The one skill that every backpacker in Asia has in common is saying “No thank you sir, I don’t need a tuktuk”. We often thought about how awesome it would be if we could turn the tables and drive these tricycles by ourselves. Little did we know that it was possible. Until we arrived in Sri Lanka! And after 30 days of tuktuk fun we were even more convinced: this is the best mode of transportation and by far the best way we ever explored a country. And it didn’t even cost us a fortune. Ever dreamed of infinite tuktuk rides? In this guide you will find step by step information on how to rent a tuktuk.
Searching for a tour company
The most convenient place to rent a tuktuk is Negombo. There are some good reasons for that. First, it’s close to the international airport of Sri Lanka, so you probably will start your travel journey here. Second, there are plenty of companies that rent out tuktuks, so bargaining is a little easier. Third, it’s close to the Automobile Association of Ceylon (AA) in Colombo that issues the Sri Lankan driving license for three wheelers. Transportation between Colombo and Negombo (20 km apart) can easily be done by bus. Just look for bus 240 at one of the main streets, flag one down and the bus driver will tell you when to get off.
When arriving in Negombo head to a street called Lewis place. This is where most (budget) hotels are situated and as a result where most tourists go. In this street there are numerous tour companies that offer bicycles, cars, motorbikes and also tuktuks for rent. Visit a couple of tour companies and ask for a price. Don’t be shy to bargain a bit. An honest price is between 10-15 USD a day.
The advantages of renting from a tour company?
In Sri Lanka, it is also possible to rent a tuktuk from a private person. Although this can be cheaper, we would advise to rent your tuktuk from a tour company. Below, we explain why:
- They offer a contract between you as a driver and the company.
- You have the option to take an insurance (e.g. 50 dollar) that covers theft or mechanical breakdowns.
- Most of the tour companies are reviewed online, so you have a guarantee that they are trustworthy.
- You get the assurance that you can call the company anytime for any issue you have along the way.
Obtaining your Sri Lankan driving license
To drive a tuktuk legally, you have to be the owner of a Sri Lankan driving license for a three wheeler. During our road trip through Sri Lanka, we often got pulled over by the friendly police. They always asked for our driving license, so it is important to make sure you have this. Besides that, it doesn’t cost a lot of money, it is easy to get and it makes a hell of a souvenir!
You have two options for obtaining this license:
1. Apply for a license yourself at the Automobile Association of Ceylon (AA) in Colombo if you have an international driving license with you. If you don’t have an international driving license you need to go to the department of Motor Traffic
What do you need to take with you?
- (International) driving license from your country of origin
- Photocopies of passport photo page, visa page and driving license.
- 3636.30 Sri Lankan Rupees
2. A second possibility is to let the tour company arrange the driving license for you. In our case, it took only 300 rupees extra (2 USD). For that price we couldn’t take a bus to Colombo. Within 24 hours we had a bright and new Sri Lankan driving license.
Learning to drive the tuktuk
With all the paper work done it’s time for the exciting part: your first tuktuk ride! Depending on how experienced you are with driving a motorcycle this can take some time getting used to driving a tuktuk. Same as with a motorcycle your clutch for shifting gear is at the left handle. The right handle is for gas and you use your right feet to brake. Important to notice is that you have a lever at your right side. If you pull this upwards you’re gear shifts in reverse. Don’t forget to use your clutch of course.
Fun fact: your tuktuk can ride as fast forward as it can ride backwards. For safety reasons we didn’t try this.
The traffic in Sri Lanka
The traffic in Sri Lanka can be quite hectic. It’s not like India, but it is certainly as chaotic as driving in Vietnam, or maybe worse. Especially busses don’t care too much about smaller vehicles. So don’t be surprised that a bus tries to pass you just before a bend with or without another vehicle coming from the other way. Be prepared, drive assertive but give them their space. It’s a short turn to become a goner on the road in Sri Lanka.
And don’t forget just as in the UK and Australia Sri Lankans drive on the left.
Choosing your route
The great thing about Sri Lanka is that it is not a huge country, so distances from one place to another are doable. For some itineraries, highlights and more information about Sri Lanka, read our complete guide to Sri Lanka.
Advantages and disadvantages of driving your own tuktuk
If you are still in doubt whether or not to rent a tuktuk, we listed all advantages and disadvantages we could think of.
- Freedom! By far the biggest advantage. You can stop or continue your journey whenever you want. You can drive where public busses don’t drive.
- A once in a lifetime experience! Admit it, how cool is it that you can say that you explored a country with your own tuktuk. Not many people can say the same.
- It is cheap. Renting a tuktuk is not that expensive, but also the price for gas is cheap. And it allows you to do other activities for a cheap price as well. We did different safaris with our tuktuk, without any guides or jeeps. A lot of main roads go through national parks. So just taking those roads means you are on a safari for free. We saw almost the same mammals and birds that safaris in Sri Lanka promise as well.
- Local contact, everybody is interested! Driving your own tuktuk is highly appreciated by the locals and they think it is really funny. Even tuktuk drivers are friendly when they see you driving, waving and taking pictures of you.
- The traffic in Sri Lanka. As previously mentioned, the traffic in Sri Lanka, especially near big cities, is crazy. You have to drive aggressive defensive. You have to claim your place in traffic, but always be aware that they might not have noticed you or are not willing to give you right of way.
- Limited space. A tuktuk is not an enormous vehicle, so keep in mind that there is only room for two adults, two large backpacks and two daypacks. That’s it.
- You are allowed to drive 40 kilometers/ hour. We managed to get a fine for driving too fast with our tuktuk 🙂 (42 kilometers/ hour). Keep in mind that if you have a lot of kilometers ahead of you, it might take a while. Luckily, Sri Lanka is not a large island, so it’s probably the best country to discover with this type of vehicle.