The Ultimate Guide to Transportation in Sri Lanka

Train Transportation in Sri Lanka

Planning a trip to Sri Lanka? Do you know how you will get from one destination to another? Check out this information to make travel around Sri Lanka a breeze (or at least easier). In this post, we share all the details about traveling in Sri Lanka including the four main methods of transportation + how to get to some of the more popular destinations!

Is it easy to travel around Sri Lanka?

Yes! Traveling around Sri Lanka is relatively easy due to the well-connected bus system and private drivers available, but it can take time. Also, it can take a bit of patience. For such a small country, it can still take many hours to reach your next destination. For example, Ella to Tangalle by bus is 145 km and took us about 4 hours to reach.

At first, it may seem a little daunting to hop on the packed bus of local travelers, but once you adjust to the wild driving, there’s something to almost love about it. Sri Lankans are also super friendly (most of the time) and many are happy to help you figure out where you need to go!

Is traveling around Sri Lanka expensive?

NO! Traveling around Sri Lanka is super affordable, especially if you’re a budget backpacker like us. Using public transportation to travel around Sri Lanka is cheap and easy to do. Traveling the country by train, bus, and tuktuk definitely won’t break the bank.

However, if you’re looking for a more comfortable ride around, you should expect to pay more for your ride. BUT, this is quite cheap as well, comparing prices to western prices. It is super common in Sri Lanka to hire a private driver for a day or even the duration of your trip. We met many travelers who were guided around the country by their own drivers. Although we wouldn’t classify this into “budget travel” it is still reasonable for those with more money to spend on their trip!

Transportation in Sri Lanka

Can you drive a car around Sri Lanka?

Technically….yes. But it’s just easier to leave it to the locals. To drive a car or tuktuk in Sri Lanka you must first have an international driver’s permit and then get a Sri Lankan license to drive around the country. If you are renting a tuktuk or car to explore the island, your rental company should handle this for you. However, because of the well-connected public transportation systems and numerous private drivers, we suggest using them instead of driving yourself!

If you do want to drive in Sri Lanka, here are some things to keep in mind. Coming from the US it was very different to be driving on the left-hand side of the road, but you will get used to it. Also, in order to drive a car you must get a Sri Lankan driver’s license and car rentals can be very expensive!

Also, be warned, the roads are a bit crazy. With buses flying up the winding mountain roads, scooters alongside them, and tuktuks trailing the shoulder, the roads can be a bit daunting to drive on. If you do get behind the wheel, please be careful and make sure you are comfortable driving the vehicle!

Does Sri Lanka have Uber?

You can use Uber in Sri Lanka, however, it really only works well in the capital, Colombo, and the second largest city, Kandy. If you’re in other touristy destinations, we recommend using a combination of Uber and Pick Me. Although the apps don’t always work and hailing a tuktuk from the street is most likely your best bet, Pick Me is great for places like Colombo, Kandy, and even parts of Ella and the south coast.

tuktuk in Sri Lanka

Pick Me is our recommended transportation app for Sri Lanka. However, we also used Uber when we couldn’t find a ride through Pick Me. You will most likely not find drivers for longer rides and recommend using taxi services or Sri Lanka’s public transportation system when traveling long distances.

Grab is a common transportation app used in South East Asia and if you’ve traveled to countries like Thailand, Vietnam, or Cambodia you may have used it. Currently, Grab does not work in Sri Lanka, only Uber or Pick Me. These apps work very similarly to Grab.

Also, note that Uber and Pick Me also have a tuktuk option. This is easier to get than a car, however, car services are still available in the cities. If you are waiting longer for a car and don’t have a large group, we recommend the tuktuk option as its cheaper, and riding in a tuktuk is a must-have experience in Sri Lanka.

What is the best way to get around Sri Lanka?

A combination of it all. In our eyes, to get the full Sri Lankan experience, you need to experience the buses, the trains, and the tuktuks. We also suggest renting a scooter for some days and exploring that way! Navigating Sri Lanka is such a unique experience and we treasure all of the memories we have from it, even the hot and sweaty bus rides.

Hop on a bus, ride the train, and zoom away in a tuktuk. Getting around is easy and affordable using the various methods of transportation in Sri Lanka.

Public Transportation in Sri Lanka Today

We traveled around Sri Lanka for two months in 2022 and found that although their transportation systems may not always be super updated and comfortable, we got where we needed to go! The people were always so kind in helping us get off at the right stop on the bus or navigating a busy train station.

