Drive into the highlands from Kandy and discover Sri Lanka at its most dramatic: a land of gurgling mountain streams and steep hillsides cloaked in luminous green tea, sweet-scented Cyprus and Eucalyptus trees. Nuwara Eliya, nestled at the foot of a mountain, was made into a summer retreat by the British in the early 1800s and much of its colonial character still remains. Ella attracts budget travellers, Haputale has panoramic views to the south and Dickoya offers upmarket tea bungalows in enchanting surroundings. Plus one of the most enchanting train journeys in the world.
>Wind past misty mountain peaks and cascading waterfalls
>Walk through lush green tea plantations and mountainous landscapes
>Take a train journey to the southern highlands
>Take a jeep ride around Horton Plains national park
>Climb through the night up the sacred Adam’s Peak
>Play golf at the Nuwara Eliya Golf Club
A picturesque three to four-hour drive uphill from Kandy takes you to Nuwara Eliya situated about 6,200 ft above sea level. The Southern Highland towns of Bandarawela, Haputale and Ella can be reached via Ratnapura or Nuwara Eliya or the south coast. Dickoya is best accessed via Kitulgala. Hill country towns can also be accessed by train.
British planters flocked to the hill country following the introduction of tea in 1867 and Nuwara Eliya soon developed into a summer retreat. Railway lines were extended to the southern highlands including Bandarawela, which became a popular retreat, especially for planters and railway employees. The Hill Country’s magnificent landscapes, cool climate and relaxed lifestyle continues to attract many local and foreign travellers seeking to escape the daily grind.
Hill country roads are dotted with wayside stalls selling fresh fruit and vegetables grown in village home gardens. You can also stop for a hot cup of up-country tea at several cafes and Tea centres along the way where different grades of tea can also be purchased. The Labookelle Tea estate situated about 15 kms from Nuwara Eliya, offers guided tours and an opportunity to taste and purchase tea straight from their estate.
Sri Lankan New Year: During the Sinhalese and Tamil New Year, celebrations in April herald the “season” for Nuwara Eliya, another tradition that stretches back to the British colonial period. Moneyed Colombo residents flock to the hills for the holidays to escape the pre-monsoon heat. The 10-day holiday period includes horse races, motocross rallies (the Mahagastota and Radella Hill Climbs), golf, flower exhibitions, concerts and revelry late into the night. Book early.
The weather in Sri Lanka’s Hill Country is influenced by both monsoons, the result of which is a climate reminiscent of Scotland (winters apart!). At nearly 2,000m above sea level, the region is much cooler than elsewhere in Sri Lanka. But Kandy sits at a far lower altitude than the other hill towns and basks in higher temperatures and lower rainfall. December to April is the best bet. The main south-west (“yala”) monsoon brings rain to the west and south-west coasts and hills largely between May and July. The north-east (“maha”) monsoon hits the east coast from November to January and can unsettle the eastern hills. There is also an inter-monsoonal period of unsettled weather in October.
Nuwara Eliya is scattered with Victorian-style 19th century homes, bungalows, guesthouses and hotels with neat, English-style gardens. The quaint towns of the southern highlands, often overlooked by the package trade, also hold much charm. Ella Gap offers wonderful views to the south coast on a fine day. Bandarawela is a town that Sri Lankans believe has the perfect climate: dry and sunny with fresh and clean air. Haputale, on the far south of the highlands, offers lovely walking with dramatic views. Some of the most picturesque waterfalls include Devon, Baker’s, and St. Claire’s. Several waterfalls including Dunhinda, Diyaluma, and Ravana Ella are all located near the towns of Haputale and Ella. Dickoya is famous for its pristine tea plantations. The hills are extremely popular for those who enjoy the outdoor pursuits. The temperate climes and magnificent views provide fine walking country. In the Dickoya and Kitulgala region, it is possible to go mountain biking, canoeing and whitewater rafting.