Sitting right off the southern coast of India lies a small island nation full of heart and endless adventures: Sri Lanka. Whether it’s the dazzling white sand beaches, the delectable local treats, the watering holes packed with elephants, or the caves filled with Buddhist relics, Sri Lanka is making its way onto many a traveller’s bucket list, and absolutely deserves a top spot on your own. But what if you want to get an even more intimate look at the country?
Cycling the country is one of the best ways to get off the beaten path and immerse yourself in the local culture. In fact, in many parts of Sri Lanka, cycling is the most common form of transportation, so travelling by bike is a great way to gain access to the locals’ world. Not to mention that when you cycle, you can forget about feeling guilty for all the mouthwatering meals you’ll be enjoying throughout your trip.
The landscapes you’ll cycle past are beyond impressive (and easy to cycle)
As soon as you step off the plane, you’d swear you’d just landed in a lost paradise – and you’d be forgiven for thinking so. Situated right between India and Southeast Asia, Sri Lanka is home to a kaleidoscope of the best natural features from each region. The best part (okay, there are a lot of best parts) is that thanks to its petite size and the help of your bike, you can experience completely different landscapes in the span of just a few hours.
Spend a morning sampling local blends as you coast through sprawling tea plantations, then prepare for the ride of a lifetime through some of the world’s most picturesque landscapes. Look out over impossibly green valleys, hills blanketed in fog, and epic rock formations soaring into the sky.
You can refuel with multi-course cuisine
Remember that local cuisine we mentioned earlier? Get ready for some of the most delicious food you’ve ever tasted. Rice and curries are ever-present throughout the country and are typically accompanied by an assortment of side dishes, though how many side dishes are present totally depends on the restaurant. Anywhere from 3 or 4 to 10 is pretty standard.
If you’re just looking for a quick bite to get your fuel levels back up between legs of your cross-country tour, grab a samosa and get back on the road. The beauty of the bicycle is that you’re not limited to wherever the bus drops you off or how far your feet can carry you – cycle to bustling markets and pick up a few ingredients, stop at family-run restaurants, or drop by small cafes on the side of the road.
Pro tip: Sri Lankans like it HOT. If you can’t handle the heat, be sure to ask for “medium” or “mild”. You’ll definitely want to try the amazing spices the region has to offer, but you don’t want to hurt yourself doing it. When all else fails, reach for some rice or bread to soothe your taste buds.
You’ll encounter plenty of wildlife
Elephants, elephants, and more elephants. Chances are when you hear the name Sri Lanka, images of elephants are immediately conjured up. These friendly giants have called Sri Lanka home for thousands of years and can be found in countless sanctuaries and national parks throughout the country. For some of the best chances of spotting a herd, trade your bike in for a 4×4 at Udawalawe National Park and head out on a game drive.
While ellies are undoubtedly the animal most associated with Sri Lanka, there’s still plenty of other wildlife to be found. Though you can expect to encounter wildlife on your own as you ride across the country, it’s still best to visit national parks to improve your odds. Yala National Park, located in the southern half of the country, is the place to be if you’re hoping to see a variety of different species.
Home to elephants, monkeys, crocodiles, deer, wild boar, sloth bears, and the highest concentrations of leopards in the world – spend a day in the park and you’re guaranteed to enjoy plenty of animal sightings and photo ops.
For those who are more marine-inclined, be sure to get out on the water and do some animal spotting there. Scores of ever-smiling dolphins dart through the water playing in the wake of passing boats, while massive humpback, fin and blue whales glide serenely by. Dondra Point in the south is quickly becoming a major hub for whale watching enthusiasts, so if you’ve always dreamed of spotting a big blue, this is the place to do it. For your best chances, be sure to visit between the months of December to April, when the whales are making their migration just past Dondra Point.
After all that cycling across the country, you’re probably going to be feeling a little exhausted. Lucky for you, there is no end to the number of palm-fringed beaches waiting for you along the coast. Those looking for a little R&R can find their own slice of heaven on golden beaches, while surfers can grab a board and enjoy the warm water and high-class waves. Head to Hikkaduwa where you can snorkel alongside a myriad of colourful fish through the reefs.
You can cycle to plenty of UNESCO World Heritage Sites
Home to a multitude of temples all set amongst the verdant flora that only a tropical climate can produce, few countries boast this many World Heritage Sites packed into such a small space. If you fancy yourself a history buff, then you need to check out these unique spots.
Soaring high above the treeline, the ancient rock fortress, Sigiriya, is impossible to miss. Remnants of a once mighty palace can be found here, along with impressive gardens and paintings along sections of the rock. Its name, which means Lion Rock, comes from the shape it once took.
All that’s left now are the feet of the lion, but in its prime, it was designed in the form of a huge stone lion. Today, the giant rock serves as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an impressive lookout point for those willing to climb to the top. Standing 200 metres higher than the surrounding jungles, you’ll be rewarded with unparalleled views of the countryside.
From towering fortresses down to rock cave temples, the Golden Temple of Dambulla is another World Heritage site that is but a short bike ride away from Sigiriya. Intricate paintings cover the ceilings and walls of this temple built into a 600-foot high rock. As you walk through the astounding five caves within the complex, you’ll be greeted by over 150 Buddha statues. The cave has been a sacred pilgrimage site dating back 22 centuries and is the largest and best-preserved cave temple in the whole country.
Tips to make your trip easier
- Tamil and Sinhala are the two official languages of Sri Lanka, though English is spoken widely
- The currency of Sri Lanka is the Sri Lankan Rupee; ATMs are common and credit cards are widely accepted
- Drink bottled water only
- Pack natural fibres and loose layers as the weather can get incredibly hot
- Never take a photo with your back to Buddha as it’s considered very disrespectful
Are you itching to explore Sri Lanka by bike yet?
The Sri Lankan way of life is one of simplicity and happiness. You see it in each and every person you encounter here; a sense of warmth and welcoming. To truly understand the country, you must experience from the seat of your bicycle.
From the tranquil coasts and verdant rainforests to the rolling green hills dotted with ancient temples, Sri Lanka is truly paradise found and will have you falling in love with each twist and turn of the road. The sense of accomplishment for having ridden across the country and the friendliness of the people you meet along the way will stay with you for years to come.