Public Transportation in Sri Lanka
Experience the modern and old transport systems
Public Transportation in Sri Lanka is based mainly on the road network which is centred on Sri Lanka's capital, Colombo. Good network of metalled roads exists in Sri Lanka linking all major towns and tourist destinations such as Kandy, Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Sigiriya, Galle, kataragama, Puttalama, etc. There is also an extensive railway network but it is largely a legacy of British colonial rule and is less appropriate for the modern transport requirements of Sri Lanka. There are also navigable waterways, harbours and airports, including an international airport, located in Katunayake, 22 miles north of Colombo. The highways and roadways around the capital are in very good condition and being upgraded constanstaly.
Traffic moves on the left-hand side of the road. Speed limits are 56 km per hr in built up areas for cars and two wheelers and 72 km per hr in the countryside. General road and driving information on Sri Lanka is available from the Automobile Association of Ceylon, which also sells a guide to Lankan road rules and road signs called The Highway Code.
Like other South Asian countries, Sri Lanka too is infamous for its chaotic traffic. And if you are coming to Sri Lanka from the United States, give yourself time to get used to people driving on the ‘wrong' side of the street, as cars here drive on the left-hand side of the road. However, the public transport system of this country leaves you with plenty of options to choose from.
When you fly into Sri Lanka, then that you will land at the Bandaranaike International Airport, situated 22 km north of the commercial capital Colombo, this airport is the only port of entry for international travellers. 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.
Sri Lanka's national carrier is ‘Air Lanka’ and there are several international flights that connect the country to various global destinations. These include Indian Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Emirates, British Airways, , Condor Airlines, K.L.M. Royal Dutch Airlines, Gulf Air, Thai Airways, Aeroflot, and Kuwait Airways.
Road network is the backbone of Sri Lanka. Over 70% of the nation's traffic traverses the country using the good network of metalled roads that exist here. 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. You will need an international driving permit to drive on these roads.
Three Wheeler, very popular public transportation in Sri Lanka
The most common mode of public transportation in Sri Lanka is via a three wheeler is also known as a tuk tuk, Three Wheeler taxi is an accepted mode of daily transportation in Sri Lanka. These operate in a manner similar to taxis, and are a highly cost-efficient way to get around. These are available as local transport in Colombo and many provincial towns. These taxis do not have meters so please negotiate a rate with the driver before you get on. If you are aware of the distance to your destination a thumb rule for bargaining is at the rate of 20 to 30 rupees per km. Your trip to Sri Lanka is incomplete without a ride on one of these colourful three wheelers.
Taxis are easily found in the major cities, but the taxis, like the tuk tuks, are not metered. So, it is best to settle a fare before you begin your journey. In Colombo and its suburbs you can get radio cabs, which are metered at the rate of Rs. 28 for the first km and Rs. 24 per additional km thereafter. There is no charge for calling these cabs and they can be rented for inter city trips also. You don't have to tip the taxi driver in this part of the world.
Most hotels recommend specifically rented cabs, which usually turn out cheaper. Other modes of transport include renting cars (which often come with their own drivers). Often the automobile itself is free, whereas the driver will charge a small fee for his services. Some chauffeur/guides are government-licensed; some are extremely knowledgeable and multi-lingual, specialising in historical and cultural knowledge, and environment/natural history for your visits to the ancient sites and the natural reserves.
Hire a Car
Cars are available for self-drive and also with drivers. If you are uncomfortable to driving conditions in Sri Lanka where having to make unexpected manoeuvres then best to go with the option of car with a driver. Self-drive cars can be hired for US $ 300 per month or US $ 20 – 25 per day with a minimum running distance. If you want to experience the challenging road and driving conditions in Sri Lanka, then you can always rent a car and drive your way around the country, though this is not a popular option. Renting a car does not require lengthy credit checks. However, to avoid all the hassle and make the best use of your time, it is advisable to rent a chauffer-driven car or coach. These are easily available facilities will help up to double up as your guide to the land, its culture and people. Most of these vehicles are air conditioned and offer a comfortable ride.
Chauffer driven coaches are also readily available and these are probably the best way to travel in Sri-Lanka, the dual advantages being that the responsibility for the vehicle rests with the driver who also doubles up as a guide. Rates for air conditioned coaches vary with the capacity, make and condition and can ranging from US 50 cents per Km per Person.These coaches of 26 passenger capacity going up to coaches with 40 passenger capacity. Non a/c coaches are much cheaper at less than US 10 cents per km per person. The driver has to be paid a daily allowance of US 50 cents to US $1 per day.
A nation wide network of buses operates in Sri Lanka comprising ‘public’ or ‘peoples’ or worker owned buses referred to as CTB (Ceylon Transport Board) buses, wholly government owned buses. A network of privately owned buses complements this network of government-run buses. Public bus transport in Sri Lanka ranks as one of the cheapest in the world. Express bus services offer a more comfortable and faster means of transportation. Buses Express bus services run to all major towns.
You will find buses everywhere. They're most of times are crowded and uncomfortable, but they get you around for almost nothing; it costs about a dollar to get half-way across Sri Lanka. Air Conditioned private buses run most routes for twice the price, which offers a guaranteed seat. However, they're still uncomfortable. Bus stations are confusing places, especially the big ones, but almost everyone will be delighted to practice their English and help you.
The rail lines that across Sri Lanka are a legacy of British rule. There are four main rail lines, across this island, and this network covers all the major towns and important tourist spots across the country. The first line extends from Colombo to Matara along the west coast. The main line runs from Colombo to Badulla, which covers route to Nuwara Eliya as well. The Railway system in Sri Lanka is very picturesque when entering the hill country because of the winding tracks along the mountains especially on the Badullu-Nanu Oya line. Make sure, if you can, to sit on the right side of the train, as it offers the better view. Sri Lanka has an extensive railway system serving all major towns and cities in the island except for the North and the East. There are special Observation cars for tourists that like to take in the scenery.
This line also branches out to Kandy and is probably the most picturesque journey that you can take. 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. The third and northern line runs to Anuradhapura, the ancient city capital. Fourth rail line runs from Colombo to Batticaloa, the East coast. Travelling by train is more comfortable and picturesque 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 and sleeping berths. These are typically more comfortable than the other coaches. Advance reservations can only be made for first class travel. There are an Intercity Express Train running from Colombo to Kandy. The Viceroy Special is a must if you want to experience a luxurious journey a trip on the 75-year-old passenger steam train, Viceroy Special is a must. This private train is decorated in period style and has two air-conditioned observation saloon carriages. Each saloon comes with its own smoking lounge and a modern toilet. There is a restaurant on board to fulfil your cravings, while you enjoy the scenic view as the train travels through the spectacular countryside.
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