This post was last updated on February 21st, 2020 at 01:25 pm
Due to the development that the small Sri Lanka is going through, it is no longer the “bargain” destination it once was. The prices here are still comparable with other countries in Southeast Asia, but they are higher than in the past. What your budget for Sri Lanka should be depends entirely on you. If you sleep in low budget accommodations on the beach and eat simple foods, you can easily live for $35 a day.
If you are not traveling on a budget you can also go on a big-spending tour in Sri Lanka. If you choose expensive hotels, eat in the fanciest restaurants and travel with a private driver, you can easily spend US$350 a day. However, that is not the case for most travelers.
TIP – Low-budget travelers have to expect around US$20-25 a day.
If you travel ‘normally’, your budget does not have to be higher than $30 per day as long as you travel with local transport (you can travel from one side to the other side of the island for $15) and in sleep in low budget accommodations overnight.
During our trip through Sri Lanka we traveled a little more luxuriously, for around $45 per person per day. We are not low-budget backpackers, we never sleep in dorms, we always stay in hostels and we sometimes take a minivan instead of a local bus.
What does it cost to travel here?
You can make a trip through Sri Lanka as expensive as you want. The country has all possible options. From low-budget backpacking trips to the most luxurious tours where you sleep in beautiful resorts. In 2015 we spent around $45 per person per day. It can be cheaper if you sleep in dorms and visit places of interest for free, it can also be more expensive if you only want to sleep in more luxurious hotels.
Accommodations can be found in all shapes and sizes. You will find the most luxurious resorts on the coast and around Nuwara Eliya. There you will find the large international hotel chains where hotel rooms can easily cost US$300 per night.
If that is a bit out of your budget, there are cheaper accommodations throughout the country. A private (double) room in a hostel with its own bathroom starts at around US$11 per night. If you want air conditioning in your room, you often pay around $5 extra for that.
The real low-budget backpackers can probably find accommodations for $6 per night, but it is “you get what you pay for”, so don’t expect unprecedented luxury for that amount of money.
An example of our accommodation costs:
- Double room hostel in Colombo ➜ $18
- Hostel in Ella with a mountain view ➜ $35
- Budget hostel in Polonnaruwa ➜ $11
- Double room in Kandy ➜ $9
- Bungalow in Mirissa ➜ $12
- Hotel in Nuwara Eliya ➜ $25
Cost Per Day
The costs per day for accommodations came to us around US$18 per night. That is for a double room. You could share those costs (US$9 per person per day). Again, sleeping can be cheaper if you settle for low-budget hostels or dorms. Dorms are available from US$6 per person per day. The type of accommodations you stay in determines a large part of your Sri Lanka budget.
Cost of Food and Drinks
In addition to the fact that the food here is incredibly tasty, it is also particularly cheap. If you look for a street stall and order some street food, it often costs no more than US$2 to $3 for a simple dish such as kottu roti, vegetables, meat, rice, chicken, and everything in between.
If you prefer to eat in a restaurant with all accessories, you can still eat cheaply. In a normal restaurant you pay around $5 for a meal. In a more luxurious restaurant you have to count on around US$10 per meal.
Western food is available in Sri Lanka and we will not lie; we also sometimes opt for a hamburger instead of a local curry. The fact remains that the local food is really delicious here.
Examples of our food costs:
- Street food kottu roti (very tasty!) ➜ US$1
- Vegetarian roti ➜ $0.30
- Chicken curry in a local restaurant ➜ $3
- Breakfast (incl. coffee/tea) ➜ $4
- Western meal ➜ $8
- Curry in Mirissa ➜ $6
- Fresh fruit ➜ $3
Examples of our costs for drinks:
- 5 liters of water ➜ US$0.40
- Cup of coffee ➜ $1
- Smoothie in Ella ➜ $3
Cost Per Day
As soon as you see the prices above, you see that the food and drinks are incredibly cheap. You can eat street food all day and not spend more than US$5 per day. If you occasionally eat a western meal, you will spend slightly more, but the food and drinks will not have a major impact on your Sri Lanka budget. We spent on average $8 per person per day on food and drinks.
Transportation in Sri Lanka is not that expensive. Although public transport is reasonable to use, most people travel by minivan or train. In the city you can do everything with a tuk-tuk. You can also rent a tuk-tuk for a day. That will cost you around US$22 (incl. a driver).
Train journeys are extremely popular in Sri Lanka, although often slower. Some well-known routes are those from Colombo to Jaffna (US$1-5), Kandy to Nuwara Eliya is (US$1-3) and Colombo to Galle (US$2).
Traveling by bus is also very popular, and often faster than the train. For example, a ride from Kandy to Colombo will cost you between 150 and 250 rupees (US$1 to $1.50) for a 4-hour ride.
An example of our transport costs:
- Kandy to Ella (2nd class) ➜ US$3.50
- Colombo to Galle ➜ $1.60
- Dambulla to Sigiriya ➜ $0.55
- Nuwara Eliya to Kandy ➜ $2.25
- Nuwara Eliya to Polonnaruwa ➜ $2.25
- Minivan to Udawalawe ➜ $22
Cost Per Day
Transport costs are always a bit difficult to estimate. One always travels by public transport while the other prefers to travel with minivans. If you travel by public transport, you spend on average a maximum of US$3.50 per day, since you do not travel from A to B every day either. We lost on average around US$9 per person per day (for 20 days) because we occasionally took a minivan instead of the local bus.
Cost for Activities
Sri Lanka is a small country, but there is so much to do and see. You can visit temples, book city tours, go surfing, go hiking, visit national parks, cycle, take nice train rides, and much more. How many activities you undertake depends on your budget.
We don’t do paid tours very often because we prefer more freedom. Sri Lanka is also a great country to do a lot in yourself. Tours are available everywhere and are easy to book.
An example of our costs for activities:
- Entrance to tea plantation in Ella ➜ $2.25
- Rent a surfboard in Mirissa ➜ $5.50
- Entrance fee for Temple of the Tooth ➜ $9
- Polonnaruwa entrance fee ➜ $22
- Sigiriya entrance fee ➜ $27.50
- Tour through Udewalawe ➜ $22
Cost Per Day
We usually do not include tours in the total Sri Lanka budget expenses because you do not book a tour every day. Some travelers never do paid tours and others opt for 2 or 3 tours. If we divide our tours by the number of days we have been in Sri Lanka, we will come to around US$5 per person per day.
The Sri Lankan rupee is the currency of Sri Lanka. The official abbreviation for this currency is LKR. Coins are available in 25 and 50 cents and 1, 2, 5, and 10 rupees. Paper money is available in 20, 50, 100, 200, 500, 1,000 and 2,000 rupees. 1,000 LKR is approximately $5.70.
ATMs are available almost everywhere except in remote areas. They mostly give bills of 5,000 rupees. If you can get them smaller, do so because the stores don’t always have enough change for 5,000 rupees.
In addition, always take a credit card with you. With this you can always pay in larger hotels. You can also pay for your flights and in some stores with a credit card.
Something you also have to take into account is the fact that as a tourist you pay more than locals. National Parks and other highlights have “tourist prices” and prices for the locals. It can happen that locals at a national park pay US$0.25 while you have to pay $25.