Bus, Train, Tuc Tuc – Sri Lanka: How to travel around

We all know it, the excitement when planning the next trip. When we try to find the loveliest, cheapest or just best located accommodations, the must sees and of course, how to get from one point to another. Bus, train, plane, rent a car, take a driver, a taxi or a tuc tuc? There are so many opportunities and ways to travel a country. Some are more comfortable, some are cheaper. In the end you have to weigh up the pros and cons and take what best fits your preferences and wishes.

Before I left to travel Sri Lanka I tried really hard to find out how to come from one point to another. I read my Travel Guide, I googled and browsed through a hundred blogs and web sites and with reading more and more I continued to ask myself: “What the hell? Why did I choose Sri Lanka? I will never be able to get from one point to another!” The horror stories seemed never-ending. Although I have to admit, that I was a little bit afraid of taking the public traffic, I never felt, that I made the wrong decision. Therefor I would like to tell you my experiences and hope, that this would help you more than the cryptical advices I found on the Web.

Going BY BUS is super easy in Sri Lanka. Here are some helpful tips and rules you should stick to:

Time wise: There are simply no schedules. Not online, nor on the spot. Nevertheless the busses are leaving regularly. Just ask a local. The next bus will leave within the next minutes and most of the people around you know exactly which one you have to take and where the bus stop is. When someone tells you the bus ride will take 4 hours, it will take 5 for sure and probably up to 9, if you might get stuck in a traffic jam, there is construction work on the road, the weather is not that good or other reasons you could think of. Never plan your trip in Sri Lanka tight. Everything will take a little bit longer, trust me.

Try to avoid rush hours. I had the impression, that the best time to take the bus is in the early morning (before everyone is going to school or work) or shortly after that, around 9. The next rush hour will start shortly after noon and lasts approx. until 3. If the route is short you can also easily go after 4pm I would suggest. As I never took the bus in the night I cannot give any advice on that.

Stopping a bus will be tricky. Try to always wait at a station – they are often hard to find, but here applies the same method as with the schedule of the bus: just ask a local, often they even take the time to bring you to the station!

As a girl/women: wear something over your legs – at least to the knee and keep you shoulders covered as well. I always have a thin scarf with me, that’s super practical. No one will judge you for wearing shorts and shirt, but it is just so much easier to show some respect.

Monks are always offered a seat. This also applies to pregnant women and old people. Women are not allowed to sit next to a monk.

How do you know where you are? When driving through a city or village it is very easy to figure out where you are as the overhead banner at every shop shows its address in the last row. So just have a look outside the window and check your map. This will give you a feeling of how far you are and how long it will still takes you to get to your destination.

Make sure you also read my 5 Must Knows when traveling Sri Lanka, as I will reveal the “secret” of how much a bus ride will cost you!

If you wanna save money, drive with the local busses – there are private and public ones, the blue white ones, which you can see on the picture below, are the private ones, the red ones are the public ones. These are much cheaper than the small tourist busses. The difference: Air Condition. But as the windows are open most of the time and if you avoid traveling at noon you will be totally fine without AC!

Sr iLanka Hikkaduwa Bus

Taking the TRAIN in Sri Lanka is definitely an adventure. But one that is worth it.

I only took the train once, from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya, which is supposed to be the most beautiful route in Sri Lanka, but unfortunately it was raining. Nevertheless I had a lot of fun and got to know a lot about the Sri Lankan culture.

If you wanna drive within the first or second class be sure to be at the train station very early, the line will be dreadful long! My tip is to ask for the train schedule the day before so you can be there in advance the next day. We decided to just skip the line and take the 3rd class. I´ve heard so many horror stories about the third class that my impression was we could probably just win with having absolute no hope for an easy ride and be open to conviction. And I got surprised once more.

What applies to both, busses and trains: Always keep an eye on your luggage, keep you daypack with your passport close to you. There are so many people entering and leaving, but you for sure don’t want them to take your backpack with you 😉

Have a rough feeling on where you are, this will help you to get off the train right on time. Jumping off a driving train can be very painful!!

