We drove a tuktuk around Sri Lanka with TukTukRental.com

A few friends told us that it was possible to rent your own tuktuk to drive around Sri Lanka so we thought we’d give it a go. Here’s a quick guide full of facts, pros and cons of renting a tuktuk as well as places we visited and more!

TukTukRental.com helps local tuktuk owners to earn extra income for their families by renting the tuktuks to travellers to the country. The contracts with the owners are fair, ensuring that the owners are paid above the regular rate that they would usually earn, meaning TukTukRental.com is a business that gives back to the local community.

If you’re thinking of renting a tuktuk from TukTukRental.com, use code MILLY at the checkout for a discount. You can click here to make a booking.

There are are about 1.5 million tuktuks in Sri Lanka but most of them were bought using financial loans that the owners are still repaying (a new tuktuk costs almost US$5,000 due to high government taxes).  By renting a tuktuk, you’re helping the owner to pay back their loan while also freeing them up to find additional work or to look after their family.

Things to know about renting a tuktuk

A tuktuk is 4 stroke, 3 wheeler with 4 gears. It’s similar to driving a motorcycle in that the clutch and the throttle are on the handlebars and the break is on your foot. The tuktuk also has a handbrake and the gears are on the left handlebar (you twist them similar to a mountain bike or bicycle you might have had as a child).

The turning circle of a tuktuk does take a bit of getting used to. It’s not the same as a car or a motorbike as the tuktuk’s back wheels cut the corner, so you have to overshoot slightly with the front before turning.

A tuktuk has a tank range of between 6 and 9 litres. On average, a tuktuk can do 25km per litre of fuel. This means that a full tank can do between 125 and 225km. It’s advised to refuel every 100km and we never let our fuel drop much below a quarter full in case we were far from a gas station. The tuktuk also has a reserve tank of 1.5 litres which gets you about 25km safely (give or take a bit if you’re driving uphill/downhill, on winding roads etc). Gas stations are found at regular intervals along most main roads – we didn’t have any troubles finding them when we needed them. Searching for “gas station” on Google Maps was the easiest way to find one.

You’ll need a temporary local driving license in order to drive your tuktuk in Sri Lanka. TuktukRental.com will arrange this for you – you just need a car or a motorbike driving license in your home country (either will do and you don’t even need an international driving license add-on) and you’ll be given your license when you pick up your tuktuk.

When renting your tuktuk, there are several checks you need to do daily. Before you turn the engine on, check the oil and the brake fluid and top up if necessary (we drove around 1,500km and didn’t have to top them up). When the engine is on, check the lights are all working. The tuktuk needs to be greased every 1,000km travelled. This prevents the engine being damaged by the dust and sand on the roads in Sri Lanka and it costs 500 rupees (about £2). Maintaining your tuktuk in this way means you’re looking after it just like the owner would.

We never left anything valuable inside our tuktuk in case it was stolen. Tuktuks aren’t lockable vehicles – they do have rain covers which can be put down when you’re parked up but they simply clip or velcro down and so are not secure.

When starting off in the morning, we sometimes had to use the choke to allow more air to enter the engine while it was cold or else it stalled. Running the choke for 5 to 10 minutes when you first drive should prevent the tuktuk from stalling.

The roads can be a bit hectic, especially in cities. If people honk at you, it could literally mean anything from “hello” to “move over so I can overtake” to “police ahead”. People flashing their lights at you on the opposite side of the road oten means there are police officers ahead who are stopping people to check their licenses etc. If busses are beeping from behind you, just move over to the left so they can pass you, they drive like lunatics and it’s safer from your point of view for them to get out of your way. I would never take a bus in Sri Lanka after seeing what they drive like!

If you see wild elephants, don’t get too close. It might seem obvious, but they’re actually quite fast even though they look slow and they’re extremely intelligent. Some local tuktuk drivers feed the elephants and so they wait on the roads on purpose for tuktuks to feed them. If you get too close, they will come searching in your tuktuk for food and they’ve been known to accidentally push the tuktuks over!

