After the excellent train ride from Ella Station to Nanu Oya Station, it was only a short drive to our hotel in the main town of Nuwara Eliya. We had originally chosen a small boutique hotel called The Cottage by Jetwing, but then later changed it to the Grand Hotel as people cancelled their reservations and space became available.
This is something we experienced quite a bit on this particular trip. Due to the generous cancellation policies of sites like cheaptickets.com or booking.com, a number of hotels that were previously sold-out became available as we neared our travel dates. It was an inconvenience for us to rebook several hotels, but I’d imagine these cancellation policies are a nightmare for the hotels; I hope they find a good balance in serving all their stakeholders.
Nuwara Eliya is located 1,800 meters above sea level and has the coolest climate in Sri Lanka. It’s famous for its tea plantations and is the most important location for tea production in the country. This city was where the British would vacation to get away from the heat; their presence created the “Little England” nickname and architecture that can be found throughout the region.
Sri Lanka is the fourth largest tea producer in the world. It’s fascinating to see how tea is made. Having grown up in a South Asian family where the British tea tradition is an integral part of our daily lives, I had never taken the time to understand where tea comes from, how it’s harvested, and what makes up the different types of teas. There are a number of excellent tea plantations to visit.
We chose to visit two tea plantations, Pedro Tea Factory when we first arrived in Nuawara Eliya and Dilmah Tea Plantation on the last day when we were on our way to Kandalama Lake. The tours were informative and relatively short at 20 mins or so. They walk you through the factory itself to show how tea leaves are sorted, cleaned, dried, cut, flavoured and then packaged. I had no idea that the size of the tea leaf is such an important factor in the tea that we drink everyday.
While the factory tour was interesting, the best part of the experience was undoubtedly the ability to walk freely around the plantations. We were surprised to see very few people taking up the opportunity. Most went 10 meters out from the factory building, took a few selfies and then went back in to drink a cup of tea and buy some tea to take home.
We spent three hours walking around the plantation, talked to a few tea pickers, and asked to take their pictures. Like most tourist places, we were asked for money for the pictures, and we felt obliged since we had taken something of value and should return something of value. A few hundred rupees later, we did learn that tea pickers earn around 1,000 LKR (~USD$4) per day and work from 7am until around 2pm. The remainder of the day is free time.
The plantations are beautiful and well worth the walk. In the three hours, we walked for nearly 10km in the Pedro Tea Factory plantation alone. It’s a serene and peaceful setting and a great way to spend a few hours in Nuwara Eliya.
World’s End at Horton Plains National Park
After the tea plantation visit, we focused on another big tourist draw, the Horton Plains National Park, which features the better known “World’s End” cliff drop. We had read online that it’s important to reach the World’s End before 10am in order to beat the mist that inevitable rolls in everyday, blocking the cliff views. We had also read that we should exercise extreme caution as a German tourist had recently plunged to her death while taking a selfie there.
We had read online and been told by people confusing information on how to get to Horton Plains. Perhaps it’s due to tourism and development happening so rapidly in Sri Lanka that information can’t keep up, or perhaps it’s due to a “Jeep Mafia” as some online reviewers speculate, but there is a misconception that a 4-wheel drive vehicle is required to reach Horton Plains.
The Jeep tours were very expensive at 13,000 LKR plus entry fees so we took the chance with our existing driver and car. The road is narrow, and certainly bumpy, but our Honda sedan was able to manage the pot holes just fine.
From our hotel to Horton Plains was a 1.5hr drive, so we set out at 6am in order to arrive at 7:30am, with the hopes of seeing World’s End prior to the 10am mist. What greeted us when we arrived was rather unexpected. There was a huge line of cars waiting to get into the park itself. Thankfully, a quick google search informed us that we should get out of the car and walk up to buy tickets rather than waiting in the huge queue of cars.
It turns out that the cars waiting are actually the drivers waiting for their passengers to obtain their tickets. The tickets queue was long and took nearly 45 minutes. There was only one person working the booth. We had arrived at 7:15am but didn’t enter the park until after 8:00am. With the hike to World’s End estimated at ~1.5hrs, we had to hustle to reach the viewpoint before the 10am mist.
