Sri Lanka has been quite an adventure by bicycle. We didn't know what to expect and really fell in love with the nature of the country.
December 2017. Exhausted and fed up with the rainy cold Netherlands, Denis and I decided to go on a long trip (well “long” for regular employees) and to cross Sri Lanka by bike. It had been more than 1 year since we had not done that!
The most dangerous in Sri Lanka ? Check out here!
We packed our bikes with us (our bikes weigh 13kg each) – with Emirates and Alitalia no extra charge for special sized luggage. There are not that many info sources or blogs out there regarding travelling through Sri Lanka by bike so it wasn’t very clear what the route conditions were. We therefore made the decision to plan our trip with some flexibility. See below the final itinerary:
Days 1-2: Colombo in Sri Lanka, no biking
We got to Colombo, we recovered from jetlagged, assembled our bikes and we went to Dambulla, our initial departure point. Actually, it’s not really nice to bike in Colombo itself due to the traffic, so we decided to skip that part, also due to time constraints; also, once you get out of the city the road is lovelier. So, it is possible to start your route from a tiny town close to Colombo which is what I would advise.
Days 3-5: Cycling through Dambulla region to Sigiriya: 45km – flat
Dambulla is really cool. Am not talking about the city, as honestly, no town from Sri Lanka has truly left a mark on us except for maybe Galle. The road from Dambulla to Sirigiya (approximately 50km roundtrip) was a real pleasure, a truly easy and clean road, and Denis chose to do some additional routes in order to enjoy some less touristic areas. In Dambulla there is the UNESCO Golden Temple with a gigantic Buddha statue decorating the entrance.
Days 5-7: Polonnaruwa province: 67km – relatively flat
We thoroughly enjoyed the route between Dambulla and Polonnaruwa, approximately 70km of so-called highway with lovely landscapes. It is much less touristic than we expected. The Polonnaruwa ruins are truly worth the detour. It’s a beautiful area, especially at sundown. We advise you to bike there or go by tuk-tuk if you are too tired of biking. The place is huge and you will quickly not feel like walking. Our advice and more details here.
Days 7-8: To Matale: 100km – 700m climb / 200m downhill
It was a grueling day: we had planned 110km out of which 500m of vertical drop at the end to get to Matale. It was impossible for me. I had not foreseen that the road would not be in good shape from Polonnaruwa onwards. The first km were magnificent, in nature, rice fields and little traffic. But after 30km we had to go past a construction road, a detour that Denis had planned in order to escape traffic, but that out of a sudden slowed us down due to the heavy dust that was making it hard for us to breathe.
Even though the landscapes were truly gorgeous, and the road was definitely worthwhile, once we got to Naula I broke down. It was too tough for me, way too intense on the body given that we had already crossed 95km out of which 300m of altitude difference and it was already getting late (round 5pm). We still had 30km and approximately 350m to climb to get to our accommodation; we grabbed a ride in a pick-up truck that allowed us to get to Matale with our bikes for approximately 20 euros. I slept like a baby ☺
Days 8-10: From Matale to Kandy: 400m climb / 250m downhill
The next day departure at 8am to get to Kandy that is located 30km away at 400m altitude difference. So there we were again on the road after a short night in Matale. If you have the opportunity, stop in Matale to visit a spice garden – you will not only be able to discover typical spices from Sri Lankan cuisine, but you can also get a massage quite often included in the entrance ticket! On the way from Matale to Kandy we passed several villages belonging to the Muslim community in Sri Lanka. This melting pot of religions has particularly impressed us in Sri Lanka. Kandy is a place that deserves its own article so in order to read more about it please click here!
Days 10-11: The impossible train journey to Nuwara Eliya – 20km – 500m climb / 50m downhill
Afterwards we decided to take a train rather than go by bike for several reasons: muscular fatigue, lack of time and the altitude difference rather significant (more than 1000m during 70km). So we put our bikes on a train. You should know that the transport of merchandise such as bikes is done via a night train that leaves at 3h30 am and arrives early in the morning, a train that you can’t take yourselves. We left the bikes in the evening, filled in a basic form and we left them in a storage unit so that they are carried throughout the night to Nuwara Eliya (the station is Nanuoya, the train doesn’t go by Nuwara Eliya which is 10km away). We took the morning train that is supposed to leave at 8am (in reality left at 8h45am) but since we didn’t have tickets we got to the station at 7am and we had to buy tickets without reserved seats in 2nd class.
And I can tell you that during high season I would highly recommend against it. We had the constraint of our bikes arriving in Nanuoya but if I had to do it all over again, I would wait in order to get reserved tickets since 4h standing, glued to each other with our 7 bike bags was an exhausting adventure. Especially since we still had 15km uphill left after the train ride in order to reach out accommodation. The little things that we spotted outside during our train ride were incredible; I wish I could have seen more, so I advise that you definitely reserve your tickets in advance on this website. We very much enjoyed the landscapes around our hotel room, the tea fields covered in a thick mist from 5pm to 7am. The next day we would leave for Horton Plains, our reason of having made it so far.
Days 11-12: Horton Plains: 42 km – 700m climb / 600m downhill
En route to Ella we passed through Horton Plains, a natural reserve reminding us of the Dutch nature parks and the big plains in Wallonia region with numerous Sri Lankan deer. For us the real challenge was the climb towards Horton Plains that goes through a route called ‘’the end of the world’’. The name most definitely matches the road. I thought I would not make it. My champion, Denis, managed the whole climb pedaling while I was walking. On an inclination of 25 degrees! The bike refused to move with the 30kg it had on it so I just decided to stop pedaling. But once we made it, it was such a relief! Horton Plains also deserves its own article so in order to know more click here!
