SRI LANKA

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HOW WE TOURED SRI LANKA ON A BUDGET

Our ultimate guide on how to explore Sri Lanka on a budget – and how to immerse yourself in the country’s culture without breaking the bank

STANDING ROOM ONLY – TRAVELLING SRI LANKAN STYLE

Sri Lanka’s on the move and her train, bus and tuk-tuk drivers are ready – why travelling around the country by train, bus and tuk-tuk is the only way to go!

A TALE OF TWO SRI LANKAN ELEPHANTS

Born free or a life in chains? The contrasting fortunes of elephants in Sri Lanka

WHERE WE’VE STAYED

COLOMBO

Grand Oriental Hotel
Grand Oriental Hotel

Grand Oriental Hotel

Nights
1

Cost
9960 Rs per night

What that included
Room only, wifi

Rating ***
Friendliness 3 Cleanliness 4 Location 3 Comfort 3 Facilities 3 Food n/a Value for money 2

What we thought
We could imagine this being a bit special in its prime – about 50 years ago – but it still has some old colonial charm about it. Our room had a nice four poster bed, high ceilings and dated furniture, but at £60 per night, it was way more than we would have wanted to pay. But finding something cheap and clean in Colombo is pretty much impossible. OK for a stopover, though.

Website

Trip Advisor reviews

GALLE

Thenu Rest Guest House
Thenu Rest Guest House

Thenu Rest Guest House

Nights 
2

Cost 
6000 Rs per night
 

What that included
Bed & breakfast, fan, wifi

Rating ***
Friendliness  3 Cleanliness 3 Location 4 Comfort 3 Facilities 3 Food 3 Value for money 3

What we thought
Situated within the historic Galle Fort area, it served as a good base for exploring the delights of the town. The huge breakfast was probably the highlight. Overpriced, although that’s probably more a reflection on the accommodation prices in Galle overall.

Trip Advisor reviews

MIRISSA

Minara Guest House
Minara Guest House

Minara Guest House

Nights
2

Cost
4000 Rs per night

What that included
Bed & breakfast, fan, wifi

Rating ***1/2
Friendliness 4 Cleanliness 3 Location 3 Comfort 3 Facilities 3 Food 4 Value for money 4

What we thought
Fairly basic accommodation in a quiet area of Mirissa but still within walking distance of the superb beaches. The family that owns it were very friendly and served up a superb Sri Lankan breakfast of egg, hoppers, dhal and coconut sambal. Mosquitos were a bit of a problem, though.

Trip Advisor reviews

TANGALLE

Dilena Beach Inn
Dilena Beach Inn, Tangalle

Dilena Beach Inn

Nights
1

Cost
3770 Rs per night

What that included
Room only, fan, wifi (wood/bamboo bungalow) Bed & breakfast, air-con, wifi (concrete bungalow)

Rating ***
Friendliness 2 Cleanliness 3 Location 3 Comfort 3 Facilities 2 Food 3 Value for money 3

What we thought
Backpacker accommodation in a decent location next to a nice beach. Lots of mosquitos around and inside our room, though. We decided it was worthwhile spending more on better accommodation 2km further along the coast from Tangalle, where the beach was also a lot better – so we left after one night.

Trip Advisor reviews

MARAKOLLIYA BEACH

Mangrove Beach Chalets
 Mangrove Beach Chalets

Mangrove Beach Chalets

Nights
4

Cost
6000 Rs per night

What that included
Room only, fan, wifi

Rating ****
Friendliness 4 Cleanliness 4 Location 5 Comfort 4 Facilities 3 Food 4 Value for money 3

What we thought
Large, comfortable beach-side cabanas on a fabulous stretch of beach. Great bar/restaurant location too with good food. Hard to fault for what you get, although wifi was a little hit-and-miss. Having stayed here for just two nights (the place was fully booked after that) we returned at the end of our Sri Lanka trip for some more R&R before catching the flight from Colombo. Recommended.

