A Comprehensive Guide to Getting Around in Sri Lanka

Navigating your way through a new country can be daunting, especially when it comes to Sri Lanka with its diverse modes of transportation. Did you know that the island nation’s expanding expressways have made car and bus travel easier than ever? Our comprehensive guide demystifies all you need to know about getting around in Sri Lanka—covering everything from train schedules to hiring private drivers.

Ready for an adventure? Let’s dive in!

Key Takeaways

  • Sri Lanka offers a variety of transportation options including buses, trains, cars, tuk-tuks, and domestic flights.
  • Buses are cheaper and faster with the new expressways, but private buses can drive very fast. Plan ahead for remote areas or tight schedules.
  • Trains offer scenic views of tea plantations and coastal landscapes. Book tickets in advance to secure your spot during peak hours.
  • Renting a car gives you freedom to explore at your own pace. Hiring a driver is recommended for a more relaxed experience.
  • Tuk – tuks are fun for short distances and local exploration. Negotiate fares, plan routes in advance, and hold onto your belongings during the bumpy ride.
  • Domestic flights save time when covering long distances. Check availability and compare costs with other modes of transportation.
  1. Sri Lanka has various transportation options like buses, trains, cars, tuk – tuks (rickshaws), and domestic flights.
  2. Buses are cheap but private ones may be fast; trains offer beautiful views so book tickets in advance; renting a car is good for freedom while hiring a driver offers relaxation; tuk-tuks are great for short trips but negotiate fare beforehand; consider domestic flights to save time on long journeys.
  3. Be aware of different modes’ features: bus stops vary based on operators; train classes differ in comfort levels and ticket reservation is necessary; self-driving requires an international driving permit while hiring drivers takes care of navigation stresses; negotiate prices before getting into tuk-tuks as they don’t always have meters; compare flight availability before booking due to limited direct destinations.

Modes of Transportation in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka offers a variety of transportation options including buses, trains, cars, rickshaws (tuk-tuks), and even domestic flights.

Buses (SLTB buses, Private buses)

Buses are a common way to get around in Sri Lanka. There are two types of buses. One is run by the Sri Lanka Transport Board (SLTB). The other type is private buses. Both can take you to many places across the country and they cost less than other options.

The new expressways have made bus trips faster and easier too. But you may find that private buses drive very fast sometimes! It’s good to plan ahead, especially if you need to reach remote areas or have a tight schedule.


Traveling by train is a popular option for getting around Sri Lanka. While the rail network may not be as extensive as in other countries, it still offers a scenic and unique way to explore the island.

Trains in Sri Lanka are known for their beautiful views of tea plantations, mountains, and coastal landscapes. The train journey from Colombo to Kandy is particularly famous for its stunning scenery.

It’s important to note that trains can get crowded, especially during peak hours, so it’s best to book your tickets in advance if possible. The article provides information on train timings, classes available, and how to book your ticket to make your train travel experience in Sri Lanka smooth and hassle-free.

Cars (Self-driving, Car and driver)

Driving around Sri Lanka gives you the freedom to explore the country at your own pace. If you’re comfortable driving on unfamiliar roads, renting a car can be a great option. Just remember to have an international driving permit and familiarize yourself with local traffic rules.

On the other hand, if you prefer a more relaxed experience, hiring a car and driver is highly recommended. This way, you can sit back and enjoy the scenery while someone else takes care of navigating through busy streets and finding parking spots.

Both options offer convenience and flexibility for adventurers looking to discover hidden gems in Sri Lanka.

Rickshaws (Tuk-tuks)

Tuk-tuks are a popular and fun mode of transportation in Sri Lanka, especially for short distances and exploring local areas. These three-wheeled vehicles are compact and easy to maneuver through traffic.

They can be found throughout the country and are easily recognizable with their vibrant colors. Tuk-tuks are a great option for adventure travelers who want to experience the local culture while getting around.