There are three main transportation methods in Sri Lanka: Bus, Train, Taxi/Tuktuk. Many people hire private drivers to get around Sri Lanka and compared to western prices, this is often affordable in a holiday budget. However, we recommend taking advantage of Sri Lanka’s other transportation systems. Hop on a bus, ride a train, and rush through town in a tuktuk. Transportation in Sri Lanka is one of our top things to do and experience in the country alone, no matter where you’re going.

Transportation Methods in Sri Lanka

Traveling by Bus in Sri Lanka:

The cheapest method of transportation in Sri Lanka is by bus. Sri Lanka’s buses can be very interesting and definitely have their own character!

How it works:

There are 2 main types: Red and Blue. The red buses are government buses, a little cheaper but don’t run as often. The blue buses are privately operated but not much more expensive. They are a bit louder though, with music blaring, lights flashing, and walls lined with images ranging from “Rio” (the bird movie) to religious deities.

Instead of paying beforehand or paying the bus driver as you climb aboard, buses in Sri Lanka have a separate “conductor”. Get on the bus heading to your destination and when he’s ready, the bus conductor will come to collect the payment from you.

Bus Interior in Sri Lanka

To pay, the conductor will have a small machine that prints out a ticket with the price. You can only pay in cash and will receive the correct change.

There are some coach buses that take more direct routes and some are even air-conditioned. These buses will connect you from one major city to another like Colombo to Kandy or Kandy to Anuradhapura. They are much less frequent and more expensive. We personally did not use these buses but they are available to and from some major destinations.

Scams to Watch For

We read a lot about scams on buses before traveling to Sri Lanka but in the two months we were there, we didn’t have these issues. This doesn’t mean that they don’t happen though.

You shouldn’t ever have to pay extra for your bags and it should always be relatively cheap. We haven’t experienced this but saw in some Facebook groups that some travelers had been overcharged. This is rare! However, just to have an idea here are some prices we paid so you know what to expect:

  • Wilpattu to Colombo: 880 rupees (per person)
  • Tangalle to Ella: 320 rupees (per person)
  • Kandy to Digana: 40 rupees (per person)

Pros of Bus Travel in Sri Lanka:

  • Cheap, you won’t beat the bus prices. From Wilpattu to Colombo (a 5-hour ride) we paid roughly $4 USD
  • Frequency. Depending on where you are going, there will probably be multiple buses passing by a day (ask your accommodation to be sure!)
  • There are many stops, and you don’t have to get off at a regular bus station, there are plenty of stops and you may even find one closer to your final destination.
  • Helpful bus drivers/conductors, we were always helped in getting off at the right stop (however, we always checked Google Maps to make sure we were aware of our location)

Cons of Bus Travel in Sri Lanka:

  • Rough driving (especially if you get motion sickness)
  • Can take longer than other options (depending on the route)
  • Can be PACKED with people, and there is little room for luggage.
Bus in Sri Lanka

Traveling by Train in Sri Lanka:

A visit to Sri Lanka isn’t complete without a ride on one of the many trains in the country. This is definitely the most beautiful method of transportation in Sri Lanka as it always comes with some stunning views.

How it Works:

Arrive at the station to purchase your ticket. For some of the more popular rides, like the popular Kandy to Ella train ride, you may want to book this in advance. However, for most tickets, you can purchase them the day of. You will find that some trains have 1st, 2nd, and 3rd class tickets.

1st Class Train Tickets

Air Conditioned cabins with assigned seats. Sometimes they have TVs playing a silent movie or nature film. The doors between cabins may still be open to the outside but cannot guarantee as they were closed during one of our rides.

2nd Class Reserved Train Tickets

Reserved seats in cabins without AC, but you can often open the windows. Having a reserved seat means you won’t be searching for space but you will also have some room to move about and access to open doors between cabins.

2nd Class Unreserved Train Tickets

Unreserved seats and often many travelers booked, but this can lead to an exciting ride. Although the cabins can be packed, you’ll have access to open doors between them. You just also might have to sit in front of the bathrooms on your backpacks as we did.

3rd Class Train Tickets

Unreserved cabins that often have benches instead of seats, can be crowded.

At the station, there will be numbered counters for either the route you are purchasing or the class of ticket you are buying. There is normally a sign above each to direct you to the right counter. But, if you end up at the wrong one, the staff will guide you to where you need to go.

