Private drivers in Sri Lanka are a common method of transport for tourists. In this post we tell you everything you need to know about private drivers in Sri Lanka, from how to book in advance from your home country, what rates to expect and how to plan the perfect itinerary with your driver before arriving.
Private drivers are the most popular way to travel long distances around Sri Lanka. Alternative transport options are the excellent but limited national rail service or a frequent but agonisingly slow bus service.
Whilst travelling by private driver in Sri Lanka is undoubtedly the fastest way to get around the country, it does come with a price that will eat into your budget – we’ll talk costs further down this post.
If you’re travelling on a budget and have time on your side, stick to Sri Lanka’s public transport to get more for your buck.
We’ve used private drivers in Sri Lanka many times on our holidays but always take the train at least once. It’s a great opportunity to check out local life and inhale the stunning Sri Lankan scenery.
The perfect first timer train trip in Sri Lanka is the Kandy to Galle train (photo below).
If you’re planning to visit Sri Lanka for just a week or two, a private driver will help you get around the country quickly and maximise your time in this stunning country.
Below we tell you everything you need to know about private drivers in Sri Lanka, plus an interview with a private driver we have used on numerous times in Sri Lanka, and who we would throughly recommend.
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Private drivers in Sri Lanka
everything you need to know
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Hiring a private driver in Sri Lanka for your entire itinerary
Many tourists book a private driver to drive them around Sri Lanka for their entire itinerary. This means your driver will be constantly on hand everyday to take you wherever you want to go. Your driver will stay either in your accommodation or make arrangements in a cheaper nearby accommodation each night. You will be responsible for paying for their food and accommodation during your itinerary. Many guesthouses give discounted rates for drivers, so you should not expect to pay the same as the same rate as your tourist accommodation.
Hiring a private driver in Sri Lanka as a taxi from A to B
If hiring a private driver in Sri Lanka for your entire stay doesn’t appeal (it didn’t to us – we prefer to travel independently), you can hire a private driver as a taxi from point A to B.
This is useful if you are on holiday just for a few weeks and want to maximise your time in Sri Lanka.
The trains are excellent but destinations are limited as the tracks do not cover the entire country (see where the trains do go in Sri Lanka on our train line map in our Kandy to Galle train guide post).
It’s often more expensive to hire a private driver as a taxi as your journey is one way and they have to take into account driving back, but nevertheless we found it cheaper to travel a couple of long journeys like this during our trips rather than hire a driver for our entire itinerary.
How much do private drivers in Sri Lanka cost?
Private drivers in Sri Lanka charge either by the day or by kilometre. You will need to know your approximate itinerary before requesting a price from a driver so they can give you an accurate price based on fuel consumption related to how many kilometres you want to cover.
If you are travelling in June, July or August have a look at our 3 week summer Sri Lankan itinerary here.
Private drivers in Sri Lanka are more expensive when arranged direct with your accommodation. Organising a private driver direct is much cheaper and easy to do by contacting individual drivers from referrals from previous travellers who can vouch for them.
Below you can find a list of one way prices from our driver Pradeep to give you an idea of average price.
Many private drivers will help you plan an itinerary according to what kind of holiday you’re looking for. For example, if you want to see temples, culture and then relax on the beach, or whether you’re looking to do a safari and trekking, they will help you plan your itinerary according to your needs before you arrive in Sri Lanka by chatting on facebook messenger or WhatsApp.
Are private drivers in Sri Lanka safe?
In our experience private drivers in Sri Lanka are very safe. In fact, Sri Lanka, is a very safe country in general. With over 80% of the population practicing Buddhism, goodwill and respect are shown daily by Sri Lankans.
Of course, as always, care should be taken whilst travelling solo for females (for example, I have heard the night train from Trincomalee to Colombo should not be taken by single females), but we have never heard of any incidents travelling by private driver.
Every private driver should have a registered vehicle and licence. These will be displayed in the vehicle windscreen.
Book a private driver either through your accommodation or direct through someone who has used them before and can vouch for them.
There are often no seat belts in taxis in Sri Lanka, or there are seat belts … but they don’t work. Our first time in Sri Lanka, when ordering private drivers through our accommodation, I repeatedly asked for a taxi with seat belts. We never did we have one arrive with working seat belts.
And then we found Pradeep (see the interview below) who DOES have working seat belts and drives at a very safe, respectful speed.
If it’s your first time in Sri Lanka, then know this – roads in Sri Lanka seem to have their own chaotic rhythm! Drivers can seem erratic and if you feel unsafe, just ask your driver to slow down.
Below we interviewed our private driver in Sri Lanka who we have used several times and can highly recommend. He is fluent in English and is easy contact on facebook or WhatsApp where he is happy to help you plan your itinerary for no extra cost.
Q&A with private driver
Pradeep, a 39 year old, vegetarian Buddist from Kandy has been a private driver in Sri Lanka for 4 years.
He takes good care of his taxi, a Toyota Prius, which comes complete with working seat belts in the back, a rare find in Sri Lanka!
Pradeep drives all over the island, and if he isn’t available, will arrange a private driver for you with no commission at all. He’s a gem!
Pradeep can organise tailored itineraries which start at around 7500 rupees per day (current rates £32/$39/€36) for a driver and fuel. Driver’s food and accommodation are also required to be paid on top of this.
