Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka
Constantly looking over my shoulder; lying to the police; surreptitious drive-bys. This isn’t how I imagined I would be seeing this World Heritage Site.
My driver slows the car to a halt and I wind down the window and stick my camera out. Click. Then on we go.
It doesn’t have to be like this
I’m at Anuradhapura in the north of Sri Lanka. This city was the religious and political capital of the country for about 1300 years from the 3rd century BC.
The remains of its temples, palaces and public buildings are scattered across fields and amongst the more modern urban environment that has appeared in its place.
Anuradhapura is a relatively popular tourist site, albeit not quite as famous as some others further south.
So why, you may be wondering, am I acting like a criminal while visiting it?
Well, it’s about money. In short, I didn’t think it was worth buying the ticket which gives me access to the ancient city. And so that means I am being sneaky and trying to see most things just from the outside… which is still not technically allowed, apparently.
The driver turns down a road towards one of the bigger sites and a policemen is there to check tickets. Thinking quickly, the driver asks if this is the way to somewhere else. The policeman shakes his head and we quickly reverse before we get caught out for the cheapsters we are.
But, actually, I don’t think I am being cheap. There’s a bigger problem here. The real question is, why is Sri Lanka so expensive?
Why is Sri Lanka so expensive?
First, a very quick clarification. I’m going to talk here just about the cost of visiting sights.
Sri Lanka has surprised me a bit with the cost of things like food, accommodation, and drinks… but I guess it’s still reasonable enough.
But when it come to entrance tickets to popular tourist places – phwoar, that’s a whole other story!
So let’s look at Anuradhapura first of all. A ticket costs US$25.
There are several other major tourist sites in this part of the country and the entrance fees for them are as follows.
If you’re in Sri Lanka for a limited time, as many people are, you might try to do all of these places in two days, which is possible.
But that means a total of $95 per person you will be spending just on entrance fees, before you even take into account things like transport or guides.
In terms of comparisons, let’s look at two examples.
The first is the Tower of London where entry costs £22 (US$35).
It’s a high entrance fee by global standards and obviously higher than the ticket to see Anuradhapura. But when you look at it within the context of the cost of living, it is still a lot less than Sri Lanka.
A more comparable example, I think, is the temple complex at Angkor in Cambodia. I already discussed in a story about Polonnaruwa how there are historical similarities between the two countries.
Now, I think Angkor is much more spectacular and much more important than Anuradhapura and could justifiably charge more for an entrance fee (especially when there are sustainability issues around crowd numbers). But actually a day ticket for the Angkor temples is just US$20 compared to US$25 for Anuradhapura.
Is Cambodia a bargain or Sri Lanka a ripoff?
Entry prices in Sri Lanka
The reason I didn’t buy a ticket to see the ancient city of Anuradhapura is not because I couldn’t afford it. It was more about value.
I was passing through for just an hour or two and was limited with my time. Buying a day pass to see all the parts of the city was going to be a waste.
If it had been cheaper, I probably wouldn’t have minded, but it seemed hard to justify at that price.
Maybe I will regret that decision but hopefully I will be in Sri Lanka again and be able to devote the whole day that this place deserves. But I am concerned what this means more generally for tourism.
As visitor numbers to Sri Lanka grow, there’s going to be a broader range of demographics coming here – and a lot of them may not want to spend $95 per person to see the main sights in this area. So maybe they’ll just see one… or two… but not all four.
From an economic point of view, it’s a pity because these tourists may have spent money at all four sites if they were a bit more reasonably priced.
But it’s even worse from a cultural point of view because foreign visitors to Sri Lanka may leave without seeing all of the country’s wonders.
They won’t understand the nation’s history as well as they might have, their experience may not be as deep, and they won’t go home and tell their friends that they should also travel to see these things.
I know that I’m not really in a position to recommend anyone go to Anuradhapura – I didn’t get a good enough sense of it to know whether it’s worth it.
Yes, that is mainly my fault for not leaving enough time. But I still could have seen a lot more if I’d been prepared to buy a ticket.
I hope you’ve enjoyed the photos throughout this story – they are ones I managed to snatch from the side of the road while the driver watched on anxiously and made signals to hurry. Oh, and some are from a temple where you didn’t need the main ticket.
There are ways to do Sri Lanka cheaply – there is still a lot of value in the country. It’s just a pity some of the best sights of the nation don’t offer it.
Time Travel Turtle was a guest of Jetwing Hotels and Jetwing Travels but the opinions, over-written descriptions and bad jokes are his own.
82 thoughts on “Why is Sri Lanka so expensive?”
I’m in Sri Lanka at the moment and am feeling very disappointed with the cost of things. Accommodation is expensive for what you get, food can be cheap, but is often not… And the sights are just out of this world expensive. I like you didn’t pay the entry fee to those temples in Anuradhapura and was happy enough to see the free ones and the cheap $2 ones. With Sigiriya, I’m still debating it. It’s been raining here for the past few days and I don’t want to plonk down $60 for 2 if I have to bail one inside because of rain… If it was cheaper, I’d just take the risk but with the storms swinging through most of the day, I’m not likely to do it.
It doesn’t have to be this way. But I’ve seen a bit of a trend in developing nations of charging foreigners fees which are totally disconnected from local costs of living. Why? Shouldn’t things be priced according to the effort required for maintenance and staff costs? Or shouldn’t they be priced to control demand? If not, what do you base your pricing on? Gouging as much from the tourist as possible? I’m here on a fixed budget meaning every dollar spent on excessively priced government entrance fees is taken out of the hands of hotel, restaurant and transport owners. Simple.
Glad to know I’m not the only one whinging about it. 🙂
I am sorry you are on a shoestring. Possibly stay at home next time? Will send you some links to watch documentaries from your couch.
A quick Google search of prices before you traveled would have saved you all the hassle and spared the good people who were subject to reading this trash.
