When and Where to Take Public Transport In Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka has to be the one Asian country where I used the most diverse range of transport to get around. The island is relatively small, which means no place is too far away making public transport quite bearable and cost effective. Before leaving, people had suggested we hire a private driver to take us to each of our destinations, however I am a huge advocate of travelling like a local so wanted to give the trains and buses a try.

Colombo Airport to Colombo City

$: Local Bus

$$$: Private Taxi

I was planning to take the local bus, however our plans changed which meant we ended up getting a taxi transfer to our hotel from the airport. I think this was quite steep in cost (maybe around $50 AUD) however it was ideal for us as we arrived in Colombo after dark. The local bus however costs a fraction of the price ($1 AUD) and only takes around 40 minutes to get to the city (probably double that if travelling peak times).

Colombo to Kandy

$: Government Train

$$: Private Train

Colombo to Kandy is quite a short journey, around 2-3 hours so you can leave early and arrive in Kandy before midday to make the most of it. The trains in Sri Lanka are some of the best train journeys in the world – I recommend you do at least one when visiting Sri Lanka! The government train booking system however can be quite difficult, especially over peak season and public holidays (more about that later) so think about the time of the year before decided whether to go private or public. There best private train to go for it the Expo Rail which can be booked in advance on their site. You get reserved seats in an air conditioned carriage plus a snack for around $13 AUD.

Kandy to Ella/Badulla

$: Government Train

$$: Private Train

Well this was one journey to remember. This was our most difficult journey to plan and we spent AGES trying to find a way around the fact that there is no way to book the Sri Lanka government trains online. There are different classes available on these trains, some reserved seats (sounds OK right?) well, you can’t actually book these tickets until 30 days in advance from the train station only, not ideal if you’re not already in the country. I won’t go into too much detail about the seat classes as The Man In Seat 61 explains this brilliantly. In the end, the only tickets we could get were 3rd class unreserved which meant we were stood up like sardines in a sweat box for 7 hours. It’s a good job the views are unreal as this was a real test! Lesson learned: do NOT take the local train on public holidays in Sri Lanka!

Ella to Udawalawe/Mirissa/Tangalle/Matara

$: Local Bus

$$$: Private Driver

Ella to Udawalawe can be a bit of a messy journey; this involves taking two public buses so we decided the best way for us would be to take a private car as we were short on time. This cost us around 7000 rupees however you could probably find cheaper if you shop around/carpool.

Udawalawe to Mirissa was much easier than we thought it was going to be. Every online resource I read told us that the journey was a two-bus trip however the lovely owner at our guest house told us there was a direct bus to Galle that left at 7am and 12 noon which stopped off at Matara and onwards to Galle. It’s about a 3-4 hour journey however worth it if you’re on a shoestring budget. Ask the driver to give you a shout when you arrive as you’ll need to be ready to jump off with your bags as fast as possible!

Mirissa to Unawatuna/Hikkaduwa/Galle

$: Local Bus

$$: Tuk Tuk

$$$: Private Driver

Again this is a much simpler journey as the route literally follows the coast line up the country. You can easily catch a local bus heading to Galle or Colombo (I can’t remember the bus numbers but just ask your guesthouse or hotel) to take you onward to the next place. Like all public transport in Sri Lanka, there’s a good chance you’ll be standing for a while before you get a seat. Make sure you leave your backpack the front of the bus near the driver, and move down the aisle until people get off and you can claim a seat.

Galle to Colombo/Negombo/Airport

$$: Tuk Tuk

$$$: Private Driver

From Una or Hikka, you can take a local bus or a tuk tuk up to Galle. From there you can catch a train up to Colombo. If you’re on a tighter schedule and need to catch a flight, I’d recommend hiring a private car – costs vary but the best we found this for was 7000 – 8000 rupees right to the airport, this will probably be a little cheaper if you’re just going to Colombo city. The journey can take anything from 2.5 – 4 hours depending on traffic

Feel free to post any information or questions in the comments below!

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2 Comments

  1. Sarah
    February 2, 2017 / 10:32 am

    Could you let me know or better still do a post about the clothing you took/wore in Sri Lanka. I’ve been reading ladies should be a bit more conservative when not coastal…

    • Katie | Half A World Away
      February 2, 2017 / 10:35 am

      Absolutely, thanks for letting my know. I can do a post on that in the next week or so if that helps? Katie

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