Transport options in Sri Lanka; The best way to explore the island

Collage of pictures related to Transport options in Sri Lanka. From Top right there is a picture of 2 people on a scooter, A picture of Ella train over the Nine-Arch bridge, A picture of a line of colorful Tuk-tuks and a picture of a girl on Blue Ella Train. In the middle there is the logo of

I’m sure you have heard stories about how great of a tourist destination Sri Lanka is. Amazing beaches, scenic train rides, marvelous historic creations, green valleys of paradise, and waterfalls from heaven. You can see all this and so much more in Sri Lanka if you know how to use the available transport options in Sri Lanka wisely. In this post, I will tell you all about the transport options in Sri Lanka so you have a clear insight into which mode of transport to choose to get to point B from point A when you are traveling in Sri Lanka. Choosing the right mode of transport will help you save time and money while giving you the opportunity to explore this beautiful island in the most efficient way possible.

Sri Lanka has many transport options to choose from. You will find buses, trains, taxis, tuk-tuks, and scooters to be the most popular. Each of these transport options comes with its own pros and cons. Some are unbelievably cheap, but not available at all times. Some are very flexible with your itinerary, but a bit more costly than others. Let’s get to know more about these transport modes so you can choose which is best suited for you.

Tuk-Tuks (Three-Wheelers): The Popular and Fun Transport Option in Sri Lanka

A line of colorful Tuk-tuks in Sri Lanka - Transport options in Sri Lanka
Colorful Tuk-tuks parked in Sri Lanka - Photo by Juju_ a_la_bougeotte on Unsplash

In Sri Lanka, it’s difficult to miss these brightly painted miniature cars wherever you go. Tuk-tuks are undeniably an efficient way of exploring the island. These 3-wheeled vehicles can take you to some remote locations that a 4-wheeler can’t reach. And you get the chance to enjoy the island breeze while traveling under the shade of the tuk-tuk. Not only that, you can just stop at any point on the way and take in the scenery as you please. If you are visiting from a country where tuk-tuks aren’t as popular as in Sri Lanka, this will be a new and exciting experience for you.

You can use a tuk-tuk as a taxi or a rental vehicle. You will see tuk-tuk taxis parked at every junction in Sri Lanka. When you are looking to catch a ride in a tuk-tuk, you will need to negotiate fares because sometimes the tuk-tuk drivers try to give the “tourist price” for the ride.

In major cities like Colombo and Kandy, you can book a tuk-tuk through the “PickMe” app. So, you wouldn’t have to go through the negotiation process. But sometimes, the tuk-tuk taxi drivers can offer lower fares than the app. So, just in case, ask the tuk-tuk driver who is parked near you about the price before you book a ride through the app.

Renting a tuk-tuk, in my opinion, gives you more freedom to explore the island on your own terms. It’s more comfortable than a scooter, and it also has shade from the scorching sun. You can enjoy the cool wind when it’s sunny and close the curtain when it is raining. You will have the chance to gain real local experience by renting a tuk-tuk.

Travel insights:

Google Maps works very well in Sri Lanka. You can always check the routes and available transport options using Google Maps while traveling on the island.

Buses: The Popular Transport Option of the Locals in Sri Lanka

Sri Lankan bus on a country road; a heard of cows are walking in front of the bus - Transport options in Sri Lanka
A bus on a rural road in Sri Lanka - Photo by Adam Vandermeer on Unsplash

Sri Lanka has an extensive bus network connecting the major cities to rural areas. This is the popular choice of transport for many Sri Lankans for their day-to-day needs. The buses in Sri Lanka are cheap, available almost anywhere in the country, and will give you an everlasting memory of the island.

Sri Lanka has two main options when it comes to buses. Local and Luxury (intercity or A/C). Luxury buses come with air conditioning, comfortable seats, and fewer stops along the way to the destination. Also, you will always get a seat if you are using a luxury bus. But the fare is a bit more expensive than on local buses.

Local buses will charge you less money. But getting a seat can be a challenge. Talking about seats, they are made to the average size of a Sri Lankan. So, often, foreigners find the seats quite uncomfortable to sit in for long-distance travel. The seats are narrow, and there is less leg space.

Seats aside, sometimes getting onto the bus is a challenge if you are traveling during “office hours”.

Avoid “office hours” while using public transport!

In Sri Lanka, office hours are the time when people use public transport to get to work. This is the busiest time of the day on the road. Buses and trains are crowded, and there’s a lot of traffic jams on the road. Usually “office hours in Sri Lanka” are from 0700h–0900h and 1600h–1800h (+/- 1 hour).