Seconded. People are starving…
Suranjith – bit harsh there mate. I think you might be missing the point. Sri Lanka needs overseas visitors. Especially at this time. But it is not only the milking of coin from the tourists visiting historical / cultural sites, the problem is far broader than that. I have been visiting SL on a regular basis since 95. I love the country to bits. As with all countries at present inflation is skyrocketing. A break to a destination where your dollar or pound can stretch further is now more than ever a real consideration for many who in more fruitful times would never have considered going on a cheap getaway – but will Sri Lanka be their cheap destination of choice? Yes I am getting more dollars / pounds to the rupee since the rupee was devalued, but the hotels and restaurants in many cases have doubled their their prices to ensure their profit margins remain the same, my supermarket bill is far higher and I am paying more for energy consumption and local travel in tuk tuks and taxis, so those gains are short lived . So now what happens with the dollar / pound per rupee free falling- do you think the hotels will lower their prices? Will my meal be cheaper? Is my morning cappuccino at risk of costing more than my Melbourne espresso. If Sri Lanka doesn’t take control of the gouging they will be in a very real trouble of losing valuable gains in the tourist market. It will no longer be a destination of choice for the thrifty traveller, and before you say well we don’t need you, think of the budget traveller pouring 100 of millions of dollars/ pounds into developing countries economies. Sri Lanka would do well to ensure it remains attractive to all travellers. With current import and export blocks, tourism if managed well could be one sure way of bringing the coin to Sri Lanka., and believe me budget travellers bring coin and they are willing to spend if the price is right.
Sorry Mate on behalf of him. We are in dire need of the Foreigners since our hope on All the governments are lost. The system change we require will never come unless and if an App with pure Transparency and including a Digital wallet system should be on place with All the Services and products offered in Sri Lanka under one roof an ALL IN ONE APP. Which the government will never allow but it should become A PPP. JV with the government and private sectors buy forming an Authoritarian under all 25 districts comes with the Specialty of Products and services so the Foreigner can Schedule and make perfect timely decisions. From Arrival at the Airport and back to departure. Only then our Beautiful Country Sri Lanka will prosper. A website and App like https://grabber.lk is the most ideal App to avail most of the services in the Paradise Island.
I tried planning a trip to Sri Lanka sometime back, but it didn’t work out. I found it a bit too expensive. But I guess, every destination is as affordable or expensive as we research about it.
Odd. I didn’t know the prices were that high. They’re out to milk tourists for as much as possible without really looking at the value-for-money margin.
Geeeeez you’re not wrong, that is quite step to see some temples. I personally am not the biggest fan even if they are free! Maybe I should hold out from touring Sri Lanka and just hang out and surf . . .
Definitely sounds pricey. Entrance fees can be such a drain on a travel budget, wherever you are in the world, but this does sound particularly expensive. I guess the only good thing is that it makes you prioritise exactly what you do want to see, and what you feel you can afford to miss. Seems like you managed to get some pretty good pictures despite the sneaky tactics, though 🙂
Agreed with the above regarding the prices of entry compared to both other elements of Sri Lanka, and other countries.
I’m in Sri Lanka at the moment, and have spent the past 10 days travelling around various places both on my own and with a Sri Lankan friend of mine.
The main disconnect for me has been the difference in prices that the two of us have had to pay.
The most notable being today where my entry fee to a small museum where it cost me thirty times the price that she had to pay.
That’s very interesting, Michael. I’ve never been to Sri Lanka, and was not expecting it to be an expensive country (in relative terms, of course). I agree with you that he price to visit Anuradhapura is way too high and although I love art and culture I would probably have done as you did: trying to have a sneak peak.
It’s a pity, indeed, because as you point out, this does not encourage people to visit and understand the country’s cultural heritage. Also, I often noticed how in Asia they tend to consider foreign tourists as milking cows, which is annoying.
I live just outside Yosemite National Park. Park entrance costs $20 and is good for a week unless you come by bus in which case there is no real charge. I find it absurd to pay so much for man made shrines when you can experience the best of what God has made for free.
In Sri Lanka we have no policies: be it pricing, capacity development, infrastructure / man power development is a unheard concept. Every thing is politicized and done in a haphazard manner and all short lived. Nothing sustainable. It is expensive. Those at a policy making level are mere frogs in a well. They are conditioned to believe that we got a unique product and we can charge as we please and tourist are with deep pocket and we can milk them dry. There must be a paradigm shift. In our approach. If not what happens is these 55000 hotel rooms will have to be converted to hospital rooms or even better bingo rooms.
Oh, wow, $95 to see it all is certainly expensive, especially when making a few comparisons. At least you still got some really great photos and the taxi driver was helping you!!
I also wonder what happens with the entrance fees. Does it go to a new house for some official or do they really need it for upkeep.
I had no idea Sri Lanka was that expensive. I think I’d be doing the same as you, trying to see the sights for free! When you’re on a backpacker budget, spending $25 for a couple of hours sounds like an awful lot, and can really mess with your budget! 🙂
The thing is, I think a couple of the sites are probably worth $25 (or, at least, I would be willing to pay that). But the problem is that they are all that expensive and so, if you want to see them all, it becomes really expensive. As you say, for a backpacker, a visit to a temple might cost more than a night’s accommodation. When that person has to prioritise, I know which thing will get skipped.
I am in Sri lanka now and I am also surprised about the prices of everything. Costs of sites should be looked at in connection to prices of food and accomodation. I am not sure if food and accomodation prices are reasonable. I wonder on what they base their prices, which taxes andd costs are connected to providing accomodation or food or drinks in restaurants. If there are substantial taxes then there is no need for expensive tickets and if there are not, ticket prices are ok but everything else should be substantialy cheaper. Tourist prices here are comparable to Croatia which is a EU member state with solid infrastructure and safety standards, reasonable staff pays and high taxes which I am not sure to what extent applies to Sri Lanka.
I think in some countries there is very clearly an economy for locals and an economy for tourists. I found it in Myanmar as well where the hotels were really expensive because there weren’t many of them but if I went to a local restaurant then the food was extremely cheap.
I guess Sri Lanka is still growing its tourism industry and maybe market forces have yet to settle and impact the prices with reasonable competition. My main complaint was with the prices for the sights, though, because that is controlled by the authorities and doesn’t have competition, as such. I just think having reasonable entry fees will help encourage tourists more generally and that will help the economy more in the long run.
I came across this already 13 years ago in St Petersburg, if I remember correctly the tourist prices for the Maryinski were 5 or 6 times higher. Personally I cannot stand this moaning about “high” prices etc. Firstly you can decide yourself if you want to see something and secondly, we are after all rich enough to travel to many a foreign land. I am off to Sri Lanka in 2 weeks and certainly am looking forward to it. If I really would want to see any temple etc. I will not hesitate to pay the price.
