There is so much to love about this part of Sri Lanka. Everything is vibrantly green: the tea fields, National Parks, and endless mountains ranges. If you love your tea, fresh air, or enjoy hiking; then this is your kind of place. You will find incredible vistas at every turn; whether by car, tuk tuk, train or foot.
During our time in Hill Country, we based ourselves over three locations: Kandy, Nuwara Eliya and Ella.
Unfortunately, we didn’t have much time in Kandy – essentially half a day – being our stopping point between Colombo airport and beginning our time in the Hill Country. It’s a busy and congested city so a one night stopover worked just fine for us.
If you only have one meal in Kandy make sure it’s at Balaji Dosai. A casual eatery where you can try local dosai dishes (perfect for a lunch break); the potato, leak and masala dosai was delicious.
We were also recommended a visit to the Temple of the Sacred Tooth. You don’t need to spend hours here; we arrived at about 3pm and probably only spent about 40 minutes strolling the temple grounds. The crowd was not too bad at this time, so it was a good opportunity to see some of the history and culture of Kandy city.
Square Peg – an excellent stay, and one which I would highly recommend. Located on the fringes of Kandy city means it’s quiet at night time and provides incredible views over the valley of Kandy city below. The rooms are modern, air conditioned, and have their own balcony with table and chairs to perch on and watch the sunset. Kandy is beautiful from this vantage point; away from the chaos of the city streets.
What was a real stand out for me was the the breakfast served on the hotel rooftop. Breakfast was included in the room rate and consisted of a pot of tea (of course!), rolled coconut roti, fresh fruit platter, toast and jam. Yum!
See / Do
The drive from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya is breathtaking. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many rolling green mountains, one after the other. If you have your own driver, make sure to ask to pull over whenever you see a good vantage point – which there are many!
The best viewpoint of the drive was from the car park of Tea Bush Hotel. This actually was a recommendation from our host at Square Peg, and boy was it a sight to behold!!
Waterfalls are in abundance in the region, and it’s a good idea to break up the drive with a stop or two. We visited the impressive Ramboda Falls, and were lucky enough to see only 2 other people on the path to the bottom of the falls. Strangely the path is hidden behind a hotel, so you actually need to enter the lobby, head down two floors of stairs, and out behind the hotel restaurant to reach the start of the pathway. Lucky our driver had been before and could lead us through the maze of the hotel!
Visiting a tea factory is another option for breaking up the car journey, and we chose Glenloch Tea Estate which was enroute. To be honest, the tour and tasting experience was so-so, and although the tour is free there is a very clear expectation to buy. If anything, the tour served as a comparison to another we did later in our trip (see below in Ella) if only to say, “wow that’s SO different from how the factory process works”.
Lovers Leap is at the edge of Nuwara Eliya town and is a perfect excuse to stretch those legs after the drive. The pathway takes you from the roadside up a dirt track, through some farm areas, to the infamous Lovers Leap waterfalls – the round trip taking about 45 minutes. As this pathway levels out you find some stunning views over tea plantations and over the town nestled in the valley below. At the end of this path you’ll come to the waterfalls, named so from a local legend of two lovers who fell to their peril. The waterfall is nice to see, but the highlight really is the views from the pathway.
In Nuwara Eliya itself, you’ll feel like you’ve arrived in an old English town. Noteable heritage buildings worth seeing include the beautiful red Post Office, and The Grand Hotel surrounded by immaculately kept English gardens.
Eat / Drink
Skip lunch and hold out for the High Tea served up at The Grand Hotel from 3.30pm daily. It’s 800 LKR per person but includes unlimited tea and a tiered tray of treats. The service is bang on, and with a multi page tea menu from Dilmah, you’ll want to make the most of the unlimited options. The food is very good; with two tiers of savoury items and another tier of cakes and scones. This is the perfect way to re-energise your body after a packed day of exploring!
For dinner, Indian Summer Restaurant is a great option. The menu has excellent vegetarian options (as well as plenty of meat dishes). We ordered vegetable samosas, Dahl, spinach and paneer with rice, all of which was delicious. You’ll go home in a food coma, but it’s well worth it (and you’ll be able to walk it all off tomorrow if you decide to explore the nearby Horton Plains National Park).
Villa Tea fields is another really nice accommodation choice, ideally located. We booked the cosy attic room in the main house, with a huge comfy bed, and stunning bathroom with garden views. The room was quite hot when we first checked in, but by night time it was perfect and snug. The house also has sun chairs stretched out on a balcony for relaxing, and a pool table should you have any extra free time. The staff were super helpful, arranging a VERY early morning breakfast box for us to take with us on check out at the unsociable hour of 5am!!!! We would have loved to stay longer, but it was off to Horton Plains for us. (See my National Parks blog for more on Horton Plains).
