The island of Sri Lanka is fast becoming one of the most popular destinations for a budget backpacking trip in Southeast Asia. It is a beautiful island with tonnes of golden beaches, quaint coastal towns and stunning mountain scenery. As well as being a brilliant country to visit, it is also ridiculously cheap. It is so easy to travel Sri Lanka on a budget and yes we really did spend a month here for less than $500 each. Find out exactly how we did it!
If you are organising a trip here, read our complete Sri Lanka itinerary to help plan your route.
While we definitely did it about as cheap as humanly possible, we never felt like we missed out on anything we wanted to do. We surfed several times, went on a safari at Yala National Park and rented scooters almost everywhere we went. Just because you are travelling on a budget doesn’t mean you have to miss out on all the cool things to see and do in a country. You might have to make a few sacrifices though.
Total Sri Lanka Budget
$466 USD per person / 28 days spent in Sri Lanka = $16.64 USD each day
We saw loads of budget guides quoting $30 – $50 USD a day and in our minds $50 a day is not really budget travel. We could live like kings for that sort of money. Our daily expenses ended up being an average of only $16.64 USD per person. Now that’s cheap. It is important to keep in mind that we travelled as a couple but most of this advice still applies to solo travellers. Check out how we managed to travel Sri Lanka on a budget.
The currency here is the Sri Lankan Rupee and can be written as either LKR or Rps. At the time of writing this $1USD = 176LKR. ATM’s are available when you arrive in the airport and we found they were available almost everywhere when we travelled across Sri Lanka.
Budget Breakdown – Average Costs
Accommodation: 1200 – 2600LKR ($7 – $14.73 USD) per night for a private double room
Food: 110 – 500LKR ($0.62 – $2.83 USD) per meal
Water 1L: 70LKR ($0.40 USD)
Transport: 30 – 300LKR ($0.17 – $1.70 USD)
Beer: 200 – 400LKR ($1.13 – $2.26 USD) per large bottle
Safari: 6500LKR ($36.74 USD) per person
Surfboard Rental: 250 – 500LKR ($1.41 – $2.82 USD) per hour
SIM Card: 650LKR ($3.67 USD) for 9GB of data
Laundry: 350 – 400LKR ($1.98 – $2.26 USD) per kilo
Here is where you will either save the most money or spend the most money on your trip. If you are truly trying to backpack on a budget, then it is easy to find private accommodation for around 1750LKR ($10 USD) a night anywhere in Sri Lanka. This is for a private room that sleeps two people, meaning you can pay on average $5.00 a night each. That is crazy cheap. Most of the time this will even include a private bathroom, although some bathrooms will be shared. We even managed to stay for a night in Kandy, in a private double room, for 800LKR ($4.53 USD) for both of us.
The hard part for most people is that you can only get a fan room for this sort of money and it will most likely have a cold shower. If you want air conditioning, then you can expect to pay at least double the price of a fan room. I find myself melting in the heat everywhere we go but I must say, staying in a fan room really wasn’t that bad. Most nights were quite comfortable and I was able to manage a good night’s sleep. If you are willing to skip the A/C, you are well on your way to saving a boatload of cash.
Food and Drinks
So far on our Asia travels, Sri Lanka has been both the cheapest and easiest place to eat. The Sri Lankan cuisine is sensational. Rice and curry is an absolute staple for the locals and should be for your trip as well. If you mainly stick to hole in the wall restaurants you will find that not only is the food very cheap but that it tastes absolutely delicious as well.
When we say cheap hole in the wall we really mean it. Look for a place full of locals instead of tourists, that has plastic furniture and that you could probably walk by quite easily without noticing. Eating in places like this should cost on average 250LKR ($1.42 USD) per meal.
You can pay anything up to and over 1000LKR ($5.67 USD) per meal in a fancy restaurant but this is totally unnecessary. The food served at the local restaurants will taste just as good if not better and offer a much more authentic experience.
It can be quite easy to get sick of eating the same meals over and over again but the great thing about rice and curry is that it is the house choice each night. This means even though theoretically you order the same meal every night, it will always be a different variation. If you decide to go for some western food you can expect this to cost at least 1000LKR ($5.67 USD) per meal, hence why eating local is the best way to go.
Across our month in Sri Lanka we drank very little alcohol. There isn’t too much of a party scene here anyway which made this quite easy. While the cost per beer doesn’t seem like much, (200 – 400LKR ($1.13 – $2.26 USD) per large bottle), it can quickly add up if you are knocking back a couple with dinner every night.
The public bus and train services here are actually quite good and the cost will fit perfectly with your Sri Lanka backpacking budget. Public busses are quite frequent and are the main way to travel around the island. The bus journeys are dirt cheap – often less than 60LKR ($0.35 USD) for an hour’s journey – and are definitely an experience you should have here. The local buses typically play loud music, are excessively decorated, and aren’t typically air conditioned. The bus drivers in Sri Lanka are crazy and the busses themselves are often packed full! There was never an issue taking our backpacks on the bus, even when it was busy as there is a space next to the driver where you can leave your bags.
