Sri Lanka transportation – a guide to how to travel the island

Traveling to Sri Lanka? Landing in Colombo can be overwhelming but doesn’t have to be.  Travel in Sri Lanka can be stress free if you know how to get around.  Whether you are headed for your next big surf trip or just to soak up the beach sun, study our ultimate Sri Lanka transportation guide to best enjoy this Indian Ocean island paradise.

Sri Lanka transportation – a guide to how to travel the island

Train:

etienne-boulanger-406361-unsplash

The Sri Lanka train system is old-school and can range from dreamy rides through the mountains with a whole car to yourself, to being packed in like sweaty sardines, unable to sit for hours.  The most iconic ride is between Ella and Kandy, which takes you through incredible mountain and tea plantations views and Horton Plains National Park.  It is perhaps the most beautiful train ride in the world.  You can start east of Ella if you want to ride over the Nine Arch Bridge, or just hike there from Ella town to get your picture.  Trains are separated into first, second, and third classes.  First class tickets can be bought online and you get a guaranteed seat.  Second and third class are similar and you can purchase them at the ticket office no more than 15 minutes before the train arrives.  You might get a seat, you might not.  Once on a packed train we sat in the doorway with our legs out the side of the train the whole journey.  Despite sore butts from sitting on the floor the whole way, it was a great way to enjoy the scenery!

Bus:sri lanka bus transportation

Local buses go everywhere in Sri Lanka.  If you are traveling for a long time and/or on a budget, this is your best bet.  Find the blue signs along the road which signify stopping points; they are every few hundred meters.  Be prepared to jump on while the bus is still moving!  The ticket sellers will sometimes try to over-charge you.  Once inside hold on for dear life, as the drivers are notoriously psychotic and get paid by the trip, not by the hour.  Bus fare in Sri Lanka are around 20 LKR (Sri Lankan Rupees) for a short trip or near 200 LKR from Colombo to the south coast (~5hrs).  For busing to/from Colombo, check out the special section in the bottom of the page.  Throw your backpacks in front by the driver or in the storage space in the rear, depending on how helpful/hurried the ticket guys are at the moment.  Buses are by far the most popular form of Sri Lanka transportation with the locals, so ride them at least once for the experience.

Tuk tuk:

Tuk Tuk sri lanka

These three-wheeled motorized rickshaws are a Sri Lankan transportation staple and you will find them all over the island.  They are fun to zoom around in, but the drivers are pushy and you always have to ask the price up front and negotiate; just please don’t be a dick because the price is 50 LKR higher than you’d like.  A good tourist’s tuk tuk fare is 75 LKR per kilometer, but expect to pay more late at night.  They have room for three people but will sometimes let you take more (for a tip) and generally have room for your luggage.  Check out the Tuk Tuk Safari that we did, which featured the nicest tuk tuk we’ve ever seen!  In Colombo there is a great app called Pick Me that you can use to summon your tuk tuk rides.

Motorbike:

motorbike sri lanka transportation

Buses and tuk tuks get old fast, and sometimes you just want t stop and get a coconut (or an ice cream).  Renting a motorbike is a nice change of pace and lets you explore more remote and off-the-beaten-path destinations.  Prices range from 800-1200 LKR per day.  In our opinion, this is the most fun type of Sri Lanka transportation.  Technically you need an international drivers license, along with your home country’s ID, and a special permit only obtainable in Colombo.  Most tourists who rent motorbikes do not have all or any of these documents, so just expect to pay a fine if you are stopped by the police.  Watch out for police roadblocks in every town.  We generally see them coming and hide behind the car in front of us.  The police aren’t trying to work too hard, and won’t chase you.

Taxi:

Taxis are useful in Colombo, or if you are on a quick trip/higher budget.  A trip from Colombo’s Bandaranaike International Airport to the south can cost between 7,000 and 12,000 LKR so be sure to do some negotiating.  If you have a hotel reserved, have them arrange a taxi for you, as they will get a better price and your ride will be waiting on your arrival.  If you need a ride to/from specific places, post sometime on one of the Sri Lanka traveler Facebook groups and many taxis will message you with deals.  Uber is a good option, but only works in Colombo.  Taxis don’t normally have signs in Sri Lanka, because they are usually are just some dude with a Prius.

Getting to/from Colombo’s Bandaranaike International Airport:

Keep in mind that Sri Lanka only has one international airport, located in Colombo.  Most travelers choose to skip Colombo or leave it until the end of their trip, after getting more comfortable with the country.  Leaving the airport is one of the most expensive parts of travel in Sri Lanka.  There are several options to get you where you need to be:

Bus – When walking out the main exit during daytime hours, you will see a blue bus directly in front of the exit.  This takes you to the main bus station (150 LKR – 1hr) near the Colombo Fort and train station.  This main bus station is for local buses which depart to all parts of the island for a very cheap price.  However, if you’re headed to the south we’d recommend taking the highway bus to Matara (500 LKR – 2hrs) which is air conditioned and gets you there in half the time of the local bus. These nicer buses leave from a different bus station called Maharagama in south Colombo.  They depart every 15 min or so when full.  There are also highway buses directly to Galle, although they leave less often than the Matara buses. To get to Maharagama either take a bus from the local bus station, or taxi/Uber straight from the airport (45 min, recommended).

Taxi – If you are only in Sri Lanka for a short time and your first stop is outside Colombo, we recommend just taking a taxi straight from the airport to your destination.  Set it up with your hotel in advance to save money and have someone waiting for you.  Keep in mind that if you are arriving late at night or early in the morning, taxi or Uber might be your only option for getting anywhere.

