World's Greatest Cycling Trip & How You Can Do It: Definitive Guide On Covering Sri Lanka Tip-To-Tip


Credits: Aditya Siva

Photo of Sri Lanka by Sonalika Debnath

As a child, some of our fondest memories have centred around cycles – either sitting on it, or sporting bruised knees and lying haplessly on the ground somewhere near it. Cycling has been synonymous with the very first rush of wanderlust and utter and complete freedom, even if it was for a few hours and just through the neighbourhood park. And there's no better place to step back in time and relive this childhood experience, than through the tropical paradise of Sri Lanka. A canvas of green and blue, the country is intermittent with rusty rail tracks winding across staggering terrains. Notwithstanding the 30 years of war and a terrifying tsunami, the unhurried pace of life on Emerald Isle is both baffling and bracing for travellers.

Photo of World's Greatest Cycling Trip & How You Can Do It: Definitive Guide On Covering Sri Lanka Tip-To-Tip by Sonalika Debnath

Through 12 days, and across 842 kilometres, we'll cover Sri Lanka from one end to the other and come across an endless sea of tea plantations dotted with saree-clad pickers, postcard-perfect beaches, roads parked with rows of shimmying coconut palms and herds of wild elephants ambling about mangroves. Every bend is planted with old Portuguese or Dutch forts and every corner, crowded with ancient ruins and remnants of colonial architecture that lays bare the chequered relations between Sri Lanka's Sinhalese and Tamil communities. Then there are the florid Buddhist temples, rickety trains tirelessly chugging along the countryside and eateries boasting of crisp golden hoppers and the most fragrant of curries that'll keep you coming back for more.


Bicycles can be hired locally at a price of ₹19,026 for a standard bike, and ₹27,087 for a carbon bike. The bikes are Trek 2.1Cs and Specialised Allez or Roubaix (basically, really sturdy road bikes). If you're bringing your own bike, please make sure that it's a road bike and that it's in impeccable mechanical condition.

Essential spares and tools are carried by the guide on a support vehicle, if you're travelling with a tour company. Otherwise, it's recommended to carry a basic tool kit, a spare tube and a pump with yourselves.

Difficulty level

This itinerary is recommended for experienced cyclists only. Those taking part should be physically fit, as the days on which a long distance needs to be covered or while cycling through the hills, it will become extremely strenuous. In the last nine days, an ascent of 7,557m will be scaled.

DIY or not

While it can be a do-it-yourself trip, it's highly recommended to head out with a tour company, mainly because of necessary provisions and to bridge the language barrier. This tour is organised by many tour companies, such as:

Spice Roads | Contact: +66 2381 7490

Grasshopper Adventures | Contact: +66 2280 0832


₹1,92,583 per person, from Negombo to Colombo, if you are travelling with Spice Roads. This includes accommodation, most meals, logistics for the trip (an English-speaking local guide etc) and a support vehicle.

Credits: Ameen Fahmy

Photo of World's Greatest Cycling Trip & How You Can Do It: Definitive Guide On Covering Sri Lanka Tip-To-Tip by Sonalika Debnath

When to do it

The best months to travel to Sri Lanka are December through March, when the country sees sporadic rains and the temperatures are pleasant to explore the island-country. Numerous festivals are celebrated during these months. In January, Duruthu Poya is held to commemorate Gautam Buddha’s first visit to Sri Lanka and Thai Pongal's harvest festival is held by Tamils to pay gratitude to the sun god. Padmarajarathri's (Maha Shivratri) elaborate ceremony is organised by the Hindu community in February. The Buddhist festivities resume in March and then in December, with the festival of Medin Poya and Unduvap Poya Day. December also sees the entire country coming out to the streets to be a part of the contagious Christmas revelry.

The route

Our journey starts in Sri Lanka's northern province, through the flat terrains of the Jaffna Peninsula. Thereupon, navigating through the waters of Indian Ocean, we reach the lesser-known Mannar Island and cycle through paddy fields for our next stop in Kandy. Resting for a day in Kandy, we start our ascent on approaching the highlands of Hatton in the southern province. The trail ends at Sri Lanka's southernmost tip, at the Dondra Lighthouse.

This is the route for the tip-to-tip cycling trip through Sri Lanka:

Negombo – Jaffna – Mannar – Anuradhapura – Sigiriya – Dambulla – Kandy – Hatton – Uda Walawe National Park – Dondra Lighthouse – Mirissa


This is the itinerary that will usually be followed if you are travelling with a tour company:

Day 1

Credits: Jan Arendtsz

Photo of Negombo, Western Province, Sri Lanka by Sonalika Debnath

Ten kilometres from Sri Lanka's Bandaranaike International Airport, the trail starts from Negombo. You'll have the first day to yourself to explore one of the country's largest cities, renowned for its wild cinnamon groves. Negombo, translates to 'group of bees' in Sinhalese and is home to commercial squares, buzzing fishing villages and a lonely blue lagoon.

