5 Budget Travel Tips For Visiting Sri Lanka

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 five budget-friendly tips for those 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.

What are some of your budget tips for Sri Lanka? Is Sri Lanka a place you would like to visit?

15 Responses to 5 Budget Travel Tips For Visiting Sri Lanka

  1. Agness (@Agnesstramp) October 11, 2012 at 9:21 am #

    Great tips guys. I just came back from Sri Lanka and I can tell taking a train can save you a lot of money and Wi-Fi is always expensive. We had some street food and avoided overcrowded by tourists places. We lived for less than $25 budget a day per person :). Thanks for sharing it!

    • Sofia October 13, 2012 at 11:01 am #

      Great to hear you agree on the tips, yes WiFi is expensive in Sri Lanka and difficult to come by, we did find one wifi cafe called Buddies in Hikkaduwa, but it was rarely working :P

  2. Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) October 11, 2012 at 11:14 am #

    These are fantastic tips and definitely ones I will keep in mind for when we make it to Sri Lanka. If you forego wifi at hotels and guesthouses are there other ways to get online, like through internet cafes or wired connections, or is the internet in general just always expensive in Sri Lanka?

    • Sofia October 13, 2012 at 11:04 am #

      Hey Steph, glad to hear you liked the tips.
      We didn’t se many internet cafes, but some restaurants that also served as hotels had wifi.

      As we relied on wifi a lot for our website, we decided that it was simply worth paying more for the hotel rooms and get the free wifi – but if you don’t need wifi, it’s better to simply disconnect for the time you’re there.

  3. Maria at inredningsvis.se October 11, 2012 at 12:32 pm #

    haloj
    Jag tror du menar som en gardinkappa ovanför fönstret. Men jag skulle personligen inte ha det om man har gardiner på takskena hela vägen från taket då det stänger ute luftigheten runt fönstret. Allt handlar ju om att få rummet att se ljust och inbjudande ut:)

    här i GBG skiner höstsolen och jag önskar er en härlig helg:)

    LOVE M

  4. Agness (@Agnesstramp) October 11, 2012 at 1:02 pm #

    Steph, there are plenty of internet cafes around, but the Internet seems to be very slow though, plus they will probably charge you more than locals. We spent around 80 ruppe, which is 60 cent per hour.

  5. Addison S. @ Visa Hunter October 11, 2012 at 5:21 pm #

    Great tips, thanks for posting. I can’t wait to one day visit Sri Lanka as I hear it is great for surfing. Also, I loved the train journeys in India – gazing out at the countryside and engaging in conversations with curious locals – so imagine here they just as much an adventure.

    • Sofia October 13, 2012 at 11:11 am #

      Sri Lanka is perfect for surfers, and there is always surf at one part of the island or the other, depending on the season.

      We were in Hikkaduwa during the “off season” when the waves were supposed to be smaller, but I would have to say that they were still better for more advanced.

      Yes, Sri Lanka is definitely an adventure ;)

  6. andiperullo October 11, 2012 at 5:20 pm #

    Haha I like that you say manage without wifi! :)

  7. Mike@logcabinsinwales October 13, 2012 at 9:50 am #

    Great tips. What the most I like is eat with the locals because I am a food enthusiast. By also doing this, I could interact with the locals.

    • Sofia October 13, 2012 at 11:22 am #

      Hey Mike,
      then I think you would love Sri Lanka.
      By just walking off a side street in Colombo will throw you into some really funny situations, and many local eateries where people are curious about you and how you ended up in such a random place.

  8. Priyank October 13, 2012 at 7:51 pm #

    Nice tips Sofia, some of these can be applied to a variety of travel destinations but then there are country-specific things you could do to keep costs low for sure. Haven’t visited Sri Lanka.. is it very different than south India? :)

    • Sofia October 14, 2012 at 11:41 am #

      Hey Priyank, yes you can definitely use some of these tips for other destinations as well. I was surprised by just how different Sri Lanka was from India, I expected them to be very similar.

      I loved how there is so much diversity in such a small island – you have great beaches, lush forests, cold and hot etc, and the people were incredibly friendly.

      However, I must say I prefer Indian food over Sri Lankan, but they had some great stuff too like the Kottu Roti you see in the photo.

      Also, India is cheaper :)

  9. Elle of Solo Female Nomad October 14, 2012 at 11:44 am #

    Sri Lanka is a destination that I have been thinking about for a while. Your post has now put Sri Lanka on the map for me. The tips will be helpful for me for when that time comes!

  10. Elli Murr December 4, 2012 at 12:51 am #

    We had 6 months in Sri Lanka, travelling around the coastal route as well as heading north to Jaffna and inland to the hill stations. Though it is very different to India, the rewards can be just as great.

    This is one of the best places for photographing wildlife.

    Sofia – I have a link for several PDF guides if it’s okay to post it?
    Elli xx