Sri Lanka Guide

Transportation in Sri Lanka: Your options to getting around

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How do you get from Colombo to Galle? How about that restaurant you plan to visit that’s about 20 minutes away from the villa? Find out which means of transportation best suits your time, budget, and lifestyle. Check out this article and you’ll be an expert in navigating around Sri Lanka in no time.

Domestic flights in Sri Lanka

domestic flights Sri Lanka
Credit: Cinnamon AIr

Domestic flights within Sri Lanka are very limited. Cinnamon Air offers routes coming to and from Bandaranaike International Airport. However, the fare is definitely more expensive and the schedules are not as flexible as the other means of transportation.

If money is not an issue and you really need to be in your destination as soon as possible, you can arrange a charter flight—via helicopter, private planes, or seaplanes—through Simplifly. You can get to any point around Sri Lanka starting at $3,000.

Sri Lanka buses

Buses in Sri Lanka
Credit: Francisco Anzola on Flickr

Buses are the staple means of transportation on the island. This public mode of transportation can reach the remotest corners of Sri Lanka, covering at least 80% of the island’s roads. While buses are the most accessible transportation, you should take note that it’s not necessarily the one that offers the highest form of comfort. If you’re planning on riding the bus to get around the island, you should prepare yourself for crowded and careless rides ahead. Check out Sri Lanka bus maps.

There are two kinds of buses in Sri Lanka: government buses and private buses.

  1. Sri Lanka Transport Board (SLTB) buses are publicly handled transportation that typically plies long-distance routes. Usually painted with red, most of these vehicles lack air-conditioning but are much more comfortable as conductors are not pressured to squeeze in as many passengers as possible.
  2. Private buses, as mentioned, are more crowded than government ones. These public means of transportation are air-conditioned and cover most of the major roads in Sri Lanka.

Villa Finder’s tips on riding the bus: Take note that the first two seats of public buses are reserved for Buddhist monks. Bus stations in major areas are often crowded and chaotic. If you’re following a schedule, make sure to come in advance. This will also give you a better opportunity of getting a good seat.

Sri Lanka trains

Sri Lanka train

Although a bit slow, we think riding the train is one of the best ways to get around Sri Lanka. The island’s train network was developed by the British during the nineteenth century. Compared to bus rides, train rides are relatively more comfortable and reliable. Also, it’s easier to ask around, as most often than not, there are information windows at train stations with attendants who understand and speak the English language.

For most travellers, the train ride itself is already an attraction. Some even describe it as the most scenic train ride in the whole world. With routes passing by lush mountains, rich rice paddies, and beautiful tea plantations, we could not agree more to this. The most popular scenic train route in Sri Lanka is from Kandy to Ella. Check out Sri Lanka train schedule.

If you’re choosing to ride the train in order to get around Sri Lanka, it’ll be helpful to familiarise yourself with its three classes:

  1. The first class is only available on selected trains. These are air-conditioned and come in three varieties— coaches, sleeping berths, and observation saloons with large windows. You might want to get an observation saloon if you’re passing by a scenic route.
  2. The second class still have seats that are cushioned, but these are not air-conditioned anymore. However, there are fans to keep passengers refreshed, and windows are opened for better ventilation. The second class is almost always the busiest one!
  3. The third class consists of uncushioned seats. These don’t have to air-condition as well, but again, windows are kept open for ventilation.

Villa Finder’s tips on riding the train:
Rails are always busy. If you’re planning to travel first class, make sure to get a ticket at least a day before.
Have wet wipes or antibacterial spray in handy in case you’ll be needing to use the bathroom. It’s not exactly first class in there.
Train doors are always open. Be mindful of your little ones!
Depending on when you are travelling, some rides can get chilly. Bring with you a jacket just in case.

Related: Travelling with kids? 12 family activities in Sri Lanka to keep them happy

Sri Lanka taxis

Sri Lankan taxis are apparent in most major towns. Most of them operate by fixed prices, while some, like in Colombo, are metered. Regardless, we highly advise agreeing on a rate before getting off. You can also book a taxi ride via hailing apps. The best one to use is PickMe, a local app in Sri Lanka.

Villa Finder’s tip: Most drivers expect a 10% tip.

Renting a Car and Hiring a Driver in Sri Lanka

If you’re keen on enjoying your time with more flexibility, you can always opt to get your own car and driver. We recommend contacting Sri Lankan Personal Drivers to arrange a trip for you or check out Klook’s offers for their private car charter services.

Villa Finder’s tip: Most drivers expect a 10% tip.

By Tuk tuks

sri lanka tuk tuks

Also known as rickshaw, and trishaws, there are available at almost every corner of Sri Lanka. This one is an ideal means of transportation for nearby destinations. Most of these rides are not metered, but you will encounter some that do this. Make sure to agree on a fixed rate before getting off. A decent fare is Rs. 50/km.

Rent a Bike or Motorcycle in Sri Lanka

Mountain biking Sri lanka
Credit: Amila Tennakoon

If you’re more of the adventurous type, you always have the option to rent your own bike. Though it’s a bit challenging to pull this off due to poor road surfaces and speeding vehicles, there’s no stopping you if you really want to take on this adventure.

It’s a bit hard to find a rental shop in Sri Lanka, so we highly recommend that you do your research right before travelling. To help you out on that, you may check out bikesbooking.com, srilankabikerent.com, or srilankamotorcycle.com.

Villa Finder’s tips
Use a good lock and keep an eye on your ride as much as possible.
Forms must be filled out if you’re taking your bike on the train. This will cost you twice as much as the second class train. Get to the station in advance to make time for depositing your bike.

Related: Sri Lanka Travel 101: When is the Best Time to Visit Sri Lanka?

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