Practical Life in Colombo

Transport in Colombo

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Public Transportation in Colombo

There are several ways of getting around in Sri Lanka. Transport options include buses, trains, tuk tuks and Ola and Uber/ taxis/ private cars with drivers. There is, however, no metro or subway.

Buses in Sri Lanka

The Sri Lanka Transport Board (SLTB) has its own fleet of buses which are the main means of public transportation locally. Main stations include Central Bus Stand and Gunasinghapura Bus Terminal. The most important lines are: 100 Petta-Panadura/Moratuwa, 103 Ford-Narahenpita, 112 Kotahene-Maharagama, and 120 Pettah. The conductor will announce each stop verbally, and call the end station out the door to passengers boarding. Push the stop button on the roof, or pull the rope to signal that you want off. If you are unsure, Sri Lankans are very friendly so just ask.

To hail a bus, simply wave when the bus approaches. Bus fare is generally from 10 to 50 Rs depending on the distance. First take a seat, and then the conductor will come by to collect your fare and issue a ticket.

Public buses can be spotted by their red color and two seats on either side of the aisle. Note that buses are often quite crowded, especially around poya (full moon). Buses travel within the city but can also be taken to cross the country.

Private Buses in Sri Lanka

Private buses also run in cities and across Sri Lanka. They are usually blue, pink or green, have more seats, and air conditioning. Prices are not much more than public buses, and private buses sometimes run in areas where public buses do not.

You can also find small minibuses that run tourist routes and are the most expensive option.

Tuk Tuks in Colombo

Quaint tuk-tuks ae the ideal way to commute within the city. Three wheeled vehicles with motorbike handlebars, these are also known as bajajs or rickshaws. They are easy to use and a must-do cultural experience.

While they are usually parked at tourist locations, you will get a better rate if you flag them down outside of the busiest areas. Feel free to bargain on the fare but agree on a price before boarding the rickshaw. Generally, the price is Rs 150 - 200 per kilometre.

If you are feeling more adventurous, you can hire and drive your own tuk tuk.

Train in Sri Lanka

If you want to see Sri Lanka by train, you can use the Sri Lankan railway (website in English). There are reserved First Class, Second Class and Third Class carriages (benches), as well as an unreserved area. You can book a reserved ticket up to 30 days before departure and your seat number will be on your ticket. If you haven't reserved a spot, you can always buy tickets on the unreserved area, but it is usually very crowded with standing room only. Tickets can be purchased online or at the train stations.

Unfortunately, there is no air conditioning but opening the windows can keep things cooler.

Scenic routes include Kandy to Badulla with stops on Adam's Peak, Nuwara Eliya, and Ella.

Plane Travel

There are two major international airports in Sri Lanka:

In the rare case you need to travel within Sri Lanka, you can book a flight with Sri Lankan Airlines or the local carrier, Cinnamon Air.

Transport to/from Airport

You can use taxi services, chauffeur-driven rented cars, bus or tuk-tuk to carry you from the airport to your local destination in Colombo. You have the option of comparing rates and booking your transfers online, from the airport to your destinations.

Bus: The cheapest way to reach the city is by public bus. Bus 187-E3 runs from Colombo central bus station to/from the airport. The fare is 120 Rs and takes about 30 minutes. The bus runs twice every hour, til about 7:30 pm. Private buses are also available and should be marked as 187 (187-E3 if it takes the expressway). These cost around 200 Rs.

Taxi: The journey to Colombo by taxi takes about an hour in traffic, but just half an hour if the roads are clear. Expect to pay 2,500 Rs to and from the city.

Trains: Trains run from Katunayaka South Railway near the airport to Fort, Colombo. A single one-way trip costs 500 Rs per person. Trains run only once a day and at different schedules on each day of the week. Train timetable info is also available on a Government site. Online booking is available

Airport Transfer: Hiring a car is another popular option and sightseeing can be arranged as well as a simply transferring from the airport.

Uber: Another option is to book an Uber. This is inexpensive about 1,800 Rs and reliable.

Taxis in Sri Lanka

There are several companies that run taxi services within Sri Lanka.   

  • Kangaroo Cabs - Reputable taxi company with special deals to the airport.
  • Mal Key Rent a Car (94 777 699 162)
  • Budget Taxi (94 11 729-9299)

Agree on a fare and destination before entering a cab to avoid being taken for a ride, pardon the pun! You can ask for two or three estimates from different cab/taxi companies, compare the prices offered and go for the one you are comfortable with.

Charges start at 40 Rs/km with air-conditioning. Giving tips for a taxi ride are generally not considered standard practice.

Car Hire in Sri Lanka

Many travellers choose the self-drive option to cover Sri Lanka, which works out well because it is cheaper and allows for flexibility of stay in the places you are visiting. Most major car rental companies are available in Sri Lanka. Expect to pay US $30 per day. You can also rent a motorbike.

A foreigner can drive around in Sri Lanka after obtaining an International Driving License. This can be obtained from your country of origin, prior to arriving in Sri Lanka. It costs US $20. A Temporary Sri Lankan Driving License has to be obtained from the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) in Werahera to be able to drive legally in Sri Lanka. If the license is not in English, a translation is required. More information can be found on the Discover Sri Lanka page.

Driving in Sri Lanka

Roads and highways are, on average, quite well-maintained for a developing nation. The traffic conditions are not the same as in the developed world and require practice getting used to.

  • Sri Lankans drive on the left side of the road.
  • Speed limits are generally 35km/h in the city, 55km/h in the country
  • Parking rules are in place in Sri Lanka and need to be strictly adhered to.
  • Mw is an abbreviation for Mawatha, meaning "Avenue".

Hiring a Driver in Sri Lanka

A better option is to get a car and a driver for your trip. You can rent a taxi for the day, or rent a driver for your trip. Expect to pay 8,000 to 11,000 Rs per day. Companies:

Update 22/07/2018


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