Sri Lankan Airlines operates seaplane service to destinations such as Nuwara Eliya, Kandy, Galle and elsewhere. This is perfect for photography trips because you can get a bird’s eye view of the island and takes less time to get to a destination than using the road. Also the seaplanes land on picturesque lakes and tanks around the island.
Aero Lanka operates domestic flights between Colombo City Airport – Ratmalana, Jaffna and Trincomalee.
- Cinnamon Air (air taxi), No 11, York Street, Colombo 01, +94 11 2 475 451. A Domestic Airline offering daily scheduled flights from Bandaranaike International Airport to Sri Lanka’s most popular destinations.
Ratmalana Airport (RML IATA) is a major domestic airport in Colombo.
- FitsAir — Jaffna, Trincomalee. Charter: Ampara, Anuradhapura, Batticaloa, Hambantota-Mattala, Hambantota-Weerawila, Hingurakgoda, Kalutara, Koggala, Sigiriya, Vavuniya.
- Helitours — Ampara, Anuradhapura, Batticaloa, Hambantota-Mattala, Jaffna, Kilinochchi, Trincomalee, Vavuniya.
- Millennium Airlines — Charter: Anuradhapura, Jaffna, Kalutara, Koggala, Minneriya, Sigiriya, Trincomalee.
For those on a budget buses are everywhere. As a foreigner you maybe be overcharged, simply ask for a ticket to your destination to get the correct fare. They’re sometimes crowded and uncomfortable, but they get you around for almost nothing; it costs about a dollar to get half-way across the island. If you’re planning on splashing out, AC buses run most routes for twice the price, which offer air-conditioning and a guaranteed seat. However, they’re still uncomfortable. Bus stations are confusing places, especially the big ones, but almost everyone will be delighted to practise their English and help you. Also, when travelling by bus, it is local etiquette in most buses to provide or give up the very front passenger seats to members of the clergy such as monks or priests if they are present.
If you’re on a very tight budget, the standard public buses (CTB) lack air-con and are regularly pretty overcrowded, but they’re dirt-cheap for western standards and run everywhere all the time. Private buses charge about double but are still cheap and often do have air-conditioning and often guaranteed seats. Your best bet is to inform upon arrival in a destination about your way out, and if possible secure a seat already. In all cases, arrive early and preferably travel light. If you’re carrying a lot of luggage, you might have to purchase a seat for your backpack if you don’t want to keep it on your lap or under your feet.
Sri Lanka has an extensive railway system serving all major towns and cities in the island except for the North. The railway system in Sri Lanka is 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. Travel by train is itself a journey to remember, be it travelling to Central Sri Lanka or travelling on the coastal line is just amazing. Highly recommended to travel by train outside Colombo. The Hill train to Badulla is an amazing journey. Preferably choose the express trains, and try to get a reservation beforehand, if you can. There are special Observation cars for tourists to take in the scenery. Trains can be slower than buses, depending if you are on a line that offers an express train or not, but more comfortable and even less expensive than buses.
You can look up train schedules on the official website of Sri Lanka Railways. This site will only give you results for direct connections between stations.
There are three classes of railway cars, although 1st and 2nd class are only available on some Intercity and Express trains. Travelling 3rd class is not as bad as it may sound. Often the difference between 3rd and 2nd class is only a missing armrest between seats. Intercity and Express trains have reserved cars which can be booked online in advance on 12Go Asia website.
Trains are sometimes crowded, especially in the morning and late afternoon. Also, observation car seats for the lines popular with tourists (like the Colombo-Kandy line) are often booked out several days in advance in the high season. So whenever possible you should get a reservation beforehand: see  and  for more information.
Privately owned train services such as Exporail and Rajadhani Express (which is suspended as of 2018) operate air-conditioned and serviced first-class railway cars to major destinations daily. While this is costlier than travelling by air-conditioned bus, it is much cheaper than hiring a car and offers facilities such as online reservations, friendly on-board services, spacious seating, on-board meals and wireless internet.
