airport katunayake
About Sri Lanka with valuable information for your Sri Lanka tour

Getting Around Sri Lanka

Getting Around Sri Lanka

Where you need to travel may not easy and fun all the time, but when it comes to getting around Sri Lanka, at least, the island’s well-developed transportation system making it relatively easy and painless. Whether you are nipping around Colombo in a TUK TUK or head on to the interior of the country via motorcoach, train, or rental car, getting around in Sri Lanka is reasonably easy. It is a good idea to plot the Sri Lanka tour in advance and consider the cost factor as well as the practicality of the travel decisions. Whoever wants to plan a drive in Sri Lanka, the most important piece of advice I offer as a native Sri Lankan is this: We have a left-hand drive system as opposed to most European countries. And it will be a bit awkward until you get familiar with it.

Below are several tips about getting around Sri Lanka

Flying to Sri Lanka

Most travellers arrive in Sri Lanka by plane, with a large number of international flights arriving in Sri Lanka’s international airports, Katunayake international airport and Mattala international airport. Katunayake international airport is the main international airport on the island and every international flight is landing here. Only a few selected flights are landing at Mattala international airport. Many European, as well as Asian carriers, are flying to Sri Lanka, Sri Lanka is well connected with major countries around the world and every traveller can find easy access to Sri Lanka from Dubai. There are many daily flights to Sri Lanka from Dubai.

The number of possibilities available for air travellers in Sri Lanka has improved in the recent past, especially after the civil way. Domestic air travel system was considerably hindered during the civil way, due to the safety reasons, the domestic flights were not operated to the airports in the northern and eastern Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka has many airports covering northern Sri Lanka, eastern province, southern Sri Lanka and Colombo. Therefore domestic flights are capable of transporting goods and passengers to any part of the country. Recently introduced air taxi system (seaplanes) has become a very popular option among air travellers because it covers more ground than the other larger versions of domestic planes. There is a notable increase in domestic flights with the introduction of seaplanes because it enables improved access to many parts of the country.

Flying to Sri Lanka

Sri Lankan Air Travel Resources:

Cruise option

The most popular cruise liners from Europe call on to the harbour of Sri Lanka and they bring a large number of leisure travellers to the island every year. Most of these cruise liners operate their trip to Sri Lanka during the winter season (November to April) because most European travellers arrive on the island during this period, which is the best time to visit Sri Lanka.

The passengers arrive on cruise liners do not have much time to see the island and they have very limited time to explore the country because their ships docked only for a limited time at the harbour. Therefore most travellers who arrive on the island in cruise ships take part in short tours, mostly one day tours, Colombo city tour, Kandy tour etc. Some of the cruise ships call on to all 3 major harbours of Sri Lanka (Galle harbour, Colombo harbour and Trincomalee harbour) and allow their passengers to explore the area of each destination.

There are many travellers who participate in multi-day Sri Lanka tours such as 7 days tours and 10 days of tours. In that case, the passengers make either arrival journey from home country or return journey by cruise ship and they use air transport to fill the vacuum.

Travel by a private Taxi in Sri Lanka

Travelling through the verdant countryside of Sri Lanka can be a very exciting experience, bringing the towns and lush green countryside that Sri Lanka is famed for within easy reach of every traveller, without having a dependency on public transport. Most cities and Sri Lankan attraction are well connected with a well-developed road network giving easy access to everything from major cities such as Colomb, Kandy to remote villages.

Taxi is the most convenient, time-saving and hassle-free system for getting around Sri Lanka. Booking a taxi is quite easy in Sri Lanka and it is not expensive too. With a large number of travel companies such as seerendipity tours, you can book airport transfers and sightseeing tours at an affordable rate. In order to make sure your safety, it is always a recommended to book a taxi with a local driver, if you are a foreigner and travel around Sri Lanka on sightseeing tours, hire a taxi with a tourist board registered driver/guide. They are the professional staff trained by the Sri Lanka tourist board to educate tourist on the island, its people and Sri Lankan tourist attractions.

To save time for your Sri Lanka holidays and other activities as well as to make sure you get the best price on the taxi, it is best to book your taxi before arriving in Sri Lanka. Usually, the Taxi fee includes car rental, gasoline, known as petrol, parking charges, waiting charges, driver charges and all taxes. The price of the taxi hires differs depending on the type of vehicle you get. A cheap small taxi such as Indian made Maruti cost around LKR 40 per km (around USD 0.30) while mid-range sedan such as Toyota Corolla cost around LKR 70 per km (around USD 0.50). A luxury vehicle such as Mercedez will cost around LKR 100 per km (around USD 0.65). Rates of other larger vehicles are higher and the rate goes up as the seating capacity increases.

Taxi Scam

There is an instance in which taxi drivers are demanding travellers to pay waiting fees and parking charges. But travellers are not required to pay them separately and it includes in the total package. And there are congestion-related fees applied in Sri Lanka as you drive in the city areas.

