Sri Lanka has been gaining buzz as one of the top holiday destinations in the world and as you’d expect, tourism thrives on the Island.
But what a lot of tour guides and packages don’t mention is that Sri Lanka is also really cheap to travel to and around on a budget. If you don’t want to spend an exorbitant amount of money on your next holiday, read on for why Sri Lanka is one of your best options for an amazing time and an easy load on your wallet too.
Sri Lankan tourist visas are quite cheap. If you apply ahead of your arrival online, you’ll only pay a fee of $35. There’s also the possibility of a tourist visa on arrival at the Sri Lankan airport but there’s a price hike and long waiting lines if you choose this option so for a budget holiday, apply online and get your visa cheap and fast!
While your typical, touristy hotels can be a bit pricey on a budget, there’s any number of budget hotels, hostels, small bungalows and homestay opportunities for as low as $10.
What’s more, booking rooms in advance using online trip planners such as Booking.com will net you cheaper prices than if you book directly at the place. And it will also help you plan out your trip around the Island a bit better too, as a side bonus.
It goes without saying that booking private transport around the country is much more expensive than public transport. What’s surprising is how much cheaper public transport is. There’s an extensive bus network throughout Sri Lanka and even a journey of more than two hours will only set you back a couple of U.S dollars. Buses can get crowded but there’s never a dull moment in one with booming Sri Lankan music and screeching horns so it’s definitely an experience not to miss.
Sri Lanka’s train network, although not extensive and certainly not fast, is also quite cheap and is often the best way to get from one large city to another, especially in the Southern and Central regions of the country. Like buses, train rides are very cheap. Though there are air-conditioned, 1st class cabins in pretty much all intercity trains, opting for a much cheaper 2nd class seat is a much better idea. How else are you going to hang out the doors of a long winding train on a hill and take that photo you’ve only seen online and always wanted to take?
For shorter trips within cities, tuk-tuks are abundant although it’s general practice among tuk-tuk drivers to charge tourists almost double the local price. But you can ask your homestay family or the manager of your budget hotel for a local price point so that you can negotiate the price down to its normal level before you set off on the tuk-tuk ride.
There’s no shortage of cheap food options in Sri Lanka. Street-food in Sri Lanka is amazingly cheap and quite often are unique experiences you won’t find anywhere else in the world.
For meals, it’s quite easy to duck into small restaurants, recognizable by their mostly local clientele and small spaces, and sit down for a full rice and curry lunch or dinner for just a U.S dollar or two. Just make sure to keep smaller notes in local currency on hand and you’ll be saving quite a lot in food expenses while still getting Sri Lanka’s iconic, delicious food experience.
Perhaps the best thing about Sri Lanka when it comes to budget travel is that there are many things to do and experience around the country, completely for free.
Because of Sri Lanka’s all-around coastline, there’s definitely any number of local beaches that are completely free and oftentimes, completely devoid of other visitors. Settle down, stretch out and get ready to lose quite a few hours on a gloriously empty and completely free beach.
It’s common practice, too, for travellers on a budget to make a beeline for a beach town like Hikkaduwa and then make full use of the beautiful coastline nearby for free while staying at cost-effective accommodation and budget hotels in Hikkaduwa like Citrus Hikkaduwa. You can even take an early morning stroll to see local fisherman prepare for the day’s first catch.
Colombo too, despite its reputation as a tourist spot, has many intriguing and free attractions for the budget traveller. To ease up on travel within the city, book an affordable city hotel in Colombo such as The Steuart by Citrus and then head off to explore the historic districts of Colombo Fort by foot, completely free of course! The local markets are an amazing way to get the feel of the city and also the perfect way to meet the friendly locals.
Colombo often got the short end of the stick as a tourist destination in Sri Lanka. It used to be a crowded, congested city of industry and business but as of recently, with new revitalization efforts, a world-class shopping experience, and a renewed focus on history, culture and art within the city, Colombo is an absolute must on your Sri Lankan itinerary.
It’s a city teeming with life and activity so book a city hotel in Colombo to cut down on travel time from the various places you’re going to visit and take a tour through Colombo’s finest.
We’ll start with the most obvious reason you should visit Colombo: it’s a world-class shopping destination with shockingly affordable prices.
Each year, there’s quite a healthy influx of visitors, tourists and travellers, from the Middle-East and beyond, that make the trip to Colombo’s many shopping options to stock up on the best international brands, at a price that fits them.
Start with Crescat Boulevard, the iconic shopping mall near the Galle Face green. It’s got an eclectic collection of luxury Sri Lankan clothing and accessories brands, along with some fabulous boutiques for gifts and souvenirs.
Odel, the next shopping destination, has been a mainstay on Colombo’s high-end shopping mall lists since the early 2000s and with good reason. There’s a classy collection of upscale clothing boutiques and stores nestled in this mall, along with many smaller stores with premium quality gifts and accessories that you won’t find in many other places.
Finally, the newest addition to Colombo’s shopping landscape is the huge mall at One Galle Face, attached to its own luxury apartment complex and living community. Here you’ll find a large variety of international fashion houses rubbing shoulders with Sri Lankan brands of similar make and price. Expect to spend a few hours in this dizzying complex and leave armed with new wardrobes, home goods, gifts, accessories and even get some quality pampering at a few of the spas inside. The perfect shopping experience to sate your palate.
