The LSR & Sri Lankan Airlines Coast to Coast Adventure

During 2014 the Trek and Run team joined others to cycle and trek over 650kms, coast to coast across the island of Sri Lanka. We were supported on our journey by the following companies, who provided the resources we needed to make the best of our time there.

Sri Lankan Airlines
LSR Lanka Sportreizen
Gears Bikeshop, Toronto
Gore Bikewear
Helly Hansen Clothes and Boots
Jack Wolfskin Clothes
Teko Socks
Craghoppers Clothing
Keen Boots
Ultrasun Cream
Tilley Hats
Bloc Eyewear Sports and Leisure sunglasses
Lifemarque First Aid Kit

I’m not going to write a regular travel piece here, packed with ‘quirky angles’ or all that stuff about smiley locals, wide sandy beaches, powder blue skies and colourful religious ceremonies, because there’s enough of that out there in Internet-land already and apart from that, it’s generally condescending orientalism that’s pointless to read and boring to write. I figure that you’ve come here for the bare facts (as that’s what Trek and Run is known for) to help you decide if this sort of journey is for you or not. So that’s what I’ll give you, bare facts, and if there’s something you want to know about having an adventure in Sri Lanka that I’ve missed out then you’re welcome to email me at dave@trekandrun.com and ask me whatever you want.

map of route copy

Our tour started at the established beach resort of Negombo on the west coast and finished at the far newer beach resort of Passikudah in the east. Five of us set off cycling; there was LH our local guide, Hannah and Jane from England who were only coming to the half way point with us, and then there was Lamia from Canada and myself from England who intended to complete the entire journey. I should note here that none of us were experienced cyclists, or super endurance athletes, just regular people with a varying level of fitness from marathon runner level (me) to fairly sedentary (Lamia), and the advenutre was arranged with this in mind. The main goal of our journey was to become the first team of tourists to cross the country by human power alone but alongside that I and Lamia aimed to record the trip, and the people we met along the way, with a mixture of writing, film and photographs.

LSR arranged all the equipment – decent hybrid bikes, helmets – and provided everything we needed during the adventure, from unlimited fresh water and fruits as we rode to all of our meals and hotels. The only thing we had to consider was our clothing. It had to be up to cycling in hot conditions (our hottest day was 41 degrees), wet conditions (we started our trip in the monsoon season) and reasonably long distances (our longest day of cycling was 100km but averaged 40km) so this meant, for me, we had to wear top quality gear like Gore Bikewear, especially their padded shorts! As for the hiking, we’d be going from humid tropical forest to over 2,200 metres and since I had no idea if this meant we’d be cold or not we decided on Helly Hansen for most of our kit as it’s solid travel wear and then Jack Wolfskin waterproofs and fleeces for the possible mountain cold (yet in the end, I never used my fleece and the jacket just once, at the very top of Adam’s Peak when the wind was strong and I wanted a walk about, although if I’d have had no coat I could have easily stayed sheltered and comfortable in the pilgrims refuge).

The adventure had been arranged so that no matter how physically tired we became, we had options. Our team van was large enough to fit all of our bikes in the back as well as us riders in the middle seats so if any of us were only capable of a couple of hours cycling one day, no problem, we could load our bike into the van and ride in air conditioned comfort for the rest of the distance. Even if we woke up feeling that we didn’t want to do anything, that was possible too, we’d just ride in the van all day. I never took that option and I did manage to cycle and hike the entire distance, but the option was there all the same and Lamia usually spent a little time in the van each day as she’d only learnt to ride a bike a couple of months earlier and wasn’t the strongest or most confident cyclist.

We cycled to the pace of the slowest rider and this worked out fine. Apart from one long day of 100kms most days were much less than this and although a fast rider could have covered our alloted distances in two or three hours we generally took five or six hours, allowing us to enjoy the countryside and stop for roadside drinks and photos as we wanted. I’d say that whatever your physical abilities, you could take part in an adventure likes ours, although if you’re the sort of cyclist who loves to race at top speed, you might not enjoy it. I’d also add that to me there seems little point in cycling through such a beautiful country at top speed, you’ll want to be going a slow/steady pace in order to get the most out of it.

Mostly our hotels were very comfortable, occasionally they were luxurious, on two occasions we slept on concrete floors in pilgrims shelters as there was no other option on the mountain climb and then for one night we stayed in a local family home, which for us was one of the great highlights of the entire trip.

Food was always plentiful, tasty and well cooked and I avoided sickness entirely. Lamia wasn’t so lucky but her sickness lasted just one night and was probably more due to the heat than the food. Generally there was a good mix of local and Western dishes, a typical meal might include rice, lentils, fish or chicken, salad, and a variety of vegetable side dishes and fruit/ice cream/cakes for dessert.

Our Route
For those of you who want to plot our route on Google Maps, here is our day to day program as it was presented to us before we arrived (and it stayed true to this throughout). This is not to say that the route of this adventure is fixed (LSR are thinking of making it a yearly event), it might well change. Talk to LSR if you want to see anything in particular in the country, we mentioned several things we ourselves wanted to experience and they managed to incorporate them into our adventure easily.

