Sri Lanka Transportation Guide

With impressive scenery and plenty of things to do, Sri Lanka is a beautiful island in South Asia. However, getting around Sri Lanka can be a frustratingly time-consuming experience.

We traveled around Sri Lanka for more than a month and tried various types of transportation there.

In this article, we’ll share Sri Lanka transportation tips for trains, buses, tuk-tuks, and cars.

Nine arch bridge Ella Sri Lanka.

What is Sri Lanka’s transportation like?

In Sri Lanka, people drive on the left, just like Britain. Everyone drives a bit crazy, huge buses and trucks.

Unless you have a private driver or rent a tuk-tuk/ car, traveling by public transport in Sri Lanka is hectic and tiresome.

Trains are usually not on time, and they’re often (or always) over-sold, so there’s a high chance you won’t be able to find a seat. Public buses are often overcrowded as well.

Also, traveling on the island is slow. You should expect that the estimated travel time on Google Maps is usually inaccurate and add more time when planning your trip.

If your travel distance is short (less than 1 hour), I suggest using a tuk-tuk as it’s more comfortable. Buses and trains are great for long-distance trips.

Don’t forget to get travel insurance when visiting Sri Lanka.

getting around Sri Lanka by train.

Getting around Sri Lanka by train

Traveling by train is one of the best ways to explore Sri Lanka. The most scenic train routes in Sri Lanka include Kandy to Ella and Colombo to Galle.

The British built the train network in Sri Lanka in the 19th century. While there are some improvements, train speed is still quite slow, especially if you travel in the hill country.

train travel in sri lanka.

There are three train classes: first, second and third class. You can make reservations for all classes up to 30 days before departure. Train tickets start from $1.

You can book tickets in person at the major train stations or online using 12go or You can also arrive at the train station 30 minutes before departure to get non-reservation tickets.

Check train schedules at the stations or

Read more: I’ve written a detailed Sri Lanka train travel guide. You can check it to plan your trip.

Getting around Sri Lanka by bus

Taking the bus is probably the fastest way to travel around Sri Lanka. There are bus routes everywhere, even the remote areas.

Usually, you can get to the bus station 30 minutes before departure time to get a seat. Bus tickets are cheap, starting from $0.5 for a 1-hour ride.

Buses are usually very crowded during rushed hours, so avoid them cause you will have to stand all the way.

There are two main types of buses: A/C buses and non-A/C buses. We mostly travel by non-A/C buses on our trips. They’re colorful but pretty loud with music.

bus travel in sri lanka.

Driving by yourself

Another great way to explore Sri Lanka is to rent a private car or a tuk-tuk and drive yourself.

You can book cars on Discover Cars and tuk-tuks on Tuktukrentals. You can use the coupon “expatolife” to get a discount when booking your tuk-tuk.

If you plan to drive yourself, you should bring an International driving permit (IDP). If you have already left your home country, you can try

You’ll need to obtain a Temporary Driving License from the Automobile Association of Ceylon in Colombo. The office is open Monday to Friday, 8 am to 4 pm. Permits cost LKR 6000 and are valid for up to twelve months.

Bring these items and hard copies of your:

  • IDP or License
  • Passport
  • Visa

I recommend having a good map on your phone or paper for navigation. Large vehicles such as buses and trucks will expect you to get out of the way on the road. The traffic is a bit crazy, so be careful! Also, vehicles frequently take over on blind corners, so it’s common to see cars at speed on the wrong side of the road.

Traveling Sri Lanka by tuk-tuk

I love taking tuk-tuk for short-distance trips as they are convenient and easy to get. We also took several day trips by tuk-tuk, and they were great.

Not all tuk-tuks in Sri Lanka have meters, so you should negotiate the price before getting on the tuk-tuk.

The normal rate for tuk-tuk is 80 ~ 100 LKR per km. If you travel long distances, it is 50 ~ 70 LKR. If you’re in tourist areas such as Mirrissa or Galle, tuk-tuk drivers usually ask more, so better negotiate if the price is too much.

I usually use Pickme or the Uber app to book tuk-tuk. However, some cities are not covered yet.

Traveling Sri Lanka by car and driver

You can also hire a car with a driver for your Sri Lanka trip. A standard rate is $50 per day if you plan to hire them for a week or two weeks.

Another option is to hire a car with a driver at each location. For example, you can hire a charter car from the airport to Hikkaduwa for $50.

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  1. Hello Ha, thanks for the info you shared ! Can you please tell me , should i expect to buy sim card for apps at airport and when i set pick me up to work there should be vehicales it is not something you need to book few days in advance? Just checking lol… i am use uber frequently in Europe but not sure is it organize same there because as you said everything runs slow there :)

    I acctually plan to go to Sri lanka in December this year, and i planned the trip and booked the stays i just did not organize the transport because i do not want to book a driver they ask now 70$ , i am hoping i could get bymyself with busses and tuk tuks.
    Thanks in advance

    1. Hi Tamara, I bought sim card at the airport and used Apps like Grab to book tuk tuk from the airport. It worked fine for me even though I arrived pretty late near midnight.

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