Country: Sri Lanka
Dates Visited: May 2, 2015 – May 18, 2015
# of Days: 16
Average Daily Budget: USD 34.76 per person
Exchange Rate: USD 1.00 to 133.00 Sri Lankan Rupees (LKR)
The hotels/guesthouses we opted for were all well-located with clean rooms, AC, wifi and a private bathroom. Here is the breakdown by city:
Colombo (2 nights) – We stayed two nights at the Sae Sea Hotel (USD 38.86 / night) in Colombo. Centrally located and right across the beach, the hotel had clean rooms with all the amenities. It was also one of the cheapest we found in the area, especially given Vesak holidays. Internet was really fast, but worked only in the lobby.
Kandy (2 nights) – Our room at the Star Light Guesthouse (USD 22.55 / night) was huge, actually bigger than our old apartment in New York. It was also really clean and had super fast internet. The beds could be a bit more comfortable though.
Nuwara Eliya (2 nights) – The New Tour Inn (USD 18.80 / night) had decent rooms, but they were cold and damp with hard beds. It didn’t help that the weather was rainy every afternoon in the hills. We also struggled with the internet here.
Ella (2 nights) – We stayed at the centrally located Pasla Hotel (USD 22.55 / night). The rooms were spacious, clean and comfortable. The internet was slow and stopped working for parts of our stay, but it was still a great place to stay at.
Tissamaharama (2 nights) – Probably the worst city for accommodation during our trip, hotels in Tissa didn’t have the same standard as other cities in Sri Lanka. After checking pretty much all the limited options in town, we settled for Tissa Hotel (USD 16.54 / night). The staff was really friendly and made sure we had what we needed. The rooms could be a bit cleaner and have less mosquitoes. A small frog also appeared in our room in the middle of the night.
Mirissa (3 nights) – Arguably the best place we stayed at in Sri Lanka, I & I Rest (USD 22.55 / night) had really comfortable rooms and fast internet. The place looked brand new. We didn’t have any problems here and even extended beyond the intended two nights stay.
Galle (1 night) – Decent accommodation in Galle was expensive and basically out of our budget. We settled for the Old Dutch Guesthouse (USD 18.80 / night). The room was clean, but the AC was really weak and the internet slow. We wished we had stayed at our place in Mirissa and taken a day trip to Galle instead.
Negombo (2 nights) – For the final two nights in Sri Lanka, we stayed at the Marine Tourist Guesthouse (USD 26.31 / night) in Negombo as to be closer to the airport that is actually in Negombo instead of Colombo. The room was spacious, clean and comfortable with a private balcony, which flooded our room after some heavy rain in the afternoon. The internet was slow.
Money Saving Tips
- We found out that most accommodation options in Sri Lanka are actually not online, with the few exceptions being really expensive. Take your time, walk around and you will get a better room for cheaper here.
- Don’t bother with AC rooms (which are more expensive) in colder places like Nuwara Eliya and Ella. Temperatures are mild throughout the year and it gets quite chilly at night.
Food & Drinks
Sri Lankan cuisine was a great surprise for us, as we expected it to be heavily Indian influenced. Even though there were some traces from the subcontinent, like good ol’ curry, other dishes like kottu, lamprais or hoppers were simply delicious. We spent an average of USD 7.55 per day per person eating exclusively in restaurants and once in a while snacking from street vendors. Hygiene is better in Sri Lanka and we had no qualms when eating from street vendors, though they were not that abundant.
Money Saving Tips
- Even when eating in restaurants, you can save money by ordering local items, such as kotthu, fried rice or fried noodles instead of western dishes like pasta, pizza, burgers, etc.
- Cargill’s FoodCity is a chain of grocery stores across Sri Lanka with western standards. Everywhere we went, it was a great place to pick up essentials, including water and other drinks.
We flew into Sri Lanka from Chennai in India and spend USD 105 per person on the tickets with Air India, which averaged USD 6.60 per day per person. To get around in Sri Lanka, we used mostly tuk-tuks or local buses within the cities and buses or trains to go to other cities. Public transportation was extremely cheap in Sri Lanka – we spent only USD 14.25 per person to get to all the cities we visited.
Bus – Local buses were comfortable, efficient and cheap. Since the cities in Sri Lanka are small, we often just hopped on and hoped it would take us to the right place. To get to and from between cities, just head to the bus station and ask somebody for the bus you want. Locals are friendly and will point you the right way. The rides were super cheap with most intra city rides being below USD 0.20 and buses from Colombo to Kandy costing USD 1.10 per person. Sometimes they can get crowded, but you can usually find a comfortable seat.
Train – Our favorite method of transportation in Sri Lanka, the train rides were scenic and cheap. We paid a premium to get reserved seats and even then our train from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya only cost USD 3 per person (USD 1.40 without reservation fee) and the ride from Nuwara Eliya to Ella, USD 4.50 per person (USD 1.40 without reservation fee). From Galle to Colombo, we didn’t pay for reserved seats and we had to sit by the door during the entire ride, which didn’t end up being that bad at all – that ride cost only USD 1.35 per person.
Money Saving Tips
- Use public transportation! It is practical, comfortable and extremely cheap. We are yet to find a country that can beat the prices found in Sri Lanka.
- Reservations for trains are totally unnecessary – most locals just hop on to look for a seat or even hang out by the door, which is a highly sought after spot, especially during scenic routes.
Sri Lanka had many attractions for such a small country and we made sure to visit the main ones:
- Temple of the Tooth (Kandy) – Entrance fees USD 7.90 per person
The most sacred temple in Sri Lanka, the Temple of the Tooth was quite a disappointment for us as we didn’t get to see the actual tooth relic. Dress code is strict, and both men and women need to remove shoes and cover legs and shoulders.
- Safari at the Yala National Park – USD 39.50 per person
One of the best experiences in Sri Lanka, we took a 7h jeep safari through the wild jungles of Yala National Park. Spotting a wild leopard (along with many other wildlife) was one of the coolest things we’ve done. The tour cost USD 39.50 per person inclusive of a USD 4 tip for the driver.
- Whale-watching tour (Mirissa) – USD 22.50 per person
The tour took around 4 hours and goes into open ocean to spot dolphins and huge blue whales. During our visit to Mirissa, the company had a promotion and tickets cost only USD 22.50 per person, half off the original price.
Money Saving Tips
- Entertainment and sightseeing is expensive in Sri Lanka, so plan well the activities you would like to have. For whatever reason, entrance fees for landmarks tend to be much higher than what is usual for this part of the world, especially compared to prices of daily items.
- Bear in mind that most national parks charge a USD 30 daily entrance fee for the park (possibly more for vehicle plus driver), on top of the tours you might take inside the park. This was one of the main reasons why we skipped Horton Plains National Park – a hike shouldn’t have to cost so much.
There were some considerable miscellaneous expenses in Sri Lanka:
- E-Visa – USD 30.00 per person
We applied for our visas online. The process was seamless and fast. Our entry into Sri Lanka was the most organized and hassle-free that we’ve ever encountered.
- Mobitel SIM Card with 2.5GB of data – USD 6.70
All providers offered insane data packages and we chose the lowest available one with 2.5GB of data. The package with Mobitel only cost us USD 6.70. 3G coverage was one of the best and fastest in Asia.
In addition to the items above, we spent another USD 50 in other items such as gifts, laundry and hygiene product.
Sri Lanka was a delightful surprise. We enjoyed every single moment of our trip here while keeping it under budget.