The highest 6 highway journeys in Sri Lanka for island adventures

Sri Lanka has every little thing you could possibly ask for from a tropical island – glowing seashores, sapphire-blue waves, lilting palm bushes, emerald hills and the scent of seafood hanging on the breeze.

Even higher, its manageable dimension means you’ll be able to see every little thing on a brief journey, from brochure-class seashores and elephant-filled nationwide parks to ruined Buddhist stupas – significantly if you happen to rent a automotive and driver. 

Whereas some individuals road-trip round Sri Lanka with a rented bike or scooter, renting a automotive with a driver is the simplest possibility. Most drivers converse good English and know the ins and outs of driving within the nation, together with the most effective roadhouses to cease at for spicy rice and curry. In the event you prepare a driver for an extended journey, don’t be shocked if you happen to get invited to their house for a meal earlier than the tip of your keep. To get you began, listed here are our favourite highway journeys in Sri Lanka.

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Pause for a day or two of water enjoyable in Hikkaduwa on the highway between Colombo and Matara © Getty Photographs

Colombo to Matara

Greatest highway journey for seashore lovers

Colombo–Matara; 133 km (83 miles)

This simple tour south from Colombo follows the trail of the coastal railway, linking historic cities with a few of Sri Lanka’s most well-known seashore resorts. You gained’t discover an excessive amount of peace and quiet in peak season, however one can find loads of sun-smooched sand and good locations to remain, eat and catch a wave. 

Begin in Colombo, Sri Lanka’s history-stuffed capital metropolis, exploring temples and markets and superb eating on crab curry, then drift south to the sands of Aluthgama and Bentota, taking time to detour inland to the charming Temporary Backyard. When you have the funds, this stretch of coast has a few of Sri Lanka’s finest Ayurvedic spa resorts. Pause for a day or two of water enjoyable in Hikkaduwa, and drop by Ambalangoda to delve into the island’s custom of kolam (masked dances).  

It’s again to historical past in Unesco-listed Galle, with colonial-era streets wrapped round a historic lighthouse and a fortress constructed by Dutch colonizers. Eat and sleep effectively within the outdated heart, then hyperlink via beachy Unawatuna and surfy Midigama and Weligama, squeezing in a detour to the Handunugoda Tea Property earlier than wrapping up within the authentically Sri Lankan city of Matara.  

Planning tip: In the event you’ve by no means surfed in Sri Lanka earlier than, the resort of Hikkaduwa provides a straightforward introduction in bathtub-warm waters; it’s additionally a hub for snorkeling and diving, with an inshore reef off the primary seashore that’s nice for households. 

An empty road stretching out under open sky at Horton Plains National Park, Central Province, Sri Lanka
An eerily silent space of excessive nation, the Horton Plains are like nowhere else in Sri Lanka © Getty Photographs / iStockphoto

Colombo to Badulla throughout the hill nation

Greatest highway journey for tea lovers

Colombo–Ella; 240km (145 miles)

It’s not all about seashores in Sri Lanka. The journey inland from Colombo to the Hill Nation is considered one of Sri Lanka’s most evocative rail journeys, and it’s simply as spectacular by highway. Ranging from the capital and taking common stops to look out over the surroundings, hint the A1 freeway inland to greater floor and the sacred metropolis of Kandy, house to Sri Lanka’s most revered temple. 

Coming with a automotive and driver makes it simple to go to close by temples and gardens and the Ceylon Tea Museum earlier than heading to severe tea nation. Take the highland highway to Nuwara Eliya via jade-green tea plantations, stopping at estates resembling Glenloch to study concerning the tea-making course of. Test right into a colonial-era lodge (we charge the Hill Membership) and take excessive tea on the Grand. 

Roll on through the putting Horton Plains to Haputale, the place tea-mogul Sir Thomas Lipton based his empire, and go to Lipton’s manufacturing unit at Dambatenne, earlier than looping previous extra hillside viewpoints to Ella, to e-book into an area guesthouse and luxuriate in correct Sri Lankan home-cooking. We go away it as much as you whether or not you snap an Instagram pic of the 9 Arches bridge simply exterior city.

Planning tip: The Horton Plains are like nowhere else in Sri Lanka – an eerily silent space of excessive nation that stops abruptly on the sheer drop-off of World’s Finish. Pay the nationwide park charges close to Farr Inn and also you’re free to discover on foot on designated trails. 

Tourists walking at the site of the ancient stupa Abhayagiri Dagaba, at Abhayagiri Vihara, a major Buddhist monastery site in Anuradhapura.
In Anuradhapura, two-millennia-old brick stupas the dimensions of plane hangers are nonetheless websites of every day worship © Getty Photographs / iStockphoto

A circle of historic cities 

Greatest journey for historical past 

Anuradhapura–Kandy, 180km (112 miles) 

The inexperienced plains of central Sri Lanka couldn’t be farther from the sun-and-sand picture of the coast. Right here you’ll discover the ruins of Sri Lanka’s historic Buddhist kingdoms spilling out from forests that teem with bee-eaters and hornbills.

Begin in Anuradhapura, the place two-millennia-old brick stupas the dimensions of plane hangers are nonetheless websites of every day worship. Pay your respects at Sri Maha Bodhi, a tree propagated from the very tree underneath which the Buddha attained enlightenment, and head on to the fascinating monastic complicated at Ritigala. 

Break from the ruins at elephant-thronged Minneriya Nationwide Park, then dive straight again in once more at Polonnaruwa, house to a few of Sri Lanka’s most spectacular temples, statues and ruins. Slingshot west through Sigiriya, whose rocky outcrop is topped by the ruined citadel palace of King Kasyapa, reached through a vertiginous stairway.

