Transportation in Sri Lanka and my experience with Sri Lanka by Car
One of the most important topics regarding a holiday in Sri Lanka is definitely transportation around the island. I am sure that if you thought about choosing this destination, you were already asking yourself (and others) which means of transportation you should use.
Why is this matter so important here?
Well, even though the island doesn’t seem so big, the tourist attractions require you to visit many parts of it and the infrastructure and traffic don’t create the best conditions. Top that with the fact that they drive on the other side of the road as most former British colonies do (meaning the left side – Sorry, I am talking from my Romanian point of view).
That being said, I will now give you details about the means of transport available on the island, which was our choice and why, plus my recommendations.
MEANS OF TRANSPORTATION
a. TRAVELING BY TRAIN
The most popular means of transportation in Sri Lanka is definitely the train. Of course, it has its ups and downs so it is up to you to decide if this is the right choice.
– It is the cheapest way to travel in Sri Lanka. Prices are way cheaper than you can imagine, especially if you are coming from Europe where you are used to pay lots of money on train tickets. One train ticket for the famous Ella to Kandy segment costs around 2-3 $ in the 2nd class and even cheaper in the 3rd one.
– Train rides are extremely popular in Sri Lanka and the segment between Kandy to Ella it is often called The World’s Most Beautiful Train Trip because of the scenery you find along the way. Most tourists book private transfers around the country, but still take this scenic ride in between.
Well, sorry to say, but I also have some negative sides to share with you. Before that, I just have to tell you that we took the train only for a short distance, from Ella to Badulla, just to see how the experience would be like. We didn’t want to leave Sri Lanka without crossing this off the list. Here are my thoughts on that:
– Trains are really, really dirty. It is true, we didn’t travel 1st class because the train we took didn’t have that option anymore, but I can speak for the 2nd and 3rd classes. This wasn’t an issue for us on a short ride, but on a longer one, it doesn’t sound like a good idea;
– The trains are extremely crowded on a daily basis, especially if you are thinking of taking the scenic Ella to Kandy ride. Moreover, it is extremely possible not to find tickets for this famous segment if you don’t buy them in advance (sometimes this train is fully book one month in advance);
– Sadly, you cannot book tickets online yet because the system is not ready for this kind of reservations. The only option is to buy them from the train stations in advance or arrange something with a local travel agency.
PS: From what I have seen, Sri Lanka by Car (which was the travel operator that helped us with everything in our holiday) can also make sure your train tickets will be bought on time);
– Traveling by train is a good idea only if you have a lot of time at your disposal. I am saying that because the Kandy to Ella ride, for example, lasts around 7 hours which seems like such a long way. The infrastructure is old so the trains will go with reduced speed;
– You have to make your schedule after the train timetable. Most of the trains run daily, but not too many times per day. If you only have a limited time to explore the country, train rides aren’t the best option from this point of view;
– Even though many refer to the train ride as the most comfortable means of transportation, I sadly have to disagree. The trains are old with shabby couches and dirty bathrooms and comfortable is not the first thing that comes into my mind.
Train information, timetables and ticket prices can be found on the Sri Lanka Government Railway Information website.
b. TRAVELING BY BUS
Regarding traveling by bus, unfortunately I don’t have so much information because we totally skipped this part. As a matter of fact, I hate traveling by bus anywhere in the world because I often have problems with car sick (especially for the buses where I don’t manage to catch front seats), this being the reason why we always avoid this kind of transportation.
Still, from what I have learned there, bus routes cover about 80% of the nation’s 90,000km of roads and there are two kinds of buses in Sri Lanka: Central Transport Board (CTB) buses and private ones.
As you can imagine, even though you can find cheap tickets, the CTB buses are old and don’t usually offer air conditioners which can be a big issue in Sri Lanka. The private buses on the other hand, offer better conditions, but the prices are at least double (still cheap though).
c. TRAVELING BY CAR
This option also splits in three important and different categories:
– CAR RENTAL – which means you can drive by yourself in the crazy traffic of Sri Lanka. You need to hold an international driving permit (IDP) or at least a temporary Sri Lankan driving license in order to rent a car. If you do own an IDP, you can find a car rental company and talk everything with them because you need an endorsement of the driving permit in Sri Lanka and they will handle everything (for a fee, obviously).
If you do your research before, you will see no one recommends foreigners to self drive in Sri Lanka because of many reasons: crazy traffic, left side driving, bad infrastructure or corrupted police. I will add one more thing to the list from what we have experienced while we were there: the others drive like crazy! Literarily, I didn’t think we are going to get away uninjured. As a plus, the prices are almost the same with private car transportation which means you get a car, a driver and fuel included for your trip (I am going to give you all the details below).
PS: Most car rental companies have a mileage limit. From the companies I looked up, I saw a limit of 100 km/day.
– PRIVATE TRANSFERS FROM ONE POINT TO ANOTHER – well, this is a very good choice if you plan to stay for a longer period of time in the same place. For example, if you have one week or more to stay in Kandy, you can get a private transfer from Colombo Airport to Kandy and then use a tuk-tuk for daily transportation. I recommend choosing Sri Lanka by car which also offers this kind of transfer services and, if you email them, you will receive a personalized offer right away based on your preferences: number of persons, destination, date etc.
