While the capital city and coastal towns have clear enticements, don’t forget about the smaller cities, towns and villages in Sri Lanka that can capture your imagination and show you the natural beauty this country is known for. Head for the hills (literally) to experience a different economic environment, friendly, approachable people and an easygoing, relaxed culture of work and life.
Haputale now mainly shows the influence of the Sinhalese and Tamil cultures, but the legacy of the British tea planters is still vibrant. Everywhere you look, tea estates and plantations cover hillsides with small planter’s bungalows as the only disruption to the scenery. British influences can be seen in the style of growing throughout the plantations but also in the numerous churches that can be found in Haputale. St. Andrew’s Church is a pretty reminder of the settlers who lived in Haputale as the tea industry took off.
While Haputale’s neighbouring city, Ella, has taken off with tourism, Haputale’s popularity with tourists seems to have mysteriously diminished. Regardless of the lack of crowds, the town has an array of good, cheap accommodation and makes an excellent base for visiting Horton Plains National Park, exploring other places in the area or just taking pleasant walks in cool mountain air. It also has a more authentic Sri Lankan air to it than that of nearby Ella and its international traveller feel.
When you head into the Horton Plains National Park you’ll be met with a strange, quiet but incredibly beautiful place. Sri Lanka’s second and third tallest mountains are within the park boundaries and as a result, you’ll find a great variety of hikes and adventures to go on. The “plains” mentioned in the name are formed over an incredible plateau resting at 200m high. They are full of wild grasslands and in some parts thick forests, waterfalls and even ethereal lakes.
The trail changes dramatically when you come to the World’s End. It’s a ridiculous escarpment that immediately drops down almost 880m. Due to the nature of the World’s End, the view is often obscured by mist (especially from April-September) but in the early morning (think 6-10am) you have a better chance of looking out without clouds getting in the way. Weather-wise the temperatures can change quickly so be sure to dress in layers and bring a sweater even if it feels warm out—things can change in mere minutes. January through March are usually the clearest months to visit.
Make time for a quick drive along the Dambatenne Road. It’s one of the most scenic stretches of road in the entire country, even if it is only 9.5km long. The road ends in a cul de sac but as you look far down into the valley below the road, you’ll see waterfalls and hills that tumble down cliffs and shoot up towards the sky. Beyond and below the gap is the road to Koslanda and Wellawaya and around it the basin of one of the mainstreams of the Walawe River. Above the road and to its left is the Haputale Forest Reserve, which is well served by streams and is ideal for camping. However, don’t head there in the rainy season (Jan-Feb) when mist is the only thing you’ll be able to see.
This delightful colonial village in the heart of Sri Lanka’s Hill Country is a focus for the tea trade. As you walk through the tiny town you can inhale the fragrant aromas of Victorian-era tea factories, drink their finest and roam the lush tea plantations that extend for miles around. The Nuwara Eliya hill train station is also a popular destination. It’s the perfect place to ease off the travel accelerator and enjoy a few leisure-filled days in some of the nicest (and most affordable!) guesthouses and bed and breakfasts. When you feel like getting a little exercise, feel free to take an easygoing stroll through the tea plantations and temples that dot the countryside. If you’re lucky you’ll even come across waterfalls and some truly stunning viewpoints. In recent years the popularity of Ella has soared and it seems every month yet another new guesthouse or hotel opens. Sadly, not all of these new additions are great quality and can add a disingenuous feel to the little village. Research beforehand to know you’re making the right choice for your visit.
The walk up to Ella Gap isn’t an easy stroll. It’s a fairly steep path, but is still absolutely doable for your average walker. The directions to the top can get tricky at times, and it’s not unheard of to get lost along the way, but there are plenty of locals around to ask for help. If you’re feeling cautious, arrange for a guide to take you up the path. If you can, you should aim to be at the top of Ella Gap for a sunrise. It means waking up extremely early and getting going on the ~two hour walk, but when you’re watching the sun peak over the horizon, and as the sky turns all shades of pink, orange and red, you’ll understand why it’s the best time to go. Plus, walking at early hours ensures you won’t get stuck up there as the heat descends and becomes stifling.
This is an easier climb with an incredible 360-degree view of the surrounding countryside. To avoid the heat, just like at Ella Rock, head up in the early morning or the late evening. There are few places that can beat the views you’ll be met with at the top of Little Adam’s Peak.
Get away from the big cities and embrace the outdoors with a few days stay in Haputale or Ella. As with any off-the-beaten path adventure, it’d be wise to support your good sense and love of exploring with a travel insurance plan that covers any potential problems or needs.
Image courtesy of Flickr user Fabien Fivas