The route through the southern hill country is a great scenic way to get to Galle. That is, if you’re willing to trade an hour on the expressway for 4-5 hours through the hills with a waterfall somewhere in between.
There are no railway lines in this area and it’s highly unlikely that you’ve got a helicopter in your backyard, so we’ll run you through the route on the ground. Taking public transport is an adventure if you’re up for it, but a vehicle of your own is recommended. We’ve broken it up into different segments below just in case you decide to bus-hop all the way.
Colombo – Ratnapura
(85km, 1hr 30 mins) The first leg of the journey is fairly straightforward. Head down the A04, along High Level Road out of Colombo and then onward to Ratnapura. You can hop on a No. 03 or No. 122 bus from Pettah, Town Hall, Havelock Town, Nugegoda or Maharagama if you’re using public transport.
Ratnapura – Rakwana
(50km, 1hr) This is where things get interesting. If you’re bus-hopping, look out for a sign for buses bound to Rakwana at the main bus stand in Ratnapura. The signs are written in English as well, so the vernacular shouldn’t be a problem. If you’re lucky, a direct bus to Galle may show up at the same platform. But where’s the fun in that?
Continue down the A4 until you reach Pelmadulla. Just ahead of the town, the road breaks onto the A18. Get on it and head to Madampe where the road breaks again, this time onto the A17 that leads you straight to Galle. The ascent to the hill country begins here. If you’re in a bus, hang on.
Rakwana – Deniyaya
(50km, 1hr) Welcome to the most scenic leg of the journey. Rakwana is a small town in the southern hills, known for its gem-mines around the area (especially rubies, I’m told) and as a gateway to the SinharajaRainforest. It’s also a decent place to break for lunch if you don’t mind a meal at one of the kadés by the bus stand. You get a good view of the Galdola Ella (waterfall) in the distance from there.Like the rubies, buses here are rare. They only seem to show up every other hour, so time your trip accordingly. We ended up taking a tuk-tuk for this leg and that set us back Rs. 2500.
At close to 500m above sea level, the drive is wonderful. The verdant road skirts the southern edge of the Sinharaja Rainforest and winds through low country tea estates along the way. You’ve got a smooth carpet that takes you through the 10 hairpin bends of Sooriyakanda, but the road narrows once you take on the sharp bends of the bumpy Bulutota Pass.
The climate here is similar to Nuwara Eliya, so you can drive with the windows down and take in the fresh air. If the weather is good, you’ll have a fantastic panoramic view over the lowland hills and valleys of Sabaragamuwa. If not, you’ll be driving through thick mist, down a wet and slippery road.
Deniyaya – Akuressa
(45km, 50 mins) The descent begins. Deniyaya has a little more life to it than Rakwana, but this next leg is far less exciting. Buses here are more frequent, so you shouldn’t have an issue catching one to Akuressa. Just sit back and work your way down the A17.
Akuressa – Galle
(40km, 35 mins) Provided you make it to Akuressa at a decent hour, finding a bus to Galle should be a piece of cake. As the road leaves the lowland hill country, you’ll find yourself on a nice carpeted road so you can pick up the pace. Just follow the A17 straight to Galle. You’ll come out just after the expressway access road and before you know it, you’ll be by the sea.
So there you have it. If you’ve got some time to spare on your next trip down south, the A17 is a drive worth checking out. It’s a longer journey, no doubt, but definitely a more adventurous and somewhat cooler (pun intended) route to Galle.
Start early so you can get a good look at the scenery during daylight. And bring a hoodie. It can get pretty chilly up there at times.