The best parts of renting a tuktuk

Freedom. Travel where you want, when you want. In any weather and with all your luggage. You can just stop at the side of the road when you see monkeys, elephants and (my favourite) puppies or when you want to grab a fresh coconut or some amazing local food.

Renting a tuktuk is cheaper than renting a car or hiring drivers (including other tuktuk drivers). A full tank shouldn’t cost more than 1,100 rupees although you should be careful to make sure the gas station workers clear the previous customer before they start to fill your tuktuk. Just get out and stand by the pump and check the figures start at zero. This only happened to us once in almost a month of driving and it was in Sigiriya.

I touched on this above but its worth saying it again – renting a tuktuk gives back to the community as it gives guaranteed income to the tuktuk owner who is a local driver. Over 70% of tuktuks are owned by low income families and studies have indicated that the extra income they receive by renting their tuktuks in this way is an important part of helping these families climb out of poverty. The owners are paid fairly and are free to earn income in other ways whilst being paid per booking by TukTukRental.com. Tuktuks are valuable assets, in terms of relative earnings it’s the equivalent of owning half a house in the US. All tuktuks that are available to rent through TukTukRental.com are less than 5 years old and are put through thorough quality tests by TukTukRental.com before they are rented to tourists.

You can carry all your stuff around with you from place to place – we genuinely have about 60/70kg of luggage and it all fit perfectly. Plus, you can stay dry with the rain covers and roof.

There are roadside coconut, fruit, corn and local food stands EVERYWHERE. Definitely visit them. Some of the local roadside food is the best we’ve had here (samosas and the fried dhal patties are amazing)!

You can see so much wildlife without even going on safari. The B35 road is almost guaranteed to see an elephant as they come to the road to be fed by the local drivers (but don’t feed them yourselves) and you can stop and take photos as many times as you want.

You wouldn’t believe some of the roads we managed to get up in the tuktuk! If you take it slowly in a low gear, bumps, steep hills and sharp corners are no problem.

TukTukRental.com have arranged discounts with many accommodation providers and have a list of recommended mechanics to visit if you need to grease your tuktuk, top up the oil etc. Your booking will include unlimited kilometers and you can extend your booking or drop off your tuktuk early if necessary (give a few days notice though).

TukTukRental.com arranges a driving lesson for you before you set off, comprehensive break down cover, local temporary driving licenses and comprehensive insurance covering your tuktuk, other vehicles and personal injuries to you, your passengers and other people on the roads. It’s still recommended that you take out your own travel insurance policy, of course.

TukTukRental.com also have a Whatsapp group for all of their customers to share tips and ask questions about where to visit and where to stay. Some people meet up and make new friends to travel with if they’re in the same area!

The (minor) negatives

Overall, it was absolutely amazing and I would highly recommend it to anyone travelling to Sri Lanka, but it wouldn’t be right to write this post without touching on a few small issues we had during our experience.

It can be quite difficult to drive at night, especially in the rain. Lights from oncoming traffic can dazzle you when driving so go slowly, or avoid driving at dusk and night time where possible. Tuktuk lights aren’t very bright so it can be challenging to drive at night.

Tuktuks have no ABS so you have to pump the brake if you need to stop sharply. This wasn’t ever really an issue for us though.

You can’t lock the tuktuk so I don’t recommend leaving valuables in there.

You can’t go on highways in a tuktuk. Changing your settings to avoid toll roads and motorways on Google Maps will make sure you stay on the right roads.

This final point is more for driving anything in general in Sri Lanka, not just driving a tuktuk. Traffic can be crazy in the cities especially Colombo. There seems to be little attention paid to the rules of the road so be careful in city centres. Some roads are also steep and winding so take it slow as other road users cut corners and drive really fast.  Bus drivers are crazy and will beep, overtake on blind corners and drive on the wrong side of the road without seeming to care about anyone else on the road.

The places we visited in our tuktuk

Here’s a very basic guide to the route we took. We stopped off at many places along the way but these are the main areas we visited or based ourselves in.