Sri Lanka Trainride
A train ride from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya on a rainy, cloudy day.

TUC TUCs might me tricky 😉

My idea would have been to buy a Tuc Tuc and drive through the country BUT as I was traveling solo and new the roads wouldn’t be that good and I only had 3 weeks, I decided again it. But I am sure it would have been much fun! In case you should do it or did it (also in another country) please tell me about your experiences!

But, let´s continue: As mentioned in my blog post about the must know when traveling Sri Lanka, Tuc Tuc driver will try to get a lot of money out of you as soon as they recon you are a tourist/foreigner. Therefor always negotiate and fix a price before the Tus Tuc ride starts.

Sometimes Tuc Tuc driver or private Driver randomly stop at friends shops or restaurants or similar and try to get you to buy something there. Here one of my rules for Sri Lanka applies: Kindly say no if you don´t want to. In the end it is you who is paying them so they should offer you the service you asked for and don´t try to sell you anything else 😉

Sri Lanka Galle TucTuc Ride

A PRIVATE DRIVER  – because you worth it? 😛

For me journey south from Adams peak I shared a private driver with two other girls. These are my Pros and Cons for taking a private driver:

Plus: it is quite comfortable, the driver stops whenever you want (to take pictures ;)), and it saves you time when you would have had to change bus or train more than once for the route.

Minus: you pay a lot. If you share the price with others, and there is simply not other route, or the alternative would have been a roundabout way, it is ok. But when I could choose once again I would always prefer the bus because it is just that cheap.

At the end you yourself have to know which kind of traveler you are and what you prefer. I hope I could help out with that post and if you still should have open questions regarding traveling around in Sri Lanka – leave me a comment! 🙂

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58 Responses
  1. I’ve never been to Sri Lanka, but I enjoyed reading this because it was very similar to taking cheap buses in Romania. No schedules, hard to find bus stops, super cheap (one dollar tickets)…I think your suggestion to give yourself extra time and go with the flow is a good one.

    1. malindkate

      So glad you enjoyed reading my blog post and if you have any questions don´t hesitate to ask – there are still some posts about Sri Lanka following soon, so make sure you subscribe for the updates! 🙂

  2. EG III

    Very detailed and informative post. I personally went the private driver route when I went back in January, with a few tuk tuk rides here and there, but after reading this I feel like i definitely missed out on something by not trying the train or buses.

    1. malindkate

      Thank you EG III, I am afraid you really might have missed a little adventure. Did you share the driver? Did you think of renting out a car yourself? How was your experience with the driver? Would love to hear a little bit more about that, as I only took one route with a private driver 🙂

  3. Great article. I enjoyed reading what you had to say and the pictures are pretty to look at. It’s funny that I come upon this as I am about to plan my next vacation. Disneyworld! I have never been and it will be an exciting time. Have you gone?

  4. I haven’t been in Sri Lanka, but I got good impression from people who travelled there. I enjoy reading your post, and smile at the time table of bus’ schedule. It reminds me of my origin country, Indonesia. Basicly no time table, just go with the flow lol.

  5. Shawn

    I have been to several places in that region. Sri Lanka is still missing, but I plan to visit it in the near future, and I will certainly save this article and use it to plan my trip. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Great tips. I’ve never been to Sri Lanka but my brother did. He did enjoyed himself while he was there. It’s good to know that there are other road transportation to choose. Sounds like you had an enjoyable trip there. I love reading about traveling and thanks for sharing this.

  7. I love how you compared all modes of transportation in this article, it is definitely helpful for those planning trips to Sri Lanka. Train rides are my fave, they are perfectly scenic and have that old-time feel

  8. Sounds just like traveling in India! We were to go to SriLanka for a mini vacation, just the husband and I, when we visited India earlier this year, but the plans got cancelled due to bad weather! I am so bummed. Hopefully we will get to do it soon!

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