Train Station Transportation in Sri Lanka

Pros of Train Travel:

  • Slow travel, you really get the opportunity to see some of Sri Lanka’s most stunning landscapes.
  • 1st Class Air Con, this option is still cheap and very comfortable!
  • Sitting in the doorways, if you’re traveling to Sri Lanka you’ve probably seen the Ella train pictures but this is an option on every ride!
  • Snack vendors, at many stops on the ride snack vendors will come aboard selling cheap shorts and snacks to eat!

Cons of Train Travel:

  • Slower travel, although this is a pro, it can also be a con if you are short on time during your trip.
  • Restrictive directions, the train system doesn’t run everywhere and connect every city so it can only be used to reach certain destinations
  • Not enough seats! (seats may run out if you are booking an unreserved seat)

Ella to Kandy Train Tips:

  • Purchase your ticket AT LEAST two days in advance for 1st class or 2nd class reserved. 2nd class reserved sells out the quickest.
  • You can book your ticket at the counter or ask your accommodation to help (sometimes they offer to send someone to purchase the tickets for you).
  • If you book online through 12goasia it will be a lot more expensive, this is unnecessary.

Traveling by TukTuk in Sri Lanka:

Another must-do experience in Sri Lanka. Using tuktuks is extremely common to travel short distances in each destination.

How it Works:

Technically there are two ways of getting around by tuktuk. The first is to use tuk-tuks like taxis for short distances in a town or even from one town to the next. However, you can also RENT your own tuk-tuk and drive it around all of Sri Lanka!

Pros of TukTuk Travel:

  • Cheaper than a taxi car since you are in a smaller vehicle
  • Plenty of them around, you can’t walk far without seeing a tuktuk in Sri Lanka
  • Great for shorter distances, this is the perfect way to reach a guesthouse after arriving to the town by train or reaching some of the things to do in that area.

Cons of TukTuk Travel:

  • May not fit all your luggage, if you’re traveling with more than a backpack, tuktuks can be a bit tight for room.
  • Really only 3 people “comfortably” in the back, and even that can be a stretch depending on the people you are traveling with.
  • Some drivers may try to take you to a gem museum, herb garden, or some other place they recommend that is a scam to make money.
Photo by <a href="">Kultar Ruprai</a> on <a href="">Unsplash</a>

Traveling by Taxi/Driver:

A popular way to get around Sri Lanka is with a private driver. There are many different ways to book drivers and it is the most “comfortable” in our list of methods of transportation in Sri Lanka.

How it Works:

Most of the time, your guesthouse accommodation will have connections with drivers they recommend. We booked a driver or two this way and it worked out very well for us. You can also book drivers through websites like Ella Budget Taxi or find a private driver through Sri Lanka travel Facebook groups.

To find a taxi in cities like Kandy or Colombo, you can use apps like Pick Me and Uber. Keep in mind that most of the time the taxi services from these apps are tuktuks.

Pros of Taxi Travel:

  • Air Conditioning, most of Sri Lanka is hot and before you adjust to the tropical temperatures an air-conditioned ride is always nice!
  • Comfort, if you’re traveling long distances, a car is much more comfortable than a squished bus or tuktuk.
  • Room, there should be plenty of room for your guests and luggage in a private taxi.
  • Making stops, often if you are driving a route with popular tourist stops, your driver will be willing to park and wait for you to visit for an extra tip. Make sure this is negotiated! We did this with our driver from Sigiriya to Kandy and got to stop at the Dambulla Cave Temples!

Cons of Taxi Travel:

  • Expensive, although the price is not expensive compared to western terms, it is the most expensive way to travel in Sri Lanka compared to the budget bus and train options.
Colombo, Sri Lanka

Traveling by Scooter/Motorbike in Sri Lanka:

How it Works:

Pretty much just like the section says, getting around Sri Lanka by scooter or motorbike is possible. There are places to rent them all over, especially in tourist destinations like the south coast and Sigiriya. Often your accommodation can help you find a rental or you find signs outside shops yourself.

Unless you are very experienced driving a scooter in countries like Vietnam or Thailand, we don’t recommend it for full-time travel. As mentioned before, driving in Sri Lanka can be a bit wild with the busses, tuktuks, cars, and scooters. However, renting a scooter to get around is one of our favorite ways to spend the day and explore different places in Sri Lanka. Renting a scooter or motorbike is great to reach different things to do from your accommodation in town.

