Sri Lanka: Our One-Month Backpacking Itinerary and Budget Breakdown

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Sri Lanka is truly a fascinating country with breathtaking tea plantations, gorgeous beaches, friendly locals and mouth-watering food. We spent slightly more than 4-weeks here and found it to be a perfectly feasible budget destination, with cheap transportation options, reasonable food costs, and decent room rates.

This country has so much to offer; even after a month there we felt we hadn’t seen enough of it. Something to bear in mind when planning your itinerary is how long it takes to travel around… whether you choose to travel with a private driver or by public transportation (train or bus), aim to leave early so you can maximize the time in each destination.

This itinerary is almost exactly how we traveled Sri Lanka for a month in December 2018. In this post, we will be breaking down the costs of the food, accommodation and necessary expenses we had spent at different part of Sri Lanka. All expenses are for 2 persons.

Negombo: 1 day / 2 nights

We flew into Negombo late at night and spent the next day exploring the city by bike.

What we did:

  • Explored the local fish market
  • Visited St Mary’s Church
  • Witnessed a catch in Negombo Beach
  • Enjoyed a 75-minutes massage at Jasmin Villa Ayurveda Resort & Spa

Expenses:

  • Accommodation: Negombo Village Guesthouse (USD12.50/room/ night)
  • Bike Rental: 1,700 LKR / USD10
  • Massage: 42,000 LKR / USD24
  • Food: ~USD6
Negombo Beach

Colombo: 1 days / 1 night

We didn’t explore much of the city as we were busy with administrative stuff: money changing, visa extension and tuk-tuk license application.

Expenses:

  • Visa extension: 711 LKR / USD4 (for Malaysian passport)
  • Tuk-tuk license: 4,400 LKR / USD25
  • Bus trips: 170 LKR / <USD1
  • Accommodation: Island Hostels Colombo (USD6/ bed/ night)
  • Food: ~USD8

Getting there: We took a 1.5-hour bus from Negombo Bus Station to Fort Railway (300 LKR/ <USD2).

Island Hostels Colombo

Adam’s Peak: 1 Day / 1 Night

If there’s one hike I recommend you doing in Sri Lanka, it’s the pilgrimage to the top of Sri Pada (Adam’s Peak), the second tallest mountain in Sri Lanka.

We arrived in the evening from Colombo, just in time to have dinner, get a couple of hours to sleep, woke up at 1 am and get ready for the hike! You can read more of our hike experience over here.

Expenses:

  • Transportation: ~USD5.50
  • Food: ~USD4.70
  • Accommodation: Paradise Entrance Guesthouse (USD10/ room/ night)

Getting there: Catch a 5-hours train from Colombo to Hatton, followed by a 2-hours bus ride to Dalhousie.

View from Adam’s Peak

Kandy: 1 day / 2 nights

Kandy is the “cultural capital” of Sri Lanka but honestly we didn’t find it that interesting. 

What we did:

  • Awed at the 27-meters tall Bahiravokanda Vihara Buddha Statue
  • Catch sunset at Kandy Lake
  • Do good and eat healthy at BUONO (100% of the proceeds from cafe’s sales support for kids, including daily meals, school supplies, and education)

Expenses:

  • Entrance to temple: 250 LKR / USD1.50
  • Meal at Buono: 1,250 LKR / USD7
  • Other food expenses: ~USD7
  • Accommodation: 335 Holiday Homes (USD12/ room/ night)

Getting there: Catch a bus from Dalhousie back to Hatton after Adam’s Peak hike. There is a direct bus from Hatton to Kandy.

Bahiravokanda Vihara Buddha Statue

Ella: 3 days / 2 nights

Everyone seems to love Ella for its relaxed vibe and those instagrammable views! This is one place we definitely miss being here!

What we did:

  • Chasing waterfalls: Ravana & Diyaluma Waterfall
  • Photoshoot at 9-arch Bridge
  • Sipping hot tea at Lipton’s Seat

Expenses:

  • Train from Kandy to Ella: 3,000 LKR / USD17 (First class)
  • Bike Rental: 1,500 LKR / USD9
  • Entrance to Lipton’s Seat: 200 LKR / USD1
  • Food: ~USD13
  • Accommodation: Ella City Reach (USD21/ room/ night)

Getting there: Hop on the 7-hours scenic Kandy-Ella train ride!

Never get sick of train rides

Nuwara Eliya: 2 days / 2 nights

A taste of Colonial Britain in the hills of Sri Lanka is what you can expect when you arrive in Nuwara Eliya (a.k.a Little England). It is cooler than the rest of the country, surrounded by green leafy tea fields and dotted with colonial mansions.

