List 08 May

8 highlights of Sri Lanka's Hill Country

The island's southern heartlands are an adventurous traveller's Mecca – here are the highlights of the area

Home to striking colorful scenery, one of the most stunning train rides in the world, hiking opportunities galore and unique tea plantation accommodation, Sri Lanka's Hill Country is a must for any visit to the island. Plus, the region is now easier than ever to access due to the recently opened Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport, located only an hour and a half drive from the heart of Hill Country.  While the list of things to see and do is endless, the following eight activities are certainly a good starting point...

1. Take the train

The train ride between Nuwara Eliya and Ella is a feast for the eyes. Picture rolling hills draped in emerald-colored tea plantations, forest-green mountain ranges and a deep blue sky full of puffy white clouds. Colorful saris worn by Tamil tea pickers dot the fields, as do occasional aqua-colored waterfalls. On top of all this, the ride is both comfortable and very cheap.

2. Huff through a half-day hike

Little Adam's Peak is an easy half-day hike from everyone's favorite Hill Country town, Ella (approximately 5km round-trip). If the hike up to the top doesn't take your breath away, the 360 degree views of the surrounding forest-carpeted mountains surely will.   Pack a picnic to savour the experience.

3. Power on for a full-day hike

Ella Rock can be reached on a full-day guided hike from many towns within Hill Country, including Ella and Baddegama. As per the norm in this region of the country, the scenery and views are brilliant. Though, do make sure to check in with your guide on recent weather conditions as leeches swarm river banks the day after it rains (unfortunately, I found this out the hard way).

4. Sit on Lipton's Seat

Sir Thomas Lipton launched his tea empire in the Hill Country’s Haputale Mountains.  To see where it all began organise transport to Lipton’s Seat, Mr Lipton’s favorite spot to sit and watch over his enormous estate. Though it is possible (and, maybe a bit more comfortable) to take a car up, an open air tuk-tuk ride is so much more fun. 

Head out early before the afternoon fog cloaks the surrounding mountains clouding the awe-inspiring views.

5. Visit a tea plantation

A trip to Sri Lanka’s Hill Country would not be complete without a tea plantation visit.   There is nowhere better to do so than Amba Estate, an artisanal tea producer high up in the hills of Baddegama. The amicable English property manager knows everything there is to know about tea (and, then some), so be ready to learn. For rustic yet comfortable accommodations, it's also possible to reserve the Amba Estate Farmhouse (though be prepared, after a few days of pampering it can be very difficult to leave).

6. Watch a waterfall

The drive between Kandy and Nuwara Eliya should be nicknamed "Waterfall Row". From barely trickling to powerfully crashing, waterfalls seem to be around every bend in the road. Be warned, many of the falls aren't fit for swimming. However, locals and tourists alike take the plunge into the placid pool at the bottom of Ramboda Falls, Sri Lanka's 11th highest waterfall.

7. And relax...

It's easy to see why tourists flock to Ella. Apart from the dramatic landscape and temperate climate, there's a host of comfortable accommodations, delightful restaurants and jovial bars. It's the perfect place to sit back, relax and enjoy the cool mountain air after a long day of hiking.

8. Stalk wildlife

Making the short drive to Uda Walawe National Park (only one to two hours from Hill Country) to explore the island's wildlife and nature is a must. The park is home to huge herds of water buffalo, hundreds of bird species (including painted storks), crocodiles and even a few leopards. The hundreds of wild elephants are the star attraction. The gentle long-nosed giants go about their days as if tourists aren’t present, socialising, nursing their young, and foraging for food.

Pack a change of clothes and plenty of water as the weather is sweltering hot.

Katherine Sazdanoff decided to embark on a gap year with her husband at the age of 29 (better late than never, right?). Since departing her hometown of San Francisco nine months ago, she has been cycling, hiking, and motorbiking through SE Asia and Europe, all the while contemplating how she'll ever be able to return to a boring desk job.

To follow her adventures and upcoming travels in Sri Lanka, India and Nepal, check out her blog at www.rollingpina.com.