If there’s one thing I love about group travel, it’s meeting like-minded people from all over the world with one thing in common, adventure! This activity-based trip from Intrepid Travel is one of their famous ‘hike, bike and kayak’ offerings. These are 3 things I love, in fact I just did a short triathlon in Winchester with these three (if you replace hiking with running). In my experience travelling this way enables you to get off the beaten track and away from the crowds. It also covers a few of the main spots I wanted to see in Sri Lanka. So, if you’re thinking of booking the Hike, Bike and Kayak Sri Lanka Tour, here’s a rundown of the itinerary, and exactly what to expect.

Minneriya National Park

We had the usual initial meeting and formalities, rules from our group leader Mathisha, who immediately put us at ease and filled us with confidence. First up was a 4+ hour bus journey to what was to be one of the highlights of the trip; Minneriya National Park. It was the main non-active activity as we explored the “Largest Wild Asian Elephant gathering in the world”. And it really is just that, there are hundreds, and you keep seeing them wherever you go. Our tour lasted 3 hours, the perfect amount of time to see them in a few different locations. I was genuinely blown away, mainly as I still felt jetlagged from only arriving the evening before, I hadn’t had a chance for it to sink in. This is day two, this is Sri Lanka.

Oh wait, I nearly forgot. We were also up at 5:30am before driving to Minneriya, to see the Negombo Fish Market (this is optional).

Sigiriya

Another early alarm saw us head to the epic Lion Rock, Sigiriya. One of the most famous landmarks of Sri Lanka and a must visit on anyone’s itinerary. We got here as the gates to Sigiriya opened, and I’d suggest you do the same. We were the first group through and after a couple of stops to talk about the history we were already behind the crowds. Yet despite a few getting in front of us, it is still worth being there as early as you can, as it only gets busier. The 1201 steps take you to the top of the incredible rock, and you discover the details of the Kassapa Kingdom on the way up. As Mathisha put it, Sigiriya is “a 5th century concentration of architecture, urban planning, civil engineering, hydro engineering, poetry and paintings”. Awesome.

Knuckles Mountain Range (Hike)

Even though the above (at Sigiriya) was kind of a hike, here’s where the hiking part of the trip starts. We took the bus to the Knuckles Mountain Range and had lunch at Mini World’s End, before a 2.5-hour hike to our campsite. Now, I was a little nervous about camping, but this campsite was decent. There was a nice clean toilet and a fresh water shower which came directly from a waterfall. And the bit I was most impressed with, the food. It was delicious and all local dishes. After a slightly rough night’s sleep, we had the big 14km hike called Mandigala. It’s a hike you probably haven’t heard of but should have. It’s only a matter of time before this hike becomes more popular. The views over the valley and Riverston Campsite were epic. The hike today was tough, but the group were all at a similar level which helped. Apparently, we completed it quicker than expected. On the way back down, we stopped next to the river for lunch, it was a nice moment to reflect on what we’d just done.

Kandy

After two night’s camping it’s time to enjoy a nice hotel again, in Kandy. The day we arrived we had some free time to explore or relax, whichever you prefer. And this is something which most of us really appreciated, a tour that is not always full on and non-stop. Time to relax and have time to yourself is important. The following day we visited a tea factory at the Garagama Estate. We had a chance to learn about the picking and how the different types of tea are processed. This is something you must do when you come to Sri Lanka as it’s a huge industry here. Following this we had a few options for exploring on our own, and we chose a quick tour of Kandy taking in sights like the Giant Buddha and the viewpoint overlooking the lake, whilst the rest of the group explore the Botanical Gardens. I also went shopping for a Sri Lanka cricket top! In the evening we visited the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, which plays an important part in the history and politics of Sri Lanka. It’s story and legend are fascinating, and so are the strong beliefs around the Tooth Relic’s symbol, it’s a must see in Kandy.

Sri Lanka Highlands (Bike)

The following day we took the scenic train from Kandy to Hatton, it was a chance to relax and watch the world pass by for 3 hours. It’s not the route known as THE most scenic train journey in Sri Lanka, but it’s still stunning scenery, and a chance to get some beautiful photos. We arrived in Hatton and picked up our bikes. Today we would cycle through the highlands, and it was 5 minutes in to the bike ride that we realised the scale of our challenge! The traffic in places is crazy, everyone seems in a rush, the buses adopt a ‘take no prisoners’ attitude, and there’s people, animals and tuk-tuks everywhere! But it was all part of the fun, and thankfully, once we escaped Hatton, the traffic eased. It wasn’t long before we were enjoying winding mountain roads through endless tea plantations. We were also followed by our bus, and every time we stopped the amazing bus assistant fed us bananas, biscuits and water. Hopping on board the bus was also a last resort for anyone struggling, although you’d never live it down if you had to get on the bus!