Renting a car and getting around Sri Lanka

Renting a car in order to get around Sri Lanka is very easy (though it is expensive), with several cars hire companies like Europcar and Avis, operating from Colombo. To save time and eliminate the complicated paperwork it is always recommended to book your taxi before leaving for Sri Lanka. Apart from the can rental fee, gasoline, known as petrol, is also very expensive in Sri Lanka (and you pay for a litre, not for a gallon). You also have to pay the pricey parking fee too. Most rental cars in Sri Lanka comes with auto transmissions, if you are not familiar with auto transmission make a request for a manual transmission car in advance.

Foreign citizens need to have an international driving licence to drive in Sri Lanka and also they should obtain the temporary permit from the Sri Lanka authorities. The minimum age to drive a car in Sri Lanka is 18 years. Note: public transportation between major Sri Lankan cities are very good and it is not essential to have a private car. One can choose a highway coach as well as intercity air-conditioned mini-buses to travel between major cities. Even the train is a very good option to travel to many places around the island. Trains are cheap and comfortable compared to the public buses as it is not as much crowded as buses.

Getting Around Sri Lanka

Getting around Sri Lanka by Train

Perhaps train is the best way to explore the beautiful mountains of Sri Lanka, while you are on holiday in Sri Lanka. The train goes through the mountains, escapement, patches of forests and tea estates. Most of the time, the track is girdle with uninhabited patches of forests. Perennial waterways, cascading waterfalls, tea estates, vegetable gardens are frequent scenes during the train ride in the mountains. Train tickets are available in three categories third class, second class and first class and prices are varied depending on the category. First-class compartments are usually with AC and provide a comfortable ride with the luxury.

Southern railways track is another popular track among the holidaymakers in Sri Lanka. It provides easy access to many popular beach resorts such as Kalutara, Bentota, Galle, and Matara. Southern railway track connects Colombo, Galle and Matara and provides easy and speedy transportation between these cities.

Sri Lanka has a well-developed railway network and very useful to travel between major cities. In fact, the train journey in the mountain considered to be one of the most scenic train journeys in the world.  But they do not provide access to most small towns in the interior of the country. The train network is operated under the government institution known as Sri Lanka railway department. It is mainly a service-oriented institution and aimed at providing the best service at the minimum cost. It is better to start your journey with, where you can search for itineraries, prices and rail pass.

There are several options if you need to buy tickets, it can be done in advance through the website of the railway department or through the mobile telecommunication networks such as Mobitel or at the train station. It is highly recommended to book seats in advance if you wish to travel with comfort in 2nd class or 1st class compartments. The seats in those classes are limited and fill up very fast.

Sri Lanka railway help desk number 1919 (through a local network)

Colombo Fort – Reservation Office 011-2432908

Rajadhani express: luxury 1st class air-conditioned compartment

Rajadhani express is a private institution provides service for luxury seekers, usually, they maintain one compartment of the train which has luxury seats. It is an air-conditioned compartment has free WIFI. Rail network is the quickest to reach any destination along the western and southern coast. It is fast, convenient and cheap too. The maritime railway line connects all beach resorts such as Galle, Unawatuna, Bentota, Kalutara, Negombo with Colombo. Same times upcountry railway track provides easy access to major places such as Kandy, Nuwara Eliya, Ella, Badulla.

If you wish to travel to the east coast or Northern Sri Lanka during your Sri Lanka tour again you can resort to the train travel as it provides daily many trains to those destinations. Please bring Sri Lanka currency in order to buy tickets, credit cards are not accepted, only the local currency is accepted. Travel cards not available and return tickets can be obtained only in selected railway stations such as Kandy, Colombo.

public buses sri lanka

Getting around Sri Lanka by Bus

Buses are one of the best ways to getting around Sri Lanka and it is a viable alternative to taxis and trains and a very cost-effective way of getting around Sri Lanka. It definitely reduces your transport budget with a great amount of your holiday. Buses are available in all corners of the island, buses plying frequently between major cities but a number of trips connecting cities and remote areas might be much less as opposed to the number of trips between major cities.

Buses are available in three flavours normal buses and air-conditioned luxury buses and highway coaches. air-conditioned luxury buses and highway buses are much more comfortable than normal buses but the rates are about 2 times higher than the normal bus rates. Passenger must pay the fare onboard with cash, only Sri Lankan currency is accepted. The conductor does offer change, but it is advisable to present the correct fare as much as possible. Be careful when receiving the change and always ask for a ticket, to know the exact amount you have to pay.

