Sri Lanka’s Fuel Situation [2023 Update]
The situation in Sri Lanka is much better than it was in 2022. Currently, petrol is available around the island as the country received many fuel shipments. Since the arrival and distribution, fuel availability has been constant. Tuktuk Rental reports having more than 100+ customers on the road at the beginning of 2023 and counting. They said their customers are not reporting issues with fueling up their tuk tuks.
This is likely due to the fact Sri Lanka's Ministry of Tourism introduced the tap-and-go fuel card for tourists, back in October 2022. With this card, you can purchase a top-up card at the airport, pay in USD cash, and get unlimited fuel between $50 to $300 for a day. Then, at certain banks around the island, you can also top up the card.
In early 2020 (just before Covid-19 locked down the world) we spent two months based in Dickwella, Sri Lanka.
We worked a lot in that time and decided to take a couple of weeks off driving a tuk tuk around the country as a reward.
Sri Lanka has everything a traveler could want in a destination. Beautiful, untouched beaches, misty mountains, and secluded highlands.
Its two-season divide means it's always perfect weather somewhere in the country. In every sense, Sri Lanka is the perfect country to get lost in. And there's no better way to get lost in this avocado-shaped country than in your very own tuk tuk.
The unique experience of driving a tuk tuk around Sri Lanka is adventure-packed but does come with some challenges.
If you're deciding on whether to go on your own tuk tuk trip, I hope sharing our experience will help steer you in the right direction.
Renting a Tuk Tuk in Sri Lanka: Pros & Cons
- Freedom to control your travel schedule
- Get off the beaten path
- More reliable than public transport
- Meet more locals
- A greater sense of accomplishment
- Store your luggage/equipment in tuktuk
- Breakdowns do happen
- Driving in Sri Lanka can be very stressful
- More expensive than public transport
- Not the fastest way of getting around
- Some locals feel you're stealing their business
Renting with tuktukrental.com
We rented our tuktuk with Tuktuk Rental, which is a Sri Lankan business that matches travelers to local tuktuk owners. By renting through Tuktuk Rental your money goes back to local people, which made the decision an easy one for us.
Do you have to rent a tuktuk with an agency?
The simple answer is no. Technically, you could rent a tuktuk privately, however, this way comes with a lot of problems.
Before renting a tuktuk with Tuktuk Rental, we approached some locals about negotiating a deal with them directly. However, factors like insurance, tuktuk driving licenses and other logistics meant the owners would be liable if we were stopped by the police. As Tuktuk Rental takes care of all the logistics, we felt it a safer option.
Renting through an agency turned out to be a good decision for us since we encountered multiple issues early on and the Tuktuk Rental support staff were amazing and even drove out a replacement tuktuk for us. Knowing we had that backup support while being in rural Sri Lanka was worth it.
You will need insurance and a driving license to hit the road, but don't stress, Tuktuk Rental takes care of it all for you.
What's included in the rental price:
- A tuktuk (duh) with unlimited kms
- Third party insurance
- Sri Lankan tuktuk driving license
- Driving lesson
- Access to community Whatsapp group
- Access to Google map with travel hotspot locations
- Any repairs needed on the road covered
What's not included:
How Much Does It Cost To Rent a Tuk Tuk in Sri Lanka?
The price of rental tuk tuks vary from $14 to $29 per day depending on three factors:
1. Length of rental:
The more time you book, the cheaper it gets. You'll pay a premium for a rental less than a week, but a month or longer you'll start to see major savings. Another reason why long-term renting is highly recommended.
2. Type of tuk tuk:
There are generally two kinds of tuk tuks. You're probably familiar with the standard tuk tuk. This is the basic tuk tuk most people rent and the option we chose. The other kind is the camper tuk tuk. This one is a little more per day as it has extra room in the back for sleeping and storage. Both options require a $150 deposit.
3. The extras:
This is where the price can really increase. If you're like us and want your tuk tuk delivered to you somewhere in the country that' cost you about $50 and another $50 if you want to return it to the same place. Prices vary depending on the distance from Colombo. This was majorly convenient for us as we were able to arrange this at our workspace Verse Collective in Dickwella.
