Nuwara Eliya & Hill Country | Regions of Sri Lanka | Red Dot

Hill Country

Few, if any, small islands have as much geographical diversity and Sri Lanka’s tea-growing hills offer breathtaking landscapes. 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.  Dickoya, Bandarawela, Haputale and Ella are all quaint hill country towns and villages where life is peaceful and unhurried.  Those who have travelled this uphill journey by train will confirm that it is one of the most enchanting train journeys in the world.
Don’t Miss
Wind past misty mountain peaks and cascading waterfalls
Walk through lush green tea plantations, mountainous landscapes and rural villages
Stay in a tea planter’s bungalow
Take a train journey to the southern highlands
Stunning vistas – such as the from Haputale to the south coast on a clear day
Take a jeep ride around Horton Plains national park
Night-time climb up the sacred Adam’s Peak
A round of golf at the Nuwara Eliya Golf Club
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Getting There
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.  Useful drive times include: Colombo to Nuwara Eliya (6-7 hours); Kandy to Nuwara Eliya (3-4 hours); Colombo to Haputale via Ratnapura (5 hours); Bandarawela to Ella (1 hour).

Historical Background
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.  Nuwara Eliya’s British tea planters soon saw the potential of Bandarawela which was then a little-known village hamlet, but became into a popular holiday resort, 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.

The town of Nuwara Eliya sprawls over the fertile valley flanked by  Mount Pidurutalagala and Single Tree Mountain and is scattered with Victorian-style 19th century homes, bungalows, guesthouses and hotels complete with gabled roofs, large open fireplaces and hardwood floors.  Nuwara Eliya takes pride in its beautiful gardens with neatly-clipped lawns and colourful flower beds.  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, an area known for tea and fruit growing, is at the centre of Uva’s 'Health Triangle'and 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. Dickoya is famous for its pristine tea plantations. Close to Hatton is the sacred Adam’s Peak - a 2,234m high holy mountain which is climbed each year from December to April by thousands of devotees from many faiths. The hills are extremely popular for those who enjoy the outdoors and active pursuits. The temperate climes and magnificent views provide for fine walking through tea estates and rural hill country villages.  In the Dickoya and Kitulgala region, it is possible to go mountain biking, canoeing and whitewater rafting.

Refurbished colonial-period tea estate bungalows offer comfortable accommodation. The luxurious Ceylon Tea Trails, a collection of four elegantly restored planter’s bungalows in Dickoya, offers some of the highest standards of accommodation in the island. Indeed, it is quickly building a reputation for being one of the best small luxury hotels in Asia. The Mandira Strathdon bungalow and the Governor’s Mansion in Dickoya, Kirchhayn Bungalow in Bandarawela, Kelbourne Mountain View Cottages and Melheim Resort in Haputale, and the 98 Acres Resort in Ella are some of the recommended holiday retreats in the Southern Highlands. The Lavender House in Pussellawa, located midway between Kandy and Nuwara Eliya, provides a relaxing holiday setting on a working tea estate. Nuwara Eliya’s St. Andrew’s Hotel, The Grand Hotel and the Hill Club are housed in grand Victorian mansions built during the colonial period. Heritance Tea Factory in Kandapola, housed in an actual renovated tea factory, is a characterful holiday retreat.

Food & Drink
Nuwara Eliya’s Grand Hotel has several venues for dining. Barnes’ Hall, the main restaurant, serves international cuisine buffet style; the Supper Club, with a bar and lounge area with scenic views, serves a la carte meals in an intimate setting; a coffee shop offers light snacks and the Curry Pot is a popular Indian restaurant serving a variety of vegetarian and non-veg dishes, and freshly baked Indian breads. The Old Course restaurant at St. Andrew’s Hotel serves sumptuous Sri Lankan and international cuisine prepared at their `show kitchen’ where guests can see their meals being prepared while dining on gourmet delights. Snacks and high tea is served at their outdoor garden café. The Bandarawela Hotel is popular for tasty rice and curries and tea and sandwiches are served on their front lawn. Ella town has several road side eateries serving local cuisine and snacks. Dream Café even serves pizzas and wraps. Heritance Tea Factory is proud of its fine-dining restaurant in a refurbished train carriage, so preserving the memory of a branch line that closed in 1940.

