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Backpacking Sri Lanka on a Budget - Where to Go, Where to Stay, What to Pay


There are many different beautiful landscapes and sights to see in Sri Lanka. From lush jungles to clear blue water beaches, we tried to fit in as much as we could during our 30-day trip. After talking with several locals, we decided to head south down the coastline, up into the middle of the country, north east to the coastline, and then back to Colombo. We were very happy with the route that we chose, as it broke up the different scenery well (city, beach, mountains, etc.).

Below is an explanation of how we got to and from each location and how much it cost us. We always took public transportation, but this can be long and tiresome since Sri Lankans’ pack their buses to the brim. So, it may be nice to hire a private driver, if you have a higher budget and little time to spare! Also, we included the different places we stayed, which varied from hostels to 5-star resorts (depending on the mood we were in and the deals we could find). On average our overall cost of living totaled about $28/day including lodging and food.

ROUTES

OUR ROUTE:

Colombo-Beruwala-Udawalawe-Ella-Nuwara Eliya-Kandy-Trincomalee-Sigiriya-Kandy-Weligama-Galle-Colombo

Although we very much enjoyed this route, we did not think that visiting Nuwara Eliya was worth it, and the hostel we stayed in was very run down with poor service (High Lanka-1,673 rupees or $11). Also, we did not think that Beruwala was a must see. The beaches further south were just as good and had more activities to choose from, such as surfing. We ended up having time left over at the end of our trip, so we went back down south to surf more and to visit Galle. We really loved Galle, and we are glad we spent a night there before leaving. We would suggest definitely adding Galle into your trip for at least a half day.

SUGGESTED ROUTE:

Colombo-Galle-Mirissa-Udawalawe-Ella-Kandy-Trincomalee-Sigiriya-Kandy-Colombo Airport

Three weeks is probably the perfect amount of time to see everything in Sri Lanka, but this route could also work for a two week trip as well.

Colombo

There are many great restaurants and bars in Colombo (we loved The Colombo Hotel’s rooftop bar - a favorite of many locals. Also, be sure to check out Galle Face while you're in Colombo and get street food at Nana’s Restaurant...AMAZING!

Stay: Bunkyard Hostel ($15 or 2,281 rupees)- Clean, friendly staff, awesome interior decorating, and great included breakfast. We loved it here.

Galle

One night in Galle is perfect to break up the trip to Mirissa. Walking the stone streets of Galle, we felt like we went back in time. Galle is famous for the Galle Fort, built by the Portuguese in the 16th century and expanded by the Dutch. Besides the great sight-seeing, Galle has amazing seafood.

Stay: The Entrance Gall Fort ($40 or 6,077 rupees)- Lovely, clean rooms that smell amazing. The staff is extremely caring and helpful. A great breakfast is included-be sure to ask for a Sri Lankan breakfast...you will not be disappointed.

Mirissa

Mirissa has the best night life of the south beaches. We preferred to take a quick 5 minute bus or tuk tuk ride to Weligama to surf in the day, and then head back to Mirissa for a sunset surf session and to sip beers by the beach with new friends. Do not do whale watching here, unless you can find a small boat (wait to do whale watching in Trincomalee -depending on the season).

If you want to snorkel with sea turtles on a beautiful, less-traveled beach, be sure to take a quick bus ride to Aja’s Green Turtle Snorkeling Center in Polhena. Email us if you want more information...it is much cheaper to find his small shop than to book it with a hotel or hostel, and he is so kind and helpful!

Stay: Hangover Hostels ($14 or 2,129 rupees)- Great location, friendly staff, but no breakfast included.

If you end up staying in Weligama, stay at We Escape ($15 or 2,291 rupees)- A very nice and new hostel that offers private rooms as well as dorm rooms. Head to the nearby W15 hotel at night for drinks and live music on the beach.

Udawalawe

A great place to see Sri Lanka’s wildlife. We saw so many elephants and beautiful birds on our safari tour! Also, be sure to check out the baby elephant orphanage nearby during their feeding times.

Stay: Enjoy Paradise ($9.50 or 1,446 rupees)- The family that runs this guesthouse is very kind. The food they serve here is delicious! The rooms are clean, but there is no A/C. We booked our safari through Enjoy Paradise and it cost $26.29 or 4,000 rupees per person (which is about the average price of safaris around this area).

Ella

A beautiful mountainous area of Sri Lanka, and a break from the heat. Be sure to hike Mini Adams Peak and see the Nine Arch bridge.