However, it’s important to negotiate the fare before starting your journey as they may not always have meters. Additionally, make sure to hold on tight during the ride as tuk-tuks can be quite bumpy!

Domestic flights

Exploring Sri Lanka by domestic flights can be a convenient option for adventure travelers looking to cover longer distances quickly. While the rail network is not extensive, domestic flights provide an efficient way to reach various destinations across the country.

With new airports and airlines servicing popular tourist areas, it’s now easier than ever to hop on a short flight and minimize travel time. Whether you’re traveling from Colombo to Jaffna or from Hambantota to Trincomalee, domestic flights offer convenience and save you valuable time that can be spent exploring the breathtaking landscapes and cultural sites of Sri Lanka.

Tips for Using Each Mode of Transportation

When using buses, be sure to check the fare and timetable beforehand, as well as the stops along the route. Take note of any specific instructions or guidelines for boarding and exiting the bus.

Fares, timetables, and stops for buses

Sri Lanka’s extensive bus network makes it easy to travel around the country. Fares and schedules vary based on the bus operator, and major bus stops are located in all cities and towns. Here’s a handy table to help plan your bus travel in Sri Lanka:

Bus Type Average Fare (LKR) Timetable Major Stops
SLTB buses 60 – 300 6:00 AM – 11:00 PM / Daily Colombo, Galle, Kandy, Jaffna
Private buses 100 – 500 24 Hours / Daily Colombo, Galle, Kandy, Jaffna, Arugam Bay

Remember, private buses tend to be faster but slightly more expensive than SLTB buses. Always plan ahead and be aware of the local conditions to ensure a smooth and safe journey.

Timings, classes, and booking for trains

Train travel is a popular way to get around Sri Lanka and explore the scenic landscapes. The train timings, classes, and booking process are important to know for a smooth journey. Trains in Sri Lanka have different classes like first class, second class, and third class. First-class offers more comfort but can be more expensive. Second and third-class options are cheaper but less spacious. It’s recommended to book train tickets in advance as they can sell out quickly, especially during peak tourist seasons. Train schedules can be checked online or at the railway stations. Remember that some train routes may take longer due to the scenic routes they follow, so plan your journey accordingly for an enjoyable experience.

Hiring a car and driver

To explore Sri Lanka at your own pace and convenience, hiring a car and driver is an excellent option. It allows you the freedom to go wherever you want, whenever you want. Plus, it takes away the stress of navigating unfamiliar roads on your own.

Hiring a car with a driver in Sri Lanka is relatively affordable compared to other countries. With an experienced driver who knows the local roads well, you can sit back and enjoy the scenic views while they handle all the driving.

It’s a convenient way to visit remote areas that may not be easily accessible by public transportation. Additionally, if you’re traveling with family or in a group, renting a spacious vehicle ensures everyone can travel comfortably together.

Navigating tuk-tuks

Tuk-tuks are a popular mode of transportation in Sri Lanka, especially in cities and tourist areas. Here are some tips for navigating tuk-tuks:

  1. Negotiate the fare: Before getting into a tuk-tuk, it’s important to negotiate the fare with the driver. Prices are usually not fixed, so try to agree on a price beforehand.
  2. Insist on using the meter: Some tuk-tuks have meters, but drivers may try to negotiate a higher price instead. Insist on using the meter to ensure a fair fare.
  3. Be cautious of scams: Some drivers may take longer routes or overcharge tourists. Be wary of scams and ask for recommendations from locals or your hotel to find reliable drivers.
  4. Plan your route in advance: If you’re unfamiliar with the area, it’s helpful to have a general idea of where you’re going and how long it should take to get there. This will help prevent unnecessary detours.
  5. Keep small change: Tuk-tuk drivers often claim they don’t have change for larger bills, so it’s advisable to carry small denominations with you.
  6. Hold onto your belongings: Tuk-tuks are open vehicles, so be mindful of your belongings and keep them secure during the ride.
  7. Enjoy the experience: Riding in a tuk-tuk can be fun and adventurous! Embrace the local mode of transportation and enjoy exploring Sri Lanka from this unique perspective.

