Sri Lanka is a compact country so domestic flights are limited. Newer highways are reducing travel times for those who take the bus. However, trains are the more comfortable way to get around. The best way to see Sri Lanks is on a bike and there is an excellent network of roads to get you around to every corner of the country.

Flights & Airports

Bandaranaike International Airport (CMB) is located 22 miles (35 km) north of Colombo, next to the town of Negombo.  A ride from the airport into Colombo takes about 45-90 minutes depending on traffic. If you have a late departing or arriving flight, consider staying in Negombo to reduce your transfer time to or from the airport. Also, if you are doing a bike ride that travels up to the Sigiriya area first, Negombo is the better starting point. You can then visit Colombo after the ride as you will probably be coming up from the south.

Colombo is a rapidly changing city and has enough to see and do to keep you occupied for a couple of days. 

Train Travel

The British developed Sri Lanka's railway network, which today is reliable and comfortable. Given that road travel on main roads and in motorized vehicles is generally slow and unpleasant, the train is a fantastic way to see more of Sri Lanka, miss some of the harder or less interesting cycling bits, and relax. 

There are three key routes that are scenic and highly enjoyable:

  • Colombo to Kandy, with the second half of the journey being a little more scenic than the first
  • Kandy to Nanu Oya (Nuwara Eliya), the scenery improves in the second half of the trip. 
  • Nanu Oya through to Ella

The Kandy to Nanu Oya train journey is a particularly beautiful one with rolling green hills, towering cliffs and in the wetter months, waterfalls crashing down escarpments. We really recommend including a train ride on any trip to Sri Lanka, as it affords the freedom of walking around the train car.

Train classes

  • Government operated first class
  • Private operated first class
  • Second class
  • Third class

Advance booking with seat allocation is problematic and often the seats are sold out. This is partly due to ticket scalping. The private tickets sell out quite quickly too, but realistically these carriages are not overly pleasant. Second and third class are actually a much more interesting experience. You’ll be among Sri Lankan people and many of them will probably want to talk about cricket and to know where you are from. Consider buying a seat in a more comfortable part of the train, and then venture through the train to mingle with the locals while enjoying some really beautiful mountain scenery.

Road Travel

Cars

It's possible to rent a car in Sri Lanka and drive yourself, but if you are uncomfortable with this challenging task you'll be a lot better off with a driver. There is a system in place in Sri Lanka where there are drivers called "Chauffeur Guides". These are drivers who speak English and do actually know quite a bit about the country.  Chauffeur Guides prefer you stay in the larger hotels as these places usually have Drivers Quarters where the driver is fed and accommodated.

Note: Extended road travel can be tedious because of the winding roads and density of traffic, so you'll want to be sure that you have a good driver. Meet the driver before setting off to make sure you are a good fit. 

Buses

Most local buses are known as Ashoka Leyland. These appear to be based on a design that may have been popular in the 1960's, although a few have aircon units attached. Extended travel in one of these buses might not be the most enjoyable, but they do access every corner of the country, making them a useful mode of local transport. 

Bikes

Cycling is a terrific way to see Sri Lanka, given that the country has an incredible network of roads. You wouldn't want to set off without some knowledge of how to navigate them, but they will take you to some amazing places, far away from the regular tourist stops.

Motorbikes deserve a short mention. You can rent and ride these, but you need a license, otherwise, you will spend a lot of time paying informal fines to police along the way. 

Recent Trip Reviews

Related trips planned by kimkim specialists

Getting around in sri lanka: all you need to know, Sri Lanka - Jun 25 - Jun 27, 2018

Traveler: brian c. - Local specialist: Sandun Jayasundara

The trip was great, very enjoyable, relaxing and beautiful. I had a wonderful time, the suriya resort was very welcoming, comfortable, and just a nice place to be. The staff were fantastic as were the facilities. My kimkim facilitator Sandun was informative, helpful and patient with me, and made the entire process very easy.