Getting around Sri Lanka is easy, the island is relatively small, you can hire cars, bikes and rickshaws or make use of the bus and train network. You may find some of the transport options we considered and researched help with your own Sri Lanka travel planning.
Transport Options for Getting Around Sri Lanka
We spent our first few days planning how we would get around to the places we wanted to visit in Sri Lanka and so far have come up with too many options. This is quite a pleasant predicament to be in, as getting around Sri Lanka is relatively easy.
Self drive car rental – this is an expensive but convenient option, the road traffic, apart from Colombo, seems OK and we hear that the roads are pretty well maintained of late, we got quotes at around $30 US a day plus your fuel and additional mileage charges (they all seem to have a free mileage limit of 100KM a day). The cars are not that new, but perfectly functional.
Moped or Scooter hire will cost you around $5-8 per day, but the slow pace will mean you will have to travel slowly and reduce your backpack size to make it manageable for long distance transport on your scooter. The better alternative is to hire a scooter when you arrive at a destination for a day or so to explore and use public transport to cover the larger distances. You can also hire scooters much cheaper for a day from the locals.
Self drive auto rickshaw rental – this is less expensive than car hire, more convenient than a moped/scooter, but may be.a little risky to handle the three wheels. We got quotes for this at $8-10 per day including all insurances, but you need to add the fuels costs. We saw a few families who had taken this option and were driving their own hired tuk-tuks.
Driver and auto rickshaw hire, this is still less expensive than self drive car hire, but our confidence in the drivers knowing places outside Negombo was low. We did go down this road for a while and managed to get the price down to $14 per day including all allowances for the driver accommodation and food. But you pay the fuel on top of this.
Local Buses and Trains (D.I.Y.) – this is by far the cheapest option, but information is a little difficult to come by on bus times and we have to rely on local knowledge to find bus routes, trains are much easier, but we can only book at the stations, no on line booking is available. The trains also don’t really serve the Central Province for our cultural triangle bit of our trip so buses are your best option here.
We will let you know our travel decisions for each destination as we traverse the island, here is our first.
Getting from Negombo to Anuradhapura
We believe there are direct buses that depart from Colombo to Anuradhapura, but we didn’t fancy the trek into the capital city to find one. It’s also difficult to find out information as to where they depart from or what times they leave from any on-line travel resources. If you want to get from Negombo to Anuradhapura here are the options we discovered.
You can get the train from Kattuwa station in Negombo to Puttalam then transfer to the bus here for the final two hours of your journey. The train times are 5.20am, 9.25am and 1.30pm there are only third class unreserved seats and the journey takes three to three and a half hours according to the ticket master at the local railway station. You will then sit on a bus for a couple hours from here to get to your final destination.
We decided in the end that the chance of having to stand for the whole train journey or getting the ridiculously early train to guarantee a seat was too much so we opted for the bus for this leg.
The number 34 buses will get you to Kurunegala which is about a third of the way in distance terms to Anuradhapura, here you swap buses to get to your end point. The buses start at Negombo’s fancy new bus station (complete with LED information screens in English and Sinhalese). However, if you wander to the main road which runs parallel to Negombo beach road (about 800 metres away) you can stick your hand out when you see a bus with the number 34 on it.
We ended up going to the main station to check out the facilities but as we approached the place near our hotel on the main road there were still plenty of seats on our bus for the 7.30am departure we took. So if you set off early you will easily get a seat. The drivers helper may ask if you want to pay for a seat for your luggage, you can if you want but we just plopped it at the front of the bus next to the driver and didn’t pay any extra. The fare to Kurunegala was 190 LKR (US $1.50) on the luxury (ahem!) bouncy small bus. I guess if you took the big Sri Lanka Ashok Leyland ™ regular bus the fare would be nearer 100 LKR.
We arrived at Kurunegala at about 9.45am with sore bums and a shaky feeling from the bumpy road. Finding a bus at Kurunegala to Anuradhapura was straightforward, ask anyone at the station and they will point you to the right stand. We had a choice of basic or luxury buses which were about to depart, which means your bum hurts slightly less on the luxury buses, but both had open windows and no AC. This stretch of the journey took three hours and costs 158 LKR each. It was cool with the breeze wafting in through the open windows and doors. Incidentally the bus ride was much smoother than the first leg and I managed to get a load of picture editing done on the journey.
The buses here pick up where they can so you will be in for frequent stops, what they don’t seem to do is stop for cigarette or toilet breaks so plan accordingly. At the main bus station stops, traders will pile on the bus to supply you with snacks, drinks, nuts, popcorn or even toys and gold jewellery!
The view out of the window on the journey is interesting as you pass through smaller towns and paddy fields, banana groves and coconut plantations. You will be dispatched from the bus at the main bus terminal in Anuradhapura from where the local rickshaw drivers will be happy to escort you to their chosen guest house or hotel or ferry you to your pre booked accommodation around the New Town for 50 LKR.
We’ll be letting you know in future posts why we wouldn’t recommend staying in Anuradhapura, and if you’re on a low budget or backpacking around Sri Lanka, why you may want to skip this destination completely and omit it from your own Sri Lanka travel itinerary.