As for the prices of the sites, we have paid for whatever we wanted to see and didnt bother us too much. Considering all costs involved when making such a trip from Europe the prices for main sites were not such a big issue but I can agree that they are too high compared to other more impressive stuff like Angkor Wat for example.
I don’t mind there being a local price and a tourist price in places like this – it is only fair that locals are able to see their national sights for a price that’s relative to their income. But my point is that the Sri Lankan prices for tourists are well above what you would pay for similar things in Europe or the US (and certainly most other parts of Asia). If the country wants to promote tourism, this is something it needs to consider. I was happy to pay for some of the sights too but after a while it just became a bit too much… and I think that’s unfortunate for a country which such a rich collection of sights to share.
I have been visiting Sri Lanka for fifty years and have visited all the historical sites many times, taking friends and family around the country. In the 1960s admission prices, if any, were low relative to other costs and I have seen them escalate as has the cost of living and salaries for the country’s people. I have no problem paying more than a local person to visit the sites but I do have a problem accepting the high prices when clean facilities are not provided for any visitors, local or otherwise and that little of the money appears to be used for development of the sites. It has been told to me by local people that the high clergy are the beneficiaries of the temple admission fees and the politicians own many of the higher star accommodation.
The government’s stated position for the past decade has been that it wants only high spenders to visit – people to whom costs don’t matter and that it prefers not to have budget travellers and back packers. The latter are the ones that provide incomes for the small businesses and ordinary people of the country. Unfortunately the general population seems to agree with the government that foreign people have more money and therefore should pay as much as can be extracted from their pockets. That has been told to me very many times.
To those who advise to merely suck it up, my question is: Would you have an ethical problem if your own country charged foreign tourists five hundred percent or more than you for visiting your country’s attractions?
Thanks for the comment, Archi. I think we’re on the same page with this one.
My biggest problem with the whole thing is that I don’t think the prices are fair or a reasonable value. It is just price-gouging to extract money from tourists… and that will turn some tourists away.
As a country, I can understand focusing on the high-spending tourists by offering luxury resorts, quality buses, first class train carriages, etc. But you make an excellent point about how the budget travellers support the small businesses. That really needs to be considered within any larger tourism strategy.
As a Srilankan living in Sydney I cannot agree more on this article… I go back to Srilanka often to visit family and have recently stayed in couple of hotels down south- Beruwala and Bentota… As someone who has travelled a lot in Asia I find the srilankan hotels charging 250+ to 350+per night not comparable at all…. You get more value for money in other asian countries even India..I dont understand why the entree fees are so high compared to Angkor national park pass… We had 2 whole days to spend at most of the temples in Siem Reap with one ticket and it is much more impressive than any temple in Srilanka.On top of that I tip generously in Cambodia and Thailand as the prices to me are reasonable compared to the quality and service but in Srilanka after we pay much more for no particular reason tips are expected.So everytime I go back to Srilanka for family reasons I stop somewhere else on the way for a value for money holiday.. It is a pity because if I could find the same standard hotel in Srilanka around 150-200 dollar mark i would definitely stay here …However charging tourists different entry fees from the locals is very common practice in many countries not only srilanka
It’s great to hear your thoughts as a Sri Lanka, Supriya. Thanks for adding in your comment.
This seems to be quite a consistent point of view and it sounds like you’re in a good position to compare it to other nearby countries. I do wonder what the strategy is here and whether the higher prices are intentional. Perhaps it is a way to limit tourist numbers so there isn’t over-development on the island.
It will be very hard to book a room from 5 star to no star in season in Sri Lanka. After the war was over, tourists started flocking into the island (in season mostly), thus accommodating the numbers is still an issue. However, if one tries in off-season, hotels becomes cheep as most of other countries do.
There are plenty of online pricing available for Sri Lankan hotels, which is around $150 (3star). Expecting budget pricing on a 4-5Star hotel may be a far cry though.
When seeing cheep motels or budget hotels room-night going at $99 in Australia, I wouldn’t complain on the 3-star pricing in Sri Lanka.
Its a common practice to have two pricing ranges for locals and tourists which is legal and justifiable under certain circumstances even in EU countries. The logic here is, locals may already contributing to these places by means of local taxes etc. where a tourist wont. Also locals inherits a right to ancient places, where some locations are totally free for locals.
I totally agree with your article. When we where planning trip to Sri Lanka, we heard it’s very affordable place good for backpackers, but so far it was not that great. Accommodation is quite affordable, but then you getting pretty basic rooms, but usually we stay in homestays, so I don’t mind to support local people. When it comes to food, we heard that you should get lunch for 200 rupies, for us it at least double, in touristic areas even more. Worst part is, as you said, visiting those famous places. My gf was very keen to visit Anuradhapura, even it’s cost us$50, which is like two day budget for us. What a disappointment. There is almost no added value, very few English signs, poorly marked, stuff know little to no English. I don’t mind paying more then locals, but if there is no added value, why should I pay ten times more?
I can’t believe the prices that they charge in Sri Lanka!! 3 day tour out of Colombo is the same money for 10 days in China. I will just stay for business now and cancel plans to tour. Bit of a shame but there are other places to go for that $.
That is a pity you’ve made that decision. I think Sri Lanka is so beautiful and it would be great if you could see some of it. But I agree with you that the prices are far too high, so your decision doesn’t surprise me completely.
If you missed seeing Sri Lanka, you have missed seeing Sri Lanka. If you missed seeing China, you have missed seeing China! You cannot compare the two. Your decision to go for the cheaper place does not give you the experience in the other.
Not so subtle fact is, countries like Sri Lanka cannot subsidies on attractions as wealthier countries like China do. Money has to be earned to keep-up with whatever expenses to maintain them, without making them another burden to already ailing economy.
Everything in SL is done on an ad-hock basis. There is an ingrained notion among policy makers that all white people and Japanese nationals (who make up most of the tourists) are wealthy and milking them dry is justified. As someone here has already mentioned policy makers are corrupt, low-paid government officials who think its opportune to grab as much as possible from “foreigners”. There is no value for money in most things you buy in Sri Lanka; whether its hotel accommodation, rent-a-car services, restaurants or tourists attractions. I am a Sri Lankan born Australian national and I generally manage to get away by paying local rates because I speak Sinhalese. However the last time I visited Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage, the ticket seller heard my daughter’s strong Aussie accent and he insisted that I pay their rip-off rates for her. I asked her to keep mum but she was too exited when she saw the elephants cross the road.
