What is it like to fly to Sri Lanka, and how does it work to rent a car in Sri Lanka? We flew to Colombo, and then we got a rental car to start our adventure on the island. It didn't go exactly as planned, but I'm sure it will be fine anyway!
Fly to Sri Lanka
There are several different options if you want to fly to Sri Lanka. On the date we wanted to go, there were two options - Emirates via Dubai or Ukraine International Airlines via Kiev. We chose the latter option, partly because it was cheaper, but also because the stopover was much shorter and smoother. So what was it like to fly with Ukraine International Airlines?
Ukraine International Airlines
No, the aircraft did not feel very modern. Not if you looked at things like TV screens, for example. We did not have our own, as you often have on long flights, but only a few large common ones that everyone could watch. For some reason, however, we had happened to book premium seats, that is, the seats just behind Business Class.
We got a little more legroom and the flight attendants were keen to create a "premium feeling" by folding small napkins over the lanky tables when serving. They also made sure in time that we did not lack water, juice, wine, socks, blankets, earplugs or whatever it might be.
Despite this, it is terribly uncomfortable to fly to Sri Lanka (and all other long-distance destinations) and we all slept badly. At least we had two ok meals!
Money and SIM cards
We landed at Bandaranaike International Airport, near Negombo just north of Colombo, at 9am. We started by arranging practicalities such as withdrawing money in local currency, and buying local SIM cards. We chose the operator Dialog, which apparently has good coverage, and we had to pay about 65 SEK for 9 GIG. Then it was time to rent a car in Sri Lanka!
Car hire in Sri Lanka
It is common to rent a car with a driver in Sri Lanka, but we wanted to rent a car and drive ourselves, not least for the feeling of freedom. For this reason, Peter had made sure to get an international driving licence before we left. When we arrived at the car hire companies, however, it turned out that this not reached. Because you also need a stamp!
The stamp is obtained locally in Sri Lanka, and it shouldn't be a problem once you have your international driving licence. But it can't be done on a Sunday. And not on Christmas Eve. Nor on Christmas Day, nor on Boxing Day ... So what did we do? Well, we ended up hiring a car with a driver anyway, through the company JNW Lanka Tours …
Advantages/disadvantages of drivers
The advantage of a local driver is of course that they are used to the traffic and will (hopefully) find their way around. They can also act as guides and help you find attractions and good restaurants. Of course, you'll have to pay a bit more to get a driver, but the difference in price isn't huge.
The prices we were offered were about SEK 550 per day for a rental car without a driver, and about SEK 650 per day for a rental car with a driver, or SEK 700 for a van with a driver. The latter prices also include insurance, petrol and free kilometres.
At the same time, we felt as uncomfortable as we were afraid we would. Should we just ask the driver to wait when we want to do something else, and what if we don't know how long we'll be gone? Should we tip him? Should we take all the fruit he buys for us (without asking) and does that mean we have to tip even more?
Advantages/disadvantages of self-driving
There is left-hand traffic in Sri Lanka and traffic can be heavy in places. We have also realised that the weather can sometimes make the road conditions difficult, and that it can be inappropriate to drive in the dark. However, from what we've seen so far, there would be no problem at all in driving ourselves. In fact, Peter was looking longingly at the road, keen to drive!
What about finding it? Well, that would be a bit more difficult, of course. On the other hand, our driver couldn't find our hotel, even though we gave him the address and a map. We ended up having to sit and guide him, using the GPS on one of our mobiles. Left here, right, right again, and now left ...
These were our first experiences, flying to and renting a car in Sri Lanka. Now we have arrived at our first destination, Anuradhapura. Exciting! We will tell you more soon!