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Is Sri Lanka (ශ්රී ලංකා) on your bucket list for vacation destinations? There is something familiar and yet exotic about Sri Lanka. Despite it being named as one of the top vacation spots for years, it still seems like a far-away, untouched island cradled by the oceans. And for those who have had the chance to visit this tucked-away gem, Sri Lanka remains a beautiful memory filled with turquoise-coloured waters, lush green mountains, ancient temples, scrumptious cuisine, and—not to forget—some of the most scenic hilly retreats to beat the scorching heat, curl up on a chilly winter night, and soak in the mist and magic of monsoons.
Bestowed with romantic landscapes, the wilderness of the mountains with a tranquil backdrop of tea gardens, Sri Lanka has no dearth of mountainous getaways for those looking for a serene dwelling. These towering altitudes have embraced a host of travellers—from adventure seekers to summer-weary city dwellers. So, the next time you wish to get away from the oppressive heat and mayhem of city life, this is where to look for ultimate detoxification.
If you love your tea as much as we do, then you must put this place on from your must-visit list. Famed for its magnificent green tea gardens sprawling over vast tracts of land, the abundance of natural beauty in Nuwara Eliya (නුවර එළිය) will not fail to mesmerise you and provide much-needed solace. Here, the ivory clouds and mystifying mist appear and then disappear like a magic trick that never tires, mountain ranges form a vast natural amphitheatre, and emerald green tea plantations extend as far as the eye can see.
Located at a lofty altitude of 1,800 metres, Nuwara Eliya is a treasured legacy left behind by years of British colonial rule, set amidst rings of hills covered with seamless plantations of tea. The drive to this colonial-era town is full of continuous hairpin bends and the road that spins across the mountainous terrain exposes breathtaking views of the valley. Although all seasons highlight the beauty of Nuwara Eliya in their own exquisite way, it is from the months of February to June that one gets the clearest and most unobstructed views of surrounding plantations and magnificent waterfalls.
Among the most scenic tea estates to visit, Mackwoods Tea Museum undoubtedly tops the charts as the serenity and peace from the hues of lush green plantations will not only relax and rejuvenate your senses, but it’s also a great place to learn about how a bunch of grassy- and earthy-smelling leaves transform into a magical mood-altering beverage. Come in as an absolute novice and walk out as a tea connoisseur. Once you visit the museum and take the informative tasting tour, you’ll know how to breathe tea—not just drink it!
As the great Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu, once said, “Tea is the elixir of life,” and nothing can be as soothing and reinvigorating as relishing the intoxicating aromas of pure Ceylon tea. And Pedro Estate Tea deserves a place on the list just for that. Hailed as one of the most guest-friendly tea estates in the region, the owner welcomes his guests by taking them through the intricacies of tea processing and very enthusiastically hosts the tea-tasting ritual for every single guest.
It’s not just tea plantations the town has to offer—Nuwara Eliya encompasses several other attractions such as one of the oldest golf courses in Asia, picturesque Lake Gregory (ග්රෙගරි වැව) right in the middle of the town, beautiful botanical gardens, and One Tree Hill—a peak boasting a height of 2,100 metres above seawater with just a single tree on it!
For a tiny tear-shaped island that’s roughly the size of Ireland, Sri Lanka packs a punch when it comes to diversity of landscapes and topography—a kind of diversity entire continents dream of having. While most tourists are attracted by the island nation’s sun-kissed coastline fringed with numerous sandy stretches, others revel in the blissfully quiet mountainsides offering unlimited views of the tea plantations, majestic waterfalls, and mountains that embrace you like a warm hug on a cool, breezy day.
Ella (ඇල්ල) is a small yet extremely picturesque town. With serenity written all over it, it has everything one could ever expect from a hilly retreat—the mystical Nine Arches Bridge (ආරුක්කු නමයේ පාලම) that does not fail to amaze every single one of its visitors, the panoramic views after scaling the heady heights of Little Adam’s Peak (පුංචි ආදම්ගේ කඳු මුදුන), the dramatic Diyaluma (දියලුම ඇල්ල) and Ravana Falls (රාවණා ඇල්ල), and stunning train journeys that wind through picture-perfect tunnels, bridges, and mountainsides.
It’s astonishing to think that something as simple as a bridge could drive tourists from across the world to Ella and make them gape in amazement. The Nine Arches Bridge, built at Gotuwala (ගොටුවල) between the Ella and Demodara (දෙමෝදර) stations during the British colonial period, does just that! Built at a height of 24 feet and spread over 91 metres, the bridge is famed for standing proudly over verdant forests and grasslands, giving the whole area an eerily misty feel.
The majestic Ravana Falls has an interesting tale to tell with a mythological significance. According to the legends and myths, the falls are named after the notorious 10-headed demon King Ravana, who is worshipped in Sri Lanka for his intelligence and perseverance, although—as per Hindu mythology—he is often associated with evil motives. Legend has it that Ravana kidnapped Sita—daughter of earth goddess and wife of Lord Rama—and held her captive in the caves hidden beneath these falls. Lord Rama, in an epic battle, then defeats King Ravana to rescue Sita and bring her back home.
