Not surprisingly, considering how much at home I feel among hills and mountains, Sri Lanka hill country became a highlight of my visit to the country last year. Whenever someone asks me how Sri Lanka was, I always end up thinking of the time I spent hiking and exploring this region of low lying mist and clouds.
This mountainous regions of the centre of the country, covered with tea plantations and National Parks, has all of the things I look for in a destination: cool weather (I’m such a wuss when it comes to heat and humidity), lush mountain scenery (I love mountains!), and an abundance of opportunities to get out and do things (as opposed to lying on a beach – which is fine, but not for me at all).
It’s hard to pick favorites from the region because there was no real list of ‘must visits’.
What I remember most about the area was the ease of travel in beautiful countryside that led to me wandering around from one mountain village to another in a state of blissful contentment, soaking up the misty air, the greeneries, and the English style cottages dotting the hillsides.
BUT, if I have to pick only 5 of my favorite things about Sri Lanka hill country, these would be it:
1. Lipton’s Seat
As I mentioned before, I could barely afford the trip tjoo Horton’s Plain, a popular destination in Sri Lanka hill country. But I’m convinced that the view from Lipton’s Seat is just as beautiful with low clouds clinging to tree tops.
The fact that it involved a meandering, pre-dawn tuk tuk ride through tea plantations further cemented Lipton’s Seat as one of my favorite hill country activities.
2. Climbing Sri Pada or Adam’s Peak
The top of this 2000 m peak is said to hold Buddha’s footprint and many Sri Lankans make a pilgrimage to climb the 6000 steps to the top. Most people start 3 hour hike at 2 am in the morning to catch the sunrise. That was also my plan.
It took me most of the day to get from Hatton train station to Dalhousie where the trailhead is located. As soon as I got settled at a hotel, I got ready for the hike.
I scouted out the trailhead ahead of time, knowing that it’d be harder to find in the dark. I bought a flashlight and snacks. I put my anti-leech remedy in my pack: an Ayuervedic balm and a handful of salt – because the idea of leeches freaks me out so much I want to vomit.
Steep? I can handle steep. Leeches? *shivers*
I got my clothes all laid up nicely by the bed, set up the alarm, and went to bed.
Then the worst thing happened!
I slept through the alarm! Ugh.
This. Never. Happened. (Gah, getting old sucks!)
See, I hadn’t had a decent sleep ever since I got to Sri Lanka – a combination of jet lag, work, and the hustle and bustle of a conference. I was grateful for the sleep, I needed it – but of all the days to sleep in?
I woke up feeling refreshed and invigorated, but admittedly – a little devastated. I had a flight to catch that night, leaving me with no time to do the hike at all.
So – no, I didn’t get to hike Adam’s Peak. But even if you’re not planning to climb it, the road to Dalhousie will take you through the most pristine and beautiful countryside, as you can see from the picture above.
3. Hiking Little Adam’s Peak and Ella Rock
If you don’t have the time to hike Adam’s Peak, there’s a smaller peak called – appropriately – Little Adam’s Peak that you can hike to from Ella. A much more laid back affair, the hike takes roughly 40 minutes to a viewpoint overlooking Ella Rock and Ella Gap.
I got caught in a brief but intense downpour on the way up. Thankfully there was a little shed/cafe to take shelter. In the end I was grateful for the rain, because I had the most delicious smoothie from the cafe!
A 2-3 hour hike to Ella Rock itself is also possible, but I thought the view from Little Adam’s Peak was more noteworthy because you get to see the mighty Ella Rock itself.
TIP: Looking for a cheap place to stay in Ella? The road to Little Adam’s peak past the main center is lined with smaller, cheaper, and friendlier guesthouses. It’s about 20 minute walk from the train station.
4. Taking a scenic train ride
The railway that runs from Kandy to the villages in Sri Lanka hill country is quite an engineering feat. It crosses steep valleys and hugs mountain sides as it journeys through the heart of the highland. The scenery was stunning. It’s definitely worth your time.
Many tourists opt for the 1st class car, or the premium observation car but I highly recommend getting a seat in 2nd and 3rd class. They made for much funner train rides. The windows are kept open which makes it easier to take pictures. You get to meet many locals, an excellent opportunity to practice your miming and portrait photography skill.
Also there were food vendors selling snacks and drinks on these cars, a super awesome thing since train rides in Sri Lanka is one slow affair.
5. Take a tuk tuk ride to a waterfall
Admittedly Sri Lanka doesn’t have the world’s ___est waterfall, but taking a tuk tuk ride to see one of the waterfalls in the hill country is simply an excuse for a fun ride through more beautiful scenery. Ravana Fall (pictured above), one of the most known in the region, can be found on the winding road between Ella and Bandawarela.
The waterfall at the end of the journey is simply the icing on the cake.
But wait, there’s more…
There’s also Nuwara Eliya, also called ‘Little England’ – also known by me as the place to find deeply discounted branded outdoor clothes ($3 for a Quechua fleece, SCORE!), Uda Walawe National Park and its elephants, the colonial town of Bandarawela, and more waterfalls and trails I can shake a hiking stick at.
I left the hill country thinking that I could’ve easily stayed for much longer.