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traveling in sri lanka

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 expenses in the country to give you an idea of what costs to expect when you budget for a trip to Sri Lanka.

Overall, it has been one of the cheapest countries I’ve been to and it is possible to travel the country on $20 – $30 per person a day (on a shoestring), or around $50 per person per day in nicer accommodations. Read on for the full breakdown of food, transportation, sightseeing, accommodation and other costs.Sri Lanka

Visa

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. The visa is valid for 30 days, if you’re planning to stay longer, you’ll have to get an extension in Colombo, which is LKR3,600 /US$25 (make sure to have a passport photo on you for that).sri lanka talpe beach

Accommodation

This will be your biggest expense, 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.

As for higher end accommodation, I found some nice hotels with swimming pool and breakfast for LKR5,000-6,000(US$35-41), and really nice hotels, like the Cinnamon Hotels around the island, often offer special rates starting at LKR7,000 (US$49) during the low season (expect this to double in the high season).hikkaduwa beach cinnamon infinity poolI didn’t sleep in dorms but a dorm bed was usually around LKR800 (US$5.50). It definitely pays off to check hotel booking websites like Booking.com for special deals in the places you’re planning to visit. Through Booking.com, I found a nice boutique hotel in Colombo for $50 a night (for two people), and a great deal for a gorgeous hotel in Polonnaruwa for $29 a night including breakfast. luxury hotel

Food & Drinks

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.

Generally, you can expect to pay around LKR270 (US$1.88) for an espresso and LKR350 – 400 (US$2.40-2.80) for a cafe latte or cappuccino. Of course there are also the cheap roadside coffee vendors or the guys that walk through the trains with a big thermos, selling a brown liquid for 10 rupees (US$0.07), but I wouldn’t call that coffee 😉Sri Lanka foodIf you prefer to stick to western food (why would you though, because Sri Lankan food is seriously addictive!), there are some western chains like Pizza Hut and KFC, and you can find sandwiches, burgers and pizza in the beach towns. Western meals are between LKR600 and 1000 (US$4.16 -7.00). You can splurge on fine dining in places – often, the nicer hotels have on-site restaurants, and there you pay upwards of LKR1,000 (US$7.00) for a dish. Snacks are super cheap – local chocolate is LKR50 – 100 ($US0.35-0.70), a bag of cashew nuts is LKR120 (US$0.85), peanuts are LKR50 (US$0.35), and little fried lentil balls or donuts are 10 rupees (US$0.07). A vegetarian roti (a dough triangle filled with vegetables – basically like a samosa, but not deep-fried) is 40 rupees (less than US$0.30) and big enough to serve as a full meal – cheapest lunch ever! A bottle of water (1.5 liters) is LKR60 – 70 (US$0.40-0.50), and since the tab water in Sri Lanka is not drinkable, you’ll have to budget for at least one bottle per day.jaffna fruit stallAlcohol

A 625ml bottle of local Lion beer can be as cheap as LKR250 (US$1.75), but can cost you up to LKR600 (US$4.15) in nicer establishments. I usually paid LKR300 (US$2.10). Cocktails are more expensive – about LKR400 to 500 (US$2.80 – 3.50) along the beaches and LKR800 to 1000 (US$5.50 – 7.00) in the nicer bars of Colombo.reefs edge hotel beach beers 

Transportation

Transportation is some of the cheapest I’ve ever taken anywhere in the world – I still can’t believe that a 7-hour train ride cost me a mere LKR230 ($1.60) in 2nd class! While I wouldn’t opt for 3rd class (those are the cheapest tickets but the carts are often overcrowded), I think 2nd class is perfectly fine and there’s no need to pay for 1st class, which is about 1000 rupees per ride and essentially the ‘tourist cars’. I will share more about that when I write about my Sri Lankan train adventures which deserve a post o their own. I usually paid LKR190 (US$1.30) for a train ticket, the cheapest one was the 1 hour ride from Ella to Badulla which cost me 40 rupees (just under 30 cents).train ride to badulla with nine arches bridge tunnelLong distance buses are a bit more expensive but still cheap by western standards – expect to pay around LKR80 (US$0.55) for a 1-hour ride. The most expensive ride was a 4-hour trip from Kandy to Polonnaruwa at 150 rupees ($1.05) Tuktuks range anywhere from 50 rupees to 600 rupees (or more, if you go really far in them), always negotiate before you get in.

The price they quote you is usually higher than what they’re supposed to charge you, so try to haggle. As a rule of thumb: anything up to 3 kilometers shouldn’t be more than 100 rupees, but the more touristy the area, the higher the prices the drivers charge.kandy tuktuks 

Sightseeing

Tourist attractions are the most expensive category: Sri Lanka offers its heritage sites and national parks at a steep price, unproportionally higher than anything else that’s sold at deflated tourist pieces. Tourists don’t pay double or tenfold what locals pay, they pay around 40 times the local price. An example: Sri Lankans pay LKR50 (US$0.35) to enter Yala National Park, foreigners pay more than 2000 rupees (US$14).Sri Lanka tours The ancient cities in the north are LKR3,250 (US$22.50) each, and a half day safari in a National Park comes to US$40 with the vehicle, park entrance and a guide, but you’ll most likely get quoted a higher price. For our jeep in Yala we paid LKR4,000 (US$27.70) between four people and admission was around LKR2,500 (US$17.30) (it gets cheaper the more people are in a group). You can rent bikes for the day to get around the ancient cities which cost LKR200 to 300 US$1.40-2.10). Prices for other fun activities: A whale watching tour will cost you around LKR6,000 (US$41.75), a dive is around US$30, surf lessons are around US$40, cooking classes start at LKR3,000 (US$21). mirissa surfer

