Sri Lanka is one of the most beautiful countries in the world and the perfect destination for any adventurer at heart. The best news?! It is SUPER cheap. We just came back after a whole month exploring the country and we can say in a heartbeat that it was the trip of a lifetime!
For a bit of context, we visited Sri Lanka in July of 2022, just a few months after they reopened for international travel. The country was facing an unprecedented political and economic crisis (yes we were there when they stormed into the president’s house and he fled the country), and so we experienced quite a few more challenges than usual when traveling there.
Unfortunately, as we’re writing this, news sounds no better so we believe the budget breakdown we’ll share here is the closest you can get to the current reality of the country in 2023.
Despite the crisis, we had no trouble at all traveling the country on a budget so we’ll cover here how much we spent on accommodation, transportation, activities, and food while we traveled the country. We’ll not include flights as they vary significantly based on where you’re based.
The amounts in this guide are listed in Sri Lankan Rupees, the local currency, and in Euros. At the time of our trip, one Sri Lankan Rupee equaled 0,0028 Euros.
Okay — let’s get started!
Our 1 Month Sri Lanka Itinerary
Here’s a quick breakdown of our itinerary. We visited the country in a counter-clockwise direction, as the transportation is way less crowded this way – although we did have to do some back and forth due to the lack of transportation (there is almost no gas in the country at the moment).
- Days 1 – 3: Colombo
- Day 4: Galle
- Days 5 – 8: Unawatuna
- Days 9 – 12: Weligama and Mirissa
- Days 13 – 14: Habarana
- Days 15 – 18: Dambulla and Sigiriya
- Days 19 – 21: Kandy
- Days 22 – 23: Nuwara Eliya
- Days 24 – 29: Ella
- Day 30: Negombo
- Day 31: Time to leave!
Quick Budget Breakdown
Not looking for long explanations? Then this section was made just for you! Here’s a quick budget breakdown of our one-month trip to Sri Lanka:
- Transport: €250.67
- Accommodation: €317.76
- Food: €539.73
- Activities: €182.36
- Others: €73.50
In total, we spent €1,364.01 for 31 days for both of us, with an average of €41.33 per day and €20.67 per person. We could’ve spent way less on food but we only got the hang of what to eat and where to eat cheaply by the end of our trip. Anyhow, this is really cheap!
The Cost of Transportation in Sri Lanka
In general, buses are the cheapest and fastest means of transport while trains are a more relaxed option and great for intercity trips. Tuk-tuks will take you everywhere in the city and if you have that extra buck, private drivers will show you all of the country’s hidden gems.
Here’s a breakdown of what you should expect to pay for each type of transport:
🚌 Bus: Unfortunately, buses are not a very safe mode of transport in Sri Lanka but are indeed the cheapest way to get around the country. Tickets are purchased directly from the conductors once inside, and the costs vary depending on the distance. You tell them your destination and they’ll let you know the cost. For state buses, distances less than 100 KM generally cost less than 150r (€0.42).
🚖 Ride-Sharing Apps: Uber and PickMe are the most used and most popular ride-sharing apps in Sri Lanka. The fares vary a lot depending on the journey, but a short 15-20 minutes ride costs us around 640r (€1.80) by tuk-tuk and 920r (€2.60) by car on PickMe. A long 2-2:30 hours ride costs around 8930r (€25) by tuk-tuk and 10700r (€ 0) by car on PickMe.
🛺 Tuk-Tuks: Except in Colombo, tuk-tuks are unmetered and the fare will be whatever you negotiate with the driver. Due to the crisis, the prices are way over what they used to be, but a decent fare at the moment should cost you around 500-1500r (€1.40-4.20) for a short up-to-30-minute-ride (checking PickMe is a great way to know if they’re overcharging you and what should be a reasonable price for that journey!)
Pro tip: if you prefer to have more flexibility during your time in Sri Lanka, we recommend the most authentic way of travel in the country – renting and driving your very own Tuk-Tuk with TukTuk Rental! For a special discount, use our code “wheretoflow” when making a booking 🛺
Note: Be aware that given the economic crisis and lack of fuel, some drivers will try to overcharge you. Don’t be afraid to haggle for a decent fare in these situations!
🚂 Train: Sri Lanka’s train network consists of an intercity network connecting the main cities of the country’s nine provinces to its hub: Colombo. Trains comprise three classes and most of them only offer second and third-class carriages. While there is not much difference between the carriages themselves, the second-class ones, being slightly more expensive, tend to be less packed.