The train doesn’t service the entire country but it does cover some of the main routes you will take, including the beautiful train ride through the mountains from Ella to Kandy, as well as from Colombo to Unawatuna. Train tickets cost just a couple of dollars and offer some of the best scenic views in the country.
Hiring private drivers and taking long tuk tuk journeys are a sure fire way of driving up your Sri Lanka travel budget. It may take a little longer but taking public transport everywhere will save you a lot of money across your entire trip.
To be honest we didn’t really do many expensive activities in Sri Lanka which definitely helped keep our budget down. This was more due to the fact that most of the good stuff here involves hanging out at palm tree lined beaches, snorkelling with turtles and exploring the crazy landscapes. The one thing we did “splurge” on was a safari at Yala National Park. This cost us 6500LKR per person ($36.74 USD) for a full day out on a safari which is great value for money. You should easily be able to afford this anyway with all the money you’ll be saving!
Surfing is a huge reason why the country has become so popular so we made sure to head out and catch some waves. We found the cheapest place to surf was in Weligama, near Mirissa. Surfboard rental was just 250LKR ($1.41 USD) per hour from directly on the beach. In the more popular spots like Hiriketiya Beach you can expect to pay 500LKR per hour ($2.82 USD) but this won’t exactly break the bank either.
One of the most expensive activities in Sri Lanka is Sigiriya Rock. The entrance fee here is $35 USD and we had heard from loads of travellers that it just wasn’t worth it. This price is nuts when compared to the cost of everything else here. If you want an amazing Sigiriya Rock experience on a budget, consider hiking Pidurangala Rock instead. The entrance fee here is just 500LKR ($2.82 USD) and offers an incredible sunrise view of Sigiriya.
- Stay in fan rooms – Staying in rooms with no air conditioning will half your cost of accommodation. This is the biggest single thing you can do to save money.
- Get breakfast included – try and find homestays with breakfast included.
- Eat simple breakfasts – If you can’t get it included then eat simple breakfasts like yoghurt or fruit which is cheap and readily available. Western breakfasts can be expensive to have in a restaurant.
- Find accommodation with Booking.com – The price is often cheaper when booking online rather than direct, which is the opposite to what you might expect. Some places even told us to book online rather than book direct as they wouldn’t match the price we found on Booking.com.
- Eat local – Eat in local, hole in the wall style restaurants. They offer great food at a cheap price.
- Share meals – The portion sizes in most restaurants are huge. If you order rice and curry add a side of roti and this will easily fill two people. Even though meals are cheap the savings you can make from sharing will add up over time.
- Drink less beer – All the drinks can add up quickly. If you are looking to travel on the cheap cut back on the beers.
- Take public transport – Private transport and tuk tuk rides cost a fortune compared to the local transport. Take the train or ride the bus wherever possible.
- Use the PickMe app – The app offers much cheaper tuk tuk and taxi rides although it is only available in the larger cities. It is a great way to get from the airport to your accommodation in Colombo.
- Negotiate on price – Whether it’s a place to stay, a tuk tuk ride or buying clothes, the prices in Sri Lanka are almost always negotiable. Try and find out from the owner of your homestay what you can expect to pay for local fares so you don’t get ripped off.
- Get Travel Insurance – Getting covered by travel insurance may seem like a big expense when you buy it but it could save you loads of money if something goes wrong. Our pick for the best travel insurers is World Nomads.
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The Budget Mindset
Having a mindset that is always focused on a budget is one of the best pieces of advice that we can give you. Every little decision that you make to save money all adds up to help you reduce the travel budget of your Sri Lanka trip. It can be easy to rationalise spending that little bit extra each time but this is what really pumps up your costs.
Always be willing to stay in the cheap room, walk places instead of taking a tuk tuk and embrace the cold shower to cool you down after a long day in the sun. Trying to always pick the cheap option creates this budget mindset and this is what will help you to travel Sri Lanka on a budget.
Sri Lanka Visa
In order to legally enter the country for more than two days, most nationalities will need to get a visa. While you can get a visa on arrival it is much easier to apply online before you go. You can apply for a tourist visa here. This visa applies to most nationalities and allows double entry to Sri Lanka for 1 month. They have now started offering this tourist visa for free for most countries in an attempt to help revive tourism.
Is Sri Lanka Cheap?
YES! If you are looking for a destination that you can really enjoy on a budget, Sri Lanka should be at the top of your list. Not only is it an incredibly beautiful country with a diverse culture but it is super cheap! We scrimped and saved and did it almost as cheap as possible but even if you don’t want to go to the extremes that we did you can still travel Sri Lanka on a budget and not spend too much money.
In other countries we have found that certain things are very cheap while other stuff can be quite expensive. The great thing about Sri Lanka is that everything here is cheap. Accommodation, food, transport and activities all cost very little.
Spending less than $500 per person for a month here is something we are pretty proud of and we didn’t feel like we missed out on anything. Did you manage to do it even cheaper? We’d love to hear your costs while travelling Sri Lanka on a budget. Let us know in the comments if you did it cheaper or if you have any other great travel tips to help save money!
*Please note, prices are a reflection of our experiences while traveling Sri Lanka in March 2019 and are subject to change. Prices quoted in LKR were the exact prices we paid and USD conversions are listed for your convenience.