This Sri Lankan cycling trip begins in Sigiriya. There are no planned activities today, so take time to relax in the hotel and rest those legs before our two-wheel adventure begins in earnest tomorrow. There will be a welcome briefing in the evening helmed by our tour leader; it's a good chance to get to know the group a little and ask any questions you may have. Stay: Hotel Sigiriya (or similar) (L).
After breakfast, we ride along gravel roads following an old irrigation canal to Dambulla, a second century BCE Buddhist cave temple. On the way we stop by the impressive Kandalama man-made reservoir, rich in bird life.
On arrival to Dambulla, it is well worth the walk to view the five caves, which contain many ancient Buddha statues, some carved from the solid rock. Returning via the busy market town, we take another quiet backroad through chilli and rice fields before cycling back to our hotel for lunch and a relaxing swim in the pool.
In the late afternoon, we climb the fifth-century rock fortress of Sigiriya to see the beautiful frescoes painted onto the rock face (not recommended for those who suffer from vertigo). The ruins of the palace on the summit are surpassed only by the magnificent aerial view of the surrounding jungle. Stay as long as you like, it's only 10 minutes' walk back to our hotel. Stay: Hotel Sigiriya (or similar) (B/L).
This morning we have a long ride along a quiet backroad, which is part of the Sigiriya nature reserve where you often come across Monitor lizards and monkeys, before joining the highway to Polonnaruwa and riding to our hotel.
Later, we tour the ruined city of Polonnaruwa, which dates from the 10th to 13th century. You will have the option in the evening to join your Leader at a family owned restaurant to experience some local food and culture. Stay: Hotel Giritale (or similar) (B/L).
We follow a 4mi (6km) long artificial dam and canal to the source of a local lake, the Amban Ganga River. The afternoon ride is flanked by the Kalanduwa hills on one side and Wasgomuwa Wildlife Park on the other. And as jungle gives way to plantations, we enter the spice-growing region of Sri Lanka. When we reach the main road, we dismount and board the bus for the journey as the road to Kandy can get very busy. On the way, we stop at a spice garden to learn more about the spices used in the piquant Sri Lankan curries. Stay: Hotel Topaz or similar (B/L).
Enjoy a free day to explore. Kandy has so much to offer, including the wonderful botanical gardens, the Temple of the Tooth, and streets lined with curio shops. The surrounding hills are dotted with wonderful temples. Walk around the lake in the heart of the city to see huge water monitor lizards, fruit bats, palm squirrels, and birds such as kingfishers, pelicans and night herons. Also don't miss the fruit and vegetable market for a chance to see busy Kandy in full swing. Stay: Hotel Topaz or similar (B).
For anyone who doesn't do hills, we strongly recommend the train ride to Nuwara Eliya. For those who feel like a challenge, it's 52mi (84km) – climbing up to 6,562ft (2,000m) above sea level – to reach this most favoured hill station. For the first part of the ride, we take the old road, a far more pleasant route, and one of the few places where you see terraced paddy fields. Beyond is tea country, reputed to produce the finest teas on the island.
We cycle through thousands of acres of tea crops, where you will spot the tea pickers moving swiftly between the bushes in their vibrant clothes. Tickets for the train journey are dependent on availability on the day (tickets are usually available; if not, we can use the bus instead). Stay: Mirage King's Cottage (or similar) (B/L).
Nuwara Eliya was a popular hill station during the British era and is situated in the cool highland air at 6,200ft (1,890m). Known locally as Little England, it is dotted with British-style houses and parks and even features a golf club and racecourse.
After a leisurely breakfast, we ride into Nuwara Eliya town and then continue our ride to a tea factory through little villages and patches of vegetables. As we twist and turn on the undulating windy road, we get to see the town from different viewpoints. After understanding the journey from leaf to cup, we ride back to the hotel through lush green tea plantations. We then have a free afternoon to explore Nuwara Eliya. Some hotels here are locked in time, a living museum of the colonial era that existed hundred years ago. Stay: Mirage King's Cottage (or similar) (B/L).
