Nuwara Eliya – 3 Days in the Heart of British Ceylon
January 25, 2020
Rolling tea plantations under a fresh, blue sky and a crispness in the air that made me feel like a very dusty, worn-out version of me had just walked through a sheet of cool water and emerged a new person on the other side. Was I looking forward to spending a few days in Nuwara Eliya!
My first glimpse of the tea plantations was when I was aboard the train from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya.
[Related post coming soon: Train journey from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya]
Layers and layers of green stretched in soft waves. I felt like I was in a period film, as I stood there at the door of the train and watched the landscape turn greener, the sky bluer and the breeze cooler.
Nuwara Eliya is located in the heart of Sri Lanka, and this was where the English built their holiday homes and would go for vacations. The city holds mythological significance for anyone familiar with ancient Indian texts as well. Today, Nuwara Eliya is famous for tea. The area is dotted with tea estates that one can visit and taste some delightful Sri Lankan tea at.
I had planned to spend 2 nights and 3 days in Nuwara Eliya. I happened to visit in April 2019, which is when bomb blasts ripped through Colombo, and the entire country was placed under curfew. It was a trying time for Sri Lanka, and travellers around me were being flown back to their home countries. A few of us decided to stay put for a few days to take stock and then head to someplace new. We felt safe in Nuwara Eliya, though. We found the locals extremely helpful and kind, and it felt like Sri Lanka needed to see more love. Staying those extra days also proved useful, because it helped us see Nuwara Eliya at our own pace, and with fewer people around.
An excellent way to plan 3 days in Nuwara Eliya is by pacing out the more prominent sights over the 3 days and adding in smaller things to enjoy around that. Here’s what you can do.
Nuwara Eliya is located in Sri Lanka’s Central Province, which means it’s easily reachable from the north or the south. The closest city in the north is Kandy, and in the south is Ella. The journey to Nuwara Eliya is best taken by train or road. The route is gorgeous, and it’s something you should definitely experience when you’re in Sri Lanka.
I went to Nuwara Eliya from Kandy by the famous blue train that runs between Colombo and Badulla. It’s called the Udarata Menike, and this train journey is said to be one of the most beautiful train journeys in the world. I hopped in at a station called Peradeniya. It is one station behind Kandy, and we figured if we do that, we might find a seat when people alight at Kandy. But then a lot of people have the same idea. Taking the train is a good idea because the journey is ridiculously beautiful, right through emerald tea estates and along lush hills. I would also recommend booking a ticket in advance if you want to secure a seat, because the way I went in the general compartment was, umm, quite tight 🙂
I was covering Sri Lanka north to south, so going from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya made more sense for me. If you’re thinking of covering Sri Lanka south to north, then you can hop in at Ella and alight at Nuwara Eliya.
Also, there is no separate train station for Nuwara Eliya. The nearest station is Nanu Oya, from where you can take a taxi or a tuk-tuk to your accommodation in Nuwara Eliya.
If you’re a group of 3 or more, self-driving is a great option. The landscapes you will pass through will be quite similar to what you’d witness if you were going by train. You will also end up saving a lot of time because the train is admittedly quite slow and I had to leave aside an entire day for it.
Sri Lanka’s favourite way to travel! Did you know you can hire tuk-tuks and drive around the whole country? The agency rents out a tuk-tuk and gives you the training you’d need, and with that, you’ll have your own tuk-tuk for as long as you’re in Sri Lanka. It’s quite a lot of fun, and I met a bunch of travellers who did this too in pairs. Tuktuk will take the same route as a car, but it’s probably more enjoyable, what with the open vehicle and the wind against your face and all.
Things to See and Do in 3 days in Nuwara Eliya
Horton’s Plains National Park
Nuwara Eliya is the perfect entry point to the beautiful, scenic Horton’s Plains National Park. I love getting in a hike or two when I travel, and Horton’s Plains National Park has some of the most beautiful trails in all of Sri Lanka. If you’re spending 3 days in Nuwara Eliya, try to get this in on the first full day of your itinerary.
Horton’s Plains National Park is a protected grassland area which is home to a wide variety of flora and fauna, making it a biodiversity hotspot. Every day, a thick mist rolls in, shrouding the landscape entirely, which is why the best time to see it in its glory is early in the morning. This is right after sunrise when the fog burns away, and the sun is shining down on the gentle slopes of the park.
Horton’s Plains National Park is located around 45 minutes from the centre of Nuwara Eliya. The hostel I stayed at arranged for a minibus taxi to take 9 of us to the National Park, and we left at 5:30 am.
Per head cost LKR 1000 | INR 400 Horton’s Plains National Park ticket: LKR 3250 | INR 1300
I would highly recommend getting out of the car and buying the ticket yourself. Currency fluctuation means there can be a difference in your ticket price, and letting your driver go and get your ticket means letting your driver keep the difference in fare. This would’ve happened with me, but a couple of us decided to go get the ticket ourselves and realised that we would’ve had to pay LKR 3500 instead of LKR 3250 without knowing any better.
The park opens at 6:00 am, so you’ll see the sunrise from your vehicle as you head there. That’s fine, though. The real beauty of the park lies in the early hours of the morning sun.