For those who seek spectacular unrestricted views wherever they go, Ella does not disappoint. Once you hike up to the summit of the famous Ella Rock, flagged by the distinctive tea plantations, dense woodlands, and rubber tea forests, the all-embracing breath-taking views from the top will make your jaw drop.
Are you someone who rejoices when raindrops start to fall from the sky? Does the constant pitter-patter sound of falling raindrops leave you mesmerised, where you begin to appreciate the scent of a fresh storm and the delicious feel of water dripping down your skin? Then the small town of Kitulgala (කිතුල්ගල) is the passport to the Elysian Fields of the monsoon scented lands.
Hailed as the monsoon capital of Sri Lanka, Kitulgala is considered as one of the wettest places in the world with two full-fledged monsoon seasons every year. If you like being close to nature, then Kitulgala will be your love at first sight. Home to some of the most gorgeous cascading waterfalls, flourishing forest reserves, and gushing river streams that make up a perfect ambience for white river rafting, Kitulgala’s throughout the year rainy days bring out the best in nature and turn those dank and dreary rainy-day blues into an adrenaline rush experience.
Cutting through the thickly forest hills is the roaring Kelani River (කැළණි ගඟ), the banks of which provide a perfect spot for ample camping opportunities that can be coupled with white water rafting, bird-watching, jungle walks, river bathing, and many such adventure activities. Go for adventurous river expeditions, unwind in the soothing rain forest walks, or take a dip in the natural ponds—Kitulgala is the place to be if adventure is your jam!
You could also put on your cycling gear and ride across this little bit of paradise. Explore the spice plantations, stand at the edge of the cliff for some awe-inspiring views, soak up the mountain village’s charm by zip-lining over the picturesque Sembuwaththa Lake (සෙම්ඹුවත්ත වැව) or, better yet, get a taste of semi-rural life pattern of villagers by staying with them and living life like a local. Then, leave your bike behind and hike through the rough and slippery terrains of the jungle on foot to explore the pre-historic Belilena Caves—home to fossils, skeletal remains, and intricately networked caves that are over thousands of years old.
Picturesquely perched on a high ridge, offering commanding views that can stretch as far as the southern coast on a clear day, is this eucalyptus- and pine-encrusted hill station—Haputale (හපුතලේ). Call it the lesser-known cousin of Nuwara Eliya and Kandy (මහනුවර), the quintessential rural Sri Lankan commercial centre, an idyllic off-the-beaten-track holiday destination, or quite simply, a quaint yet relatively uncharted town, Haputale will definitely be right at the top of your best places to visit in Sri Lanka. So, do not give this small slice of heaven on earth in the Pearl of the Indian Ocean a miss as this is where it all comes together.
Known for its abundance of sprawling green slopes, cascading fertile green tea plantations, proximity to the Horton Plains National Park (හෝර්ටන් තැන්න ජාතික උද්යානය), and a reminder of the old world’s charm in the form of Adisham Hall, the lovely countryside of Haputale gradually unfurls before you like a lush green blanket tumbling across hills and valleys and speckled with picture-perfect tea estates and plantation houses. It is the classic Sri Lankan experience where nature does not mind going a little overboard and hyperbole is a commonplace.
If you’re all about the sprawling views of the sunrise, then drive up to Lipton’s Seat—a place from where Sir Thomas Lipton, of the famous Lipton empire, surveyed his burgeoning realm and made plans to conquer the hearts of millions of tea lovers by introducing Sri Lankan tea to the world. It is said that on a bright sunny day, you can see across verdant green hills and tea estates to no fewer than seven different provinces. At the Dambatenne Tea Factory, situated in the middle of nowhere, which makes it even more intriguing, you can sample the very craftsmanship involved in making this delightful morning beverage.
A short drive from Haputale is Horton Plains National Park, with a stunning escarpment that plunges 880 metres—appropriately named World’s End—and a mecca for nature enthusiasts where a huge diversity in endemic species of flora and fauna makes photography sessions last hours. Don’t forget to make ample space in your phone memory as you are about to capture some exceedingly rare and inspirational moments on your camera.
While old English colonial-style houses know no scarcity in Sri Lankan hilly getaways, this one, in particular, deserves an exclusive mention for its Tudor- and Jacobean-style architecture with a rustic backdrop of sprawling grasslands. Adisham Bungalow is a four-kilometres drive from Haputale and is most visited for Adisham Monastery of Saint Benedict and the remains of Pope Sylvester I. Equally charming is the road to this tranquil monastery that paves its way through the dense rainforests leading up to land, with vistas unveiling the undulating country lanes of Sri Lanka that will make to want to retire into hills.