water 1,5L – $0.5

 More expensive stuff:

  • Branded chocolate bars such as snickers, mars were much more expensive than local sweets and chocolate
  • Coconuts sold at the beach are up to 10 times more expensive than sold on the street
  • The prices of European products such as peanut butter, cereal and packed nuts were also very high

The coolest restaurant entrance we have ever seen, Pinnawala

The coolest restaurant entrance we have ever seen, Pinnawala


Transport fees

There are two cheap ways to travel in Sri Lanka:

1) Buses– great idea to buy a bus ticket, tell the driver where you want to go and he will give you a shout when you get where you want. We were charged the local prices and we didn’t have to haggle at all. Buses are often overcrowded so we had to stay for a few hours, so you can meet many people and talk to them.

Things to know:

  • There are two types of buses: ones with air conditioning (more expensive) and ones without (cheaper). Ask the driver what bus it is before you get in.

Sri Lankan bus

The bus with air conditioning

2) Trains– trains are very slow, but cheap. If someone tells you that you will get somewhere in 3 hours, it means you will be there in 7 or 10 hours (keep that in mind). There are 3 classes on the train, but there was no difference between class 2 or 3 apart from the fact class 2 tickets were more expensive.

Sri Lankan train

Train from Pinnawala to Ella

Things to know:

  • People will push you to get into a train, so push them back and be quick (no mercy)!
  • Some train staff will try to sell you more expensive train tickets (it happened to the travellers we met on the train who were ripped off and paid 10 times more than we paid), so ask a local person for the price and ask the staff for receipt.
  • Most of the trains are overcrowded, so don’t be surprise when you have to sit on the ground
  • The trains are very slow, so take a book with you, you might read it all before you arrive at your train station.
  • The toilets are very bad.
  • Don’t forget to take some photos, the scenery you will see when passing by is lovely!
  • Don’t carry too much food with you. There are restaurants and small shops on the trains so you can buy some snacks and sandwiches.

 

Colombo train station many people

People waiting for the train at Colombo train station.

Sri Lankan scenery from the train

The beautiful scenery seen from the window

The prices of tickets we paid:

Colombo—> Pinnawala 3rd class: $0.90

Pinnawala—> Ella 3rd class: $1

Alternatively, you can take a tuk tuk (rickshaw) if you are in rush, but don’t forget to bargain hard before you get in. Tuk tuks are good for short distance rides, but much more expensive than buses or trains.

Tuk Tuks in Colombo

Tuk Tuks in Colombo

 

Prices of Accommodation

There are two options to choose from when travelling in Sri Lanka on the cheap:

1) Hostels/guesthouses

There are plenty of them, you just need to look around and ask some locals for direction. The prices vary from $8-$30 per double room (we didn’t spend more than $15 per two a night). Most of the rooms are clean with towels provided.

Room in Galle

Our room in Galle

2) Couchsurfing– there are plenty of Sri Lankan people who would love to host you (we had no time to do so).

Shopping in Sri Lanka

We are not big fans of shopping, but we did spend a few $ for some souvenirs. We bought a wallet with an elephant on and some bracelets to our collection for a total price of $3. Pinnawala is a great place to buy some bags, jewellery or postcards. You will be surrounded by markets, shops and souvenir stands.

Elephant figurines, Sri Lanka

Elephant figurines


Internet fees

We could get Wi-Fi connection only in 1 hostel, so we had to go to Internet [email protected] and paid between $0.50 to $0.70 per 60 minutes. Unfortunately, you won’t get any discounts if you surf the Internet for 5 hours straight.

Summary

Sri Lanka can be a super cheap destination as long as you don’t overspend on the attractions and avoid touristy spots when looking for accommodation. With a good plan and determination you can easily spend less than $15 per day and still have a lot of fun and… photos!

Chilling out at Yala National Park

Chilling out

More photos of beautiful Sri Lanka can be seen in our gallery.

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{ 50 comments… add one }
  • Christine | Grrrl Traveler October 25, 2012, 1:42 pm

    I didn’t know they had different currency from India… duh. lol.

    Wow, the touristy stuff costs a bit, eh? And the accommodations are around the same as India. Not sure if I can handle dirtier toilets than India though. I contemplated taking a trip out there when I was in India but was short on time & didn’t know much about the place. Thanks for sharing the info!

