Traveling by bus in Sri Lanka

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Bus services connect to almost all the areas in this marvelous Island. Even though it is not the most efficient, but bus service in Sri Lanka is the cheapest method of transport along with train service. This article provides complete guide to travel in Sri Lanka by bus like a pro. All most all the bus fares falls below 10 USD that's including luxury bus fares also.
Traveling by bus in Sri Lanka

Main bus operators in Sri Lanka

There are two bus operators in Sri Lanka.
- Sri Lanka Transport Board (SLTB or CTB) - Own by Government
- Private bus operators - Own by private owners

SLTB Buses are called “CTB Bus” and privately owned buses called “Private Bus” in general use. CTB buses are owned and operated by the government, while private buses are operated by individual bus owners or small bus companies. There is no significant difference in the quality of CTB and private buses. But it is generally considered that CTB bus drivers are more disciplined than private bus drivers and hence some consider CTB buses are safer. There is no difference in fares also. Only CTB buses are operated in the most rural and least traveled routes where a bus service is not profitable. Otherwise, private bus service is dominant all throughout country. CTB buses are easier to identify because all are painted red. Private buses are usually predominantly white with color stripes.
Private bus in Sri Lanka
Private bus in Sri Lanka
CTB | SLTB bus in Sri Lanka
CTB | SLTB bus in Sri Lanka

Bus Fares

There are 4 main bus fare categories. Depending on the category the bus fares and conditions in the bus will change.
- Normal
- Semi luxury
- Luxury
- Super Luxury
Bus types in Sri Lanka
Bus types in Sri Lanka

Normal service
These are the buses with a 'Red name board' above the windscreen with the route number and route name in Sinhala, Tamil, and English. This is the most common bus service and served all the bus routes excluding expressways. Buses are not air-conditioned. Seats are basic with very small legroom. The door is not closed when traveling and passengers are filled to the absolute maximum (both sitting and standing.). Usually, stops at almost all the bus stops. The fare is minimum but expensive than a 3rd class (Economy) train tickets to a similar distance. Normal buses running short distances (Less than 50km) can be very slow. But long-distance buses ( distance above 100 KM) are generally fine and fast.
A normal service private bus in Sri Lanka
A normal service private bus in Sri Lanka

Semi luxury service = 1.5 times of normal fare
These are the buses with a 'Blue name board' above the windscreen with the route number and route name in Sinhala, Tamil, and English. Semi luxury buses are not air-conditioned. Seats are better than in normal buses, but leg space is limited. Usually, there are curtains. There is no guarantee that you will get a seat, but there are not a lot of people standing. The back door is closed when going but the front door remains open (This depends on the distance). Semi luxury buses are only operated on long-distance routes. Only stops at major bus stops and hence significantly quicker than normal buses.
Semi luxury service private bus in Sri Lanka
A semi luxury service private bus in Sri Lanka

Luxury service = 2 times of normal fare
Luxury buses can be identified by a 'Green name board' above the windscreen. Buses are air-conditioned and only fill up to the number of seats. (Some drivers board more passengers, but illegal). Significantly faster than normal bus service. Only stops in major cities. Most of the times passengers are asked to pay the full amount to the final destination even the passenger get off before that. (ex. If you board a Colombo - Galle luxury bus to get off in Hikkaduwa, you may be asked to pay the fare for whole Colombo - Galle distance.) This is illegal but widely practice by private bus operators on some routes.
Luxury service private bus in Sri Lanka
Luxury service private bus in Sri Lanka

Super luxury service = 3 times of normal fare
Super Luxury service is limited to expressways and very long distance routes such as Colombo - Jaffna, Colombo - Matara Expressway and Expressway buses. Can be identified by the Purple name board. Buses are air-conditioned and have better seats with good legroom.
Super luxury service private bus in Sri Lanka
A super luxury service private bus in Sri Lanka

Tips for traveling by bus in Sri Lanka

- Always ask bus fare amount for the departure location.
- It is advisable to keep 500, 100 and 50 rupee (LKR) notes to pay the bus fare.
- Take a seat in middle section is more convenient and safe.
- Conditions on normal buses are less comfortable but it is more cheap.
- Sometimes conductor asks extra fare for big luggage or backpacks. (if you occupied luggage in a separate seat)
- Always ask from the fellow passengers about the current location details.
- Keep your valuable things in safe location.
- Most of the buses which travels more than 120 KM will stop for small interval / break. (15 - 20 mints break)
- Most of the times direct buses will not be available. therefore travelers need to transfer from each major bus stations.
- Take a small snack and water bottle with you when traveling in bus.
- Fulfill your sanitary needs before taking the bus, otherwise you need to get down from the major bus station and use public lavatory facilities which has decent conditions.
- Take your own safety measurements and always be vigilant when traveling.
- Long distances buses usually driven very fast, that's a expected phenomenon. Therefore be safe when traveling.
- Sometimes people may advise that last bus has been gone and there are no availability on buses towards your destination. Do not accept it they may advise it deliberately. Therefore keep waiting for at least 15 - 20 minutes before go fore conclusion.
- In case if you miss the departure point; do not panic just tell that conductor we need to get off from next bus stop. If it is after 20:00 it is better to get off from major bus station. Otherwise just get off from next available bus stop and take a tuk tuk (thrEe-wheeler) to reach your destination.
- Please check website to check up-to date bus routes and their bus fare details.

How to get in to a bus

Most long distance buses start from Colombo. Long distance private buses start from Colombo Private Bus Station while most of the CTB buses start from Central Bus Depot in Colombo Fort. Short and Medium distance buses start from various locations in the city. Most of the big cities have a bus station. In small towns, it is just a hut beside the road. You can get into normal buses almost from anywhere by just stretching your hand. But it is advisable to walk to the nearest bus stand. Closer to towns there is one or two bus stands every kilometer or so.

How to reserve seat

Seat reservation is not officially available for private buses. But there are private agents who do the reservations for an extra charge. For some long-distance routes, CTB bus reservation is possible in Central Bus Depot in Colombo Fort. You can book your expressway luxury bus online from website: And you can book normal buses from CTB from government website:

How to buy bus tickets

For almost all the public buses you buy a ticket after you get onto the bus. In Sri Lanka, there is a conductor to sell tickets and assist the driver. Passengers need to pay the amount in cash. It is advisable to have change handy to pay the exact amount in Sri Lanka Rupees. First of all traveler need to tell where you need to go and ask the bus fare, then give the money to the conductor. For short distances (less than 100 KM) a normal ticket price is less than 1 USD. So it is advisable to keep 500, 100 and 50 rupees notes to pay the bus fare. It is possible to pay even using Rs. 5000 notes. But to get the change you will have to wait for a long time because most conductors do not give the balance at the same time you buy the ticket. They just write the balance amount on the ticket and ask you to collect the balance when you get off the bus. So it is far more convenient to have small notes in hand to pay the fare.

Bus transit for alternative for direct route

There is no way to purchase a single ticket covering all the transfers. You need to buy separate tickets for each leg when you get into that bus. For example, to go to Weligama from Kandy, it is hard to find a direct Weligama - Kandy bus. You have to take a bus to Colombo Fort and then to Weligama from there.

Safety in the bus

Traveling by bus in Sri Lanka is considered safe. Even though road accidents are higher in Sri Lanka, injuries to the passengers traveling in buses are rare. But it is very common to see bus drivers driving really fast and recklessly. Especially in long distance normal and semi-luxury buses, the ride is very bumpy and can be very uncomfortable. Dust, heat and heavy crowds also make the ride less comfortable on normal buses.Traveling on the foot-board is dangerous and should be avoided. Pick-pocketing in public buses is not common, but there is a risk in crowded buses. Sometimes drivers do not stop the bus completely to get off or get in for male passengers. They tend to just slow down without fully stopping if there is only one passenger to get off. It is advisable to always use the front door to get off. Accidents when getting on and off the buses are very common.

People getting hit by speeding vehicles is quite common. So please be very cautious when walking along the roads. Always try to walk along the right side. And keep in mind to use pedestrian crossings to cross the road.

As a conclusion traveling using public transport like buses in Sri Lanka is more cost effective if your a back packer.