Dambulla is the gateway to the cultural triangle Sri Lanka’s! This growing town with its 25.000 inhabitants is located right in the center of Sri Lanka at the intersection of the Colombo-Trincomalee-Highway with the Kandy-Jaffna-Road. Therefore it is so easy and convenient to get to Dambulla from pretty much anywhere and to get from Dambulla to Kandy, Polonnaruwa, Anuradhapura, Trincomalee, Colombo – and pretty much everywhere else.
That makes it also a perfect base to explore the sights of the cultural triangle as day trips. Here are all the info you need to get around by bus.
Where to catch the bus in Dambulla?
Kandy Road and Colombo Road split/merge at the clock tower/ roundabout in Dambulla City Center. So for most directions, it’s best to go to – what I call (!) – the Main bus stop in Dambulla, 300m north of the clock tower, pretty much in front of Bentota Bake House.
What I call Dambulla Main bus stop is just a bus stop along the road. No bus station!
There are fix timetables for all buses. But they are just not available anywhere (online or offline, i.e. at the bus stop). So it means you always just go to the bus stop and wait for the next bus to leave. If you want to catch a special bus, that runs only once a day, try to find out with enquiring at the shops right next to the bus stop. They might know what time a certain bus goes.
Don’t bother with bus line numbers. I usually say your destination works as a code word: You say the right destination and they will let you in. It’s the wrong one (not the bus’ destination) and they won’t let you enter the bus. So don’t worry about ending in a wrong bus, hardly ever happens.
There is a proper bus station in Dambulla. But the actual Dambulla bus station is quite useless as it almost only serves short distance buses, like the bus to Sigiriya.
How to get to … by bus?
Of course, these directions also work the other way round. So if you are planning to come from Kandy to Dambulla for instance, it will be the same frequency and about the same timing.
Dambulla to Kandy
There are many direct buses, running approximately every 15 to 20 minutes between 6 am and 6 pm. Earliest morning or late evening less often. The first bus goes around 4.30 am, the last bus from Dambulla to Kandy is at about 8 to 9 pm. None at night.
You can choose between air-conditioned mini buses called “InterCity” or a regular bus. The ticket for an intercity bus from Dambulla to Kandy costs approximately Rs 700 and maybe the same for your luggage, if it takes up a seat. An InterCity bus takes approximately 2 hours for the journey.
The regular bus costs about Rs 350 from Kandy to Dambulla. Some bus conductors charge extra for the luggage, some don’t. The regular bus takes approximately 2.5 hours for the journey.
Of course, it’ll take you some extra time to get from your hotel to the bus station, wait for a bus to leave and then, after getting down at your destination, get to your next accommodation. So let’s say it’ll take you 3 to 4 hours in total, depending on the traffic and how far away from the bus stations you are staying.
Usually, buses are full (no seats) after the first stop in Dambulla at the main bus stop. So even if your guesthouse might be on Kandy Road or you just visited the Cave Temple, consider taking a tuk-tuk back to town (Dambulla Main bus stop) if you don’t want to stand for hours on the bus.
Dambulla to Polonnaruwa
If you want to catch a bus from Dambulla to Polonnaruwa, it’s best to catch a bus in town (Dambulla Main bus stop). The bus destination is called Kaduruwela. The buses run every 20-30 minutes. The first bus is around 7 am, the last bus back to Dambulla about 6 pm. The bus ride takes about 1.5 to 2 hours.
Dambulla to Anuradhapura
Catch a bus in town (Dambulla Main bus stop). The buses from Dambulla to Anuradhapura run every 20-30 minutes. Earliest morning and evening/night less often. The bus ride takes 1.5 hours. There are several bus stations in Anuradhapura. Make sure to be at the right one for the bus back (when going for a day trip) or onwards.
Dambulla to Mihintale
Every bus to Jaffna passes Mihintale. But as these are not too often, it’s also possible to catch any bus towards Anuradhapura and change there to a frequently running bus to Mihintale.
Minneriya or Kaudulla National Park (for Elephant Safari)
In order to reach one of the National Parks for an Jeep Safari here, catch a bus to Habarana (Polonnaruwa or Trincomalee bus) and organize a jeep in Habarana. Or for Minneriya NP also possible: Catch a Polonnaruwa (Kaduruwela) bus and get off at the Minneriya NP entrance (not Minneriya town!). There are some jeeps at the NP entrance (upon availability) or you try to join an incoming group that has already organized their jeep and share the fares with them.
Dambulla to Trincomalee
If you want to go from Dambulla to Trincomalee by bus, catch a bus in town!!! (If you wait somewhere on Kandy Road for a bus you might wait up to 2 hours if you just missed one!). Every 30-90 minutes. More buses in the morning and early afternoon (until 3 pm). Fewer buses late afternoon. No buses in the evening/night. The bus ride takes about 2 to 2.5 hours. It’s 120km away, but there is hardly any traffic on the road (pretty much none, once the bus passed Habarana). So it’s really quick!
If you catch a bus in the afternoon, have a look outside the window right after passing Habarana, you might spot some wild elephants roaming around (4 pm till sunset).
Dambulla to Sigiriya
I wrote a whole post about that. Read all the detailed stuff here.
The bus starts/ends at the Dambulla Bus Station. The first bus at 6.45-ish, the last bus back to Dambulla at 6 pm (Saturday & Sunday 5 pm!). Sigiriya has only bus service to and from Dambulla (not Habarana or anywhere else). Buses go every 40 to 60 minutes. No schedule. The bus ride takes about 45 to 60 minutes. The bus goes very slow once it turned onto Sigiriya Road. Only the last bus back is really quick 😉
Dambulla to Hill Country (Adam’s Peak, Nuwara Eliya, …)
Catch a bus to Kandy and transfer there. No direct buses from Dambulla to anywhere in the Hill Country. As for the Hill Country, I recommend taking a minibus (called intercity or express bus), as they are a lot faster on the winding roads uphill. They usually cost double the price of the normal big buses, but that’s still not much! Normal bus from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya takes 3.5 hours, minibus 2.5 hours.
Dambulla to Ella
There is a new and faster option to get from Dambulla to Ella. Catch a bus to Mahiyangana or Badulla or Bandarawela and change to a bus to Ella. Will save you many hours opposed to the bus route via Kandy and the hill country.
Dambulla to Colombo
For Colombo catch a bus at Dambulla Main bus stop. Every 15-20 minutes. Running 24 hours; less often during the night. The bus ride takes approximately 5.5 hours with usually 15 minutes toilet break on the way.
Dambulla to Negombo (Airport)
No direct buses from Dambulla to Negombo or the airport. In Dambulla catch any Colombo or Kurunegala bus and transfer in Kurunegala to a Negombo bus. Takes 4.5 to 5 hours in total. If you want to go to the airport by bus (rather than overpriced tuk tuk), catch a Colombo bus from Negombo town, they usually stop on the road outside the airport (check before getting in as there many different bus types and not all stop often along the way).
Dambulla to Jaffna
Many direct buses run from Dambulla to Jaffna. Catch a bus at the Main bus stop, definitely! Most buses come from Colombo Road. Frequency varies, but usually about every hour during the day. The bus ride takes about 5 hours.
Dambulla to the south coast
Catch any bus towards Colombo and from Colombo to the south. There are few buses that run from Dambulla directly to the south, like a Trincomalee – Tangalle bus. But all these special direct buses usually just run about once a day. I don’t know the timetable for these, you had to try to find out with the NTC – National Transport Commission.