How to experience Sri Lanka on $50 a day

Wilpattu National Park

It isn’t about skimping or cutting corners but more about using less to actually feel the country more!

Sri Lanka is a beautiful island floating in the Indian Ocean that offers a diverse amount of experiences for its small size. You can get the most out of your trip and soak up the vibe of the island in different ways by planning your vacation. Surviving on 50$ a day is easier than you think, it’ll go a long way if you use it right! Experiencing the country on 50$ isn’t about skimping or cutting corners but more about using less to actually feel the country more! Here are some tips and tricks to experience the country with the authenticity of a local.

Firstly, when looking for a place to stay, eschew the super popular places that everyone will be telling you to go. These places, while gorgeous, will usually be expensive due to demand. Go off the beaten track and look for lesser known places. Wadduwa hotels, for example, are affordable while still being luxurious and offering the perfect beach vacation. Another trick is to search for rooms using travel sites, but call the places up and strike a deal directly, cutting out the middle man and any tricky fees. You can also choose to not book ahead and choose an establishment to stay at once you arrive, this way you can bargain and come to an agreeable conclusion! This may be a less assured way of booking your nightly accommodations but it can be surprisingly budget friendly, as most hoteliers are amiable and amenable to giving out good prices for their rooms. Opt for a homestays for some homemade meals and warm hospitality from local families. Also look out for places that may be further away from the local attraction. You may have to walk further or take local transport but the cost will be significantly lower and you will be able to soak up the real atmosphere of the town you’re staying in. So look a little further and you will be sure to get a good deal, leaving room in your budget for the next most important thing — food!

When you’re booking a place, try to book bed and breakfast, or at least breakfast and one other meal. This will allow you to find your own food for your other meals, instead of relying on the delicious but sometimes unnecessarily huge hotel spread at the buffet. This also gives you a chance to experience some authentic Sri Lankan cuisine that locals eat. If you choose to, you can try some local staples such as kotthu or rice and curry, food that Sri Lankans eat on a daily basis. This food is cheap and utterly delicious, a win-win! Ask around or look online for places nearby and peruse their offerings — the food is usually spicy and served hot hot, and you can ask those preparing the food to adjust it to your tastes, but most probably you will want to eat the food as is, to experience a real Sri Lankan meal! If you want to save your pennies, steer clear of restaurants that are clearly catering to tourists and duck into places that you notice the locals flocking to: you’ll get more authentic food and lower prices! The quantity of food that you receive will also be large, so order accordingly. It will be quite possible to have a filling delicious meal all for 1 to 2 dollars! The variety you get will also be astonishing. For example, if you choose to have rice and curry there’s no saying what tasty side dishes will be available, so you can have a different meal every time.

Next up is getting around the island. Sure it’s easier to order a car and driver to take you everywhere, but the miles will rack up fast and you’ll have to pay a hefty fee. Instead, if you’re going to be staying around a particular area you may want to hire a car, scooter or dirt bike and drive it yourself — if you’re doing a lot of travel and covering many areas in a single day or couple of days this can be quite cost effective. Besides that, though, you can have a lot of fun using public transport. The busses are definitely something you have to check out, though you may want to give them a pass if they look too crowded. Still, it’s all a part of the experience! In the cities, the busses are pretty regulated and the fare is extremely low. You can ask your accommodation for the bus number you should get into, but people at the bus stop will be friendly and open to answering your queries as well. In more rural areas, the busses will pass through some really gorgeous scenery, and it is well worth a ride as the wind streams in through the windows and ruffles your hair!

Another kind of transport that you absolutely must try is the train. The trains in the city are quite empty and even cheaper than bus fares when it’s not during peak office traffic times, and the trains up country are old fashioned and really lovely. The trains especially also afford some good photo opportunities! Travelling to Kandy or further in the train is an essential part of any vacation in Sri Lanka. First class is lovely, with large windows that have a special view of the mountains but the air conditioning means that you can’t feel the wind, so you may want to try Second class for a really fun ride. Finally, in the city but also in some rural areas, there are tuk tuks! These are a lot more expensive than either the busses or the trains but if you download taxi apps then they become a lot more affordable, and can be a quick and easy way to get to a place if you’re not sure of directions. If you’re hailing a tuk tuk off the street then make sure that he has a meter that works, and if he doesn’t then make sure to settle on a price before going and don’t be afraid to stick to the price no matter what. This is a good way to soak in the culture and really explore the city like a local — you may get a bit hot and sweaty but isn’t that the point of travel?

A few more tips are to stay away from the attractions that ask for disproportionately high fees for foreigners. There’s a lot that can be experienced for free or for a very small fee — such as the beaches and hikes. Try to plan your trip when there’s a lull, and avoid peak season. With these tips and tricks, it’ll be a breeze experiencing Sri Lanka on 50$!

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