Public Transportation in Sri Lanka is based mainly on the road system which is centred to the capital city Colombo. An agreeable network of metalled roads link all major towns and tourist destinations such as Kandy, Habarana, Polonnaruwa, Galle, Puttalam, Trincomalee, etc to each other. There is also an extensive railway network which is an inheritance of British colonial rule and is less appropriate for modern transport requirements. There are also navigable waterways, harbours and airports, including the only international airport, Katunayake which is located 22 miles north of Colombo. The highways and roadways around the capital are in very good condition and are being upgraded constantly.
Air – A flight to Sri Lanka will land you at the Bandaranaike International Airport, situated 22 km north of the commercial capital Colombo. This airport is the only point of entry for international travelers. Mini buses and taxis operate between the airport and the various other cities of the country. Sri Lanka has some domestic passenger flights; and they operate chartered flights from the Ratmalana Airport near Colombo and Minneriya in the north central region of the country.
Road – Like other South Asian countries, Sri Lanka too is infamous for its chaotic traffic. Over 70% of the nation’s traffic is navigated on a network of metalled roads which are literally the back bone of the country. Most of them are in excellent condition and are easy to follow, whereas avoiding the others is advised. Traffic moves on the left-hand side of the road and the average speed limit of traffic within city limits is 50 – 60 km per hour, while it is up to 80 km per hour up on the highway and on the countryside. A driver’s license is a must when you drive on these roads.
Three Wheeler – The most common mode of public transport in Sri Lanka is via a three wheeler which is also known as a tuk-tuk or trishaw. They operate in a manner similar to taxis, and are a highly cost-efficient way to get around. They are available as local transport in Colombo and many provincial towns. Unlike taxis they do not have metres, so you may have to negotiate with the driver before you get in. If you are aware of the distance to your destination a thumb rule for bargaining is at the rate of Rs. 20 – 30 per km. Your trip to Sri Lanka is incomplete without a ride on one of these colourful, bouncy three wheelers.
Taxis – Taxis are easily found in major cities and can be hired from taxi companies. Unlike the tuk-tuks, they are metered so getting about is fairly more financially reliable and is said to be safer. Radio cabs which are famous in Colombo and the surrounding suburbs are metered at the rate of Rs. 28 per km. There is no charge for calling these cabs and they can be rented for inter city trips as well. A note to remember is that you do not have to tip the taxi driver in this part of the world.
Chauffer driven coaches – Coaches are also readily available and these are probably the best way to travel in Sri Lanka. The responsibility for the vehicle rests with the driver who also doubles up as a guide. The guides are usually government-licensed and some are extremely knowledgeable and multi-lingual, specialising in historical, cultural and environmental knowledge and become extremely helpful on visits to the ancient sites and the nature parks.
Bus – A nation wide network of buses operates in Sri Lanka. They are crowded and uncomfortable most of the time, but they get you around for almost nothing as it costs about a dollar to get half-way across the country. Air conditioned private buses run most routes for twice the price, which offers a guaranteed seat. Bus stations are confusing places, especially the big ones, however Sri Lankans are helpful and friendly and almost anyone would be happy to assist you if you need help.
Trains – There are four main rail lines which run across this island, and this network covers all the major towns and important tourist spots. The railway system in Sri Lanka becomes delightfully picturesque when entering the hill country due to the winding tracks along the mountains. You will be able to witness the stunning view of the hills as the train makes its way around gorgeous waterfalls and verdant tea gardens. Traveling by train is more comfortable, pleasing and even less expensive than buses. The trains normally have three classes, with first class being the best and most expensive. These trains also offer air-conditioned coaches, observation saloons for tourists who enjoy taking in the scenery and sleeping berths. Each saloon comes with its own smoking lounge and a modern toilet. There is a restaurant on board to fulfill your cravings, while you enjoy the scenic view as the train travels through the spectacular countryside.