Having lived in Sri Lanka on and off for the past 8 years, I am usually the source of all Sri Lanka tips and tricks for my friends and family planning a trip to the island. When it comes to Sri Lanka travel budget, I always say that Sri Lanka can be as cheap or as expensive as you want it to be.
You can go around the country by public transport, eat rice and curry, and rent cheap rooms as long as a bed and a shower is all you need to survive. Or you can hire a car with a driver, frequent chef-driven restaurants, and book hotel suites with an assigned butler who will draw your bath every morning (true story!). The choice is yours.
Sri Lanka is definitely not the cheapest travel destination, especially when you compare it to popular Southeast Asian countries like India or Thailand. But if you are coming from the Western part of the world, the prices will pleasantly surprise you.
This great guest post is written by Yulia from That’s What She Had.You can read more about Yulia and her blog at the end of this post.
So let’s get to it! How expensive is it to travel in Sri Lanka?
The rate I am using in the article is USD$1 = 180 Sri Lankan rupees.
Transport costs in Sri Lanka
In my opinion, the best way to see Sri Lanka is by traveling from one city to another and staying at each place for 2-4 days. I know of many travelers who book a hotel room at the beach for 2 weeks and then take day trips to some of the most popular attractions. Not only it is hard to see the country this way — many amazing places are too far from the beaches on the Southern coast to be included on a day trip — but it’s very tiring as well.
I always recommend to travel from city to city for the first 7 to 10 days and then spend the last few days relaxing on the beach. So how does one travel around the island? You have several options. The cheapest way is by public transport: buses and trains.
Buses in Sri Lanka
Regular buses in Sri Lanka are mostly used by locals and occasional budget travelers. They are dirt-cheap: you will pay only a few dollars to cross the whole country from end to end. Mind you, there are no assigned seats in these buses, and you might even have to stand the whole duration of the ride.
Upscale buses with comfortable seats and AC run only to a few destinations, for example from Colombo to Jaffna and from Colombo to Galle. They will cost you $4-7, but you are sure to get a seat.
Trains in Sri Lanka
Trains are my favorite means of transportation around the island. They are comfortable (not European-style comfortable, but quite good nevertheless), fast and cheap. You can choose between observation compartment, first, second, and third class. Observation compartment and first class compartment provide assigned seats. Second and third class cars don’t have assigned seats and, just like in case with buses, you might have to stand the whole way.
To give you an idea, a train ride from Colombo to Jaffna (the longest ride you can do on the island) will cost you $8.50 if you choose observation compartment and $1.50 if you choose third class.
Another option is to hire a car with a local driver. I wouldn’t recommend driving yourself, as chaos reigns on the roads of Sri Lanka and driving is extremely stressful even for locals, let alone foreigners. Hiring a car with a driver will cost you $45 per day. Check the prices and availability of the cars in Sri Lanka here.
What to pack for Sri Lanka? Something to spend money on?
If you are travelling all around the island, I’d recommend packing some warm clothes like sweaters and jackets, as well as beachwear. Once you reach hill country in the middle of the island, the temperatures drop to 10-15°C. You’ll need a good rain jacket as drizzling rain and fog are common in the mountains.
Make sure to pack a shawl and a long skirt to be able to enter temples — your shoulders and knees should be covered.
I also suggest to get sunscreen before the trip, as cosmetics in Sri Lanka are expensive.
Accommodation prices in Sri Lanka
As I mentioned before, you can find a hotel for any taste in Sri Lanka.
Food prices in Sri Lanka: how expensive are meals in Sri Lanka?
When it comes to traditional Sri Lankan food, you can plan to spend as little as $2 per meal if you go for local joints serving rice and curry or fried rice. That price will go up 2-3 times if you are having lunch/dinner at a restaurant located in a touristy town. As a rule of thumb, I’d plan to spend $7-8 per meal given that you go for roti, kottu, or rice and curry.
At the oceanfront restaurants along the coast, freshly-caught seafood dishes will set you back $15-20. Cocktails are usually priced at $8-10.
Breakfast at an upscale hotel costs around $13-15 (you can often reserve a table even if you are not staying at the hotel).
There are also high-end restaurants, like Ministry of Crab in Colombo, where a meal for two can easily cost $100.
Sightseeing prices in Sri Lanka: landmarks and activities
Sightseeing in Sri Lanka is not overly expensive. The most pricy attraction — Sigiriya Rock — will set you back $36.
Entrance to temples is usually free unless it’s a big tourist attraction like Kandy Temple of the Tooth Relic where the entrance is $10.
The entrance to Royal Botanical Gardens is $15.
Horton Plains National Park is $10
Whale watching (day trip) is $50.
Other prices in Sri Lanka: shopping
Once again, shopping expenses depend on the kind of souvenirs you are looking for. You can buy cheap magnets/masks/bijouterie at touristy gift shops and spend just a couple of dollars. Or you can go for handcrafted batiks, hand loomed clothes, fine china, and the famous Sri Lankan sapphires.
One of my favorite gift shops in Sri Lanka is called Barefoot (you can find it in Colombo and Galle). They only sell locally produced items that include designer clothes, books by Sri Lankan authors, and even furniture made by local artisans. I really love their fashion line and have bought Barefoot dresses and sarongs for $30-40.
You can find good locally made cosmetics at Spa Ceylon shops. Prices for their products like creams, shower gels, and shampoos run from $10 up.
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Whether you choose to travel on a budget or have a luxurious trip
This great post about the cost of travel in Sri Lanka & Sri Lanka travel budget is written by:
That’s What She Had
Yulia is the She in That’s What She Had, a blog about food with no recipes and no reviews. She is a Russian girl who starts a research of a new country by Googling “What to eat in…” instead of “What to do in…”, doesn’t mind staying in line for cronut under pouring rain for hours, and reads on the history of pecan pie before trying one. She hopes one day you’ll visit a place she recommended and order what she had.