Everything else.. 6 of the Most Scenic Cycling Routes in Sri Lanka

6 of the Most Scenic Cycling Routes in Sri Lanka

2021 Dec 6

Sri Lanka has long been renowned for the wonderous landscapes it presents to those who choose to traverse through it. While some may decide to explore this verdant and versatile land by train, bus or van, there are those who opt to use a mode of travel that is perhaps less explored.

These are the enthusiasts who crave their own pace and nurture a flame for adventure that burns deep inside. Learning how to ride a bike is often regarded as a passage of life. Many people will recall their first experiences, falling off or having someone hold them steady while they tried to make their first, albeit shaky, strides on two wheels.

Typically, this is where their interests wane. They hold onto their muscle memory should the need ever arises in life, but for the most part, a bicycle is something that is of no value to them in their everyday lives.

There are, however, a variety of people who simply do not let go of those proverbial handlebars. Instead, they choose to put on their gear and push off at any given opportunity. They wander down any accessible road in the hope of capturing the rush of leaving everything behind and simply immersing themselves in a worldview that is rapidly receding from the corners of their eyes.

Luckily, for those who fall into the latter category of an avid cyclist, Sri Lanka is one of the best places on the planet to indulge in some stunning views and engaging rides. This is also a good place to begin your cycling journey as the country has a small but very enthusiastic community of cyclists who are welcoming and knowledgeable about the routes that may suit a newcomer.


A blissful journey from Weligama to Galle

One such route to explore is located on the south-western coast of the island and takes roughly 2 hours to complete. Typically considered a route with a soft grading, you can expect very flat or gentle slopes all through your journey.

What makes this ride quite spectacular is the sheer thrill of journeying alongside the vast Indian Ocean. The smell of the sea breeze and the gentle push of the wind against your face is enough to keep you refreshed as you peddle along the golden shores of Sri Lanka, with perhaps a small stop for some king coconut water along the way.

The journey in itself is likely to be peaceful, aside from a loud train that may jangle and rush past you, the experience is simply bound to highlight what a paradisiacal island this nation truly is. Lush tropical palm trees and a lot of coconut trees make for a fairly brisk ride!


The quiet climb from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya 

Shifting gears from the relatively painless coastal campaigns for beginners, the island also presents cyclists with much more challenging and thrilling encounters on the road. The journey through the mountains to the misty city of Nuwara Eliya from the ancient hollow of Kandy is not for those who have just taken up cycling anew. With a consistent uphill climb, this route is recommended for those with very good fitness and people who enjoy cycling as a regular form of exercise.

Starting from about 400 metres above sea level, the climb begins all the way up to the 1800 metre mark which is where the magic begins.

With a little bit of technical expertise, cyclists are able to sit back as the mountains unravel before their eyes. Steep drops and vast viewpoints that seem to stretch to the horizon, its stunning greenspaces glowing in the morning sun is what makes this 6-hour journey worthwhile.

There is nothing more gratifying than riding into the city having conquered a mountain and the next best part is usually the shower and meal that awaits at the rest point.


Passing through Sigiriya to Polonnaruwa

Sri Lanka has always held a unique position in the eyes of the world for its natural beauty, however, what makes this nation truly remarkable is the density of wonder that is found throughout its surface. There is rarely a place on Earth where so many stunning landscapes can be found, much less a plethora of ruins, temples and ancient castles scattered in every nook and cranny.

The ride through what makes up Sri Lanka’s cultural triangle is one for the storybooks. Those with adventurous hearts and minds find themselves surrounded by mystery and unearthed treasure while others are left awestruck by the remnants of a bygone civilisation with the complexity to build mindboggling structures.

The journey from Sigiriya to Polonnaruwa is estimated to take close to 5 hours and an early start is going to be the key to an enjoyable trip and the dry heat can be quite unforgiving. Be sure to take plenty of water as you enter the domain of the ancients. The roadsides will slowly shift from leafy forests to dry cracked earth with smatterings of lush arable land.

