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Ella, Sri Lanka | © SJ Travel Photo and Video/Shutterstock
Ella, Sri Lanka | © SJ Travel Photo and Video/Shutterstock

The Best Road Trips to Take in Sri Lanka

Picture of Orana Velarde
Sri Lanka Hub Writer
Updated: 12 December 2017

If you like road trips, Sri Lanka is the perfect kind of island for you. We don’t recommend you rent a car yourself because the main rule of the road is to not follow any rules! You are better off hiring a driver with a comfy van. The roads might not be quite what you are used to back home but it is not hard to get around. Here are five road trips you can do in Sri Lanka.

Mountains

Colombo – Nuwara Eliya – Horton Plains – Ella- Kandy

The first road trip on our list is one all about mountains. Start in Colombo and drive to Nuwara Eliya, going from tropical heat to sweatshirt weather in the span of four hours. On the way to Nuwara Eliya, stop in the tea plantations and visit a tea factory. Learn how to pluck the tea leaves and how different kinds of teas are manufactured.

Stay the night in Nuwara Eliya and either spend the next day in the town or go to Horton Plains. Don’t miss the hiking at Horton Plains to World’s End. After enjoying Horton Plains and lots of cool weather at high altitude, have lunch at a local kade or tea house. Drive to Ella and rest up at Cafe Chill before spending the night in one of the homestays.

The next day hike to Ella rock or Little Adam’s Peak (you could spend a few days in Ella and do all the hikes). When you’re done with Ella, drive to Kandy (or take the train, because it’s one of the most beautiful journeys in the world) and visit the Temple of the Tooth.

After Kandy, you can do the Cultural Triangle road trip or return to Colombo.

 

The Cultural Triangle

Colombo – Kandy – Anhuradapura – Polonnaruwa – Sigiriya – Kandy

The Cultural Triangle is an area in the Northern District of Sri Lanka. The places to see there are architectural remains of rock top fortresses and ancient temples. Start at either Colombo (or Kandy if you just did the mountains road trip). First destination is the ancient city of Anurhadapura where you can visit the ancient Boddhi tree or the giant dagoba. If you are lucky enough to be around on Poya day you can join the worshippers that go there to celebrate the full moon.

After spending the night in Anurhadapura or Habarana, drive back to Polonaruwa to visit the temples there. Check out the giant Buddha statue that was featured in a Duran Duran video in the 80’s and have day looking around.

In the evening, drive to Sigiriya Lion rock, climb to the top and see the remains of an old fortress that used to belong to an ancient Kandyan king. Spend the night in Sigiriya and then drive back to Kandy and  Colombo, or do the mountains road trip.

 

Beaches

Colomb0 – Kalutara – Hikkaduwa – Galle – Welligama – Matara – Yala – Arugam Bay

The Beaches road trip could easily be the longest of all. It all depends on how much time you want to spend at each beach. For this particular road trip, it actually might be best to rent a car since the southern roads are easier to navigate and that way you have free reign over how long you stay where – especially if you are chasing swells or looking for waves.

If it’s not a surfing trip and you just plan to spend a couple of days at each beach, then, by all means, take a van and driver. All the beaches on the route have hotels, from small hotels to large resorts. Most are right on the beach.

National Parks

Colombo – Singaraja – Horton Plains –  Gal Oya 

Sri Lanka’s National Parks are some of the most diverse in the world. This road trip takes you to three completely different ones. Sinharaja is a tropical rainforest full of native birds, amphibians and plants. Stay overnight at the Rainforest Ecolodge to really experience the magic of the place. After plenty of jungle exploring go uphill to Ella and visit the Horton Plains National Park to do some high mountain trekking. Don’t forget your sweater because the evenings are cold! Stay for a day or two in Ella and then go downhill to Gal Oya National Park. Stay at Gal Oya lodge and see wild elephants and peacocks and maybe you’ll catch a glimpse of a leopard.

After the National Parks road trip you can drive down to Arugam Bay and do the beaches road trip in reverse back to Colombo.

The North

Negombo – Colombo – Anhuradapura – Wilpattu – Mannar – Jaffna

The road trip to the north is a road less traveled but also the most varied. From Colombo drive to Negombo and spend the night on the beach. The next day drive to Anhuradhapura and see the ancient temples and giant dagoba. If you can manage to go to Anudharapura on a full moon night you can experience the full capacity of its magic. Spend the night in the Anuradhapura area and the next day drive to Wilpattu National Park where you can camp for the night.

After experiencing intense nature, drive north to Mannar and see a different side of Sri Lanka. Windy beaches with abandoned buildings from a long gone era and ancient temples. Eat some seafood and stay overnight at the Shell Coast Resort. After Mannar, drive further north to Jaffna, possibly the last unspoiled area in Sri Lanka. Still affected by the aftermath of the war, Jaffna will welcome you with its beautiful Hindu temples and generous people. Spend a couple days in Jaffna before returning south again. To not do the same route you could go and discover the east coast to Trincomalee and Batticaloa.