See / Do
The number one thing to do in Ella is to arrive by train. This is an absolute MUST do!! We caught the train from Ohiya station, which to Ella gives you a 2 hour train journey experience (our driver took our bags and met us when we got off at Ella Station). It’s worth noting how high in demand this train journey now is; you need to book a minimum of 45 days in advance. The trains often run late from its scheduled time (ours was about 45 minutes behind schedule) but it was definitely worth the wait. The views out the windows or train doors are absolutely incredible! We particularly enjoyed the first section of the journey: Ohiya to Bandarenela.
Hiking is another must do whilst in Ella, with two great walks available close to town. Little Adam’s Peak has some incredible views and is extremely popular for sunset or sunrise, however the walk itself is only about 30 minutes to the peak.
Ella Rock on the other hand, will get you walking for a good 3.5 hour round trip duration. From Ella town you will spend the first hour of the walk along the train tracks, which are very much still in use so make sure you keep your ears and eyes open! For me, this was the most enjoyable part of the hike as you will have some really lovely views along the way.
The route to Ella Rock is not clearly marked and takes you from the train line, through tea fields and farm houses, and then through some very steep tree lined hills. Directions printed out from a reliable source are a MUST (we still got confused and momentarily lost) and you will encounter fellow tourists along the journey who can (sometimes) help show the way! Try following the instructions from Nomadic Boys or The Aussie Flashpacker. I also recommend wearing long hiking trousers or gym tights as the area is known to have many leeches during the damp weather, and these little suckers are best avoided.
Visit Amba Estate – an ethical tea producer. A scenic 45 minute drive from Ella, Amba Estate is an organic tea plantation with ethical fair trade practises. The estate runs daily tours of the plantation at 11am, which takes you around the property (with incredible mountain views) and then indoors to learn about the different types of tea and the ways of processing – very different to the large scale factories.
Following the tour you can opt for tea tasting (which comes with a small charge) and you can even choose to stay and enjoy lunch at the property. We did both, and the tea and lunch were both excellent. Before you leave, there is no obligation to buy any products, but you 100% will want to after this experience. The tea is a given, but the jams are also incredible – made from locally sourced products.
Grab a cocktail with a view from the stunning 98 Acres Resort. We tried to book one night of accommodation here as a holiday splurge, but rooms book out well in advance. If, like us, you miss out on the experience of staying here, pop by for a sunset cocktail. You’ll be rewarded with views overlooking Little Adam’s Peak.
Nine Arches Bridge is Ella’s postcard picture view of its famous railway line. Bring your camera and if you want to capture the train in action, you’ll need to time it just right – you’ll have less than a minute before it disappears around the bend and out of sight.
Eat / Drink
Ella has a really good range of food and bar options, but once we found our favourites we didn’t bother trying other places.
Cafe Chill – this place is a winner regardless of whether you are in the market for coffee, lunch, dinner or drinks. Plenty of food options catering to Western or Sri Lankan tastebuds, served up with delicious ice cold Lions. Our favourite dishes included the chicken schnitzel (hit the spot after our Ella Rock hike!), the margarita pizza, and the vegetable curry & rice served in banana leaf.
Matey Hut – the BEST curry rice of the trip. This is a tiny little restaurant (so you’ll likely need to queue for a bit) which serves up huge platefuls of cheap and tasty curries. An Ella must do! I recommend ordering the veggie curry and rice or the pumpkin curry with prata; both were utterly delicious!
Waterfalls Homestay was our favourite stay of the whole 10 day trip. A very special bed and breakfast, this property is located on the edge of Ella town with views spanning out over the surrounding mountains. We stayed in the Jungle Room, which was private and tucked away at the bottom of the property, and has an impressive view of the waterfalls from the bedroom window. The bathroom is basic, but but when you fall to sleep to the sounds of frogs, and wake to the sounds of birds, it is easily forgiven.
The breakfast at Waterfalls Homestay was so amazing it warrants a good section of the accommodation review. In fact our friends recommended us this property on the quality of the breakfasts alone! Your breakfast is included in the daily rate and is home cooked with love each morning. Breakfast includes: fresh sourdough bread with Amba Estate jams (YUM), buffalo curd (like greek yoghurt) served with tropical fruit salad, home baked muffins, and eggs served up differently each day. Make sure you come to the communal table nice and hungry!