Travel cards are not available in Sri Lanka and so the hassle of paying onboard can be expected, having a good pocket of loose coins make the life easy. Buses are operated either by private bus owners or Sri Lanka transport board. Buses are a great way of getting around Sri Lanka, but it might take much more time to get from A to B than taxis or trains and it is the biggest shortcoming of public buses in Sri Lanka. Ticket for long-haul bus journeys and highway buses can be booked in advance through the booking websites.

Sri Lanka bus travel resources

Getting around Sri Lanka by TUK TUK

TUK TUK is a motorized rickshaw that developed from the pulled rickshaw. This is a very popular way of getting around Sri Lanka and most controversial transport method in the country. Theoretically, cheaper than the traditional taxi. TUK TUK has a small passenger area and can accommodate 2 persons, this is the taxi of poor people. If I am not put a note on this mischievious motorized rickshaw the article is not complete, I think. Getting around Sri Lanka by TUK TUK can be fun and is a novel experience for most foreign travellers.

TUK TUK is the most widely available taxi on the island, used by beggars to millionaires. TUK TUK is good for a drive of a few kilometres but not suitable for a long drive (even though you can do it). There are many shortcomings in TUK TUK compared to other travel options and it is always good to be away from TUK TUK as much as possible. The main reason to avoid TUK TUK is the lack of safety, it is a just small structure made of iron pipes and covered by a leather sheet. In case of an accident, it is only the leather sheet supposes to provide you with the protection.

Most TUK TUK drivers put a lot of gas on the small engine and drive fast, in some cases they maintain the speed of 70-80 km per hour, which is far more faster than they allowed to, 40km per hour. Since they have only 3 wheels it can easily be toppled, due to the lack of balance, I have seen many toppled TUK TUK on Sri Lankan roads. There have no doors, no windscreen on the passenger side and no air-conditioning.

TUK TUK scam

It is a widely known fact that TUK TUK drivers charge the customers far more than what passengers pay for the journey. If the customer is new to the driver he tries to manipulate the situation and turn it to his benefit and charge the passenger 2-3 times higher the normal rate. It is not only happening to foreigners but also for local passengers. Due to the large complaints received by the government now meters are compulsory in all TUK TUK’s. Believe me, but still, there are TUK TUK’s without meters. If you get into a TUK TUK that has no meter, there is a high possibility of paying far more than what you should. Because you can not figure out how much you should pay. If you wish to have a short journey and do not want wait for a bus TUK TUK is a handy option but get into a metered TUK TUK, in the first place ask the driver to turn the meter on and make sure the meter reading is zero. Thereby you can make sure that you get the maximum what you pay for.

TUK TUK travel resources

Check the fair fare for your taxi ride

21 Most Common Tourist Scams in Sri Lanka –

By Bicycle

Cycling is an unpopular method of travelling among travellers in the country. Despite the good road network, still, lots of travellers are choosing the other form of travelling such as coaches and rail. Sri Lanka is a beautiful tropical island with tropical vegetation all around the country. Cycling is the best method to explore the mountains, escapements, forests, beaches and near-desert areas of the island. Take a ride along the beautiful beaches of west and southern coastal belt. Enjoy the sea breeze and the beautiful scenery along the way.

By kayak

There are hundreds of rivers on the island and many of them are over a hundred kilometres long. This ways water can be used to explore the beautiful tropical vegetation and uninhabited wilderness of Sri Lanka. You can paddle through the Sinharaja rain forest, and the kayak is one of the best ways to explore this primaeval rain forest on the island. Madu Ganga (second largest wetland of Sri Lanka) is an ideal place for novices to have a paddling experience. There are more than 100 islands in the wetland; many are located close to each other, therefore it is possible to glide from one to the next with ease.

By boat

Several canals and rivers on the island are being used for transporting goods and passengers on the island. Sri Lanka possessed a well-developed web of a canal that used for transport goods using boast during the Dutch colonial period. Some of them are still being used, for instance, Dutch canal in Negombo. Boating in the Dutch canal is an unforgettable experience while it gives you a unique experience with the mixing of many facets of the local village life. It gives you access to the busy countryside, patches of forests, lagoons, pretty villages, the fishing community and near-desert areas of North-west Sri Lanka.

By foot

Sri Lanka provides a large number of walking trails in the remote areas, mountains, rainforests and forest reserves in many parts of the country. One can have an adventurous walk in the mountainous areas such as Nuwara Eliya, Kitulaga and Kandy. If you are a foreigner you might be interested in exploring the historical cities of Sri Lanka, walking is the best way to explore most archaeological sites. Most historical places such as Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa occupy the vast land area. However the most important historical monuments are concentrated in a small area, and walking is the best way of going one monument to the other.


Sanjeewa Padmal (Seerendipity)

This blog is all about travelling in Sri Lanka, I am trying to illuminate my readers with a wide range of information related to Sri Lanka travel. Please feel free to contact me at any time if you need more information. Furthermore, we can organize your holiday package or any travel related requirement in Sri Lanka. Please contact us on read more