For most people, a trip to Sri Lanka the experience of a lifetime.
There is so much to do, see and appreciate. Chances are that you’ll leave the country with a heart full of memories that you’ll treasure for the rest of your life.
And fortunately, these treasures will not cost you the earth. That is because Sri Lanka is one of the most inexpensive destinations you could travel to. But of course, this is provided you know where to go and how much to pay. That’s what this post is all about.
We called this post ‘Sri Lanka Backpacking Budget’. But of course, there isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ solution – not even for all backpackers.
Everybody’s budget will be different because it depends on when they travel, where they travel to, how long they stay and what they do while they’re there.
So in this post, we’ll give you some basic guidelines that will help you get a rough idea of what your backpacking budget for Sri Lanka should be.
With that said, let’s get cracking!
First up, let’s talk about visas.
Nationals from most countries, except Singapore, Maldives and Seychelles, are required to obtain an Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) when visiting Sri Lanka.
This can be done online and there is usually a fee of $20.
You can also apply for your ETA upon arrival. at the Colombo International Airport. But this will cost you an additional $5 (making it $25 in total).
However, for many reasons, we recommend that you obtain your ETA before travelling to Sri Lanka.
Be sure to apply directly at the Sri Lankan Government’s visa website at http://www.eta.gov.lk/slvisa/. Going through agents and third-party websites will cost you more.
Note: The Sri Lankan Government has implemented a waiver of ETA-fees with regard to nationals of certain countries, including India, Malaysia, China, the U.S. Canada, the U.K. the EU etc. can obtain their ETAs free of charge. This scheme runs from 01.08.2019 to 31.01.2020. Visit http://www.eta.gov.lk/slvisa/ for more details.
Food and Drink
Next up, we have food and drink.
Food and drink are relatively cheap in Sri Lanka, provided you stick mostly to Sri Lankan food.
Although you may never have tasted Sri Lankan food before, most people find out that they actually love it!
With most of the staples such as rice and curry, koththu roti, dosai, hoppers and string hoppers being major hits with first-time visitors, there’s plenty to choose from. And, you can easily one of these filling meals for about $1 – $3 (LKR 150-550).
You won’t have any trouble finding food like this anywhere in the country since it’s what the locals eat. But this does mean that you have to eat where the locals eat.
It’s one of Sri Lanka’s particular quirks that most local eateries and food halls are referred to as ‘hotels’ by the locals. These are usually ‘cheap and cheerful’ restaurants that cater to the locals.
You can find Western and other types of food at the more up-market cafes and restaurants in some towns and cities. But since these are aimed at travellers and locals on high-incomes, the food is more expensive.
A burger with fries at a trendy cafe will cost you anywhere from LKR 1,000 to1,500 ($5-8).
Tap water isn’t safe to drink in Sri Lanka, which leads most travellers to opt for bottled water.
A bottle of water (1 litre) will cost around LKR 60 (U.S.¢33). Fizzy drinks will cost around LKR 120 (U.S.¢67).
A chilled beer will set you back around LKR 500 ($2.80) and a cappuccino in an up-market area will be about LKR 450 ($2.50).
The cost of transport in Sri Lanka is something that again takes visitors by surprise.
Public transport is very cheap with busses being the cheapest. But many backpackers and travellers favour trains over other modes of transport on account of the price and comfort (busses can get very crowded) and also because travelling by train offers the best opportunity to take in the beautiful scenery.
For example, a one-way trip from Colombo to Jaffna in the North (a distance of 398km) by regular train (the intercity service is slightly more expensive) will only cost you LKR 320 ($1.78) in 3rd Class, which is unreserved. First-class on the same service with air conditioning and reserved seats will only cost you LKR 900 ($5).
A ride onboard the Colombo to Badulla train, which takes in the most scenic stretch from Kandy to Ella (claimed by many to be the most scenic train journey in the world) in First-class with a reserved seat and air-conditioning will cost you just LKR 1000 ($5.58) each way.
Tuk tuk taxis also provide good value for shorter trips with fares based on distance travelled. Many have meters installed, which make the pricing more transparent. But even if there isn’t a meter, you can bargain with the driver and agree on a fee before setting off (recommended).
Taxis and Ride-Sharing Apps
Uber works well and is an affordable option for most short to mid-range journeys. But Sri Lanka’s own app, PickMe can provide cheaper fairs using their bike and tuk tuk options. You’ll need a local SIM/number to download and use the PickMe app.
Pick me also provide a tour service. Their rates for Colombo to Kandy or Colombo to Galle in their smallest vehicle (4-seater) for a return trip of 12 hours in duration starts from LKR 8,750 ($49). This does not include fees such as parking and highway tolls etc.
The duration of the trip can be extended to overnight, 2-day etc. but additional charges apply.
