Exotic Sri Lanka is a beautiful country in the Indian subcontinent. More and more international tourists are making their way to this island-nation since Sri Lankan tourism has quickly and steadily picked up since the end of the civil war. While there are so many reasons to visit the country and many attractions to see, getting around Sri Lanka may have its challenges. Many roads are not paved, buses are crowded, the climate is hot and sticky, traffic can be pretty bad, drivers don’t always care about traffic rules, taxi fare needs to be negotiated and tuk-tuks are not the safest form of transport. In other words, getting around Sri Lank on land is in itself quite an adventure already.
The three-wheeler tuk-tuk is the most common form of transport. It got its name from the noise of the motor, but it is also commonly referred to simply as “three-wheeler” or tri-shaw by foreigners. A three-wheeler operates like a common taxi, able to get to any specified destination for a negotiated fare rate. In most cases, they can be more expensive since the operators pretty much dictate how much the passengers need to pay. Despite the common overpricing, locals in Colombo still prefer the tuk-tuks for their efficiency—but it is also this efficiency that makes them risky and dangerous. Operators go though traffic as though their tuk-tuks are impregnable. They are always in a rush – top speed, so that they can get as many rides as possible in a day. Meanwhile, foreigners tend to ignore the apparent danger since they are very interested in the local modes of transport and just want to experience a ride. A foreign tourist should at least try riding a tuk-tuk once, and then take the much safer taxi on the next trips.
Passengers should negotiate fare rate before hopping into a taxi or three-wheeler. The driver would typically attempt to overprice, so passengers should never agree to the first offer. There are metered tuk-tuks but almost always they are not switched on.
Renting a car could turn out a safer and less expensive form of transport than a three-wheeler. Hotels and travel agents would easily recommend car rentals over anything else. Drivers are licensed by the government, which means they are likely to follow traffic rules, very knowledgeable of the city, and multi-lingual. They can also talk about history, culture and the background information of ancient sites and natural reserves.
Buses, on the other hand, are the cheapest way to get around, although far from the most convenient. They are often crowded, hot and uncomfortable, but only for about a dollar to get to almost anywhere in the country. Air-conditioned buses with guaranteed buses may charge twice the price, but that is still very cheap. Even bus stations are uncomfortable, muggy, crowded and very confusing. Yet, despite the almost chaotic conditions when taking the bus, Sri Lankans are always mindful to offer the front passenger seats to monks or priests.
Meanwhile, there are several domestic flights to a number of island destinations when getting around Sri Lanka by plane. Small SriLankan Airlines seaplanes fly to Nuwara Eliya, Kandy, Galle and other domestic locations. Aero Lanka, on the other hand, operates from Colombo to Ratmalana, Jaffna and Trincomalee. A cheaper alternative to these domestic destinations is on a ferry. When getting to Sri Lanka by boat, travelers may transfer to other vessels within the same port area when getting around Sri Lanka by boat also.