Budget Breakdown: One Month in Sri Lanka

Marakkalaoda Beach

For most people, long-term travel seems like an impossible dream for many reasons, chief among them is typically cost. But we have found that money—or lack thereof—doesn’t necessarily have to stand between you and your travel dreams.

Earlier this year, Sam and I spent a full month traveling around Sri Lanka. Here is our detailed rundown of the cost of one month in Sri Lanka on a budget.

Our Travel Needs

Moped in Ella

 As with any budget, yours will depend on your personal travel style, needs, and preferences. Extreme budget travelers could easily spend less money than we did. People who prefer more comfortable accommodations or cram each day with expensive tours and activities would likely spend significantly more.

We tend to be middle-of-the-road travelers. While we are certainly budget cautious and willing to rough it (somewhat) when necessary, we also like to maintain a few creature comforts.

During our month in Sri Lanka, these were some of our travel requirements:

  • Reliable Wi-Fi. Since we were working remotely during our one month in Sri Lanka, staying in accommodations with reliable Wi-Fi was one of our top priorities. Though things didn’t always pan out too well in that department! 
  • Air Conditioning. Sri Lanka is hot. Sweat-running-down-your-back, surface-of-the-sun hot at times. We knew we wouldn’t be able to enjoy ourselves or work productively if we didn’t have air conditioning at our accommodations (with the exception of the chilly hill country where air conditioning isn’t necessary). 
  • Hot water. This one was simply a preference. But after taking several weeks of cold showers on previous trips, I’ve come to appreciate the luxury of a nice warm shower—even when traveling in hot climates. Sam is marginally psychotic and takes cold showers even at home, so this requirement wasn’t as important to him.
  • Privacy. Again, since we were working remotely (and because we’re both introverts), staying somewhere private was a must—no dorm rooms or shared bathrooms.
  • Proximity to attractions. We didn’t have our own method of transportation, so we always tried to stay at guesthouses that were located walking distance from restaurants and the main attractions.

Obviously, every traveler’s needs are different. Some people may be totally cool without AC. Figuratively, I mean. Sri Lanka is a furnace. Others might only want to stay in five-star resorts and hire a private driver. Understanding your travel style will help you determine how to budget for one month in Sri Lanka.

Our Itinerary for One Month in Sri Lanka

Nine Arches Bridge

Another major factor to consider when budgeting for one month in Sri Lanka is your itinerary. If you’re planning to stay for a week or more in each destination, your expenses will be significantly lower than if you’re hopping around every day or two.

Because we were working remotely in Sri Lanka, we chose to travel at a much slower pace than we probably would have if we were simply on a month-long vacation. Here is an overview of our itinerary:

  • Colombo (arriving from the USA) – 1 night
  • Tangalle (hanging out at the beach) – 13 nights
  • Tissamaharama (including safari in Yala National Park) – 2 nights
  • Nuwara Eliya (a mix of activities) – 3 nights
  • Ella (mostly hiking) – 9 nights
  • Colombo (to fly home) – 0 nights

Cost of One Month in Sri Lanka on a Budget

Yala National Park

Okay, so now it’s time to look at the actual numbers. We will list everything in Sri Lankan rupees (LKR). As a point of reference, at the time of our trip—February 2018—the exchange rate was roughly 150 LKR to 1 USD. You can find the current exchange rate here.

NOTE: Our costs are representative of a couple sharing a room and, at times, a tuk tuk. Solo or family travelers’ costs will differ slightly. We have included our total cost, as well as a breakdown of the per person expense.

Colombo

Sri Lanka Train

Since our flight arrived ridiculously late at night, we had a brief one-night stopover in Colombo before traveling to the coast. And our hotel had bed bugs, so we didn’t get off to a great start!

Average Daily Cost

Accommodations – 4,604 LKR (2,302 LKR per person)

Food – n/a

Local Transport – 350 LKR (175 LKR per person)

Activities – n/a

Other – n/a

Total Cost

Accommodations – 4,604 LKR (2,302 LKR per person)

Food – n/a

Local Transport – 350 LKR (175 LKR per person)

Activities – n/a

Other – n/a

Because our time in Colombo was just a stopover before heading to the beach, we didn’t spend any money other than for our hotel and a brief local bus. Our hotel offered a free shuttle from the airport and to the bus stop. On the way to the bus stop, our driver told us that he would soon be taking his driver’s license exam. Gulp…sorry, Mom!

