Sri Lanka is one of my favourite countries in the world, and one that instantly captured my heart.
After two decades of internal conflict and a tsunami that killed tens of thousands, tourism is finally starting to pick back up in this beautiful country. Now, visitors have the opportunity to fall deeply in love with the islands’s laid-back beaches, stunning train rides, delicious cuisine, and welcoming locals. Sri Lanka is a fantastic place to travel through, whether you’re a backpacker on a shoestring budget or a luxury traveller in search of excellent value.
My best friend is Sri Lankan, so I grew up hearing stories of her homeland and seeing photos of the most beautiful tropical beaches. I couldn’t wait to visit. As soon as I booked my flight into the country, I was therefore pestering her for travel tips and advice, then taking everything she recommended on board so that I could plan the perfect Sri Lanka itinerary.
And did Sri Lanka meet my already-sky-high expectations? Did it ever!
Without a doubt, Sri Lanka has some of the most incredible natural landscapes I’ve ever seen and some of the friendliest people I’ve ever met. I built a deep bond with one family in particular, but that’s not unusual — every visitor to Sri Lanka seems to form a connection with the locals as they travel around. Whether it’s being invited to stay with a family in their home, being begged to play a spontaneous game of cricket, or being offered home-cooked food on yet another spectacular train journey, you’re going to feel so loved while you’re in this country.
And the fact that it’s inexpensive while offering great value for money? That’s just the cherry on the top.
I never felt like I was pushing my budget during my time in Sri Lanka and most things felt very affordable. Depending on where you’re flying in from, flights could be pricier due to the island’s location. But don’t let that scare you off, because once you land, you’ll find it to be one of the best value budget destinations in Asia.
What’s Included in this Article
This budget breakdown covers how much I spent on accommodation, transportation, activities, and food while I travelled around the country.
I’ve not included my flights into and out of Sri Lanka as this is going to vary significantly based on where you’ll be arriving from.
The amounts in this guide are listed in U.S. dollars, simply because the vast majority of my readers are from the U.S. but I also included some prices in Sri Lankan Rupees (LKR), as this is the local currency that you’ll be using within the country.
Okay — let’s get started!
How I Spent Two Weeks in Sri Lanka
To give some context to my budget breakdowns, I always like to share how long I spent in the country and where I visited. In Sri Lanka, I spent two weeks travelling in the southwest of the country. This is the region that offers up the vast majority of tourist attractions, so you’ll likely be hitting up all of the spots that I did.
Most visitors to Sri Lanka choose to circle the southwestern parts of the island in a clockwise direction. I, however, recommend doing the exact opposite. When you travel counter-clockwise, you’ll see all of the epic parts of Sri Lanka, but the transportation will be way less crowded. In particular, on the famous train between Kandy and Ella, you’ll have a much easier time getting tickets if you’re travelling in the opposite direction to everybody else. Tickets on this route sell out every single day, so having less competition makes for a less stressful trip and a higher chance that you won’t have to miss out and take the bus instead.
Here’s how I spent two weeks in Sri Lanka:
- Day 1: Colombo (A quick in-and-out! I didn’t love Colombo and minimised my time there)
- Day 2: Galle (I love Galle! Spend your time here wandering through the beautiful fort)
- Day 3: Galle (More wanderings, interspersed with shopping, tea-drinking, and admiring the architecture)
- Day 4: Mirissa (A hub for backpackers with epic beaches)
- Day 5: Mirissa (Take a surf class or kick back and relax on the sand)
- Day 6: Tangalle (Less overrun with tourists — this is another great beach)
- Day 7: Yalla National Park (Take a safari to see wild elephants and cheetahs!)
- Day 8: Yalla National Park (One safari is never enough, so venture out on another one!)
- Day 9: Ella (Hill country! One of my favourite parts of the country, surrounded by tea plantations)
- Day 10: Ella (Spend today hiking or touring a plantation)
- Day 11: Ella — train to Kandy (You must take this train while you’re in Sri Lanka!)
- Day 12: Kandy (Sri Lanka’s capital — worth a night to take a look around)
- Day 13: Sigiriya (Sri Lanka’s iconic rock fortress — a must-do!)
- Day 14: Sigirya – day trip to Dambulla (Take a day trip to Dambulla to see the cave temples)
- Day 15: Negombo (A beach town close to Colombo, but much nicer! Plus, the airport is right here)
- Day 16: Time to leave!
With that out of the way, let’s take a look now at how much you can expect all of this to cost.
The Cost of Accommodation in Sri Lanka
From my experience, the best accommodations options in Sri Lanka are Airbnbs or homestays, with the occasional hostel. Sri Lanka has a reputation for outstanding hospitality and you’ll encounter this especially in smaller, family-run stays.