    Reply
    • Agness October 25, 2012, 2:03 pm

      Yeah, the currency is different and in general Sri Lanka is a very unique place so it’s worth going there even if you have already been to India. The prices are higher win touristy places :-/ but it’s cheap anyway :)

      Reply
    • Matt at LivingIF.com November 11, 2012, 9:54 pm

      Sri Lanka is so much cleaner than India I can’t even begin to tell you. Litter is comparatively rare, public toilets are cleaned regularly, and hotel rooms are for people, not bugs. Having come from India we were blown away by the cleanliness, organization and friendliness (not just people selling things) of Sri Lanka.

      Reply
      • Agness November 12, 2012, 7:38 am

        That’s great Matt. We have never been to India, but we can imagine how dirty it is as Sri Lanka wasn’t the cleanest country.

  • ardun October 25, 2012, 1:54 pm

    Fantastic and informative Agness! You make me want to pack up and go. Brilliant photos too!

    Reply
    • Agness October 25, 2012, 2:04 pm

      Pack your backpack then and Go go go! ;-)

      Reply
  • Erik October 27, 2012, 7:01 am

    I’ve been reading a lot about Sri Lanka recently on the blogosphere. I saw it referred to as “India lite” last week. Seems like, from what I keep reading, that it is that way.

    Reply
    • Agness October 27, 2012, 9:18 am

      Some people call it the “Tear-drop” of India as well. It’s kinda true. The food is very similar to Indian cuisine and people look nearly the same, but their culture and scenery is unique.

      Reply
  • Irina October 27, 2012, 6:51 pm

    I love how detailed you guys are about prices, accommodation, etc. I found it very useful! From what I noticed, bloggers rarely talk about prices, but that’s exactly what readers are often looking for online.
    Also, every time I read or hear personal accounts about SL, they are mostly negative: too dirty, nothing to really look at, sometimes even dangerous to just walk on the streets… Seems like you are either did not experience this, or are just REALLY positive people and don’t see it that way :)))

    Reply
    • Agness October 27, 2012, 7:25 pm

      Thanks Irina! We are going to talk more about the prices, because people think that travelling is super expensive. It can be as cheap or as expensive as you want it to be. Sri Lanka is a wonderful place with nice food, generous and friendly people and breath-taking scenery. We fell in love with it. It is dirty indeed, but we are in Asia helllo not in New York City or Hollywood :)

      Reply
  • Rika | Cubicle Throwdown October 27, 2012, 7:38 pm

    Love this post – I haven’t read much about anyone traveling to Sri Lanka so this was really interesting for me! I am always happy to see people doing detailed budgeting too!

    Reply
    • Agness October 28, 2012, 11:36 am

      Thanks Rika. We will be focusing more on details right now and prices :)

      Reply
  • Matt at LivingIF.com November 11, 2012, 9:45 pm

    We did four months in India then one in Sri Lanka. India cost us (two people) $39.83 USD per day versus $32.26 USD in Sri Lanka. The best part was that accommodation, food and comforts are way higher in Sri Lanka than India. Thanks for sharing all these details, you can check out our Sri Lanka Travel Guide (http://www.livingif.com/destinations/sri-lanka/) to see what it cost us to visit other parts of the island.

    Reply
    • Agness November 12, 2012, 7:42 am

      Thanks Matt for sharing. 4 months in India? That’s great. You need to tell us more about your adventures. Good to hear India is much cheaper, we are going there maybe next year.I’m just checking out your site for more info.

      Reply
  • Noelfy January 18, 2013, 7:50 am

    Hello Guys!
    What I didn’t find in the price ticket to Colombo.
    From where and how much did you pay?

    Reply
    • Agness January 18, 2013, 10:38 am

      You mean flight tickets to Colombo? We were flying from Bangkok to Colombo and the we paid $120 for return ticket a person.

      Reply
  • Dilan February 4, 2013, 3:20 am

    Okay, not trying to be rude here or ruin the whole positive vibe, but we did have a very long war( 27+ years). Most of the money obviously went towards the war and not infrastructure and the upkeep of cleaning the country. So just keep that in mind, now with the post war boom things will change and hopefully we can be like Singapore some day again. :)

    Reply
    • Agness February 4, 2013, 9:00 am

      Hey Dilan. Thanks a lot for sharing. We have heard about the war before but we didn’t realize that was the major reason of Sri Lanka being so polluted and dirty. Of course we will keep that in mind :).

