Cycling and Mountain Biking in Sri Lanka

Cycling and mountain biking is an excellent way of getting up and close to the nature, culture and the jovial people of Sri Lanka. This ‘jewel in the Indian ocean’ is like a kaleidoscope mottled with hidden wonders all over its diverse landscape. Sri Lanka is all about cycling leisurely on the cart tracks flanked by paddy fields and trampling the lush green ravines. Sri Lanka is all about exploring the ancient world heritage sites and lying lazily on the golden beaches, while enjoying the warm tropical sun. In short, Sri Lanka has all the ‘ingredients’ needed for you to plan an adventurous cycling and mountain biking tour at the earliest!

The Sri Lankan terrain has a variety of cycling and biking tracks suitable for beginners as well as experts. If you are not the one who likes to ‘sweat it out’ while on a vacation, then you can choose to embark on a cycling tour of the coastal areas and mingle with the friendly fisher folk, relish their mouthwatering delicacies and indulge into a lot of mind-blowing underwater activities and water sports, as you proceed.

The Central parts of Sri Lanka are meant for mountain biking freaks, whose veins are ever thirsty for an adrenaline rush! Dominating the rugged terrain and endearing the twists and turns of the central highlands is a challenging experience for mountain biking as well as cycling enthusiasts. The slopes of the central highlands are studded with hundreds of tea plantations and surroundings that are full of a mesmerizing aroma of tea leaves. These mountains are a birdwatchers paradise, bustling with thousands of species of birds, mammals, butterflies and reptiles that you would have ever seen!

Sri Lanka has a rich historical background and was ruled by almost 181 rulers, before the British colonized it. There are hundreds of ruins in the ‘cultural triangle of Sri Lanka’. So, if you are someone who loves history and archeology, then the best way to discover these ancient wonders is on a cycle or a motor bike!

Getting restless to know more about Biking and Cycling tracks in Sri Lanka? – Then read on…

Best Cycling and Mountain Biking Trails in Sri Lanka

1. The Knuckles Mountain Range

Lush green hills, bird eye views and exciting trails passing through hundreds of tea plantations and dense jungles –a perfect recipe for a thrilling mountain biking or cycling activities coupled with tons of adventure! The eastern parts of the Knuckles are known as “Dienston” while the western parts as “Riverston”. The Wasgomuwa National Park is approachable via Riverston mountain biking trail. You can drive up to the hill top of Riverston, via Rathota road and then start riding downhill on the slopes while enjoying the panoramic views, water reserves and paddy fields until you reach Pallegama. A refreshing dip in the Thelgamu Oya river will recharge your spirits, before you reach the entrance of the Wasgamuwa National Park.

To explore the eastern parts of Knuckles, drive up to the Corbarts gap and then go biking downhill while enjoying the scenery and bathing under the stunning waterfalls that are aplenty on this trail. Do not miss to visit Kandyan Home Gardens – it’s a heaven filled with the aroma of spices like curry leaves, cinnamon, cloves, Vanilla, black pepper, lemon grass and cardamom – phew! Mountain biking in this region is incomplete without seeing the Jumbos bathing in the Ulthiya reservoir and a visit to the aborigine village of Vadda.

2. Surroundings of Adams Peak

This area offers a bonanza of mountain biking trails through the vast tea plantations and you will always cherish the memories of your trip from Delhousi to Maskeliya reservoir. This region is famous for the seven virgin mountains near the Adam’s peak and the magnificent Laxpana waterfalls. The downhill mountain biking trail from Nuwara Elliya, a.k.a “Little England” to Kitugala, Ella, Kandy and Mahiyangana is abundant with panoramic views. The trail from Ella to Budruwagala is packed with attractions like the Ravana Falls and the highest waterfall in Sri Lanka – the Bambarkanda Waterfalls! Budruwagala is famous for its magnificent rock carvings and impressive bio-diversity.

3. Horton Plains

The Hortons Plains or Mahaeliya, as known locally, is the highest plateau of Sri Lanka and situated at an altitude of 2300 msl. The Horton plains offer plenty of cycling opportunities on the trails that pass through the Savannah type grasslands , called as Patannahs in Sri Lanka. The cliffs of Hortons plains are breath-taking and people from around the world flock here on weekends to have a look at the “Worlds End” – that just a name of one of the cliffs.

4. Kandy

Also known as the Cultural Capital of Sri Lanka, Kandy lies at an altitude of 489 MSL. Kandy is surrounded by mountains on all sides – in fact, the word “Kanda” means a mountain in Sinhalese. Owing to the high altitude, it is always a good idea to hire a cycle or a mountain bike in Kandy and enjoy the rides downhill.

As the hill capital of Sri Lanka, expect cycling around Kandy to be a tough challenge. Although the town is just 488 metres above sea level, it would still test your endurance. Not to mention, take your breath away what with all the amazing sights you will pass by.

