Did you know Sri Lanka was previously called Ceylon, under British colonial rule until they gained their independence in 1972. Does the word “Ceylon” remind you of something? Tea? Yes, right! The rainy, humid and cool temperatures of Sri Lanka’s Hill Country make the perfect conditions for high-quality tea. And Nuwara Eliya is the hearth of the Hill Country.
I spent 2 days/3 nights in Nuwara Eliya and definitely recommend to add it to your Sri Lanka itinerary. I had a bad timing and stayed 3 nights which was not really necessary after all. If you time it right 2 days/2 nights should be just about enough time to explore the beautiful region.
In this blog post: What to do and see in Nuwara Eliya Enjoy beautiful landscapes Waterfalls in Nuwara Eliya Visit a Tea Estate Hike in Horton Plains National Park Things to do around Nuwara Eliya Where to stay in Nuwara Eliya Where to eat in Nuwara Eliya How to get around in Nuwara Eliya How to get to/from Nuwara Eliya Temperatures in Nuwara Eliya Nuwara Eliya or Ella or both? Warnings What to pack for Nuwara Eliya
About Nuwara Eliya
Since 1884 tea production plays an important role in Nuwara Eliya. Some of the biggest tea factories are located here. Nuwara Eliya, was the destination for the British colonialists to spend their summer and practice their hobbies such as hunting, polo, golf and cricket. The British influences are quite visible in the architecture which is why Nuwara Eliya is also called “Little England”.
Today the majority of the population is Sinhalese followed by Indian Tamils and Sri Lankan Tamils.
What to do and see in Nuwara Eliya
Take a walk in downtown
You probably will arrive late afternoon (~3:30 pm) if you catch the train from Kandy. After you check in, take time to walk around downtown. Go to the main square. Visit the old Post Office. Walk around the former summer residences of the British colonialists, such as Grand Hotel, Hill Club and St Andrew’s Hotel.
Take a walk in Victoria Park (300 LKR, 7am-6pm) if you are in Nuwara Eliya during April-May or August-September, otherwise save your time, because off season (I was there in February) it is pretty unspectacular, especially if you have already visited Botanical Garden in Kandy.
Enjoy beautiful landscapes
Oh my god! It’s beautiful. These are the words I’ve kept saying every two minutes. Nuwara Eliya is at an altitude of 1,868 m and is overlooked by Sri Lanka’s tallest mountain Pidurutalagala. In almost every corner of Nuwara Eliya I had the most beautiful views I had in Sri Lanka.
Go either hiking on your own or hire a tuk tuk but you definitely should take time to explore the area. I promise you’ll see every shade of green spread in endless views. You’ll spot one or two waterfalls, maybe an eagle hunting, and workers in tea plantations.
TIP: For a trip around the area to see the waterfalls and to visit a tea estate, we hired a Tuk Tuk driver/guide. Our hotel reception helped us finding a good guide. Deen is an easy going, calm, young man who is also a very careful driver, and speaks good English. We paid 3500 LKR for the approx. 3-4 hours tour.
Waterfalls in Nuwara Eliya
This beautiful waterfall is 109 meters high, falling in there parts. It is 1 hour drive from Nuwara Eliya.
The highest part (100m) is above the road, the middle and lowest parts can be admired from a view platform for which you need to go inside the “Ramboda Inn” and climb down to platform. The power water can be so impressive and hypnotising. I love it.
Baker’s Falls is within Horton Plains. So if you take a hike in Horton Plains you can get really really close to this 20 meter high waterfall. The signs are pretty clear, so you won’t have a problems to find it.
- Lover’s Leep – 30 meters high – This one is the closest to downtown – 20 minutes drive.
- Devon Falls – 97 meters high – 6 km west of Thalawakelle – 1 hour drive
Visit a Tea Estate
Nuwara Eliya is probably the best place in Sri Lanka to visit a tea estate to have a better understanding how our breakfast or afternoon tea is being produced.
In Nuwara Eliya there are 3 major Tea Estates:
- Pedro Tea Estate is near to Lover’s Leep Fall but for the visit you need to pay an entrance fee.
- Mackwoods is for free and the most famous one, but yes you guessed it right, it is also the most touristy one.
- Blue Hill is the least visited and also for free.
