We have a great news for all budget travelers 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.
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.
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.
4) People are amazingly hospitable– when locals see backpackers and budget travelers 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.
5) Traveling 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 traveling 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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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
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.
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.
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 travelers 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.
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.
Prices of Accommodation
There are two options to choose from when traveling in Sri Lanka on the cheap:
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.
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.
We could get Wi-Fi connection only in 1 hostel, so we had to go to Internet c@fes 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.
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!
More photos of beautiful Sri Lanka can be seen in our gallery.