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.

April holidays in Nuwara Eliya:  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. Colombo’s resident flock to the hills for the holidays to escape the pre-monsoon heat. The 10-day holiday period includes horse races, motorcross rallies, golf competitions, flower exhibitions, concerts and revelry late into the night. Book early.

Tournaments at Nuwara Eliya Golf Club:  Several golf tournaments including the Stable Ford Competition for Ladies and Gents are held during April.

Motor Racing in Nuwara Eliya: the Mahagastota and Radella Hill Climbs are all held during April each year.
Hill country’s Colonial architecture
Nuwara Eliya’s leafy by roads are lined with Victorian style mansions dating back to the 19th century which have now been converted into characterful hotels. Some of the more interesting buildings include the Hill Club – a 130 year-old granite mansion resembling a mini Victorian castle; St. Andrew’s Hotel housed in a stately Tudor-style colonial mansion built in the latter part of the 19th century; and the Grand Hotel - once the residence of Sir Edward Barns, a British Governor of Sri Lanka. The Adisham Monastery modeled on Leeds Castle in Kent was built in the early 20th century. Examples of Colonial period planter’s bungalows include the Tea Trails Bungalows in Dickoya, Lavender House in Pussellawa, and Kirchhayn in Bandarawela. These bungalows have been designed with gabled roofs and large open fireplaces.
Adam’s Peak
Adam’s Peak is one of the great challenges of Sri Lanka for active holidaymakers with the urge to conquer. Sri Pada, or Adam’s Peak, is sacred to all four religious groups in Sri Lanka – the Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, and the Christians. The giant footprint at the top is variously claimed as an imprint either of Lord Buddha, God Shiva, Adam, or St. Thomas, the Christian Apostle who preached in south India. This 2,234m-high mountain is visited by thousands of devotees and a steady trickle of travellers from December to April. The climb is best attempted at night and at the mountain top, you may be rewarded with one of the finest sunrises in Asia and an awe-inspiring view from the top. This can be one of the most moving experiences of your life. During pilgrimage season, the stepped mountainside is lit by strip lights and rudimentary stalls offering refreshments to fire your resolve to reach the summit.
Adisham Monastery
Modeled on Leeds Castle in Kent and once the home of Sir Thomas Villers in the early 20th century, Adisham now is a Benedictine monastery with well cared for rose and vegetable gardens. A portion of the ground floor areas are open for visitors to see. Many of the antique furniture, period art and other artifacts are interesting to see. Visitors are welcome during weekends from 9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. Only a limited portion of the buildings are open to visitors. Spend time in the gardens taking in the breathtaking scenery.
Nuwara Eliya Golf Club
Set amid the tea plantations of the central highlands, Nuwara Eliya Golf Club is a great golf course set in a charming hill station. This testing course was built by a Scottish soldier of the Golan Highlanders in 1889 for the British serviceman and officials stationed here in 1889. Occasionally you may even feel you are playing golf in Scotland, but the course holds many features unique to Sri Lanka. Whether it is your helpful caddie and his Sri Lankan smile, or the course’s flora and fauna you’ll be in no doubt you in one of Asia’s beautiful corners. To ensure a successful round you will need to stay clear of the trees that line the tight course, the crags and creeks that bisect the fairways and the remorseless gorse and bunkers that protect the greens. The clubhouse and bar is an atmospheric place to enjoy a drink and meal after your round. It is full of character and colonial history. Little has changed since the founding of the club and you can even enjoy a log fire on cooler evenings.
Train travel to the hill country
One fabulous way of exploring the tea country is to jump aboard the train. The morning railway journey from Kandy to the highlands of Nuwara Eliya, Ella or Dickoya, climbing uphill upto 6,000 ft above sea level is one of the greatest rail journeys in the world. The dramatic landscape of the highlands stirs the senses – winding past lush tea plantations, majestic peaks and rushing waterfalls. The main line from Kandy includes stops at Hatton (convenient for climbing Adam’s Peak), Nanu Oya (the nearest station to Nuwara Eliya), Ella (for waterfalls, hiking and activity holidays), the lesser-known old British hill station of Bandarawela and, finally, the sleepy agricultural town of Badulla. First-class travel can be over-subscribed; Red Dot will queue for tickets on your behalf and transfer you luggage by car.
