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central highlands of sri lanka

The mountains in Sri Lanka can be found in Southern Central Sri Lanka. The area is of an outstanding beauty and gifted with a variety of landscapes. The highlands stretch from the Knuckles Mountains, east of Kandy down to the Peak Wilderness Sanctuary, north of Rathnapura. In the south east the plateau ends abruptly at an abyss of one kilometer. It’s a famous tourist spot, called World’s End. The slopes of the hills around Hatton, Nuwara Eliya and Bandarawela are carpeted with scenic tea estates and vegetable gardens which offer an unusual panorama, especially for foreigners who are not acquainted with this kind of scenery. The area is full of waterfalls. In 2010 the United Nations have declared large parts of the Central Highlands as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, including the Knuckles Conservation Forest, the Horton Plains National Park and the Peak Wilderness Protected Area (which includes the Adam’s Peak, locally called Sri Pada).


Nuwara Eliya

  St clair's falls                                                                                  Horton Plains                                                                            Tea Factory



The highest elevated town in Sri Lanka is Nuwara Eliya, a mountain resort at the foot of the highest mountain of Sri Lanka, the Pidurutalagala (2524 m) with much colonial architecture from the British period, because it used to be a hill resort for the British colonizers, working in Colombo to cool down. Sri Lankans very much like to go there because of the cool climate, because that is very unfamiliar for them. Their holiday month is April, that’s the period when the hotels are packed and expensive and disco’s blast all over, changing the place in one big party centre. If you don’t mind the misty climate with cold nights and more rainfall than in the rest of Sri Lanka, you have chosen the perfect hill resort to stay. In addition it is worthwhile to mention the beautifully situated 18 holes golf course, the oldest in Sri Lanka. From Nuwara Eliya you can make excursions all over the area, like the Dunhinda Waterfall in Badulla, Horton Plains, World’s End, Highland Farm, the Devon and St.Clair waterfalls, Adam’s Peak, tea factories, the Hakgala Botanical Garden and the Seeta Eliya Hindu temple.



Hatton and Adam’s Peak

  Path to Adam’s Peak                                                                The shadow of    Adam’s Peak                                             Adam’s Peak


Hatton is situated on a lower elevation than Nuwara Eliya, but still cool and surrounded by numerous tea plantations. It is also the town from where to reach the Adam’s Peak. The drive to Dalhousie, the ground station to start the ascent to Adam’s Peak, is very scenic along Lake Castlereigh. Adam’s Peak (in Singhalese: Sri Pada) is a sacred place too; On the summit of Adam's Peak there is the so called "sacred footprint", a 1.8 m (5 ft 11 in) rock formation that looks like a footprint, which in the Buddhist tradition is held to be the footprint of the Buddha, in the Hindu tradition that of Shiva, in the Islamic tradition that of Adam, and in the Christian tradition that of St. Thomas.

A climb to the top is an activity done by millions of people. The climb is not difficult, but can be exhausting; especially the last part is very steep.



  The Bridge on the River Kwai                                            River Rafting                                                                              River Rafting     


The Kelani river, not far from Hatton, is a paradise for rafting. A rafting adventure is available for all categories. It is organized from the small town Kitulgala, also known for casting the award winning film ‘Bridge on the River Kwai’. Nearby are many hotels, guesthouses and adventure tours organizations. The best month for a rafting adventure is February. The place, situated in the wet zone rainforest, has one of the highest amounts of rainfall and is considered the wettest place in Sri Lanka.


Horton Plains

  Horton Plains national park                                                World's end                                                                                 Bakers falls            


Hortain Plains is a plateau on approximately 2100 m. east of Nuwara Eliya. It is the biggest cloud forest in Sri Lanka and you can make a trekking across the plain within 3 hours. On the way you will pass the famous Baker’s Falls and World’s End. The air is pure and there is no pollution to be found in this part of Sri Lanka. The main rivers in Sri Lanka find their source on Horton Plains. The pure atmosphere and nice nature make a visit to this National Park worthwhile.


Tea factories

 Taste the difference                                                               Tea factory                                                                               Tea drying process


All over the highlands you will see tea factories. Most of these building were built by the British and their architecture is characteristic. In several tea factories you are able to see how the tea processing is done from the green leaf to the dark tea powder. Tea factories are mostly in operation from the evening till the morning, because that is the best climate to do the processing.