Stay: Villa Nine Arch ($20 or 3,036 rupees)- This place is amazing. There are only two rooms at this guest house, and the family that runs it goes above and beyond to ensure you have a nice stay. It is a little ways from town, but we enjoyed the walk, and the view was totally worth it. Villa Nine Arch just recently opened, so everything is new and clean.

Stay: Tomorrow Land ($14.40 or 2,180 rupees)- this is a hostel where you can sleep inside or outside in tents. The common area is very cool, but we found the hostel to be dirty with not enough bathrooms and showers. We also booked an outside tent, which was damp to sleep in. However, if you like camping, it is definitely worth checking out. Especially the inside tents, which we heard were very pleasant to sleep in.

Kandy

The holy city of Kandy is home to the Temple of the Tooth. Be sure to stroll around the lake and do some shopping while you're there.

Stay: Clock Inn ($12.10 or 1,835 rupees) - This hostel has a great free breakfast and an awesome upper patio. We often got food for takeaway and ate on the patio. The private rooms are very nice, and the hostel dorms are clean with comfy beds.

Trincomalee

Trinco was our favorite beach in Sri Lanka. The waves are not good for surfing, but the sand is white and the water is crystal blue. We went whale watching here, and it was amazing!

Stay: Bluewater Beach Resort ($29 or 4,400 rupees)- This resort is not right on the beach, but it is extremely close. It is clean, and the rooms are spacious and comfy. We would recommend staying here, and then booking tours with Scuba Lanka, which is located on the beach nearby. Also, if you book tours with them, you can lay out on their lovely beach huts.

Sigiriya

Not only are there amazing hikes in Sigiriya, but there are also many elephants- enough so that it is not safe to walk the streets at night. Lion Rock is quite expensive to hike, and it can only be done by walking up a single-file staircase, so we opted for hiking Pidurangala Rock at sunrise. It is much cheaper, and there is a great view of Lion Rock at the top!

Stay: Shanaka Homestay ($17 or 2,591 rupees)- The man who runs this homestay is very kind. He even offered for us to use his scooter for free when we were heading to hike Pidurangala. The rooms are very clean. However, do not buy dinner from here unless you get curry, because it is extremely overpriced. We probably would not stay here again if we return. Perhaps a hotel in this area is a better option...and there are many!

Kandy

Head back to Kandy for a night in order to to catch a bus or train to Colombo to fly home!

TRANSPORTATION

Colombo Airport - Colombo

Before we arrived, we set up transportation with our hostel. It was $20 for a private ride from the airport to Bunkyard Hostel. There are cheaper ways to travel to and from the airport but after a 23 hour flight, this way was definitely the preferred and easier option.

Colombo - Beruwala

We took a metered tuk tuk to the bus stand. You should always take metered tuk tuk’s in Colombo, as it is WAY cheaper (also, a good tip to save money is to download the app PickMe-it's like uber for tuk tuks). From the bus stand, we caught bus #2 directly to Beruwala (200 rupees ($1.30)). This bus was slightly more expensive, because it had A/C. After getting off in Beruwala, we took a tuk tuk from town to our hotel for 200 rupees (though we had to barter the price of the tuk tuk down from 400 rupees).

Beruwala - Mirissa

From our hotel in Beruwala, we took a tuk tuk to Althugama Town (350 rupees ($2.30)). From there we caught bus #32 to Kataragama (250 rupees ($1.64)), and we got off in Mirissa.

Mirissa - Udawalawe

We walked to the bus stop (which was very close to the Hangover Hostel), and from there took the bus to Matara (32 rupees ($.21)). From Matara, we took a bus to Embilipitya (120 rupees ($.79)), and another bus from Embilipitya to Udawalawe (50 rupees ($.33)). This bus dropped us off right at our guesthouse, Enjoy Paradise.

Udawalawe - Ella

Our guesthouse owner in Udawalawa gave us a ride to the bus stop in his tuk tuk. Buses do not run every 15 minutes at this bus stop so you might have to wait a little bit for a bus to come. We waited around 25 minutes before bus #31 to Bandarawela came (105 rupees ($.69)). From Bandarawela we caught a bus to the town of Ella (70 rupees ($.46)). The town of Ella is at the bottom of the mountains and most of the guesthouses are in the middle or at the top, so from town we took a tuk tuk to our guesthouse, Villa Nine Arch (350 rupees ($2.30)).