Roll south to Dambulla, the place the dusty brickwork is changed by cave temples painted in vivid major colours. Convey the journey updated with one final cease at Kandy, the place the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic continues to be the beating coronary heart of contemporary Sri Lankan Buddhism. 

Planning tip: Attempt to time your go to to Anuradhapura to coincide with a poya day – festivals that mark every passing full moon. Pilgrims flock to the stupas wearing immaculate white garments and the brick plinths are wrapped in bolts of coloured material by devotees. 

Elephants on safari in National Nature Park Udawalawe in Sri Lanka
Meet elephants in peaceable environment at Uda Walawe Nationwide Park © Getty Photographs / iStockphoto

The very best of Sri Lanka’s nationwide parks

Greatest for wildlife spotters

Mirissa–Arugam Bay; 440km (273 miles)

This cross-country jaunt takes in a few of Sri Lanka’s most epic wildlife encounters, visiting nationwide parks each well-known and quiet and cruising offshore to satisfy Sri Lanka’s largest wild animal, the blue whale. Certainly, that’s the primary exercise earlier than you drive on from the south-coast resort of Mirissa. Feathered mates of all styles and sizes are the primary attracts inland at Sinharaja Forest Reserve, and so they’re finest encountered on foot with an area information.  

Roll east to satisfy elephants at Uda Walawe Nationwide Park (in additional peaceable environment than at crowd-mobbed Yala Nationwide Park), then return to the coast for chicken encounters amid dunes and lagoons at Bundala Nationwide Park. You’ll have to loop inland to succeed in Kumana Nationwide Park – a a lot simpler journey with a automotive and driver than by public transport – the place you stand a very good likelihood of a liaison with a leopard. End up on the seashore at Arugam Bay for some browsing downtime. 

Planning tip: Completely different seasons deliver totally different wildlife experiences. Touring in November brings first rate probabilities of recognizing whales, elephants and leopards, however the most effective time for elephant recognizing is from July to October when pachyderms collect in nice herds.

Exploring Sri Lanka’s east coast

Greatest highway journey for escaping the crowds

Arugam Bay–Trincomalee; 260km (162 miles)

Issues are quieter on Sri Lanka’s east coast, and it’s dry right here in the course of the island’s Could-to-August off-season, making this an awesome journey for vacationers on a funds. En route, you’ll be able to cease at laid-back surf hubs and historic cities that really feel extra authentically Sri Lankan than the resorts within the south and west. Begin with a wave at Arugam Bay, one of many island’s most enjoyable browsing spots. Cease for a day to discover less-visited temples and birding spots on the lagoons round Pottuvil. 

Shifting north up the coast, you’ll cross the Gal Oya river (observe it inland for wildlife encounters in under-explored Gal Oya Nationwide Park) en path to Batticaloa, the place you’ll be able to discover colonial relics, numerous spiritual websites and superb seashores. Let the coast name you additional north in direction of Trincomalee, the place Dutch and British historical past nudges up towards Tamil tradition. Earlier than you ship your driver off with a smile and a tip, use Trinco as a base for day excursions to the seashores of Uppuveli and Nilaveli and snorkeling with reef sharks and turtles at Pigeon Island Nationwide Park. 

A style of the North 

Greatest highway journey for Tamil tradition

Colombo–Jaffna; 600km (373 miles)

Vacationers have lengthy missed Sri Lanka’s once-troubled north, however with peace prevailing within the island’s Tamil heartland, the time is ripe for exploring. Ranging from Colombo, drift north via laid-back Negombo, and get your first style of Tamil structure on the Madampe Murugan temple. Cease in a single day on the peaceable Kalpitiya Peninsula, Sri Lanka’s kite-surfing capital. 

Earlier than you enter the Tamil north correct, swing by Wilpattu Nationwide Park – one of many island’s extra peaceable reserves – then duck onto Mannar Island to admire the baobab bushes and get as near India as you’ll be able to with out leaving Sri Lanka. From right here on north, Hindu Tamil tradition dominates; look out for vividly painted kovils (Hindu temples) as you observe the A32 north throughout the lagoon to Jaffna. 

In Sri Lanka’s northern capital, richly spiced Tamil meals is the order of the day. Feast on crab curry and tour the Dutch-era fort and the pilgrim-thronged courtyards of the Nallur Kandaswamy Kovil. This may very well be the tip of the journey, however you could possibly additionally spend a day or extra exploring the quiet seashores and outpost villages of the as soon as war-torn Jaffna Peninsula to see how far Sri Lanka has come for the reason that finish of the civil struggle in 2009.  

Suggestions for driving in Sri Lanka 

It’s potential to self-drive a rent automotive in Sri Lanka, however most individuals choose to depart the driving to somebody with expertise of the native driving circumstances. Hiring a automotive with a driver is simple, and also you’ll get to go to some native meals stops you’d in all probability miss going it alone. Operators resembling Ancient Lanka can kind you out with a automotive and a pleasant, skilled driver from US$65 per day. You’ll even be higher positioned to navigate any gas shortages on the island, as tour drivers have precedence entry to gas.

Whereas bike and scooter rental will not be as widespread as in Southeast Asia, it’s simple and cheap to rearrange alongside the coast. The roads are typically effectively maintained, although potholes are widespread on again lanes and within the hills. Be careful for wandering canine, chickens and wildlife (together with elephants – if you happen to see a jumbo on the highway, again away), and watch out for rushing vehicles and buses, which gained’t decelerate for one thing as lowly as a bike. Attempt to keep away from being on the roads after darkish, when hazards are tougher to identify.