Where to go cycling in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka cycling map and highlights
Sri Lanka could have been designed by a cyclist. It’s compact – smaller than Ireland – and packs a lot into its petite teardrop footprint. Pedal between rice paddies, up into the central highlands and past ancient monuments and beaming people. Most cycling vacations are in small groups with a guide and vehicle support, so your bags are transported in the van and you can be, too, if you’re overheated or hill-weary. Guides pick out the quieter back roads, most of which are surfaced, and generally cycling vacations follow a point-to-point route from Sigiriya in the north, through the high tea country around Kandy and Ella, and then down to the coast around Galle.
High up in Sri Lanka’s interior the cycling’s hilly but the air is cool. Pedal through tea plantations, arriving at the lovely village of Ella to view the sunset and spot the shimmering coast from famous viewpoint, Ella Gap. Hop off your bike and hike, too, climbing up Little Adam’s Peak, or walk to Ravana Ella Falls where you can cool off with a dip.
Ancient Kandy is a tad overdeveloped, but its Temple of the Tooth is beautiful and most cycling vacations pass through. Kandy’s roads are as old as the city and many cycling tours opt to drive the last few kilometres in to avoid the potholes. Riding in its environs is hilly, but there are temples to see and to the north, the town of Matale, with its excellent spice market.
The hill climb from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya – the highest point on the island – is not for the weak of calf, but many who pedal through Sri Lanka say it’s a highlight. This 84km route climbs 2,000m above sea level through paddy fields and up into tea country, to this hill station with its mock-Tudor cottages and lake. Having an off day? Take the train instead!
Use a bike to explore the old, ruined city of Polonnaruwa, dating from the 10-13th centuries, for a unique exploration of one of Sri Lanka’s finest ancient kingdoms and UNESCO sites. Many prefer it to Anuradhapura as the sites are more compact, but still worth pedalling around, and with a guide alongside you’ll discover all the detail. Pedal beside the Topa Wewa lake, too, for some natural beauty.
Bag two key Cultural Triangle sights by cycling from Sigiriya to Dambulla to see the buddhas carved into rock at its famous cave temple, then pedal back through chilli and rice fields and put on your hiking boots, climbing the 1,200 steps of the famous 5th century Lion Rock fortress. At the top, find palace ruins, frescoes painted on the rock and epic views across the jungle.
AKA Tissa, the ancient capital of the old Ruhuna Kingdom. Cycle around the 2nd century BCE reservoir Tissa Wewa, where locals swim and wash, and see the Maha Stupa and Sandagiri Dagoba. Then pedal to Kataragama temple, 16km northeast of Tissa, where people of all faiths come to seek favour with god Skanda. From Tissa, visit Yala National Park, the best place in Sri Lanka to see leopard.
CYCLING IN SRI LANKA TRAVEL ADVICE
TIPS FROM OUR FRIENDS IN SRI LANKA
Why cycle in Sri Lanka?
“Cycling is a great way to discover the amazing diversity of Sri Lanka and its different landscapes, and to get immersed in the local culture. We provide world class cycling tours covering all the great wonders of this beautiful island: mountains, valleys, tropical rain forests, reservoirs, ancient cities, pristine beaches and remote villages. Furthermore, you will learn about a 2,500-year-old culture and gain an insight to Sri Lankan lifestyle.”
Best areas for cycling
“Among all the beautiful cycling destinations, my personal favorite is the mountainous region around the city of Kandy, where you pedal in the peace and calm of the countryside, on the little roads through villages and paddy fields, and discover the authentic Sri Lankan way of life.”
Photo credits: [Map topbox: Ronald Saunders] [Ella: dronepicr] [Kandy: Hafiz Issadeen] [Nuwara Eliya: Patty Ho] [Polonnaruwa: vasse nicolas,antoine] [Sigiriya: Schnobby] [Tissamaharama: Michael Eisenriegler] [Why cycle in Sri Lanka?: Amila Tennakoon] [Best areas: rhythmicdiaspora] [Helpdesk: Amila Tennakoon]