Sri Lanka, for all its beauty and amazing travel opportunities, has been one of the most affordable countries I have had the pleasure of exploring.
If it’s not on your travel destination list yet then I strongly urge you to read this article to see why you should visit Sri Lanka and do it sooner rather than later.
It is possible to travel Sri Lanka on as little as US$10 a day and I have even heard of people doing it less than that. This way of travelling, while still providing amazing opportunities, left a lot of places and experiences out because of their cost.
The purpose of this article though is not to show you the cheapest way to travel Sri Lanka but rather let you experience everything you want to do, while still maintaining a low-budget.
If surfing, mountaintop sunrises, mouth-watering food, mingling with the friendliest locals and exploring ancient temples and ruins for less than $40 a day sounds like something you want to know more about then read on.
How to travel Sri Lanka on $40 a day or less and live it up.
The essentials when travelling any country usually fall into 5 categories: Accommodation, food, transport, activities and entertainment (drinks, parties and fun splurges).
I will break down each category and show you how to minimise each one without breaking the bank while still having a great time. Obviously you can choose to spend more in one and less in the other to suit your style of travel but that is the beauty of travel – it’s all up to you.
Note: All prices on this page will be quoted in Australian Dollars and Sri Lankan Rupees when the conversion rate was approximately Au$1 = LKR100. For readers from the USA and Canada each dollar was worth US$1 = LKR142 and CA$1 = LKR105. I’ll leave the conversions up to you.
Budget accommodation while you travel Sri Lanka should cost you no more than $18 a day at the higher end and free if you don’t mind sleeping on a couch.
- Private room in a guest house or hostel = $7 – $18. Depending on location and which towns you decide to stay at will determine what you pay. Staying on the beach will cost you more than if you stay a few blocks away. Sometimes though, that extra few dollars a night is worth it for the view you wake up to each day. Also sharing your room with friends will bring down the cost of the room.
- Bed in a dorm = $9 – $15. Usually the more people sharing a dorm will result in a cheaper bed. Factors like air conditioner, hot showers and breakfast will also raise the price. On average at the beginning of the peak season I paid about $12 for a dorm bed.
- Couchsurfing.com = Free. For anyone that hasn’t had the pleasure of Couch Surfing while travelling please give it a go. Not only is it free but it gives you a great insight into family life, customs and you get a locals perspective on the town you stay in rather than what the guidebooks and tourist offices suggest.
- Camping = $??? I didn’t actually camp while I was travelling in Sri Lanka but it seems there are a few nice spots to get out in nature, especially in the national parks. Here is a Comprehensive Guide to camping in Sri Lanka if you are interested. Let me know how it goes.
Approximate cost for accommodation in Sri Lanka = $12 per day (LKR1200).
YUUUMMMMM! One of my favourite categories when I travel any country and I was certainly not disappointed throughout Sri Lanka. You can get a full meal for as little as $1.90 and and splurge on some fresh seafood for $10-$15. I certainly had my favourites but be sure to mix things up and try different meals. It’s always fun when you are eating something that you have no idea what it is.
- Vegetable/fish/chicken rotti from street vendor = $0.50.
- Banana, peanut butter and chocolate rotti with ice cream = $2 – $3 (must try).
- Vegetable curry = $1.90 – $2.50
- Chicken and vegetable curry – $2.50 – $3.50 (most curries are buffet style so you can stuff yourself).
- Vegetable or chicken kottu = $1.90 – $3.50.
- Whole fresh fish with rice and salad = $10 – $15 depending on size of fish.
- 1.5 litre bottle of water = $0.75.
Approximate cost for food in Sri Lanka = $9 per day (LKR900) which includes 4 meals.
Transport costs while you travel Sri Lanka is where you will really get the bang for your buck. Obviously the slower you go the more economical it will be but Sri Lanka has been the lowest-cost country for transport that I have found.
While transport can sometimes be crowded, hot and very sweaty it all adds to the experience and you may even get lucky like we did and have a train carriage to yourself. This will be a rare occurrence though haha. Take it as it is, bring ear plugs to block out the incessant horns, be prepared for some crazy driving and you will actually grow to enjoy the chaos.
- 4 hour bus ride from Hatton to Colombo = $1.56.