For those who comes from western or wealthier countries, a $90 is easily spent in the pub in a single night, or dinner for two at a mediocre restaurant. How each individual choose to spend their $90 is different. But for me, I would rather spend $90 to experience archaeology and ancient history, than on a pair of shoes. However, I might have to spend $90 on a good pair of shoes first, before stepping out into an adventure! Confusing!!!
@ Kavee: you still need to consider what a “western country” is in your definition. It’s not only Aussies, British & Scandinavian who travel, to whom the value of $90 is much lower than in countries like Poland (where I come from), all eastern and southern Europe or even China, which is not a “western world” itself but accounts for thousands of backpackers. Plenty of guys from these would not spend $90 neither on a hotel night, restaurant meal or archeology stuff. It is JUST expensive.
As a Sri Lankan living in Sri Lanka and traveled extensively around the world, I don’t think $90 is too much for American’s and Europeans in the first place, I understand it means a lot when compared to what the locals pay, but trust me the locals pay huge amounts of taxes on everything so lots of things including health care, education, etc are free to the locals. The reason they even charge a small fee is to keep the delinquents out of these sights. However the govt needs the foreigners to help maintain these sights as its a huge cost to maintain them without been a burden to the govt. Saying that the govt should provide better facilities to foreigners at these sights.
As of recently the cost in Sri Lanka has increased substantially and has become extremely difficult for the locals to sustain them selfs even though the per capita income has gone from around USD 800 in 2005 to nearly USD 4000 in 2015. A reason for high cost of items is due to fact that almost every thing is imported to Sri Lanka and everything has high import tax, this can be witnessed when one visits a local supermarket where goods are more expensive than the equivalent in Europe.
Yeah, I know what you’re saying. My issue is certaintly not with the difference in price for locals and tourists. I actually think that’s a really good thing to do in developing countries so that citizens aren’t priced out of seeing their heritage. My issue is with the difference in price between Sri Lanka and other similar countries. I just feel like it’s much higher than Cambodia or India, for example.
I am coming from a European country that doesn’t charge any monument more than 10 euros. The entrance to almost all RELIGIOUS buildings all around the country is totally FREE, even for the ones that are included in UNESCO list. I was learned that religious sights are not “entertainment parks” made for tourists, but were made for some other purposes…
Also, it is really important that you get something for the money you pay. What is included in 30$ price? I am sure that most of the people would not visit all this sites, but they would rather choose some of them or maybe even skip all and just lay on the beach and visit smaller temples. But that means that most important national heritage would not be seen by many of them. And this is important to be seen… So, it is expensive and it is very bad policy for encouraging tourist flows to the country!
For many of us travelers we would never spend $90 a night on food or $30 on a site in our own country. Just because someone is western (and maybe youre someone who is wealthier coming from a developing country who doesn’t see $100 as a lot of money) doesn’t mean they are rich. Not only rich mer people travel. Many people like me work all year and don’t spend any money on hotels, restaurants, shopping, or even a coffee outside of the house so that they can have the money to travel in a country like Sri Lanka. Some people give up all their possessions to be able to travel and to many of us $25 for a site is a rip off but as you or someone else said it’s up to that person if they want to pay that amount. Most developed countries don’t have inflated prices on sites and never charge a foreigner a different price so it does seem a lot to take pictures of a site.
Its a really nice place to visit, but Sri lanka will never become a top destination due to its rip off poor service pricing policy, how can they charge more tan the uk for hotels when they don,t share the same overhead costs. for this reason i wont visit again or recommend it.
Two of the images on this post are of the Dambulla Cave Temples. The murals there are awesome and the history and stories around this place fascinating. The good news is that the entrance fee for this site has been cancelled so everyone is free to visit this special places, for free.
It is Sri Lanka. If you come to Sri Lanka you have to deal with it. Otherwise you can go and visit so called Cambodia, Thailand or India.
You have to deal with it?? People are not allowed to comment on whether they think things are overpriced?
I agree with a lot of people on this thread. We went to sri lanka in April this year. Beautiful place, nice people etc. Would we go back soon even though we had a good time? Would we recommend it? Hmm….that’s the point when things are in my opinion wildly overpriced with what you get. Example- a flea pit of a room in Ella with a shower which didn’t run and toilet which stank. admittedly great view but for 60 dollars!!?? I’d say 15 or 20 dollars would have been a lot lot fairer- still giving the owner a profit.
We all found food and hotels comparable prices to europe or the UAE but nowhere near the standard which you’d get in those areas. A shame as we all liked the place a lot. But if Sri lanka wants to compete with ‘so called Cambodia or Thailand’ as you say- they have to get real!
I have lived in Sri Lanka and have a very close 50 year relationship with the country and its people. This means that I know the complexities of life there, dealing with low salaries – if you have one at all – and, relative- to -the -income high costs of food and difficulty in getting effective medicines [ cheaper and inadequately packaged brands are very common and provide a less effective result.]
As taxes have been mentioned as a reason perhaps why tourists should pay more I’ll point out that not a great percentage of the population pay taxes – avoiding tax is the second national sport – and, unlike countries the visitors hail from, health and all education is free. Still, life definitely is hard and insecure for most of the population. This “hard” is different from the rat race elsewhere where most people have to work 10 hour days for, in Sri Lankan terms, a high salary – pay high taxes and have very high living expenses. All this while saving for a week or two in sunny, awesome Sri Lanka.
What these hard working, hard saving holiday makers are upset about is that they are charged the same rate for substandard accommodation and services even relative to their home country. For example, I was looking at a 3 bedroom villa on the West Coast for my family for a week and found that I would be paying at least three times the cost of the same in a comparable location in [ expensive] Australia where rates of pay, insurances, superannuations and everything else you can think of are way higher than Sri Lanka. [I decided to book ten days on an island resort near the Great Barrier Reef instead, and will continue my exploration of Sri Lanka in the North of the country later.]
