Different transports in Sri Lanka

How To Use Different Transports In Sri Lanka (As A Foreigner)?

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Sri Lanka has an impressive road infrastructure that connects different corners of the country, no matter how remote they are. The public transport system is affordable and accessible to tourists and explorers, making them a convenient option to commute between different spots, locations, and cities. While trains and flights are also good options depending on your requirements, besides buses, you’ll find the tuk-tuks a popular choice among the people on this island country.

In this blog, we explain how you can use the different modes of transport effectively as a foreign traveler. The blog comprises vital information that might come in handy during your explorations. Read carefully as we also highlight the pros and cons of each transport.

Different Transportations In Sri Lanka

Colombo Fort Railway Station
Colombo Fort Railway Station

Flight

Although there are about 22 domestic airports in the country, among which 5 are international, Colombo’s Bandaranaike International Airport (airport code: CMB) is the busiest. Most domestic airports in Sri Lanka are also used as military bases by the air force.

The Colombo airport has all the facilities, including FREE Wi-Fi for 3 hours, SIM card counters, currency exchange counters, and taxi facilities round the clock. If you’re traveling to Sri Lanka for the first time, it is best to fly to Colombo’s Bandaranaike International Airport and head to your destination from there.

Other international airports include:

  • Mattala Rajapaksha International Airport (Airport Code: HRI)
  • Batticaloa International Airport (Airport Code: BTC)
  • Jaffna International Airport (Airport Code: JAF)
  • Colombo International Airport, Ratmalana (Airport Code: RML)

From the airport, instead of booking an overpriced taxi, you can hop onto a bus near the roundabout, right outside the airport. If you have any doubts, you can ask the officials at the airport who’ll guide you to the nearest bus station. Also, please note that buses operate only after 5 AM, and bus transfers between the airport and the city center are frequent during the day.

Train

Trains near Colombo beach

In this section, we look at some general information about the railway infrastructure of Sri Lanka. We also showcase how one can book train tickets (online and offline), cancel tickets, and more. Let’s dive right in.

General Information About Trains In Sri Lanka

Trains were introduced in Sri Lanka in 1864. Most of the trains are propelled by diesel engines. Approximately 296 trains are currently in operation. Of these, 67 are long-distance trains, and 16 are intercity trains. In total, all trains carry 3.72 million passengers daily. Trains are convenient but aren’t as well-connected as the roads. The trains will only take you to popular tourist destinations across the country.

Colombo fort railway station
  • Check the availability of any train along with the fare from the official website- https://eservices.railway.gov.lk/schedule/homeAction.action?lang=en. The official website is multilingual and comprises three languages – Sinhala, Tamil, and English.
  • It’s advisable to book tickets in advance, especially for long-distance journeys and popular routes.
  • No wifi facilities are available at the train station and on trains.
  • Restrooms are available onboard.
  • There are police personnel onboard every train.
  • No plugs or electrical sockets are available on the trains to charge your devices.
  • Dangerous goods or any flammable substances are strictly prohibited.
  • Pets are not allowed onboard.
  • Snacks, water, and cool drinks are sold for passengers onboard. 
  • Train delays are common in Sri Lanka.
  • Only after the reservation is made are your seats confirmed. The seats are automatically assigned according to availability. Preferred seat selection is not available.
  • The tickets will be verified onboard by the officer, who is dressed in a dark green uniform. Sri Lanka Railways Officers have the authority to request and check the tickets at any time while onboard.
  • Announcements are made on speakers at the railway stations about trains arriving and departing. You can find the platform number of the trains on the board kept at the railway station or ask the officials at the station if you cannot find the name board.

Compartments & Coaches In Sri Lankan Railways

  • Reservations can be made for the Observation class, AC saloon, 2nd and 3rd class. For unreserved classes, prior reservations cannot be made.
  • 2-2 seating is present in both the first and second classes. This means the seating arrangement is made so that two people sit on either side of the train. The third class seating is 3-2.
  • The first class is air-conditioned and equipped with rotating seats. 
  • The second class has comfortable push-back seats with rotating ceiling fans and large windows, while the third has no push-back seats.
  • Only first-class overnight trains have sleeper berths. Although the berth class is named “Sleeperth” in the second or third class, there are no sleeper berths, they are push-back sitting berth compartments.
  • The first-class ticket holders can carry free luggage of up to 40 Kg, a second class can carry up to 35 Kg, and the third class up to 25 Kg. There is a luggage space overhead in all the compartments.