Walking journeys
The winding hill country roads past tea covered hills, misty mountains peaks, and gushing waterfalls are inspirational for those interested in exploring this region on foot. The landscape is forever interesting and the climate – at its best like a perfect English summer’s day – is ideal. Red Dot will be happy to plan your walking journey. We offer gentle walking holidays which you can walk independently or with a guide and where you are transported by car or van at the end of each day to recover in well-appointed hotels or more strenuous treks with specialist activity guides and the chance to camp and stay in remote rural lodges with the modern world all but forgotten.
Whitewater rafting
Experience the thrills and spills of an exciting rafting adventure in the hill country. Rafting mixes the ups and downs of rapids with calm sections that meander through the jungle clad mountains, tea and rubber plantations of the Kandyan hill-country. The scenery is breathtaking. Red Dot only uses Sri Lanka’s top guides, and if you can hear the instructions amidst the pounding water, you stand a better chance of remaining in the raft. In the calm stretches, sit back and float with only the hub of the rainforest to break the silence as you breathe in the wilderness.
Ceylon Tea
Originally introduced to the island around 1850 by the British, Ceylon Tea is world famous for its high quality and has remained a major contributor to the island’s economy for generations. Currently, Sri Lanka is one of largest exporter of tea worldwide. The high altitudes produce the best flavours, so Sri Lanka’s hill-country is the ideal environment to grow the most flavoursome tea. A guided tour around a Tea Factory is an enlightening experience, which explains the whole process of tea production before it reaches your cuppa. It also provides an opportunity to buy the best grades of tea.
Tea Trails Tea Experience
First a visit to a Tea Plantation where you observe first hand the process, starting from the plucking field where it all begins with the picking of “two leaves and a bud”, to the factory where the processing begins. Usually manufacture in the factory begins at night or early morning. Ideally an early wake up to be at the factory by 6.00 A.M. will take you through the process of Withering, Rolling, Fermentation, Drying, Sorting and Grading. You will also have the opportunity of tasting various types and grades of this great brew virtually from the leaf to the cup within 14 hours of that first pick. Along the way a visit to the Warleigh Church (1878) where the pioneers of this industry worshipped, married and some are buried, bringing nostalgic memories of a bygone era. The Darawella Planters Club, built in 1868, is also on the cards. This is where the Planters of yore and the present day planter "plays the game" where the tough get going and many a rounds of the "good old amber" is consumed liberally.
Horton Plains National Park & World’s End
Horton Plains is an undulating 2000m high plateau 28km south of Nuwara Eliya. The grassy plains, which are interspersed with small patches of forest, are home to leopards, sambur, deer, bear, monkeys and a rich array of birds, including some endemic species. The most dramatic feature of the national park is “World’s End” where the plateau comes to an abrupt end and drops nearly a 1000m straight. The best way to explore the park is on foot. The plains can also be explored by jeep, preferably from early morning as the mist often falls by lunchtime.
Hakgala Botanical Gardens
Perched underneath the shadow of the Hakgala or Jaw Tooth rock, at an elevation of 1,670m, the beautifully landscaped Hakgala Botanical Gardens spread over nearly 3 sq kms. With magnificent views of the surrounding hills and the jungles of the Hakgala Nature Reserve, the gardens are filled with roses and orchids, eucalyptus, pine and camphor, fruit and scented herbs and rare ferns – an array of flowers and foliage from Sri Lanka and different parts of the world. An eminent British Botanist founded the Hakgala Botanical Gardens in 1860.
Hill country waterfalls
The hill country’s many waterfalls cascade down vertical rock faces like white saris blowing in the wind. 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.
Tangamalai Bird Sanctuary
In Haputale, on route to Adisham - a Benedictine monastery is the Tangamalai Bird Sanctuary where numerous species of hill country birds including Blue Magpies, Golden Orioles and Paradise flycatchers can be spotted.
Victoria Park in Nuwara Eliya
Visit the Victoria Park with its landscaped gardens and Himalayan migratory birds such as the Kashmir Flycatcher, Pied Thrush Indian Pitta, and the Indian Blue Robin.

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