9 Tips for Taking the Bus in Colombo

A red bus in the rain in Colombo
A red bus in the rain in Colombo | © Jérôme Decq / Flickr | Flickr

Sri Lanka Hub Writer

Taking the public bus in Colombo is a bit of an adventure. The locals are used to it but they still have colorful words to say about the experience of bus travel. Taking the bus in Colombo takes a bit of practice since there are no obvious street signs telling you which bus goes where. Here are some tips for taking the bus in Colombo.

Talk to the locals

When you are a Colombo bus newbie, the best way to get to know the routes and the bus colors and numbers is to ask the locals. There are a few websites that can help but since the timing is never exact and the stops are not marked, it is best to learn from the experts. Ask someone to tell you how to get to one place from where you are and start exploring the routes that way. Write down what bus you took where so that you can take it again another day. If you get lost, ask a local!

Expect to wait

When you get to a bus stop (or a corner) be prepared to wait. The bus might arrive in five minutes or in half an hour. Ask a local again if you are in the right place for the bus you need. Take the opportunity to chat to the other people waiting for the bus, that’s what travel is in the end. Getting to know the people. Using the bus is a great excuse.

Catching the bus

Be prepared to run

If when you see your bus it doesn’t slow down getting to the corner you are going to have to flag it down and might even have to chase it a little. If there are lots of people taking the same bus then the driver might stop completely. If you are the last one on, hold on tight because the bus will start as soon as your foot is on the step.

Wear closed toe shoes if possible

You won’t know if the bus you are taking is going to be busy and wearing flip flops on the bus can often get your toes stepped on. Also some buses are so old that the metal floor is a bit slippery. Better be safe and wear closed toes shoes for better traction and toe protection.

Colorful buses in Colombo

Always have change

Have coins or small bills on hand to pay the fare. The driver or the person taking the fares will not have change for big notes. Non AC buses are cheaper than AC buses but they are still below 100 rupees so try and have bills and coins that are smaller than that. A 500 or 1000 rupee note will get you nowhere.

Have upper body strength

Buses will go fast when there is no traffic. They will also break abruptly or make turns at great speed. If there are no available seats when you get on you will have to travel standing up. You will need upper body strength to hold on to the handrails or seats.

Wear modest clothing

This tip is for the ladies. Protect yourself from unwanted advances or touching. People will stare no matter what you wear, but that is a Sri Lankan thing and there’s nothing you can do about that. Simply put, don’t take the bus in a skirt or shorts, and make sure your tops cover cleavage and preferable the shoulders as well.

The inside of of a bus in Sri Lanka

Expect to get stuck in traffic

When there is traffic the buses move at a snails pace. The slowest traffic times of day are when schools let in around 7:30 – 8, when the schools let out between 12.00 and 2 pm and then again in the evening when work ends and people are going home. Fridays are particularly slow after midday due to Friday prayers and it stays slow until the evening. If you are in hurry during these times of day, it might be better to not take the bus.

Take small kids only if they are used to bus travel

Sri Lankan children take the bus all the time. They are used to the running to get on, the jumping to get off and the swaying inside the bus. If you have small kids and they are not used to bus travel, it might not be a great idea to take them. They could fall really easily and get stepped on. If you want your kids to get accustomed to bus travel, start with easy routes outside of peak hours.

culture trip left arrow
 culture trip brand logo

Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip

meet our Local Insider


women sitting on iceberg


2 years.


It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.


I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!

culture trip logo letter c
group posing for picture on iceberg
group posing for picture on iceberg

Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.

map of volcanic iceland trip destination points
culture trip brand logo
culture trip right arrow
landscape with balloons floating in the air


Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world

Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.

Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.

Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.

Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.

We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.