Days 12-13: Ella: 45km – 900m climb / 2000m downhill
After our night in the gorgeous guesthouse in Horton Plains we went to Ella. It was an incredible road, for sure one of the most beautiful ones that we experienced in Sri Lanka: forests, tea fields and lovely villagers. The only downside: the hilly road. Abrupt climbs, equally abrupt descents and out of a sudden a road of 40km that took us twice the time planned. Google Maps will indicate that it’s not that tough, but it definitely is! 900m of climb and 2000m of downhill.
Luckily, the road was beautiful, otherwise I would have stopped it all! Really now, I love a good adventure but I am not a masochist! Once we got to Ella, after having passed through truly picturesque and non-touristy villages, we were surprised to see the city so overwhelmed by tourists! Ella is exclusively designed for tourism. Everything that we had avoided up to that point we found in Ella, filled with hotels, bars and coffee shops for tourists. Since we had not come to hike on the Adam Mountain, the town was only a short stop for us. Our guesthouse had an incredible view though over the 9 Arches Bridge.
Days 13-15: Udawalawe – 101km – 200m climb / 1500m downhill
This is the stuff! Pure, hard descent and flat land again!! I was in heaven. We had planned for 100km, out of which 30km downhill. During the descent from Ella we passed by the Ravana waterfall. Go see it if you can. Then we left for Udawalawe. 100km is long, no joke! We loved this route, we stopped several times to taste the famous Curd (yogurt) and the Kithul syrup (natural palm sugar). Definitely not vegan, but we felt like trying this Sri Lankan tradition that consists of letting milk become yogurt under the sun in terracotta pots. It was delicious and we loved it so much that we got rid of 300g so that we could bring 2 small pots of this syrup (yes, 300g matters, I can assure you!). We arrived rather late in Udawalawe, but we took our time since it was the nicest part of the road from our whole trip. Udawalawe and its surrounding region also deserve their own article.
Days 15-17: Tissamaharama – 63km – more or less flat
From Udawalawe the road is simple. Nothing special to mention about the route itself. But while there you will enjoy biking by the lakes on less-travelled roads and observe the multitude of birds and vivid colors living their lives on the lake, in the fields of water lilies. Truly beautiful places. And then Tissamaharama is a pretty pious city so a lot of locals celebrate Hindu festivities and bathe in the canals around – it’s a town fairly representative for the southern colors of Sri Lanka. It was for us the last step before reaching the more touristic area of the South.
Days 17-19: Tangalle – 70km – flat
70km biking to go to Tangalle with a stopover in the National Bundala Park, since between Yala and Bundala during high season it would be better to choose a spot less visited in order to get a chance to see animals. There are no jaguars in Bundala, but there are birds, elephants, crocodiles and absolutely no tourists! So we definitely enjoyed this safari through local fauna. It’s a very pretty park, even after Udawalawe that was totally worth the visit! In addition, it’s less expensive since it costs around 7000RS for 2 people with pickup.
The road to Tangalle was a challenge but not too hilly, it was just too hot outside…We escaped the heat when we got to the mountains, but in the South it really knocked us out. However, the swim at the end of the trip in the Indian Ocean on the beach in Tangalle was truly refreshing! We went to bed round 9pm after enjoying a nice curry rice (twice as expensive as the one we had before, expect prices on average to be 2 times higher in the South).
Days 19-20: Mirissa – 47km – 200+/- ascent
We left for Tangalle the next day, all calm since it was supposed to be only 45km. But the route was horrible. Only highway and when it’s 40 degrees outside the hot highway asphalt is boiling. Due to the heat from the highway and the intensity of the physical effort we were completely dehydrated at the end of the trip despite the 5L of water that we each had. And since the road was not alongside the beach there weren’t really nice landscapes. Mirissa is a beach that is very touristic, filled with fish restaurants that locals supposedly caught fresh, including baby tuna…I was really outraged to see this that I felt the need to say to them that the fish on display in the restaurants was endangered species, all for feeding heavy Europeans, Russians or Americans who had come here to eat with their feet in the sand.
The area looks paradise-like but I couldn’t prevent myself from thinking about the large fishing boats ravaging the oceans. I think I gave the tourists around me a good laugh since they didn’t understand why I was getting so annoyed seeing dead fish. Indeed how hilarious, not at all actually. Overall, I did not like Mirissa – it’s dirty, polluted, expensive, uninteresting with all the tourists who come to just lay in the sand. The only fun activity to do is to surf on the Weligama beach – this was a first for Denis who managed to stand up on the board after his 3rd trial!
Days 20-21: Galle and transport back to Colombo airport
After Mirissa, the last stop was Galle, an ancient Dutch colonial city, the only fortified town that you can find in Sri Lanka dating from the occupation. The historical downtown is very pretty despite the fact that it is touristic and pricey. A day trip is enough to see the city and the biking from Mirissa to Galle was nice, but that’s it, flat without any challenges.
We went back to Colombo Sri Lanka by public transport after a night in Galle as we were tight on time to go back by bike.
Translation & Copy Editing by Liana Marinoiu