The trails are relatively quite easy, and as the mist burns away, you’ll see the grasslands lazily stretching away into the distance. It’s a truly spectacular place.
I have a bit of a thing for views, and the famous World’s End is located at the end of the trails here at Horton’s Plains. There’s a bit of climbing involved, which doesn’t get very strenuous if you take your time, and is also completely worth it when you finally reach World’s End.
Another famous landmark of Horton’s Plains National Park is Baker’s Falls. The path to Baker’s Falls begins on your descent from World’s End. The falls are essential to the park’s ecological habitat, as a lot of the moss and lichen here grows in the mist from the falls.
A visit to Horton’s Plains can easily take up 5-6 hours, depending entirely on how much time you want to spend there.
Lover’s Leap Falls
I mentioned something about hiking, didn’t I? Lover’s Leap waterfall marries tea plantations and hiking. You also get to see a pretty waterfall and some gorgeous views at the end of it. The trail takes you straight through the tea plantations and to the Lover’s Leap waterfall. It’s not a very long hike, but it’s a very scenic one.
The water from the falls provides drinking water to Nuwara Eliya, which is why swimming isn’t allowed there. The trek takes about 2 – 3 hours in total.
Visit a Tea Factory
Nuwara Eliya is Sri Lanka’s tea capital and is known to produce some of the best tea in the world. I had 3 days in Nuwara Eliya, and I thought it was a good idea to dive right into the process and see what goes on behind producing some of the finest golden- and silver-tips tea.
I visited a tea factory called Blue Fields. It was located around 45 minutes from the hostel I stayed at. The factory is part of a Blue Fields Tea Estate and the staff at the factory offer tours. We joined a group, and our guide took us around the factory, showing us every part of it and explaining how they make their tea. I learnt a lot about tea on that tour, starting with how it is plucked to the different ways different teas are processed. I amused myself with looking for golden- and silver-tips in the tender shoots that were lying on the machines, waiting to go into processing.
The tour is quite educational, and I would suggest going on it simply to familiarise yourself with how the final product we all consume is actually prepared. It’s good to know! Also, it was free of charge. The estate housed a tea shop as well, where we tried some silver-tipped goodness, along with a cake or two.
The best part, though, was being able to wander around in the tea estates amidst acres and acres of green. There’s something very therapeutic about it.
Enjoy the Afternoon Tea at the Grand Hotel
The Grand Hotel in Nuwara Eliya is one of the oldest properties in the city. It was built in 1891 for the governor of Sri Lanka, Sri Edward Barnes, and still retains the colonial charm it was made with. For those wanting a luxurious, relaxed holiday in the heart of Nuwara Eliya, splurge a little and book yourself into this gorgeous hotel.
A night at The Grand would set you back by roughly Rs. 15000 for a night, and that isn’t exactly possible on a backpacker budget. What we did instead is make our way to the Grand Hotel for their famous afternoon tea.
Now, the ‘afternoon tea’ is a very British concept, but that’s what we’re getting at here, isn’t it? The British left a mark behind, and some of it is still mirrored today. The Afternoon Tea at the Grand Hotel follows the classic British concept of a lazy, long tea session with a wide variety of local teas to choose from and warm and cold snacks to accompany. I was particularly impressed with their selection of teas and beverages. I sank into a lovely green tea, followed by a particularly fragrant silver tip. Had I not been too wary of the caffeine quotient for the day, I might’ve indulged in a golden tip and a classic Ceylon white as well. Their price of LKR 1500 (INR 600), is well justified by the extensive tea menu, delightful snacks and excellent service.
This is the only Sita temple in all of Sri Lanka. Remember I mentioned Nuwara Eliya has mythological significance as well? For those of you familiar with ancient Hindu texts, specifically the Ramayana, you’d probably remember Sita was kidnapped by Raavan and brought to Sri Lanka. This temple is said to be built at the spot where she was kept captive during her time in Lanka. The site is said to be sacred and now houses a place of worship dedicated to Goddess Sita. If you’re curious, you can read more about this here.
Take a boat ride on Gregory Lake
Gregory Lake is one of the most prominent landmarks of Nuwara Eliya and lies smack in the centre of the city. It’s a lovely place to spend some time and go on a boat ride. You can even rent out one of those swan boats if that’s your thing. I didn’t end up doing this, because our time in Nuwara Eliya was marred by curfews and our days became much shorter. It’s something I think I might’ve enjoyed, possibly to unwind after a long day of exploring simply.
Nuwara Eliya is located in the heart of Sri Lanka, and this was where the English built their holiday homes and would go for vacations. The city holds mythological significance for anyone familiar with ancient Indian texts as well. Today, Nuwara Eliya is famous for tea. The area is dotted with tea estates that one can visit and taste some really great Sri Lankan tea at.
Where to Stay in Nuwara Eliya
Budget: Laughing Leopard Hostel – INR 535 / night Redwood Hollow Cabana – INR 2500 / night
Mid-range: The Cottage by Jetwing – INR 5000 / night
Luxury: The Grand Hotel – INR 15000 / night
If you’ve been to Nuwara Eliya before and you think I’ve missed anything, then feel free to let me know in the comments!
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Planning to visit Sri Lanka? Check out my other posts here!