What we did:

  • Join free-guided tour in one of the tea factories
  • Indulging high-tea session in Grand Hotel

Expenses:

  • Train from Ella to Nanu Oya: 300 LKR / <USD2
  • High tea: 6,000 LKR / USD35 (for 2 days)
  • Bike Rental: 2,200 LKR / USD12.50
  • Food: ~USD6
  • Accommodation: Uyou Ceylon Guesthouse (USD18 /room/ night)

Getting there: Board the 4-hours picturesque train ride from Ella to Nanu Oya. Outside of Nanu Oya train station, you may ride a 45-minutes local bus to Nuwara Eliya (45 LKR).

One of the many pretty tea plantations

Sigriya: 1 day / 2 nights

Sigiriya is easy to from Dambulla on public transport, and is a must on any tourist’s itinerary: Lion Rock. Just right across the famous Sigiriya Rock, is the often overlooked Pidurangala Rock. Though not have quite the same historical significance as Sigiriya’s, the 360 degree view from the top is arguably more impressive catching sight of the 1,400-years old fortress.

What we did:

Expenses:

  • Transportation: <USD3
  • Entrance to Pidurangala Rock: 1,000 LKR / USD6
  • Bike Rental: 1,500 LKR / USD9
  • Food: ~USD11
  • Accommodation: Rainbow Lodge (USD18/ room/ night)

Getting there: Unfortunately, there is no direct bus from Nuwara Eliya. First, we took a bus from Nuwara Eliya to Kandy (4-hours, 278 LKR), followed by another 2-hours bus ride to Dambulla (228 LKR) and lastly a one-hour bus journey to Sigriya (80 LKR).

Looking across at Lion’s Rock

Jaffna: 4 days / 3 nights

The far north of Sri Lanka is much less frequently visited than the South, but that’s what made us wanted to visit in the first place. It only opened to tourists recently, as conflict was ongoing until 2009. We were glad to be here to experience the authenticity of this place before tourism taking over soon.

What we did:

  • Witnessed Holy Puja in Nallur Kandaswamy Temple
  • Indulged in Indian-influenced food
  • Catch sunset at Jaffna Fort
  • Board the local boat and do island hopping

Expenses:

  • Transportation: ~USD8
  • Food: ~USD45
  • Accommodation: Yaarl Hostel (USD10/ bed/ night)

Getting there: From Sigriya, we have to take a bus to Dambulla (80 LKR) and continued a 5-hours bus ride to Jaffna (740 LKR)

Local boat ride

Trincomalee: 1 day / 2 nights

Uppuveli and Nilaveli beaches were two of those beautiful beaches in Sri Lanka badly affected by the 2004 tsunami. Fortunately, after the conflict of the North ended, these two beaches in the North-East became popular for travellers seeking sunshine and seclusion.

Expenses:

  • Transportation: 824 LKR / USD4.50
  • Food: ~USD6
  • Bike Rental: 1,000 LKR/ USD5.50
  • Accommodation: Lobster Inn (USD10/ room/ night)

Getting there: There’s a 6-hours direct bus from Jaffna to Trincomalee (724 LKR).

Arugam Bay: 2 days / 2 nights

Famously known as surfers paradise, Arugam Bay is recognized worldwide as one of the best surf spots in Sri Lanka, mainly for experienced surfers as the waves can swell to 5-10 meters. 

Expenses:

  • Transportation: 964 LKR / USD5.50
  • Food: ~USD18
  • Surfboard x 2 Rental: 800 LKR/ USD4.50
  • Accommodation: Burj Hut Hotel (USD11/ room/ night)

Getting there: From Trincomalee, we took a bus to Kalmunai (4hrs, 586LKR), then changed to another bus 30-minutes ride to Akkaraipattu (98LKR) to Pottuvil where tons of tuk-tuk drivers trying to convince you there is no bus to Arugam Bay and will charge you 200LKR for a less than 15-minutes ride. There will be a bus every 30-minutes that pass-by Arugam Bay and only cost 20LKR per person. This is a long day of travel but it’s worth it in our opinion.

Udawalawe: 1 day / 2 nights

Udawalawe National Park is located in the south of Sri Lanka and is a popular destination for those hoping to spot wild elephants. Honestly, we didn’t have a pleasant experience, but this is definitely a must-do while in Sri Lanka.

Expenses:

  • Transportation: 748 LKR / USD4.20
  • Food: ~USD2
  • Safari cost: 11,500 LKR/ USD66
  • Accommodation: Elephant Park Family Bungalow Udawalawe (USD3.50/ room/ night)

Getting there: From Arugam Bay, we took a bus from Potuvil to Mahakalugolla (45mins, 200LKR), changed to another bus to Monaragala (1-hour, 200LKR), and finally a 2.5-hours ride to Udawalawe (348LKR).