When I stayed somewhere that was family-run, I always felt at ease—something that’s incredibly valuable as a solo female traveler. Not to mention, for only around $15 – $20 a night, you’re supporting a local family while getting a home-away-from home experience. On top of that, you still get your own clean, private room.
If you’re on a tight budget housesitting is a great option for free accommodation. This is where you’ll take care of somebody’s house while they’re away, and usually look after their pets, too. It’s best for long-term travellers or retirees as you can’t pick and choose dates and destinations, so you need to have a lot of flexibility as to where you go and at what time of year. If you do have that freedom, it’s a wonderful way to cut down your travel expenses, soak up some home comforts, and live like a local for a while. I have friends who have housesat in castles before! For free! Trusted Housesitters is the best site for getting started with housesitting, as they have the highest number of listings.
If you feel like luxing it out a bit more at a fancy hotel, it’s fairly easy to find something that’s still within a reasonable budget. You can stay at some pretty decadent hotels or private villas ranging from $50 – $100 per night.
Here’s a list of my favourite accommodation options in Sri Lanka:
Colombo — OYO MotelVIP ($22 a night): To start off your time in Sri Lanka, spend a night or two in the capital at this comfortable, clean and welcoming motel. It couldn’t be better value for money. Not only is the location great for travelers (you’re close to the beach and some good restaurants), but each standard double room is equipped with air conditioning, a flat-screen TV, a fridge, and a very comfortable mattress. This place hits the mark by being both budget-friendly and high quality. There’s a shared lounge, kitchen and garden for you to enjoy, plus the couple that owns it will thoughtfully respond to your requests and help you plan anything you need help with!
Galle — Khalid’s Guest House ($40 a night): For the price, location, and quality—you can’t get much better than this charming guest house! It’s a beautifully furnished hotel in a restored heritage building situated right in the centre of the historical Galle Fort. So you can wake up and easily explore the walled remains of the old Portugese fortress and all the quaint corners. Even better, a delicious breakfast is included in your stay, an added bonus to the clean and comfortable rooms. The host and his staff are also incredibly hospitable and can help arrange any tours or transport that you need.
Mirissa — D Canal House ($65 a night): This is a little piece of paradise in Mirissa! It’s a quiet and calm hotel located about a 10-15 minute walk from the main strip, but this tranquil oasis is worth it. The rooms and interior design are beautiful and comfortable. And on the outside, you’re basically surrounded by a jungle. You’ll quickly settle into the peace and joy of waking up to the sounds of birds singing around the lush ecosystem around you, enjoying a fresh Sri Lankan breakfast on your private balcony and getting some good R&R in by the gorgeous swimming pool. Nevertheless, if you want to go to the beach or into town, a free tuk tuk service to the main road is included in your stay!
Tangalle — Amour at Turtle Beach ($24 a night): After Mirissa, I made my way further along the coast to Tangalle, which is a little less touristy. And while I was there? I stayed in one of the best-rated guesthouses in the entire country! My double room was clean and spacious, and I was only a short walk to the beach. But it’s the local host family that lives behind this home that makes this place memorable and special. They never hesitated to make me feel at home, whether it was driving me to a nearby attraction or welcoming me to a family birthday dinner.
Ella — Happy Horizon Homestay ($15 – $20 a night): If you plan on taking the famous train ride from Ella to Kandy (you know the one where you see people leaning out of windows overlooking lush greenery), then Ella will definitely be a stop on your Sri Lanka trip. Equal parts serene, land-back and adventurous, Ella has no shortage of fun things to do. But you’ll also want to relax, and the Happy Horizon Homestay is the perfect place to do that. Here you’ll find gorgeous mountain views from the balcony and clean amenities. The family hosts are also incredibly welcoming and accommodating. They’ll help you with anything from tuk-tuk rides, to laundry to suggestions on what to see. Not to mention, they make the tastiest breakfast for you to enjoy along with the lush, scenic backdrop. Book at least a few nights here—you won’t regret it!
Kandy — Riverview Kandy Room 2 ($20 a night): I decided to stay in an Airbnb during my time in Kandy, and I’m so glad I stayed in this one. The location is a little outside Kandy’s city centre, but it’s not too far out to make it inaccessible. Besides, when you’re waking up to peace and tranquility along the river, it will feel like a little oasis after you’ve come back from exploring the city. Each room in this beautiful bungalow has its own private balcony and bathroom, so even though you share the kitchen, you’ll always have a feeling of privacy. The host is also incredibly friendly and will make you a fresh, local Sri Lankan breakfast during your stay. This airbnb truly felt like a home away from home—it’s no wonder I stayed for a week!
