Sri Lanka is a beautiful place to visit with its lush hill districts, fascinating temples and delicious food – but compared to other nearby countries like India, Sri Lanka can seem quite expensive. However, there are ways to stay on a budget and still enjoy the country…
Here are 5 budget-friendly travel tips for visiting Sri Lanka
1. Eat Where The Locals Eat
The one thing you will be sure to find dirt cheap in Sri Lanka is food – but you have to go to the right places. When you see a hole in the wall restaurant with dirty walls and long tables packed with locals, it’s often a great place to get cheap but tasty food. We found street markets and small restaurants (who didn’t have menus) to give gigantic servings, so a good advice is to order one plate to share. Another thing worth noting is that when ordering curry meals, you will also get free rice refills – vegetarian meals are the cheapest options, fish and seafood is slightly more expensive and chicken costs a bit more.
2. Take The Train Whenever Possible
The transport will either end up being the most expensive or the cheapest part of your trip. For us, it turned out to be the most expensive – trains are dirt cheap (because they’re government run), but on holidays you need to have booked your tickets weeks in advance, or it will be completely booked up or a ride from hell. Buses are also cheap but are the most uncomfortable ways of travel – chances are you will have to stand up for 8 hours bumping into someone else’s armpit, as drivers cram the buses full of people and then hurtle around at ferocious speeds, slamming on the brakes. Trust us, we’ve been there… So whenever possible, book train tickets in advance and travel outside of holidays, because they are very busy in Sri Lanka – the train rides are beautiful, so taking the Observation car is definitely recommended.
3. Manage Without WiFi
Prices for guest house rooms will be higher closer to tourist beaches, but generally you should be able to stay in a double room for less than £20, or you can grab a bed in a dorm for £3-10 a night. If you don’t need A/C or wifi, you can get by pretty cheap. Package deals to Sri Lanka have become more popular and often work out cheaper than arranging a do-it-yourself holiday – you can get luxury rooms for reasonable prices, especially if you book last minute or in the wet season – if you’re looking to really save your budget, couchsurfing could allow you to stay in the country for free.
4. Take Their Number
Traveling by car is by far the most comfortable way of travel, and one way to get a great deal is to hire a driver for a week. We didn’t know this before, and ended up hiring new drivers for every journey, which turned out to cost a lot more than if we would have stuck with the first driver (who btw turned out to be the most honest). If you find a driver in the beginning of your trip, it’s definitely worth getting an international call plan in advance so that you can book him for the whole trip and stay in touch on pick-up and drop-off times. Some even arrange the driver before they arrive in Sri Lanka. This is a good idea if you don’t want to have to worry about tracking down phone-cards, the Vonage UK website offers ways to make cheap calls to Sri Lanka, and to keep in touch without receiving an excessive phone bill.
5. Avoid The Main Tourist Sites
Another massive drain on your budget will be the touristy temples and national parks – the majority of Sri Lanka’s most impressive sights charge hefty admission fees – save money by avoiding the crowds and trying out some of the wonderful free things the country has to offer. One of the things Sri Lanka is most famous for is its tea production – many of the plantations in the hill district will offer free tours.
One of the most famous plantations is Lipton Tea, which is also near another free landmark: Lipton’s Seat – the seat is one of the highest lookout points in Sri Lanka, allowing you stunning views over the hill country.
To experience religious culture without paying exorbitant prices, check out some of the free temples in Kandy – just across the lake from the pricey Temple of the Tooth Relic is a sprawling monastery with an interesting museum. The monks are happy to give you a free tour and to explain the origins of all the artefacts – there’s also a vibrant Hindu temple in the centre of town which visitors are welcome to enter. Inside are colourful wall murals and charming images of Hindu Gods. There are many free temples and sites to explore on a budget – one crazy cultural experience is to climb Adam’s Peak at 2am in the morning.