There are two ways you can reach World’s End, clockwise (faster but more difficult) or counterclockwise (slower, but easier). We chose clockwise and went left at the fork in the road. It was a rather easy walk/hike until we reached the point right before World’s End. I’m not sure if we took the right path, but it required a steep hike to get to the top and through some intense bush and boulders. We noted that people who went counterclockwise looked a lot more relaxed than our cohort did!
The total cost to enter Horton Plains was again rather expensive for what you get from the experience. You have to pay for your tickets, an entry ticket and a parking ticket for your driver, and taxes. For the two of us, the total cost was 8,100 LKR (USD$44!). With the entry fee out of the way, the rest of the experience was very good and relaxing.
By entering clockwise, we reached Mini World’s End first, but didn’t have much time to hang around there since we were trying to stay ahead of the mist. We hustled to World’s End and were greeted with a beautiful view, but it lasted only 10 minutes. The mist arrived early that day and had started to roll in at 9:30. Within 10 minutes, the view went from perfectly clear to completely shrouded in clouds.
In some ways, the mist was a positive because it gave us the chance to slow down and enjoy the remainder of the hike/walk. After World’s End, the remainder of the hike was easy. There are some muddy sections, so I’d recommend wearing appropriate shoes. If it has rained the night before (it always rains the night before in Nuwara Eliya), it’ll be muddy first thing in the morning.
The final stop on the clockwise route was Baker Falls. To get there, you need to take a short detour down some steep stairs. It was a bit crowded, but it felt good to feel the cool water mist spray as the day had become quite hot. After Baker Falls, it’s a nice walk to the start point with beautiful scenery along the way. The last half of the circular route is fully exposed to the sun, so bring a hat and water.
Overall, while a bit expensive, I think Horton Plains was worth the time and effort. It’s an enjoyable walk if you take the time to soak in the scenery. I should note that some people go to this park specifically to see animals in the wild, but we did not come across any animals (except for one in the parking lot). If you’re looking for an animal experience, perhaps you’d need to take the Jeep safari and go deeper into the park.
Nuwara Eliya Town
The town itself is pretty typical of a Sri Lankan city, with the exception of the English colonial architecture sprinkled throughout the area. The town core itself doesn’t have too much English architecture with the exception of a few buildings including the famous Post Office, however if you walk around or take a tuktuk around Lake Gregory for example, you’ll find many small boutique hotels and restaurants built in an English style.
Hakgala Botanical Garden
I was born in British Columbia, Canada where we have stunning natural landscapes and beautiful botanical gardens, accessible for free or at reasonable prices. The Hakgala Botanical gardens were expensive at 1,500 LKR (~USD$10) per person considering the state of the garden.
It appeared to be under renovation because we didn’t see many of the features listed in the guide. At the entry fee that locals pay, it’s well worth it; a father standing in line next to me purchased tickets for his entire extended family for a few hundred rupees.
He was shocked at the price we were being charged and told us that we should save our time and money and go elsewhere. We should have listened to him.
On the last morning in Nuwara Eliya during sunrise, we took a tuktuk to Lake Gregory to walk around. This turned out to be a wonderful experience and highly recommended. Since it was before sunrise, the gates were open and there was no entry fee. While walking around the lake, we came across a number of cute animals including a donkey, and a number of mother dogs and their puppies.
Across the street from Lake Gregory, we found an excellent Indian restaurant called Indian Summer. I’d highly recommend a stop there for lunch or dinner; the good was great.
This hotel is an institution of Nuwara Eliya. It was built in the 1800’s as the holiday home of the British Governor of Ceylon. It’s a beautiful structure with several restaurants, a wine bar, billiards room, and a number of unique rooms for relaxing and enjoying tea. The hotel has the potential to be one of the best in the world; it has the location, the gardens, the beautiful architecture, and the history.
Unfortunately, the hotel still has a ways to go to be up there with other great historic hotels like The Strand in Yangon, Myanmar or the Heritance Kandalama Lake, which you’ll read about in the next article. I hope the owners appreciate what they have and invests to make this into a world class hotel.
Nuwara Eliya was another highlight of the trip and highly recommended for a trip to Sri Lanka. We stayed in the city for three nights and could have easily spent another 2-3 nights, perhaps staying outside of the city at a tea plantation or a villa. It’s a beautiful part of Sri Lanka and we really enjoyed our time there.
Next up, we’ll head to Kandalama Lake where we’ll stay in the hotel that we built this trip around, the Heritance Kandalama Lake Hotel.
Other articles from the Sri Lanka series: