Cows and Cars and Elephants, Oh My: Driving in Sri Lanka

This cow is about to get on the highway

Driving in Sri Lanka is an endless adventure not for the faint of heart.  

Let’s start with the roads. Many roads are single lane and well paved. Outside the cities most of the side roads are dirt. 

But size does matter. 

Apparently any road large enough for 1 car is big enough for cars going in both directions. This presents some interesting logistical and geometric challenges when a car comes face to face with a truck traveling in the opposite direction. 

Then there are your companions on the road. At any given moment, you might find cows, lizards, dogs, water buffalo and elephants sharing the road. 


There are also bicycles, buses, trucks, tuk-tuks (or three wheelers as they are called here), motorcycles, people.  And there are fruit and vegetable stands everywhere with lots of people stopping to buy. 

Three-wheelers are like mosquitos. They buzz around and move into any empty space on the road. Zip. Zip. Zip. 


Now, three-wheelers and trucks drive slower than cars. That means that it takes forever to get to your destination…unless you pass them. How to do that? On a real two lane road (one lane in each direction), beep twice and then pass. This can be tricky on curvy mountain roads. And sometimes, there are three or four slow moving vehicles in a row. Some drivers will pass them all in one shot. Others pass 1 at a time. 

With all of this we saw very few accidents. Sri Lankans are very good drivers. Though we did almost have a heart attack a couple of times. 

And one last thing, schools let out at 1:30 causing massive traffic jams. Try to stay off the road during that time. 

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