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

Note from Editors: In view of the current situation, please avoid all unnecessary travel and try to stay home. Don’t worry, like all things, it will end at some point and you’ll be able to travel again. In the meantime, check out what you can do while staying at home.

Advantages of traveling in Sri Lanka

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.

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 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.

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

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.

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 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.
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 traveling 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.


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.

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest
Share on linkedin
Share on reddit
Share on whatsapp
Share on email
Agness Walewinder
Agness Walewinder
Travel freak, vagabond, photography passionate, blogger, life enthusiast, backpacker, adventure hunter and endless energy couchsurfer living by the rule "Pack lite, travel far and live long!"
Do you want to contribute?
Publish your guest post on Etramping!
Share on facebook
Share on pinterest
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on reddit
Share on whatsapp
Share on email
Share on print

47 thoughts on “Sri Lanka Budget Travel Guide: $20 a Day or Less”

  1. Nicola Rawstron

    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!

    1. Agness Walewinder

      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.

  2. 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!

  3. 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!

    1. Agness Walewinder

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

  4. 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.

  5. 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,

  6. Lakshmi Priya Pampati

    My dad visited Sri Lanka for a business trip and he could only visit few beaches. He regrets that he couldn’t explore more. I think I can take him for an amazing trip now, thanks!

  7. Well this sounds pretty cheap, not near as cheap as India, where I traveled for 6 weeks on around $10 a day.. I was eating Samosas for $.05! Only 3 of those to feel full, and the Thali was around $.60 – $1.00! I was there just last year but already missing those prices.. Will be checking out Sri Lanka soon!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *