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Sri Lanka Backpacking Costs

Guide to Backpacking and Travel Around Sri Lanka in 2013

Sri Lanka is becoming an increasingly popular place for tourists seeking a luxury vacation.  However, many like us decide to plan their own trip, as travel around the country is easy and cheap. We think Sri Lanka makes for a very exciting and affordable destination for those who choose to travel independently.  In this article we provide information relating to the costs of travel around Sri Lanka in 2013.

It’s a great time to travel to Sri Lanka with the war/conflict now over and Sri Lankan’s being very upbeat and positive about the countries peaceful future, you can now visit areas of the country that were previously not recommended to travellers.

Sri Lanka is a very beautiful country and offers visitors a wide range of activities and environments to explore.  You can choose to visit the cooler climates of the hill plantations for trekking, ride with the elephants, surf on the beaches, go whale watching or just enjoy some sunbathing .  Sri Lanka offers this and so much more so a multi-destination trip to the country is highly recommended to sample some of Sri Lanka’s delights.

Here we share some of our own recent travel experiences and detail some of the costs of travel in Sri Lanka, so that you can decide whether or not to place this awesome country on your own travel itinerary.

Sri Lanka Budget Accommodation Prices

Prices vary in Sri Lanka quite considerably and there aren’t large numbers of dorms and backpacker hostels around, thankfully!  The upmarket and expensive luxury resorts dominate the main popular tourist areas. However, many local residents open their homes to offer rooms to travellers at great affordable prices.  It’s also very easy to stay away from the busy areas and just go sightseeing using local buses, making for more savings.

It’s a great place to use home-stays to experience Sri Lanka food and culture first hand from very hospitable and friendly Sri Lankan families. Also the standard of budget accommodation here is usually very high, compared to other countries in Asia.  If you want to choose a specific hotel, then booking in advance is advisable as accommodation books up quickly, but you’ll pay a premium price for this luxury.

We suggest arriving at the local train or bus station and asking a tuk tuk driver to show you a couple of places in your budget.  Whilst this may sound absurd, as they will be getting a commission, it worked very well for us in Sri Lanka. The accommodation was of a high standard.  As it wasn’t advertised online or in guide books the chances of us finding these places would have been slim.  Our only request to the driver was it must be centrally located to whatever our schedule was in that given destination, as you don’t want to find yourself staying in the middle of nowhere when you have a crammed travel itinerary.

Less than 1500 Rupees per Night We managed to pay on average  1500 ruppees per night for a room excluding breakfast.  These rooms all had private bathrooms (most with piping hot running water), good mosquito nets and most had an external balcony or seating area.  So for those who are good at negotiating, know how to quickly locate cheap places to stay on your arrival at a new destination, or maybe a little less discerning about the quality and services available aim for around 1500 rupees per night.

1500 to 2000 Rupees Per Night If you prefer a bit more luxury, or need WiFi etc then budget for around 2000 rupees per night. Whatever your budget bartering is expected and required to get a good price, remember to walk away if you’re reasonable offers aren’t accepted.

Some Tips on Negotiating Savings on your Sri Lanka Hotel Charges

  • The number of nights you stay seems to make a big difference on the nightly rate you’ll pay.
  • Join up with others, if you meet up with other budget travellers and you’re on the same route, try catching the same bus and negotiating a group discount on your chosen accommodation.
  • Good, well located, cheap accommodation sells fast. If you like a place and plan to stay longer let the owner know as soon as possible. Otherwise you’ll be forced to look again for accommodation elsewhere.
  • Always ask for the price of the room without breakfast, as you’ll probably find it cheaper and better elsewhere.  You can always change your mind later.
  • Savings can be made on booking large family rooms in Sri Lankan hotels, so if your travelling in a group, or meet up with other travellers then this is an option to consider if you don’t mind sleeping in the same room as others.