Our Tuk Tuk driver/guide recommended us to visit Blue Hill. There we were able to see the interior of the tea factory, which however was not in operation.
A young lady guided us through the stages of the tea production. We could see all the machines and understand the process of tea production from the very beginning till the end how the tea gets packed and shipped to major tea distributors of Sri Lanka, where the packaging for each single brand happens, like Ceylon, Lipton and Twinings. She also explained us the difference between the sorts of black tea and the difference between black, green and white tea.
She spoke very good English but it was more or less a learned text, which made it less authentic in my eyes. The guides are voluntary but of course it is common to give them a reasonable tip around 100-200 LKR. At the end you get offered a cup of tea (also for free) and at the shop you can buy tea of their own production, it is not super cheap but I believe you pay for the quality. I couldn’t resist to buy one sort of black and green tea and couple of packs as souvenirs for the family.
I have to mention one down side of the whole tea production industry in Sri Lanka. Our Tuk tuk driver/guide gave us some insights about the conditions of the workers in the tea plantations, as his mother also worked in tea plantations and he grew up as a Indian Tamil boy.
The tea pickers are Indian Tamils, brought by British colonialists as cheap workers as the Sri Lankan people themselves refused to work for such conditions. The Indian Tamils belong to the lowest cast and practically do not have any chance to have a better life. At least not in this life time, which is part of Hinduism belief.
The hardest workers of Sri Lanka’s main economic sector earn only 4 US$ per day and have to collect 20 kg tea for that every day. They live in DIY Barracks with their whole family in one big room included a cooking spot. Most of their children can not even go to schools, as the families can not afford it. Since recently the tea picker families are now allowed to grow their own vegetables and sell in the market to earn a bit extra money. I asked myself why there is no “fair trade” tea production while there are hundreds of “fair trade” organisations and labels for coffee production.
I also felt very uncomfortable as I refused a cute Indian Tamil boy who wanted to sell flowers. I generally refuse buying stuff from children who obviously should NOT be working, but playing, learning and having fun instead. But I still feel guilty for not buying those damn flowers.
Another thing the locals warned us not to take pictures of the tea pickers in the tea plantations, because they would then ask for money. Therefore I don’t have a proper picture of the tea pickers. Now I regret it. I mean it would have definitely not harmed me to give them 1 US$ or 2. They would have had the half of their daily wage. It would have been win-win for both sides, right? Am I wrong? What do you think about it? What would you do or have done?
Hike in Horton Plains National Park
Hiking in Horton Plains (altitude of 2,100–2,300 m) is a highlight you should not miss, if you’re in Nuwara Eliya. The open grassy woodland is home to sambar deers, the endemic purple-faced langur, endemic birds species, and to a very few leopards (I couldn’t see one).
The view in World’s End (1050 m drop) is simply breathtaking and you don’t want to miss that!
Good to know
- How to go to Horton Plains: It is 32 km away from Nuwara Eliya. Hire a Tuk Tuk (1-2 people) or a van, if you’re more than 2 people. With tuk tuk the drive takes about 1 hour. With a van about 30 minutes. The driver waits for you in the entrance and takes you back to you hotel afterwards.
- Transfer Costs: The drive to Horton Plains from Nuwara Eliya with a tuk tuk costs 3000 LKR. With a van about 6000 LKR.
- Admission fee: They have foreigner price policy in Sri Lanka and the admission fee for Horton Plains National Park for foreigners costs 3000 LKR (20 US$). The locals pay something like 40 LKR or so. The ticket office opens at 6 am but there is a long queue (approx. 1500 daily tourists). Therefore it is recommended to arrive around 5-5:30 am to secure a place in the beginning of the waiting queue.
It is also recommended to start the hike early in the morning to avoid crowds and the heat. We got up in inhuman hours (4 am in the morning or should I say at night). At 4:30 am our tuk tuk driver (arranged the day before) picked us up at the hotel. It was still dark outside and bloody cold. Around 5:30 am we arrived in Horton Plains National Park and waited for the ticket office to open.
Around 6:30-7 am we started to hike. Right at the beginning we saw our first sambar deer. The round trip hike is about 10 km long and manageable in 3-4 hours. In the first 30 minutes everything was covered with fog. The main highlights are Baker’s Fall (our first stop) and the World’s End. The endless views, the colours, the atmosphere… the whole hike tour was just amazing.
