Is Sri Lanka Expensive To Travel? Our Guide to Spending

Is Sri Lanka expensive
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Is Sri Lanka expensive? You asked, so we answered…here’s our guide to what you can expect to fork out while traveling the fabled isle in the Indian Ocean. We’d say it’s essential reading for budget-conscious globetrotters with their hearts set on the palm-threaded sands of Hikkaduwa, the mist-swirled tea lands of Ella, or the surf breaks of Arugam Bay.

The good news is that Sri Lanka remains unquestionably one of the most affordable destinations in Asia. It beats big players on the budget scene, coming in generally cheaper overall than the likes of Thailand, Bali, and even Vietnam. It’s a place where you can travel for long periods and not break the bank, and where you can stretch those dollars a little further to squeeze a little luxury for less if that’s what you’re after.

This guide will run through all the ins and outs of spending in Sri Lanka. It will offer a ballpark figure on what you can expect to spend overall, look at the cost of food – the oh-so-tasty food – of the Teardrop of India, and detail the costs of things to do and getting around. So, without further ado…is Sri Lanka expensive?

How much does a vacation to Sri Lanka cost?

Photo by Joseph Richard Francis

We’d estimate that the average cost for a week-long stay in Sri Lanka is around the $700-800 mark. That’s based on staying in midrange hotels for about $60/night, eating mainly local food (more on the cost of that below) and doing just one or two planned activities. It doesn’t include the price of flights to and travel around Sri Lanka, which can add a whole load more to the total if you’re coming in from faraway places like the US or the UK.

Also, this is just an average estimation. It’s possible to spend over $250/night on deluxe hotels with sweeping views of the Indian Ocean in these parts, all while dining only at premium international restaurants. That could see the price of your trip skyrocket to over $2,500 or even more. On the flip side, Sri Lanka is an excellent budget destination. There are hotels and hostels that charge less than $5 a night and you can eat street food for $0.75 a pop! Total trips on that end of the scale might cost less than $400 a week.

The cost of flights to Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka trains
Photo by Joseph Richard Francis

The cost of the flight into Sri Lanka is likely to be one of the biggest expenses of all. That is unless you’re coming in from somewhere else in Southeast Asia or South Asia, as short-haul connections on carriers like Air Asia can be just $100-150 USD a pop. Most travelers won’t be boarding in Bangkok or India, though. Most will be coming from the US or Europe…

In that case, you have a good selection of flag-carrying airlines like Qatar and Emirates to pick from. All flights include at least one stopover, usually at a Middle Eastern hub like Dubai or Doha, and average tickets sell for anything between $900-1,200 return. Good bargains are anything under $700 return (AKA – book right now!) and expensive flights at the last minute can be up to $2,000 return.

The thing about Sri Lanka is that there’s no real low season here. That’s because the monsoon hits different parts of the island at different times of the year. The result is that airfare tend to keep a steady price level virtually all seasons, with spikes around Christmas and New Year. So, there’s not too much reward in holding out for less-busy times in the hope of a bargain deal. Sorry!

The cost of hotels in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka hotels
Photo by Joseph Richard Francis

There’s a HUGE variation in the price of hotels on the Teardrop of India. Development in the tourist industry is moving at breakneck pace in many of the resorts along the southwest coast and there seems to be a whole host of new boho surf retreats, yoga getaways, and fancy five-star hotels every year. But there’s also a fantastic selection of locally owned homestays and backpacker hostels that pick up the other end of the spectrum.

We’d say that the top end of the scale is anything above $180/night. For that, you can expect the crème-de-la-crème of Sri Lankan hotels. We’re talking big resorts with in-house spas and infinity pools that creep right up to the beachfront. Down at $70-150/night is the midrange, which we think is the sweet spot on this island, since the hotels in this category still usually have pools, very comfy and spacious rooms, and great locations. That said, you can often find very cozy rentals and beach bungalows for far less than $70 a night, even including breakfast.

Here’s a look at three stays from the top, the midrange, and the budget end of the scale on Sri Lanka:

  • Moksha at Kitulgala Luxury Boutique ($$$) – A honeymoon hotel set on the winding Kitugala River between pockets of wild jungle, this serene retreat has pools, hot tubs, and even its own nightly karaoke!
  • Ananya Beach Resort ($$) – Just $80 a night gets you a jungle-view room on a deserted Tangalle beachfront, complete with a swimming pool and filling breakfast laden with tropical fruit.
  • Hiriketiya Beach Hostels ($) – A cheap and cheerful place to bed down on the tropical paradise beach that is Hiriketiya.

How much is food in Sri Lanka?

