Are you a lover of the open road? Do your favourite memories involve good friends, good tunes, and car karaoke? Have you ever thought about what it would be like to do on your own road-trip/dance party whilst overseas? Well that’s exactly what we did this August and we decided to do when we started our Sri Lanka road trip!
When we visited Sri Lanka earlier this year we hadn’t originally planned on renting a car. The famous Sri Lankan railway journeys were fresh in our minds after talking to friends who had visited and loved Sri Lanka. Having loved the trains in India we weren’t really thinking about alternatives when we booked our tickets into the country. It was only once we started researching how to get to places from Colombo International airport that we started thinking about other options.
Did you know: Colombo International airport is actually closer to Negombo than it is to Colombo? Colombo is a whole 30 kilometers from the airport which means that if your flight is arriving very late- you may have no other option than to spend a night in Negombo before continuing on to your first destination. Negombo is a sweet little coastal town with LOTS of accommodation options so this isn’t too bad.
We, on the other hand, had decided to head straight to Arugum Bay on the East coast of the country. Sha had his heart set on some long awaited surfing. He’d been out of the water for a few months while we travelled through India- so who was I to prevent him from ‘getting his gills wet’ as he puts it.
The issue we found was that getting from Colombo airport to Arugum Bay would take 2 days by trains and buses. Because of our flight time we would miss the early train, and would need to spend a night in Badulla on the way east. The other option was to pay $200 and take a private car for the 7 hour journey. Being the impatient cheapskates that we are, we obviously tried to find another option.
Sha managed to find a glowing review on Casons Car Rental from a couple that had recently used their services. We did a few comparisons and found that they were also the cheapest option (by a long shot). Sha booked online for us and when I asked him if they had an airport branch, he was sure there was. So, just like that we didn’t think anything of it and assumed we were genius’s for coming up with the best SRI LANKA ROAD TRIP PLAN EVER.
Turns out that Casons don’t have an airport branch. So we found ourselves somewhat stuck in Colombo airport trying to figure things out. We eventually admitted we stuffed up and found a driver inside the airport. He drove us to Colombo for 28,000 ($28AUD). If you planned ahead (unlike us) they can arrange a driver to pick you up from the airport and bring you to their office in Colombo. We chose this option on the way back to the airport and it was 30,000 rupees ($30AUD).
Now the important questions:
Is a Sri Lankan road trip cheaper than taking local buses and trains?
Nope. Local transport is super cheap in Sri Lanka. The thing that appealed to us was the convenience of having our own car- especially when we hired surf boards on the coast. We could drive ourselves to secluded surf beaches with surf boards in tow, when all the other suckers were paying 1000 rupees ($10AUD) for a day in a tuk tuk. Now, that doesn’t seem like much, but then depending on where they are staying they might need another tuk tuk to get to and from dinner. If they arrived by train that day, they might have needed a tuk tuk or taxi to get to their hotel, etc etc. Our daily transport averaged out pretty well in the end. I have already posted the entire breakdown of our budget so you guys to do some comparisons.
Is it expensive to hire a car in Sri Lanka?
That depends on your budget, and how many people you are with. We hired our Suzuki Maruti for 26 days, and the total price was 38,750 rupees ($387 AUD) or $14.90 per day. Our fuel for the entire trip was just over $100AUD.
Including our car rental, fuel, and 2 private taxis we got between the airport and the car rental office we averaged $18 in transport costs per day; split between 2 people.
We could have easily slept in our car had we wanted to make this more budget friendly- but we
were too lazy to do that decided that we would prefer to stay in hotels.
Petrol/Fuel/Gas in Sri lanka is priced similarly to Australia. The price was just over a dollar per liter and it fluctuated a little every day. We found that filling up our little Suzuki cost about $45 AUD and that got us through a few days of driving long distances, and much longer if we were just sight seeing around town.
Gas stations were on major roads, and in major towns, we never went too long without seeing one and we obviously never ran out of juice before finding one.
