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Would You Expect Sri Lanka To Be Cheap?

Sigiriya Rock Fortress Lion Gate
Whats left of a once fantastic Lion Gate entrance to the Sigiriya Rock Palace.

I’m currently wrapping up my time here in Sri Lanka, a place I never planned to visit on this trip, but threw in last minute as I worked my way west towards India. I had about 3 weeks of time to fill from when I split with one set of friends in Vietnam, and before meeting another in India. Originally I was going to head straight to India, but instead I ended up cruising up the Mekong to Cambodia for 5 days, then stopped over in Singapore for a couple, and then noticed flights to Sri Lanka and on to India didn’t cost much more than straight to India. On a whim I went for it and booked my flight from Singapore to Sri Lanka.

Trincomalee Nilaveli Beach with Pigeon Island
Nilaveli Beach, the best beach of Trincomalee with Pigeon Island in the background

The idea I had for these 3 weeks was to live cheap, travel slow, and get lots of work done in the process. I knew this wouldn’t happen in Singapore, but what shocked me was when I arrived in Sri Lanka. With a brutal civil war and a devastating tsunami in their recent history, the tourism industry here is just now starting to pick up again. For one thing, this means they don’t have much of a hostel / guest house scene. For my late arrival in Colombo I ended up booking a hotel, on the bottom end of the price range, for almost $80 US. There were just no decent cheap options at all. I sucked it up and figured I’d make up for it by saving on everything else, another mistake. Only having 7-10 days to explore the whole island, I did some basic research, took some notes, and decided to talk to a travel agent to expedite both planning and to fill in the gaps / provide ideas. What she did was sucker me into hiring a private driver, and booking nice hotels the whole stay.

Monkey vs King Cobra
A monkey taunting a spitting king cobra on the beach of Mt. Lavinia

I told her I wanted cheap hotel rooms, didn’t mind staying in less desirable places, I just wanted to have WIFI so I could work at night. She went to work for a while, then came back with an itinerary which went way over the amount I wanted to pay. At this point I maybe should have called the whole thing off, seeing that she didn’t really listen to much I had requested about accommodation, but she was a nice young girl staying late at work and missing a class of hers to finish my itinerary, plus I didn’t have time to waste. I decided I’d live a bit nicer than I planned and booked it, once again making an erroneous assumption this should pretty much cover the majority of my expenses the rest of the trip.

Minneriya National Park - Great Elephant Gathering
The Great Elephant Gathering at Minneriya National Park (September)

I knew I was still responsible for paying entrance fees to all attractions, but how much could those be right? Wow, Sri Lanka may have the most expensive national park system in the world. Everywhere I went it was costing $10, $20, $30 entrance fees! Then, if you wanted a guide, it was double that! My driver suckered me into hiring a guide a couple times where it definitely wasn’t worth it, but I caught on to that and stopped getting them. To be fair the hotels my agent booked for me were all very nice, however, they were also fairly isolated leaving you no options to eat other than at the hotel. Hotel meal prices ranged from about $10-$20+, another shocker!

Dambulla Cave Temple - Laying Budha Statue
One of several giant Laying Budha statues in the Dambulla Cave Temple

Bottom line: Sri Lanka is an amazing country. There’s a lot to see, and what I saw was even better than I expected. However this was not the only surprise, because of the ongoing inflation prices have gone through the roof. A lot of things here were more expensive than back home in California, and sometimes even more than in Sydney! I do recommend visiting Sri Lanka, but budget accordingly. On average I spent almost $200 per day, which is more than twice what I normally average, and I was hardly even drinking which is usually one of my biggest expenses. Traveling with 2 or more people would shrink this by a lot, but regardless, expect to hit the ATM more than you’d expect and or like to.

Sri Lanka Image Gallery

Sri Lanka Map

7 Good comments on "Would You Expect Sri Lanka To Be Cheap?"

  • Blanka  @ Friday, October 21, 2011 at 2:25 PM

    Hi, nice photos :o)
    I competely agree with your comment about Sri lanka being expensive. We expected much cheaper prices everywhere. We got back last week and we spent much more than we thought we would spent. The countryside is beautiful but some of the prices should need reconsidering.

    • Mike  @ Friday, October 21, 2011 at 5:32 PM

      Yep, a guide I had at Polonnaruwa told me that it was because the government has not done anything to combat the inflation since the civil war ended. The difference in price between the locals and foreigners is pretty extreme though.

  • Jana  @ Monday, October 24, 2011 at 5:52 PM


    as Blanka said, we were little bit shocked by the prices. The nature is beautiful. It was the main reason to visit Sri Lanka but I was personaly very dissapointed by behaviour of some people. You would think they will be friendly and appreciate turists but some of them were just taking advantage of us in very unpleasant way.
    Good luck with your travel

  • Infy  @ Wednesday, December 14, 2011 at 7:00 AM

    Hi Mike,

    I am a Sri Lankan, and i read this post, i must say that there are plenty of average and cheap accommodation facilities in Sri Lanka. i wonder why you couldn’t get through to one of them.

    i am assuming that because of your urgency you were not able to spend some time to look for lower cost accommodation.

    However thank you for recommending my country.


    • Mike  @ Wednesday, December 14, 2011 at 10:39 AM

      Hi Infy,

      Thanks for stopping by and providing your feedback! I suppose you would know better about accommodation prices, but I did a fair bit of searching for my hotel in Colombo. Maybe I was just looking in the wrong places (Kayak, Agoda, etc.)? To help other people who read this, what do you use to find cheap accommodation in Sri Lanka?


  • Ben Oz  @ Thursday, January 10, 2013 at 3:58 AM

    Hey Mike,

    Just went through my pictures of my Sri Lanka trip. I was there in June 2011. Then I remembered how expensive it was and I was curious if anyone else had that impression, that’s how I came across your blog.

    I found some budget accommodations though for about $10. But still, I felt so ripped off many times especially at every tourist sight (all temples, elepehant orphenage etc. etc.). So by the end of the first week I was just really upset and couldn’t even enjoy it anymore. I spent more money in one week than I did in one month in Vietnam!

    To be honest I don’t recommend Sri Lanka to any budget / backpacker travelers. Especially if you are on your own. The bad infrastructure makes you dependent on the overpriced taxi drivers.

    Anyway, great photos!

    Take care

    • Mike  @ Thursday, January 10, 2013 at 10:55 AM

      Yep, I had the same experience. After a few days I started getting frustrated with the prices and a little stressed because I was so far over budget. Luckily I was able to step back, try to go with the flow and just enjoy, because it really was an awesome country. My intentions in writing this article were to give those solo budget / backpacker travelers a heads up about the budget before making the same mistake.

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