Food in Sri Lanka
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Food is cheap in Sri Lanka. Like, really cheap! Oh, and it’s downright fantastic to boot. Dropping fewer dollars on dining out here does not mean dropping quality. In our humble opinion, it’s one of the very best things about traveling the Teardrop of India: You should never be more than a short tuk-tuk ride from an uber-tasty, uber-cheap bout of dahl and rice, papadums and brinjal curry.

Eating local is the way to go if you’re after the tastiest and the most affordable grub. The cities are jam-packed full of little kitchens that offer aromatic buffet lunches or curry and rice sets, not to mention holes in the wall that sell spicy veggie rotis and samosas that cost next to nothing (although you’ll need to be able to handle your Scoville scale if you want to lunch on those). Here are just some examples of the cost of food in these parts:

  • A vegetable roti or samosa (we’d say two is enough for lunch) – 100 LKR ($0.50)
  • A set of three curries with rice and papadums – 800-1,000 LKR ($3.90-4.90)
  • A fruit juice made with uber-fresh fruit from a local seller – 150 LKR ($0.75)
  • Egg hoppers (the breakfast dish you simply have to try) – 150-300 LKR ($0.75-1.50)
  • A curry buffet in one of the local eateries (these are ALL YOU CAN EAT!) – 500 LKR ($2.50)

A new breed of Bali-style Westerner cafés now inhabits the main coast towns along the Hikkaduwa stretch, going all the way down to Hiriketiya Beach. There are also a few in Arugam Bay and Ella in the mountains. These places charge a whole load more than the local curry spots. Expect to pay around 1,200 LKR ($6) for avocado on toast there, and about 500 LKR ($2.50) a coffee.

The cost of activities and things to do in Sri Lanka

Photo by Joseph Richard Francis

As with food, we think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at just how cheap activities and excursions cost in this tropical isle at the south end of Asia. We have been. And that goes for everything from simple guided hikes in Ella to full-blown safari jaunts into the Yala National Park to see the leopards and elephants. Overall, we’d recommend budgeting about $150 USD per week to allow for one or two planned outings, and over $300 USD per week if you want to do something four out of the seven days.

Here are some examples of the top things to do and what they cost:

  • The famous tea train from Kandy to Ella (you must pre-book tickets for this!) – 120 LKR ($0.60) in second class
  • A one-hour surfboard rental in Weligama – 500 LKR ($2.50)
  • A private tour of Sigiriya Rock and the historical sites with hotel pickup – 30,000 LKR ($150)
  • A full day’s safari with game drive in the Yala National Park – 15,200 LKR ($75)
  • Whale watching in Mirissa – 10,000 LKR ($50)

Our money-saving tips for Sri Lanka

Money saving in Sri Lanka
Photo by Joseph Richard Francis

Even though we wouldn’t say that Sri Lanka is a pricy place to travel, you still might want to keep costs on the downlow. Here are some of our top pointers for doing just that…

  • Haggle, haggle, and then haggle some more – Bartering over everything from tuk-tuks to the cost of organized tours is the norm in Sri Lanka. Don’t insult the vendor by going too low straight away but knocking 10% off most things is usually doable. Oh, and don’t haggle for food – that’s not the norm.
  • Eat local – This is one of the best money-saving tips of all for Sri Lanka. There’s a gaping void between the price of local food and international eats. What’s more, dahl and hoppers beats sourdough and avocado for breakfast any day, right?
  • Time your trip – We’ve already mentioned that Sri Lanka doesn’t really have a low season for flights since the monsoon hits different parts of the island at different times of the year. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a low season in certain areas. You should find the southwest is cheaper from May to August and that Arugam Bay is cheaper from September to March.
  • Dodge the seafront hotels – There’s usually a noticeable premium on hotels that sit right on the beachfront, and, in our experience, they’re rarely the best around. Pick places just a little inland to save money and get more bang for your buck.
  • Bring your own surfboard – This one’s for the surfers out there. Check with your airline, but most long-haul carriers offer free transit of boards under a certain length. Getting around with a board in Lanka is easy, too, because tuk-tuk drivers are well used to lashing them to the roof.

Is Sri Lanka expensive – our verdict

Is Sri Lanka expensive? We’d say it’s one of the least expensive places to travel in all of Asia. Yep, move over Thailand. Move over, Vietnam. You can go a whole week on the Teardrop of India with less than $400 in the pocket if you want to. Of course, you can go big and hit the honeymoon hotels and spend over $2,500 a week, too. However, generally speaking, Sri Lanka offers great value for money, and very little compromise on quality of hotels or food, experience or travel comfort to go with it.

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Joe has been a freelance travel writer for over nine years. His writing and roaming have taken him from the colonial towns of Mexico to the chowks of Mumbai to the Southern Alps of New Zealand. When he's not putting together the next epic blog on the best Greek islands or ski fields in France, you can usually find him surfing or hiking – his two top hobbies.