Probably the most beautiful area in Sri Lanka is the hill country. With its lush tea plantations and beautiful mountains the surroundings are breathtaking. There are many spots to visit and we therefore unfortunately had to make a choice between them.
Our first stop after the beautiful beaches in the South was Uda Walawe. It’s a little town and known for it’s safaris. We stayed at , a beautiful glamping site where we stayed in little huts. We arrived late afternoon, dipped in the pool and went to bed early as we planned a morning safari the next day. The safari was really great, though we must say it doesn’t compare to the safaris we did in South Africa, but we knew that beforehand. We arranged the safari through our accommodation and our driver told us a lot about the animals (especially birds) we encountered. Click here to read more about the safari itself and why we chose Uda Walawe over Yala National Park!
From Uda Walawe we went to Ella by tuktuk (4000 rupees). It was a long drive (4 hours) and a taxi would be better but it saved us quite some money. We stayed at Ella Highest Inn, a nice guesthouse just off the main street. You access the guesthouse by a five minute (steep) walk through the estate’s tea plantation, which is pretty cool. And the owners are really nice and help you with anything! Ella basically only consists of one street which contains all the restaurants and shops and will lead you to wherever you want to go. Our favorite (by far) is Chill cafe. We spent three nights here, playing cards, having a few beers and enjoying the good (Western) food. Make sure to go to the top floor, as you will have lounge sets and beanbags. You definitely don’t want to sit downstairs. And since it’s a popular place, make sure to get there around 5pm, just before dinner time so you get yourself a comfortable spot!
There are 3 main activities in Ella:
Little Adam’s Peak
This short hike (about an hour from the main street) is an easy hike with a beautiful view. The last part is a bit steep though. We strongly recommend to do this hike before sunrise! Start walking around 5 so you catch the sunrise by 6. This way you’ll avoid the heat, the crowd, and the view is amazing! We went to 98 Acres Resort & Spa to have some tea (we wanted to do breakfast but they only had a buffet which we weren’t really feeling). You’ll have a beautiful view of the tea plantation! Be aware of Ceylon tea by the way. It was our first encounter and let it brew way too long (the recommended two minutes makes it really strong, so strong not even a jar of sugar and all the milk in the world will be able to make it enjoyable).
Another hike in Ella is to Ella Rock. We heard that it can be quite hard to find your way to the top and after reading many blog posts explaining the route we gave it a try. It ended up being really hard indeed, none of the blogs helped us. Also, the guys telling us we were going the wrong way (while we actually weren’t) didn’t make it any easier. Fortunately we were not the only ones going for it so we eventually found our way and got to the rock in less than 3 hours. The last part is really steep and we had a tough time, even though we are in good shape. It was cloudy at the top so we didn’t see much and didn’t stick around for too long and made our way back. We ended up taking a completely different route (much easier), passing the Rawana waterfalls. Fortunately we were well-prepared and had taken our swimwear so we made a quick stop to take a refreshing dip. Some tips before you go:
Don’t believe the guys that are telling you you’re going in the wrong direction! They want you to follow them so they can guide you and charge you money. Of course it’s fine if you want a guide, but be aware of this.
Go early to minimize the changes of clouds blocking your view and to beat the heat! We were a bit lazy and took our time for breakfast (pancakes with curd and honey at Dream Cafe, so good!) so we started at 11 and the view was not cloud-free.
Giving it a try to get you to the easiest route: start at the train station in Ella and go left on the tracks. Keep on following till you get to the next station. Keep on following the tracks until you have a wall of rocks on your left side. Keep on walking until this wall ends. Just a few meters further there will be a small path that leads you behind this wall and to the waterfall. Walk along the path. You will get to an intersection, go straight ahead. You’ll end up at a small cafe and from here there are several ways that will get you to the top but you made it through the hardest part. Good luck!
Nine Arches Bridge
Beautiful bridge where you can take some nice photos walking the train tracks or of the train if your timing is good. Go to the train station and go right along the tracks. It’s a 30/45 minute walk and here the same goes: go early to beat the heat!
Besides these activities you can also visit a tea plantation. We did so at . The tour was a little bit disappointing, though we did learn some things (apparently we chose the strongest tea at 98 Acres haha). The entrance fee is 600 rupees and a tuktuk is 600 rupees as well, one-way.
Ella was our last stop in the hill country. Two other well-known spots are Nuwera Eliya, where you can visit beautiful tea plantations and go to World’s End at Horton Plains, and the other is Adam’s Peak. We decided not to go there, and here are our reasons why:
1. Nuwera Eliya is halfway on the scenic train ride between Ella and Kandy (read more about that here!). Since we very last minute were able to get reserved seats, we didn’t want to risk of getting of halfway not to be able to get a reserved seat on the second part. Additionally, we already visited a tea plantation and would see plenty on the train ride itself, so we wouldn’t have to go there because of the surroundings. We did a little research on Horton Plains and came to the following conclusion: it would costs us quite some time, there was a substantial risk the hike wouldn’t be rewarding, and it is expensive. First of all we would have to get to Nuwera Eliya from the train station (about an hour) and then get a tuktuk from Nuwera Eliya for another hour to get to Horton Plains. Second, we love to hike but the hike to World’s End would not be our kind of hike and chances are high that the view gets blocked by the clouds. Finally, the absurd Sri Lankan charges for tourists also apply to Horton Plains, which would add up to all the transportation costs. All in all, we didn’t think it would be worth it to stop at Nuwera Eliya.
2. The same goes for Adam’s Peak. It would cost us a lot of time to get there, the path is not lit due to it being out of season this time a year, and the chances of a bad view are really high (we heard many people climbing all the way up to a cloudy view) and there’s not a lot to do besides Adam’s Peak. So we skipped it.
The Hill Country is beautiful and has a lot to offer, both beautiful nature and active hikes. We are really curious to hear your thoughts and/or experiences so share them with us in the comments below!