Don’t forget to bring
- Good steady shoes
- Comfortable trousers
- Long sleeves for the early morning hours
- Sun cream
- San Glasses
- Fruit and Snacks (not packed in plastic bags)
Tip: If at the World's End there are too many people, it is worth to wait for a while. It might be a big group of tourists of organised tours who have a tight schedule. So sooner or later they'll have to move forward.
Things to do around Nuwara Eliya
Nuwara Eliya is one of the start points for the trekking tour to Adam’s Peak, which however I’m told, is not the best option.
Scenic train ride
From Nanu Oya Train Station you can carry on with the scenic train ride in Hill Country till Ella and Badulla. The train ride from Nuwara Eliya (Nanu Oya) to Ella takes about 2 hours.
Read next: Epic Train Ride in Sri Lanka
Where to stay in Nuwara Eliya
I stayed at Kings Park Villa. It is located near to Viktoria Park and 5 minutes away from downtown. The staff is very helpful and the shower in the room is the best I had in Sri Lanka. For price worthy accommodation check Booking.com or Agoda.com.
Where to eat in Nuwara Eliya
If you want to have a rather budget friendly dinner you can go to “Restaurant Two“. You can’t miss the big truck with a huge tent next to it. If you’re willing to pay more, you can go to the restaurants of one of the 4 star hotels like Grand Hotel.
How to get around in Nuwara Eliya
There train station Nanu Oya is about 8 km away. With a tuk tuk (20 minutes) it costs about 400-500 LKR. Arrange your pick up service with your guesthouse or hotel for your arrival. There are many people who would misuse your lack of local knowledge.
Within downtown everything is reachable in walking distance. It might get dark since the streets are not very well lighten up. So bring a pocket size torch.
How to get to/from Nuwara Eliya
Catch the train from Kandy’s Railway Station to Nanu Oya. The train ride takes about 4 hours.
Tips: The second train from Kandy at 11:10 is less crowded. For the best and most up to date information check Seat61.
From the train station in Nanu Oya you can catch the train either in direction Kandy or Badulla via Ella. The train at 9:30 am arrives in Ella at 13:30 pm. Or catch the train at 12:45 which arrives in Ella at 15:15.
Temperatures in Nuwara Eliya
On my arrival, I laughed out loud as I saw the heater in the hotel room, and rolled my eyes when I saw people wearing sweaters. “Common, it’s a bit cooler than other parts of Sri Lanka, but it is not cold cold” I thought. Well, I changed my mind after sunset. It really gets cold and once my body temperature cooled down, I didn’t want to take off my sweater anymore. So be prepared and bring warm clothes. But don’t exaggerate, a sweater, a fleece jacket or long sleeves will do just fine.
Nuwara Eliya or Ella or both?
That is the question I asked myself while i was planning my itinerary. Many suggested to pick one as they are very similar nature-wise. I didn’t and I don’t regret it.
Ella is more popular among young travellers, maybe because it has more facilities such as bars, cafés, restaurants with more western menus, supermarkets, and so on. But there is a downside of it all, that it is not really authentic. But also here you can enjoy the most beautiful nature hiking in Ella’s Rock and Little Adam’s Peak.
Nuwara Eliya doesn’t have all that what Ella has. But, therefore it remained more or less untouched and authentic.
So both have their pros and contras. Nevertheless, if I was forced to choose one place I’d go for Nuwara Eliya, because of its authenticity. And honestly the hike in Horton Plains was unbeatable.
- Stray dogs are everywhere. Even they look so cute, stay away from them for your own safety. Oh and, if you don’t have it yet, get a rabies vaccination before going to Sri Lanka. See here which vaccinations you need.
- Early in the morning, around 6 am, the monks start their meditation and their singing can be heard from everywhere “thanks” to the speakers. So bring earplugs if you want to sleep longer than 6 am.
What to pack for Nuwara Eliya
- Steady Shoes for hiking
- Good (video) camera to capture the beautiful landscapes
- Fleece Jacket for cool evenings and mornings
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For more insights from real pros I recommend Lonely Planet's Travel Guide for Sri Lanka. For price worthy accommodation check Booking.com or Agoda.com.
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