Scenic Routes: Top 5 Road Trips In Sri Lanka

If you’re someone who loves to hang around golden beaches with crystal clear waters or lush green palms and emerald hills, then Sri Lanka needs to be on your travel bucket list
Ambewala Farms, Nuwara Eliya
Ambewala Farms, Nuwara EliyaUnsplash

Located in the Indian Ocean southwest of the Bay of Bengal, Sri Lanka, an island nation in South Asia, beckons travellers with its stunning beaches, remarkable biodiversity, and cultural richness. Embark on an unforgettable journey through one of the scenic routes winding along sandy beaches and lush greenery. You'll feel like you're in a movie as you traverse these picturesque roads in a convertible by the sandy beaches with wind gushing down your hair. Immerse yourself in the paradise that is Sri Lanka. Here, we’ve come up with some of the best road trip routes to try when visiting the ‘Pearl of the Indian Ocean’.

For Beach Lovers - Colombo to Matara


Route: Colombo - Kalutara - Hikkaduwa - Galle - Welligama - Matara

The drive from Colombo to Matara covers a distance of approximately 160 km and usually takes about two and a half hours without stops. This short excursion south of Colombo follows the coastal railway route and connects historic cities with some of the most well-known beach resorts in Sri Lanka. Start at Sri Lanka's history-packed capital, Colombo. After exploring the markets, temples, and delicious crab curry, move south to Hikkaduwa, known for its coral sanctuaries, for a day or two of ocean exploration. 

Head next to  UNESCO World Heritage site  Galle and take in the Dutch colonial buildings, quaint streets, boutiques, and charming cafes. Stop over at the historic lighthouse and fort for the panoramic views. 

Eat well and get plenty of sleep in the old centre, then make your way through the coastal towns of Unawatuna, Midigama, and Weligama, with a detour at the Handunugoda Tea Estate en route. Finally, wrap up your journey in the authentically Sri Lankan town of Matara.

For Tamil Culture - Negombo to Jaffna


Route: Negombo - Anuradhapura - Wilpattu - Mannar - Jaffna

Travelling from Negombo to Jaffna via this scenic route offers a diverse array of attractions along the way. Explore the Dutch ruins in Negombo (Western Province), stroll along the Dutch canal, and then move on to the historic city of Anuradhapura. 

Anuradhapura, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is known for its ancient stupas and for being the birthplace of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. A glimpse of wildlife, such as leopards, elephants, and bears in Wilpattu, will add to the thrill of your road trip to Sri Lanka. Embark on a jeep safari in the Wilpattu National Park and try to spot as many wild animals as possible. 

Your next stop would be the historic city of Mannar, where you can visit the Ketheeswaram Temple, a renowned pilgrimage site, as well as several other Dutch ramparts. Mannar Island and Kankensanturai in Jaffna offer breathtaking views of the Indian Ocean. Don’t forget to visit the Jaffna Library, a Tamil literature and culture storehouse.

For Tea Lovers - Colombo to Kandy


Route: Colombo - Nuwara Eliya - Horton Plains - Ella - Kandy

Drive from Colombo to Nuwara Eliya, and in four hours, you'll move from tropical heat to sweatshirt weather. Make a stop at the tea plantations and visit a tea factory en route to Nuwara Eliya for a taste of Sri Lanka’s tea country.  

Spend the night in Nuwara Eliya. Visit the tea plantations here to learn more about the tea-making process or simply to take in the breathtaking views. Stop over at a tea factory to be mesmerised by the process of tea packaging or simply enjoy a hot cuppa by the scenic Gregory Lake.  

Next, continue your exploration of the town or Horton Plains the following day. Stop by a local kade or tea house for lunch after experiencing Horton Plains and lots of chilly weather at high altitudes. Take the panoramic view of the tea estates and the World’s End Viewpoint. 

Make your way to Ella next. Rest at Cafe Chill before staying the night at one of the homestays. The following day, trek to Ella Rock or Little Adam's Peak for stunning views of the tea estates before moving on to Kandy. 

There is a lot for tea lovers in Kandy. Explore the Ceylon Tea Museum to learn more about the cultivation methods and history of this area. Take a tour of the Geragama tea factory to sample the varieties on offer. This scenic route offers a delightful taste of Ceylon Tea.

For Wildlife Enthusiasts - Udawalawe to Wasgamuwa

Wasgamuwa National Park
Wasgamuwa National ParkShutterstock

Route: Udawalawe - Sinharaja - Yala - Bundala

The world is well aware of Sri Lanka's exotic wildlife. The southern Sri Lankan wildlife hotspots are a popular destination for safaris. Udawalawe National Park is a place you shouldn't miss if you have a fondness for elephants. One can see herds of elephants in their natural habitat here. Furthermore, one can witness several rare bird species, including the Indian Short-toed Snake Eagle. 

Your next stop, Sinharaja, is home to the Sinharaja Forest Reserve, a UNESCO-protected rainforest.  More than 60% of the trees in Sinharaja are endemic or native to the region. Besides, it is home to more than half of the indigenous animal species in Sri Lanka. 

From here, you will drive on to Yala National Park, also known as the "Land of the Leopard", due to the large number of leopards that call the region home. Explore the park’s diverse ecosystems, including grasslands, scrublands, and lagoons.

Your final stop will be an exciting safari: Bundala National Park, an important wintering place for birds all over the world. Known for its wetlands, you will have the chance to spot migratory birds, including flamingos and pelicans.

For Rich Heritage - Anuradhapura to Kandy


Route: Anuradhapura - Polonnaruwa - Sigiriya - Kandy

This route offers a remarkable journey through the island’s rich cultural and historical legacy. Start at the ancient city of Anuradhapura, where daily prayers are still held at two-millennia-old brick stupas the size of aeroplane hangars. This ancient capital has several stupas and temples, such as the Ruwanwelisaya and Thuparamaya. The sacred Maha Bodhi tree, the location of the entry of Buddhism into Sri Lanka, can also be found here. 

Take a break from the ruins at the elephant-thronged Minneriya National Park, then return to the ruins at Polonnaruwa, home to some of the most remarkable temples, statues, and ruins. The colossal Buddha statues here are a sight to behold. 

Head west via Sigiriya, another UNESCO World Heritage site, a rocky outcrop topped by King Kasyapa's ruined citadel palace reached via a dizzying stairway. Do not miss the famous Lion’s Paw entrance and remarkable frescos. 

Drive south to Dambulla, where vivid primary-coloured cave temples replace the dusty masonry. Bring your trip to a triumphant finish at Kandy, where the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, housing the revered relic of Buddha’s tooth, is still the beating heart of Sri Lankan Buddhism.

Getting there

Flying from India to Sri Lanka is the most convenient option, and you'll probably reach there the same day you depart. Sri Lanka has a bustling airport called Bandaranaike Internal Airport. Located in Colombo, this airport serves as the arrival point for Sri Lankan flights from major locations worldwide. Assuming you’re travelling from Delhi to Colombo, the total travel time would be 3 hours and 35 minutes (for a non-stop flight). You can book your flight tickets from here.

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