A cycling tour in Kandy will take you to the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, Gem Museum, Royal Botanical Gardens at Peradeniya, and the Upper Lake Drive that will give you a great view of the city. Kandy is also an amazing shopping district where you can buy lots of local products from handlooms to spices. Cycling to the Temple of the Tooth and the surrounding hills will cover a distance of approximately 53km.

5. Nuwara Eliya

Exploring Sri Lanka is best done on a bike, as this will allow you to cycle through the backroads and paths that are less travelled. But cycling is particularly enjoyable in Nuwara Eliya, because you can go on a cycling tour around town just for a day. It may be short, but if it is the only time you have, it will be worth the ride. One-day cycling for a total of 18 kilometres, will take you along the plantation roads. The tour can start from Nawalapitya to Walapane, and to the central highlands of Nuwara Eliya. If you want to take on a challenging ride to the highest point, it is an 82-km ride up to a 2000m summit above sea level.

6. Bandarawela

One of the reasons that Bandarawela is a favourite holiday destination in Sri Lanka is its soothing climate, which also make it ideal for cycling tours. The climactic conditions is just right by anyone’s standards. But because weather can change without notice, it is best to be prepared for the warmth, wind and rain. The total cycling distance of 15km will take you through valleys, mountains, reservoirs, and rainforests. A highlight in your tour will be the Dowa Rock Temple that features a Shrine that is built into the rock, the unfinished 15-ft Buddha statue that is carved on the rock face, and the entrance to a tunnel leading to other underground attractions in the area. Near the temple are mountain ranges and waterfalls that you can explore on foot.

7. Cycling in the Cultural Triangle

The triangle of Anuradhapura-Kandy-Polonaruwa is an arid zone and the onset of northeast monsoon winds brings rains to these parts of Sri Lanaka between Octobers through January. The area is aptly named so, owing to almost 7 UNESCO world heritages in and around these towns. We recommend you start your cycling tour either from Anuradhapura, covering nearby Mihintale or the other option is to start from Habarana, which is the centre point of other sites like Ritigala ruins, Dambulla, Sigiriya, Polonaruwa and Kandy.

8. Anuradhapura

Anuradhapura was the nerve centre of Buddhism and home to several world class structures of medieval times. What we get to see today are the well preserved monuments called – the “Dagabas”, these are huge bell shaped shrines which were built for Buddhists monks , the “Pokunas” (water ponds) and several structures of religious importance. The top few places to go cycling in Anuradhapura are: The Bodhi tree, the Abhayagiri Dagaba, Thuparamaya Lovamahapaya, Mirisaveti Stupa, and Lankarama and Jetavanarama, which is a red structure that glows at sunsets.

9. Mihintale

It is said that Kind Devanampiyatissa built these sacred worship places and residences to mark his meeting with Mahinda, the Buddhist Monk. It is believed that this place built on the hilltop, is the cradle of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. Mihintale’s ruins are located mostly on the mountains, so you can go cycling only upto the large footsteps constructed by King Devanampiyatissa. These footsteps will lead you to a dwelling or “Vihara” consisting of 68 caves, for the Buddhist monks. You can get to see the ruins of the world’s oldest hospital and some fabulous carvings in the monasteries of Mihintale. The main attractions of Mihintale are the cave Arahant Mahinda, Maha Stupa and Aradhana Gala.

10. Polonnaruwa

After cycling in Anuradhapura and Mihintale , the next destination is Polonnaruwa.

The medieval capital of Sri Lanka makes for an interesting cycling route, what with its many heritage and historical sites, and natural wonders. The scenery going to Polonnaruwa is nothing short of breath-taking, especially because part of your ride will take you along a vast man-made reservoir, the Sea of Parakrama. You will then pass ancient dagobas, stunning statues and beautiful parks. The other highlights of your cycling tour in this ancient UNESCO world heritage site are the Rock Temple (Gal Vihare) and the Vatadage Relic House, the Lotus bath, statue of King Parakrambahu I, and the King’s Council Chamber that is decked out with majestic guardstones, moonstones, and sculptured railings.

Legendary king “Parakrambahu I” strongly advocated the idea of water conservation and water harvesting and so he constructed a highly advanced Irrigation network, which is still used for Agricultural purposes in Polorannuwa.

“Parakrama Sumedriya” or the sea of Parakrama is a stunning 2500 hectare water reservoir built by Parakramabahu I and it is said that one cannot see the other shore of this “sea”, while standing on the opposite shore – This is one “not to miss” places of Polonnaruwa.

