This post was last updated on February 25th, 2020 at 03:24 pm
Sri Lanka, one of the smallest countries in Asia, is easy to travel through. Public transportation is the best way to travel in Sri Lanka. Here you get to know the locals and although the distances are often short, the bus and train journeys sometimes take a very long time. But with the beautiful landscape that passes by, that is no disaster.
Transportation in Sri Lanka
As mentioned, the most commonly used mode of transport in Sri Lanka is the public transport. You will have to rely a lot on buses, trains and scooters. We have made an overview of the most used means of transport including the plane, bus, train, scooter, and the car.
In the high season it is wise to book transport with buses and trains in advance because it is fully booked quickly.
Railways run throughout Sri Lanka. With the train you can go almost everywhere. In addition, the distances are often short, so sitting in the train for a long time is not an option. Spending the night on night trains is also not an option in Sri Lanka. Although the journeys are often short, they are almost always delayed. And we are not talking about 10 minutes.
The train is one of the most relaxed ways to travel. You only have to sit on the train and enjoy the, often beautiful, nature outside.
TIP – Despite the recent price increases, the rates are still very cheap. A ticket from Colombo to Kandy in second class will only cost you 190 Sri Lankan Rupees, around $1.30.
You have three main lines in Sri Lanka that go from the capital Colombo to the north, middle and south of the country. The center line, also the main track, runs towards the hilly central part of Sri Lanka and stops in Kandy, Nanu Oya (for Nuwara Eliya) and ends in Badulla.
The southern line goes to Matara, Hikkaduwa and Galle and the northern line goes via Colombo to royal cities such as Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and Trincomalee on the east coast. In the train you have three classes. First class has air conditioning; unfortunately this is almost always full. The second class has beds and the third class is very cheap but very busy.
When you talk about transport in Sri Lanka you always talk about the bus. The buses run in all parts of the country. There are two types of buses in Sri Lanka; state buses of the Central Transport Board (CTB) and private companies.
CTB buses run to most remote places and in and to major cities. These buses are also used by the locals. The advantage is that they are dirt cheap but they are often overcrowded and very old. The journey is, therefore, not very comfortable. A ride from Colombo to Kandy costs around 140 rupees ($1) and takes around three hours.
The private buses serve as transportation if you go on a tour. They are also known as express or semi-express buses. These buses range from old to new and some use minivans with air conditioning, TV and toilets. The advantage is that these are often a lot faster even though they are more expensive. You often pay double compared to the state buses (which is still not expensive). If you want more comfort and want to travel faster, private buses are a good option.
If you are in the city then the taxi is a great transportation option. If you do not want to travel by taxi, you can also travel with the tuk-tuk’s or rickshaws. Surprisingly, these are just as cheap. Make sure you agree on a price in advance. Both the tuk-tuk driver and the taxi driver are good negotiators and do everything to get more than the agreed upon rate.
Sometimes the drivers get a commission when they drive past friendly stores or hotels. Commonly used tricks are that they tell you that your hotel or hostel is fully booked. They supposedly call to ask for directions and then tell you that your hostel is fully booked. Do not comment on this and ask them to just drop you off at your accommodation, especially if you have already booked.
TIP – You can also rent tuk-tuks for the entire day. This costs around US$22. A ride of a kilometer (0.6 miles) costs around 40/50 Sri Lankan Rupees (US$0.70).
This is by far our favorite way of transportation in Sri Lanka. It is a great experience to travel through the country with a scooter or motorcycle. You see everything, you come everywhere and you can stop wherever you want. It is the ultimate feeling of freedom. The traffic takes some getting used to but outside the cities it’s a lot quieter.
Driving yourself in Sri Lanka is allowed, but quite a challenge. As a transport means in Sri Lanka, self-driving is, therefore, not recommended. The traffic is chaotic and rules don’t seem to exist. With the scooter you can get in between here but with the car this is already more difficult.
You can rent a car with a driver. This is a bit safer and easier. In addition, it is not expensive, around $30 a day for a small car. This includes costs such as gasoline, any toll and the salary and costs of the driver.
To rent/drive a scooter or car you need an international driver’s license (IDP).
TIP – Do you want to drive yourself? Then you need an additional permit in addition to an IDP. You can get this in Colombo and costs 1,500 Sri Lankan Rupees, around US$11.
Domestic flights are not (yet) applicable within Sri Lanka. The country is just as big as Ireland meaning it’s easy and fast to travel by bus or train. Nevertheless, the number of domestic flights is growing steadily and there are now 3 airlines offering tickets. There are several small airports, but most flights go via Colombo and Kandy.
Local airlines are Sri Lanka Airlines and Cinnamon Air. Domestic flights can often be booked on comparison sites such as Skyscanner. There are also smaller airports where you can fly with small propeller planes. You can often book this locally.