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Sri Lanka

Cycle The Highlands of Sri Lanka

11 days

About the challenge

Sri Lanka, formerly Ceylon, is an island in the Indian Ocean renowned for its natural beauty, fascinating culture and beautiful beaches - our route combines these. We cycle through paddy fields and lowland jungle to the twisting roads of the Knuckles Mountains, onto tea plantations and British hill stations surrounded by cloudforest and waterfalls, this is a spectacular and diverse route. Coming down out of the hills to the southern plains, we finish our challenging ride at a beautiful beach. Our Sri Lankan experience also takes in the medieval ruins of Polonnaruwa and the historic city of Kandy, two of the island’s most famous cultural attractions.

Dates & prices

Departs Days Charity Availability Registration fee   Fundraising target   Payment option  
02 Oct 2014 11 Open challenge Spaces £299 + £3600 Or £1600 Book now
11 Apr 2015 11 Open challenge Spaces £299 + £3700 £1650 Book now
01 Oct 2015 11 Open challenge Spaces £299 + £3700 £1650 Book now

The itinerary

Day 1: Depart London for Negombo

Day 2: Negombo – Elephant Orphanage –Trincomalee
Drive approx 5 hours

We arrive early at Negombo, Sri Lanka’s main airport near the capital of Columbo, and load up into the waiting vehicles. We then drive across the island to Trincomalee, the eastern capital and an ancient port on the northeast coast. The scenery on the drive is wonderful, and it will give us a good feel for life here on this beautiful island. Flight schedules permitting, we break our journey at the elephant orphanage at Pinnawala, a project established in the 1970s to care for young elephants found orphaned or abandoned in the forests. It now has the world’s largest herd of domestic elephants, including babies. We’ll be tired after the long flight, but seeing the herd wandering or bathing in the river will reinvigorate us! We continue our drive, and once we get to our hotel we can relax. We meet again for a bike fitting, dinner and a briefing. Night hotel.

Day 3: Trincomalee – Polonnaruwa
Cycle approx. 7-8 hours / 135km

After a good breakfast, we get our bikes and set off! Leaving Trincomalee and its large harbour behind, we head south through paddy fields, woodland and small settlements. Today’s route is fairly flat, giving us a good warm-up day before the terrain becomes more demanding. The heat is likely to form our main challenge today. We ride south, enjoying the scenes of daily life in the villages and towns, which form a wonderful backdrop to our first day’s ride. Our journey takes us to Polonnaruwa, the island’s medieval capital. The ancient city is a World Heritage Site, and forms a fascinating end to our day as we cycle among the photogenic ruins of temples, palaces and rock-carved statues. Night hotel.

Day 4: Polonnaruwa – Riverston
Cycle approx. 6-7 hours / 85km

We set off early, heading towards the Knuckles Mountains. Our surroundings change gradually but quite noticeably as we leave the more populated coastal plains for the lower mountain slopes. We pass occasional tea plantations, paddy fields and fields growing spices such as cardamom as we climb higher, towards cloudforest and the rich grassy pastures called patana. Named Knuckles after five mountain peaks which resemble a closed fist, the range rises to over 1000m and is a beautiful area of folded ridges and sheer cliff-faces covered in misty cloud-forest, and home to an amazing diversity of flora and fauna, much of which is endemic. The gradients we encounter are not too steep, and the cooler temperatures are very welcome as we climb higher to Riverston, gaining around 1000m overall today. Night hotel.

Day 5: Riverstone – Kandy
Cycle approx. 6-7 hours / 85km

Another breathtakingly beautiful day of cycling awaits us today, as we continue through the Knuckles Mountains towards Kandy. We pass waterfalls and gushing streams as we head south through the jungle-clad hills. Our big challenge today is a climb of 18 hair-pin bends which winds its way up through the lush vegetation. The views on the way are fabulous, as is the long descent towards the historic city of Kandy, our destination for the night. An ancient capital, Kandy is a beautiful city and home to the golden-roofed Temple of the Tooth, one of the holiest Buddhist sites in the world. If you have the energy, there is time to visit the temple after we arrive, and there is an opportunity to see a cultural dance and fire-walking performance in the evening (optional). Night hotel.

