How do you get around?
Sri Lanka has two roads: Galle Road which has two lanes – one going one way, one the other - filled with people walking, cows, tuk-tuks, bicycles, motorcycles, cars & trucks. A lot of it runs alongside the coast. If you find yourself on Galle Road during rush hour, get off. A one-hour trip will take you seven. It’s a testament to the organized chaos of Southeast Asia.
In the last year or two, a highway has been built to circumvent the Galle Road as the only way to get from point a to point b. It’s fairly empty, because the government imposes a tariff that is quite high for Sri Lankans. And tuk-tuks are not allowed to use it. It cuts through jungle, and there are animals on the highway- they haven’t adapted to avoid the road and there are no fences.
What about the train?
The train is amazing. It’s open. Like adult Disneyworld. You can hang off the side; it doesn’t go too fast. It costs nearly nothing, but it can get very crowded. It’s not recommended for women traveling by themselves. If a woman finds herself on the train solo, best to be very light with baggage, and ingratiate yourself with a group of women. ASAP. Excellent for an overnight trip to a world heritage site (take a sleeper train in the mountains), or short day trips to the beach. Just don’t take it alone (unless semi-molestation or worse is your thing) or during rush hour, when it gets super crowded.
And the bus?
The bus is insane. Everyone is sitting on top of each other. The exhaust fumes are lethal- akin to holding a gas soaked rag up to your nose. You’ll find yourself on a road for eight or nine hours. For short distances only.
What are the other options like?
Renting a car is pricey ($50US from Colombo to Galle) but worth it if you have baggage or jet lag.
A motorcycle or a bicycle is the best way to get around locally. Or you can hop in a tuk-tuk. Just know that when you’re on Galle Road, its chaos. The alternative is driving along dirt or very roughly paved narrow country roads, which don’t have maps or markers.
Expo wagon is an overnight train that takes you from Colombo to the World Heritage sites. If you’re traveling with a friend, it’s very safe.
Sri Lanka is also beginning to provide water planes. But it’s a very new industry. Beginning in May 2013, Cinnamon Air’s nine-seater seaplanes take passengers from Colombo to Trincomalee, Kandy, and Koggala and Weerawila. Flights are scheduled to leave shortly after international flights arrive, but flights are often delayed by an average of three hours so, time will tell.

April 2013