Other expenses

Other expenses 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

Local SIM card

Make sure to grab your free local SIM card right when you make your way through immigration at the airport. Dialog, one of the fastest 3G networks in the country, offers free SIM card at immigration – just ask for one and they’ll give it to you. I personally used mobitel and paid 399 rupees for a 4GB data package. If you add another 100 rupees for call time credit, that should last you a while (if you only use your phone to call guest houses etc).Sri Lanka

Some notes on money and ATMs

There are ATMs everywhere, at least one in each town, no matter how small it is. And cash is king – it was rare that I was able to pay anything with a credit card, so prepare and make sure you’ll always have enough cash on you, especially when you visit national parks and UNESCO sites – the only place I was able to use my card at was Yala National Park. Seylan Bank has a maximum withdrawal of only 10,000 rupees, so if you pay fees for cash withdrawals abroad, make sure to avoid this one. Commercial Bank lets you take out at least up to 20,000 rupees, if not more. Sampath Bank lets you take out at least 30,000 rupees at once.Sri Lanka

Tipping

Most places automatically add a service charge to the bill, so double-check before you tip if they’re already including it.

Per day breakdown

As you can see, Sri Lanka is very affordable – not as cheap as India, but you can get by on an average $30 a day, if you stay in budget accommodation and don’t take expensive tours every day. A beach day with accommodation, two full meals, coffee, snacks and drinks at night in a beach town would cost me around $25, but on days when I visited one of the UNESCO sites, my daily expenses could easily add up to $50. Trail Wallet Sri Lanka Budget

As usual, I used the TrailWallet app to track my expenses.

 

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27 Comments

    1. Highly recommend Sri Lanka, Karolina! It’s such a fantastic country, I am dying to go back! The food alone is worth it 🙂

    1. Ivy – happy to hear that you’re using TrailWallet, too 🙂 It’s the easiest way to keep track of my spending in each country 😀

    1. Thanks, Victoria 🙂 I loved Sri Lanka so much – am dying to go back! Lots of people call it a ‘light version of India’. I hope I’ll get to go back soon. And that you make it there soon, too 🙂

  1. Dani, Thanks so much for such an informative post! Lots of great tips. I’m looking into a solo trip this summer and am most curious about mid-budget solo female travel experiences. You didn’t mention any major safety tips or thoughts (aside from the obvious). Any pointers to that end that you may have left off of your blog? Thank you!

    1. Oh I felt very safe in Sri Lanka as a female traveler! I was only traveling by myself for a few days, then with another girl, but we were never harassed and I also felt less scared about being robbed there, compared to South America for example. I hope you’ll have the same great experience that I had traveling in Sri Lanka, Amber! Enjoy 🙂

  2. Hi Dani
    Thank you for your post. It was exactly what I was looking for. Perfect. Can’t wait to get there, only 10 days to go.
    🙂

  3. Next time you are coming here, use one of our Tuk-Tuk to tour Sri Lanka.
    It is cheap and very fun and you can meet local people.
    Contactme at ceylontusker.com

  4. This was very enlightening, Dani! I’ve been becoming increasingly curious about Sri Lanka, and I appreciate the details you provided regarding costs. I may have to check out that post about the trains. 🙂

    1. Thanks so much! I hope you’ll get to go to Sri Lanka soon, I loved it so much. Yeah that train post is yet to be published :O

  5. Hi Dani,
    Thanks for the great information! We are thinking about going to Sri Lanka in November/December. Do you know anything about traveling there at that time of year? Based on your article, it looks like you were there at the beginning of this year. We are just a bit concerned about weather due to the monsoons – but it seems like there is some rain somewhere all year round!
    Thanks,
    Elizabeth

    1. Hi Elizabeth, I did actually go in November and stayed until mid-December. My friend who stayed a bit longer told me that it got quite rainy on the West Coast during the last week she was there but I know that the weather can vary quite drastically on different sides of the island. But even if the monsoon hits while you’re there, that means 2 hours of heavy rains and you should be good for the rest of the day. But while I was there (early Nov until 17 Dec) the weather was wonderful!! Enjoy Sri Lanka, it’s one of my favorite countries!! 🙂

  6. hi dani.
    can you please advise which is better, to get tour package from travel agency or to make our own itinerary.
    We want to go to sigriya, elephant orphanage, tea plantation, minnery safari. Is it accessible for the transportation (train or bus or jeep)

  7. Hi Dani,

    Were you travelling as a solo female in Sri Lanka? I am planning to go in Jan but reading mixed reviews on safety as a female traveller.

    1. Hi, yes I was traveling solo at times, and at times with another female… as two blondes. I have to say that when I was by myself, I never got harassed, and the two of us never had any problems either. I know that Kristin of BeMyTravelMuse also traveled solo in Sri Lanka, and I think she didn’t have any problems either. I found India much more challenging as a female traveler; in Sri Lanka I never felt unsafe.

  8. You are absolutely awesome!!! I love getting a breakdown on costs as I travel generally on the cheap. Flying to Sri Lanka in a couple of days from Oman where I’ve spent 6 weeks., which is not the cheapest country so looking forward to a cheaper place again.

  9. Great Post. we are in India right now and are planning a trip to Sri Lanka. This gives us a few ideas of what to see and do.

  10. 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?

    1. 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!

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