The other thing to know about buses in Sri Lanka is that there are short-distance buses and long-distance buses. If you are traveling a short distance, don’t get on a long-distance bus. The long-distance bus drivers don’t like that because they don’t like to stop at every stop along the way. And they can earn more from transporting long-distance travelers than short-distance travelers.

For example, the Kandy-Colombo bus is a long-distance bus. If you want to get to Peradeniya from Kandy, it is better to get on a short-distance bus like Kandy-Pilimathalawa, Kandy-Kadugannawa, or Kandy-Mawanella.

I know this can be confusing. So always ask the driver or the conductor before getting on the bus whether you can get to your destination on that particular bus. That way, you won’t have to get into any uncomfortable situations.

The long-distance buses in Sri Lanka are notoriously famous for their reckless driving. I am in no way a fan of this. Driving a bus like a race car while it’s jam-packed is putting a lot of lives in unnecessary danger. I really hope authorities will take the necessary actions to stop the reckless driving of buses and make public transport safe for passengers.

For information about bus time tables, route maps, and bus fares, you can visit this link to the official site of the National Transport Commission in Sri Lanka.

But the more practical way to find the time when the bus arrives is to ask a local near the bus stop. Locals will help you get onto the right bus without hesitation.

Trains: A World-Famous Scenic Transport Option in Sri Lanka

Girl on a Sri Lankan Train-Ella Train ride - Transport options in Sri Lanka
Famous Ella Train in Sri Lanka - Photo by Yves Alarie on Unsplash

Trains are one of the best transport options for long-distance travel in Sri Lanka. It’s cheap (arguably the cheapest), comfortable, there are no traffic jams, and not to mention the amazing scenery along the way. A train journey will be a great experience for you while exploring the country.

Sri Lankan trains have different options when it comes to train seat selection. There are three classes. Each class comes with its own pros and cons.

1st class tickets:

Most comfortable. They come with air-conditioned wagons and comfortable seats. You will always get a reserved seat with the ticket. This is the most expensive of the three classes. (But it is still surprisingly cheap compared to ticket prices in other countries.)

2nd class tickets: Here are 2 options.

2nd class with reserved seats: The wagon is not air-conditioned. The seats are better than in 3rd class. You will get a reserved seat with the ticket.

2nd class with unreserved seats: The ticket doesn’t come with a seat. Meaning you will have to find a seat once you get on the train. This can be challenging during busy hours.

3rd class tickets: This is the cheapest option. Here, there are two options.

3rd class with reserved seats: The wagon is not air-conditioned. The seats are basic. But you will get a reserved seat with the ticket.

3rd class with unreserved seats: doesn’t come with a reserved seat.

Not all trains have all the above options. My advice is to select 1st class if you are traveling long distances and looking for a quiet, smooth ride where you can take a nap.

If you want to enjoy the scenery along the way, 2nd class reserved or 3rd class reserved will be the best options. Because unlike in 1st class, 2nd and 3rd class wagons have open doors and open windows from which you will get the chance to enjoy the picturesque views.

But don’t dangle from the safety rails while the train is moving to get the perfect Instagrammable shot. It’s not wise to put your life at risk just for a photo. Ella Odyssey is a great option for you to take the perfect shots without risking your life because it stops at all the tourist attractions along the way and lets you get down the train and get as many pictures as you want.

On trains that travel the scenic routes, you can book an observation car. This is the last wagon of the train, which is especially arranged to get the best views along the way. This car is always in high demand and gets booked first. If you are lucky, you might be able to travel in this wagon and get a panoramic view of the breathtaking landscapes as you go.

You have the option to buy tickets at any railway station. If you want to plan ahead and book your ticket before you get to the station, you can book your ticket online through the Sri Lanka Railways website. On the website, you will make an online reservation only; physical tickets need to be collected from mTicketing service-enabled stations.

I personally prefer to reserve my ticket earlier if I travel long distances on the train. If it’s for a short distance, I’ll buy the ticket from the station. The problem with waiting to buy tickets from the station is that if there are a lot of people, most of the time all reserved seats will be gone, and you will end up with unreserved seat tickets, which means you have to fight your way into a seat. It is not the most pleasant experience, to be honest.

You can check the train schedule at this link.

Sri Lankan trains have taken over the world with their stunning views. I’m sure you have at least seen one post on Instagram about the beautiful Ella train ride, on which, in every corner of the tracks, you will see an Instagrammable view. Sri Lanka Railways has started special tourist trains, giving you the opportunity to get the most out of this wonderful experience. Ella Odyssey and Seethawaka Odyssey are two such tourist trains. I’ll attach the links to my previous posts explaining the beauty of these famous train rides in Sri Lanka so you can take a look and take a virtual journey.