  Demodara Nine Arch Bridge                                              Lipton's Seat                                                                              Ravana Falls


If Nuwara Eliya is a place too cold for you to stay, Bandarawela is a very good option for a milder climate. It has one of the healthiest climates in the world. The town is situated on an elevation of 1300 meters and surrounded by tea estates. Some buildings are still reminders of the British colonial period, such as the Banadrawela Hotel, the Tennis Club, several colonial villas’ and the Cargills building. It is a pleasant hill resort to stay from where you can make excursions in all directions.



  Adisham Bungalow                                                                  Dambatenne Tea Factory                                                     View from Haputale


This small town is situated on the ridge of the central plain on an elevation of 1431 m, where it drops down dramatically on the southern plain. It is a point comparable to World’s End. The view is quite similar, so if you have no time to visit World’s End, go to Haputale to enjoy the view (early morning before 9.00 hrs.). From Haputale, which has a railway station, it is a small ride to Ohiya, from where you can visit Horton Plains. Another place of interest is Adisham Bungalow, a beautiful country house, which is now a Roman Catholic monastery (Monday closed).



  Little adam's peak                                                                    View from Ella                                                                           Ella water falls


Ella is the last place of the Central Highlands on the eastside. Here the mountains end. A steep spectacular 29 km descent brings the visitors to the first town on the lowlands, Wellawaya. The view from Ella into the so called Ella Gap is impressive. On the way down, after a 10 minutes drive the splendid Ravana Falls appear immediately on the roadside, maybe the easiest accessible waterfall in Sri Lanka and worthwhile to make a stop for.



  Bogoda Bridge                                                                           Dunhinda Fall                                                                           St Mark’s Church


The capital of Uva Province is Badulla, a medium sized town and regional centre with a pleasant climate. Like Ella, it is also at the edge of the Central Highlands. From Badulla north bound the road winds down to the lesser known Mahiyangana, a very nice, scenic drive. A few kilometers north of Badulla you should stop to visit the spectacular Dunhinda Falls. East bound the roads winds down via Passala to Monoragala. This is a fairly unknown, but nonetheless very attractive and scenic way, in the beginning through picturesque tea gardens, further downwards followed by rubber plantations.

If your time is limited, what to select?

If you have only a little time to visit the Central Highlands, you could take the train ride from Colombo to Badulla, stay one night in Badulla, visit the Dunhinda Falls and go back by bus to Colombo. With a little more time, however, continue by bus from Badulla to Kandy along the Victoria Reservoir and the Victoria dam, visit the highlights in Kandy and take the intercity train from Kandy to Colombo.


How to reach the Central Highlands


The usual way to enter the Central Highlands is by vehicle, mostly as a part of a round tour. The usual way is from Colombo via Peradeniya in the north western part; from Matale in the north to Kandy; from Welawaya in the south east. Less common entries are: in the west from Avissawella to Hatton; in the south from Balangoda to Haputale; in the east from Monaragala to Badulla and in the north east from Meegaswatta and Mahiyangana to Badulla.


There is a rail connection from Colombo to Badulla and from Peradeniya Junction (near Kandy) to Badulla. It is called the Main Line and is the oldest and most scenic railway line in Sri Lanka, constructed by the British to transport tea from the upcountry to Colombo. Now the line is a major tourist attraction because of the spectacular views. Private companies have connected luxury coaches to the train, which makes it even more attractive to experience the rail tour. You can reach the major stations by train, such as Kandy/Peradeniya, Hatton, Bandarawela, Ella and Badulla. Nuwara Eliya has no station, but from Nanu Oya there are many three wheelers which can bring you to Nuwara Eliya in about 20 minutes. So the train ride itself is an attraction of high value.


Intercity buses to the Central Highlands leave from various cities in Southern Sri Lanka. Mind that intercity buses from Colombo leave from a separate bus stand in Pettah, except for Kandy. There are buses to Kandy, Nuwara Eliya, Hatton, Bandarawela and Badulla from Colombo, Galle, Matara and Hambantota.


Several scheduled seaplane and helicopter flights connect Colombo with Nuwara Eliya and Kandy. Apart from the scheduled flights charters operate all over the Highlands.