Limit or exclude recommendations from guide books while in Sri Lanka if you’re on a very low cost budget. Whilst staying in a guide book listed hotel or hostel is a great place to meet new friends and get tips and advice from other travellers, you will pay a premium for staying in this type of accommodation in Sri Lanka.

We didn’t have a guide book, but most people we spoke to who were using one whilst touring around the country said the accommodation tariffs listed were very out of date.  Also hotels that are overbooked every night, as hundreds of people rock up in response to the recommended listing put their prices up, it’s simple economics.

List of Alcohol and Beer Prices in Sri Lanka

The local beer is called Lion, and is sold in bottles and cans.  Usually if you are purchasing from a wine shop or beer store (liquor store/off-license) for a  carry out the cost includes a deposit for the bottle of anything from 15-30 rupees (although we have heard of some people being charged as much as 50 rupees by a shady beer seller).

  • A large can of Lion beer from a local wine shop is 170 ruppees
  • A large bottle of Lion beer from a local beer shop is 150 + cost of the bottle return
  • A cheap bottle of imported wine from a wine shop is 1300 rupees
  • A litre bottle of the local Premium Arak Spirit is 1000 rupees
  • A large bottle in a bar is around 200-250 rupees
  • A glass of wine in a bar or cheap restaurant is around 400-500 rupees
  • Cocktails in a bar are around 400-500 rupees upwards

The above prices are basic, good value backpacker type, low budget, places to eat and drink.  Most of the budget hotels and guest houses we used in Sri Lanka encourage (are more than happy) for guests to buy and bring their own alcohol onto the premises, as they don’t have the required licenses to sell liquor.

That way you can enjoy a drink whilst chatting with other guests, and save yourself a few bucks. Be careful with the Lion (Strong beer) and the Lion Stout they are a potent (8.8% alc. volume) which can be washed down very easily in the heat of the Sri Lanka climate. Fun but dangerous!

Eating Cheaply in Sri Lanka

There are no shortage of inexpensive ways and places to eat in Sri Lanka, but it helps if you like spicy hot food, you can always request no spice but then this alters the composition of these Sri Lankan classic food dishes.

Some Quick Order Sri Lankan Street Food Prices

  • Cup of Black Tea 15-30 rupees
  • Cup Milk Tea or Coffee 30-50 rupees (Tea in Sri Lanka is wonderful and there are many tea bars where you can sample their great offerings).
  • Fruit Smoothies under 100 rupees
  • Fruit is in abundant  supply especially pineapple, banana, mango, coconut, can be purchased very cheaply from markets and fruit shops.
  • Kotthu around 200 rupees often enough to share between 2.
  • Stuffed Roti 30-50 rupees according to size and filling.
  • Breaded Samosa stuffed with spicy fillings either vegetarian or fish based 25-40 rupees
  • Small Crabs and Prawn snacks on beach stalls 50 rupees >
  • Honey and Curd  50 rupees

Many restaurants and hotels in Sri Lanka allow customers to bring your own bottle (BYO)  just enquire before dining, some charge a small corkage charge, but this can usually be waived if you negotiate before dining.

Cigarette Prices in Sri Lanka

There isn’t a great deal of choice for cigarette smokers in Sri Lanka.  The chepeast and most popular brand of cigarettes are called ‘Gold Leaf’, a packet of 20 will cost 500 Sri Lankan rupees, which is around £2.50.  Cigarettes are also sold individually for 25 rupees per cigarette. Don’t try and  bargain on this its a fixed price, also don’t pay any more than this.

Transport Costs in Sri Lanka

The biggest cost will be your arrival into the country,  from there travelling on buses and trains is ridiculously cheap.  You will pay around 250 rupees for a four to five hour bus ride and this will get you half way across the country. The train prices are similar and you will only pay more than the buses if you decide to travel first class.  The buses are frequent and fun although some do complain about the level of comfort and severe driving on the local buses!, we didn’t it was all part of the fun.

Save some money on your visa entry fees

Visitors from most countries can purchase their Visa on arrival in the country for an additional fee of $5 dollars per person. If you’re  more organised than us you can save some money by doing this on-line before your arrival.