Also, extra mileage is charged at LKR 35 per km PLUS LKR 240 per additional hour.
You can learn more about PIckMe and the services they provide by visiting their website at https://pickme.lk/
Another option that is fast-growing in popularity is the rental of scooters and tuk tuks (where you rent and ride them).
TukTukRental.com offer tuk tuks for rent starting from $14 / day. Learn more and book yours here: TukTukRental.com
The price of accommodation is one of the most important factors in any backpacking budget – Sri Lanka or otherwise. And it’s usually one of the largest costs too.
Sri Lanka has a variety of accommodations ranging from very basic shared rooms to luxurious hotels.
Backpacker hostels are not as common in Sri Lanka as in other South Asian travel destinations yet, and many backpackers and travellers opt to stay in family-run ‘home-stay’ type accommodation and guest houses. The quality and comfort offered by these establishments tend to vary with the ones on the lower end charging around $5 per night.
Which brings us to tell you just a little bit about ourselves…
We’re Hangover Hostels, Sri Lanka’s number one provider of budget accommodation and the winner of Hostel World’s ‘Hoscar Award’ three years running.
We operate a network of five hostels and offer high-quality, comfortable and affordable accommodation.
Our hostels are conveniently located in the following places, close to tourist attractions and places of interest:
- Seeduwa (just minutes away from the Colombo International Airport in Katunayake);
- Ella; and
- Arugam Bay.
Our prices start from just $10 per night and include hot-water, AC and wifi. Sure, you might find places that are cheaper than that, but we’re confident that they will not offer the same quality, comfort and service that we do.
What’s more, we’ll even give you a discount of 10% if you choose to book directly with us, via our website!
Admission to Sites
You’ll also have to factor in the price of admission to tourist sites and places of interest as part of your budget. Please note that locals pay a subsidised entry fee which is much lower that what you would pay.
Some of the prices for admission to popular sites are as follows:
- Sigiriya (Lion Rock and Museum) – $30
- Temple of The Sacred Tooth Relic (Dalada Maligawa, Kandy) – $10
- Pidurangala Rock (near Sigiriya) – $3
- Peradeniya Botanical Gardens – $10
- Dambulla Cave Temple – $10
- Polonnaruwa Ancient City – $25
- Anuradhapura Sacred Sites – $25
- Most national parks, including Yala, Minneriya, Udawalawe etc (see the full list here) – $15
You can get cheap, reliable and fast mobile phone/data service in Sri Lanka and two of the leading service providers have special packages aimed at tourists.
Dialog offers a SIM-only pre-paid package called the ‘Tourist’s Plan’.
It is available from their Counter at the Colombo Internationa Airport in the Arrivals section (near the baggage carousel).
The package costs LKR1,300 ($7 approx.) and you receive 10GB of data, LKR600 worth of international calls and texts and LKR300 worth of local calls and texts.
For further details please see Dialog’s website at https://www.dialog.lk/tourist-plans
Mobitel also offers a SIM-only pre-paid package for tourists called the ‘Pre-Paid Tourist’s Pack’.
Again, this too is available from their ‘Arrival Counter’ at the Colombo Internationa Airport.
Their package costs LKR1,600 ($9 approx.) and includes 500MB of data; free international calls to your home country; free texts to any country; 60 minutes of local calls, and 200 local texts.
For more information please visit their website at https://www.mobitel.lk/faq/pre-paid-tourist-pack
Safaris and Excursions
These are some of the prices you can expect to pay for safaris and excursions:
- Half-day safari, including pick up and drop, plus entry fees – $65
- Whale-watching in Mirissa – $40-50
Lessons (cooking, yoga, surfing)
The typical cost of lessons is as follows:
- Cooking lessons (3-4hrs) – $30-60 with most charging around $40
- Yoga – around $10 for one hour
- Surfing lessons – $10-15 per hour
- A list of prices relating to goods and services in Colombo from Numbeo.com
- A Currency Converter from OandAcom
- A Beginner’s Guide to Train Travel in Sri Lanka from Seat61.co.uk
Based on the prevailing prices as discussed above, we recommend that your Sri Lanka backpacking budget allows for about $30-40 per day.
This figure covers the essentials such as food, water and accommodation and a few incidentals. You could possibly get away with $30 per day but it’s best to give yourself a bit of leeway and budget $40 instead.
Of course, this is a very general guestimate. If you find yourself eating out at cafes and restaurants, sipping cocktails regularly and taking classes and excursions, then you will need to budget more than that.
Any trips, excursions and other experiences, including long-distance travel should be added to this figure.
So there you have it: your Sri Lanka Backpacking Budget!
We hope this post will be helpful to you when you plan your backpacking budget for Sri Lanka. If you have any questions or would like any assistance in booking your stay with us, please contact us.
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