Our only selfie with an elephant

Tangalla: 2 days / 2 nights

Hidden on the South-Eastern coast, Tangalla is a lovely little spot on the South, and is much less busy than some of the resorts to the West. We spent about 2 days here, rented a moped to explore further like Hiriketiya Beach and Hummanaya Blow Hole. We were also glad to have spent Christmas Eve here instead of Mirissa as it was so much peaceful.

Expenses:

  • Transportation: 290 LKR / USD1.70
  • Food: ~USD19
  • Bike Rental: 1000 LKR/ USD5.50
  • Accommodation: Sadika Guesthouse (USD15/ room/ night)

Getting there: We took a 45-minutes bus ride from Udawalawe to Embilipitiya (100LKR), where we changed and hopped on another bus to Tangalla (190LKR).

Willgama/Midigama: 3 days / 2 nights

We didn’t knew about Midigama until we arrived at Welligama. Welligama and Midigama is only 10-minutes away by riding, and that’s how we found this awesome town. However, Midigama is a place you may consider skipping and head straight to Mirissa if you don’t surf. For us, we did day trips to Mirissa as it is just less than 20-minutes ride away.

Expenses:

  • Transportation: 240 LKR / USD1.50
  • Food: ~USD25
  • Bike Rental: 1000 LKR/ USD5.50
  • Accommodation: Kalaara Wave Resort (USD8.50/ room/ night)

Getting there: From Tangalla to Matara is an hour ride, and this is where most people will take a bus to Mirissa. You can take any bus that goes along Unawatuna or Galle and ask to get off at Midigama.

Surfing at sunrise
Secret beach at Mirissa

Unawatuna: 3 days / 2 nights

Unawatuna Beach is a busy crescent bay beach edged by the delightful groves of swaying palms, protected by twin reefs and supported by impressive rocky outgrowth. This place is like a mini Bali in Indonesia. We spent one day exploring Galle, a pretty town with many European-influenced buildings and boutique shops.

Expenses:

  • Transportation: 180 LKR / <USD1
  • Food: ~USD32
  • Bike Rental: 1300 LKR/ USD7.50
  • Accommodation: Ceylon Hostel Galle (USD9/ room/ night)

Getting there: Getting to Unawatuna is pretty easy, just hop on to any bus that goes towards Galle, Hikkaduwa or Colombo (30-minutes, 180LKR).

Most popular palm tree swing in Unawatuna
Galle’s lighthouse

Hikkaduwa: 4 days / 3 nights

Hikkaduwa is another popular spot for beginner’s surfers and turtle watching at sunsets. Since it is a long long stretch of beach, you can choose to stay at the party area, or the quieter spot. We spent New Year’s Eve on the beach playing with fireworks and went on a half-day diving trip on first day of 2019!

Expenses:

  • Transportation: 120 LKR / <USD1
  • Food: ~USD84
  • Dive expenses (2 dives with equipment): USD140
  • Accommodation: Ozone Guesthouse (USD16/ room/ night)

Getting there: Hop on to a train and enjoy the ride along the coastline (120 LKR).

Diving in Indian Ocean

Read more of our guide on Sri Lanka’s beaches!

Colombo: 2 days / 2 nights

After a month of travelling the country, we were back to Colombo!

What we did:

  • Visit Jami Ul-Alfar Mosque
  • Shop along Pettah Market
  • Savor the best seafood at Ministry of Crab
  • Chill at t-lounge by Dilmah

Expenses:

  • Transportation: 540 LKR/ USD3
  • Ministry of Crab: 16,300LKR / USD89
  • Food: ~USD10
  • Accommodation: Star Anise Boutique Capsules (USD30 / double bed/ night)

Getting there: Enjoy the last train ride in Sri Lanka!

Splurging our remaining budget on a good meal

In Conclusion…..

I understand that not everyone can afford the time to explore this incredible country for a whole month. Most travellers we met were in Sri Lanka were here for one or two weeks, and they split their time between the beaches and the Hill Country, with a day trip to one of the ancient cities.

Our daily average came out to USD50 for 2 of us

This budget is pretty comfortable for 2 people backpacking Sri Lanka with a close eye on their personal finances. Most of the days, we were spending less than $30 per day when we didn’t pay for expensive activities. While the cost of activities can really drive up your budget, food, transportation, and accommodation can be relatively cheap. We are not a fan of historical ruins, so that save us a lot as each entrance fee can easily cost USD50 for two of us.

Jami Ul-Alfar Mosque

A day dreamer who has a passion in roaming around the world getting lost, experiencing new cultures and meeting the locals. I enjoy staying with a local home (i.e couchsurfing) and work with them (i.e workaway)!

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