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Cycling in Sri Lanka

Blur past the island’s best, from the magnificent slopes of the Central Highlands to the historic grounds of Polonnaruwa and from the rich green tea plantations of Habarana to the coastal bliss of Negombo - all on the seat of a cycle. When it comes to cycling, Sri Lanka delivers with a vast trove of options; winding across the island are potential cycling routes; main, country and gravel roads, footpaths, cart, dirt and estate tracks.

Plan out your itinerary - start now! Here’s something to give you a little head-start. We’ve broken down the most popular cycling spots in Sri Lanka according to Province to help you choose what best meets your need.

Best Known For

Here are some of the regions in Sri Lanka that are best known for cycling terrains:

  • The Southern Province - Snaking through Sri Lanka’s tropics are 4 National Cycling Trails, one of which is along the Southern coast, from Wadduwa to Koggala. Covering a distance of roughly 240 kilometres, the trail takes you through rich coconut, rubber and tea plantations, golden beaches, village life, wilderness and legendary cultural sites.
  • North Central Province - What better way to immerse in the island’s regal history than cycling through the ‘King’s Land’? Here, the ‘Cultural Triangle’ is all you need and is home to a National Cycling Trail. Cycle from Habarana to the UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Dambulla and Sigiriya via the Kandalama route - where monuments from ancient civilisations still stand and riveting flora and fauna is to be seen. Travel onto Polonnaruwa, the iconic ancient capital and bask in the sceneries around the Giritale Sanctuary and Wasgamuwa National Park.
  • Sabaragamuwa Province - The 3rd National Cycling Trail begins from Ratnapura, the City of Gems and extends for around 200 kilometres along the Colombo-Badulla main road. Pass rippling rivers, cascading waterfalls, luxurious tea plantations and the wilderness call of a rainforest.
  • South Central Part of Sri Lanka - The Central Highlands. Stretching across its mist-capped terrains is the 4th National Cycling Trail which calls for some serious cycling. Explore lush, verdant tea plantations, cycle along estate tracks that connect the tea factories, estates and small towns. Bike from Kandy and over the towering Hanthana Mountain Range to Pussellawa to the ‘Little England’ hill country of Nuwara Eliya. From the breathtaking, rugged terrains of Horton Plains, cycle along to Aggarapathana whilst basking in the wonder of natural flora and fauna.
  • Colombo - It isn’t necessary to travel to far-off places to explore the island - you can do so in your own hometown as well! The commercial capital of Colombo, although more of a commercial precinct, is lined with cobblestoned and paved pathways, which can be used for cycling. Pedal through the scenic scapes of the Viharamahadevi Park and Town Hall, around the Independence and Arcade Independence Square, the Dutch Hospital Shopping Precinct and around the Gangaramaya Lake - discover the city’s history, secrets and nature within.
  • Central Province - If more of the hill country is what you want, here’s what you need - kick off from the ancient city of Sigiriya, travel along the massively glorious Knuckles Mountain Range and end at the hill capital of Kandy.
  • From the Western Province to the Central - Here, your cycling expedition starts from the coastal town of Negombo, past the paddy field-dotted town of Kurunegala and ends at Dambulla, on which the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Dambulla Cave Temple stands.
  • From the Eastern Province to the Northern - Looking for a coastal ride? The stretch from Trincomalee to Mullaitivu takes you past scenic sandy beaches, crashing ocean blues and the unmistakable tropical aura that Sri Lanka is known for.

Interesting Tips

  • Cycling is so commonly taken up as one of the recreational things to do in Sri Lanka that one may find pathways that are made purely for it. Certain pathways may not generally be made for cycling but are typically used for it as well. In fact, any long stretch of area can be used for cycling unless specified otherwise.
  • Many cycling groups exist in Sri Lanka and comprise individuals who are banded together by a mutual love of cycling. These sports enthuses practice cycling on a regular basis - in a bid to keep fit, to hone their skill-sets in preparation of international cycling competitions and to discover more of the island’s tropics as they cycle through. One such group is the ‘Triathlon Club of Colombo’ (TCC).
  • Certain restaurants in Sri Lanka are founded to encourage the patrons’ love for cycling or for patrons to atleast participate in a bit of sport. ‘Spinner’s Café’ is one. While or after dining at the café, patrons can rent a bicycle from the café and cycle about.
  • The activity has even been transformed into a humanitarian cause. ‘Around The Pearl’ is a cycling challenge where riders have to travel across the island’s coastal belt for over 12 days. All proceeds collected will be donated to provide wheelchairs for those suffering from cerebral palsy.

Times, Seasons and Tips

  • Cycling tours is a best way to see more of the island while remaining fit. Cycling tour facilitators offer varied packages and travel services such as the ‘Bike Tours in Sri Lanka’, ‘Cycling Tours Sri Lanka’, ‘Eco Team’ and ‘Sri Lanka Bicycle Trips’.
  • Some of the top tour operators as listed by TripAdvisor are ‘Chameera Cycling’, ‘Ceylon Adventure Tours’, ‘Enviro Bicycle Tours’ and ‘Pappy’s Surf Shop’.
  • Cycling equipment can be purchased from specialized shops such as ‘Open Road Equipment’, ‘Gekko Trekko’, ‘Pro Bikes’ and ‘Giant Sri Lanka’.
  • Cyclist hubs such as ‘Freewheelers’, the ‘Boralu Boyz’, the ‘Pedal Pushers’ and ‘Wroom’ are generally known for hosting cycling rides and events for the cycling community and the general public therefore keep an eye out for these.
  • Begin early in the day to avoid the brunt of the mid-day heat later on. Take water and sunscreen along with you.
  • Be aware of any oncoming vehicles and other such obstacles when cycling on public roads - note that in the daily rush hour, speeding drivers may not be that keen to pay attention to smaller vehicles that are travelling in the opposite direction towards them therefore wear something visible to alert them of your presence on the road earlier on.
  • Bicycles may be rented at certain guesthouses or hotels. If not, they may be able to connect you with someone or an entity that does rent bicycles. Rental charges may be around LKR 500 per day.
  • Bicycles that are rented to be used during the day may generally not be designed to cover long distances and it may be rare to find long distance bicycle rentals. Should serious cycling expeditions be on your itinerary, best bring a bicycle from home or borrow one from a friend to cut down cost and hassle.
  • Pack spare tyres and tubes. Travelling long distances may wear the bicycles out due to rough road surfaces and replacements parts may be a bit hard to find.
  • Any time of the year works for cycling except perhaps from October to December which is when the rains start to pour. April and May may be hotter than average months. Best be informed of the island’s diverse weather patterns all year round before venturing out on a cycling expedition.
  • As you cycle through varied parts of the island, expect varied climactic conditions. Be prepared for this - the mountains may have more of a freezing atmosphere while other areas may have sweltering heat conditions. Wear lightweight clothes and pack in a change of clothes that’s suitable for these conditions along with appropriate footwear for cycling.
  • Out of respect of local tradition, when visiting religious sites such as temples, please make sure to be clad in white clothing that covers your arms and legs.

Caught between the challenging and easier pathways? Discover both. The magnitude of formal and informal cycling tracks across the country have varying levels of ease and difficult. Despite a route being challenging, this doesn’t lessen the sheer natural beauty that awaits along or at the end of it. Looking for a fast and cheaper way of exploring the island on short notice? Cycling is one of the things to do in Sri Lanka that delivers on this whilst immersing in the natural, cultural and historical wonders of the island.

Note: for more information, refer the listed ITAB details.

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