Tangalle

Tangalle

After our brief stop in Colombo, we traveled to the south coast where we stayed for the next 13 nights. When we weren’t working, we spent most of our time chilling out on the beach and chugging pineapple milkshakes at the coffee shop.

Average Daily Cost

Accommodations – 3,490 LKR (1,745 LKR per person)

Food – 2,672 LKR (1,336 LKR per person)

Local Transport – 430 LKR (215 LKR per person)

Activities – 269 LKR (135 LKR per person)

Other – 376 LKR (188 LKR per person)

Total Cost

Accommodations – 45,369 LKR (22,685 LKR per person)

Food – 34,742 LKR (17, 371 LKR per person)

Local Transport – 5,590 LKR (2,795 LKR per person)

Activities – 3,500LKR (1,750 LKR per person)

Other – 4,898 LKR (2,449 LKR per person)

As a whole, Tangalle ended up being fairly easy on our budget, even though we splurged regularly on fruit juices and coffee. Had we been on a super tight budget, we could have easily saved money in that department. Our guesthouse (like many in Sri Lanka) included a complimentary daily breakfast, which helped keep our costs down.

Tissamaharama

Yala National Park

The main reason we stayed in Tissa was because it is the gateway to Yala National Park. The area is known for its wide variety of birds, so we also did a nice (free!) nature walk through our hotel—and we ended up enjoying that even more than our safari!

Average Daily Cost

Accommodations – 9,109 LKR (4,554 LKR per person)

Food – 2,375 LKR (1,188 LKR per person)

Local Transport – n/a

Activities – 5,710 LKR (2,855 LKR per person)

Other – n/a

Total Cost 

Accommodations – 18,217 LKR (9,109 LKR per person)

Food – 4,750 LKR (2,375 LKR per person)

Local Transport – n/a

Activities – 11,420 LKR (5,710 LKR per person)

Other – n/a

Our stay in Tissa ended up being the most expensive per day segment of our trip in nearly every category. There were a few reasons for that. First, we stayed in Tissa so we would have easy access to Yala National Park for a safari, which was our biggest splurge of our month in Sri Lanka. Second, we stayed at the Rain Tree hotel—the most expensive accommodation of our trip—because we had happened to sit beside the owner’s brother on the flight from Amsterdam to Colombo. Finally, the restaurant options in Tissa are seriously lacking, so we ended up eating nearly every meal at our hotel, which wasn’t cheap.

If you plan to visit Tissa, we recommend staying as briefly as possible!

Nuwara Eliya

Hiking Nuwara Eliya

From Tissa we hopped on a tuk tuk and several busses until we reached Nuwara Eliya in the hill country. We spent three nights in Nuwara Eliya, and our itinerary consisted of a combination of free activities (hooray for hiking!) and splurges (high tea at the Grand Hotel, anyone?).

Average Daily Cost

Accommodations – 4,386 LKR (2,193 LKR per person)

Food – 3,580 LKR (1,790 LKR per person)

Local Transport – n/a

Activities – 200 LKR (100 LKR per person)

Other – n/a

Total Cost 

Accommodations – 13,158 LKR (6,579 LKR per person)

Food – 10,740 LKR (5,370 LKR per person)

Local Transport – n/a

Activities – 600 LKR (300 LKR per person)

Other – n/a

Budget-wise, our time in Nuwara Eliya was fairly reasonable. Because Nuwara Eliya is naturally chilly, we didn’t need to pay extra for air conditioning in our room. We could have easily kept our food costs down, but we splashed out twice on special meals: high tea at The Grand Hotel and dinner at The Grand Indian. Both were worth the splurge!

Ella 

Hiking Nuwara Eliya

After three nights in Nuwara Eliya, we hopped on the famed Sri Lankan train to Ella where we spent the final nine nights of our month in Sri Lanka. During that time we did a lot of hiking, sightseeing, and eating.

Average Daily Cost

Accommodations – 4,324 LKR (2,162 LKR per person)

Food – 3,551 LKR (1,776 LKR per person)

Local Transport – 113 LKR (57 LKR per person)

Activities – 278 LKR (139 LKR per person)

Other – 178 LKR (89 LKR per person) – laundry service and souvenirs

Total Cost

Accommodations – 38,920 LKR (19,460 per person)

Food – 31,960 LKR (15,980 per person)

Local Transport – 1,020 LKR (510 LKR per person)

Activities – 2,500 LKR (1,250 LKR per person)

Other – 1,600 LKR (800 LKR per person)

Our time in Ella ended up being fairly budget-friendly. The accommodations were affordable. And because of the cooler climate, we didn’t have to spend extra money on air conditioning.