We also rented a speaker to blast tunes and a tent for about $1 a day each. There are also surfboard racks, coolers, and baby seats available.
*Make sure to check the extras work. Our audio speaker wouldn't charge properly, which kinda sucked.
*Use our unique coupon code: GOROAM for a discount.
Getting an International Driving License in Sri Lanka
In some countries, you can get a local driving license for your stay if you are not a citizen. However, in most cases, you will be required to have an international driving license. In Sri Lanka, the process is relatively straightforward to get your "three-wheeler" local license. Also, if you rent a tuk tuk via Tuk Tuk Rental they handle all the logistics, so all you need to do is pass the simple driving "test".
How Difficult Is The Driving Test?
The driving test is very casual and anyone who has taken a driving course should pass it easily. The test involves basic vehicle control like stop-starting and gear changing, which is like the combination of driving a car and a motorbike. My test was conducted by the owner of the tuk tuk so he wanted to be sure I was taking good care of the vehicle.
Our Tuk Tuk travel route
As we were based in Dickwella we organized a tuk tuk pick-up and drop-off to save time.
Tuktuk Rental charged around $100 USD for this service, but due to limited time, we felt it was worth the money. The cheapest option is to pick up your tuk tuk in Colombo.
We arranged with our Sri Lankan landlord to hold our main packs for us, which freed up plenty of space in the back of the tuk tuk.
We started our trip heading east where we planned to camp on the eastern beaches. But wet weather meant we changed our plans and we steered north-west towards the ancient cities of Polonwurra and Sigirya (and back into the dry season).
From the northern cultural hubs, we drove south through the highlands and enjoyed some peace at the serene Pepper Cottage. After a brief stop for some delicious Indian food in Kandy, we climbed to the top of the iconic Ambuluwawa tower before camping out at Adam's Peak.
We climbed Adam's Peak that night and jumped right back into our little 'Avo' the same day and trudged onto Nuwara Eliyah. A short stint in the mountains and we enjoyed a brisk drive to the popular backpacker town, Ella. From there, it was back to our little home away from home, Dickwella.
Our tuk tuk trip took us two weeks, which put a lot of pressure on us time-wise. We recommend at least three weeks to a month for anyone considering a similar trip.
After a 10-minute basic lesson I was handed the keys and I was on my own.
Nerves set in as I approached the busy main road in Dickwella, which buses juggernaut down.
I stalled and stalled again.
Despite, confidently driving manual cars and motorbikes for years, this small battered three-wheeler was testing my skills. However, this gets easier and after a day of driving, you'll feel like a local.
Starting out tips:
- Find somewhere quiet to get a feel for the tuk tuk (Especially if you're new to non-automatic vehicles)
- Don't stress. Remember, Sri Lankan roads are chaos, but that also means you can do pretty much anything and no one will blink an eyelid. If you stall, literally no one cares, and everyone will go around you.
- Avoid night driving: The driving instructor warned not to drive at night. The driver's manual said to not drive at night. I specifically told Ash "I won't drive at night". Yet, there we were, burning miniature rubber trying to make up ground on the first damn night. It's not advised, and we can confirm from first-hand experience, Sri Lankan roads are dangerous... but at night they are an accident waiting to happen.
- Move for buses, they won't stop
Tuk Tuk Driving in Sri Lanka as a Foreigner
Sri Lankan roads are chaotic, hard to predict and sometimes scary. Here are some things you should know before getting behind the handlebars of a tuktuk or motorbike in Sri Lanka.
1. Bigger the vehicle, the bigger the danger
Sri Lankan road rules are primitive and the size of your vehicle truly decides your priority. Motorbikes are bottom of the chain and we've had every kind of vehicle drive head-on at us in the full expectation we will move. On the other end, there are buses. These buses are extremely dangerous and will not stop. Always keep an eye out for approaching buses and move out of their way.
2. The national Tuk Tuk speed limit is 40km/hr
That's right. Tuktuks are slow chuggers, but remember Sri Lanka is a small country. Even at this speed you'll be able to get to most places in a day, and it's a lot safer to travel on Sri Lankan roads at this speed.