Sigiriya — Nice View Lodge ($19 a night): Sigiriya is a small town most known for the ancient rock fortress. One look at this giant rock and you’ll understand why Sigiriya means “Lions Rock”; it looks like something right out of “The Lion King”. You’ll likely only need a night in Sigiriya, but you should still stay somewhere memorable. Nice View Lodge is a well maintained property, featuring a terrace that looks onto gorgeous rice fields and gardens. It’s also located minutes away from Sigiriya rock. The relaxing environment and delicious food are just byproducts of the warm and friendly family that will arrange anything you need.
The Cost of Transportation in Sri Lanka
Transportation around Sri Lanka is very accessible and affordable. It’s also quite a small country, making it easy to get from place to place in a short amount of time. That being said, there’s really no need to fly domestically as there’s limited options, and it just doesn’t make sense logistically. Besides, it’s a beautiful country that’s worth seeing through ground transportation.
Here are the most common forms of transportation in Sri Lanka:
Tuk Tuk — Also known as auto rickshaws, tuk tuks are a common and economical way of getting around the various towns and cities in Sri Lanka. They’re basically everywhere and take the place of taxis.
The most important thing to be wary of is tuk tuk drivers that scam you into overpaying for a ride because you’re a tourist. Before going anywhere, talk to the locals that work at your accommodations about the average costs. Or better yet, ask if they have a reliable driver that they partner with to take you places. Then to avoid being scammed, negotiate a fair price with the driver before you get in. Even though all tuk tuks should travel according to their metre, this isn’t always the case.
If you want to hire a tuk tuk driver to take you around for the day, then an honest price would be around $15-$20 (3000 – 4000 LKR). And an average one-way ride should cost you around $0.18 (35 LKR) per kilometer.
You can also download PickMe, Sri Lanka’s version of Uber, to book a taxi or tuk tuk from your phone. This way, the cost is already calculated on the app. You can use PickMe in cities like Colombo or Kandy, but in smaller rural towns, you’ll have to hail them from the roads.
Train — A Sri Lankan train journey is like none other, especially the infamous Kandy to Ella route. Taking this iconic train ride is more about the experience than getting from point A to point B. However, the rail system in Sri Lanka runs throughout the entire country, so you’ll likely take it on more than one occasion.
Trains in Sri Lanka have three classes. First class is air conditioned and has numbered, cushioned seating. Second class has cushioned seats and no air conditioning, but the windows are usually always open. Third class has benches and might fit 3 people per row as opposed to two, but it’s not as bad as it sounds.
I took third class from Kandy to Ella and it surprisingly wasn’t that busy. I also found it more fun and was able to freely get up, move around and stand at the edge of the doors watching the tea plantations go by…not something you can do on most trains these days!
To give you an idea of costs, here are the prices for the Kandy to Ella (or Ella to Kandy) ride, which takes about 7 hours:
- First Class: $8.59 (1500 LKR)
- Second Class: $1.77 (310 LKR)
- Third Class: $1.00 (175 LKR)
As you can see, train travel is relatively affordable. At the end of the day, choose your ticket and class based on your comfort level and price range. And pro tip: if you want to be seated in first class, buy your train tickets at the station at least a day or two before your intended departure date. More popular routes will sell out quickly!
Buses — There are some instances where taking the train won’t be possible, or you may have to take a train and a bus. Busses are just as affordable as the train, but tend to be a bit more crowded and have less room for luggage. I took the bus a few times in Sri Lanka and never had a bad experience!
Expect to pay as little as $0.15 (30 LKR) for a short journey in the city or between neighbouring towns, and $1 – $2 (200-300 LKR) for a trip that takes several hours.
The Cost of Food in Sri Lanka
Local Sri Lankan food isn’t just cheap, it’s incredibly flavorful and appetizing. I’m literally just licking my lips right now thinking about the food I ate in Sri Lanka.
Of course, you have classic rice and curry dishes, but my favorite is probably Kottu Roti. This is made using shredded pieces of roti bread mixed with spices, vegetables, seafood, and/or meat. It’s then all chopped up together, stir-fried and tossed with hot sauce. You’ll quickly become familiar with this popular street food dish once you’re in Sri Lanka. The sound of intense metallic chopping will be heard from a mile away.
I was also pleasantly surprised by how good a typical Sri Lanka breakfast is, and looked forward to it every morning, especially when it was freshly prepared at a homestay. The star of this meal are the string hoppers, which resemble noodles made from rice flour. You take the hoppers with your hand and dip it with side dishes of coconut or onion sambal and dahl. Sometimes breakfast will also include egg hoppers (a thin fried pancake with an egg in the middle) or sweet roti pancakes.
