Budget travel – Sri Lanka, an island like no other. Rich in culture, bountifully blessed with lush vegetation and exquisite wildlife, plenty in serene beaches and breathtaking views, inhabited by the most hospitable people with a long and proud history. Be a shame not to explore.
Over the course of history, Sri Lanka has received recognition and praise from the world, the most recent of being ranked ‘’Top country for travel’’ in the year 2019. With such accolades being won, travelers have gradually come flocking in to experience this paradise island. Thus, leading to an inflation of prices of hotels and resorts, inadvertently making traveling an expensive ordeal. Budget travel has hence become an exciting new way allowing the masses to tackle these issues.
Yet living at a point in time when the world is battling a pandemic with rippling effects on economies and mental health, the thought of travel might not necessarily be entertained. But read on as I explore budget travel options that just might change your mind or perhaps come in handy next time you decide to plan a getaway.
Points to consider of budget travel
The word almost synonymously associated with travel or vacation is hotel. But it is worth noting that while they may at times provide the best value for money it’s not always the case, especially when traveling on a budget. Holiday homes or hostels tend to provide more economical alternatives, either found through advertisements or websites such as Airbnb.
Being aware of the seasonal changes in climate, over different regions can almost certainly allow you to discover great deals. If you are able to overlook being unable to participate in certain activities (e.g surfing), you could travel to areas during the off-season to enjoy discounted rates. Below mentioned are the monsoon seasons in the country:
May – July: South-West Monsoon (generally the western and southern part of the island receive more rainfall and during this period the seas off the coast are rougher)
October – January: North-East Monsoon (eastern parts of the island experience rain during this season and the seas are rougher during this time)
Recommended destinations for budget travel
Naturally diverse and abundantly gifted. Sri Lanka has sandy beaches, luscious green highlands, wildlife parks, and a mix of cultures to experience, spread throughout the island. providing an endless array of options to suit your fancy.
Keeping in line with our aim to explore budget-friendly options, by breaking away from the frequently traveled and popular destinations you could open yourself to a world of new and affordable, yet equally exciting destinations.
The following is a list of areas grouped based on different vacations you may be looking to take,
1. Coastal areas - Dikwella, Batticaloa, Arugam Bay.
Arugam Bay – Situated on the southeast coast, famously known for surfing also has beautiful beaches, vibrant nightlife, and cheap accommodation ranging from hostels to small homestays and hotels.
Things to do: Surfing, Hike up Elephant rock, visit Muhudu Maha Viharaya or the Kudumbigala Monastery, Lagoon safari, visit Kumana Bird Sanctuary, and Yala National park.
Batticaloa – Situated in the Eastern province, famous for coral-rich seas is home to some beautiful beaches(Kalkudah, Pasiikudah, and Kalladi) and lagoons, picturesque locations, and diverse history.
Things to do: Snorkeling and diving in Kalladi, exploring the historic district, visiting the lighthouse, lagoon tour, relaxing on the tranquil beaches of Pasikudah and Kalkudah, while in Batticaloa don’t forget to taste the famous lagoon prawns.
Dickwella – A small coastal town in the southern province famous for its calm beaches and availability of great surf spots, along with yoga retreats and home to the world’s 2nd largest blowhole, still remains to be a great budget travel destination.
Things to do: Surf at Hiriketiya beach, visit Hummanaya blowhole, enjoy a swing ride on the scenic Dickwella beach, take a yoga retreat.
2. Highlands - Haputale, Ohiya
Haputale – Situated in the Badulla district, nestled between tea plantations and cloudy hills is a great spot if you are on the lookout for scenic views, cool climates, and rewarding hikes.
Things to do: Visit Lipton’s seat, hike Prabhawa mountain, Thangamale bird sanctuary, tour Adisham (St.Benedict’s Monastery) and Dambatenne Tea factory, on a clear day one could view the southern coast from Lipton’s seat.
Ohiya – A village located in the Badulla district close to Haputale with cool climates, waterfalls, and close proximity to many attractions is perfect for a quiet getaway into nature.
Key attractions: Horton plains national park, Ohiya gap vantage point, Ohiya rainforest, The devil’s staircase, Bambarakanda falls.
3. Nature expeditions - Rakwana
Rakwana – Small town in Ratnapura district within close proximity to 2 major nature reserves in the country and also a significant hub in the tea plantation industry provides economical lodging options amongst the added benefits of a calm environment.