We spent quite a bit of money on food in Ella, because we splurged on tea and cake at our favorite cake shop nearly every afternoon and Sam ordered coffee several times (an expensive luxury in Sri Lanka!). Had we cut out those two extras, we could have easily slashed our food spending. For dinner, we often just split one takeout order of khottu, which was one of the cheapest meals of our entire month in Sri Lanka!

Colombo

When we left Ella, we made the nine-hour train journey back to Colombo to catch our flight home. Since I was wretchedly sick with a cold and our flight didn’t leave for Amsterdam until 2 am, we ended up renting a hotel room nearby for the day and taking a five-hour nap before heading to the airport for our departing flight.

Total Cost 

Accommodations – 6,000 LKR (3,000 LKR per person)

Food – 1,200 LKR

Local Transport – 2,000 LKR (1,000 LKR per person) – taxi to airport

Activities – n/a

Other – n/a

After waking up early and spending nine hours on a train while sick, Sam and I agreed that every rupee we spent on our accommodations in Colombo was well spent! Late that night we caught a taxi to the airport and began the long journey home.

Transit

Train in Sri Lanka

Aside from our accommodation, food, local transport, and activities expenses, we had to pay for transit between destinations. Thankfully, public transit in Sri Lanka—though not always fast or comfortable—is extensive and affordable. Here is a breakdown of our transit costs for one month in Sri Lanka.

Colombo > Tangalle – Free! The man we sat beside on the flight from Amsterdam gave us a lift in his car. Otherwise we would have taken a combo of trains and busses.

Tangalle > Tissa – 300 LKR (150 LKR per person) – 2 busses

Tissa > Nuwara Eliya – 980 LKR (490 LKR per person) – tuk tuk and 2 busses

Nuwara Eliya > Ella – 720 LKR (360 LKR per person) – tuk tuk and train

Ella > Colombo – 2,300 LKR (1,150 LKR per person) – train, airport shuttle

In general, our in-country transit costs were extremely low. If you hire a driver  instead of using public transit, your costs would be much higher. Alternatively, if you take fewer tuk tuks or visit fewer destinations, you could end up spending quite a bit less.

The one expense we did not include here is the cost of our plane ticket from Atlanta to Colombo, because that expense varies dramatically depending on your origin, dates, fare class, etc.

We would have had to pay $1,050 USD for our plane ticket, but we had enough airline credit from volunteering our seats on a previous flight to cover the full cost of both our tickets.

Total Cost of One Month in Sri Lanka

High Tea at the Grand Hotel

Now, that I’ve broken down the expenses for each destination, let’s look at the total cost of one month in Sri Lanka:

Accommodations – 123,868 LKR (61,934 LKR per person)

Food – 84,767 LKR (42,384 LKR per person)

Local Transport – 13,270 LKR (6,635 LKR per person)

Activities – 18,020 LKR (9,010 LKR per person)

Other – 6,498 LKR (3,249 LKR per person)

Total Cost: 246,423 LKR (123,212 LKR per person)

Average Daily Cost: 8, 497 LKR (4,249 LKR per person)

At the time of our trip—February 2018—the total cost for our month in Sri Lanka came out to $1,589 USD total or $795 USD per person. Our average daily cost was slightly more than $28 per person.

NOTE: To get an accurate idea of the cost of one month in Sri Lanka, it is also important to consider the money you save by spending a month abroad.

Because we own our home, we still paid our mortgage during the month we were away. But we estimate that we saved approximately $700 USD on expenses like groceries, gas, and utilities. And that’s not even including any unnecessary expenses we would have made. Keeping that in mind, the true costs of spending a month in Sri Lanka is closer to $1,100 USD or $550 USD per person. People who tend to eat out a lot or who typically rack up large utilities bills would notice an even greater savings. Not too bad for an epic, month-long adventure!

Is Sri Lanka a good budget destination?

 Overall, we found Sri Lanka to be a great destination for budget travelers who want to stretch their money as far as possible. Though we were happy with the amount we spent, we know we could have easily lowered our expenses further by staying in cheaper accommodations—though we would have likely had to forgo comforts like air conditioning and hot water at times—and splurging less often on food and activities.

Even if you’re on a super tight budget, we think Sri Lanka is a good value destination.

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One Month in Sri Lanka Budget Breakdown

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