Recently there appears to have been an awakening to the need for facilities to be provided at tourists sites, for both local visitors and tourists from overseas. I have faith that this will happen, albeit slowly, as in Cambodia and Thailand.
To finish, I notice that there are quite a few people going to Sri Lanka expecting to enjoy amazing accommodation sights and activities for little more than the price of fresh air. The small guesthouses they often choose have overheads unseen by the tourists. They have building maintainence costs [ hard to maintain a building there in the climatic conditions coupled with inferior, locally produced materials and low status given to trades people leading to no one wants to learn these skills]. Many also have loans. Then they have to pay staff whether of not the rooms are occupied, add superannuation and taxes, cost of electricity [ high] food and getting the food to the location, cleaning and washing. Anything less than RS3000 per night for a double room without food, in my experience, is only borderline profitable for the guesthouse owner. So, if you are a ‘budget” traveller, please consider these points and, if you make a booking either turn up or pay a night’s acommodation to cover the costs incurred in preparing for your arrival.
Regarding the above comment; I am paying 1500 for a room, the owner is lovely, however, they appear to have a very easy life watching TV and can afford holidays to Thailand etc etc. Previously, I stayed at a local families house for free; as a teacher, he is able to take his family on many holidays a year. Ticket prices are very high for my budget and will ‘deal with it’ by not paying them and not coming back!
The brief description above speaks thousands of words to me and illustrates my point. Sitting around all day indicates lack of a job [ the mother and youth who have left school and don’t have a job or are waiting their turn to enter University?] , accepting Rs1500 for a room means giving up space in their home in order to rake in a few rupees. Teachers have had a pay rise there recently however the salaries are still very low and impossible to ehjoy an easy standard of living.
Friendly and smiling is what Sri Lankan people are – even when they are feeling the opposite. As for trips to Thailand – businesses pay cheap fares for people to go there for a weekend in return for carrying back bags of clothing products for their business – the avoid taxes sport in action, quite neatly.
had lived in Sri Lanka for sometime and I observed
1. They import all items except tea from India/China/Japan etc. The custom duties are paid nearly 300 % in which Govt makes moollah. They buy a car for 30 lakhs from Japan which would cost close to 8 lakhs in India. But they say Japan quality is better ! ( No other option for them )
2. They do not have a strong engineering /industrial background hence the vendors make a killing. Even a small spare like compressor spares they need to import and pay huge. Absolutely no value for money
3. A meal which costs in India around 125 INR will cost 200 INR there for the same stuff. A breakfast with coffee in India will cost you around 120 INR which you have to pay 280 INR for the same quality of food & hotel
4. One shirt or vest will be charged 45-50 INR per piece for washing in laundries.
5. Local manufacturing & competition does not exist for most of the goods
Poor lankans who earn 50 % of Indian salaries and pay 200 % more for all materials. Since the population is low & revenue comes via tourism they sustain. But for how long ? Most of the tourists think thrice to come again.
We know India.Not a poor nation like your people.
Thank god I found this page
I was offered by a local guy here in Kapiltiya for taking me to Anuradhapura trip tomorrow for 17,000 LKR not including entrance fees, and today he took me to wilpattu national park for more than 30,000 LKR
I just realized after comin back from wilpattu that he charged me too much,
And I didn’t get to see the leopard( the famous animal to see there) but lizards and peacocks
🙁 really disappointing
Now I’m not sure if going to Anuradhapura tomorrow will be worth it.
Round trip costs by car or normal size van are generally at Rs45 per kilometre one way Rs75. It’s 120km to A’Pura from Kalpitiya so times that by 2 = 240km. 240km x 45 = Rs10,800. Add some extra kms for hopping around A’pura. As 240 km is really far too far to go in one day in Sri Lanka the driver is completely entitled IMO to ask for more.
The Entrance fee to Wilpattu is the equivalent rupees of USD15. [ about Rs 2,500] Tax added, of course. A jeep from the entrance is RS3500 – 4000. Transport costs would be much the same as for Anuradhapura [ round trip 230km] . He had to wait around for you to do the safari too, and it’s a long, slow drive taking a lot of energy. I think that a reasonable cost would be around Rs20,000 without the tip. [ Rs500] A tip for the compulsory guide/tracker would be Rs500.
It is important to research your holiday before you start. That way you can plan it well and know ball park costs in advance. You could have done this by bus and stayed at the entrance to the park or by boat from Kalpitiya. [ There’s a guesthouse here that offers this service.]
We are just finishing up our holiday after about three and a half weeks. I would say we’ve managed on about 200 euros a day with flights and driver on top. I would say about 8000 euros total budget two adults+two kids. Transport was cheap, hotels cheapish (6000-10000Rp per night), meals ok (average around 6000Rp for evening meal) but sights were ridiculously expensive (on par with European prices).
So I’m an expat Sri Lankan, and I think people have to step back a minute. First, despite being expensive, Sri Lanka has seen a tourism boom. Part of the issue, is that after the war, the tourist increased, their is a lag between that and when new hotels can be built. I agree, hotel rates during peak periods are extortionate, but I expect them to go down over time. Second as other posters have pointed out, Sri Lanka does not want to encourage the “backpacker” crowd, both because they spend less money and let’s be honest they are more likely to engage in vices that offend the still relatively rural and conservative culture where most of the tourist attractions are located.
Not a criticism for Time Travel Turtle, but I’m constantly amazed at people who will budget $$ for airline tickets, pet sitters, hotels, a car and driver, etc.. and balk at small charges. It’s the same way with Europeans who come to the United States (where I live) and outside of a handful of central cities are shocked they need to rent a car, which by the way is relatively cheap IF you book it in advance and either stay over the weekend or rent for at least five nights (this is how they charge more to business travelers). However, no the Europeans do no research, and then realize they need a rent a car, and then go call around or go on the web and realize it’s expensive. Admission’s fees to tourist attractions are not hidden and readily available and should be budgeted for well in advance.