Ella - Nuwara Eliya

In an attempt to split up the long train ride from Ella to Kandy, we stopped in Nuwara Eliya for a night. To do this, we bought a second class train ticket the day before we left at the Ella train station for 200 rupees ($1.31). After buying both second class and third class train tickets while in Sri Lanka, we suggest only buying third class tickets. They are cheaper and locals come and go each stop so you are almost always guaranteed a seat!

The train ride took about 3.5-4 hours from Ella to Nuwara Eliya. Once you arrive in Nuwara Eliya, you’ll most likely have to take a tuk tuk to your hotel or hostel, because the train station is a few kilometers away from town. We (luckily) had a nice man take us to town for free and from there, we split a tuk tuk which cost us 100 rupees ($.66) to our hostel, High Lanka. We spent no more than 150 rupees ($.98) traveling from our hostel to town throughout our stay in Nuwara Eliya.

Nuwara Eliya - Kandy

We split a 150 rupee tuk tuk from our hostel to the bus station in town. From there, we took a bus for 20 rupees each to the train station (about a 15 minute bus ride). We bought our third class ticket from Nuwara Eliya to Kandy that morning for 90 rupees each. The train left at noon and we got to Kandy at about 4:45 pm. Once we arrived in Kandy, we walked to our hostel [Clock Inn Hostel] because it was only around 1 kilometer away.

Kandy to Trincomalee

(or “Trinco” if you are talking to the locals)

Although most people will tell you you have to take two buses to get from Kandy to Trincomalee, we found that this is not true. There is a direct bus that will get you there in 5 hours. The bus station is located a few meters from the train station. There are two bus stations, so make sure you are going to the one closer to the train station! From there, catch bus #45 to Trinco. The ticket should cost you around 220 rupees. Our bus left at 9:30 am and arrived in Trinco at 2:45 pm. Once you get to Trincomalee, you will most likely need to catch a tuk tuk to your hotel or guesthouse since most are about 4 kilometers from town. This short tuk tuk ride will cost you about 300 rupees (80 more rupees than your 5 hour bus ride, sigh).

Trincomalee - Sigiriya

We took a tuk tuk from our hotel to the bus station for 250 rupees ($1.64). From there we took a 2.5 hour bus ride to Sigiriya Junction costing us 130 rupees ($.85). From the Sigiriya junction, we took a tuk tuk to our guesthouse, Shanaka Homestay, for 200 rupees ($1.31).

Sigiriya - Kandy

The owner of our homestay set up a tuk tuk for us to the bus station in Anuradhapura (about a 20 minute drive) which cost us 500 rupees ($3.27). From there we took bus #42 to Kandy (98 rupees ($.64)) and took around 3 hours. From the Kandy bus station, we walked to our hostel, Clock Inn.

CAUTIONS

In all honesty, we found tuk tuk drivers in Sri Lanka to be horrible. I would say out of our whole month in Sri Lanka we met four tuk tuk drivers who did not try to rip us off. It is important to know that tuk tuk drivers can be very sneaky, and they will lie to you in order to get you to take a ride with them. In one instance, we had a tuk tuk driver tell us that the bus we were waiting for was not coming for another 3 hours, and that we needed to take a tuk tuk instead if we did not want to wait (a common lie). We were early on in the trip, and we were not sure what to believe. A man nearby, who told us he was a bus driver (but was actually in on the tuk tuk driver’s scheme), told us to stand in the wrong place for the bus. Thus, we ended up missing the bus (that came in 10 minutes, not 3 hours) and had to take a tuk tuk for a very expensive price. Overall, be very cautious when it comes to tuk tuk drivers.

Our best advice for you is, when you get off a bus and need to find a tuk tuk to your hotel or hostel, do not get a tuk tuk from the bus station. It is better that you walk at least 100 meters and flag down your own tuk tuk driver than to take one that is offering you a ride. Tuk tuk drivers that hang out around the public transportation sites often have scams going, and they will always overcharge you. If you flag down your own tuk tuk, it will be much easier to barter for a fair price. If you are in Colombo, only use metered tuk tuks. Make sure you always have the driver turn on his meter when you get in, because sometimes they will try to get you to agree on a price even though they have a meter.

Overall, Sri Lanka is a safe country. The only times we ever felt uncomfortable (which were few) were from tuk tuk experiences. Sri Lanka is an amazing place, and we hope that this itinerary and information is helpful for your journey. We would love to answer any questions you may have, or hear any of your Sri Lanka stories! Shoot us an email at guidedmissdirection@gmail.com! Best wishes and safe traveling!

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