      Reply
  • david February 25, 2013, 12:18 pm

    Colombo is much cleaner than other places in south asia ,yeah its true its still not world class ,take a look at this thread

    http://www.skyscrapercity.com/showthread.php?t=393643&page=62

    Reply
    • Agness February 26, 2013, 9:49 am

      Just check the forum out. Nice photos, very impressive.

      Reply
  • indeewara April 4, 2013, 12:31 pm

    cheaper internet in sri lanka
    1. if you have cracked dongle bring it along and buy a local data sim card

    Reply
  • indeewara April 4, 2013, 12:42 pm

    Internet in sri lanka
    1. If you have a password cracked dongle bring it along and buy a local SIM card to surf using your laptop (you can buy a dongle for about 4000 Rs)
    a. Popular networks in Sri Lanka
    i. Dialog – God Coverage all over the country , SIM will cost around 500 Rs less than 5$ 3 GB data package around 800 Rs per month (with tax) less than 8$ then onwards speed limit still fast enough for blogger and FB, not fast enough for youtube
    ii. Etisalat – God coverage in major cities and suburb, SIM around 500 10 GB data package around 1300 (with tax) Rs less than 13 $ charge from then onwards
    iii. Mobitel – more or less the same but coverage is limited
    iv. Airtel – coverage is limited
    v. Hutch – coverage is limited

    Reply
    • Cez Krol April 7, 2013, 2:43 am

      Thank you Indeewara! Your info is a great addition to this article and I’m sure many people will benefit from it!

      Reply
  • Melanie June 29, 2013, 2:34 am

    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!

    Reply
  • RYAN August 14, 2013, 4:53 am

    OH MA GODDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDD…….THIS SAYS SRI LANKA IS DIRTY ….HOW COME SRI LANKA is SO CLEAR LIKE A EUROPEAN COUNRY >>>>>IS N LIKE A| INDIA >>>>>>>>S RI LANKA is the best country in south asia

    Reply
  • Alyson November 14, 2013, 12:32 am

    Well that’s encouraging! I’ve been trying to find cheap accommodation online for HOURS, and found nothing much under $70/ night ( for our family, 2 small kids) which is really, really expensive by Asian standards. Most certainly the most expensive online prices we’ve seen yet. I expect that, as always, prices are lower on the ground, it’s just reassuring to have 1 night booked in advance when you’re travelling with kids. It’s 10 years since we are in Sri Lanka, I was wondering what had happened to the prices! We’re just going to turn up and wing it I think. Sri Lanka is one of my favourite countries, I can’t wait to show the kids.

    Reply
  • Megan January 3, 2014, 5:10 pm

    I’m trying to plan a trip to Sri Lanka right now and this post was perfect and exactly what I was looking for. :) Looks like you had an awesome time there and I can’t wait to see it all for myself. :)

    Reply
    • Agness Walewinder January 5, 2014, 3:32 am

      Great to hear that. Hope you’ll have an awesome time!

      Reply
  • Kim January 4, 2014, 3:18 am

    We are hoping to spend a few days in Sri Lanka in the next 2 weeks. Any specific hostels or hotels you could recommend would be wonderful. Approximately $40 – $45US a night would be our Very top end. Less is always better of course but a clean room and bathroom is important to us.
    Thanks,
    Kim

    Reply
  • Liina February 10, 2014, 10:02 am

    Hey guys. This is a great great thing you are doing here. I was looking for price comparisons for Sri Lanka and your site was the first one I found. Im planning to go there in a few months and was thinking wether to go there to do some volunteer project or to go as a backpacker. It seemes that its not so expencive to go there as a BP. What year did you write this? And do you think the prices have gone up ever since? Keep up the good work and my best regards to you from Estonia :)

    Reply
    • Agness Walewinder February 17, 2014, 1:36 am

      Hey! We went there like a year ago so the prices should be the same. In general Sri Lanka has been always a cheap travel destination, so I don’t think you would struggle with a tight budget nowadays.