Considerations for domestic flights

When planning your adventure in Sri Lanka, you may consider taking a domestic flight to reach certain destinations quickly and conveniently. Domestic flights are a great option if you want to save time and avoid long journeys by road or train.

It’s important to note that while there are domestic airports in Sri Lanka, not all destinations have direct flights available. Therefore, it is advisable to check the availability of flights and plan accordingly.

Another factor to consider when booking a domestic flight in Sri Lanka is the cost. Flights can be more expensive compared to other modes of transportation such as buses or trains.

However, if you value convenience and time-saving, then it might be worth the extra expense.

It’s also worth mentioning that the safety standards for domestic flights in Sri Lanka are generally good. The country has reputable airlines that comply with international aviation regulations.

How to Get to Popular Destinations in Sri Lanka

To get from Colombo to Anuradhapura, you can take a direct bus or hire a car and driver for a more convenient and flexible journey.

Colombo to Anuradhapura

If you’re looking to travel from Colombo to Anuradhapura, there are a few transportation options available. One option is to take the train, but it’s important to note that the rail network in Sri Lanka may not be very convenient for reaching certain areas.

Another option is to hire a car and driver, which can provide convenience and ease of navigation. Alternatively, you can also opt for a bus ride. It’s worth mentioning that with the expansion of expressways in Sri Lanka, traveling by car or bus has become more accessible and convenient.

Overall, when planning your journey from Colombo to Anuradhapura, consider factors such as travel time and cost while keeping safety in mind during your adventure through Sri Lanka.

Colombo to Unawatuna

To get from Colombo to the beautiful beach town of Unawatuna, you have a few transportation options. One popular choice is to take the train, which offers stunning views of the coastline during the journey.

The train ride takes around 2-3 hours and costs just a few dollars. Another option is to take a private car or taxi, which will give you more flexibility in terms of timing and stops along the way.

This will be a bit more expensive but can be worth it if you prefer a more comfortable and convenient journey. Lastly, you can also take a bus from Colombo to Galle (the nearest city to Unawatuna) and then hop on a tuk-tuk or taxi for the short ride to Unawatuna.

Buses are usually cheap but can be crowded, so keep that in mind when choosing your mode of transportation.

Some important facts:

– The train from Colombo Fort Station to Unawatuna Station takes about 2-3 hours.

– Taking a private car or taxi will give you more flexibility but may cost more.

Colombo to Ella

To get from Colombo to Ella, there are a few transportation options available. One popular choice is taking the train. The train ride takes around 9-10 hours but offers stunning views of Sri Lanka’s scenic landscapes along the way.

You can choose between different classes, with first-class being the most comfortable option. Another option is hiring a car and driver for a more convenient and flexible journey. This allows you to stop at various attractions or viewpoints along the route if desired.

Additionally, buses are also available for this journey, although they can be crowded and less comfortable compared to trains or private cars. Overall, each mode of transportation has its own advantages and considerations when traveling from Colombo to Ella.

Factors to Consider When Choosing Transportation

When deciding on transportation in Sri Lanka, it’s important to consider ease of travel, cost considerations, driving options and regulations, availability of ride-hailing services, and the recommended mode for different distances.

Ease of travel

Getting around in Sri Lanka is relatively easy, thanks to the country’s transportation options. Whether you prefer public buses, trains, cars, or tuk-tuks, there are various modes of transportation available to explore this vibrant destination.

With the expansion of expressways and road networks, traveling by car or bus has become more accessible and convenient. Additionally, hiring a driver can make navigation easier for adventurers who want to see remote areas.

