Arriving in Sri Lanka… a quick guide!!

The international airport of Sri Lanka (formally named Bandaranaike International Airport) is located 30 km north from Colombo, close to the city of Negombo, and informally is known by Negombo Airport.

This location makes the stay in Negombo a good option if you have an early flight or if you arrive in the evening. But if you want to go straight to Colombo, and want to avoid the taxis (that cost minimum 2.500LKR) you have the bus that links the airport to the city center (Colombo fort) 24 hours and costs 100 LKR. The bus trip takes around 1 hour and use the express way, that means that avoid much stops and the busy national roads.

When you arrive, and pass the immigration process (quiet fast) and collect the luggage, you reach to a hall where you can find the ATM and the Information desk, as also some small office/shops of pre-paid taxis, hotels, travel agencies and money exchangers.

The ATM are located on the left side. As also the Information desk is not so obvious and others desk also offer tourist information but that are related to hotels and travel agencies, and probably will try to push you to more expensive option.

As I wanted to travel directly from the airport to Kandy, one of this travel in one of this desks told me that the only option was to take a taxi, as the last bus already left, and immediately a pre-paid taxi driver approach to confirm the information… but it wasn’t true, as I realised later.

Information desk at Sri Lanka International Airport (Bandaranaike International Airport)
Information desk at Sri Lanka International Airport (Bandaranaike International Airport)

Katunayake is a small village just next to the airport, about 1.5 km, and to reach the bus terminal of Katunayake you can do it on foot, but with the luggage maybe a tuk-tuk is a good option that will cost 100 LKR. When you leave the airport the tuk-tuk that are waiting in the front of the gate will ask much more… sometimes 800 LKR… is a good test for your bargains skill, that you’ll going to need during your stay in Sri Lanka!

So, to arrive to Katunayake Bus Terminal, when you exit the airport gate and reach the main road (where the tuk-tuks are) you must turn left. From here you need to walk south along the main road; there is no side walk but part of the way you have a kind you green are that keep you in a safe distance from the traffic. When you reach a big intersection (ignore the first intersection), after passing a kind of arc (looks like a gate over the main road), you need to turn left and walk more 500 meters to reach the Bus Terminal, that is located in a small street on your left side. Here you just need to ask the direction to the local people. Katunayake Bus Terminal is small and very basic and without much signs in English, so you need to ask to the local people where the bus stops.


How to go from the Airport (Negombo) to Colombo

But if your destiny is Colombo, is much easier. As you exit the airport arrivals building (that in fact is the same building as the departures) you must walk left and after 100 meters you’ll see a few buses stop on your left, even before you exit the airport gate. These buses governmental buses (SLTB) that leave the airport every 15 minutes. During the night the frequency decrease to 1 bus every hour.

The bus number is 187 (air condition bus) and uses the expressway to reach Colombo, which takes around 1 hour, but could be more, depending of the traffic.

The 187 bus run 24h.

It cost 100 LKR.

The bus let you in Colombo-Fort, close from the Railways station and from Colombo Central Bus Stand and Bastian Mawatha Bus Station.

Bus 187 that links the airport to Colombo Fort. 24 hours. 100 LKR
Bus 187 that links the airport to Colombo Fort. 24 hours. 100 LKR

Bus 187 that links the airport to Colombo Fort. 24 hours. 100 LKR

How to go from Colombo to Kandy

  1. The cheapest option is the train, that cost you 190 to 280 LKR (depending if it’s “express” or “normal” train) and take 3 hours, but arrive a bit later that the schedule. Although is difficult to have a seat, as the reserved seat (just for 1st class) are sold out in advance. There are 8 trains a day doing Colombo-Kandy trip.
  1. The most expensive option it hired a taxi, but also the faster and more confortable. An option to have in consideration if you travel in a group of 4.

Táxi Colombo to Kandy: 6000 LKR (2 h)

  1. The buses are the easiest option, not expensive and are always available during day time since 5 in the morning. They are uncomfortable, and due to the intense traffic the drivers are constantly speed and braking, making any trip that last more than 3 hours a tiresome journey, also because of the constant beeping of the bus and all the others vehicles that circulate on the road. The buses run most of the time full and sometimes is difficult to get a seat. The trip takes at least 4 hours as the bus stop every time that someone in the road side is waiting, no mater if it is a bus stand or not!!!

There are also a/c buses that departure form Bastian Mawatha Bus Station, located in the opposite side of Central Bus Station. If you leave the train station, turn left and keep walking along that sidewalk, passing in front of a kind of street market and stall until you arrive to a more empty area; keep walking in the same direction until you see a dirty road and on your left there’s an entrance to the Bastian Mawatha Bus Station.

Here you need to find (is better just ask) for a/c bus to Kandy. There are small blue buses that usual and get quickly full, but you can wait for the next bus that don’t take more than 15 minutes to come.

Bus Colombo Forte to Kandy: 265 LKR (almost 4 hours)

Sri Lanka_bus_DSC_6874
“normal” bus in Sri Lanka
Sri LAnka_bus Colombo-Kandy_DSC_7063
Bus Stand at Bastian Mawatha Bus Station. Colombo
Sri LAnka_Bus Colombo-Kandy_DSC_7065
Ar-condition Bus from Colombo to Kandy

How to go from Airport (Negombo) straight to Kandy

If you want to go north or to east, you don’t necessarily need to go to Colombo, instead you just need to Katunayake Bus Terminal, and from there you can take a direct bus to Kandy or in the direction of Dambulla, Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Jafna but for this destinations you must change bus (maybe more than one time) probably in Kurunegala, and later in others “unkown” cities).

The trip from Katunayake to Kandy takes more that 4 hours, and is not guarantee that you’ll have a seat.

The ticket costs 133 LKR.


Bus from Katunayake to Kandy
Bus from Katunayake to Kandy

a bit about ATMs in Sri Lanka:

The maximum amount of money in Sri Lanka ATMs is 50.000 LKR, but also depends of the maximum amount allowed to withdrawal in your country. The Portuguese bank have the maximum of 200€ per withdrawal and 400€ per day; that makes 30.000 LKR the maximum amount that you can get per withdrawal.

In Sri Lanka banks usually charge a fee 200 LKR (HNB-Hatton National Bank) to 300 LKR (Comercial Bank…for exemple).

Sri Lanka population: 20.5 millions

Sri Lanka Life expectancy: 74 years


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