After marriage, Pradeep, who previously worked in a fertiliser company, decided to become his own boss, so he could choose his own hours. He loves being a private driver as he can now spend more time with his two children (a 1 yr old son & a 4yr old daughter).
Following the end of civil war in 2009, tourism has exploded in Sri Lanka. It’s no secret why. Like wildfire, word spread quickly of warm Sri Lankan hospitality, exceptional food, incredible wildlife, pumping surf and year round sunshine. In fact, Lonely Planet voted Sri Lanka the No 1 country to travel to in 2019.
Two devastating events in Sri Lanka, the tsunami and the 2019 bombings forced Sri Lankans into truly challenging times.
The 2019 bombings in Colombo hit Sri Lanka hard. Tourists left in droves and governments around the world hastily posted advice against travel to Sri Lanka on their websites.
I only had one driving job in 4 months following the 2019 explosions” Pradeep tells me. ” My taxi, like most private drivers, is on monthly lease. I couldn’t keep up the payments. It was a difficult time” he says. “But”, he adds, “it affected everyone here hard. Tourism is now the no 1 industry in Sri Lanka (no 2 is textile factories producing garments for international companies & no 3 is tea), the lack of tourists hit everyone in Sri Lanka from hotels, to cleaners or worst hit, the road side coconut sellers. It was hard”.
Tourists started trickling back into Sri Lanka after 6 months and during our visit this February we saw a lot of tourists in the country. “We are delighted to see tourists back” Pradeep beams to me.
My heart goes out to them now. As I write this, Covid-19 is rampaging around the world and countries have slammed their borders shut with international travel coming to a standstill. The last thing that Sri Lanka needs right now.
Pradeep praises Sri Lanka’s new president, who has ramped up security systems following the bombings.
The traffic on Sri Lankan roads seems utter chaos. Is there method in the mayhem?
Our first time on Sri Lankan roads left us in shock. Haphazard driving with vehicles weaving in-between each other at a rate of knots through belches of exhaust fumes left us dazed but exhilarated.
Safe? Er no.
Second time around in Sri Lanka this February (2020) I felt none of the anxiety of our first timer experiences. The traffic seemed to move in harmony, there was a rhythm and at no time did we even break out into sweat from any sudden death near experiences (laugh). Certainly the traffic hadn’t changed. We had. Look at Sri Lankan roads as having three lanes. Two either way and an invisible one in the middle where the dance of overtaking takes place.
What are the rules of the road in Sri Lanka?
Traffic drives on the left in Sri Lanka, a remnant from British colonial rule.
You need a special licence for tourist taxis. Private drivers need to re-new their licence every 5 years.
Slow vehicles such as tuk tuks must keep to the left side as well as lorries or buses. If not they are fined.
Faster vehicles can overtake. There are no traffic cameras in Sri Lanka but there are plenty of traffic police.
Pradeep tells me he never cuts the single white line to overtake anymore. At first when he started driving, he would regularly overtake on sections where the solid white line was, but the police are strict and he got fined regularly.
Now, he takes his time. He abides by all the traffic rules, and is very in tune with his guests. If he sees you trying to take a photo, he will slow down or offer to stop. We can vouch for Pradeep – he’s a super safe driver!
Traffic beeps incessantly on Sri Lankan roads. What does beeping mean exactly?
Beeping is for everything. I beep to tell someone I’m going to overtake, I beep if there’s someone in the road, I beep to say hello.
Where is the best place to travel to in Sri Lanka right now?
With the country opening up ten years ago from civil war, Jaffna, the city in the North is now opening up and currently sees much less tourists than the rest of the country.
“The North” he says promises “good beaches, temples, islands and boats. Delft Island on the northern tip of Sri Lanka is only 25 kilometres from India – on a clear day you can see the huge continent. There’s been talk of building a bridge many times” Pradeep shrugs.
What are your typical rates for distances in Sri Lanka?
I charge 7500 rupees per day if I am hired as a private driver for an entire itinerary. I can help visitors plan their trip beforehand on WhatsApp or facebook messenger.
For taxi one way services, I charge the following amounts:-
Pradeep can give you advice on planning your itinerary weeks before you hit Sri Lanka.
Contact Pradeep on: +94716654929 and +94776797044.
You can reach him on WhatsApp or Facebook (@Nawaratna Pradeep).
Looking to visit Sri Lanka and want to read more posts?
Check out our other Sri Lankan posts which give lots of information and advice from Climbing Pidurangala Rock in Sigiriya, the best place we stayed at in Sri Lanka, Hilltop Cabanas or if you’re heading to the hills, 6 Places to Visit in Ella, or What to do in Kandy(like our favourite – getting a sari made! If it’s your first time to Sri Lanka and you’re a bit nervous about travelling there with the kids perhaps? Read our First Impressions to Backpacking Sri Lanka post, and if you’re travelling to the east coast, read our How to Stay Safe at Elephant Rock post – unfortunately a tourist died from a croc attack just after we visited. We were shocked as we’d visited this very place to surf with the kids. I still think it’s safe enough – just don’t go to the loo in the jungle and wash your hands in the lagoon ….
More Sri Lanka reading:
Private drivers in Sri Lanka – everything you need to know
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