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How to budget for your trip to Sri Lanka

written by Sarah Phasey July 29, 2018
female traveller in Sri Lanka

Thinking of visiting Sri Lanka but not sure how many rupees you’ll need? Then you’ve come to the right place.

You see, not so long ago I was in your shoes. I ended up choosing a tour with Intrepid called Essential Sri Lanka because it ticked off the highlights and took care of the big stuff. The 11-day trip already included accommodation, breakfast, transport and some cool activities that would’ve been hard to organise solo. At around AUD100 per day, I found this great value, especially considering it also came with 15 new mates and an experienced local guide to show us around.

After flights and insurance, I only had to budget for spending money. I allowed a total of AUD700 and ended up spending an average of AUD60 per day (LKR7000), which was spot on! Here are the seven places my money went…

1. Food

Sri Lankan food.

YUM! Photo by Ryan Bolton.

If food isn’t already a key reason you’re planning this trip, add it to the list. Sri Lankan food is fresh, tasty, slightly spicy and (best of all) affordable!

Prices vary depending on location, but on average expect to pay around AUD8-10 for rice and curry at a restaurant. If your belly needs a break from Sri Lankan spices there is Western food available, but you’ll pay a few dollars more.

Your leader can also help you find great cafeterias and street stalls that sell Sri Lankan ‘fast food’. Kottu Roti, for example, is a delicious fried dish made of chopped roti bread, vegetables and egg. The serving is usually huge and will cost around AUD3. Snacks like Vadai (savoury donuts) and Dosai (savory pancakes) are even cheaper at less than AUD0.50 each, so there’s no way you’ll be hungry.

READ MORE: 5 BREAKFASTS YOU HAVE TO TRY IN SRI LANKA, ACCORDING TO A LOCAL 

2. Drinks

group drinking tea in Sri Lanka

Enjoy a cuppa. Photo by Ryan Bolton.

Drinks are also well-priced in Sri Lanka, especially if you choose local varieties. Look out for Lion Beer (AUD2.50 for 600ml) and give Arrack, a spirit made from the coconut palm sap, a try. It’s kind of like rum, goes well with ginger beer and together it’s roughly AUD4.50. Feeling fancy? Cocktails range between AUD6-11.

A 1.5 litre water is roughly AUD1.30 whereas soft drinks will cost around AUD1.70. Make sure you try a King Coconut – it’s super hydrating and will only cost AUD0.80 from a fruit stall (plus there will be no plastic wastage!).

READY FOR YOUR OWN ADVENTURE IN SRI LANKA? BOOK A SMALL GROUP TOUR WITH INTREPID TODAY. 

3. Sightseeing

Photo by Joni Taisey

Temple of the Tooth, Kandy. Photo by Ryan Bolton.

There are three main sights you don’t want to miss on your tour of Sri Lanka: Temple of the Tooth, Sigiriya and Dambulla Cave Temple. Visits to all can be arranged with the help of your leader.

The Temple of the Tooth is an important Buddhist temple in Kandy. It famously houses a number of relics including a tooth, which (legend says) belonged to the Buddha himself. Each afternoon there is a dance performance (AUD8) and ceremony in the evening (AUD15).

Sigiriya is an ancient fortress which you can climb for magnificent views. As it is two hours from Kandy you’ll need to hire a driver and the cost will depend on the number of people. Entrance is AUD40 and a large portion of this is dedicated towards conservation/restoration work at the site.

The Dambulla Cave Temple is nearby Sigiriya and entrance is AUD14. The series of temples house magnificent statues of the Buddha.

4. Activities

The south coast is a great place for water sports like diving, stand up paddle boarding and surfing. Shop around to suss out different companies’ prices and safety standards.

Mirissa is also one of the best places in the world to glimpse a Blue Whale – the largest animal known to have lived. For around AUD75 it’s a phenomenal experience. Your leader can recommend a company that operates responsibly and respects these creatures.

After all that activity you’ll need a massage! Expect to pay AUD20 for one hour.

READ MORE: 6 OF THE BEST BEACHES IN SRI LANKA (AND WHEN TO VISIT THEM)

5. Shopping

Sri Lanka offers a few quality products worth purchasing. The first is tea, which you can pick up for a few dollars from a factory or supermarket, and the second is gemstones.

You will find numerous jewellery shops and prices will vary depending on the size of the stone. For example, a small silver moonstone ring cost me around AUD15. Some shops will even custom make items for you on the spot.

6. Additional transport

Photo by Joni Taisey

Take a Tuk Tuk ride!. Photo by Ryan Bolton.

In your free time a tuk tuk is a fun way to get around. Ask your leader for advice and always negotiate the fare before you start the ride.

If you’re feeling confident then give the local bus a whirl – it’s an exhilarating experience to say the least. You’ll rub shoulders with locals and it’s less than AUD0.50 depending on your destination.

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7. Tips

Tipping is easy to forget if you aren’t used to it. However, in Sri Lanka it is customary to tip for good service. The amount you tip is your choice, however I recommend rounding up to the nearest LKR20 at basic cafeterias and leaving 10% at nicer restaurants. For drivers, porters and local guides a few dollars a day is enough, but for your local Intrepid leader you might like to tip higher.

I also recommend having access to some additional ‘emergency money’. Depending on the situation and your travel insurance you may need to pay some money upfront if something goes wrong. Be prepared with a credit card or savings in a separate account, just in case.

When you book a small group tour with Intrepid, you can expect a bunch of inclusions (like accommodation, transfers and some activities and meals) – without the hidden costs. So, what are you waiting for? Join us on a Sri Lankan adventure.

Hero image by Ryan Bolton.

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