We did a big loop, picking up and dropping off our tuktuk in Colombo, Sri Lanka’s capital city.

We travelled south, along the coast from Galle and Unawatuna to Weligama and Mirissa – a haven for surfers with the best island vibes.

We then headed north to Kataragama which is the best place to stay for access to Yala National Park to see leopards, elephants and much more!

We took the B35 road north from Kataragama and saw wild elephants on the road. We drove to the east coast and had some more island vibes and surf in Arugam Bay.

After the coast, we headed inland to the mountains. Our first stop was Ella, perfect for hikers and to see the beautiful Nine Arch Bridge.

The road from Ella to Nuwara Eliya was next, this landscape is absolutely breathtaking. This is where most people take the famous train ride in Sri Lanka, however the view from the tuktuk is just as stunning. If you want to rent a tuktuk but still take the train, TukTukRental.com can arrange for a driver to do the driving for you (and all of your luggage) while you take the train!

Nuwara Eliya is the highest city in Sri Lanka at 1,868 metres above sea level. It’s completely different to anywhere else in Sri Lanka and it’s known as “Little England” and surrounded by tea plantations. You can even grab a good old English High Tea at one of the hotels in the city.

After Nuwara Eliya we drove to Kandy, the second largest city in Sri Lanka. This was our favourite city in Sri Lanka.

We headed north to Sigiriya to explore the ancient fortresses, temples and carvings in the area. There is so much history in this part of the country.

We finally headed back to Colombo to return our tuktuk with full hearts and many memories and friends made along the way.

Local people

Be prepared to take a lot photos with local people as seeing a tourist, especially a girl, driving a tuktuk is strange for them. If you’re stuck in traffic, expect to have people come to you for a chat or other tuktuk drivers to ask where you’re from, where you’re going etc. Seeing the look on some of their faces is priceless! Sri Lankan people are some of the kindest people I’ve ever met!

Pricing

TukTukRental.com rents their tuktuks on a per day basis as follows:
1-4 days USD 25 per day
5-15 days USD 22 per day
16-22 days USD 20 per day
23-38 days USD 18 per days
39-55 days USD 16 per day 
56-365 days USD 14 per day

If you’re thinking of renting a tuktuk from TukTukRental.com, use code MILLY at the checkout for a discount. You can click here to make a booking.

5 thoughts on “We drove a tuktuk around Sri Lanka with TukTukRental.com

  1. Love your post, beautiful pictures and all the helpful tips. We are going to Sri Lanka for 3 weeks with our 9 & 12 year old children in mid January and are planning on renting a tuk tuk.
    Your itinerary is very similar to what we have planned, how long were you there for? Did you do a safari? If so any tips? I also wasn’t sure whether to take the train from Ella or tuk tuk but glad to hear the drive is just as beautiful. Thanks again.

    1. Thank you very much I’m glad the post helped! We didn’t do a safari however we were recommended Mowgli Safari in Yala with guide Dinesh.

      We spent 3 and a half weeks in our tuktuk although we spent a lot of that time on the south coast so it could easily be done in 3 weeks.

      None of the drives are too long and if you do want to take the train you can arrange the tuktuk transfer too. At least if you drive the route yourself you can stop whenever you want for photos!

      I’ll be posting more blogs about all of my favourite places in more detail so hopefully they will help with your trip too!

      1. Thank you for your quick and helpful response. Travel is much slower with kids as they like to stay in one spot rather than move every couple days but we will try and see as much as we can and are looking forward to the freedom of our own tuk tuk.

        Did you find it cheaper/easier to book accommodation in advance or look at places once you are there and negotiate a price in person? We found it was cheaper to book online with Agoda or Bookings than in person in S.E. Asia but have heard this is not always true in Sri Lanka.

        I look forward to your posts about your favorite places and any tips and recommendations. Can’t wait to get there!

        Keep up the great work 🙂

      2. We always booked last minute (literally on the day) and we phoned the hotel to see if it was cheaper in person or, if not, if they would match the price we found online, which they all did.

        Thank you!

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