      Reply
  • Nasa March 8, 2014, 3:53 pm

    Hi..This was great help and knowledge…Thanks
    I shall be traveling solo to SL last week..looking for companion…any body interested..??

    Reply
  • Mahesh May 7, 2014, 4:13 am

    Hi guys,
    Found a place in Central Colombo that makes this possible! It was brand new and super cheap. Only $12 for the night right in the city center! Manager was great and he was just so much fun! They let me use the pool table for free. I hope it stays this way. Apparently the owners are backpackers themselves. Check them out – Backpack Lanka http://www.backpacklanka.com They are on Agoda too which is how i found them.

    Reply
  • Donald Davidson May 25, 2014, 2:04 pm

    Was in Sri Lanka last month. Now I am in India. Compared to India, Sri Lanka is like New York. But that is just relatively :-) . In reality, Sri Lanaka is very dirty, polluted and there isn’t much to see here anyway. I don’t think you can blame in the civil war, since that was in the north and east. Colombo is more like a little version of Bombay, u get everything you see in India but on a smaller scale.. If you want to enjoy SL, get the hell out of Colombo. There are some nice beaches down south (Unawatuna is not bad). Arugam bay is also pretty good. We went to Vilpattu national part and say leapords and spectacled bears and also a famaily of mongooses with super cute mongoose pups (which I would say was the highlight of my trip).
    You should also try the lical iiquor (arrack). The after effects are horrendous, but u should try it anyway :-).

    Reply
    • Agness Walewinder May 26, 2014, 1:23 am

      Hi Donald,

      I have not been to India yet, so I can’t compare, but I am so glad to hear you enjoyed your trip. I fell in love with Sri Lanka!!

      Reply
  • Nicola Rawstron June 18, 2014, 5:37 am

    Hi; I found your blog very helpful. We are going to Sri Lanka in 3 weeks with two young children, so my experience will probably be slightly different and more expensive! We would like to do things mostly on the cheap though!! I have found a driver/guide who is highly recommended by some friends, but he is wanting 70 dollars a day!! and we will use him for 15!! Is this worth doing as we have 2 children to consider?? I know you used buses/trains mostly, but is this advisable with kids etc?? We are starting off in Negombo, working our way to Elephant place, archelology place/Nilaueli Beach, tea plantation and will end in Galle/Marrissa.
    Many thanks for any advice!

    Reply
    • Agness Walewinder June 18, 2014, 7:04 am

      Hi Nicola. I’m so happy to hear that! Thanks a lot for leaving a comment. I would wait with booking a driver/guide. In my opinion, it’s a waste of money. Sri Lanka is safe and small and you can do everything on your own !! :) Tuk tuk and trains would be a great option for all of your family.

      Reply
  • Macy June 26, 2014, 6:37 pm

    Wow this is a very informative entry. I’ve been planning my trip to Sri Lanka and trying to get to know how much budget I need to bring. Well it seems its really cheap. Thanks a lot for sharing!

    Reply
    • Agness Walewinder June 27, 2014, 12:53 am

      Thanks a lot!

      Reply
  • Jack August 3, 2014, 12:53 pm

    Hey Agness, great read!

    Just booked to head to Colombo at the beginning of September – is there any particular area of the city you’d recommend staying in? Can’t seem to find many recommendations online!

    Reply
    • Agness Walewinder August 4, 2014, 6:57 pm

      We recommend Clock Inn Colombo. It’s located in the heart of Galle Road, Colombo. Great location and cheap prices! :) Enjoy your stay!!!

      Reply
      • Jack Oldham August 5, 2014, 5:40 am

        Thanks! I’ll be sure to look into it!

  • Christine February 19, 2015, 11:01 am

    Great post! I’m wondering what company you used to book your safari, I can’t seem to find anything online other than the camping trips which run $400+ per night! Thanks in advance.

    Reply
    • Lauren December 14, 2015, 2:02 pm

      i have this same question!! where do you find these cheap safaris? all i see are $400 ones!

      Reply
  • sri.lpsc May 15, 2015, 4:26 pm

    Hi, I am Sri Lankan 36 old single, Electrical engineer. I love nature travelling and nature photography as well, If some one plan to visit island as backpacker, sure I will join with you. please contact me via ([email protected]) or sms to +94778545780
    good luck,
    lpsc

    Reply

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