Taking any type of transportation in Sri Lanka can be a real pain in the rear. Whether it be by car, bus, motorbike, or train, getting around is time-consuming and unbearably slow. A great part of the country is made-up of mountains, which can only be spanned by driving along winding and narrow roads – oftentimes, doubling the length of travel time. And, with so many different types of vehicles on the country’s single-lane roads – including buses, motorbikes, and tuk-tuks, along with unexpected obstacles, like sporadic cow, chicken, and dog crossings – it can cause a real traffic nightmare. So, if you’ve taken a look at Google maps, trust what it says with a grain of salt and plan your travel time very conservatively.
The more time you have in Sri Lanka, the better. You can expect to spend a few full days on just travel alone, which doesn’t only eat up your time, but can be extremely tiring. Having a few days to settle into a new location after a long train ride or a seat-gripping public bus ride, can help you to recharge before your next big leg of travel.
Sri Lanka’s train network is far from perfect. It’s old, slow, and can involve multiple transfers. So, then why do people choose to travel by train? Well, how could you travel to Sri Lanka and not experience one of its breathtakingly scenic train journeys? Whatever train route you take within the country is bound to be exciting and beautiful. Whether it be weaving through towering mountains, driving along lush tea hills, or passing over cascading waterfalls, each route offers something to marvel at. And, you can see all of these stunning views while hanging out any of the cars’ wide-open doors, if you’re feeling adventurous!
Click here to read about the world’s most beautiful train ride, which runs between the two cities, Kandy and Ella.
Travelling by train is cheap. Tickets can be bought for as little as $1 CAD, depending on the route and type of ticket. You can check the exact prices and schedules by visiting the Sri Lanka Railways website.
Tuk-tuks are the cheapest and most convenient way to travel shorter distances. Sri Lankan tuk-tuks are a one-of-a-kind experience. Each tuk-tuk is decorated according to a fun theme, like Pirates of the Caribbean. And, if you’re so lucky to catch a Pirates of the Caribbean tuk-tuk, you can expect to have a giant decal of Johnny Depp, plastered to the ceiling, looking down at you for the entire journey.
Tuk-tuks can be found on every major road, even in small, rural towns. In small cities and towns, you will be quoted a price and can negotiate it, before hitting the road. In Colombo, most of the tuk-tuks are metered, and start at 50 Rs to 60 Rs ($0.40 CAD to $0.50 CAD).
Drive Your Own Tuk-Tuk
Want to experience what it’s like to be a tuk-tuk driver in Sri Lanka? Rent your very own tuk-tuk and travel the country in style like a local! I’ll admit, I was pretty jealous to see other tourists driving their very own tuk-tuks, and plan to do this my next visit.
Costs vary depending on the length of your rental (becoming significantly cheaper for extended rentals), and, depending on your pick-up and drop-off location (surcharges apply for arrangements made outside of Colombo). Prices start at as little as $18 CAD per day for longer rentals.
Click here to get prices for your dates and to make a reservation.
If you can muster the courage to rent your own motorbike, this is an incredibly freeing way to get around the country! Driving by motorbike allows you to access points you otherwise wouldn’t be able to by car. One of my favourite experiences in Sri Lanka was driving up the twisting roads of Lipton’s Seat’s vibrant tea hills. It was truly the most picturesque drive I have ever taken.
Motorbikes can be rented for about $10 CAD a day, although, cheaper rates can be negotiated for longer rentals. You will need to bring your driver’s license with you, as it is common for the police to stop foreign drivers and check licenses, with the owner of the motorbike being at fault if you do not have a license. You will be liable for paying any fines if this happens.
If you decide to rent a motorbike, please be careful. Wear a helmet, drive cautiously, and always be aware of your surroundings. Sri Lankan drivers seem to practice more offensive driving, not defensive.
Private cars are the most comfortable option for getting around. They are expensive, relative to other transportation in Sri Lanka, but are fairly inexpensive by Western standards. I would suggest only getting a private car if you need to, for longer distances, or, if you are travelling with enough people to split the cost. If you are only travelling a short distance, a tuk-tuk can easily get you there for a fraction of the price.
Rates for private cars vary, depending on the number of people and distance. Although, to give you an idea, you can expect to spend a minimum of $50 CAD per day for a tour-like service within a single region. If you are travelling from one city to another, the minimum cost will be $80 CAD.
Private cars can be rented fairly easily in most cities and towns, without needing to book in advance. You can visit the individual storefronts to compare rates, and, can of course always try to negotiate the cost.
A public bus ride in Sri Lanka is an exhilarating adventure. Drivers whiz along the roads at alarming speeds, skillfully overtaking 5 cars at once, all while miraculously dodging dogs suddenly bolting across the street. It is an experience not for the faint of heart.
Public buses are cheap and a great way to experience travelling like a local. It is pretty incredible to see how many people can be sardined into one vehicle. Fares vary, but, should only cost you a dollar, or two, sometimes even less.
The bus routes in Sri Lanka are confusing and time-consuming. For longer distances, you will most likely need to make several transfers, as only some major routes have direct routes. You will need to ask around for the exact location of the bus stops, and for the schedule, although, these buses run very frequently. If you are only travelling for an hour or two, this is a great option to save on some cash!
Private buses are also available for select routes. They are air-conditioned and much more comfortable than public buses. Unfortunately, they don’t run as frequently, with some routes only running once a day. You can check your route, the fares, and book your ticket online here.
If you’re travelling through Sri Lanka with a very limited time frame, you could catch a flight. Having said that, air transit is the most expensive form of transportation, and I mean expensive. The cheapest flights start at about $200 CAD, for just one way. Unfortunately, unlike other parts of Asia, they don’t have a discount airline, as of yet.
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