Tuk Tuk or Taxi Hire Prices

You can read in more detail about our travels around Sri Lanka, travels things to do and travel tips including where and where not to visit as part of Sri Lanka’s cultural triangle in our Sri Lanka Travel Blog series which will follow this post.

In the main tourist areas of the cultural triangle around the sights of Dambula, Anuradapura  and Sigiria, the taxi and tuk tuk drivers are in a co-operative and we found the prices to be very high (rip-off) walk off the main strips and flag a tuk-tuk for about 1/3 or less of the lowest price they will offer a ride for.

You can learn more about our travels around Sri Lanka in more detail by reading some of our posts listed by destination. For more general information about Sri Lanka try the tourist board site .

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18 Comments on "Sri Lanka Backpacking Costs"

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  1. Naomi Todd says:

    Briliant guide to budgeting, I especially love the tip about homestays!

  2. Freya says:

    Great tips here, very helpful thanks for the article.

    • We hope our Sri Lanka travel costs make planning a trip to this country easier. Its an amazing country and we had a great time in Sri Lanka. Keep reading for our future posts about the places we visited there. Thanks for the comment.

  3. Nailah says:

    Thanks for this great info! I’m hoping to get to Sri Lanka in the near future and this is a great guide!

    • Its a lovely place to travel around. Sri Lanka offers so much in terms of things to do and see. We’ll soon be posting articles relating to our own travels around the country, so keep following to see what we got up to. Thanks for the kind comments.

  4. Agness says:

    Believe me or not but I took the same photos from the train as you have :):). I’ve also been to Sri Lanka and didn’t spend more than you, it’s undoubtedly one of the cheapest countries in Asia 🙂

    • Hi Agness, we took this picture on the wonderful train journey from Kandy to Ella. The views were spectacular and we’ll be doing a specific article about what we saw on the route which may rekindle some great memories for you. Costs are definitely going up in Sri Lanka as we think tourism is on the rise here and good, low cost budget accommodation is becoming more difficult to find.

  5. jay says:

    Hi ,thanks for posting the price details,plan to visit Maldives And Sri lanka in march,I think climate will be a bit hot out there, Happy that beer is cheap 🙂

  6. Sri Lanka is a cheap holiday destination in the region with compared to Thailand, Singapore, Maldives etc. But the people who look for luxury can be bit touch with a restrained budget, because the hoteliers have increased their charges with the tourism upbeat in the recent past. Great article and very helpful.

  7. Liz says:

    This is a really great blog and proving really useful for our plans to travel to either Kerala or Sri Lanka. Still undecided- Kerala looks much more expensive???? We are looking to travel next jan or feb. will it be ok to just turn up and look for budget (clean but basic) accomodation when we arrive?? Looks a great place to travel to. Thanks for the really useful info

    • Hi Liz – thanks for the kind words. While we found Sri Lanka about 30% more expensive than India, I would say that Kerala is one of the more expensive destinations in India and there isn’t much difference in price. Jan/Feb is a busy period in both destinations. With the war over, Sri Lanka is being highly recommended as a top pick by many travel writers for 2013, and I suspect this trend to continue into 2014, and I would expect prices to rise as more people travel here. I don’t think you’ll have any problems getting accommodation by just turning up in destinations, we didn’t. Although good cheap, well located accommodation sells fast so get there early or be prepared to move rooms. This type of accommodation isn’t available on-line as it is in local guest houses who don’t advertise. You’ll make significant savings and stretch your budget by turning up at the local bus station and getting a tuk tuk to show you accommodation in your budget range. We found the quality of accommodation to be good and clean. I personally think Sri Lanka offers a great destination to have fun and travel around the country, you won’t be bored and will have a great time. We found Sri Lankan’s to be very friendly and helpful.

  8. Liz says:

    Thanks- yet more helpful advice. Enjoy the rest of your travels

  9. Sepali says:

    Could you please recommend a few places you stayed at?