- 5km tuk tuk ride = $2 – $4.
- 5 hour train from Kandy to Ella = $2.80.
- Scooter hire for the day = $4 – $7 depending on how many days you hire for.
Approximate cost for transport to travel Sri Lanka = $1.50 or less per day (LKR150).
There are 101 things to do in Sri Lanka and I certainly didn’t hold back when it came to entry prices and tours while I was in Sri Lanka. From mountain treks and surfing, to tea factory tours and elephant safaris I did them all.
Entry prices to national parks and tourist attractions are more expensive in Sri Lanka than other countries but if you space them out you can still keep your daily expenditure very low. This obviously depends on how much time you have but if you average 1-2 expensive tours/activities a week and chill or do free activities on the other days you will be surprised at how cheap it is.
Partnering up with a friend or other travellers to share the cost of hired jeeps, taxis and tuk tuks will really lower costs as well.
- Entry to Sigiriya Rock = $40.
- Entry to Pidurangala Rock = $5 (better option in my opinion).
- Entry to Kaudulla National Park = $23.
- Private jeep and driver for Elephant Safari = $40 (split between friends for savings).
- Climb Adam’s Peak for Sunrise = Free or donation.
- Surf board hire = $6 – $15 per day depending on how long you hire for.
- Private tuk tuk driver for the day to explore Kandy and surrounds = $25 (split with up to 3 people).
- Two tank scuba dive = $60 – $100.
Average cost for activities to travel Sri Lanka = $7 per day (LKR700).
This can be your biggest savings point or the most expensive depending on your personal preference when it comes to splurging while you travel Sri Lanka. I enjoy a cold beer and the odd party while I’m travelling so my entertainment expense is more than someone who doesn’t drink.
I also enjoy splurging on my meals every once in a while as well so I’m happy to drop $15 on a nice fresh seafood dinner. They key, like all things in life, is balance. If you have a big night or an expensive dinner then it’s back to cheap food and relaxing for the next few days to make up for it (easy to do with a hangover haha).
- Large beer from liquor store = $2.
- Large beer from restaurant/bar = $3 – $4 or $2.50 during happy hour.
- Cocktail = $6 or $2.50 during happy hour.
- Death by chocolate cake = $5.50.
- 1 hour massage = $30.
Now you can obviously do this at a much lower-cost but to allow for a good time while you travel Sri Lanka let’s allow an average expense for entertainment and luxury times of $10 per day (LKR1000).
Total average daily cost to travel Sri Lanka and live it up = $39.50 (LKR3950).
More tips for budget travel in Sri Lanka.
- Share a room with 2 or 3 people to split room costs. They will happily bring another mattress in for your friends.
- Split tuk tuks rides with up to 3 people.
- Don’t drink every day – save it for the fun nights and weekends.
- Hire boards and scooters for a week to minimise daily cost.
- Always bargain down the first price on clothing, tuk tuks, taxis, market produce, accommodation and car hire but don’t be so stingy you insult them. Agree on a good deal for you and for them.
- Use couchsurfing.com for accommodation.
- Don’t book hostels and guest houses online as it is more expensive.
- Agree on a price before accepting a tuk tuk ride.
- Use a metered tuk tuk when going a short distance but agree on a price for longer trips. After 1km the rate increases significantly.
- Combo up board hire, scooter hire and accommodation from the one place to negotiate a better deal.
- Have your friends hire at the same time as you to negotiate a better deal as well.
- Stay a few blocks back from the beach for cheaper accommodation.
- Travel on overnight buses or trains to save on accommodation.
- If you don’t want to eat breakfast ask for a discount on the room price.
- SLOW DOWN! It’s not a race. Take your time while exploring this beautiful country and your costs will lower significantly.
Now you see it’s easy to live it up and have the time of your life in Sri Lanka while hardly making a dent on your savings. Find out what works for you and how you want to travel.
If you want to spend more on accommodation and less on partying – go for it. If you don’t mind sleeping on a mattress on the floor but want to eat and drink your way around the country – go for it. Find your routine and balance and have a great time.
Most Importantly book a flight to Sri Lanka now and go and explore this beautiful gem of an Island in the Indian Ocean.