November 7, 2017
As much of Sri Lanka shakes off monsoon season, central and the west are ready for hikers. For the traveler who prefers to holiday on foot, the sloping valleys, unique landscapes, and wildlife of the island’s west provides a staging point to take on some of the country’s most impressive hikes.
Many travelers opt for the snorkeling and sperm whales of the sea or the leopards of places like Yala, but the warm gently sloping hills of Sri Lanka make for some of the best tropical hiking in Asia.
Often referred to as “Little England,” the Nuwara Eliya has an English countryside feel with colonial-era bungalows and well-tended hedgerows. In the region’s southern highlands, explorers can travel to the quiet town of Haputale before embarking to the 6,200-foot elevated vantage point of Lipton’s Seat. One of Sri Lanka’s most profound viewpoints, this lookout was used by tea pioneer Sir Thomas Lipton to survey his burgeoning empire, overlooking the expansive emerald hills and miles of tea estates.
Around 20 miles from Nuwara Eliya – though sometimes slow going on the mountain roads – is the Horton Plains National Park, a highland plateau that includes the fabled dropoff viewpoint of World’s End. This escarpment plunges around 2,800 feet from the parkland’s 7,000-foot elevation and is the most visited attraction in the area.
As it is often obscured by mist, it is best to arrive to the viewpoint early morning and explore the rest of Horton Plains during the day. Travelers can expect to discover a plethora of native birdlife, unique flora, and resident animals like bear monkeys and Sambar deer within the national park. Also of note on the way to World’s End is the Bakers Falls, 20 meters of white water on dark rocks.
Found southwest of Nuwara Eliya, is an adventurous trek through a slowly ascending valley to the rocky Seven Maidens Mountains, which is filled with 10 miles of historic village scenery, tea gardens, and plush forest evergreen.
Obviously, the best hike in this region is the celebrated Adam’s Peak, or Sri Pada, and the region is well suited with six different trails to get travelers to the top. Even at night Sri Pada is impressive; the lighted trail snakes its way up the mountain. Be warned, however, that this is an important pilgrimage site and it might be a little crowded at the top.
The Bogawantalawa Valley also holds the vegetated Makandawa Rainforest, boasting verdant mountains and the cascading waters of the Kelani River. Situated in the serene village of Kitulgala, a trek through this forest succumbs to endemic Sri Lankan wildlife sightings along with a wide array of other colorful birds. After a day of exploring, travelers can relax in a colonial bungalow at the luxurious Ceylon Tea Trails property with a panoramic view of the Sri Lankan tea country.
Kandy and Dambulla
A scenic train ride from Nuwara Eliya is the capital of the Central Province, Kandy. As the last capital of the ancient kings’ era of Sri Lanka, this religious city lies amidst the hills of the Kandy plateau, and connects with tropical tea plantations and biodiverse rainforest. One great hiking trail begins with the Udawatta Kele Sanctuary: an expansive reserve that once served Kandy royalty, now home to a rich array of bird species, tropical plants, and mammals. Those who don’t want to get too tired can stay in the lowlands and have a pleasant, easy hike along the Mahaweli Ganga.
From here, a short two and a half hour drive will take travelers to Dambulla, and the beginning of the trek from Knuckles Range to Deanston Park. As a World Heritage Conservation Area, Knuckles Range gives way to a trekking experience filled with rugged mountain peaks, cascading waterfalls, and distinct eco-systems of endemic species of birds and animals via Corbet’s Gap. Relaxation can be found in Heritance Kandalama Hotel, which offers far-reaching views of the Kandalama reservoir and national parkland.
East of Horton Plains, Ella’s Rock is a brisk hike from the quaint – very English looking – town of Ella, roughly a two hour hike if travelers don’t take any breaks. If the hike is undertaken unassisted, travelers need only start out from the train station and make their way to the hills. A quick detour east will put travelers atop Little Adam’s Peak – not to be confused with the Great Adam’s Peak above – moving south all the while.
On Ella’s Rock, there is a steep drop off, and the valley, often filled with fog, stretches to the horizon. Continuing even further south, travelers will catch a peek at Ravana Falls, said to be the site of an epic Indian tale. The cave, which is one of the most popular tourist sites in the country, is rumored to be where King Ravana kidnapped princess Sita and hid her in the cave behind the waterfall.