Your money goes a long way in Sri Lanka, and traveling in the country is a good value. While not as cheap as neighboring India, Sri Lanka’s prices are more similar to costs traveling in Malaysia and daily travel expenses in the Philippines. But it’s not that simple.
The problem is there is a big different between the prices, for example, between local cafes and tourist cafés. I’ll explain more later. There are also very steep entrance fees to sights that could double the budget of a basic low-budget traveler.
Meals, Accommodation, and Transport
In theory, travelers could eat a nice meal in Sri Lanka for less than a dollar. The problem with this is, there really aren’t many local cafes. Sri Lankans tend not to eat out. The exception is Colombo and other big cities like Kandy where you can find local eateries. At tourist cafes, the food is generally of good quality, and a meal may cost somewhere between 300-600 rupees ($2.30-$4.60).
Accommodation in Sri Lanka is usually a good value. Most budget doubles range from 1,500-2,500 rupees ($11.50-19.00). Traveling as a couple will save money every night. Find great deal on hotels and guesthouses in Sri Lanka.
Transportation, in general, is absurdly cheap. I’ve traveled most of the day on bus or train without spending more than 250 rupees ($1.90) Auto rickshaws generally cost about 50 rupees per km. Taxis are more expensive.
Sightseeing in Sri Lanka
The Sri Lankan government has enacted a policy which charges foreigners at a different level, often time several hundred percent more, than Sri Lankans. This may mean skipping out on some major sites if you’re on a strict low budget.
The following are prices to visit the major cultural attractions of Sri Lanka: Anuradhapura (US$25), Dambulla (US$10), Medirigiriya (US$10), Polonnaruwa (US$25), Ritigala (US$10), Sigiriya (US$30).
A Day’s Expenses in Sri Lanka:
- Traditional Sri Lankan breakfast:
- string hoppers, dahl, curry, fruit, pot of tea: 300 rupees ($2.30 US)
- Shared round trip auto rickshaw to tea museum: 300 r / ($2.30)
- Admission to tea museum: 500 r ($3.83)
- Shared auto rickshaw to bus station: 100 r ($.77)
- King coconut: 40 rupees ($.30 US)
- Train ticket from Kandy to Haputale (5 hr trip), 210 rupee ($1.60)
- Lunch: Roti and coconut gravy, dahl, chicken curry, and tea: 175 r ($1.35)
- Dinner: Kottu roti with egg: 140 r ($1.07)
- Big Lion Beer: 100 rupees ($.77)
- Shared Accommodation in Haputale: 1,000 r ($7.65)
Total: 2865 or ($21.94 US)
*Calculation per person based on traveling as a couple.
$20-30 US per day is a good estimate for on the ground expenses if you’re a budget traveler. Add about $5-10 if you’re traveling solo. A tight low-budget traveler could probably make it at $15 if he or she were careful about expenses.
ATMs and Cash
ATMs are common in the cities and cash exchange is possible as well. As always, wear a money belt to minimize possibilities of theft.
On the date of publication: $1 US = 130 Sri Lankan rupees
Making the most of your travel in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka is an overall fantastic country for the independent traveler. The island is now at peace after more than 26 years of civil war, so it’s a great time to go. There is a good tourism infrastructure of budget guesthouses and an extensive public transportation system of rail and public bus.
Surprisingly, Sri Lanka is void of mass tourism and most of the country feels rewarding in the off-the-beaten-track sense. Sri Lanka also tends to attract more mature and ethical travelers, those who appreciate the culture, cuisine, and natural beauty of the country.
If you’re a digital nomad, think twice about spending a significant amount of time in the country. While Wi-Fi is available at many guesthouses and hotels, it’s not very strong or reliable. Furthermore, power cuts are relatively frequent.
If you’re on holiday or a long-term traveler who doesn’t rely on internet access to make a living, consider 2-4 weeks in the country which would give you an outstanding overview of the country: from spotting elephants in the wild to enjoyable rides on the railway to relaxing at the small-town beach resorts.
Take a look at my photo essay from Sri Lanka if you need any further inspiration.