The idea of renting a car and setting off into the horizon on your own personal adventure is a timeless experience when looking for the ultimate holiday. Particularly if you’re in search of natural beauty, serenity, cultural bounty, adventure and excitement — Sri Lanka has all this and much more to offer, and the best way to discover the countless treasures and adventures that this island nation is known for is to do so via a road trip.
Here are five road trip routes across Sri Lanka that are guaranteed to excite you! So it’s time to pack your bags, put on your comfy pants and set off on the beaten path as you experience actual communities and natural wonders through a truly unique and one-of-a-kind perspective.
The Mountain Road Trip
Sri Lanka is a land of endless mountains and hillsides, spectacular views and sunsets, and there is no better place than the central highlands to explore the beauty of Sri Lanka’s hill country.
Your journey starts in Colombo and takes you to the Central Highlands to Nuwara Eliya. This quaint town is home to colonial architecture, lush vibrant gardens and vast tea plantations, and is the perfect transition from the hustle and bustle of Colombo’s city life.
Before you head on to your next stop, a must-visit would be to Horton Plains National Park – a rich plateau with thick forests, grasslands, lakes and magnificent waterfalls, and plenty of trails for hiking. Visit World’s Edge, a sudden 4,000ft cliff drop overlooking the countryside, that allows hikers to look as far as the eye can see.
Next stop: Ella.
Ella has also become popular as the home of adventure activities, as well as instagram-worthy world heritage sites and tourist stops and a bucket list activity when in Ella is to hike up Ella Rock or Little Adam’s Peak.
Final Destination: Kandy.
At the heart of the city lies the scenic Kandy Lake (Bogambara Lake), which is popular for long strolls. Kandy is famed for its sacred Buddhist sites, including the Temple of the Tooth (Sri Dalada Maligawa) shrine, celebrated with the grand Esala Perahera annual procession.
The Cultural Triangle Road Trip
The Cultural Triangle is an area in the Northern District of Sri Lanka, home to architectural remains of rock fortresses and ancient temples, UNESCO World Heritage Sites, hot-air ballooning adventures and quaint villages that continue to hold the essence of Sri Lanka’s old world.
Set off on your journey from Colombo to the ancient city of Anuradhapura, which is home to the ancient ruins of a time once lost. A truly wondrous cultural sight to behold, explore ancient temples, the majestic Boddhi tree and the architectural marvels of world heritage sites that still stand tall to this date.
Next stop: Sigiriya.
Located in the city of Dambulla, a must-visit location is the Sigiriya Lion Rock and Fortress, also known as “the castle in the sky”. This architectural marvel built atop a rock structure affords tourists a spectacular panorama of the cultural triangle and promises an unforgettable sunrise.
Final Destination: Polonnaruwa.
Known as the island’s medieval capital is a large area, fortified by three concentric walls and laid out with an irrigation system and clusters of temples and shrines. The highlight of this site is the Buddhist temple containing four colossal Buddha statues carved out of the rock, depicted as sleeping, sitting and standing.
The Beaches Road Trip:
The Beaches road trip could easily be the longest of all and depends on how much time you want to spend enjoying the sun, sand and surf.
Starting off in Colombo, the ideal beach road trip covers Hikkaduwa, Galle, Weligama, Tangalle and Arugam Bay.Whichever beach-side town you decide to visit the longest, you’re in for some wild nights, great surf, welcoming locals, plenty of souvenir shops, and some fab seafood at any of the many restaurants and bars that are littered across the beach and main road.
Point to note: When in Galle, take a few hours to visit the maritime museum, boutique outlets, old lighthouse and prison and so much more, located in the Galle Fort.
The National Parks Road Trip
Sri Lanka’s National Parks are some of the most diverse in the world and home to incredible biodiversity, flora, rare animals and many species of birds.
Setting off from Colombo your first destination is Sinharaja. A popular tropical rainforest full of native birds, amphibians and plants, it is the perfect national park to let your explorer’s soul rejoice. Home to incredible topiary and rarely seen inhabitants, Sinharaja is an unforgettable experience for many.
Next stop: Horton Plains National Park to do some high mountain trekking, and a little exploring of nature’s wonders.
Next stop: Gal Oya. Lying in the south east of Sri Lanka just west of Ampara, Gal Oya National Park has evolved naturally, untouched by the hand of man for countless centuries. Over 25,000 hectares of lush evergreen forest and open savannas thrive alongside the Senanayake Samudra lake – Sri Lanka’s largest inland body of water.
After the National Parks road trip you can drive down to Arugam Bay and do the beach road trip in reverse back to Colombo.
Road Trip to The North
This road trip to the north is a road less travelled but also probably the most rejuvenating as it gives you a little experience of every aspect of Sri Lanka.
Starting off in Colombo, head to the sea-side town of Negombo, popular for its strip of bars, restaurants and live music. Enjoy a night out on the town and even a red Garra pedicure, by nature’s spa specialists.
Head on down to Anuradhapura to get up-close-and-personal with the ancient temples and beautiful structures – particularly perfect on a full moon night.
From here your next destination is Wilpattu National Park where we’d recommend camping out for the night for a once-in-a-lifetime unique encounter with nature in all its glory. Whether majestic elephants, leopards or even just bird-watching is truly brought to life through the vibrancy of this island-nation.
After an intense experience, you’ll never forget, it’s time to head north to Mannar and take in the sunnier-side of Sri Lanka as you enjoy a little time on the beach, maybe catch some waves but also explore ancient ruins, as you get swept up in a time once forgotten.
Your final destination is of course – Jaffna. Considered the last unspoiled area in Sri Lanka, Jaffna has many stories to tell and showcase and awaits with open arms to welcome you.