Day 6: Kandy – Nuwara Eliya
Cycle approx. 6-7 hours / 75km

Leaving the legends of Kandy behind, we head for Tea Country. Our road is relatively flat for some miles, before starting to gradually climb back into the hills again. We ride through the Hantana region south of Kandy, where Briton James Taylor first introduced tea plantations to Sri Lanka – then Ceylon. As we ride the undulating roads that pass through this hill country, we pass more tea plantations, with the shrubs laid out in neat rows among the green forests and valleys surrounding us. This region has a cool, crisp climate and was an appealing retreat to the British living here in the 19th Century. Our destination is Nuwara Eliya, set in a wooded basin below Sri Lanka’s highest mountain peak. Known as ‘Little England’ with its English-style lawns and colonial buildings, the town is a great place to wander before dinner. Night hotel.

Day 7: Nuwara Eliya – Bandarawela
Cycle approx. 6-7 hours / 70km

After breakfast we set off again, riding southeast. The roads continue to undulate but the temperatures should remain cool and comfortable – perfect for cycling. We pass yet more tea plantations as we ride, and enjoy views of the surrounding green mountain slopes, waterfalls, and dense jungle. We pass Sita Amman temple, on a site mentioned in the epic Ramayana, and continue towards the historic town of Bandarawela. We ride through plots of land growing familiar vegetables such as carrots, leeks and cauliflowers, able to be grown in these temperate conditions. There are more flattish sections than we’ve encountered for some time, but there is a gradual climb at the end of the day to the town. Night hotel.

Day 8: Bandarawela – Embilipitiya
Cycle approx. 6-7 hours / 110km

A longer day today, and we set off early. Our route takes us over the spectacular Haputale Pass, where there are incredible views over the surrounding valleys and peaks, and down to the coastal plains before us. We also pass one of the country’s highest waterfalls, tumbling down a drop of 220m. For much of our day we descend out of hill country to the plains before us, though there are a few small rises to keep things interesting! We skirt Uda Walawe National Park, home to wild elephants and a huge array of other wildlife, and come to Embilipitiya, a growing modern town which provides us with yet another insight into Sri Lankan culture. Night hotel.

Day 9: Embilipitiya – Koggala
Cycle approx. 6-7 hours / 70km

Our return to lower elevations is notable for the increased heat and the change in vegetation, with paddy fields and dry zone jungle surrounding us again as we ride through small villages en-route to the coast. We take some dirt tracks and partly-paved roads through these flat landscapes; it’s a fun end to our ride. We come to Koggala, a long stretch of golden sands, and our hotel right on the beach – a perfect place to celebrate our cross-island adventure. Night hotel.

Day 10: Free Day Koggala

We have the day free to enjoy the beach, and meet up in the evening to celebrate our achievements. Night hotel. (Lunch and Dinner not included)

Day 11: Fly Negombo to London

We transfer to the airport for our international flight home. (If our departure time is very early, we may drive to Negombo late afternoon on Day 10.)

Discover Adventure reserves the right to change the route or itinerary for safety reasons should local conditions dictate.

Detailed information

What's Included?

All accommodation is included as well as all flights and transport; all meals except two as specified, and entrance to any sites visited as part of the itinerary. A bike is also included. Experienced Discover Adventure leaders/mechanics and doctor (depending on final group size) are also included, along with a local support crew of guides, cooks and drivers.

What's Excluded?

It does not include personal travel insurance, airline fuel supplement charged by the airline (capped at £200 by Discover Adventure), two meals as specified, tip for local crew, entry visa or international departure tax (if applicable). It also does not include any entrance fees to any optional sites or attractions. Remember to allow extra for drinks, souvenirs and other personal expenses. Please note that costs may fluctuate and we have no control over any changes. We strongly recommend you carry a credit card in case of personal emergency.

Flight Information

Group flights leave from London Heathrow or Gatwick, (we regret that we are unable to book connecting flights), and are booked through Discover Adventure Ltd under ATOL licence 5636. By travelling with Discover Adventure you are protected by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). We are most likely to fly with Jet Airways. However, we don’t always fly with the same airline so this is a guideline only. You will usually receive confirmed flight details several months before departure. Our itineraries are always based on current flight schedules and are therefore subject to change by the airline. If you prefer to book your own flights please ask us for a land-only cost.