“…it wasn’t long before we were enjoying winding mountain roads through endless tea plantations”.

We were cycling close to Adam’s Peak, the famous pilgrimage that is a must-do for me at some point in Sri Lanka. However, it wasn’t really possible on this trip, without destroying ourselves physically, we had to consider the long game. Next time Adam’s Peak. That evening we had a real treat, we were staying in a small guest house smack bang in the middle of a huge tea plantation. The place was perfect, it wasn’t luxury by any means, but it felt very authentic. And if that wasn’t enough, the food (yet again) was amazing. Refreshed after a good night’s sleep we had the toughest day of cycling ahead, from Bogawanthalawa to Balangola. There were some big climbs today, and in the humidity, they were so tough it had a lot of the group walking (not me I might add). There was one part that just felt relentless. But every time the going got tough, you’d just look around you, take in the views and wave at friendly local children who usually shouted “hiiiii” as soon as they saw you. That was a real highlight. And so were the views once we reached the peak of the climb, not to mention the descents, and let’s face it, we all prefer going downhill much more than going up.

Kalu Ganga River (Kayak)

No rest for the wicked. The following day we were kayaking along the Kalu Ganga River (known locally as the Black River), which stretches 129km (80 miles) through Sri Lanka. We were kayaking for 3 days, each day completing around 15-20km (approx 9-12 miles). That’s a lot of time in a kayak, but it meant we’d see a lot of changing landscape and hopefully some wildlife. The first day we passed a lot of gem minors (shhh don’t tell anyone), and the second we went through some challenging rapids. But the real challenge is the fact it can be quite uncomfortable and tiring on your shoulder muscles. Kayaking this far is as much about mental strength as physical. On the second day, most of us struggled, it felt like the landscape all looked the same and we couldn’t wait to get on to dry land! Each night we were camping and yet again, we were impressed with the facilities. The campsite on the second night was peaceful and tucked away in the jungle, there were showers and the beds were off the floor and comfortable.

For the final day, a few of the group (including me) were considering skipping it and taking a rest. I was planning on catching up with some work, and the thought of getting in a kayak for a third day was horrid. But a last-minute spontaneous change of heart saw us all do it, and what a decision that was! The scenery on the last day was probably the best, in the first 10 minutes we saw two kingfishers and an eagle, and the area we finished, called Kalutara, was stunning. You kayak right up to where the river meets the sea, and finish on the beach. And our competitive side got the better of us as we raced to the end, finishing first I might add. Everything flowed better today, we got in a rhythm which is vital on a kayak, and the muscles didn’t ache like they did the previous day. So, if you do end up doing this tour, whatever you do, don’t skip the last day, you will regret it.

Colombo / Mount Lavinia

And that brought us to the last day of the tour, where we checked in to one of the nicest hotels on the trip, complete with pool, yoga and a spa. It was in Mount Lavinia which is just south of Colombo and was the perfect place to unwind and rest those tired muscles. We were here for two nights and had a farewell dinner on the beach on the last night. It was a perfect spot to reminisce about the trip and talk through everyone’s next travel plans. We all agreed the best part of this tour was that it took us off the beaten track and away from the crowds. It was a chance to see some of the real Sri Lanka and get a feel for the communities that live in the countryside, remote places you don’t usually see from a bus.

Sleep here

If you’re looking for somewhere to relax and recover after the tour has finished (or before it starts), look no further than the Movenpick Colombo. This was exactly what I needed. It’s right in the middle of Colombo, yet the rooftop infinity pool is like a peaceful haven above the busy city life. The perfect place to watch the world go by with a signature cocktail in your hand. Being relatively new also means everything is top notch, from the decor in the rooms to the bars. And the thing that surpassed my expectations, the food. The Ayu Buffet had an incredible selection and a live singer in the evening, or if the buffet’s not your thing then try Robata, delicious Japanese cuisine. Needless to say, I tried both!

“the rooftop infinity pool is like a peaceful haven above the busy city life”

Have you been to Sri Lanka? What was your highlight? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.

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Written by | Scottie T

Founder & Editor of Intrepid Escape, a huge lover of adventure, adrenaline, sport & fitness. After travelling to over 20 countries in the last year, Scott started to document his travels before fulfilling an important lifelong goal by starting Intrepid Escape. His dream is to be a backpacking poker-playing, videographer, photographer, presenter & writer!

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