What’s The Best Way To Get Around in Sri Lanka? Bus, Train, Tuk Tuk or Private Taxi
Sri Lanka is an up and coming tourist destination named “best in travel 2019” by lonely planet and it’s not hard to see why. It’s a dream for backpackers, nature lovers and now with more luxury options popping up everywhere also families and more distinguished travellers. It’s easy to get around with the majority of people speaking English and a variety of other international languages. Outside influences have made some towns such as Ella and seaside town Unawatuna very westerner friendly while many other cities remain reassuringly local. In this guide I want to give you all the information you need to choose the best way to get around.
The government run busses are by far the cheapest way to get around Sri Lanka and my preferred way to travel. Costing around 100 LKR an hour (that’s about €0.5) they certainly won’t break the bank. The busses run regularly and reliably through every major town and city in the country, timetables vary and change regularly but expect a bus every 15 -30mins for most major towns; Colombo to Kandy, Kandy to Sigiriya via Dambulla, Yala to Mirissa etc.
They are well used by the locals and can be very busy especially early mornings and on weekends when everyone commutes and visits family etc. Due to this it can be hard to get a seat and standing is not so fun as the drivers don’t mess about with things like braking for corners! The best option is to make your way to a bus station to ensure you get on the bus first and get a seat. This is also the best way to find out which bus to get on- you rarely have to ask- just look like a lost tourist, someone will ask you where you are going and tell you which bus to get on and where to change if necessary. Travelling here is made so easy as the locals are so friendly and helpful.
Tickets are issued on board by a guy walking the bus, again he can help you with when to get off etc. – very easy. There are overhead racks for small bags and space next to the driver for a few backpacks. There’s usually some unnecessarily loud Bollywood style music/ film going on so noise cancelling headphones are my top tip! I felt very safe in Sri Lanka and never worried about theft but always travel with a lock on my pack just in case as you are often sitting out of sight from your bags.
There are some private AC busses available like the 32 from Kandy to Dambulla, these can cost up to triple the price (although we’re still only talking a few Euros) and I think aren’t that necessary as the regular busses go so fast they are pretty well ventilated with the windows open. You are however more likely to guarantee a seat on the AC bus as they are less popular with locals, they are clearly marked AC and are usually minibuses rather than the school bus style public ones.
A tourist attraction in itself, the train from Kandy to Ella is an absolute must in Sri Lanka and rated as one of the best train rides in the world. They can be booked up to 30 days in advance online for an additional cost ;
Timetables can be found here Or simply check out the times a day before at the station then buy tickets the day you travel. It does come slightly strange to modern travellers not to have googled the exact route and timings before travelling anywhere nowadays but it really is that easy here. The ticket desk will tell you the time and which platform to get on and there are always people around to ask.
There are different classes to travel in; 1st is closed doors and windows with previously reserved seats and AC, 2nd is where most tourists go and hang out of the doors for the ‘Gram shots, 3rd is mainly locals regularly getting on and off at the smaller stations. There seems to be a mad rush for seats especially with the train to and from Ella. My advice is to avoid fighting with everyone for a seat, jump on in 3rd, chuck your bag in an overhead rack and grab a doorway (everyone will soon be after a spot at a door anyway). As the locals come and go you can grab a seat at a later stop if you need a little comfort break.
Seat 61 also has some great advice regarding the trains in Sri Lanka.
Infamous throughout Asia Tuk Tuks are everywhere here. Outside of Colombo they don’t tend to have meters but I found all the drivers very reasonable generally charging 50-70LKR per KM (that’s about $2 for a 10 minute ride). You can haggle the price but why bother, it’s peanuts to us and a living for them.
Everyone you meet also seems to have a taxi service for longer drives. They are a bit more comfortable and faster for longer drives and have the all important AC. Most tour operators in every town have their own available for day trips or for your entire holiday. Many people hire them for anywhere from $25 a day for city tours to $80 a day including accommodation, multiple towns and sometimes even food! It’s best to ask around to find what suits you and check you are comfortable with the individuals driving style before you book your whole trip! Great if you want the hassle taken out of travel and some handy local tips along the way.
No matter how you decide to get around, Sri Lanka had a surprise in store for us everyday, whether it be a new species of monkey or a secret jungle beach. This beautiful island has a lot to offer to tourists of any budget. Make sure you check out my other posts on things to do in Sri Lanka!