The road conditions in Sri Lanka actually surprised us. From the get go they are in great condition with easy to read signage. The only place where the roads were a little unkempt were north of Baticoloa, and on an apparently main road made of dirt between Sigiriya and the coast.
The road rules are there- kind of. The locals don’t necessarily follow every rule to the T but they aren’t anywhere near as bad as their neighbours over in India. You WILL need to be alert, as there are still goats, cows, buffalos, children, and corn on the roads sometimes and you never know when a tuk tuk might suddenly stop/pull out/swerve/honk for no reason. Actually, you can be guaranteed the tuk tuks are honking for no reason. We definitely don’t think any of this is a reason not to plan a Sri Lankan road trip.
The police only stopped us once. This was near Pottuvil (just outside of Arugum Bay) and they wanted to fine us about $20 for overtaking near a cross walk. We quickly pointed out that tuk tuks and local drivers do this all the time. We also mentioned we had been in Sri Lanka for many weeks and the Police man let us go pretty fast. I think he could sense Sha was about to blow a gasket and didn’t want to deal with him.
Arugum Bay is notorious for traffic police so keep your wits about you in this area. It seems they will attempt to make a buck from the many self-driving tourists in this coastal town. You can only attach 2 surf boards to the roof of each tuk tuk (ridiculous considering a tuk tuk can easily carry 3 passengers) so keep that in mind when organizing surf trips or driving your own tuk tuk.
We took the most haphazard route around the country we could. In true Shatara style our Sri Lankan road trip was never going to be perfectly planned and executed.
Colombo- Hikkaduwa- Tallala- Udawalawe- Arugum Bay- Ella- Baticoloa- Trincomolee- Nilaveli/Uppaveli- Sigiriya- Arugum Bay- Colombo
Of course it would have made sense to go to Ella before Arugum Bay, and I did suggest this on the drive. But when Sha has his heart set on surfing
he won’t listen to reason who am I to hold him back! So we did that a little backwards! If elephants weren’t my favourite animals in the WHOLE WORLD I doubt he would have even let us stop in Udawalawe on the way to Arugum!
We also left Arugum after 10 days thinking we should spend some more time exploring. For us, the northern coast had history and was pretty, but there wasn’t too much to actually do. After having a look at some of the beaches and watching some fisherman on the beach, we treated ourselves to a fancy lunch at the Jungle Beach Resort and then kind of ran out of things to do. We decided pretty quickly that the surf coast was where we needed to be. We went in land and visited the rock cut temple at Dambulla and the exorbitantly over priced Sigiriya and then made our way back to our happy place.
We each bought a Mobitel Sim card package in the airport. It was 1,000 rupees ($10AUD) for 100 talk minutes and 3 GB of data. This meant that we could easily use google maps whilst on the road and find places to stay or eat whilst on the move. Data recharges were ridiculously cheap- we would get 4.5GB for just 399 rupees (less than $4AUD)!
If you didn’t want to buy data we recommend an app called Maps.ME. It allows you to navigate completely offline and has been a lifesaver for us whilst on the go.
As I mentioned earlier, the roads are really well signed for the most part and we only got confused once near Sigiriya. The main road was a dirt track? We never got too lost even when I got a bit overly involved in Instagram or Facebook whilst on the road haha.
Should you consider your own Sri Lanka road trip?
We had so much fun and saw so much of the country. Normally be glued to my computer or a book during transit to ‘make the most of my time’. Because I had to navigate I definitely saw a lot more of Sri Lanka than I normally would in transit.
For us the control that comes with driving yourself was perfect. The added luxury of leaving our big backpacks in the car, was even better. After 4 months on the road at the mercy of ticket vendors and train schedules, getting a little bit of control back in our lives was amazing. Check out our video to see more of the roads, traffic, and beautiful scenery from our trip!
Have you ever been on a
car pool karaoke dance party road trip over seas? Where was it and what was it like- tell us about it in the comments!