Budget Travel

Sri Lanka on a budget: 17 ways to make your money go further

Sri Lanka happens to be an affordable location to visit for all kinds of travelers. Even for individuals with a shoestring budget, the island nation offers travel experiences that do not break the bank: palm-fringed golden sandy beaches, wildlife adventures, and ancient temples full of fascinating history. Throw in the island's incredible hospitality, and Sri Lanka is a great place to visit for all those on a tight budget.

With the Sri Lankan tourism industry slowly recovering from the pandemic, there are many cheap hotel deals available in addition to beach hamlets offering an up-and-coming digital nomad scene. Although tipping isn't customary, you might desire to do so to assist the waiting staff, cleaners, and drivers who've struggled because of COVID-19 restrictions.

Here are a few additional ways to cut your expenses and visit Sri Lanka on a tight budget.

Book your flights well ahead of time

For the least expensive flights to Sri Lanka book well in advance. Anytime from three months to two weeks ahead of departure should get you cheaper than average fares. Readers are likely to fly into Bandaranaike Airport terminal, about 35km (22 miles) north from the capital Colombo, with major operators like Qatar Airways and Emirates running daily flights from North America and Europe. In the UK, SriLankan Airlines offer direct flight from Stansted airport. Across Asia and Australia, Singapore Airlines and Malaysia Airlines are your best choice for any deal.

Consider flying via India

The cheapest flights to Sri Lanka come from Indian destinations like Chennai, Bangalore, and New Delhi. If you're looking to get a taste of both India and Sri Lanka, flying in from over the Palk Strait can save you money. It's also worth checking if you're able to save money by flying via India too, even when only as a transfer destination.

Travel off-season for extra savings

The peak tourist season in Sri Lanka runs from December to April. Should you avoid these months, particularly December, January, and April when local Year and holidays begin, you can save on accommodation. May to September may be the northwest monsoon season, but don't fret: Sri Lanka's tropical climate means monsoon downpours don't last long.

Monsoon season is additionally a wonderful time look around the country's east coast with sandy beaches, a vibrant surf scene, and abundant wildlife. The period between June and August offers world-class conditions for kitesurfing in Kalpitiya. Things get slow during the shoulder season in October and November, but you can find cheaper accommodations once the south coast is slowly opening up.

Take manchester international bus

Small, air-conditioned buses (Bus 187) run from outside the airport to the center of Colombo and price under US$2. Your way takes about 30 minutes. If you're going with a backpack and little luggage, this can be a great way to spend less.

Sleep in local homestays and hostels

Sri Lanka has clean, comfortable local homestays for anywhere between US$10 and US$20 every night. Most homestays are available on booking platforms such as Booking.com and Airbnb. Not only are they an excellent budget accommodation option, but they're even the best way to experience Sri Lanka's warm hospitality. Family-run homestays are typically a safe choice for solo women travelers too.

Many budget hostels round the island shuttered permanently throughout the pandemic, but you will still stumbled upon a few options in big cities and beach towns. Hostel beds cost US$7 -15. In low season, luxury rooms in hotels and villas drop to around US$100 -150 per night.

Don't book long stays ahead of time

Using Airbnb in Sri Lanka is a good way to find self-catering apartments and small houses, which could cost less than US$20 a night and increase to a couple hundred dollars an evening. If you plan on staying long-term, you can aquire a great deal and avoid unnecessary taxes by speaking to the owner directly once you arrive. Most home owners are happy to provide a reduced rate for long-term guests.

Hop on local buses

Sri Lanka comes with an extensive public transport system, connecting big cities with smaller villages and towns. Most local buses are not air-conditioned and play loud music, but they are cheap. Apart for some (usually inaccurate) timetables for major routes, there aren't any real bus schedules. Buses either run late or only trigger when they are full. Don't let that put you off – on most routes you will see a bus every couple of minutes. Most cost you a handful of dollars for a one-way journey.

Book your train tickets

Traveling by train in Sri Lanka is economical and comfy. It also provides you with an idea of Sri Lankan culture and also the country's diverse landscapes. Most long-distance trains have both air-conditioned and non air-conditioned compartments. A ticket within the air-conditioned coach costs around US$6 -10.

However, remember that you are able to only book your seat ahead of time at major railway stations like Colombo, Kandy, Nanu Oya (near Nuwara Eliya), Jaffna, and Ella. You are able to secure your seats through transport platforms like Bookaway, but once you add around the commission, exactly the same train ticket will cost you 2 or 3 times more.

