A tour of Sri Lanka allows you to experience all of the country’s highlights. However, western tourists are advised not driving in Sri Lanka by themselves. A comfortable alternative is to hire a driver. When preparing your trip, make sure you have received your Sri Lanka visa well before your departure.
Different traffic conditions compared to Europe
While in countries like the USA, Canada or Australia it is customary to rent a car and drive on the road yourself, in Sri Lanka this is not recommended. The traffic in Sri Lanka is not comparable to that in the United Kingdom or Ireland. While British tourists might be used to driving on the left and overtaking on the right, as is the case in Sri Lanka, the driving behaviour of the local population is different from what they might be used to back home.
In many places in the country, traffic is chaotic with tuktuks and mopeds driving criss-cross through each other, and car horns and flashing lights are used more often and in various different ways. Road signs and other road markings are also often unclear, which can lead to dangerous situations on the road. In the rainy season, a large part of the road network may even become impassable due to flooding.
Traffic in Sri Lanka: buses, cars, tuktuks and mopeds
Tourists are advised not driving themselves
For the above mentioned reasons, it is not recommended for tourists to drive in Sri Lanka. However, this does not mean that you are forced to stay in one location for the whole trip. There are plenty of alternatives to make a trip without getting behind the wheel yourself, for example by using public transport or by hiring a private driver.
Would you like to rent a car in Sri Lanka and drive on the road? Make sure you make the right preparations. For example, renting a car requires not only an international driving licence, but also an additional permit from the Sri Lankan government. Sri Lanka is one of the few countries in the world that does not automatically accept international driving licences. Before you can rent a car, you must have your international driving licence verified by the Department of Motor Traffic in Sri Lanka. In addition, all travellers - regardless of whether they rent a car in Sri Lanka - need a visa (ETA Sri Lanka).
Travelling by public transport or by car?
Public transport in Sri Lanka is generally well organized. Most places in the country can be reached by bus and train. For shorter distances, tuktuks or rickshaws are a good option. A disadvantage of public transport, however, is that buses and trains in Sri Lanka fill up fairly quickly. Although the distances between cities are relatively short, taking the bus or train often still takes a long time, because you have to change trains several times and because buses and trains are often delayed. Another disadvantage is that some remote places of interest cannot be reached by public transport.
Round trip with private driver
A possibility to travel through Sri Lanka on your own is to rent a car with a driver. This is a common and comfortable way to explore the island. With a private driver you can visit different places in a short time, and you are not dependent on public transport. A driver can also serve as a guide, as he or she can give useful tips on sights, accommodations, restaurants, etc.
Moreover, a driver in Sri Lanka is very affordable for British and Irish standards. For about £35,- to £45,- per day, you can rent a car with a driver, which often includes the costs for petrol, toll roads and parking. The price for renting a car with a private driver is therefore not much higher than for renting a car alone.
Other preparations: Sri Lanka visa application
In addition to familiarising yourself with the Sri Lanka’s traffic rules, you should also apply for a visa before your trip. As a rule, tourists are eligible for the e-visa Sri Lanka, also called the ETA. This visa can easily be applied for online in a matter of minutes. After payment of the visa cost of £44.95 per person, the application will be processed. The visa is granted after 3 days on average. Those who need their visa on short notice can submit an urgent application. Urgent applications are approved in an average of 23 minutes.