Tuk tuk – if you are spending the night in nearby Negombo, you can take a tuk tuk to your destination.  The tuk tuks are not allowed into the airport pickup area but you just need to walk across the street to flag one down.

Sri Lanka transportation is easy, however sometimes it can be crowded and hot.  We call it “character building” as my favorite athlete Alex Honnold would say.  Just keep your cool and everything will be fine!  What’s to worry, if all else fails while traveling Sri Lanka, you’ve still got your Chevrolegs and your thumb!

Don’t want to worry about anything while traveling in Sri Lanka?  Check out our upcoming Sri Lanka Surf & Yoga retreat through Bigger Life Adventures!  We take care of everything so you can focus on the fun!

Enjoy this post about Sri Lanka transportation options?  Check out our archives for other guides and helpful advice for travelers all over the world!  And don’t forget to follow us on Instagram and subscribe to our Youtube Channel!

Please follow and like us:
Advertisements

Nicaragua Financial Summary

Total Money Spent: $504.66

Total Days Spent: 12

That comes to $42.16 per day or $21.13 per person per day.  So we were again over our $15 per person per day budget, but this is because we splurged on a lot more activities than normal when Steve was here, and we bought one super-expensive bus ticket.

Transportation was our biggest expense, but this includes the $70 we spent for a cross-border bus from Nicaragua, through Honduras, and into El Salvador at the end of our time.  Take that away and the number would be lower.  Local “chicken buses” are really cheap in Nicaragua, around $2 per hour of travel.

Activities were the second-most-expensive category, which is rare for us.  But we had a friend traveling with us and wanted to show him lots of adventures.  So this included volcano boarding, surfing, and ziplining!  All really fun and really worth it!

Lodging was next to nothing again.  We only paid for a hostel one night with all the review-writing opportunities we were offered!

Nicaragua’s currency is the Cordoba.  $1=23 Cordobas.

Please follow and like us:

Panamá Financial Summary

Hola chicos!!!!  I just realized that although I wrote this awhile ago, I never posted it!  Better late than never though!  Here are the stats for Panamá!

Days in Panamá: 10

Money Spent: $286.88

That means we spent $28.66 per day, or roughly $14.33 per person per day.  So we were just barely under our target budget of $15 per person per day.  I’m very proud of us forfinallybeing on budget again after going over in the last few countries.  Rock on!!!!

A side note: I didn’t count our passage on Fritz the Cat here, as I consider that to be between countries and it was so expensive it would totally throw the whole skew off.

As you can see, our spending only fell into a few categories in Panamá.  Despite how small the country is, buses are not cheap in Panamá.  They seem to run about $2+ per hour of travel.

Food is also more expensive than in South America.  The cheapest meal we ever had was a $1.50 plate of rice and beans in Las Tablas.  In Panamá City and Bocas del Toro, you can expect to pay at least $3.50 for a decent plate of Panamanian food.  We did have hostels with kitchens most of the time so we tried to buy groceries and cook a lot to keep costs down.

We didn’t pay for a single place to stay in Panamá!  That’s right, our Lodging cost was absolutely ZERO!  Yeah hostel reviews and Couchsurfing!

FYI, Panamá’s currency is the US dollar, although instead of just calling them “dolares”, they are also called “Balboas.”

Please follow and like us:

Samaipata; or, When Things Don´t Go Right!

I’ll just go ahead and say it.  This story has two morals, and they are:

  1. Rules are made to be broken.
  2. Don’t assume anything!

We had an amazing-sounding free hostel that we were scheduled to visit and review in the small village of Samaipata.  The only buses going there from Sucre were the night buses to Santa Cruz.  So we bought tickets for a decent price on a bus leaving at 3pm, supposedly stopping in Samaipata around 5am, three hours before finally reaching Santa Cruz.  Quite the trek, but we are getting used to it.  Everything we read and heard confirmed this itinerary, and the guy from the hostel nicely arranged for a taxi to meet us and a hostel staff member to be up to greet us at this ungodly hour of 5am.

So we got on our bus, prepared for the long haul.  After a dinner stop in who-knows-where, we both tried to sleep, me with a 4:30am alarm set on my iPod.  I knew this was probably unnecessary though, because buses here are never on time and are in fact usually very late.  I also assumed Samaipata would be an obvious stop with others getting off and more passengers boarding to take our seats.  This was all a mistake.  Don’t assume things when traveling in unfamiliar territory, no matter how much “experience with this” you think you have!  We stopped around 12am for a pee-on-the-side-of-the-road break, and although I was in and out of light sleep, I don’t think we stopped again.

I woke up at 4:30am and we were pulling into a town.  “Cool,” I thought groggily, “this must be it.”  I asked a passenger if this was in fact Samaipata and his answer made my heart sink.  “No, this is Santa Cruz,” he replied.  “WHAT???  This can’t be!”  The driver also confirmed it.  “Why didn’t anyone tell us to get off?  How’d we miss our stop?  How are we so EARLY?”  These questions swirled through my befuddled brain.  Somehow, we were three hours early, unheard of in Bolivia, and must have passed Samaipata at around 2am without stopping (that either of us noticed).

Of course this was all our fault for assuming the driver knew we were going there and would tell us to get off the bus!  And for following our previously-unbroken rule: Buses are never early!  Argh.  Although we didn’t know what we’d have done arriving in Samaipata at 2am, we now had to waste time in Santa Cruz until hostel checkout time.  The cost of backtracking to Samaipata then coming back again to Santa Cruz made it not worthwhile, we unfortunately realized.  So we were two days ahead of schedule but super upset about missing a free hostel and a cool town.  Oh Bolivia, you got us again!

Please follow and like us: