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Traveling by Bus in Sri Lanka

Bus services connect to almost all the areas in the island. Even though not the most efficient, bus service in Sri Lanka is the cheapest method of transport along with train service.

Operators

There are two bus operators in Sri Lanka

  • Sri Lanka Transport Board (SLTB or CTB)
  • Private bus operators
Sri Lanka Transport Board (CTB) Bus (Normal Service)

CTB Bus – Normal Service

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.

A Bus operated by a private entity (Private Bus)

Private Bus – Normal Service

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.

CTB buses are easier to identify because all are painted red. Private buses are usually predominantly white with color stripes.

Bus Fares

There are 4 main fare categories

  • Normal
  • Semi luxury
  • Luxury
  • Super Luxury
Bus board color code

Bus board color code

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 (Above 100km) are generally fine.

A normal service private bus.

A normal service private bus

Semi Luxury Service – 1.5 times 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. Semi luxury buses are only operated on long-distance routes. Only stops at major bus stops and hence significantly quicker than normal buses.

Luxury Service – 2 times 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 – Gall 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.

Super Luxury Service – 3 times normal fare.

A luxury CTB bus

A luxury CTB bus

Super Luxury service is limited to expressways and very long distance routes such as Colombo – Jaffna. Can be identified by the Purple name board. Buses are air-conditioned and have better seats with good legroom.

Traveling by Bus

Get on 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.

Seat Reservation

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.

Buying 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.

For short distances (Less than 100km) a normal ticket price is less than Rs. 150. As of 2016 highest normal bus fare was Rs. 690 (Semi luxury Rs. 1035, Luxury Rs. 1380)  while the lowest was Rs. 9. So please keep 500, 100 and 50 notes handy 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.

Transfer

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 Galle from Kandy, it is hard to find a direct Galle – Kandy bus. You have to take a bus to Colombo Fort and then to Galle from there.

Safety

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 footboard is dangerous and should be avoided. Pickpocketing 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.

Destinations, Fares and Time

Colombo Bandaranaike International Airport to Colombo Fort

Route No. 187 buses are available from near the arrival area around the clock every 30min or 1 hour. Cost is less than LKR 200 for Air Conditioned buses. Expressway buses are available from the Katunayaka Bus Terminal which is about 2km from the airport. Can be reached easily by taking a Tuk-tuk from outside the airport.  (Tuk-tuks are not available near the arrival area, so you will have to walk outside the airport.) Expressway buses run every 30min from 5:30 am to 6:30 pm. Duration is about 1 hour via Expressway and 1h 30min via Route No. 187.

Katunayaka to Negombo

Negombo buses are available from the Katunayaka Bus Terminal which is about 2km from the airport. Can be reached easily by taking a Tuk-tuk from outside the airport.  (Tuk-tuks are not available near the arrival area, so you will have to walk outside the airport.) Duration is about 20min.

Negombo to Colombo

Take the Colombo – Negombo (Route No. 240) bus from Negombo bus terminal. Normal Bus fare is less than LKR 100, and the Luxury fare is about LKR 200. Both the expressway and normal routes buses are available. Expressway buses are a bit more expensive (about LKR250). Duration is about 1 hr 15min via the expressway and 1 hr 40min via normal route.

Negombo to Dambulla / Habarana

To go to Dambulla easiest way is via Colombo. Take a bus to Colombo from Negombo bus terminal. After getting off the bus from Colombo Gunasinghapura Bus Terminal walk to the Colombo Bastian Mawatha Bus Terminal. The distance between the two bus terminals is about 850m. Take a Route 48-3 Colombo – Kaduruwela or any other bus with Route number starting from 48 (ex. 48, 48 -2, 48 -3 etc.).  Buses run every 30min or every 1 hour around the clock. The normal service fare will be less than LKR 300. Total duration from NegDambullaDambuall will be about 6 hours.

Colombo to Dambulla / Habarana

From Colombo Bastian Mawatha Bus Terminal Take a Route 48-3 Colombo – Kaduruwela or any other bus with Route number starting from 48 (ex. 48, 48 -2, 48 -3 etc.).  Buses run every 30min or every 1 hour around the clock. The normal service fare will be less than LKR 300. Duration is about 4 hours.

Dambulla to Polonnaruwa

Take a Kaduruwela bus from Dambulla Bus Station. The duration will be about 2 hours and the fare will be less than LKR 200. Mostly only normal service buses are available.

Dambulla to Habarana

Regular buses are available from Dambulla Bus Station. Normal service fare is less than LKR 100. Duration is about 40min.

Dambulla to Anuradhapura

Regular buses are available from Dambulla Bus Station. Normal service fare is less than LKR 200. Duration is about 2 hours.

Dambulla to Trincomalee

Regular buses are available from Dambulla Bus Station. Normal service fare is less than LKR 300. Duration is about 3 hours.

Dambulla to Pasikuda

Take a Batticaloa bus from Dambulla Bus Station and get off at Oddaimavadi Junction. Then take a Tuk-tuk from there to the hotel or Pasikuda beach. Normal service fare is less than LKR 300. Duration is about 3 hours 30min.

Polonnaruwa to Pasikuda

Take a Batticaloa bus from Kaduruwela Bus Stand. Normal service fare is less than LKR 300. Duration is about 2 hours.

Colombo to Kandy

From Colombo, Bastian Mawatha Bus Terminal take a Route No. 1 Colombo – Kandy bus.  Buses run every 30min or every 1 hour around the clock. The normal service fare will be less than LKR 200. Duration is about 3 hours. Luxury buses are also available (About LKR 400). When coming back from Colombo to Kandy, airconditioned buses starts from Kandy-Colombo Intercity Bus Station. Normal service buses start from Kandy Goods Shed Bus Stand.

Kandy to Nuwara Eliya

Take a Route No. 47 Kandy – Nuwara Eliya bus from Goods Shed Bus Stand. Normal service cost will be less than LKR 200. Air-conditioned buses are also available. Duration is about 3 hours.

Colombo to Adam’s peak

Take a Route No. 18 or 18-2 bus from Bastian Mawatha Bus Terminal. Normal service cost will be less than LKR 200. Air-conditioned buses are also available. Duration is about 4 hours. From Hatton Bus Stand take a Hatton – Nallathaniya bus. The trail to Adam’s peak starts from Nallathaniya town. The fare will be less than LKR 100. Duration is about 2 hours.

Adam’s peak to Nuwara Eliya

Take a Hatton bus from Delhouse Bus Station (Nallathaniya). The fare will be less than LKR 100. Duration is about 2 hours. From Hatton take a Nuwara Eliya bus (Route No. 18 or 18-2). Duration is about 2 hours and the cost will be less than LKR 200.

Kandy to Adam’s peak

Take a Route No. 725 Kandy – Hatton bus from Goods Shed Bus Stand. Normal service cost will be less than LKR 200. Duration is about 3 hours. From Hatton Bus Stand take a Hatton – Nallathaniya bus. The trail to Adam’s peak starts from Nallathaniya town. The fare will be less than LKR 100. Duration is about 2 hours.

Nuwara Eliya to Ella

Take a Route No. 31 (Nuwara Eliya – Matara, Nuwara Eliya – Galle etc.) bus from Nuwara Eliya Main Bus Station. Normal service cost will be less than LKR 200 and the duration is about 3 hours.

Kandy to Ella

Take a Route No. 47 Kandy – Nuwara Eliya bus from Goods Shed Bus Stand to Nuwara Eliya. Normal service cost will be less than LKR 200. Air-conditioned buses are also available. Duration is about 3 hours. Then take Route No. 31 (Nuwara Eliya – Matara, Nuwara Eliya – Galle etc.) bus from Nuwara Eliya Main Bus Station. Normal service cost will be less than LKR 200 and the duration is about 3 hours.

Colombo to Ella

From Colombo, Bastian Mawatha Bus Terminal take a Route No. 99 Colombo – Badulla bus and get off at Kumbalwela Junction.  Buses run every 30min or every 1 hour around the clock. The normal service fare will be less than LKR 400. Duration is about 6 hours. Luxury buses are also available (About LKR 700). There is about 3km from Kumbalwela Junction to Ella railway station. A Tuk Tuk will cost about LKR 150 for that distance. Local buses are also available.

Colombo to Galle

Expressway buses with Route No. EX1 going to Galle starts from Maharagama Highway Bus Station. Expressway buses take about 1 hour and 40 minutes from Maharagama to Galle. The fare is about LKR 450.

To get to Maharagama from Colombo Fort take Route No. 138 (Colombo – Mahragama  / Colombo – Kottawa) bus from in front of the Fort Railway Station. Fare from Colombo to Maharagama is less than LKR 50 and takes about 1 hour.

So the total time will be about 3 hours and the fare will be around LKR 500. All expressway buses are air-conditioned.

Galle regular road (Non-expressway) buses start from Colombo Bastian Mawatha Bus Terminal. Take a Route 2 Colombo – Galle bus. Buses run every 30min. The normal fare is less than LKR 200. Time will be about 3h 30min. AC buses are also available for about twice the cost of normal service.

Colombo to Hikkaduwa

Take a Route 2 Colombo – Galle bus from Colombo Bastian Mawatha Bus Terminal and get off from Hikkaduwa. Buses run every 30min. The normal fare is less than LKR 200. Time will be about 3h 30min. AC buses are also available.

Don’t take Expressway buses (Route No. EX1) to Galle. Because expressway buses directly go to Galle bus station. So you will need to take another bus or Tuk-tuk to get to Hikkaduwa.

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Hikkaduwa to Galle

Take a Route 2 Colombo – Galle or any other bus with a board saying, Galle. If you wait near a bus halt beside the road you can easily get into a bus. No need to go to the Hikkaduwa Bus Station.

The bus will take between forty minutes to one hour. The cost will be less than LKR 100.

Colombo to Unawatuna

Take a Route 2 Colombo – Matara bus from Colombo Bastian Mawatha Bus Terminal and get off from Unawatuna. Buses run every 30min. The normal fare is less than LKR 200. Time will be about 3h 30min. AC buses are also available.

Otherwise, take an Expressway bus to Galle as explained in Colombo to Galle section. Then take a Galle – Matara Route No. 350 bus to Unawatuna. Fare is less than LKR 50 and it will take less than 30 minutes.

Galle to Unawatuna

Take a Galle – Matara Route No. 350 bus from Galle Central Bus Stand. The fare is less than LKR 50 and it will take less than 30 minutes.

Hikkaduwa to Unawatuna

Take a Route 2 Colombo – Matara or any other bus with a board saying, Matara. If you wait near a bus halt beside the road you can easily get into a bus. No need to go to the Hikkaduwa Bus Station.

The bus will take between forty minutes to one hour. The cost will be less than LKR 100.

Colombo to Mirissa

Expressway buses with Route No. EX1-18 going to Matara starts from Bastian Mawatha Bus Terminal and CTB Bus Terminal. Expressway buses take about 2 hours and 35 minutes to Matara. The fare is about LKR 600. Buses run every 45 minutes.

Then take a Galle – Matara Route No. 350 bus from Matara Bus Station. It will take about 30 minutes to Mirissa. The fare will be less than LKR 50.

Expressway bus is the fastest way to Mirissa from Colombo. But the cost is server times higher than the normal highway bus. If you prefer lower cost option take a Route 2 Colombo – Matara bus from Colombo Bastian Mawatha Bus Terminal and get off from Mirissa. Buses run every 30min. The normal fare is less than LKR 250. Time will be about 4h 30min. AC buses are also available.

Galle to Mirissa

Take a Colombo – Matara (Route No. 2) or Galle – Matara (Route No. 350) bus from Galle Central Bus Stand. The fare is less than LKR 100 and it will take about 1 hour. To Mirissa Colombo – Matara buses are faster than Galle – Matara buses.

Colombo to Udawalawa National Park

Take a Colombo – Embilipitiya (Route No. 122 / Route No. 3) or Colombo – Monaragala (Route No. 98) bus from Bastian Mawatha Bus Terminal or  CTB Bus Terminal and get off at the Udawalawa Junction. It will take about 5 hours and the fare will be about LKR 250. Buses run every 30 minutes.

There are about 12km from Udawalawa Junction to the National Park entrance. But you can hire a safari jeep from Udawalawa junction. Cost for a half day safari will be about LKR 5000.

Ella to Udawalawa National Park

Get into a Badulla – Galle (Route No. 31/1), Badulla – Matara (Route No. 31) or Badulla – Ambalangoda (Route No. 32) bus from Kumbalwela Junction or any other bus stop along the Ella – Wellawaya (A23) highway and get off at Thanamalwila Bus Station. The journey will take about 2 hours and the fare will be less than LKR 150.

From Thanamalwila get into a Monaragala – Colombo bus (Route No. 98) going towards Colombo or any other bus going to Udwalawa Junction and get off at the Park entrance.

Otherwise, take a Thanamalwila – Embilipitiya (Route No. 25) bus to Embilitpitya and then an Embilipitiya – Rathnapura (Route No. 210) or any other bus going towards Rathnapura / Colombo and get off at Udawalawa Junction. It will take about one hour and the fare will be less than LKR 100.

There are about 12km from Udawalawa Junction to the National Park entrance. But you can hire a safari jeep from Udawalawa junction. Cost for a half day safari will be about LKR 5000.

Udawalawa to Yala National Park

Take an Embiliptiya bus from National Park entrance or from  Udawalawa Junction to Embilitpitya. It will take about one hour by bus and the cost will be less than LKR 100.

From Embilipitiya bus station take a Galle / Matara (Route No. 11-1) bus and get off at Nonagama Junction. The fare is less than LKR 100. And it will take about 1 h 30 min for the journey.

From Nonagama Junction get into a Colombo – Katharagama (Route No. 32) bus and get off at Tissamaharama Bus Station. Time will be around 1h 30min and the fare will be less than LKR 100.

From  Tissamaharama you can find a safari jeep to Yala National park. Cost for a half day tour is about LKR 5000.

Colombo to Yala National Park

Expressway buses with Route No. EX1-12/32 going to Katharagama starts from Bastian Mawatha Bus Terminal and CTB Bus Terminal. Expressway buses take about 5 hours and 30 minutes to Tissamaharama. The fare is about LKR 1100. Frequency is about 4 buses per day between 6.30 am and 6.30pm.

Non-expressway buses run more frequently. But journey takes longer. You can take a non-expressway Colombo – Katharagama (Route No. 32) bus from Bastian Mawatha Bus Terminal and CTB Bus Terminal.

The fare is about LKR 400 and the journey time will be about 7 hours. From  Tissamaharama you can find a safari jeep to Yala National park. Cost for a half day tour is about LKR 5000.

Colombo to Katharagama

Expressway buses with Route No. EX1-12/32 going to Katharagama starts from Bastian Mawatha Bus Terminal and CTB Bus Terminal. Expressway buses take about 6 hours to Katharagama. The fare is about LKR 1100. Frequency is about 4 buses per day between 6.30 am and 6.30pm.

Non-expressway buses run more frequently. But journey takes longer. You can take a non-expressway Colombo – Katharagama (Route No. 32) bus from Bastian Mawatha Bus Terminal and CTB Bus Terminal.

The fare is about LKR 400 and the journey time will be about 7 hours. Bus stops two times for short breaks.

Udawalawa to Katharagama

Take an Embiliptiya bus from National Park entrance or from  Udawalawa Junction to Embilitpitya. It will take about one hour by bus and the cost will be less than LKR 100.

From Embilipitiya bus station take a Galle / Matara (Route No. 11-1) bus and get off at Nonagama Junction. The fare is less than LKR 100. And it will take about 1 h 30 min for the journey.

From Nonagama Junction get into a Colombo – Katharagama (Route No. 32) bus. Time will be around 2 hours and the fare will be less than LKR 150.