Train Ticket Booking

Train tickets can be purchased either online or offline. The platform tickets cost LKR 20, which can be purchased at the counter before stepping onto the platform. The train ticket has information such as seat number, train name, from and to the station, passport number, etc.

Online Booking

Travelling by trains in Sri Lanka
  • Online tickets can be purchased from https://seatreservation.railway.gov.lk. You can via Mastercard, Visa card, and Sri Lanka QR. Cashback offers are available for locally registered cards and if you pay via the Sri Lanka QR.
  • Online reservations can be pre-booked 30 days in advance before the train departure.
  • eTickets are strictly not accepted while onboard. You must get physical copies of your tickets even if you book them online. One way to do so is by collecting the physical tickets from the mTicketing service-enabled stations before you begin your journey.
  • The list of mTicketing service-enabled stations for purchasing and printing the tickets and the timings are mentioned on the official website.
  • While booking the tickets online, the passenger’s details, including name, email, and mobile number, are required, while the same is not required for offline tickets.
  • The ticket information with the reference number will be sent to the local number and email of the primary passenger, which is given while booking online. So, ensure you give the correct details.
  • Full adult rates are applicable for children older than 3 years of age. If the passengers are below 17 years of age and do not have either a passport or NIC, you must select the “dependent” category while booking online.
  • A maximum of 5 seats could be reserved at once.
  • Online Tickets are liable to pay a 5% convenience fee.

Offline Tickets

Offline tickets can be purchased at the ticket counter at all the railway stations across Sri Lanka. For reservations, you must mention your destination and passport number (National Identification Card (NIC) number if you are a Sri Lankan). They will list the seat availability in different compartments on the next available train, or you can choose the journey date up to 30 days in advance. Upon confirming, payment can be made. Printed tickets can be collected from the counter.

The ticket counters are open round the clock. The tickets are mostly available until the very last minute during the off-season. However, last-minute bookings are not recommended during weekends and peak season. You can just check the seat availability on your journey date beforehand and plan accordingly.

Ensure you arrive at the train station before 30 minutes to know the train’s platform. Board the train, occupy your reserved seat, and gear up for your happy journey!

Cancellations

In case of cancellation, 75% will be refunded if cancellation is made in 7+ days, and 50% if done between 2 and 7 days. If the cancellation is made in less than 48 hours or 2 days, you will not get any refund. Also, please note that only the journey fare is refunded, not the service fee. Refunds can be claimed only on mTicketing service available stations. It is also important to note that the tickets are non-transferable.

Bus

Buses in Sri Lanka

Buses are the primary mode of transport in Sri Lanka. They operate in a way similar to every other South Asian country. The conductor roams around the bus and asks if everyone has got the tickets. The conductor will have a small machine that prints out a ticket with the price. You can only pay in cash and get the correct change in return.

Interestingly, in Sri Lanka, the city buses have a bell system. The bell signals the driver to halt. So, if someone wants to step down, all they need to do is pull the bell.

