Last summer I spent two weeks of my summer travelling around Sri Lanka whilst collaborating with hotels and restaurants across the country. I used the public transport system and local drivers to visit six different locations in my thirteen full days there, seeing everything from the Indian Ocean from Mirissa’s beaches to elephants in Yala National Park. In this post I’ll outline costs of food, commuting and excursions in Sri Lanka as well as giving a rough itinerary outline. Of course, everybody visits this incredible country for different reasons. I’m aware that some people may want to safari or surf for the duration of their stay, but for me I wanted to cram as much as possible into my very short visit and at as low a cost as possible.
For those intending on visiting Sri Lanka, there is a limit on how many Sri Lankan rupees you can take out of the country so you will be unable to purchase currency before your trip. If you’re taking cash to convert on arrival, be sure to use a large currency such as Pounds (for my fellow Scots, make sure it’s English notes – trust me!) or Dollars. Sri Lanka requires an e-visa from most visitors. Our visas took around 3 working days to be confirmed and emailed to us, so make sure to apply in plenty of time and to use an official source (local governments should have links to where visas are safe to purchase from). I have a full post on applying for East and South Asian visas on my site, which you can read by clicking here.
As I’ve already indicated we visited a total of six locations whilst in Sri Lanka, however there were countless other towns and sights I would love to have seen so I’ll be sure to include them in this post, too.
- Colombo, 3 nights: We started in Colombo, spending three nights in the heart of the city. Colombo has a great culinary scene and its skyline is transforming almost daily. The city is experiencing incredible growth but managed to retain all the charm I expected to find in Sri Lanka. You can see more photos from our time in Colombo as well as hotel and restaurant reviews by clicking here.
- Mirissa, 3 nights: From Colombo we took a beautiful coastal train to Galle followed by a bus to Mirissa (more on getting around Sri Lanka later in this post) where we spent a further three nights. You can read my full review of our hotel, Seaworld Resort, by clicking here. Mirissa is perfect for surfing, being close to the stick fishermen and is roughly forty-five minutes for the much pricier town of Galle.
- Yala, 2 nights: We took a tuk tuk from our hotel in Mirissa and drove across the Southern belt of the country which took close to three and a half hours. Yala is an incredible National Park with an endless list of wildlife. You can see photos from our safari by clicking here, and if anyone would like a review for our hotel then just let me know in the comments.
- Ella, 2 nights: We travelled by bus from Yala to Ella by public bus. Although they’re pretty crowded and poorly ventilated, this drive in particular was one of the most beautiful we took during our visit. We climbed into the mountains to reach the small town of Ella, where you can visit the famous nine-arch bridge, mountainside waterfalls and climb Little Adam’s Peak. For more photographs of Ella and a full review of a suitable-for-any-budget hotel, click here.
- Kandy, 2 nights: We took the world-renowned train journey from Ella to Kandy which took a few hours. Kandy was incredibly hectic, but I have to say I preferred it to Colombo. We stayed with the same chain as in Colombo, Clock Inn, and you can read my review for the hotel/hostel by clicking here.
- Pinnawala, 2 nights: I’m aware this location may be slightly controversial to some, and I will admit that after seeing wild elephants on safari I would rather have not stayed at the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage, but hotels and transfers to the airport were already paid for. However, our hotel had an incredible view of the river and we were able to get up close and personal with the elephants during their times in the water. Note that you’re unable to get to your hotel without paying a fee outside the hours of 10am and 4pm, so be sure to arrive before or after then to avoid time wasting.
Because of both time and budget constraints we weren’t able to make it to Sigiriya, Udawalawe National Park or to the Cameron Highlands. When I visit Sri Lanka again I’ll make a point of visitng all three for very different reasons. Udawalawe because of its dense elephant population, the Cameron Highlands because of their incredible beauty and Sigiriya to learn more about its history.
During this trip I was fortunate enough to receive a lot of my meals and accommodation for free, but I’ve done some research on costs of both as well as that of public transport and excursions to give a fully comprehensive guide to Sri Lanka.
Our flights from Manchester to Colombo (with a stopover in Muscat) cost approximately £360 return with Oman Air. As far as long haul flights go, this is more than reasonable and the same path for the rest of 2018 will cost you roughly the same. I always use Skyscanner.net to source flights and compare prices. Nine times out of ten I’ll book the flights through the airline’s own website, but sometimes the discounted rates are available only through Skyscanner. If you’d like to learn more about using the website for flights and hotels, you can read my guide here.
In terms of hotels, prices fluctuate slightly from region to region. For more remote areas such as Pinnawala and Yala, hotels have the ability to jack up the prices because of their monopoly across the area. Even so, for two people rooms can range from £12 per night to upwards of £100. In the larger cities like Colombo and Kandy, I would budget around £30 per night for a three-star hotel and £75 for a five-star. This is really where I start to plan the lengths of my trips, as accommodation is always the biggest outlay apart from flights.
Food can be as expensive or inexpensive as you desire. Around half of the nights we bought ramen noodles and cooked them with the kettle at our hotel which cost just £2 to feed us both. Others we went to local restaurants, and others to larger restaurants like Kaema Sutra and Ministry of Crab. Like the hotels, you really can adapt your meal plan to suit your budget. Realistically, I would budget around £20 per day per person for food, however it’s more than doable on £5 each.
For getting around the country, you can either use private transfers, hire a car yourself or use public transportation. With the exception of our final trip to the airport which cost us an insane £40, we used public transport and tuk tuks for the entirety of our trip.
Upon our arrival in Colombo we used the local 187 bus to take us to Colombo Fort, costing 60 rupees (120 LKR = 1 GBP) each. This is significantly cheaper than taking a taxi, and means you get a higher-up view of the city while you maneouvre the winding market streets of the outskirts of the city. From the fort we took a taxi to our hotel which cost us 400 rupees. At no point in Colombo did we ever pay more than this to get from A to B, and everytime we boarded a tuk tuk we asked either the driver turn on the meter or give us a price upfront.
For thirteen days and for two people we spent around £100 getting around Sri Lanka. We took two trains, one from Colombo to Galle and another from Ella to Kandy. The former can cost 50p for third class tickes, £1 for second and £5 for first. The latter is a little pricier, but worth it compared to the cost of private transfer, at £2 each for a second class ticket.
Twice we used tuk tuks for length journey, the first being from Mirissa to Yala which cost us 4000 rupees and the second from Kandy to Pinnawala which cost us much less at 2000 rupees. Both of these journeys are possible by bus, but we wanted to cut down our travel time and be able to stop on the drive wherever we wished. Private transfers begin at roughly £40, so if you’re on a budget I strongly recommend investigating the public transport system and its limits before heading to Sri Lanka. For every country – Asian, European and North American – I’ve visited I always use Seat61 to determine routes, prices and timetables. Click here to view his site.
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