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Bus

Bus routes cover about 80% of the nation’s 90,000km of roads. There are two kinds of bus in Sri Lanka:

Central Transport Board (CTB) buses These are the default buses and usually lack air-con; they ply most long-distance and local routes. You’ll also see buses with a Sri Lanka Transport Board (SLTB) logo.

Private buses Independent bus companies have vehicles ranging from late-model coaches used on intercity-express runs to ancient minibuses on short runs between towns and villages. Private air-con intercity buses cover some major routes. For long-distance travel they are more comfortable and faster than other bus services. Note that completion of the Southern Expressway has sparked the introduction of express services in fully modern air-con coaches between Colombo and Galle.

Costs

In most cases, private bus companies run services parallel to CTB services. Intercity expresses charge about twice as much as CTB buses, but are more than twice as comfortable and usually faster. Fares for CTB buses and ordinary private buses are very cheap.

Tips

Bus travel in Sri Lanka can be interesting and entertaining. Many locals speak some English, so you may have some enjoyable interactions. Vendors board to sell snacks and gifts on long-distance routes.

Important considerations for bus travel:

  • Major routes will have service several times an hour during daylight hours.
  • Finding the right bus at the chaotic bus stations of major cities and towns can be challenging, although almost all buses now have part of their destination sign in English.
  • Many buses operate on fixed routes with a route number, which makes it easier to locate the correct bus.
  • There is usually no central ticket office; you must locate the right parking area and buy your bus ticket either from a small booth or on board the bus.
  • You may be able to reserve a seat on a bus in advance; check at the station.
  • ‘Semi-comfortable’ (or 'semi-luxe') buses are run by private companies and have larger seats and window curtains compared to CTB buses, but lack the air-con of the best intercity buses.
  • Most people at bus stations and on buses will help you with your questions.
  • Luggage space is limited or nonexistent; you may have to buy a ticket for your bag.
  • The first two seats on CTB buses are reserved for clergy (Buddhist monks).
  • To guarantee a seat, board the bus at the beginning of its journey.
  • When you arrive at your destination, confirm the departure details for the next stage of your journey.