Nowhere else in Sri Lanka will you find as cosmopolitan and eclectic a mix of premier cuisine as in Colombo. Gastronomic delights abound in Colombo for there’s no shortage of delectable restaurants, serving you both the finest of Sri Lankan food and the best of world-class international cuisine.
Ministry of Crab is an obvious choice for any lover of high-quality seafood fused with Sri Lankan flavors. Crab comes in all sizes there, even a massive 2 kilogram one if you’re up for it, and their commitment to only using the freshest of the daily catch and best of ingredients will impress you.
Likewise, Nihonbashi is a beautiful culinary dream. Named the 38th best restaurant in Asia by San Pellegrino, and run by the same chef behind Ministry of Crab, Nihonbashi gets everything right about the simple yet immensely elegant Japanese cuisine, from sushi and sashimi to more hearty offerings of hotpots and charcoal grilled savourings.
If Italian food is more your fare then Giovanni’s is your best bet. Smack in the middle of Colombo 5, Giovanni’s a delightfully quaint restaurant serving nothing but the most authentic, woodfired pizza and indulgent pasta dishes. It’s your own slice of Italy right here in the heart of Colombo with an unbeatable atmosphere and the freshest of ingredients and food.
Increasingly, as of late, Colombo has been at the center of a dizzying spotlight on history and culture, with sites and things to do popping up around the city. There’s a wide variety of interesting experiences, from old standards of history to new explosions of art.
A visit to the National Museum is essential. It’s colonial architecture is one of the best preserved throughout the country and its historical collections date back to Sri Lanka’s ancient royal families and heirlooms. A better introduction to Sri Lanka’s history you cannot ask for.
There’s more colonial architecture at the Old Dutch Hospital in Colombo 01. Formerly, as its name suggests, a hospital for Dutch Military built in the 17th century, it now houses a charming collection of cafes and small boutiques that form quite the popular hang-out spot for tourists and locals alike.
Similarly, the Arcade Independence Square is a new shopping complex housed in a collection of 19th Century British-built buildings, faithfully preserved and renovated. The area around the complex is a popular promenade for Colombo residents and visitors alike and attracts quite an eclectic crowd everyday.
Situated right in the heart of Colombo’s classy Cinnamon Gardens neighborhood, the Saskia Fernando Gallery is a cool and modern art gallery filled routinely with exhibitions from Sri Lanka’s newest and most contemporary artists. There are new artists highlighted almost every month of the year and the gallery frequently holds international collaborations with similar institutions from Dubai, Singapore, London and Los Angeles. Drop by for a peek into Sri Lanka’s every-maturing contemporary and multidisciplinary art scene and take your fill of an oft-overlooked experience.
Then, make your way over to Colombo 04 where the new Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art is located. Opened just this past year in 2019, the MMCA houses unique exhibitions of 20th and 21st Century Sri Lankan art and holds many curatorial discussions and education programmes that help reveal the social, cultural and sometimes political contexts that the art pieces were created in.
The MMCA is also family-friendly with many programs for kids on their calendar.
Designed to be freely accessible to the public, it’s truly a modern Museum and art space that’s sure to both entertain and illuminate, and perhaps even make you ask questions you never thought you’d ask on a holiday to Sri Lanka.
For a more intimate, yet no less rich, experience the Barefoot Gallery is an exquisite art space and gallery with an attached gift boutique, café and handcrafts shop that’s sure to take your fancy. Here too are displays and exhibits by a diverse group of ever-changing artists and creators.
If you are looking for a new pub or restaurant to try out but also want to be assured of a great time, & Co Pub is the place you are looking for. Located in the Steuart hotel in Colombo there is much to love about this top tier restaurant. Here are just 7 reasons as to why you will fall in love with this place.
Serving a variety of dishes from BBQ pork ribs to steak pies and even rice and curry, unlike many traditional pubs this restaurant offers hefty and delicious portions. You can be guaranteed quality and quantity in your dishes at & Co Pub and Kitchen.
What is better than a good drink with some delicious food? Great offers on good drinks alongside the delicious food! & Co Pub have very regular happy hours with some lasting even up to 12 hours. So what are you waiting for? Follow them on their Facebook page to stay updated with their latest offers.
This cozy space is very popular even during the lunch time with the office crowd and tourists in the area ensuring a friendly buzz. This restaurant has created the perfect ambience and atmosphere for you to be able to chill, relax and just catch up with your friends.
The staff at & Co Pub prioritize the comfort and needs of the customer and is happy to make your dining experience special. The friendly servers don’t even hesitate to accommodate your special requests concerning the food making the customer service very commendable.
Every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday & Co Pub hosts ‘Unwind Sessions’ featuring highly talented local artists. What better way to unwind and relax than listening to some live music while you lounge on a chair enjoying your drink?
This restaurant has its own unique twist on the old Scottish pub aesthetic. The sturdy mahogany furniture paired with the shade of green used on the walls lined with gold borders and decorated with various crests definitely adds to the Scottish atmosphere in the pub. This vibe created contributes to the unique experience you will have at & Co Pub.
In addition to the frequent happy hours, & Co Pub also has many discounts and offers throughout the week. Even without these offers the ambience, food portion and quality and overall experience you will receive at the pub, makes it definitely worth your money.