The fares vary a lot depending on the journey, but here are a few examples from July 2022:
- Weligama to Colombo 1st class tickets, 3 hours in an A/C carriage with reserved seats: 1000r (€2.80) per person
- Colombo to Galle 2nd class tickets, 3 hours standing: 250r (€0.70) per person
- Nuwara Eliya to Ella 3rd class observation tickets, 3 hours in a reserved carriage with seats: 800r (€2.25) per person
🚘 Private Driver: The most expensive but also the easiest way to travel the country. Hiring a private driver in 2022 during the crisis should cost you around 80-90 euros per day (plus the driver’s meals).
The Cost of Accommodation in Sri Lanka
Our best stays in Sri Lanka by far were all in small family-run stays. The country is known for its exceptional hospitality and Homestays are where you will truly experience it.
We recommend using HostelWorld to find the best hostels for your budget trip as well as Agoda for the best deals. Booking.com will give you the best deals for Mid-Range to Luxury Accommodation (mainly if you keep up with their Genius Program).
Here’s a breakdown of what you should expect to pay for each type of accommodation:
€7 – €20 a night (the cheapest we paid was €6.80 in Unawatuna)
€4 – €13 a night for shared rooms and around €25 – €40 a night for private rooms
€10 – €30 a night
€25 – €60 a night
€70 – €300 a night
€300+ a night
Also see: How to Work With Hotels as a Content Creator
The Cost of Food in Sri Lanka
At the beginning of our trip, we were spending around €17-20 per day with food for both of us and by the end of it, once we got the hang of how to find trustable cheap restaurants, our meals would add up to around €10-13 per day for both of us.
The easiest way to avoid spending a lot of money on food is: embrace the culture and go where locals go. If you stick to local street food and shops you will not only try lots of amazing flavorful and appetizing dishes but also keep that extra buck and include more activities in your itinerary.
Note: Local Sri Lankan food is very spicy so if you’re not into it, you should always remember to make a remark.
Some of the best food you have to try in Sri Lanka is rice and curry dishes (we love Dhal curry and pumpkin curry), Kottu Roti, Lamprais (served in a banana leaf), Pani Pol (Sri Lankan coconut pancakes), and Papadam (so yummy!). Also, don’t leave without trying Honey Jackfruit and creamy mango shakes.
If you can’t tolerate spicy food and go for Western Dishes instead, then you can expect to pay something around €30 per day.
The Cost of Activities in Sri Lanka
You know by now that we travel on a really tight budget, so the best part about Sri Lanka for us is that most of the activities and sightseeing are free! There’s so much to do – from hikes to temples to surfing, and so many of those are free or really inexpensive.
Here’s a breakdown of some popular FREE activities in Sri Lanka:
- Nine Arch Bridge – Ella
- Little Adam’s Peak – Ella
- Ella Rock – Ella
- Coconut Tree Hill – Mirissa
- Secret Beach – Mirissa
- Jungle Beach – Unawatuna
Here’s a breakdown of some popular PAID activities in Sri Lanka:
- Sigiriya Rock: €30
- Pidurangala Rock: 1000r (€2.80)
- Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic (Kandy): 2000r (€5.60)
- Cooking Class (Kandy and Ella): €20-25
- Surf Lessons: €10-25 per hour (Bruno paid 3000r (€8.40) for 1,5 hours in Weligama)
- Scuba Diving: Starts at €45-65 for a single dive
- Elephant Safari (Udawalawe National Park): Around €50-75 for a half-day tour
- Elephant Safari (Habarana): Around €20-50 for a half-day tour
Also see: Sri Lanka Safari – The Ultimate Guide
We use Get Your Guide to find some of the most unique activities in the countries we visit and definitely recommend using it if you want to plan and book your activities ahead of time!
Other Expenses in Sri Lanka
🧺 Laundry Service: Not enough people talk about this, but if you’re traveling for long periods of time you WILL need to consider the expenses of laundry. Luckily, in Sri Lanka, you can expect to pay only €1-3 per kilo (wash and dry), so no need to worry about going over your budget because of your clothes!
📱 SIM Card: Usually one of the first expenses you’ll have when arriving in a new country and one that you should choose wisely. We recommend SLTMobitel – it cost us €10 and we had unlimited data and great connection throughout our trip.
💰 ATM Withdrawal Fees: You can’t really escape this one, but the two cards we use and swear by for international travel are Wise and Revolut. With minimal fees for withdrawals, they also offer some of the best conversion rates for travel.