3. Police are active
You'll pass a lot of police on your travels and will likely get pulled over.
Three types of police stops in Sri Lanka:
- Normal police stop - you were speeding etc.
- Curious police check - they're stoked to see foreigners and want to say hi
- Corrupt police check - they're after your money
4. Watch out for wildlife
Once you've gotten used to dodging traffic, you'll need to learn to dodge the animals. You'll come across everything you can imagine on Sri Lankan roads - including wild elephants!
5. Driving at night is notoriously more dangerous
Pretty self-explanatory, but things get even more intense.
6. Your driving intuition will improve
Honestly, even if you're worried about driving in Sri Lanka at first, you'll quickly pick up on how the roads operate. There are no rules, but that's a rule in itself. There are still things you do and don't do, and that comes with practice. You'll be shocked every single day you drive in Sri Lanka, but that's all part of the fun, right?
Issues on the road
Our first few days driving a tuk tuk was tough.
The original tuk tuk we were given had a series of issues that resulted in three breakdowns. Tuktuk Rental staff were always extremely helpful and got us back on the road, but it was eating into a short time frame and in all honesty, it was frustrating.
However, Tuktuk Rental sent another tuk tuk to us overnight from Colombo to Sigiriya, which was really appreciated. That tuk tuk was perfect. We had no problems and enjoyed the rest of our trip trouble-free.
Despite our issues, Tuktuk Rental staff were incredibly helpful every step of the journey.
Other things to know
Vegan options on a Tuk Tuk trip
One of the beauties of being vegan in a country like Sri Lanka is the wide variety of local food options.
No matter where you are there's always something to eat. At the very least the national Rice & Curry dish is always an option. Not to mention kottu, daal, hoppers, string hoppers, roti and more!
While a lot of Sri Lankan food is naturally vegan, the term 'vegan' is a new one. However, locals are very familiar with the word vegetarian - this quite often means vegan. The biggest difficulty is knowing if meals are cooked using ghee, a type of butter commonly used throughout the Indian subcontinent.
Get our complete guide to traveling Sri Lanka as a vegan here.
Will renting a tuktuk mean you miss the Kandy to Ella train?
If this train ride is something you must do, then you can organize with tuktuk rental for their staff to pick up and drop off your tuktuk at the other end of the train journey, which is a really cool add-on.
However, this train journey gets extremely busy and cramped, even if you take the earliest train. It can make for a miserable time and it's common for people to miss the views entirely. After taking both the train and tuktuk on this route, I'd choose to cruise it in a three-wheeler anytime.
A little tip, catching the train in reverse, from Ella to Kandy, can mitigate the crowds and has the same views.
Don't pick up people in your tuktuk
It's really easy to get carried away and want to stop and pick up locals or other travelers. However, remain mindful that each person you pick up, you're taking business away from a local tuktuk driver.
Income is extremely low for tuktuk drivers in Sri Lanka and western tourists in tuktuks have caused some frustration in the tuktuk community.
This has led to a 'tuktuk mafia' forming, which are groups of disgruntled tuktuk drivers who are best avoided. However, in our experience, other tuktuk drivers were extremely friendly and helpful.
Was it worth it?
Driving around Sri Lanka was unforgettable. While it was our most expensive purchase in Sri Lanka, it was well worth the money and we have both agreed when we return, we're renting a tuktuk again. No question.
Because Sri Lanka is one of the most affordable countries to travel, getting a tuktuk could potentially save you money if you were to camp along the way. It also saves time, as you're not held to local transportation's fickle schedules.
In a tuktuk you also get to see a lot more of Sri Lanka.
The places we journeyed were well out of sight of any bus or cab. We truly felt we were in places no tourists had been before. And if that's not priceless, I don't know what is.
Ready to book your own tuktuk trip?
Use the coupon-code GOROAM when you sign up for a 5% discount.
No one likes to think about it, but traveling in Sri Lanka can have risks. By covering yourself with the right travel insurance, you can enjoy the world without worries.
I recommend World Nomads as my favorite travel insurance provider.