Budget Travel – Sri Lanka
We have been able to do so many things in Sri Lanka! We went sightseeing, visited temples, climbed mountains, surfed and even explored two ship wreck sites underwater. Most importantly though we did this without blowing our budget. As a matter of fact we found Sri Lanka to be approximately the same as India or Nepal when it comes to cost of travelling. Below is a useful summary of how much things cost here so that you can budget better if you ever deicide to visit Sri Lanka.
During our stay in Sri Lanka we resided in a number of different cities and towns including Colombo which is the capital of Sri Lanka, Kandy and Ella both in central region as well as Mirissa and Hikkaduwa which are beach towns located in the south west. Prices provided in the following sections are averages and might vary slightly from place to place.
First good news is that Sri Lanka seems to be slightly ahead with card payments and unlike in India and Nepal we saw “We accept VISA” signs on most of the shops and more established restaurants. Having said that, cash is by far the most popular way of paying for goods and services. Taking out cash from ATMs, once again, appeared like a reasonable way to go as ATMs are widely available not only in major cities but in smaller towns as well.
We have been pleased to find out larger quantities of cash can be withdrawn in one go compared to Nepal and India which both had limits of somewhere around £100 – £150 worth of cash. In Sri Lanka the highest we’ve withdrawn from an ATM was 80,000 LKR which is around £350 (official exchange rate at the time of writing is around 226 LKR/ 1 GBP). This meant fewer transactions and less fees as the best option we have got at the moment is a card which charges a flat £1.5 fee for each withdrawal.
Really similar situation to India, although I have to admit tuk-tuks here are much cleaner and most drivers speak decent English which makes tuk-tuk journeys that extra bit easier. Prices we aimed for were around 100 LKR per 1 km maximum. Be prepared to bargain and really stand your ground as you will hear some convincing stories about “local” prices and “difficult” routes.
Bus – traveling by bus in Sri Lanka is reasonably simple as most buses have destination names written on them. Fares are a lot cheaper than tuk-tuk or taxi, but slightly more expensive and less comfortable than trains. We took a bus from Mirissa to Hikkaduwa (30miles distance) and paid 200 LKR per person. Colombo International Airport to Colombo centre (Route 187) is slightly more expensive considering the short distance and costs 200 LKR per person. Your alternative for airport transfer is a private taxi which is a fixed $25 or something stupid.
Apart from airport services, do these even exist in Sri Lanka?
Super simple, reasonably comfortable if you get a seat (and if your train does not break down!) and really cheap. Tickets can be bought directly from the ticket counters without passports, visas and other nonsense. Fares are as follows:
From Colombo to Mirissa 2nd Class – 280LKR per person
From Hikkaduwa to Colombo 2nd Class – 210 LKR per person
From Colombo to Kandy 2nd Class – 460 LKR per person
From Ella to Colombo 1st / 2nd / 3rd Class – 1500 LKR / 750 LKR / 500 LKR per person. This is a 9 hour journey!
From Kandy to Ella 1st Class (with seat reservation) – 1500 LKR per person. Note that number of tickets in 1st class is very limited and due to popularity of this route tickets have to be bought at least a couple of days in advance.
The only last piece of advice I would give to anyone travelling (2nd or 3rd class) by train is arrive to the station early (at least 30-45min before scheduled departure) as this will increase the chances of getting a seat. Local snacks/food and cold drinks can be purchased from vendors on most trains.
Sri Lanka is relatively small so you are unlikely to require to take any domestic flights.
As mentioned before prices might vary slightly from place to place but averages for common types of accommodation are as follows:
Budget Hotel Room with Private Bathroom – 1500 LKR to 3000 LKR
Budget Room (non-AC) at a homestay – 1200 LKR to 2000 LKR
Hostel – we only stayed at a hostel once and it was in Colombo. We paid 1000 LKR per bed. From our experience, for travelling couples opting for a hostel instead of a private room at a homestay saves barely anything. Hostels are a much more compelling option for single travellers.
Food and Drink
Eating out in Sri Lanka is really affordable although your money can go even further if you do what we did which was to grab some toast and eggs from the shop, some fruit or vegetables from the market and make your own breakfast or dinner.
Meal at a restaurant (budget to mid-range) – 400 LKR to 1500 LKR
Soft drink at a restaurant (fresh juice, coke, etc.) – 150 LKR to 300 LKR
Coffee (latte, americano, cappuccino, etc.) – 300 LKR to 450 LKR
Beer from a bar/restaurant – 250 LKR to 450 LKR
Beer from a liquor store (500 ml can of local) – 160 LKR
Bottle of water (1.5l) – 80 LKR
Bottle of water (1l) – 70 LKR
Avocado – 80 LKR to 100 LKR each
Coconut – 60 LKR to 100 LKR each
Watermelon – 100 LKR per 1kg (approx.)
Bananas – 100 LKR per 1kg (approx.)
Pineapple – 100 LKR per 1kg (approx.)
We spent quite a lot of time relaxing in beaches and enjoying the nature of Sri Lanka instead of visiting museums. We have read some touristy places are quite expensive ($30+) though. Below I have included prices of a couple of fun things to do.
Surfboard hire – 200 LKR to 500 LKR per 1 hour
Snorkelling equipment hire – 100 LKR to 200 LKR per 1 hour
Diving – 75$ or 13000 LKR per 2 fun dives, same price for Discover Scuba
Open Water certification with PADI – $325 to $375
Advanced Open Water certification with PADI – $300 to $325
e-visa issued for 30 days (1-2 day processing time) – $35
Motorbike hire – 1000 LKR per day. Motorbike can be picked up in the morning and returned in the evening. Fuel is not included in this price.
Travelling in Sri Lanka is very affordable. It is actually cheaper than we expected. As a budget traveller you can get by with 5000 LKR per day per person for the basics (£25 / €30 / $35). Having someone to share a room with would obviously result in economies of scale. As a matter of fact Kristina and I rarely spent more than 7000 LKR (approx. £32) per day.
As an example, a 2-week trip to Sri Lanka from the UK for 1 person would look something like this (insurance is not included).
Total – £955 or around £70 per day all included.
* Other attractions (2 fun dives + 10 hrs surfing as an example) – £70
** Flights, similarly to insurance will depend on season, airline and location where you are flying from. It is difficult to predict the true cost, but for the purpose of this example I have included £500 for a return flight from the UK.