Finally, let’s talk about what is cheap in Sri Lanka, mainly booze which is very very cheap, especially compared to Muslim countries like Indonesia or Malaysia. Also, remember, by being expensive Sri Lanka keeps out the backpackers and less savory elements. That exclusivity allows them to be more expensive and still attract plenty of tourists
Yes, Sri Lanka charges a lot for sites. I agree it should be regulated. However, what you see for what you pay in SL could be worth more than what you you pay to see elsewhere. For example, Sigiriya, a great climb to see an ancient natural palace and some marvellous engineering without modern machinery, artwork exposed to the elements (as will you be when you go to see them), USD 30. A trip up to Eureka Sky deck in Melbourne, to see the world open up beneath your feet with ‘The Edge’ experience is AUD32. And those ‘man-made shrines’ in Sri Lanka were hand carved out of solid rock hundreds of years ago with basic tools. As for disparate entry prices for locals and tourists, when you visit the Musuem of Old and New Art (MONA) in Hobart, Australia, if you live in Tasmania it’s free, and visitors pay AUD 20 (reduced from AUD 25 which I paid last July!). So it happens everywhere. Talking about food, Sri Lankans don’t cook meat well. Tourists should stick to seafood and vegetables, and they will be a lot cheaper, too. I stayed at a resort in Sri Lanka, paid what I would normally pay in a first world country for board, they had wonderful service, and the food was mediocre quality but brilliantly prepared for what it was, so I was happy to pay for it. In SL I can get away with local prices because of the way I look, but I choose to either pay, or if I think it is exorbitant, go for a walk instead. There is a lot of wildlife even in a roadside thicket!
The sites that are charged are mostly ancient Buddhist ruins older than 1200-1500 years. I agree the prices are at the higher end, but for those who know the value, the incidents actually occur there its ancient architecture then paying $20-30 for a site is not invane. Ofcourse for an ex someone who hates history visits a museum will be bored to death until comes out. Sri Lanka is much more. It is so diverse in terms of a holiday destinations. Take a ride up to the mountain, visit Galle fort, visit Arugam bay for surfing, and there are plenty of more Lesser known wonder which I usually visit as my getaway. Even for an ex – Pidurangala mountain which overlooks the Sigiriya cost only $5 and the view top of the mountain is worth it.
Back to the ancient ruins, Buddhism was actually introduced to Siam ( Thailand) by the monks of Sri Lanka. Then at one stage it was threaten to extinct from Sri Lanka and Thailand send their monks to re-initiate the Buddhism here. There is so much history and mystery remains there if you can afford to find a quality guide to travel with you.
It is still less traveled, it is very safe compare to other destinations and the public are welcoming albeit there is always a crowd who wants to spoil the party.
I do agree with you, the entry prices are bit higher compare to other costs. If you want to save money on accommodation, it is recommended to go for the villas and private houses than the hotels. In the villas, the private chef can be arranged and you can enjoy very tasty food which is better than the food in luxury hotels. On the other hand, there are lots and lots of places to visit in Sri Lanka which has no entry fee, for example, beach walk in Bentota, shower in Rawana ella water falls, admiring Sun set in Galle face green beach, walk around Galle Dutch fort, etc.
Thanks for the great tips! Hopefully I will be back in Sri Lanka at some point and I’ll try a few more of these places.
We are on a 2 week trip to Sri Lanka and are completely clueless about the prices of just about everything in Sri Lanka
15$ for 5 Dambulla Caves, 37.5 for Sigiriya, 37.5 for Anuradhapura and even cultural shows and minute things are never less than 1000 LKR [8 USD]
We tried eating like a local in Polonnaruwa and in a very very small restaurant, the bill was 12 USD. [Rice plate and Kotthu]
We are well traveled couple and Sri Lanka seems just another story, definitely a severe mismatch of what it promises vs what it delivers
That said, people are very nice in Sri Lanka but as soon as they know you are not Lankan, prices are just doubled.
It seems hard to find affordable things as a tourist in Sri Lanka. With accommodation and food, at least there are options. But you’re right to point out the attractions. There is no alternative (other than not visiting them).
The good thing about overcharging at such a ridiculous level (tariffs going up tens of percents each year!!) that people prefer to spend their money at lovely calm and cool Ayurvedic places 😉 for a soothing massage and utter pampering.
I think nobody complains that we, white noses, pay something extra for the upkeep of those unique places. But if you see scandals like expensive Pigeon island, just to see the corals around this tiny island trampled by hundreds of tourists (but no toilet to be seen…), with as sole sign of the so called ‘sanctuary preservation”: a rickety and poor looking rope around one particular coral spot (and no control at all against tresspassers) one wonders where the money actually goes.
It is also to be seen if the tourists staying in the posh beach hotels, really do more for the countries’ broad economy than the many budget travellers who eat and shop and travel and take tuktuks and so make a decent living for the middle classes.
If SL wants to limit the tourist numbers… why allow a whole ‘Atlantic Wall’ range of new Chinese hotels at Nilaveli?
Another example: just visited the marvelous Udawattekele, a jungle-like Royal urban parc , right behind the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy. Price more than 600 rupees, was 400 last year, apparently. It seems the walking roads are much better now, and spic & span toilets ;-)). But there are some serious invading species, like a certain creeping Ivy. Indeed I saw this invader is everywhere. (I quote WIKI: “Despite the forest being of great educational, scientific, ecological, historical and cultural value, the Forest Department has no management plan to maintain the biodiversity and remove the invasive species to restore and protect the native vegetation. Necessary control measures would be the uprooting of seedlings, collecting and destroying seeds, and removal of mother trees and creepers.”
That is why we rebel: if we pay, it has to serve a purpose… and we do not wish to be confronted by so much neglect.
There is an adagio: if some measures or taxes or prices are perceived as too high, people will simply change their behaviour. That is exactly what happens now. Many historical sites were nearly empty this year, people preferring to stay at the beach or just go for a free walk (to the nearest ayurvedic venue haha)
Result: negative revenue. But I heard many Sri Lankans say the same: officials won’t listen. it is a real pity.
I am currently planning our family holiday and before in depth research Sri Lanka was going to be our destination. However, as you and others have rightly pointed out, Sri Lanka is pricing itself out of the market. Something is not right if you can buy tickets for the Taj Mahal or Angkor wat for considerably less than Sigiyria. Also hotel prices and their quality in Sri Lanka is not giving me a reason to choose Sri Lanka over other asian destinations .
So you stayed in a hotel that is over $500 per night and you’re complaining of paying a ticket at $25? Doesn’t make any sense to me. If you can afford an expensive hotel then in percentage terms it is much less than that for a backpacker in a rented room in the same area. For them it’s much more expensive.
