Getting Around Sri Lanka
Domestic air services around Sri Lanka are limited, and most tourists travel by either road or train. You can arrange charter flights with FitsAir (www.fitsair.com), Cinnamon Air (www.cinnamonair.com) or Simplify (http://simplifly.com).
Included in the fare.
Sri Lanka has a widespread road network, which accounts for nearly 95% of land transport across the country. Driving tends to be erratic, and most travellers either employ a locally knowledgeable driver or use public transport.
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The quality of the country’s road varies considerably. The main coastal arteries are modern and well maintained, while many of the mountain roads are poor quality and pockmarked with holes. Roadworks are everywhere, demonstrating the island’s increasing prosperity and its commitment to infrastructure development.
This is available from several international agencies, including Hertz, Dollar and Thrifty, which are available through local partner Andrew The Car Rental Company (tel: +94 11 2369 836, http://andrewrentacarsrilanka.com). Air-conditioned minibuses are also available, and you can hire motorised rickshaws in towns and villages. Chauffeur-driven cars are less expensive and recommended. To hire a car, you must have a valid driving licence and be 18 or over.
These have yellow tops and red and white plates. In Colombo, taxis are metered but it's advisable to agree a rate before setting off. Drivers expect a 10% tip. A cheaper and more authentic option is to flag down a tuk-tuk - these open rickshaws are available for hire in abundance across the country.
Cycling in the cities is inadvisable, but in rural areas bikes are becoming increasingly common. There are four National Cycle Trails. Most bike hire agencies are concentrated in Colombo and Negombo.
The cheapest and most fun way to get around Sri Lanka is by bus. Most vehicles are ancient, atmospheric and packed with chattering locals, and major routes include Colombo to Kandy, Colombo to Matara and Colombo to Jaffna. The National Transport Commission (www.ntc.gov.lk) publishes timetables.
Most roads are tarred, with a 56kph (35mph) speed limit in built-up areas and 75kph (45mph) outside towns. The minimum age for driving a car is 18.
The Automobile Association of Ceylon (www.aaceylon.lk) offers a national breakdown service.
In order to avoid bureaucratic formalities in Sri Lanka, you should obtain an International Driving Permit before departure. If not, you can obtain a temporary licence on presentation of a valid national driving licence. This must be endorsed at the AA office in Colombo.
The Sri Lanka Transport Board runs public buses in Colombo, where there are also private buses and minibuses. Fares are generally collected by conductors, and you can expect services to be crowded.
Trains connect Colombo with all tourist towns, but first-class carriages, air conditioning and dining cars are available on only a few. You can buy tickets online from Sri Lanka Railways (www.railway.gov.lk). Fast services operate on the major routes, including an intercity express service between Colombo and Kandy.
First-class carriages almost always book up in advance, so it’s best to secure your ticket early.
There is no official river transport network, but several tour operators offer river cruises on the Bentota and Polwatta rivers.