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 and nature lovers. Transportation in Sri Lanka is easy if you know how. The majority of people speak English and a variety of other international languages and are more than happy to help a lost traveller. Outside influences have made some towns such as Ella and seaside town Unawatuna very western while many other cities remain reassuringly local. In this guide I want to give you all the information you need to choose the best transportation in Sri Lanka.
Taking the bus in Sri Lanka
The government run busses are by far the cheapest transportation in 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. 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. 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.
Public shuttles in Sri Lanka
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.
Travelling by train in Sri Lanka
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.
Read my complete guide to taking the train from Kandy to Ella here.
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.
Taxi transportation in Sri Lanka
Everyone you meet also seems to have a taxi service. 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 transportation 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 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 transportation! 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, the transportation in Sri Lanka had a surprise in store for us everyday. The country never failed to astound us either, whether it be with 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!
How to travel better for less
These are the companies I use to travel the world for less. The reason long term travel is cheaper than you think is often down to shopping around for a great deal, here I’ve done the hard work for you!
Booking.com – I always book with this site if looking for cheap accommodation as the filters are so easy to use. Become a genius member after five bookings and get great discounts too!
Air BnB – Sometimes you can find great local places to stay on Air BnB. In some countries, like Cuba, it’s the only way to book!
Transferwise – A debit card you can use all over the world and get great exchange rates with no hidden fees. This bank has saved me £100’s in bank fees!
Monzo – A similar travel card to the above with additional features like joint accounts and bill splitting.
What to pack – Here is my ultimate list of what to pack for every trip, available on Amazon. Plus eco friendly alternatives to your toiletries.
Omio – The place to go for all of your public transport needs in Europe. Save a bundle!
G Adventures – A sustainable, fun, responsible travel company. I’ve travelled with them many times and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend any of their amazing trips of a lifetime.
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