We stay in hotels or guesthouses throughout the trip. Accommodation is on a twin-share basis; rooms are comfortable and clean with private facilities. Some night-stops are more remote than others with less of a range of accommodation, so expect standards to vary between hotels. Some may be quite basic, others very good. The group may be split between different guesthouses on some nights. Please do not expect hotels to be the same as a tourist hotel in the UK – they may be better in some ways and more basic in others!


The food is great and there is plenty of it – expect meals to be local in style, and varied. Two meals as detailed in the itinerary are not included.

Dietary Requirements

Being vegetarian or having other dietary requirements is not usually a problem provided you let us know well in advance. . Vegetarianism is well-respected in Sri Lanka and there is usually plenty of choice. If you have other requirements, there may not be as much variety as you would have access to at home – we will be in rural areas and among people of a different culture who may not understand your requirements, however willing they are to help. If you know there are plenty of foods you cannot eat you may wish to bring extra snacks from home so you can top up your energy supply. Please feel free to ask us for advice. Any meals not included are listed in the itinerary and are generally when we are in towns or cities and you are free to explore and try other culinary experiences! There is always something to suit every budget.

Trip Support

Discover Adventure Crew

Your trip will be led by experienced Discover Adventure leaders. Our leaders are selected for their experience in harsh wilderness environments, knowledge of travel in remote areas, friendliness and approachability, sense of humour and ability to safely and effectively deal with any situation that arises. They are also trained in expedition first-aid. You are in very safe hands with a Discover Adventure leader. All our leaders are from the UK or other English-speaking countries. Most work for us on an ad-hoc basis and have ‘real’ jobs in-between trips! We never send our leaders to the same destination for months on end – we want them to be as enthusiastic about your trip as you are. Although our leaders are trained in expedition first-aid, they are accompanied by an expedition doctor or medic (dependent on group size) – who is there to look after the well-being of the whole group and deal with any incidents. They help the leaders to ensure the trip runs smoothly and encourage you when things get tough. The number of crew looking after you will depend on the final size of your group, but at Discover Adventure we pride ourselves on our high leader: cyclist ratio and believe it leads to greater trip enjoyment as well as excellent trip safety.

Local Support Crew

Our local support crew is made up of local guides / mechanics and drivers. Your local guide knows the local area well, and is a great source of knowledge about local customs and lifestyles. Drivers and cooks do not always speak English but are very friendly and approachable. The Discover Adventure crew work closely with the local crew to ensure your trip runs smoothly and safely. Your leader will arrange a collection of tips for the local support crew at the end of your ride. Tipping is not obligatory, but once you see how hard they work on your behalf you will be happy to donate something! Your leader will let you know if there is any change to this guideline. All our local crew are paid wages, but bear in mind that the average wage in this country is far below what you would spend on a normal night out.


Support vehicles are with the group all the time. All luggage, spares, food and water is carried by them. Space is limited and hard-sided luggage is not suitable, so it is essential that your kit is packed in a soft sailing bag, rucksack or expedition kitbag. Ask us about our specially-designed low-cost kitbags if you don’t have one already. You should also bring a small daypack or large waist-pack for items needed during the day as you will not have access to your main luggage until the evening.

Trip Safety

Your safety, and that of the rest of the group, is our highest priority. Our trips are designed and planned with safety in mind. Your crew will be equipped with radios and emergency satellite phones, mobile extensive medical kit, first-aid kits and other safety apparatus where necessary. They always have access to our 24-hour emergency back-up in the UK. Our leaders are responsible for safety on the trip, and will make any changes to the itinerary they deem necessary should local conditions dictate.
Pre-trip administration – such as compulsory medical questionnaires and travel insurance is all done with your safety in mind.

Preparing for the challenge

Cycling Information


Cycling distances range between 70km and 135km per day; the days are very varied. Cycling is on a mix of tarmac roads – some in great condition, some more worn and uneven – and some smooth dirt or mud tracks. The cycling is generally hilly, with some days undulating through hill country and other days with more strenuous climbs. There are some great descents! The first and last days are at lower elevations and are quite flat, though it is likely to be hot and humid which adds to the challenge. The distances on hilly days are lower, making this an achievable ride for all experience levels provided you train in advance. We are travelling through remote areas and weather may have an impact on road conditions. Traffic is usually light and we will cycle at our own pace, but when we pass through a busier section we may go through as a group. Even small villages can be quite chaotic, and you must be vigilant. We will always take safety into consideration and reserve the right to change the itinerary on that basis.
We are always happy to talk through the trip in more detail with you if you are worried about your fitness at any stage.