  • Both public and private buses run in the country. The private buses are painted colorfully with fascinating artwork, while the public buses are painted in plain colors of light blue and red. 
  • Air-conditioned public buses are available for long-distance travel, especially those connecting Kandy and Colombo.
  • Buses are not very frequent unless you’re in Colombo.
  • The bus traverses predetermined routes, which are different than the routes you might take if you have a private vehicle. The buses do not follow the four-wheeler route shown in Google Maps. So, it’ll take longer to reach your destination than the estimated time.
  • Buses in Sri Lanka may not always operate on strict schedules. Delays and overcrowding occur, especially during rush hours. It’s essential to be patient and flexible and allow extra time for your journeys.
  • No prior booking is mandatory, even for long journeys in Sri Lanka. However, if you want a comfortable ride, you can book your seats in private buses online. Here are a few options to consider – Bus Seat, eSeat, and Bus Ticket.
  • Night buses are available in Colombo city, while in the other urban areas, there are no night buses. The last bus to most places is between 6-8 PM. The overnight buses are limited unless you’re traveling to Colombo. So, if you are hopping between destinations, it is better to board the buses early in the day.
Inside look of the buses in Sri Lanka
  • There is enough room for your legs and a small luggage space overhead. However, large bags will not fit there. You can keep your luggage on the bus’s engine near the driver.
  • All long-distance buses have a television, and music is played throughout the journey.
  • We noticed that most of the city buses stop, not only on the dedicated bus stops but also on the roads, if people raise their hands halfway in the air. This is not applicable in the case of long-distance buses.
  • Google Maps shows bus routes with bus numbers in cities like Colombo and Kandy. The bus routes and numbers are not shown for other places. You’ll have to ask for directions from the locals.
  • Most of the bus drivers in Sri Lanka are in a hurry. Expect rough driving with loads of sudden breaks.

Although there are several disadvantages to exploring the country by bus in Sri Lanka, it is the most affordable form of transport and pretty much connects all of Sri Lanka.

Taxi/ Cab

Taxi or cab services are available across the country. Their prices usually depend on the distance, number of passengers, number of days, and the type of vehicle you choose. Many tourist companies also offer packages covering your entire trip.

Uber and Pick Me are available in cities like Colombo and Kandy. Pick Me further extends its services to major tourist attractions like Unawatuna, Galle, Trincomalee, etc. 

Tuk-Tuks

Tuk-tuk in Sri Lanka

Tuk-tuks are very popular in Sri Lanka. They come in handy if you want to hop from point A to B within city limits quickly. For the uninitiated, tuk-tuks are three-wheelers driven by a driver who sits in the front seat. The rear seat is where the passengers sit and can accommodate up to 3 people.

  • Tuk-tuks in Sri Lanka are truly the saviors for travelers. They’re everywhere throughout the day and at night, be it a rural village or a thriving street. The driver offers rides to the bus stations or any specific cafe that you want to go to.
  • Negotiate and fix the price before starting the ride. The price usually starts from LKR 100 for every Km and is even higher in some tourist spots.
  • Numerous tuk-tuks are found roaming the streets, and the drivers stop to offer rides if they notice a tourist walking.
  • Before hopping on a tuk-tuk, we suggest you check the approximate prices online from Uber or Pick Me to negotiate accordingly.

Renting A Tuk-Tuk

You can also rent tuk-tuks in Sri Lanka. But the prices are high compared to those of public transport. Tourists rent tuk-tuks for days or even months. Few people rent and travel across the country the whole time in tuk-tuks. You need an international driving license or a permit to drive in Sri Lanka. Also, know the basic road and traffic rules and speed limits.

Two-wheelers

  • Two-wheelers are a common mode of transport mostly used by the country’s locals. 
  • There are very few popular tourist places where you can rent two-wheelers. 
  • A few homestays also offer rental services to their customers. 
  • Helmets are compulsory for pillion riders as well in Sri Lanka. 
  • Please check the other basic road and traffic rules before hitting the road.

During a month-long journey while visiting Sri Lanka, we used a mix of transport systems like trains, buses, and tuk-tuks. We didn’t opt for renting taxis, tuk-tuks, or two-wheelers as we didn’t have an international license back then.

If you have any queries, feel free to drop your questions below in the comment section. For more such helpful travel guides, tips, detailed itineraries, detailed guides, or anything related to travel, subscribe to the newsletter and follow us on social media – Instagram, Youtube, and Pinterest.

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2 comments

Sri Lankan 08/28/2023 - 1:51 AM

Though prices have gone high in Sri Lanka in recent few months, train tickets are still very cheap as compared with others.

Reply
Twins 08/29/2023 - 9:36 PM

You’re right. Trains are the most comfortable and affordable mode of transport in Sri Lanka.

Reply

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