Transport in Sri Lanka may, at first thought, seem troublesome, but it really wasn’t that bad. It is a great way to see some stunning scenery as you get from place to place – it’s basically killing two birds with one stone! My first pick of transport is always the train. Unlike flying, you don’t need to turn up hours in advance, and unlike buses, motion sickness is much less of a threat. Train journeys are usually decently priced too.
World famous in Sri Lanka is the Kandy to Ella train trip – about five hours long and some absolutely breathtaking scenery. My top tips for this are to book in advance (you can buy tickets online, up to 30 days prior) because it certainly sells out during peak season, book second class tickets rather than first (although you get air con in first class, you don’t get windows – therefore no fresh air and none of those incredible photo opportunities which seem to be flooding Insta’ these days) and lastly, if possible sit on the right hand side of the train for the first half of the trip and then switch to the left hand side for the second half – this is when the scenery is at its finest. We travelled from Kandy to Haputale, Haputale to Ella and Galle to Colombo by train, and I maintain that this was the best way to get around.
The other option which we ended up using more frequently than I had anticipated was the local buses, and boy did this save us some serious pennies! Each bus trip costs between 50 and 150R, versus the literal thousands of rupees you can pay for a long haul journey with a private driver. Admittedly the bus has its downfalls: it is first in first served, so on a few occasions I found myself standing in the aisle (although the turnover tends to be quite high, so you will get a seat sooner or later), it can get hot if you can’t get near a window or a fan, and the majority of the drivers are manic! Buses seem to rule the roads of Sri Lanka; the drivers will hurtle along narrow windy roads with the expectation that everything else will move.
Tuk-tuks are a slightly more pricey (but certainly still affordable) option, with the benefit of only one or two passengers and fresh air all the way. We did find that after an hour or two we started to get pretty uncomfortable – and this would be even more so if you had luggage. We used tuk-tuks a lot to get home from dinner at night (because it gets dark so early), or if the attractions we were visiting were within about an hour range.
The last option is to hire a private driver. We only chose this option once, because it was just so much more expensive than anything else and the comfort it provided us couldn’t justify the price to us. For a 5 hour trip, expect to pay about US$80-100. The benefits are that it is faster, you always get to exactly where you want to be dropped off, there is usually air-con (sometimes they make you pay a little bit extra for this though) and the driver is happy to stop where ever you ask him to. Lots of accommodation have ‘drivers quarters’ which are minimalist rooms for where you can put your driver up for the night if he is travelling with you long-term.
Taking a mixture of transport modes is fun and can keep the trip exciting. Each has its own perks, and the landscape of Sri Lanka is just so beautifully diverse that all modes provide opportunities for some stunning views.