– FULL TIME PRIVATE TRANSPORTATION, also known as CAR&DRIVER – This means you get an air-conditioned car/van with English speaking driver (that also acts as your personal guide), fuel for your open itinerary, meals and accommodation for the driver and road taxes included. This sounds pretty good for your holiday, right? Find all the details below J
OUR CHOICE FOR TRANSPORTATION AND WHY
I think it is obvious by now that we chose the last option – CAR&DRIVER and we could not have been happier. If we had to start all over again, we would sure make the same decision! That is why I have to thank SRI LANKA BY CAR for giving me this option and say that I recommend their services with all my heart!
Even though I am sure you can already imagine all the perks in having a driver at your disposal, I will try to sum them up right here:
– This is the most popular transportation choice between tourists;
– You get to save a lot of time in your holiday which means more exploring and more fun! The driver will be waiting for you at the airport and will take you right away to your first destination;
– You have a lot of flexibility because you are the one in charge and decide when you wake up, when you visit tourist attractions, when you go from one place to another;
– You do not have to wait for anyone as you would need to do if you chose a day trip with other people;
– You get to sleep and rest between destinations. This way you will be ready to explore immediately after getting there;
– You don’t have to stress yourself about choosing the right road or about corrupted police officers as you would in a rental car;
– You have your personal guide included and you will learn so much about Sri Lanka, their culture, religion and customs;
– The driver will recommend you the best places to visit and eat along the way;
– Last, but not least, you make a new friend. Spending so much time with your driver will also make him your friend. At least, this is what happened to us: Kumar was friendly and kind, taught us a lot of interesting things and we still keep in touch!
– I will end with the most important one from our experience: You do not need to worry about the traffic – while the driver deals with the chaotic roads, you can look out the window and relax. Well, if you can do that because of the crazy traffic. Seriously, Sri Lanka has one of the worst traffic conditions I have ever seen and I have been to multiple Asian countries before. It is true I haven’t visited Vietnam yet, but still… The other drivers are completely crazy and I was so happy we didn’t rent the car after all. Driving in Sri Lanka is not for the ones with heart condition for sure. Sometimes we were a little afraid with Kumar as well just because we could not get used to that kind of driving. Cars, tuk-tuks, buses, scooters, all together, without keeping in mind any driving rules or signs. Pure madness so we are happy everything ended well and Kumar took us safe to our destinations!
WHO IS SRI LANKA BY CAR AND WHY CHOOSE THEM
Sri Lanka by Car is a travel and ground transport service supplier for tourists based in Negombo, only 20 minutes away from Colombo International Airport.
They offer a variety of services so that you can enjoy your Sri Lankan adventure to the fullest and stress free: car&driver, private transfers, city tours, day trips, train ticket booking etc.
If you are thinking about private transportation as we did, I totally recommend them as the best in the area. To be honest, I found them online, sent an email with our itinerary and, the next day, we already discussed and arranged all the details.
As I said above, Kumar waited for us at the airport and took us to our first destination: Kandy while we slept like babies in the back after the long flight. When we got to Kandy we were ready to explore the hills and enjoy everything. We got lots of information and useful advice from Kumar and he taught us more about Buddhism and their way of thinking so that we can understand the life there better. He recommended the best places to eat everywhere we went and he even improved his photography skills with us.
A good thing is that the meals and accommodation for the drivers are included in the price, it is up to you if you want to invite him to the table with you. Since Kumar became our friend as well, we often took lunch and dinner together so that he could tell us more about his life, the way of living of the Sri Lankans, their language, and even his family J
I know this is the first thing that comes into mind when thinking about private transportation. I want to start by saying that you need to be fair before thinking about a price meaning you need to consider all the things included: new hybrid cars with AC, full time driver, road taxes and parking fees, budget accommodation and meals for the drivers.
That being said, I cannot offer you a final or fixed price because it will be personalized based on your itinerary. This is normal because you can either choose to drive 17 km per day (Dambulla to Sigiriya) or 100 km (Colombo Airport to Kandy) or, of course, even more.
The easiest way to find out the costs is by sending them an e-mail with the itinerary you want, the number of persons and days, and you will shortly receive a personalized offer that I am sure will be the best for you. If you are not satisfied and have questions, write them back and discuss with them all the details.
To have an idea of the prices though, I can tell you that prices for car&driver at Sri Lanka by car start from 47$/day and an average price is 60$/day J
OTHER SERVICES OFFERED BY SRI LANKA BY CAR
As I said above, Sri Lanka by Car offers various travel services so if you have something in mind, be sure to give them an email and ask.
One of the most popular tours is Colombo City Tour which will cost you 24 $ and lasts around 3 hours, but if you need more time, Kumar told me there is no problem and the most important thing for them is that their costumers to be happy at the end of the tour.
We also chose to do it in our last day in Sri Lanka, but it was not a regular one due to the fact that we only had one late evening available. It turned out to be really nice and full of interesting information.
We also took the Galle Tour and fell in love with that beautiful place, especially the area around the Lighthouse and the Fort.
For the full list of travel services, click HERE.
That being said, you are now ready to choose the best transportation option for your Sri Lankan adventure! I hope you have all the information you need here and, if you do have some additional questions, don’t hesitate to ask me bellow in comments or on my Instagram account!
Tomorrow I will continue the Sri Lanka series with our Jeep Safari Adventure with Lakpura Travels!
Blonde around the World