Top experiences: Visit the Dutch Fort dating back to 1672, that today acts as the local prison; stop by the Angurukaramulla Temple that worships Buddha, and is known for its ancient library; at the Kalpitiya Dutch Bay, watch whales and marvel at the jewel-toned coral reefs.

Where to stay: Camelot Hotel

For more options, check here.

Day 2

Credits: Feng Zhong

Photo of Jaffna, Northern Province, Sri Lanka by Sonalika Debnath

The road to Sri Lanka's northernmost tip, Jaffna, is strewn with Catholic churches, owing to which the locals refer to the city as 'Little Rome'. You'll find yourself cycling through sunlit paddy fields and coconut plantations for most of the journey, and quotidian sights of the fishermen going about their business and girls reluctantly trudging towards school, will greet you at every bend.

Top experiences: Take a break at Killinochi, the former headquarters of the Tamil Tigers; visit the 18th-century temple of Nallur Kandasamy Kovil, that is flocked by Sri Lankan Hindus; get yourself a plate of the karta kolomban mangoes; when you stop for lunch, feast on the fiery Jaffna crab curry or the comforting murunga stew, created mainly out of drumstick leaves.

Distance covered: 102 kilometres

Where to stay: Jetwings Hotel

For more options, check here.

Day 3

Credits: Dhammika Heenpella

Photo of Jaffna Peninsula, Northern Province, Sri Lanka by Sonalika Debnath

Cycling around Jaffna for two days, you will stumble upon tiny fishing ports – some abandoned, others thriving with activity. Upon crossing an ancient causeway, you'll reach Kyats Island, and up next will be the Karaingar Island. This will lead you to the Casuarina Beach fringed with palmyra groves, and vintage ice-cream trucks. Retire to your Jaffna hotel for the day.

Top experiences: Stop at the old Star Fort, built in 1618 by the Portuguese to defend the Jaffna peninsula; at Kyats Island, keep an eye out for painted storks and red-wattled lapwings; take a swim and have a picnic by the Casuarina Beach; for dinner, head to any local eatery for dinner and get yourself a masala dosai or two.

Distance: 71 kilometres

Where to stay: Jetwings Hotel

For more options, check here.

Day 4

Credits: Shanaka Aravinda

Photo of Mannar, Northern Province, Sri Lanka by Sonalika Debnath

On the fourth day, we'll ride past the Jaffna lagoon towards the Ponneryn Causeway. These roads still wear the battle scars of the civil war, and on the present day, are hauntingly empty. The roads meet the sea at the town of Iluppaikkadavai, where you could also stop for lunch. Its shallow waters surrounding the coast are inhabited by Dugongs – a rare species of sea mammals. We travel across bridges of every kind, pearly-white shores and a multitude of water bodies, and pause at the island's magnificent 700 year-old Baobab tree. The oddity was brought to Mannar by Arabian traders and is a little over 19m in circumference. The popular Adam's Bridge, sits on the tip of the island and sustains an assortment of reefs, sandbanks and islets, linking Sri Lanka to India.

Top experiences: Catch the midday mass at the Shrine of Our Lady of Madhu; head to the weathered bungalow of Doric at Arippu, dating back to the 1800s; go to the Buddhist temple of Thanthirimale, that was built entirely out of rocks; the Mannar Fort, right by an empty beach is another must visit.

Distance: 117 kilometres

Where to stay: Shell Coast Resort

For more options, check here.

Day 5

Credits: gωen

Photo of Anuradhapura, North Central Province, Sri Lanka by Sonalika Debnath

This stretch is charted mainly through Sri Lanka's pastoral communities. Hence, you'll be calibrating your bike through paddy fields and parties of buffalos. Next, we head towards the ancient city of Anuradhapura. Steeped in history and dating back to the 4th century BC, it was the Sinhalese kingdom's capital. Studded with some of Asia's oldest Buddhist shrines, its sacred Bodhi tree is flocked by pilgrims, come sundown.

Top experiences: Head to the Abhayagiri Monastery and marvel at the ginormous 1st century BC dagoba (stupa); visit the Sri Maha Bodhi Tree and join the pilgrims in prayer; venture into one of Vessagiriya's ancient forest monasteries.

Distance: 119 kilometres

Where to stay: Rajarata Hotel

For more options, check here.

Day 6

Credits: LisArt

Photo of Sigiriya, Central Province, Sri Lanka by Sonalika Debnath

The sixth day will start at a more laid-back pace. You ride past freshly-painted temples and peaceful stupas to reach the nature reserve of Ritigala. This place is also home to many a legend, the most popular one being that the Hindu deity Hanuman dropped a rocky outcrop of the Himalayas right at this spot, on his quest to save Sita. During the second-half of the day crossing numerous sweeping gardens, you'll make an ascent up the 5th century citadel of the Sigiriya Rock.