While the rail network may not cover all resorts and areas in Sri Lanka, it is still a viable option for sightseeing. Overall, ease of travel is a key aspect when exploring Sri Lanka’s beautiful landscapes and discovering its cultural wonders.

Cost considerations

Traveling in Sri Lanka can be quite affordable, especially if you take cost into consideration when choosing your mode of transportation. Buses and trains are the most budget-friendly options, with fares starting at just a few cents.

Private buses may be slightly more expensive but offer a faster and more comfortable ride. If you prefer convenience and flexibility, hiring a car with a driver is another option, although it will be more costly compared to public transportation.

Tuk-tuks are also relatively inexpensive for short distances within cities or towns. Domestic flights are available for longer journeys but can be pricier than other modes of transport.

Driving options and regulations

If you prefer to drive around Sri Lanka, there are a few options available to you. You can either rent a car and drive yourself or hire a car with a driver. Renting a car gives you more freedom and flexibility to explore different areas at your own pace.

However, it’s important to note that driving in Sri Lanka can be challenging due to the country’s busy roads and unpredictable traffic. Make sure you have an international driving permit and familiarize yourself with the local regulations before getting behind the wheel.

Another option is hiring a car with a driver, which can provide convenience and peace of mind as they navigate the roads for you. It allows you to sit back and enjoy the scenic views without worrying about directions or parking.

Availability of ride-hailing services

If you’re an adventure traveler in Sri Lanka, you might be wondering about the availability of ride-hailing services. Well, here’s what you need to know: ride-hailing services like Uber and PickMe are available in major cities like Colombo and Kandy.

These services provide a convenient way to get around, especially if you don’t want to navigate the local transportation options. Just download the app, request a ride, and your driver will pick you up from your location.

It’s important to note that these services may not be available in remote areas or for long-distance travel. So if you’re planning on exploring off-the-beaten-path destinations or traveling between cities, it’s best to consider other modes of transportation mentioned in this guide.

Recommended transportation for different distances

If you’re wondering about the best way to get around in Sri Lanka based on the distance of your destination, here are some recommendations. For shorter distances within a city or town, like sightseeing or exploring local markets, tuk-tuks are a convenient and popular choice. They can navigate through narrow streets and take you directly to your desired location. If you’re planning to travel between cities or towns that are relatively close to each other, buses can be a cost-effective option. Sri Lanka Transport Board buses as well as private bus companies operate routes connecting various destinations across the country. However, for longer distances or if you prefer more comfort and flexibility, hiring a car with a driver is recommended. This allows you to have control over your itinerary and stops along the way while enjoying the scenic beauty of Sri Lanka. Keep in mind that driving in Sri Lanka can be challenging due to traffic conditions and road rules that may differ from what you’re used to.


In conclusion, this comprehensive guide provides valuable information on the various modes of transportation available in Sri Lanka. Whether you choose to travel by bus, train, car, or tuk-tuk, there are tips and advice to help you navigate the country easily and efficiently.

With this guide in hand, you’ll be well-equipped to explore all that Sri Lanka has to offer and have an unforgettable adventure.


1. What are the common modes of transportation in Sri Lanka?

Common modes of transportation in Sri Lanka include buses, trains, tuk-tuks (three-wheeler taxis), and hired cars or taxis.

2. How do I navigate the public transportation system in Sri Lanka?

To navigate the public transportation system in Sri Lanka, you can use apps or websites for bus and train schedules, ask locals for directions, or hire a guide if needed.

3. Is it safe to drive a car or ride a motorcycle in Sri Lanka?

Driving a car or riding a motorcycle in Sri Lanka can be challenging due to heavy traffic and different driving practices. It’s recommended to have experience and confidence before attempting to drive yourself.

4. Are there any cultural norms I should be aware of when getting around in Sri Lanka?

When getting around in Sri Lanka, it’s important to respect local customs by dressing modestly, removing shoes when entering religious sites, and being mindful of personal space and manners while using public transportation.

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