We will be using 21-speed mountain bikes fitted with semi-slick tyres. If you are unsure whether to take your own bike or use one of ours, please just contact us. You are welcome to bring your own saddle or pedals.
It is imperative that you supply your own helmet and wear it at all times while cycling, with straps done up.

Bike Repairs

There will be a range of spares in the vehicle along with a full tool kit; however, it is impossible for us to carry spares for every eventuality. It is vital that if you bring your own bike it is in excellent working order before departure.


Temperatures range from cool to hot, depending on elevation and time of day! It could be quite cool in early mornings in the highlands. We don’t travel during the monsoon, but rain is always a possibility in regions as green as this! the weather can change quickly in the mountains and hill country. We should be prepared for anything!

Clothing & Equipment

We are travelling through remote areas where we could be exposed to difficult conditions at any time. The information above gives you an idea of the climate, but be prepared for all weathers and a range of temperatures. We provide you with a detailed packing kit-list on registration, as well as details on useful discounts you are entitled to as a Discover Adventure customer. We are always available if you need advice.

Fitness Levels

Our challenges attract people of all levels of experience and fitness, all ages and backgrounds. We expect all participants to train hard in advance to achieve this challenge, but we respect everyone’s limits. We design our challenges so that everyone can go at their own pace: this is not a race. For logistical and safety reasons we sometimes need to re-group, so the front-runners will find themselves waiting for the slower ones. Please relax, and remember that this is a team effort that enables people to achieve their personal goals and earn sponsorship.

Passport & Visa

A valid ten-year passport is essential; it should be valid for at least six months from date of entry into Sri Lanka. There is also a visa requirement for UK citizens; other nationalities should check entry requirements. An online visa application process (see is the best way to get your visa – it cannot be obtained on arrival.


We insist that you have had a Tetanus injection in the last ten years, and highly recommend protection against Polio, Hepatitis A and Typhoid. Malaria is graded low-risk in this region, though you should check for the most up-to-date advice.  You should always check with your GP or travel clinic for up-to-date travel health advice as it does change.

Cultural Differences

For most people, the main attraction of travelling to a different country is to see new sights and enjoy new experiences. Sometimes those new experiences can make life harder or more inconvenient than you may like, such as toilet hygiene or different food, or simply a different attitude to solving problems. This is all part of the challenge you are signing up for! We are very privileged to live in a country with a high standard of living, and travelling exposes us to different challenges – all of which help broaden our horizons. We can guarantee that coming face-to-face with experiences outside your normal ‘comfort zone’ will help you bond with your fellow cyclists and provide you with plenty of things to laugh about! A sense of humour and sense of adventure are two of the most important things to bring with you! Our experienced tour leaders and local crew will help bridge the cultural gap; take advantage of their knowledge so you can come away with an understanding of a new culture as well as the achievement of completing a challenging cycle ride.

Worldwide Sustainable Tourism

Long before ‘Responsible Tourism’ became a recognised phrase, we designed and ran our trips to ensure they made minimum impact on the environment and a positive impact on the local communities we pass through.  AITO, our Trade Association, has recognised the work we do in this area and has awarded us 5 stars as a Responsible Tour Operator.

Discover Adventure Projects

We are supporting a tree-planting project in Peru and a children’s home in Tanzania on a long-term basis. If you would like to ‘give something back’ please consider donating £5 to our projects when you sign up.

Carbon Offsetting

We actively encourage all our customers to offset any emissions connected with their trip.  You can offset at any time in the lead-up to departure by visiting Climate Care via our website and making a donation to a worthwhile project supported by them.  Alternatively, if you wish to take more practical action you can volunteer for a day with TCV and work on an environmental project local to you. Work may include construction footpaths, dry stone walling, creating wildlife habitats or planting trees in your community. Volunteer today at or call 01302 388883.