Travelers also provide the choice to simply be visible on your day and purchase an inexpensive ticket that costs US$1 -3 for any non-reservable compartment. These compartments get crowded during rush hour and weekends.

Board the southern expressway bus

If you are traveling to southern Sri Lanka, go ahead and take expressway bus. These air-conditioned buses leave for Galle, Matara, Tangalle, and Hambantota (near Yala National Park) from Makumbura bus station in Colombo. For a 1 -2 hour bus journey, you're taking a look at a one-way ticket that costs less than US$5. These buses will also be faster than the local train.

Use ride-hailing apps in Colombo and Kandy

Ride-hailing apps only work in Colombo and Kandy, but they're the most practical method to travel within the two cities whilst saving money. You will find the option to book bikes, tuk tuks, basic cars, and luxury vehicles.

If you want a little comfort and don't want to opt for trains and buses to visit outside Colombo, the homegrown app PickMe is another great platform to reserve taxis for extended trips. Services here are 20 -30% cheaper than booking pre-arranged taxis via a hotel or tour agency.

Where you can't use ride-hailing apps, rent a scooter

Outside Colombo and Kandy where ride-hailing apps don't work, tuk tuk prices can add up. Since many drivers don't have a meter, you'll have to pay anything they quote. Rent a scooter instead. These cost US$5 -10 each day and are a popular way to beach hop across the south coast.

Eat from the "hotels"

Join the locals in the small, hole-in-the-wall restaurants called "hotels" to save money on food. You can gorge on the plate of rice and curry for as little as US$2 -4. Hotels also sell snacks – often called "shorties" or "short-eats" – like deep-fried fish cutlets, vegetable patties, and sugar-sprinkled tea buns for less than a dollar.

In more touristy areas like Unawatuna and Ella, meals are a little bit more expensive, but most chic cafes, restaurants, and beach shacks offer great value for money. Meals for 2 having a handful of beers ranges be US$15 -25.

Head to the local market for food

If you're looking to stay place in Sri Lanka for some time, remember that imported products like chocolates, biscuits, cheese, and cosmetics are costly and difficult to locate. Look for local brands at supermarkets and supermarkets. It's always cheaper to buy vegetables, fruits, and cooking ingredients from small stalls by the road or the local market.

Seek out women-run health food outlets for vegan and vegetarian meals

Look out for Hela Bojun outlets across the nation – also known as Ammachchi in the north. If you discover an open-air kitchen filled with female chefs dressed in green aprons and head covers, you're in the right place. Run entirely by local women, these restaurants are intended through the Secretary of state for Agriculture to advertise regional, homegrown ingredients and eating healthily, whilst encouraging women entrepreneurship. They mainly sell nutritious vegan and vegetarian dishes. You are able to grab a filling meal having a glass of freshly squeezed fruit juice or a cup of herbal tea for under a dollar here.

Join other travelers to save on wildlife safaris

Sri Lanka's nature are a great way to identify wild Asian elephants, leopards, and rare native and migratory birds within their natural habitats. With entrance fees, tax, and 4WD costs, a safari for two costs US$70 -100. A 4WD typically seats six so consider buddying up with other travelers to share the expense. Avoid any extra transport by staying close to the parks. You have to whale- and dolphin-watching tours.

Consider visiting the less popular tourist sites

The entry fee for the ancient cities of Polonnaruwa and Anuradhapura is US$25. But you will find equally compelling sites to visit that are easier on the purse. Temples and historical sites such as the Dambulla Cave Temple, Yapahuwa in Kurunegala, Embekke near Kandy, and Mulkirigala Rock Temple near Tangalle still offer some cultural heft, but in a fraction of the price.

Climb Pidurangala rather than Lion Rock

To visit Lion Rock in Sigiriya costs US$30. Budget travelers should instead climb Pidurangala, which offers clear views of the mighty 180m-high (590ft) column, but is under US$3 to summit.

Daily costs in Sri Lanka

Hostel room: US$7 -15
Basic room for two in a homestay: US$10 -20
Basic hotel room: US$20 -40
Self-catering apartment (including Airbnb): US$20 -100
Public transport ticket (local buses): US$1 -3 one way
Public transport ticket (air-conditioned reserved trains): US$6 -10
Coffee: US$2 -4
Sandwich: US$1 -5
Dinner for 2 in a mid-range restaurant: US$15 -22
Dinner for two inside a fine-dining restaurant: US$40 -70
Beer in the bar (local Lion beer can 330ml): US$1
Rice and curry: US$2 -5
A plate of kottu roti: US$3 -5
Deep-fried vegetable roll: US$0.40 -1

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