Ella Odyssey – The Sri Lankan Hogwarts express

Ella train ride – The Most Scenic and Most famous train ride in Sri Lanka

Seethawaka Odyssey – The New Tourist Train in Sri Lanka


Taxi services are widely available in Sri Lanka. This is a comfortable alternative to using public transport. But it is understandably more expensive than buses or trains.

There are two main options for taxi services. Cars and tuk-tuks. We talked earlier in the post about tuk-tuks.

Cars obviously provide a more comfortable ride than tuk-tuks. If you are focused more on comfort and are not worried about the money, a car is the best option for you.

Uber and PickMe are two apps that you can use to book a taxi in Sri Lanka. But these apps work best in big cities like Colombo and Kandy. PickMe is more popular in Sri Lanka than Uber. You can try both and choose the one that works best for you.

Rental cars, scooters, and tuk-tuks: The Best Transport Option for Free-spirited Travelers

2 people on a scooter in Sri Lanka - Transport options in Sri Lanka
A scooter is a popular method of exploring the island - Photo by Jalitha Hewage on Unsplash

Rental cars, scooters, and tuk-tuks are the best options for all the free-spirited souls who like to be in the driver’s seat while exploring Sri Lanka. You will find reliable rental services in Sri Lanka that provide excellent customer service.

If you are thinking of renting a vehicle in Sri Lanka but also want to get the best authentic Sri Lankan vibe, renting a Tuk-tuk will work best for you. With a shade over your head that will protect you from the sun and rain, you will feel most comfortable while enjoying the island breeze that flows across the tuk-tuk.

Scooters will open pathways to the most remote areas that no other vehicle can take you to. It will squeeze through any traffic jam and take you to your destination.

For short journeys, scooters can be great. But traveling long distances on a scooter might not be very comfortable. And with the reckless bus drivers on the road, riding on a scooter can be a scary experience if you travel a long distance.

If you want to immerse yourself in the ways of the Sri Lankans and embrace the island vibes with no barriers between you and the road, a scooter is perfect for you. If you can avoid busy roads and take alternative roads while exploring Sri Lanka on a scooter, you will get to see the real, untouched Sri Lankan beauty with your own eyes.

Make sure you have the necessary documents when renting a vehicle in Sri Lanka.

They may vary according to the rental company. But the basics are as follows:

  • A valid driver’s license from your country
  • Your passport and visa
  • Proof of age
  • A valid credit card under your name
  • Rental agreement
  • International driving permit
  • Insurance

When you are driving along the Sri Lankan roads, keep your driver’s license, passport, rental agreement, international driving permit, and insurance in an easily accessible place. The traffic police can check your documents on the road. If you have all the documents, you have nothing to worry about.

There is no fuel shortage anymore!

There is no fuel shortage in Sri Lanka anymore. No QR code is necessary to get fuel. The price of gasoline and diesel is higher than before. But fuel is available.

Elephants ahead sigh on the side of a country road in Sri Lanka - Transport options in Sri Lanka
Look out! Elephants ahead! - Photo by Kentaro Komada on Unsplash

Private cars and Drivers

If you’re seeking comfort and flexibility, hiring a private car with a driver is an excellent choice. This option allows you to create your own itinerary, stopping at sights of interest along the way. Your driver can also provide local insights, turning your journey into a personalized adventure that fits your preferences.

The cost will be higher than the other transport options. But a private car with your own driver gives you the freedom to just enjoy your vacation without having to worry about roads, traffic jams, oncoming buses, or the nearest petrol shed where you can refuel your rental vehicle.

Into the wild…

Do you want to see wild animals like elephants, leopards, boars, deer, and so many more in their natural habitats?

The best way to do this is by booking a safari in one of the many national parks in Sri Lanka. The drivers know the places to go to see the animals inside the park. You just have to hold on tight and enjoy the ride.

If you missed the post on “The best place for safari trips outside of Africa,” follow the link to learn more about wildlife in Sri Lanka.

Wilpaththu National park-Sri Lanka
Don't forget to go on a safari in one of the many national parks in Sri Lanka - Photo by Fergus So on Unsplash

Sri Lanka is a tiny island with a rich culture and an abundance of natural beauty. The range of travel experiences you get by visiting Sri Lanka is wide. It is the perfect location for an adventure traveler who’s looking to go hiking, surfing, or on safaris, or someone looking to sit back and relax in the beaming sun on a white sandy beach. I hope after reading this article you have a pretty good idea of how to explore this island by efficiently using the transport options available and getting the best experience in Sri Lanka. 

Let me know in the comments if you have any questions about the transport options in Sri Lanka. If you have any interesting experiences while traveling in Sri Lanka, comment below too. I would love to know them.

Happy exploring! I’ll meet you with another interesting article next week.

Until then, I say goodbye!

නැවත හමුවෙමු😉 (Newatha hamuwemu = Let’s meet again)

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