Pros of Scooter Travel:

  • Freedom, driving your own scooter or motorbike gives you the freedom to stop wherever you want to. You don’t have to pay the driver extra for their wait time, you can just go!
  • Good price, the scooter rentals in Sri Lanka are normally pretty cheap and for a full day of adventure, the price is right!

Cons of Scooter Travel:

  • Experience, if you don’t have experience driving a scooter, we don’t recommend that you drive in busy areas. However, learning to drive in more rural areas like outside Sigiriya is a great way to build your driving confidence.
  • Sometimes petrol/gas can be hard to find. When we rented our bike in Sigiriya, we had to stop at various little shops hoping to find gas when a man filled our tank with what looked like watered-down gas from an actual water bottle! But hey, it ran!

How to Reach Popular Destinations in Sri Lanka

Now that we’ve covered the different methods of transportation in Sri Lanka, here are a few notes on how to get to popular destinations. If you have a private driver, these tips are not necessarily for you. However, if you’re traveling with a mix of methods and looking for the best recommendations, we’ve provided some insight from our experiences below.


  • Train: After landing in Sri Lanka, to reach Colombo you can take a train from the Negombo area to Colombo. You can also catch a train from Kandy and the coast to reach Colombo.
  • Bus: There are public buses that run from Negombo and the rest of the country to Colombo.
  • Taxi: Book a taxi from your current location using apps like Uber or Pick Me, Sri Lanka travel Facebook groups, and most guesthouses are well-connected to drivers! We stayed our first night near the airport and used a driver from our accommodation to get to the next place.

Beach Towns (From Bentota to Mirissa):

  • Train: There is a train that runs from Colombo to the south coast with stops at many of the beach town destinations along the southwest and southern coast like Galle and Mirissa.
  • Bus: There are buses that leave each beach town, Colombo, and inland cities that head to the coast every day.
  • Taxi: Book a taxi from your current location using apps like Uber or Pick Me, Sri Lanka travel Facebook groups, and most guesthouses are well-connected to drivers!

Heading to the coast? We’ve written posts about where to find the best vegan eats in Mirissa here

Train in Sri Lanka


  • Train: There is a train to Kandy from Ella or Colombo, which has stunning views. Kandy is also connected to the north by train as well.
  • Bus: With a centralized location, there are many public buses that run to Kandy from cities and towns all over Sri Lanka. Your accommodation should be able to help guide you to the station and what bus to get on.
  • Taxi: Book a taxi from your current location using apps like Uber or Pick Me, Sri Lanka travel Facebook groups, and most guesthouses are well-connected to drivers!

Looking for places to eat around Kandy? Check out this guide


  • Bus: You can catch a bus from Colombo or Kandy to Dambulla. Then, you must board a second bus from Dambulla to Sigiriya. There is no straight bus from either destination to Sigiriya
  • Taxi: Book a taxi from your current guesthouse since most are well-connected to drivers!


  • Train: The Kandy to Ella train is THE famous train ride in Sri Lanka. You can make a stop in Nuwara Eliya to shorten the ride as well and it’s worth it!
  • Bus: As mentioned above, Sri Lanka is well-connected and affordable. For example, the bus from Tangalle to Ella is 3.5-4 hours and costs 320 rupees.
  • Taxi: Similar to others you can book using your accommodation or use a site like Ella Budget Taxi. We used them once and everything went great.

Need some more tips for visiting Ella? Read this post for veg-friendly food recommendations and some tips for visiting Ella, Sri Lanka


  • Bus: You can catch a bus from places like Ella to Tangalle for 320 rupees. There are also buses that run along the south coast to and from Tangalle and Dickwella, Mirissa, etc.
  • Taxi: Book a taxi from your current guesthouse since most are well-connected to drivers!
  • Tuktuk: If you aren’t far from Tangalle, another coastal town, you may be able to find a good deal with a tuktuk driver to drive you!

Final Thoughts: Transporation in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is a stunning country that we recommend everyone to visit one day. Hopefully, with this guide, we’ve made your trip planning a bit easier. If you’re looking for a budget-friendly way of getting around Sri Lanka. we highly recommend sticking to public transportation.

Traveling around Sri Lanka is surprisingly easy once you get used to the busy buses and trains. And if you’re not interested in those, there are plenty of private drivers with air-conditioned cars to hire for your holiday! Private drivers are super popular for tourists seeking more comfort, especially those with families and those looking to shorten their time on the road.

Tuktuk transportation in Sri Lanka