Key attractions: Galdola Ella falls, Kanneliya Rainforest reserve, Sinharaja Rainforest Reserve, Udawalawe National Park.
4. Historical sites - Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Dambulla
Anuradhapura – A UNESCO world heritage site, the capital city in the north-central province of the island and ancient capital of the country holds the ruins of palaces, monuments, and monasteries. With modestly priced entry tickets to museums, tanks, and a national park within reach, it definitely calls for a visit.
Key attractions: Archaeological Museum, Isurumuniya Temple, Jetawana Dagaba, Nuwarawewa Tank, Sri Maha Bodhi (The Sacred Bo Tree), Ruwanweliseya, Thuparamaya, Lovamahapaya, Abhayagiri Dagaba, Mirisaveti Stupa, Wilpattu national park.
Polonnaruwa – A UNESCO world heritage site, in the north-central province of the island, is the second most ancient kingdom in the country built after the destruction of the Anuradhapura kingdom. Providing a peaceful environment and rich history at very affordable rates.
Key attractions: Gal Viharaya, Quadrangle, Lankatilaka, Rankot Viharaya, Polonnaruwa ruins, Potgul Viharaya, Pabalu Vehera, Minneriya, and Kaudulla nature reserves, man-made ancient irrigation reservoirs such as Parakrama Samudraya, Mihintale, Giritale, and many more.
Dambulla – A town situated in the central province is home to a UNESCO world heritage site; a famous cave temple and ancient ruins of archeological interest whilst having a national park in close proximity provides travelers with a wide range of experiences. Dambulla is also home to an international cricket stadium.
Key attractions: Rangiri Dambulla Cave Temple, Ibbankatuwa Megalithic Tombs, Pidurangala Royal Cave Temple, Golden Temple of Dambulla, Rangiri Dambulla International Stadium. It is also in close proximity to the world-famous Sigiriya rock fortress.
5. Northern excursion - Jaffna, Mannar
Jaffna – A city situated on the northern tip of the island with picturesque coastlines, ancient forts, Museums, delectable food, temples, and Kovils. An area formerly under conflict due to civil war, now thriving with busy markets and lively city centers.
Key attractions: Fort, Archeological museum, Jaffna Market, Nallur Kandaswamy Kovil, Nagadeepa Rajamaha Viharaya, Delft island, Keerimalai, and Kankesanthurai beach (KKS), Rio’s Ice Cream cafe, Jaffna public library.
Mannar -The town situated in the Northern province located on Mannar island was formerly popular for pearl fishing. Also, a part of the contested land during the civil war is famous for bird watching in the present day.
Key attractions: Shrine of Our Lady of Madhu, Baobab Tree, Mannar Fort, Mannar Bird Sanctuary, Adam’s Bridge, Thiruketheeswaram Kovil, The Doric at Arippu, Wilpattu national park.
Traveling on a budget is all about taking advantage of helpful websites and apps that save you money, finding ways to reduce your expenses. It’s about seeking value while always being able to afford to do what you want, and reducing your expenses. So naturally the mode of transport you opt for to travel to your desired destination is of importance. Described below are the most economical ways of getting around the island.
As the primary mode of public transport within the country is by bus, there are buses available to almost any part of the island. The prices will differ based on the type of bus you travel in, with Air-conditioned ones charging comparatively higher.
Train services are available to most major cities on the island and are often the cheapest mode of transport available but will require booking tickets in advance if it is a long-distance journey.
Tuk Tuks will be a common sight no matter where you travel in the country and are perfect for traveling short distances in crowded cities and reaching final destinations from train/bus stations. Usually requiring a little bargaining to ensure you are charged a fair price.
In addition, there are taxi-hailing apps available in certain areas of the island. The 2 biggest being Uber and Pickme, both offering a range of vehicles from tuk-tuks to cars and vans.
Bicycles and motorcycles are also available to be rented from various establishments with select resorts providing bicycles to be used for daily excursions free of charge when residing with them. And as for motorcycles, the prices would be higher yet prove to be more economical in the long run also providing more freedom and ease of travel.
Thus, in order to ensure that you select the best available option always compare rates with different modes. Noted below are links to the Sri Lanka Transport Board (SLTB), Sri Lanka Railways, and National Transport Commission (NTC) for further information.