A highlight of this journey is going the extra mile to ride past the Parakrama Samudra Lake for a welcome cool breeze during the sunset that illuminates the landscapes in splendid hues illuminating this land frozen in time.


Riding the crests and troughs around the Knuckles Mountain Range

If there was a parallel to be drawn between cycling and life it would be that life, much like cycling, consists of a series of ups and downs. There is never going to be a smooth ride but what matters is that you keep pushing and pedalling until the destination is reached and hopefully you get to see something amazing along the way.

At least that is probably what most cyclists tell themselves as they painstakingly make their way around the Knuckles Mountain Range. With close to 45 km to traverse in this journey, and various steep gradients to overcome this course is certainly not for the faint of heart.

However, it is easy to understand why people make the journey. Arriving at the mountains is simply the cherry on top compared to vistas that await those who ride through this flourishing landscape. The experience of riding past cascading waterfalls along the way and zooming down rocky paths set between dense forests thrill and enthral, while the craving for more never subsides.

If the journey is embarked alongside an experienced cyclist, they will be able to guide to down paths that lead to chilling natural swimming pools in the mountains which are the moments of inexplicable joy that keeps people flocking to these routes in the hill country of Sri Lanka.

Keep in mind the best season to head out on this journey is either between December to April or July to August for the most favourable weather to keep you motivated, the last thing you want is to be cycling on slippery roads during a torrential Sri Lanka rainstorm.


The scenic views around Colombo

While people may scoff at the idea of riding through Colombo as their definition of scenic, the reality is that Colombo is the impressive metropolis of Sri Lanka and is frankly quite a well-balanced city with elements of urban development and nature coexisting in harmony.

Ideal for beginners with the relatively flat roads, this journey will take riders through the thick and thin of Colombo.

This intimate experience of the city will bring to life the vibrance and wonder that is so often overlooked by many who spend their waking hours driving around going from bland office environments to brightly lit buildings.

Filled with a rich history and remarkable spaces of nature, cyclists will find themselves exploring the inner workings of this city. If there is ever a worry about hitting traffic, rest assured the routes typically take into consideration this issue and circumnavigates such areas.

This journey is likely to be filled with more activity than a typical route, as you zoom past the Galle Face Green do not forget to take a break and enjoy a few refreshing slices of pineapple. Not to mention stopping to take in the Neo Baroque-style Old Parliament that was of prominence during the British rule.

Weaving through the Red Mosque, the Old Law Court, Kathiresan Kovil, Vihara Mahadevi Park and the Colombo Museum will present sights that are so often overlooked and underappreciated yet so remarkably beautiful in this vast and sprawling city.


The journey through Batticaloa to Kalmunai

A quintessential journey through Sri Lanka will typically consist of passing through sleepy little villages, paddy fields, weather-worn temples and a spectrum of towns thrumming with frenetic activity. When it comes to the eastern coast of Sri Lanka however there is a shift in the pace that governs their day to day lives.

As a part of the country that is still developing compared to other major cities, this region of the nation retains much of the charm and culture that has been relatively untouched by the waves of modernisation making its way through Sri Lanka.

As you peddle your bicycle through muddy pathways and bumpy roads, the life that is the norm for most people in Sri Lanka unfolds. The small but well-tended gardens will slowly pull away and the lagoon will come into view as your ride along the south side of Batticaloa. This stunning and expansive waterbody will keep riders’ company as boats pull in their catch for the day and begin making their way towards the fish markets. Cyclists may even be joined by other local men with bicycles heading home after a long day in town to unwind with a hot cup of tea and a warm humble meal.

The sights you see and the life you watch transpire as you cycle by are a large part of the reason that many choose to engage in this seemingly arduous pastime. People can easily opt to take a comfortable vehicle and simply fade away until they arrive at their destinations. However, the beauty of cycling is that it demands life, it drives the riders to push themselves against their flagging soul and asks them to pull something from within that they did not know existed.

At the end of the day, the journey will reveal to the rider a nugget of truth about themselves, and will also in many blissful moments, pull back the veil and reveal to them the beauty of the world they inhabit in their every waking moment.