Trains offer good alternatives when they are available, and the standard trains are only slightly more expensive than the private buses, if at all. One of the advantages is that 1st and 2nd class train tickets can be reserved several days in advance. Sri Lankan Railways has a useful website in English. There are also more expensive private trains with 1st class wagons and good service to some of the destinations. These obviously come at higher prices, but are still a reasonable and convenient option for travellers on a mid-range or higher budget, with a trip from Colombo to Kandy costing around Rs1700.
The most common mode of transport in Sri Lanka is via a three-wheeled automobile appropriately referred to as a three-wheeler (tri-Shaw). Also known as tuk-tuks from the noise of their motors. These operate in a manner similar to taxis, and in many situations are a convenient and highly cost-efficient way to get around. Safety is a concern however, as none of them have seat belts and they are open to the sides. They are NOT permitted at Colombo-Bandaranaike International Airport, so don’t let a tuk-tuk driver talk you into hiring him on your departure.
Three-wheelers are ubiquitous in Sri Lanka. On any given street, you’ll hardly have to wait more than a couple of minutes without one going by that you can wave down. If you’re travelling with luggage, there are slightly larger three-wheelers with more space for your bags that you can look for. While it may be the most novel way to get around, it may not be the most cost efficient in every situation. Public transport is cheaper by far, and most three-wheel drivers tend to over price foreigners. So, never agree to the first estimate. The best price you can get is about Rs50-75 per km for short journeys and about Rs30-50 for long journeys (more than 15 km). If you do come across a metered tri-shaw make sure the meter is switched on. Taxis are slightly more expensive but surely a lot safer. Having said that, you probably have not experienced everything Sri Lanka has to offer until you travel in one.
Rented cars usually turn out cheaper than three-wheelers, are less prone to road accidents, and are recommended by most hotels. Rented cars generally come with their own drivers. Often the automobile itself is free but the driver will charge a fee for his services. Some drivers and guides are government-licensed; some are extremely knowledgeable and multilingual, specialising in historical and cultural knowledge, and environmental/natural history for your visits to the ancient sites and the natural reserves. Driving yourself is very adventurous for Western tourists as the driving style is very different from those countries.
Of course, if you’re not on a budget and especially if you’re pressed for time, renting a car with driver for the whole or part of the journey can be a convenient way to follow your itinerary, and will in some cases allow you to see two sites on one day. Daily rates vary between Rs5000 and 10,000 per day excluding fuel, depending on the kind of car you want and whether you book via a hotel or travel agency that will take a commission.
You can also rent a car without a driver but you will need to bring your international driving license and get it validated by the Automobile Association of Sri Lanka to be able to drive on your own. You can opt to pay an agency to do this for you in advance. Otherwise, you must do it in Colombo, and it will take a day. You will find international car hire agencies in Colombo Airport and some local companies in Negombo’s beach area.
Travelling by car can also increase the fuel expenditure, Since the fuel price is increasing in Sri Lanka as well, it would be a bit more expensive than other mediums of travel. (depends on your vehicle type)
Tour operators are happy to get you a van and a driver who will take you all over the island but beware, the roads are bumpy and slow. If you book off-the-cuff when you arrive, ask to be shown on a map where you are going before agreeing to any ‘tour’ of the island and research before you arrive so that you have a clear idea of where you might like to travel. Senseless backtracking to lengthen the trip and increase the cost is a real danger, as is a driver’s wish to take you on unwanted shopping expeditions in an effort to gain commission. Travel websites specialising in Sri Lanka are easily found and have greatly increased the choice that is readily available to independent travellers seeking tailor-made tours. The best of them will produce clearly-stated travel itineraries and some are flexible enough to make late changes to itineraries. Ask to see their booking conditions and anti-fraud policies.
Taxis are a better way of getting around Colombo than three wheelers as, due to the metering, they often turn out to be cheaper. Rates are about USTaxis are a better way of getting around Colombo than three wheelers as.55 and they have full day packages (approx 8 hours and 80km) for around US$40. They will also take you outstation for around USTaxis are a better way of getting around Colombo than three wheelers as.30-0.35 per km with no waiting charges. You can also set up your own itinerary and travel around that way as opposed to whatever the tour operator tells you. Transportation companies such as Uber are also available in the country,It is advised to transport in a taxi which has a specific company tagline.