In the morning, we cycle through hill country towards Ella, stopping for tea in Bandarawela, a trading centre where exotic fruits from the east coast are traded for hill country vegetables.
On arrival into Ella, we stop for a late lunch before check-in. We have the chance to watch the sunset from the Ella Gap viewpoint. On a clear day, you can see the coast shimmering in the distance.
In the evening, we visit a local family to have a truly Sri Lankan dinner. Stay: Hotel Country Comfort (or similar) (B/L).
Descending 3,281ft (1,000m), we leave the breath-taking scenery of the Uva Province for the gentle rolling hills of the dry zone, taking a break en route at the impressive Rawana Ella waterfall before stopping at the rock-cut Buddha statues at Buduruvagala. The 49ft (15m) rock carving of Buddha is flanked by small figures depicting his helpers and a very rare image of Maitreya, the future Buddha, which dates from the 10th century.
The tranquillity here is enhanced by the lotus-covered lake; we relax on the banks and eat fresh fruit before riding to lunch. Here we can retreat from the heat of the day, before the final 19mi (30km) to Tissamaharama, the capital of the old Ruhuna kingdom. Stay: Chaarya Resort Hotel (or similar) (B/L).
In the morning, we cycle to Kataragama temple, which lies 10mi (16km) northeast of Tissa. People of all faiths come to seek favour with the god Skanda, who is reputed to restore people's health. The colourful and noisy pooja (ritual) is always busy, with thousands of pilgrims during the festival season from July to August. Tissa is close to Yala National Park, the best park in Sri Lanka to see leopards.
After lunch, we have a safari in the park, where we may see elephants, deer, wild boars, sloth bears, Asian jackals, lots of birdlife and, if we're very lucky, a leopard. We return to Tissa for the night (please note, the sanctuary may be closed for four to six weeks from September to October allowing the park authorities to check the animals. We therefore go to a nearby alternative, usually Lunugamvehera or Udawalawe National Park). Stay: Chaarya Resort Hotel (or similar) (B/L).
Leaving early to avoid the heat of the dry zone, we ride along the boundary of Bundala Bird Sanctuary. During certain times of the year, thousands of flamingos wade in the brackish shallows, eyed up by crocodiles basking in the early morning sun. We hit the main road for the final 19mi (30km) to Hambantota, a series of sandy bays fanning out from this typical coastal town. We then take a transfer from Hambantota to Ahangama by coach. For the next two nights we stay in Ahangama. Stay: Insight Resort (or similar) (B/L).
Today you can pick your own adventure. Either relax at the hotel or join a late morning ride along rural roads to Wandurugama village where you will stop at a colonial manor house for High Tea and authentic Sri Lankan snack. Today it is known as Thalpe Walawwa Heritage Villa, occupied by a leading family within the local ancient Sri Lanka society. Quite a few prominent personalities were born and spent their childhood in beautiful residence. After the visit you will return to the hotel via Koggala Lake.
This afternoon is free to explore the beach or swim and laze by the pool. In the late afternoon, we can view the stilt fishermen climb their poles to catch a few bites for supper. From November to April, we can also go whale watching off Dondra head, near Mirissa, which is one of the best places in the world to see blue and sperm whales. Huge pods of dolphins often accompany the boats. Stay: Insight Resort (or similar) (B).
Leaving early after breakfast, we stop to visit Galle. The fort here was built in 1663 after the Dutch took the island from the Portuguese. The old ramparts and small back streets bring alive some of the history of the fight for colonial domination of this prized island. You're free to find your own lunch, meeting back at the bus mid-afternoon for the two-hour drive to Colombo. The rest of the day is free to relax by the pool or shop along the main street. For the last evening meal, we can choose from one of the many restaurants in Colombo. Stay: Hotel Mirage (or similar) (B).
Our Sri Lankan cycling adventure comes to an end this morning after breakfast. Unless, of course, you've booked onto our ultra-relaxing post-trip extension to the Maldives with your sales representative (B).