For all of south and south east Asia our budget is 100 USD per day. In Sri Lanka this was not an easy budget to keep.
Lodging often cost double what we were used to spending in Thailand for the same or worse quality accommodation. This may have been because we booked ahead and were traveling during the Christmas holidays. We are a family of 5 with 3 teenage daughters, so at minimum we need 2 double beds. In Galle and Kandy we spent almost 60 USD/ night. In Colombo in January, the most cost effective place we could find was a flip key apartment for 45 USD/ night. In Ella we spent 6500 SLR (about 45 USD) and in Mirissa we spent 5000 SLR (about 35 USD) In Tissa we spent just 4000 LKR or about 27 USD for rooms that were similar to what you would find at camping cabin.
Food also varied. If we could find local places, we could get a decent meal for just few dollars. But Sri Lankans don’t eat out much, so we were often stuck with tourist places where we had to shell out around $20 per meal. While at the airport getting ready to leave the country, I was shocked when our bill at Burger King was $60. I know priced are inflated at the airport, but never, in any country, have a spent that much on a fast food meal for our family.
Transportation in Sri Lanka can be very cheap (often just a few dollars for local bus or train tickets), but can be uncomfortable. We found the local buses more comfortable, mostly because we had to stand for several hours on two different train rides. There are vans that will drive you around the island, but they cost 10 times more than public transportation.
Attractions in Sri Lanka were often ridiculously priced, at least by south Asia standards. We skipped the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy with its 1000 SLR (about 7 USD) per person entrance fee. We also passed on the Kandyan dance show when we found out the prices had doubled from what was quoted in the current Lonely Planet, from 500 (3.50 USD) to 1000 rupees (7 USD) per person. These prices might not seem high individually, but when you have to multiply by 5, they really add up.
Activities we fit in the budget included 1 ½ day jeep tour in Yala and Bundala National Parks for 38,000 LKR (about 250 USD), surf board rental was 400 SLR (3 USD) per hour in Mirissa, and the turtle hatchery cost 500 SLR (3.50 USD) per person. We used Christmas money from grandparents to pay for whale watching in Mirissa, 10,000 LKR for all 5 of us (about 70 USD).
We managed to stay in our $100/day budget in Sri Lanka, but it was tough. Between food and lodging costs we hardly had any money left for activities. It think if we had known how much more expensive Sri Lanka is compared to south east Asia and India, we wouldn’t have come, We would have picked a place where our money would have gone further.