Getting around in Sri Lanka for the independent traveller is easy…and by following these tips it becomes even easier.
1.Before you even get on the plane to fly to Sri Lanka, cut down on your luggage. You really won’t need all those clothes you plan to bring. Concentrate on a few lightweight cotton garments. Knee-length shorts are fine (but not skimpy ones) for daytime travelling around.
2.In Sri Lanka, you can buy mosquito coils to burn at night, and anti-diarrhoea pills for tummy upsets as well as local herbal lotions for sun tanning, so you don’t have to pack those things either.
3.Bottled mineral water is sold throughout the country but you might like to bring a sturdy travelling water bottle to fill before long journeys.
4.Luggage with wheels are a nuisance when trying to move through crowds or board trains and buses. A simple backpack is best, but take care not to swipe fellow passengers with it when you move about.
5.Keep your eye on your bag whenever you travel; keep valuables (such as passport and money) in a hidden, zippered pocket or money belt. Make photocopies of all valuable documents and keep them separate from the originals.
6.Change traveller’s cheque or cash into local currency at the banks on arrival at the airport as rates in hotels are not so good. ATMs are in all towns and accept foreign credit cards for cash loans. Inform your credit card company that you’ll be using your card in Sri Lanka, so it won’t get blocked.
7.There is no dedicated bus or train service for flight passengers from the Bandaranaike International Airport, but Bus Route Number 187 (cross the main road outside the terminal to the bus stop) goes to Colombo, a journey of 32km that takes more than an hour.
8.Taxis can be pre-booked and paid for before you leave the airport terminal building, or you can check the price to your destination at the taxi desk and then negotiate with the freelance drivers outside.
9.The smart way to travel for a long journey is to fly. Cinnamon Air (www.cinnamonair.com) operates fixed wing, single engine air taxi flights from the airport to Kandy, Sigiriya, Trincomalee and the south. Helicopters can also be chartered.
10.Yes, you can hire a self-drive car but, when you see the idiosyncratic way people drive in Sri Lanka (such as overtaking on the inside), you may decide it’s less stress to hire a vehicle with a driver who is experienced in local driving skills, than to drive yourself.
11.Actually, the easiest way to see Sri Lanka is to hire a car, or a mini-van, with a knowledgeable driver, so you can tour independently to your own itinerary. This can be arranged in advance through tour operators or by making personal contact with licensed guides and drivers outside your hotel.
12.There are reputable radio taxi services (as well as hotel limousines) operating in Colombo and these can be hired for city tours (or for out-of-town journeys at a discount), at a daily or per kilometre rate. There are no taxi ranks, except at five-star hotels.
13.For thrills, try the open-sided three wheeler taxis known as tuk-tuks, which can be hailed kerbside. Some have meters with rates beginning at Rs50 per km. In country areas, where tuk-tuks lurk at every corner, negotiate the price before boarding.
14.There are four kinds of buses operating in Sri Lanka, distinguished by their coloured destination boards: yellow is Normal Service at the normal fare; blue is Semi Luxury at 1.50 times the normal fare; green is Luxury at twice the normal fare; purple is Super Luxury at three times the normal fare.
15.Both private and state buses operate islandwide, and serve even the most isolated villages.
16.In Colombo buses begin from the Central Bus Stand in Pettah, close to the railway station. Air conditioned buses cost more but stop less so the journey is less arduous. Meal and toilet breaks are made on long journeys.
18.Trains with 2nd and 3rd class carriages serve major destinations, with some seats bookable in advance at Colombo Fort Railway Station.
19.Apart from the luxury carriages attached to some trains to Kandy, Badulla, Anuradhapura and Matara run by private companies, trains are generally crowded and not very comfortable. Check timetables on www.gov.lk
Do it yourself
20.Motorbikes, scooters, pedal bicycles, mountain bikes, and even horses, can be hired for independent travel. Trekking is possible in the hill country too with knowledgeable guides available in the locality.