Sri Lanka is a backpacker’s paradise. There are incredible places you can explore at affordable prices. Thanks to the public transport system, you can travel anywhere you want. There are hostels and boutique hotels that are backpacker-friendly.

Here’s how you can explore this gem without breaking the bank.

Plan Your Itinerary

Start with a plan and decide on your route and itinerary. There are several destinations you can aim for depending on what you prefer to do. For instance, if you want to relax at a beautiful beach, you can head for the southern coast. If you want to surf as well, there are several surf points down south that you would love. If not, head to Arugam Bay, which is still primarily a surfing spot unlike the beaches in the south that cater to all.

If you want to hike, head for the hills. The central hills have several incredible hiking paths that you would love. Towns like Nuwara Eliya and Ella will be perfect for you.

For a bit of history and exploration, select Anuradhapura or Polonnaruwa. These are the two oldest kingdoms in ancient Sri Lanka and have several attractions that would appeal to you. We would also recommend Sigirya, but, you might wish to leave your backpack behind!

Travel by Public Transport

Sri Lanka’s public transport is cheap and reliable. To save money, travelling by bus or train is the best option. You can also enjoy some beautiful scenery. For instance, the train ride from Kandy to Ella is a must and offers breathtaking views. You can buy tickets at the station.

Buses get crowded, but it is still one of the cheapest options available. You can hop on the bus heading to your destination and pay the conductor. Buses also travel to places that don’t have train stations, so do look for buses to get around.

Stay in Budget Accommodations

There are accommodations to suit the needs and budgets of different travellers. If you are on a budget, or backpacking, hostels and guesthouses are your best bet.

You can find dorm beds for as low as £5 per night. Look for places with good reviews. Websites like Hostelworld and Booking.com will be useful to find a good place for you. Some locals offer homestays.

Another advantage of these accommodations (aside from affordability) is that you can meet other travellers. You can form a small community for the duration of your stay and interact with others. It can be a fulfilling and educational experience.

Eat Like a Local

Street food in Sri Lanka is delicious and cheap.

You can try a variety of food including kottu roti, hoppers, and samosas. Local eateries, known as “rice and curry” shops, are everywhere. You get a full meal for a few pounds.

The key is to avoid touristy restaurants. Keep an eye out for the shops where locals (especially tuk-tuk drivers) gather. They tend to be cheaper and offer better food. Sri Lankans do drink tap water. But if you prefer, you can buy bottled water at affordable prices. Do be careful of how you dispose of them once they are empty.

Explore Free Attractions

Many attractions are free or have a small fee.

The public beaches are free throughout the day. There are only a small amount of private beaches owned by five-star hotels that you might not be able to access. Hiking trails are also free for the most part. Many attractions in Colombo – like the Independence Square, the Galle Face Green and the Viharamaha Devi Park – are free. So while Colombo is an expensive city, you can still visit most of the major attractions for free. In Kandy, you can take a stroll around Kandy Lake for free, and enjoy the scenery.

However, some attractions do charge an entrance fee. For instance, the Temple of the Tooth Relic in Kandy or the Sigiriya Rock Fortress require tickets. Budget in advance so that you can pay for these tickets. If you are a student, you might be eligible for a discount. So carry a physical and digital copy of your ID.

Use Tuk-Tuks Wisely

Tuk-tuks are everywhere and are convenient. However, they can be pricey. Be sure to hail a ‘Metered Taxi’. These taxis carry a meter that charges you a set amount based on the distance you travel. If you can’t hail one of these, always negotiate the fare before the ride. Otherwise, the driver can name an arbitrary and exorbitant price.

Using ride-hailing apps like PickMe is the better option, since, they offer fair rates and are easy to use. They are also more secure since the riders come with user reviews.

Pack Smart

Pack comfortable shoes, lightweight clothing weather-proof gear, sunscreen and the like. Sri Lanka is hot and humid. So you don’t have to wear layers. However, do pack a set of modest clothing that covers your knees and shoulders if you plan to visit places of worship.

Pack a reusable water bottle so you can get a refill when you need it. A first aid kit and any medication you need are essential, especially if you plan to hike. Otherwise, you may not be able to find these items out in the wilderness.

Stay Safe

Sri Lanka is generally safe, but it is still better to be cautious. Respect local customs and dress modestly when visiting temples. Always keep an eye on your belongings, especially in crowded buses and trains. Always carry cash and small bills with you. Some shops may not have enough change.

Avoid isolated areas at night. Some tuk-tuk drivers can be aggressively pushy. Give a firm ‘no’ and then walk away. If you cave and get a ride from them, they might take you to shops where they earn a commission from the owner for every tourist they bring in. The experience can be jarring.