How hard it is to self-drive in Sri Lanka? Our experience driving in Sri Lanka

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In this post, I wanted to share with you our experience driving in Sri Lanka. How hard is it to self-drive in Sri Lanka? Is it dangerous to drive in Sri Lanka? Can you hire a car on your own? Do you really need a driver in Sri Lanka? All that and more you can find in this guide to driving in Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka is a beautiful country and it exceeded our expectations! It had everything: from jungles and mountains to beautiful sandy beaches and even safari. 5 days in Sri Lanka weren’t enough to see even the main highlights of the island. Sri Lanka isn’t huge, however, the roads are narrow and very busy, so driving 150 km can take, well, almost 4 hours!

Read this post about the prices & cost of travel in Sri Lanka >>>

Hiring a self-drive car in Sri Lanka.

When we were planning our trip to Sri Lanka (as part of our 16-day itinerary for South Asia), we were not sure, whether to hire a self-drive car or hire a car with a driver. As we were on a budget, we decided to go for self drive in Sri Lanka. Well, I don’t drive myself, but Pepe volunteered.

We found a lot of positive and negative reviews about driving in Sri Lanka and the negative ones made us a bit uneasy. However, as it turned out, driving in Sri Lanka is not bad at all! There are some tricky moments that I’ll explain later in the post, but overall, it’s not bad!

Where to rent a self-drive car in Sri Lanka?

There are plenty of options for car rentals in Sri Lanka, however, you need to be aware of the fact that you need an additional driving licence just for Sri Lanka. In reality, it’s not an international driving licence, it’s a special driving permit for Sri Lanka, that needs to be obtained beforehand. Hence, hiring a car at the airport without pre-booking in advance and arranging the permit wouldn’t work.

We found online that Sixt sorts the Sri Lankan driving licences for you for a fee of £30, so we decided to book a self-drive with them directly.

Overall, we paid around £230 for our car rental and had a very nice automatic Hyundai i10, perfect for driving in Sri Lanka (believe me, you don’t want a big car in Sri Lanka unless you’re planning to go off-road).

We were very happy with Sixt – we reached out to them for the licence 1 week before the trip and they were able to sort everything out. They don’t have a stand at the airport – their office is 5 minutes driving away, so their representative was meeting us at the airport.

I’m sure that there are cheaper places to rent the car in Sri Lanka that are located outside of the airport, however, you need to keep in mind, that you will have to come to the office in Sri Lanka to get your driving permit before renting a car.

Renting a car in Sri Lanka
Special permit to drive in Sri Lanka
That’s how this special Sri Lankan driving permit looks like

Is it dangerous to drive in Sri Lanka? Our Sri Lanka self-drive experience

There are certain things to be aware of and mind, but overall, it’s not a bad place to drive. I must say that driving in Lebanon was a bit more challenging.

Many people decide to hire a driver in Sri Lanka because they hear about the chaos on the roads and don’t want to risk it. I must say that I felt uneasy about some characteristics of driving in Sri Lanka – namely the huge passenger buses driving at nearly 90km/h and overtaking all the cars. They often drive on the other side of the road while overtaking (many roads in Sri Lanka are just 2-lanes), so make sure to drive slowly in Sri Lanka, so you always have a chance to slow down or even stop.

We didn’t have any dangerous moments in Sri Lanka, but we had 1-2 moments with buses driving recklessly, so I recommend you not to overtake cars yourself and just drive at a slow pace.

There is, however, a paid highway to Matara from Negombo airport (next to Colombo) and that highway is amazing. If you’re only planning to drive from Colombo to Matara, then you don’t need to worry at all.

Summary of our self drive experience in Sri Lanka: driving from Negombo to Sigiriya and Kandy

Overall, I must say that driving in Sri Lanka wasn’t hard at all, but we didn’t drive in Colombo (and I don’t recommend driving there).

Driving from Negombo to Sigiriya takes a lot of time and is pretty slow, however, the road is good and as long as you don’t actively overtake other cars on the road, you’ll be completely fine.

Driving from Kandy to Colombo is not bad at all, however, it passes through a lot of different small and not-so-small cities and that just slows down all the driving. When there are cities, there are way more buses on the road and that means more stops and delays.

As I mentioned before, from Colombo to Mirissa and Matara, there is an amazing paid highway, which is as easy to drive on as any highway in Europe.

In the end, it’s up to you to decide, whether to drive in Sri Lanka or not and whether you’re courageous enough to drive around this beautiful island, but I must say that our self-drive experience in Sri Lanka was good and we expected things to be way worse than they were!

P.S.: I forgot to mention that people drive on the left in Sri Lanka. While it’s not a problem for us (as we live in the UK), it might be challenging for some people.

Driving in Sri Lanka yourself

You might also like our other posts:

The guide to prices in Sri Lanka: how expensive is Sri Lanka?
4 days in Bhutan – our tour & experience
5 days in Seychelles on a budget – Mahe, Praslin and La Digue
The Maldives vs Seychelles – which one is better?

2 thoughts on “How hard it is to self-drive in Sri Lanka? Our experience driving in Sri Lanka”

  1. Great post! I’m heading to Sri Lanka in the summer for a few weeks, would you recommend a car rather than relying on public transport? I feel like I would be able to access more places by car, but I may be wrong. Thanks!

    • Hi Tim! Thank you! I would 100% recommend a car – it’s much easier to travel around the island by car. However, I’m not sure if all the petrol stations are operating again after the crisis


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