Website

Trip Advisor reviews

MARAKOLLIYA BEACH

Ganesh Garden Cabanas
 Ganesh Garden Cabanas

Ganesh Garden Cabanas

Nights
4

Cost
5000 Rs per night

What that included
Bed & breakfast, fan, wi-fi

Rating ***1/2
Friendliness 3 Cleanliness 3 Location 5 Comfort 4 Facilities 3 Food 3 Value for money 3

What we thought
Situated right on Marakolliya Beach, we booked in here as Mangrove Beach Chalets were full. The basic “mud cabins” are just that – made from mud. But our room was reasonably clean and we had a large comfortable bed. Not much of an atmosphere in truth as the resort was pretty much empty during our stay. The beach hammocks were a plus, too.

Website

Trip Advisor reviews

ELLA

Beauty Mount Tourist Inn
Beauty Mount Tourist Inn

Beauty Mount Tourist Inn

Nights

Cost
4100 Rs per night

What that included
Bed & breakfast, fan, wifi

Rating **
Friendliness 2 Cleanliness 2 Location 2 Comfort 2 Facilities 1 Food 1 Value for money 2

What we thought
Breakfast at our patio table sounded a nice idea at the time – only it doubled as  a waiting room for people taking breakfast at a communal table next door. Mind you, a severely undercooked fried egg and cold, dry toast was not exactly gourmet stuff either. No care or attention all round, I’m afraid. We left after one night and moved into Little Cottage at the other end of town. Avoid.

Website

Trip Advisor reviews

ELLA

Little Cottage
Little Cottage

Little Cottage

Nights
1

Cost
4000 Rs per night

What that included
Bed & breakfast, fan, wi-fi

Rating ***1/2
Friendliness 5 Cleanliness 4 Location 3 Comfort 3 Facilities 3 Food 3 Value for money 3

What we thought
Just one room at this homestay, but it included the warmest and friendliest welcome we could have wished for after our experience at Beauty Mount. Yes, it was basic but it was really clean and overlooked a tea plantation. And, as a bonus, it was just a short walk to Ella train station. You won’t see it advertised online anywhere – just walk up the hill that forks to the left at the northern end of town and it’s connected to the Nature Resort next door.

HAPUTALE

Amarasinghe Guest House
Amarasinghe Guest House

Amarasinghe Guest House

Nights
1

Cost
2600 Rs per night

What that included
Room only, wifi

Rating ***
Friendliness 4 Cleanliness 2 Location 3 Comfort 3 Facilities 3 Food 4 Value for money 3

What we thought
With hardwood floors throughout this was certainly not the best place for sleeping with a noisy Russian family shouting at each other in the corridors. But as somewhere to stay away from the noise of Haputale town centre it’s a pretty good option. Dinner is set for 7pm for everyone and is good quality. We also arranged our trip to Horton Plains/World’s End from here.

Website

Trip Advisor reviews

HAPUTALE

Bawa Guest House
Bawa Guest House, Haputale

Bawa Guest House

Nights
1

Cost
2900 Rs per night

What that included
Bed & breakfast

Rating **1/2
Friendliness 4 Cleanliness 2 Location 3 Comfort 2 Facilities 1 Food 4 Value for money 3

What we thought
Very friendly and helpful owner and family let down somewhat by the extremely basic room, uncomfortable bed and general cleanliness (including the cockroach). The paper thin walls didn’t help either. Ok if you just need a bed for the night.

Trip Advisor reviews

KANDY

The Hills Lodge
Hills Lodge, Kandy

The Hills Lodge

Nights
3

Cost
5000 Rs per night

What that included
Bed & breakfast, fan, wifi

Rating  
Friendliness 5 Cleanliness 4 Location 3 Comfort 4 Facilities 3 Food 2 Value for money 3

What we thought
Set in the hills above Kandy it’s in a good, quiet location if you want to get away from the noise of the city centre. We had two rooms during our stay – one in the basement and one on the second floor, which was much brighter and comfortable. Kumah, the manager even emailed us after we left to let us know we’d left our passports and other travel documents there by mistake – which he kept for us in their safe until we returned a week later. Top service.

