Although Sri Lanka is a popular travel destination, it’s still a relatively cheap country to visit. But as with any other destination, there can be hidden costs and things can always add up, so with that in mind, here are our best money-saving tips for Sri Lanka.
Please note that prices are approximate and are correct at the time of writing.
Our first and best money-saving tip applies before you even reach Sri Lanka and that is to travel off-season.
Sri Lanka’s peak tourist season runs from December to April. This is due to the fact that this period offers the best weather (cooler and less rainy than other times). For this reason, this period tends to be the busiest and also the most expensive,
The county’s weather systems are affected by two spells of Monsoon winds, which bring heavy winds and rain.
The Southeast Monsoon Season runs from May until October and affects the beaches of the South and West of the country and also causes more rain inland, including the Hill Country at the centre of the Island. The East of the country is relatively unaffected during this time, so it’s high season in places like Batticaloa, Arugam Bay and Trincomalee (Trinco).
The Northeastern Monsoon Season runs from October until May and affects the East Coast, the North and the ancient cities in the North Central part of the country. The South and the West of the country are relatively dry and unaffected during this time. Hence, December to April is the high season for places within these regions, such as Hikkaduwa, Mirissa and Weligama etc.
The great thing about Sri Lanka though is that it’s warm throughout the year. Even during the rainy seasons, the rain tends to fall heavily for short periods of time and there are plenty of sunny intervals scattered in between. This is especially true of the periods that fall between these seasons. While the weather is still relatively good, the prices are lower since it’s not peak season. So you can save money by visiting during these times.
So consider visiting the North and East either just before the season in April/May or right at the end of the season in Oct/November.
Similarly, consider visiting the South and the West either in Sept/Oct or in April/May.
You’ll not only save money but also help out the local economy and business owners who rely on tourism and have little income during the off-peak periods.
Get Your Visa Before You Arrive
All foreign nationals (except nationals of Singapore, Maldives and Seychelles) are required to obtain an Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) when visiting Sri Lanka.
There is a limited facility whereby visitors can obtain their ETA upon arrival at Colombo International Airport. But it could mean long queues and even delays (after an already long flight).
Obtaining your ETA online is easy and convenient and you can save yourself a lot of hassle. But the best part is that it’s $5 cheaper when you get it before travelling.
Also, be sure to apply directly at the Sri Lankan Government’s visa website. Going through agents and third-party websites will definitely cost you more.
For further details visit the Sri Lankan Government’s official visa website at http://www.eta.gov.lk/slvisa/
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 is set to run from 01.08.2019 to 31.01.2020. For more details visit http://www.eta.gov.lk/slvisa/
Get A Local SIM-Card
Mobile phone service and data rates in Sri Lanka are both cheap and reliable. So you can save on roaming fees and charges by getting a local SIM-Card.
Two of the major phone service providers Dialog and Mobitel both operate sales points at the Colombo International Airport, so you can grab a SIM-card upon arrival and be good to go.
Dialog’s ‘Tourist Plan‘ costs Rupees (Rs.) 1,299 (approximately $7 U.S.) and will give you 10GB of data, Rs. 600 worth of international calls and texts and Rs. 350 worth of local calls and texts. You can find more information here.
Mobitel’s ‘Pre-paid Tourists Pack‘ costs Rs. 1,600 (approximately $9 U.S.) and the details are slightly more complicated. But they say that this price includes free international calls to numbers in your home country, free international text messages to anywhere in the world, 60 minutes of call time to local numbers, 200 local texts and 500MB of data. You can learn more here.
You will need to bring an unlocked phone with you.
Use Public Transport to Travel Long Distances
When you’re travelling on a budget, it’s not usually practical to take taxis or hire private drivers in order to make long-distance trips. Using public transport – especially the trains – is an economical and comfortable way to make such trips. You’ll need to travel light as these can become very crowded and also because there are limited facilities at stations for passengers travelling with large suitcases.
Train tickets should ideally be booked beforehand – you can do so up to two days in advance at the train station. You may be able to ask your hostel or guesthouse to help you with this. Although there are also websites (such as https://12go.asia/en) and agencies that could assist you, but their services come at an extra cost.
Use Ride-Sharing Apps and Metered Taxis for Shorter Trips
For shorter trips, tuk-tuks and taxis can prove economical. But it’s best to check prices beforehand.
With tuk-tuks, look for ones with meters and make sure these are set to zero at the start of your journey. If they don’t have meters, agree the fee before setting off. And remember to bargain!
If you’re using a smartphone you can use Uber and ‘Pick Me’, the Sri Lankan alternative. But note that you will need a local SIM/phone number to use Pick Me.
And if you’re up to the challenge, you could save even more money by renting a scooter or tuk-tuk during your stay.
Eat Local Food
Relatively speaking, Sri Lanka is a cheap travel destination. But if costs can soon add up if you choose to always eat Western food at cafes and restaurants aimed towards travellers.
Choosing to eat Sri Lankan food will help you save money. But there’s also an added bonus – not only is Sri Lankan food cheap (think $1-$2 for a filling meal) but it’s also delicious!
Lose yourself in the world of rice and curry, koththu roti, hoppers, string-hoppers, samosas, dosais, vadais and more, and you’ll never look back!
Eat where the locals eat – these are usually mom-and-pop type establishments advertised as ‘hotels’ (that’s a Sri Lankan quirk). You can have traditional meals as well as more modern ‘street food’ and chances are, you’ll love it!
Buy from Markets and Street-Vendors
Often, buying fruit and drinking coconuts etc. from market-vendors and street sellers can help you save money. Often, you’ll find that you’re buying directly from the farmers or producers themselves. This can work out much cheaper than buying from shops and supermarkets.
Learn to Bargain
Haggling and bargaining is a common practice in South Asia, so it’s generally acceptable (and a good idea) to bargain with market vendors, tuk-tuk drivers etc.
Bring A Re-usable Water Bottle and A Personal Filtration System
The tap water in Sri Lanka isn’t safe to drink. This leads most travellers to buy bottled water. Bottled water costs approximately Rs.60 (50¢) per 1 Liter bottle.
These costs, while not being much, could still add up – especially when you’re trying to stay hydrated in the tropical heat. But if you bring a refillable bottle, you can fill up at places you visit and possibly save money that way.
And if you bring a personal water filtration system, you could filter the tap water yourself and save even more money.
Avoid Dealing with Touts, Agents and Third Parties
Book your trips and excursions directly from the person supplying such services where possible. Avoid dealing with touts and third-parties who often pose as ‘guides’ and ‘agents’.
Third-parties and middlemen will usually mark-up prices to make their profit and some could even be scammers.
Stay at Hangover Hostels
We’ve left our very best tip to the last and that is to book your accommodation with Hangover Hostels.
We’re Sri Lanka’s number one provider of budget accommodation. We provide award-winning service and accommodation at very reasonable prices. This is why Hostel World awarded us their ‘Hoscar Award’ three years running.
We operate a network of five hostels at the following locations:
- Seeduwa (minutes away from the Colombo International Airport);
- Ella; and
- Arugam Bay.
We aim to offer high-quality, comfortable and affordable accommodation that is located conveniently close to tourist attractions and places of interest.
Our prices start from just $10 per night and include hot-water, AC and wifi, so you’ll be comfortable while making a saving.
And the best part is that you can get yourself a discount of 10% by booking directly via our website!
You can book by going here. Remember to use the promo code BOOKDIRECT at checkout.
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