4th May – Arrival, acclimatisation and overnight stay and dinner at the Catamaran Beach Hotel, Negombo

5th May – Prepare for the adventure, test run of bikes in Negombo, miscellaneous purchases from the local markets.

6th May – Start biking to Ambepussa, approx 5 hours on tar roads. Overnight stay and dinner at the Ambepussa Rest House, which was built during the British period at the then terminal point of the first railway line from Colombo.

7th May – Cycle for another five hours to Pinnawala – location for the Elephant Orphanage where we can bathe the animals in the river. Overnight stay and dinner at the Elephant Bay Hotel, Pinnawala.

8th May – A hike to Uthuwankanda – location for the look out point for “ Saradiel ”, who was a local Robin Hood figure in the 19th century. After this, cycle to Aranayaka. Overnight stay and dinner at the Ambasevana Hotel, Aranayaka.

9th May – Cycle to Gampola crossing the Ma-Oya Pass and passing the Ambuluwawa Religious Complex. Overnight stay and dinner at the Bom Vino Hotel, Gampola

10th May – Cycle for six hours to Kitulgala – location for David Lean’s Academy Award winning film “Bridge on the River Kwai”. Overnight stay and dinner at The Rest House, Kitulgala

11th May – Rest Day. Overnight stay and dinner at the Rest House, Kitulgala

12th May – Cycle on tar and through rubber plantations for seven hours to Maliboda. Overnight stay at a local home.

13th May – After breakfast start hiking to reach the most difficult path to the summit of the Adam’s Peak coming from Kuruwita/Erathna (there are three major routes up to the summit through Hatton/Dalhouise, Ratnapoura/Sri Palabaddala and Kuruwita/Erathna) through the Peak Wilderness Nature Reserve- Altitude Gain is be more than 1000 meters (400 to 1413). Overnight stay at a pilgrims shelter.

14th May – VESAK FULL MOON DAY – THE MOST IMPORTANT DAY FOR BUDDHISTS THE WORLD OVER WHICH ALSO SIGNALS THE END OF THE ADAM’S PEAK PILGRIMAGE SEASON WHICH STARTED IN DECEMBER. A hike to reach the summit of Adam’s Peak – the Holy Mountain – 2243 meters. Overnight stay in a pilgrims shelter.

15th May – Start the descent down from the Dalhouise side of Adam’s Peak and witness the religious festivities. Overnight and dinner at the Punsisi Guest House, Dalhouise

16th May – Cycle through tea plantations to Dickoya, passing beautiful lakes. Overnight stay and dinner at the Upper/Lower Glencairn Bungalow, Dickoya, the former home of the great Victorian photographer Julia Margaret Cameron.

17th May – Cycle to Belihuloya through the Peak Wilderness Nature Reserve, including a magnificent afternoon of purely downhill biking. Overnight stay and dinner at the Water Garden Hotel, Belihuloya.

18th May – Relax. Overnight stay and dinner at the Water Garden Hotel, Belihuloya.

19th May – Cycle six hours, mostly flat and downhill with great views, to Koslanda. Overnight stay and dinner at the Living Heritage Guest House in Koslanda in the vicinity of the Diyaluma Water Falls, the 2nd highest in Sri Lanka.

20th May – Cycle eight hours on tar to Moneragala. Overnight stay and dinner at the Rest House, Moneragala.

21st May – Cycle for six hours on tar to Ampara. In this area we start to see the new infrastructure developments that have taken place in the eastern province under the ‘Reawakening of the East’ programme that’s been implemented after the three decade long civil war. Overnight stay and dinner at the Monty Hotel, Ampara.

22nd May – Cycle for six hours to Batticoloa (famous for the Singing Fish in the lagoon) passing Kattankudi which is supposed to be the longest town in Sri Lanka and is predominantly home to a large Muslim population. Visit the famous Portuguese/Dutch Fort and overnight stay and dinner at the Hotel East Lagoon, Batticoloa

23rd May – Cycle to Passikudah, the most recently developed National Holiday Resort in Sri Lanka where there are 14 new hotels being added with almost 1000 rooms. Overnight stay and dinner at The Marina Hotel, Passikudah.

The Film
If you’d like to view the film of our entire adventure across Sri Lanka, there are two, here they are.

First is the edited, half hour long version and after that is the longer, hour long version.

Day by Day Accounts

We’ve started to created accounts of each day, complete with lots of photos, to give a very complete idea of how it was for us. Click below to read them and check back frequently as we’ll add more as the months pass until the whole journey is covered..
Days 1 and 2 – Arrival in Negombo, a test bike ride and acclimatising
Day 3 – Cycling to Ambepusa
Day 4 – Cycling to Pinnewala
Day 5 – Walking to Saradiel’s Village
Day 6 – Cycling to Gampola
Day 7, 8 and 9 – Cycling from Gampola through Kitulgala to Maliboda

And for photographers, here’s another article we wrote regarding our journey, and Sri Lanka itself, and the photo opportunities it provided.
Sri Lanka; Portrait Photography at it’s finest

If you’d like to know more about LSR, please visit www.lsr-srilanka.com

And if you’d like to know more about the service offered by Sri Lankan Airlines – www.srilankan.com

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