TripAdvisor reviews

ANURADHAPURA

Travel Lodge Guest House
Travel Lodge Guest House

Travel Lodge Guest House

Nights
2

Cost
3500 Rs per night

What that included
Bed & breakfast, air-con, wifi

Rating ***1/2
Friendliness 4 Cleanliness 4 Location 3 Comfort 3 Facilities 3 Food 3 Value for money 4

What we thought
A good base for exploring the area and a nice travellers’ vibe, too. The food is supposed to be good but we didn’t manage to sample any evening meals due to a combination of public holidays and the restaurant flooding.

Website

POLONNARUWA

Binara Home Stay
Binara's Homestay, Polonnaruwa

Binara Home Stay

Nights
3

Cost
2800 Rs per night

What that included
Bed & breakfast, fan, wifi

Rating ****
Friendliness 3 Cleanliness 5 Location  4 Comfort 4 Facilities 4 Food 3 Value for money 5

What we thought
More a guest house than a true homestay, this represented incredible value for money. Super-clean, with a large balcony overlooking the jungle, and free reign to use the facilities in the rest of the large house, this very much felt like home from home. Young Binara is still learning when it comes to customer service but you can’t knock his attention to quality and desire to succeed. Which he very much deserves to do. Thoroughly recommended.

Website

SIGIRIYA

Lal’s Homestay
Lal's Homestay, Sigiriya

Lal’s Homestay

Nights
3

Cost
5000 Rs per night

What that included
Bed & breakfast, fan, wifi

Rating ****
Friendliness 5 Cleanliness 3 Location 4 Comfort 3 Facilities 4 Food 5 Value for money 3

What we thought
Lal’s hospitality is already legendary in our house. Within ten minutes of arriving, he was taking Nicky on the back of his motorbike to get some medicine for an ear infection. And the surprise “party” he threw for her birthday (complete with cake and old arak) was another nice touch. But it was the food cooked by his wife that made this such a special place to stay. Communal meals with like-minded travellers also made for lively evenings. Thoroughly recommended.

Website

IMAGES OF SRI LANKA

WORLD’S END

You need to be lucky with the weather and make an early start, but the walk to World’s End is one that rewards the effort. Just try and not wake up anything that might be “sleeping in”, though!
Read more at How we toured Sri Lanka on a budget.

MIRISSA

There are actually two stretches of beach at Mirissa. One is becoming quite developed with restaurants, bars and hotels, while the other remains (for the time being) a wonderfully empty crescent of fine golden sand. Guess which one we preferred…
Read more at How we toured Sri Lanka on a budget.

LION’S ROCK, SIGIRIYA

You can walk up to this fifth-century fortress via a stairway that snakes around the 180-metre-tall rock formation in Sigiriya. For a hefty 4000 rupees, though. And you’ll have plenty of other people to keep you company as this is one of Sri Lanka’s BIG tourist attractions. We chose to view it from another rock formation close-by.

HORTON PLAINS

We’ve probably seen more wildlife in Sri Lanka than in any other Asian country we’ve visited. This lizard seemed to be following us during our three-hour walk around Horton Plains.

PARROT ROCK, MIRISSA

Situated between Mirissa’s two arcs of beach is this rocky promontory, reached via an extremely rickety set of steps. Great views of the bay and back to Mirissa. And clearly a popular place for wedding photographs for those brides and grooms willing to take a chance.

MARAKOLLIYA BEACH

The surf at Marakolliya is such that swimming is nigh-on impossible. But it remains one of our favourite beaches because of the vast expanse of clean, golden sand and the mesmerising waves which relentlessly crash onto the shore.

MORE ON SRI LANKA

Sri Lanka’s official tourism website

An “ultimate” guide to Sri Lanka from two Norwegian bloggers

Sri Lanka tips and itineraries from one of the world’s top travel bloggers

The indispensable guide for budget travellers

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