Top experiences: Keep a lookout for the striking tuskers roaming the countryside; visit the Sigiriya museum; for a glimpse into the country's art scene, visit the gallery of Pethikada.

Distance: 78 kilometres

Where to stay: Fresco Water Villa Hotel

For more options, check here.

Day 7

Credits: Barry Tetchner

Photo of Dambulla, Central Province, Sri Lanka by Sonalika Debnath

Dambulla is etched with the quiet country roads that are a delight to cycle on. We cross the shimmering waters of the Kandalama Lake and reach the illustrious Dambulla cave temple. Sri Lanka's largest cave temple complex, it dates back to the 2nd century BC and is festooned with over a thousand frescos depicting the life of Buddha. The second we reach Melsiripura, the air starts scenting of clove and nutmeg and the vast stretches of plantations come to view. Through terraced paddy fields and densely forested hills, we'll reach the bustling town of Matale and start the climb for Wattegama valley.

Top Experiences: Visit Popham's Arboretum; take a break at the Madawela Bakery, and be sure to dunk the little cakes into coconut and mango chutney before eating them.

Distance: 86 kilometres

Where to stay: Suisse Hotel

For more options, check here.

Day 8

Credits: Bruce Thomson

Photo of Kandy, Central Province, Sri Lanka by Sonalika Debnath

Stretch your legs and unwind at Kandy, on the eighth day. A religious centre for the Sinhalese, Kandy happens to be an important pilgrimage site for the Buddhists. Cycle through Kandy's old bazaars, and then make a long stop at the UNESCO World Heritage site of the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, before you head back to the hotel.

Top Experiences: Take a leisurely stroll by the Kandy Lake; stop by the Bahiravokanda Vihara Buddha Statue, that towers over the entire city; stop by the Tea Museum, and have a cup or two of the ceylon tea.

Where to stay: Suisse Hotel

For more options, check here.

Day 9

Credits: Asantha Abeysooriya

Photo of Hatton, Central Province, Sri Lanka by Sonalika Debnath

As you ride through Sri Lanka's central province, hills carpeted densely with tea estates come to view. Following the Mahaweli River, we climb through a plethora of plantations and ride past old planters' houses, to reach Hatton.

Top experiences: Soak in the serenity of the lake at Castlereagh reservoir; visit the Laxapana Falls for a few hundred pictures; shop for the devil masks or yaka that are believed to ward off evil; for dinner, try the flavoursome green jackfruit curry.

Distance: 83 kilometres

Where to stay: Mandira Craig Appin Bungalow

For more options, check here.

Day 10

Credits: Sheshan R

Photo of Udawalawe National Park, Sri Lanka by Sonalika Debnath

Towards the end of the journey, we climb up through forest reserves to reach Sri Lanka's holiest mountain, Adam's Peak. You might spot or hear the shy purple-faced langur en route. Thereafter, we begin our descent and crossing several lakes, and babbling brooks, we reach the Uda Walawe National Park where you can sight rare water-birds and herds of elephants.

Top experiences: Go out for an early morning safari before leaving for Dondra and flood your camera with a few hundred pictures of elephant herds, crocodiles and rare birds; at the nearby market, marvel at the fruits that come in all shapes, sizes and colours

Distance: 106 kilometres

Where to stay: Grand Udawalawe

For more options, check here.

Day 11

Credits: Sulare Fernando

Photo of Dondra Lighthouse, Lighthouse Road, Dondra, Sri Lanka by Sonalika Debnath

Dondra lighthouse is perched on Sri Lanka's southernmost tip. To access it, we cycle through a vast green expanse of paddy fields and broad roads taking us past numerous small villages.

Our last destination before we head to Galle, is Mirissa – the crescent-shaped beach. It's packed with small guesthouses and tiny lounges and bars, that are devoid of any frills whatsoever.

Top experiences: Take a ceremonial dip into the Mirissa beach; capture the silhouettes of the stilt fishermen upon sunset; if you're observant, you might spot pods of playful dolphins and a bevy of green turtles lounging around the beach; don't forget to get yourself a glass of thambili – a sweet, refreshing coconut drink.

Distance: 80 kilometres

Where to stay: Mandara Resort

For more options, check here.

Day 12

Head back to Colombo, for your flight back home.

What to pack

Sri Lanka is unpredictable when it comes to its rainfall. So be sure to pack an umbrella – a sturdy one at that, and some light rain gear. Also, pack sunscreen and insect repellents. Carry good, durable helmets before embarking on the trip.


You can apply for a 30-day visa online, which is valid for a month from the date of arrival, but an extension can be obtained for up to six months. The processing takes up to two days and costs ₹986. You can also get a visa on arrival at the Bandaranaike International Airport, but this will be a relatively long and tedious process. This costs a fee of ₹1,315.

Credits: Aditya Siva

Photo of Colombo, Western Province, Sri Lanka by Sonalika Debnath

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