Best to get a national to get the tickets for you. They probably have concessions!
I would not recommend Sril lanka to anyone i know. Too expensive for the value they offer. they keep comparing their prices to europe, the us, australia and others and say we can easily afford it but they forget about the value. why is it that i have to pay over $50/night for a hotel that has no shower pressure, barely warm water, stinking sewage odor from the toilet, hard mattress, no minibar and no AC?
why do i have to pay $8 for a sandwich that tastes like cardboard, $5 for seasonal fruit juice? It’s ridiculous! local food is even more maddening because they serve you heaps of rice and tiny bowls of curry dishes with very badly cooked meats. in 3 weeks, every time we had meat, be it fish, chicken or even mutton(aka goat meat), it was hard, rubbery and had a funky smell.
Sri Lamka Thumbs Down.
Hey, as a Sri Lankan been lived in Paris and many Europe Cities & currently in Sri Lanka.
1. I would say If you are coming from ‘ developed countries’ Then you spend 90$ must be a just a thing in a ‘Holiday’ becouse you waste lot of money for daily usage, for a holiday you may come again or not, so spending that sort of money is very acceptable. On the other hand For the sake of Sri Lanka’s development as it is not a large production country you help at least the country.
2.But if you are coming from developing country, this can be expensive for you. But this is more into Individaul puchesing irrespective of countries !
3. I would say paying 25$ is so worthy as Anuradhapura is the only city that can campare with Ancient Egypt bulidngs, there are only 11 Buildings remains in world before Jesus Christ, 3 in Egypt, 3 in Anuradhapura Sri Lanka. If you don’t want to grabe the very historical value of these places, you can just avoid, there are many tourist visit each year. So Please don’t base here what someone say..Go & search your self.
4. Here the value based on Historical importance of the place for country but this may not go with you but ‘Old Is Gold’ people.
5. In whole Sri Lanka only charge 2 sites for 25 USD, 30 USD For Sigiriya, another 15 USD for damublla, 10 USD Kandy,….And there few places charges upto 5USD…The rest of 9500 Sites are FREEE of charges, they have the same historical importance in same period, some built even 2000 years ago but those sites are not written in international books & websites, thus you need to come here and ask similar replicas for above sites which you wouldn’t like to pay..!!
6. Sri Lanks star class hotels are expensive according to what they have, only few hotels are the best ..It needs to change as a system..But I disagree with the cultural site tickets issue here. You just avoid if you can’t afford there are plenty to see !!
The temple of the tooth is the most sacred place in Sri Lanka, and Buddhists travel from all over the world to pray here.
Lord Buddha would not charge money to pray for enlitenment,he would turn in his grave. Shame on those who do this just because you are a foreigner.
I agree that it’s way too much. I am a volunteer and my host local family wants to takes me to see the historical sights. Becouse I’m a foreigner I have to fork out heaps, I think this is a racist problem not an economic problem. Imagine……becouse you are dark skined visitor in a western country you had to pay more money to see local attractions…. there would be an uproar. Equality is all I ask.
Locals @200r Me @4000r
I do not agree with you there are hundreds of cheaper destinations located in sri lanka.
Of course there are lots of cheaper sites in Sri Lanka – but the ones I’m talking about are some of the most important and it’s a shame if people skip them because they can’t afford to see them all.
Hi, thanks for the post.
We are off to Sri Lanka in a few days (from Melbourne, Australia). We have travelled extensively throughout SE Asia and have noticed that the prices are much more expensive in Sri Lanka – including entry fees, hotels, transport (taxi, driver etc), food etc.
What makes it more expensive for us is how everything is quoted in USD – when you look at the exchange rates for AUS/USD it adds a lot to the cost – unlike Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam etc that quote in their own currency. So for driver hire, it may look reasonable at USD 49 per day, it ends up being about $70 AUS – which is heaps compared to hiring a car and driver in say Chiang Mai at $40 AUS for the day. But with limited access to tourist level public transport it is difficult (and time restraining) to see the country any other way.
The Sri Lankan government is wanting to build upon its tourist numbers in the coming years to increase its income but for that to happen they need to lower the cost of entry, transport etc and develop cheaper tourist accommodations. If they want to compete with Thailand, Vietnam’s tourism industry there is a lot of work to be done to make it affordable for all to travel to.
It will be interesting to keep a log of the costs once there for shopping, everyday items and see how they compare to other Asian countries.
Either pay the fee and enjoy the site, or don’t pay the fee, and leave. You are a guest. And you broke the rules. You are no moral ground to stand on. You are too cheep to pay the entry fee, but happy to sneak the photos. What a horrible person. And you ruin it for everyone else. Do us all a favor, stay home.
You mean to say you weren’t even paying for your accommodation and you refused to fork out the entrance fee? You’re right that Sri Lanka entrance fees are too high but you have some cheek in saying so. Part of the reason they are so high is sustainability. Maybe the Sri Lankan government DON’T want to follow the example of Angkor Wat. I forked out 4600 SLR for entry to Anuradhapura today and winced. Having read your article I’m glad I did.
Thanks for the comment, Norman. I get what you’re saying about sustainability. There is an ongoing discussion in the tourism industry about finding the balance between making important sites accessible for everyone and finding ways to limit the number of visitors. I’m not convinced that Sri Lanka has found the right balance. As you say, people wince when they have to pay the entrance fee at places like Anuradhapura. I wanted to share that with readers, which is why I wrote this article.
If you buy alcohol such as beer, brandy or Arrack and cigarettes in Sri Lanka it will be even expensive.
I did visit Anuradhapura, paid my ticket and even rented a bike to go through the various places. Honestly, you didn’t miss it one bit. Having been to the other places you mention – Tower of London, Angkor Wat, and even Petra or Macchu Picchu – I find it a total rip off for what there really is to see there – which isn’t much. And you are 100% right when you say that such high prices may end up being a deterrent to visit all that the country has to offer. Sure enough, after finding Anuradhapura a big rip off I reviewed my plan to go to Polannaruwa, and skipped it.
I was planning a trip to Sri Lanka but I have changed my mind and I will go to Burma instead. I am disappointed , I though Sri Lanka was going to be a more easy-going place. Obviously not. I hate these places where all they want is to milk the tourists and as I can see Sri Lankans are experts in it. They actually have nothing that I really wanted to see, like Angkor Wat, Bali or Halong Bay.
