Sri Lanka is perfect for the budget backpacker who wants the time of their life without breaking the bank! It's a little pearl in the Indian Ocean. It literally has everything just piled up on a tiny island! And so much stuff is free to do or at least very cheap! You can easily spend less than 50$ a day for food, accommodation and transport. Here's some of my best tips on how to do it.
I'm not afraid to say that this is definitely my favourite travel destination so far. It has the most beautiful nature, the most delicious food and the most openminded backpackers! My two weeks in Sri Lanka was my best decision when traveling alone. The locals are happy to help you and you'll EASILY find people who wants to do the same thing as you, whom you can travel with. You are almost never alone! In the end - after multiple fun travel companions - I actually longed to travel a bit by myself again... Something I dreaded my first week of solo traveling.
The cheapest way of transportation is by bus. I didn't do this much in the North, because I didn't like it that much. But if you're ready for a different bus experience: Go ahead! The busses are very crowded, but for short rides like 20-30 minutes its okay and only about 20 rupees (20 cents/1 kr.). In the South the busses are more organized and you can easily take the bus. I took a bus from Tangalle to Unawatuna (2 hours) and from Hikkaduwa to Negombo (changed bus in Colombo). It was about 60 rupees (50 cent/3 kr.). Often there's no stop signs, but you can just ask people in the bus or the person walking around in the bus collecting money for the ride.
The second cheapest is the train. The train is very slow, but for the train ride between Kandy and Ella it's worth it. It costs somewhere between 50-300 rupees ($2/12 kr.) if you do second or third class! First class tickets you have to buy in advance, but you can't do it from back home, and you can't lean out of the windows. I wouldn't recommend this. I tried both 2nd and 3rd and both are fine, but VERY crowded in the morning/noon trains - less in the later ones. I stood most of the way, but I had a nice spot at the open doors, which mean if you are lucky you can sit in the doorway and look out. My advice is to take the 7 hour train ride in smaller bites, so you won't have to stand for too long!
The more expensive ways of traveling are by tuk tuk or taxi. However, it's not acutually expensive... In a tuk tuk you can sit three people and share the price. In a taxi you can also find some travel companions going the same way as you and split the price. In the North it's also possible to bargain, however, in the more touristy places in the South they have fixed prices. To give you some examples:
Taxi Colombo Airport to Kandy (4 hours) = 3 pers. = 3000 LKR per pers. ($20/116 kr.)
Tuk tuk day trip to Sigiriya (8am - 8pm) = 1 pers. = 5000 LKR ($32/200 kr.)
Tuk tuk Kandy to Botanical Garden (20 min.) = 3 pers. = 200 LKR per pers. ($1.5/8 kr.)
Taxi Hatton to Dalhousie (Adam's Peak) (2 hours) = 6 pers. = 500 per pers. ($3/20 kr.)
Taxi Ella to Mirissa (5 hours) = 6 pers. = 3000 LKR per pers. ($20/116 kr.)
Download the app for a booking page like Booking.com and RESEARCH RESEARCH RESEARCH before you go to the next city to find the cheapest options!
Often you can save a lot of money by sleeping at hostels (and also meet a lot of new friends). If you like to have your own room, you can get a homestay in most cities for almost nothing. The most expensive place I stayed was $15 (90 kr.) a night and the cheapest was $5 (30 kr.).
FREE THINGS TO SEE AND DO
Climb Adam's Peak
If you are ready for a challenge then take the 5200 steps at 2.30am and watch the sunrise over the Sri Lankan Hill Country. It's a one in a lifetime experience and it's completely free to do! You can choose to donate money to the monks in the beginning of the steps but no one's forcing you and you can bring money for the many tea and roti shops, but it's near to nothing and if you want you can bring your own food. However, there's something fun about drinking a cup of tea and eating a roti on your way up a huge mountain for 50 rupees (30 cents/2 kr.) each!
Visit Blue Field Tea Factory
The tea factory near Nuwara Eliya, Blue Field, is free to visit which surprised me! I was ready to pay an entrance fee, but a guide will just show you around and tell you about the daily process from leaf to tea! We donated about 100 rupees to him for guiding us (which is expected). Then they give you a free cup of tea and you are free to walk the plantations! BUT don't take pictures of the workers - unless you got some change on you to give to them.
Climb Little Adam's Peak or Ella's Rock
If Adam's Peak is a bit too much for you - or you just want some more spectacular views - you can climb Ella's Rock, which is also a semi hard climb, or climb Little Adam's Peak, which is more of a nice walk. However, the view is still breathtaking (check out the picture if you want proof)! Additionally, you can walk along the train rails from/to Ella and see some more beautiful nature and the famous bridge, the Nine Arch Bridge.
See the beautiful beaches of Sri Lanka
The number of beaches in Sri Lanka are endless and they are all different! Go to Tangalle and see some of the most empty beaches. Or to the Unawatuna area and see beautiful blue water and white sand. Go to a jungle beach. A surf beach. A windsurfing beach. A snorkling beach. The possibility are endless. Read more about the best beaches here.
Snorkle with fish and turtles
Go to Hikkaduwa and bring your snorkling gear (or rent some on the beach). Go to Turtle Point and see sea turtles or go to the reef and snorkle with 10000 fish! You don't have to rent a boat or take a diving certificate (even though this is cheaper here than lots of other places I think) - just go out and start swimming around!
CHEAP THINGS TO SEE AND DO
See Sigiriya from Pidurangala
Most people go to Sigiriya, but the view from Pidurangala is just as spectacular - if not better. Pidurangala gives you a beautiful view of the mountains and the surrounding areas AND you can see Sigiriya from the top (pictured).
My tuk tuk driver told me that there once was a king, who killed his father to become king, so he became frightened that his brother was coming to kill him. Therefore, he built a fortress on the top of a rock, Sigiriya, one of the twin rocks, so the brother couldn't see it from the ground. His brother would then become confused of which mountain he and his soldiers should climb. It's a nice climb, less people and 1/10 of the price of Sigiriya. It costs 100 LKR while Sigiriya costs 4500 LKR! If you don't care much about old ruins, then I definitely recommend Podurangala.
Read more here.
Take the scenic train between Kandy & Ella
Take the train from either Kandy or Ella and look out the window or doorway and be amazed by some of the most beautiful sceneries. The train ride takes 7 hours, but there are plenty of stops to take in between! Adam's Peak and Nuwara Eliya to name a few. 7 hours is especially long if it's tourist season or rush hour and you have to stand the whole way... Yes. Been there done that. Third class tickets are around 60 LKR and second class is approx. 200 LKR.
Read more here.
See some of the less famous temples and buddhas
If you like some culture, then some of Sri Lankas temples are a good place to go. Pictured above is the Golden Temple in Dambulla, one of the most famous temples. However, the less famous temples are also beautiful and much cheaper to visit. Some of them are free while others cost approximately 100 LKR.
That's all of my best tips! You're welcome to leave a comment if you think I've forgotten some places or activities or have any questions. If you want to visit Sri Lanka you should also see my two-week itinerary.
SAVE TO PINTEREST