Ella to Yala National Park

Get into a Badulla – Galle (Route No. 31/1), Badulla – Matara (Route No. 31) or Badulla – Ambalangoda (Route No. 32) bus from Kumbalwela Junction or any other bus stop along the Ella – Wellawaya (A23) highway and get off at Hambanthota Bus Station. The journey will take about 3 hours and the fare will be less than LKR 250.

From Hambanthota take a Colombo – Katharagama (Route No. 32) or any other bus going to Katharagama and get off at Tissamaharama. The normal service fare is less than LKR 100 and time will be about one hour.

Otherwise, take a Bandarawela – Katharagama (Route No. 29) bus and get off at Tissamaharama. But these buses are not as frequent as Galle, Matara or Ambalangoda buses.

From  Tissamaharama you can find a safari jeep to Yala National park. Cost for a half day tour is about LKR 5000.

Ella to Katharagama

Get into a Badulla – Galle (Route No. 31/1), Badulla – Matara (Route No. 31) or Badulla – Ambalangoda (Route No. 32) bus from Kumbalwela Junction or any other bus stop along the Ella – Wellawaya (A23) highway and get off at Hambanthota Bus Station. The journey will take about 3 hours and the fare will be less than LKR 250.

From Hambanthota take a Colombo – Katharagama (Route No. 32) or any other bus going to Katharagama. The normal service fare is less than LKR 150 and time will be about 1 hour and 30 minutes.

Otherwise, take a Bandarawela – Katharagama (Route No. 29) bus. But these buses are not as frequent as Galle, Matara or Ambalangoda buses.

Ella to Mirissa

Get into a Badulla – Galle (Route No. 31/1) or Badulla – Ambalangoda (Route No. 32) bus from Kumbalwela Junction or any other bus stop along the Ella – Wellawaya (A23) highway.

You can get off at any bus stop along the Mirissa beach as the road runs along the sea.The journey will take about 5 hours and the fare will be less than LKR 350.

Yala to Mirissa

From Tissamaharama get into a Colombo – Katharagama (Route No. 32) or Galle – Katharagama (Route No. 32/7) bus.

You can get off at any bus stop along the Mirissa beach as the road runs along the sea. The journey will take about 4 hours and the fare will be less than LKR 250.

Colombo to Arugam Bay

Take a Colombo – Pottuvil (Route No. 98-4) bus from Bastian Mawatha Bus Terminal or  CTB Bus Terminal. It will take about 8 hours and the fare will be about LKR 500.

From Potttuvil there take a Panama bus or a Tuk-tuk to Arugam Bay beach or your hotel. Distance is about 5km and the Tuk-tuk cost will be less than LKR 500.

Otherwise, take a Colombo – Panama (Route No. 98-8) bus from Bastian Mawatha Bus Terminal or  CTB Bus Terminal. You can get off near Arugam Bay beach. Cost and time will be almost the same as Colombo to Pottuvil. But these buses can be less frequent.

Ella to Arugam Bay

Get into a Badulla – Galle (Route No. 31/1), Badulla – Matara (Route No. 31) or Badulla – Ambalangoda (Route No. 32) bus from Kumbalwela Junction or any other bus stop along the Ella – Wellawaya (A23) highway and get off at Wellawaya Bus Station. The fare will be about LKR 50 and it will take around 1 hour and 30 minutes.

From Wellawaya Bus Station get into a Colombo – Pottuvil (Route No. 98-4), Matara – Kalmunai (Route No.  35/881-5), Galle – Kalmunai (Route No. 35/881-5), Colombo – Panama (Route No. 98-8) or Panadura – Arugambay (Route No. 255/98-8). If you take a Panama or Arugambay bus you can get off near Arugam Bay beach. But Panama buses can be less frequent. The fare will be around LKR 200 and time will be around 2 hours and 30 minutes.

From Potttuvil there take a Panama bus or a Tuk-tuk to Arugam Bay beach or your hotel. Distance is about 5km and the Tuk-tuk cost will be less than LKR 500.

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