I will be travelling to Sri Lanka this November and I am already concerned about the entre fees to all major tourist destinations. I shall be visiting Sigiriya, Kandy, Nuwara Eliya & Bentota. Do you have a list of places you would recommend wher I wouldn’t need to shell out as much?
I have friends in Sri Lanka and spent a full month there in 2015, only spending time and living with locals. If you’re someone visiting SL friends, like me, the locals are amazing and basically don’t allow you to spend any money on anything. They are very, very generous. But when you are a, let’s say, stereotypical tourist, locals tend to take a lot of financial advantage of you. I’ve visited certain sights for free simply because I was with SL friends, while other tourists had to pay. I didn’t pay for anything in Anuradhapura and saw a lot (not sure if I went to the part of the city where tourists have to pay though – but I was with local friends who went for religious reasons). I really love Sri Lanka, but I also really hate how they tend to take financial advantage of tourists big time. Also, when I was to travel alone, one of my friends would always buy the bus or train ticket for me, because public transport is A LOT more expensive when you are an ‘ignorant tourist’ buying the ticket.
On the other hand, as other people already pointed out, the higher prices are better for sustainable sites. Not everything has to be as cheap as other countries in Asia and not every country wants to attract a shitload of backpackers. Tourism can also have a majorly bad effect on historical sites, so maybe Sri Lanka simply wants to maintain sustainability when it comes to entrance fees. Plus, Sri Lanka is more conservative than many people realise and cheapskate travel really attracts certain types of people they might rather not want in SL. They have the right to increase prices in order to attract certain types of people. Also, the country has a terrible economy and even many locals are scraping to get by these days. Also for them life is expensive. And I am inclined to think that, if tourists are so bothered by the high prices, they should simply go someplace else. Until the Easter bombings the tourist industry was still booming despite the country being more expensive than other Asian countries. So you don’t necessarily have to be cheap to be popular. Actually, the very first time I visited Sri Lanka was in 2006 when people were still killing each other in a civil war and I had to be careful to not get poked in my stomach with an automatic weapon at the airport. Back then, Sri Lanka was very cheap for tourists compared to what it is now. Oblivious sun-bathers were having a jolly good time at all-inclusive resorts while one of the most brutal civil wars of modern history was fought. So considering all this we shouldn’t be whining too much about the costs today.
I just came back from Srilanka a week ago and share similar concerns.
Initially we visited a lot of places paying the high tourist entry fee, but after a while I was just done with it. No matter what anyone’s justification is for it the cost is absolutely not justified.
I have no problem paying extra. I understand tourism contributes a lot to the Srilankan economy, but where i fail to agree is they highly over-charging tourists at every single place.
I have skipped visiting Sigiriya, Anuradapura and few other places coz of this.
Thanks for sharing such a greate information with us.
My partner & I are currently in Sri Lanka we came over for a wedding and decided to stay a little longer for a beach holiday and see some sights.
I completely agree with the view that the attraction entry fees are too expensive. We were planning to do a massive day trip from our accommodation in Colombo to visit Sigiriya rock fortress and Polonnaruwa Ancient City, all up a 16 hour day with travel. The reason we didn’t go was the entry fees, It’s not we couldn’t afford it but we couldn’t justify spending ~$200 USD for a car and driver (This included lunch) to then have to spend $110 USD on entry fees, especially since the Sigiriya rock fortress is a hour and a half walk and a museum, $30 USD per person is insane and the Polonnaruwa Ancient City $25 USD is still too high. The entry to the Colosseum in Rome( an actual wonder of the world) is $16 USD.
On top of this, Sri Lanka, like most places around the world is going through some economic trouble and in my experience here it has made the country more unsafe and the numbers of scammers increase. My partner and I left our hotel to visit an ATM <200 meters away and were approached by two separate scammers on our journey. One who had a really cool bar with free beer for us to come see and the other who just straight up was harassing us for money by faking a medical condition.
Unfortunately my recommendation for anyone visiting Sri Lanka is to book a nice resort/hotel and don't leave. Which is honestly a shame because looking at the attractions on the web I do feel like we are missing out on some beautiful sites around the country but they are to expensive to enter and it feels unsafe to leave the hotel and experience local culture as the locals seem to see tourists as cash cows to be milked.
I totally agree. I came in 2014 and the price was almost the same. And I’m here again in 2022 by accident (was planning to go to malaysia after the Maldives). While I find the people very kind, I definitely think it’s not worth the money to travel here. Pay 50usd and you get perhaps a 20-dollar hotel in Cambodia/Thailand. 100-dollar hotels don’t have the 100-dollar look…
At a 170USD hotel in Kandy rated at 4.7/5 and I was very disappointed. It looks like a 3-star hotel… I’ve spent hundreds of nights in Hiltons, Intercontinentals and Hyatts all over the world. For 170 I’d expect more even in Spain — not to mention this is Sri Lanka. I’ve visited almost all of south east Asia and South Asia and this is my second time in Sri Lankan. I remember from my first trip that entrance tickets were stiff. I now find everything expensive. It’s especially difficult to get around. I’ve often been told: take a taxi, unless you can endure local buses — slow and often not on time.
During this entire trip, the only thing worth my money is dosa… everything else has been a rip off. Just not worth it. And the nice places are too difficult to reach. The road between Kandy and Nuwara Eliya has numerous spectacular places and hotels, but they are just very hard to get yo without a car. Infrastructure is poor — train seats get sold out days in andvance and train ticket prices have soared so we ended up taking taxis. Would I recommend Sri Lanka to friends? No. (Definitely a rip off compared to cambodia or Thailand.)
Covid is the reason hotels and tourist infrastructure has gone up in price – it is the same worldwide. Everything everywhere has gone up in price. Sri Lankans have been living in dangerous poverty for so long–because of civil war and then because of the pandemic. If you have enough $$ to be traveling to Sri Lanka or anywhere then you have no idea what struggles these and all vulnerable people have suffered because of the pandemic. Really? You can´t figure that one out on your own? You are expecting places to still be cheap for you rich traveler? And to say some other country is a better choice because of lower prices–as if the actual cultural riches unique to Sri Lanka are interchangeable for ´cheaper´places- wow – today´s travelers are disgusting.