Because breakfast is included with most accommodations, if you stick to local street food and shops, then you can easily go a day spending only around $7 (1400 LKR) for food. If you eat at western cafes or restaurants then you might spend around $30 (5852 LKR) per day.
I found a good mix between the two while I was there and usually spent around $15 (2926 LKR) per day if I ate one local meal and one more western meal.
The Cost of Activities and Entrance Fees in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka has plenty to do and see. And actually, I loved the variety of activities that were possible. From cooking classes to temples to hikes and surfing—there’s a lot of fun and adventure to be had in this country.
One of the more popular activities, and a personal highlight, was going to Sigiriya rock. But instead of climbing the rock itself, I would recommend hiking Pidurangala Rock because you get an epic view of Sigiriya rock from the top. Not to mention, it’s 1/10 of the cost.
I found that the middle of Sri Lanka was a great place to do hikes, cooking classes and safaris. On the other hand, the south is perfect for lazy beach days and water activities. I’m not much of a surfer, but I did indulge in a couple of surf lessons to learn the ropes a bit more. But if surfing is your jam, then the southern beaches will be right up your alley.
One of my favorite experiences was doing a cooking class while I was in Kandy. My guide took me to the market first to pick up our ingredients and then we cooked up about 7 Sri Lankan dishes from scratch. I love spending money on a cooking class because not only are you learning more about the traditions and culture of a place, but you also get to eat everything after!
Here’s a breakdown of some popular attractions in Sri Lanka and their respective costs:
- Sigiriya Rock / Pidurangala Rock: $30 / $3
- Surf Lessons: $7 – $23 per hour
- Scuba Diving: $55 for two dives
- Cooking Class (Kandy): $25
- Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic (Kandy): $7.69
- Nine Arch Bridge (Ella): FREE
- Little Adam’s Peak (Ella): FREE
- Elephant Safari (Udawalawe National Park): $75
If you’re like me, and love to make the most of time, then tours are a great way to experience a country. I recommend hopping over to Viator for a range of activities and tours, like Whale Watching in Mirissa ($50) or a Half-Day Safari at Yala National Park ($140).
The Cost of Miscellaneous Expenses in Sri Lanka
A local SIM card: I don’t know about you, but one of my least favourite aspects of arriving in a new country is having to figure out how to get connected. Specifically: buying a local SIM card so that I have data to use while I’m in the country.
There’s locating a store that will sell you one, language barriers to deal with, various forms of ID you might need to bring, scams to navigate, and… well, it’s a headache.
This year, I started using Airalo, which sells local e-SIM cards for travellers. What that means is that you can buy your SIM card online before you arrive in Sri Lanka, and then as soon as you land in the country, you can switch on your data and start using it. It’s worked flawlessly for me and now, I’ll never go back to physical SIM cards. You’ll pay $7 for 1 GB of data or $15 for 3 GB for Sri Lanka and can also top-up through the Airalo app.
Make sure you have an e-SIM compatible phone before purchasing — all recent iPhones and many Androids are.
Travel insurance: If you’ve read any other posts on Never Ending Footsteps, you’ll know that I’m a great believer in travelling with travel insurance. I’ve seen far too many Go Fund Me campaigns from destitute backpackers that are unexpectedly stranded in a foreign country after a scooter accident/being attacked/breaking a leg with no way of getting home or paying for their healthcare. These costs can quickly land you with a six-figure bill to pay at the end of it.
In short, if you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel.
Travel insurance will cover you if your flight is cancelled and you need to book a new one, if your luggage gets lost and you need to replace your belongings, if you suddenly get struck down by appendicitis and have to be hospitalised, or discover a family member has died and you need to get home immediately. If you fall seriously ill, your insurance will cover the costs to fly you home to receive medical treatment.
I use SafetyWing as my travel insurance provider, and recommend them for trips to Sri Lanka. Firstly, they’re one of the few companies out there who will actually cover you if you contract COVID-19. On top of that, they provide worldwide coverage, don’t require you to have a return ticket, and even allow you to buy coverage after you’ve left home. If you’re on a long-term trip, you can pay monthly instead of up-front, and can cancel at any time. Finally, they’re more affordable than the competition, and have a clear, easy-to-understand pricing structure, which is always appreciated.
With SafetyWing, you’ll pay $1.50 a day for travel insurance.
How Much Does it Cost to Travel in Sri Lanka?
It’s time to tally up all of my expenses to see my total travel costs!
- Accommodation: $15 per day
- Transportation: $5 per day
- Food: $15 per day
- Activities/Entrance Fees: $25 per day
Average amount spent in Sri Lanka: $60 a day!
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