11. Dambulla to Sigiriya

The Dambulla to Sigiriya cycling route is a favourite among cyclists of any skill level, because it combines easy to medium ride. What is even better is that the total cycling distance of 70km is littered with tourist attractions that are very old and very impressive. The cave complex in Dambulla, for example, goes back to 2nd century BC, while Sigiriya is a Royal Citadel that dates back to the 5th century. This particular tour combines cycling and walking, since you have to explore the caves on foot. You should also check up close the painting of bare breasted women and other features of Sigiriya that make it widely considered as the modern world’s 8th wonder.

12. Sigiriya

A fortress cum palace built by King Kasyapa in the 5th century AD, on a 200 meter rock that has abruptly evolved out of the surroundings. This is also a good starting point of cycling tours in the Cultural triangle. The Sigiriya rock is the most dominant part of the surroundings and is visible from a far distance; however cycling is possible only up to the foothills and you will have to trudge for a good 90 minutes to reach the top. The Lion gate of the fortress will welcome you to a fabulous blend of symmetrical and asymmetrical architecture comprising of Pathways, beautiful water gardens, edifices and everything that will leave you awestruck.

When to Go

Cycling is possible in Sri Lanka the whole year round, but it is best to take note of the rainy seasons in different parts of the island and avoid them.

Southwest Sri Lanaka

Monsoon season in the area is between May to November, which leaves the rest of the year a good time to go cycling.

Northern Dry Zone

Monsoon months in this location start early November, so you might want to go on a cycling during the months before the beginning of the monsoon.

Hills and Lowlands of the Southwest Section

In these areas, the heaviest rainfall occurs between May and June, and again in October and November. If you want to cycle around Kandy, for instance, any other months of the year will be the best time to go.

Accommodation and Restaurants

Nuwara Eliya

Dubbed as ‘Little England’ because of its many tea plantations, and the look and feel of an English country village, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Nuwara Eliya is a beloved destination by locals and tourists alike. Where should you sleep and eat in this amazing place?

Sleep: St Andrew’s Hotel, The Trevene, King Fern Cottage, Ceybank Rest

Eat: The Old Course Restaurant, Hill Club, Milano Restaurant, Grand Hotel

Polonnaruwa

As one of the most popular tourist destinations in Sri Lanka, Polonnaruwa has several accommodation options that have restaurants where you can dine in. But you can also choose to eat in local eateries, if you want to.

Sleep: Samudra Guest House, Palm Garden Guest House, Leesha Tourist Home

Eat: Binora Restaurant

Dambulla

Where will you sleep and eat in Dambulla? On that aspect, you will have several options to choose from.

Sleep and Eat: Heritance Kandalama, Dambulla Guest House, Amaya Lake, Sundaras, Healey Tourist Inn

Sigiriya

Where you sleep is likely where you can dine, since most hotels and guesthouses in Sigiriya have restaurants or offers guests other forms of meal service.

Sleep and Eat: Ancient Villa Hotel, Jetwing Vil Uyana, Elephant Corridor, Hotel Sigiriya, Grand Regent

Kandy

Next to Colombo, Kandy is the second most visited tourist destination in Sri Lanka, which is why accommodation options and restaurants are found in, around and east of the city.

Sleep: Sharon Inn, The Kandy House, Rangala House

Eat: History Restaurant, Devon Restaurant, Paiva’s Restaurant

Bandarawela

Because Bandarawela presents an opportunity to see some interesting sites, you should stay overnight.

Sleep: Bandarawela Hotel, Hotel Mount Pleasant, Ran Mal Holiday Bunglow

Eat: Kamuko Restaurants Pvt. Ltd., New Buhari Hotel & Bakery, Eeescart Tea Centre

Essential Preparation

  • Ensure that you are physically fit and able to cycle on the route that you want to take, especially if there are uphill climbs involved.
  • Basic models of mountain bikes can be hired from hotel and guest houses who will charge anything between Rs.300 to Rs.500 per day.
  • While bike and equipment rentals are available, but you can choose to bring your own. Essential should include cycling helmet, gloves, sweat band, biking glasses, cycling tights that are ideal when cycling in areas with colder climates, and lightweight and waterproof top.
  • Dress appropriately for the activity. Better yet, layer your clothes, since the weather in Sri Lanka can change quickly and drastically. It also depends on the location. The lowlands can be humid and hot, while the higher mountainous regions and most of the hill country are cooler, especially at night.
  • Bring first-aid kit, bike kit, toilet kit, sunscreen, and insect repellent.
  • Enquire about availability of repair tools and parts for high tech bikes. Otherwise, bring your own equipment.
  • There are several tour operators in Sri Lanka, who offer tailor made as well as standard cycling tours of the Sri Lankan National Cycle Trails – with or without guides.

By now, we are sure you might have started browsing the net for the best flights deals to Sri Lanka by now. Go ahead and book your tickets and we promise you an adventure of life time here!

Updated by Teddy