With impressive scenery and plenty of things to do, Sri Lanka is a beautiful island to visit 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 in the country.
In this article, we’ll share Sri Lanka transportation tips for trains, buses, tuk-tuks, and cars.
What is Sri Lanka transportation like?
In Sri Lanka, people drive on the left, just like in Britain. Everyone drives a bit crazy, especially big 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 not accurate 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
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 train network in Sri Lanka was initially built in the 19th century by the British. While there are some improvements, train speed is still quite slow, especially if you travel in the hill country.
There are three train classes: first, second and third class. You can make reservations for all classes in advance up to 30 days before departure. Train tickets start from $1.
To book tickets, you can do it in person at the major train stations or online using 12go or https://seatreservation.railway.gov.lk/mtktwebslr/. You can also show up at the train station 30 minutes before departure to get non-reservation tickets.
Check train schedules at the stations or railway.gov.lk.
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 pretty 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 bus and non-A/C bus. We mostly travel by non-A/C buses on our trip. They’re colorful but pretty loud with music.
Driving by yourself
Another great way to explore Sri Lanka is to rent a private car or a tuk-tuk and drive yourself.
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 https://www.idlservice.com/.
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
I recommend having a good map on your phone or paper for navigation. On the road, large vehicles such as buses and trucks will expect you to get out of the way. The traffic is a bit crazy so be careful! Also, vehicles frequently takeover 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.