Buses, trains, and domestic flights are all convenient ways to navigate Sri Lanka, allowing you to reach even the most remote corners of this beautiful island. Whether you prefer the fast-paced thrill of a bus ride, the relaxed atmosphere of a train journey, or the speedy connections of domestic flights, there is an option that suits your travel style. In this article, we’ll explore each mode of transportation and provide helpful tips to make your travels in Sri Lanka a breeze.
By Bus: A Thrilling Adventure
Buses are the backbone of transportation in Sri Lanka. They can be found bustling along the island’s major highways, connecting towns and cities with regularity. Although bus travel in Sri Lanka can be uncomfortable and nerve-racking due to the enthusiastic driving styles of some drivers, it offers an authentic experience filled with local sounds and sights.
There are two types of buses: government-operated buses called SLTB buses and private buses. Most SLTB buses are old TATA vehicles, painted red and known for their slow and steady pace. Private buses, on the other hand, come in various forms. They range from large, slow-moving rust buckets that stop everywhere to smaller, air-conditioned minibuses that offer a faster alternative.
When using buses, be prepared for stop-start journeys with bursts of speed followed by periods of creeping slowness. The bus interiors are often filled with parping horns, Sinhala pop music, and rattling panels. It’s advisable to grab a seat if available because standing in the aisle can be quite uncomfortable.
Bus fares, both on private and SLTB services, are incredibly low. However, note that on SLTB buses, you might be required to pay the full fare for the entire route, regardless of where you get off. If you want to disembark before the final stop, notify the driver or conductor when boarding.
Finding the correct bus can be challenging as destinations are displayed in both Sinhala and English. Bus stations have information booths where staff can assist you in locating the right bus and provide up-to-date timetable information. In case you’re taking a tuktuk to a larger terminal, it’s best to enlist the driver’s help in finding the correct bus.
By Train: Reliving the Past with Modern Comforts
Sri Lanka’s train network, established during British colonial rule, has undergone significant improvements in recent years. Travelling by train is no longer a slow-paced affair but a comfortable and fast way to explore the island. While some lines are still as slow as before, other routes have been enhanced with modern rolling stock and offer refreshingly fast journeys.
The train network consists of three principal lines: the coast line, the hill country line, and the northern line. The coast line runs along the west coast, connecting major cities and towns, while the hill country line provides access to the beautiful highlands. The northern line extends from Colombo to Jaffna, with additional branches leading to popular destinations.
Trains operate at varying speeds and stop frequencies. Express services make fewer stops and offer faster journeys, while standard intercity services cater to more destinations. Slow services, such as night mail trains, halt at practically every station along the route. Before planning your train journey, it’s advisable to check the latest railway timetables on the official Sri Lankan Railways website or reliable travel resources like seat61.com.
Trains feature three classes: first, second, and third class. Second- and third-class carriages are most common, with slight differences in seating comfort. Some trains allow seat reservations, ensuring no overcrowding in reserved carriages. First class offers various types of seating, including air-conditioned carriages on intercity lines, observation cars on hill-country trains, and sleeping berths on overnight services.
Observation cars, found on certain intercity services, afford panoramic views, while tourist carriages provide additional comfort on selected routes. Fares remain incredibly affordable, with prices varying based on the class of travel.
To secure a seat in advance, visit major stations up to 30 days before your journey. Although Sri Lankan Railways doesn’t offer online booking, several private operators provide this service. Keep in mind that reserved seating, particularly in first class, sells out quickly. However, unreserved carriages are available on most trains and tickets can be purchased on the day of departure.
By Air: Embracing Speed and Scenic Views
Domestic air services offer a superfast alternative to long road or rail journeys. Flying within Sri Lanka not only saves time but also provides breathtaking aerial views of the island. Cinnamon Air, the main operator, offers scheduled flights from Katunayake International Airport and Water’s Edge to various destinations, including Koggala, Dickwella, Kandy, Sigiriya, and Trincomalee.
Although fares are not considered cheap, the scenic flights make up for the cost. Some flights even take off and land on water, adding an extra touch of excitement to your journey.
By Car: the Three Essentials for Adventurous Road Trips
As the locals say, when driving around Sri Lanka, you’ll need “good horn, good brakes, good luck.” While roads are generally in good condition, driving in Sri Lanka can be challenging due to the diverse range of hazards. From pedestrians and cyclists to bus drivers and fearless dogs, each encounter is an adventure. Sri Lankan drivers have their own unique set of road rules, so expect the unexpected.
If you decide to drive yourself, make sure to bring an international driving license and obtain the required permit from the Automobile Association of Ceylon in Colombo. Equipping yourself with a reliable map or using a smartphone with navigation apps will also prove beneficial.
It’s essential to remember that larger vehicles, such as buses, expect smaller vehicles to yield. Overtaking is common, even on blind corners or dangerous stretches, so always be cautious. Additionally, keep in mind that driving at night can be challenging due to poor lighting and road conditions.
To avoid the challenges of driving in Sri Lanka, many visitors opt for hiring a car and driver. This option provides flexibility and local expertise, often costing less than expected. Some drivers only focus on transportation, while others double up as qualified “chauffeur-guides,” offering insights into the country’s attractions. When hiring a driver, choose a reputable company that employs Sri Lanka Tourist Board accredited chauffeur-guides. Ensure that your driver can communicate in English and clearly discuss your desired destinations. If you prefer privacy during your trip, make it clear from the beginning that you want to be left alone when not in the car.
Prices for hiring a car and driver vary based on the quality of the vehicle. Posh air-conditioned cars cost more than non-air-conditioned minivans. Rates start around $40 per day for small cars, in addition to the driver’s fees and living allowances. Most high-end hotels provide free or inexpensive accommodation and meals for drivers. In budget or mid-range accommodations, you’ll need to cover your driver’s expenses. It’s best to agree upon a daily allowance at the beginning of your trip to avoid misunderstandings. Tipping your driver around $5-10 per day is customary.
Sri Lanka’s motorway network has seen significant improvements, providing faster and more convenient travel. The Southern Expressway, Colombo-Katunayake Expressway, and Outer Circular Expressway have transformed travel times and accessibility. Additional expressways are under construction, aiming to further enhance travel experiences across the island.
By Rickshaw: Short Trips with Character
Motorized rickshaws, known as “tuktuks” or three-wheelers, are a common sight on Sri Lanka’s streets and serve as a convenient means of transportation for short distances. Negotiating fares with the rickshaw driver is essential, as meters are generally not used. Bargaining power is in your favor, as there are plenty of drivers vying for your custom.
Sri Lankan rickshaw drivers are generally honest, but it’s always wise to agree on the fare before starting your journey. A rough estimate of Rs.40-50 per kilometer serves as a useful guideline, although prices may be slightly higher in popular tourist areas or busy cities. When paying, ensure that the driver has sufficient change to avoid any misunderstandings.
Conclusion: Discover Sri Lanka with DHPL Travels
Traveling around Sri Lanka is an adventure filled with unique experiences. Whether you choose to ride the buses for a taste of local life, hop on the trains for a scenic journey, fly for speed and stunning views, drive with the help of a reliable driver, or embrace the character of rickshaws, DHPL Travels is here to ensure your transportation needs are met. Explore the wonders of Sri Lanka with us and create unforgettable memories. Visit DHPL Travels for more information.