If thinking of Sri Lanka conjures up a natural paradise, green landscapes, tea estates, intoxicating food flavors, and beautiful wildlife in your mind, you are not too far from the truth. One of the best places to experience the country’s natural landscape, Nuwara Eliya is a must-see in Sri Lanka for every first-time traveler.
After our stay in Galle and a quick jaunt to Yala National Park, my friends and I headed back to Colombo for the second episode of our mutual friend Raashid’s wedding (where I regret not having had the time to get myself a bright colorful saari), right after which we were off again. This time, destination Nuwara Eliya.
If thinking of Sri Lanka holidays makes you yearn for nature and Ceylon tea, then Nuwara Eliya is the real deal.
Plus, if you go with locals, your experience will be priceless. My friends and I were lucky enough to go with Raashid, his wife and his family, which allowed us not only to save time looking for the must-see attractions but also to actually find the absolute not to miss places to visit in Nuwara Eliya.
On our way from Colombo to Nuwara Eliya, we stopped at the famous Elephant Orphanage in Pinnawala, where we arrived just in time to see the giant, sweet herd making its way back home after refreshing and drinking at the nearby river. Just in time to see the towering creatures feeding on scrubby hay, sharing their treat with their own or adopted calves and breaking tree trunks with the grace of, well, an elephant.
Before leaving, just when we thought we had seen it all, everybody stopped at the sight of two baby elephants playing, bumping against each other, bouncing around and swinging their cute trunk back and forth. The most adorable thing ever, if you ask me.
Things to do and places to visit in Nuwara Eliya, Sri Lanka
Still dazed by cuteness, we resumed our journey towards Nuwara Eliya, where nature, Sri Lanka’s highest peak, and freshly brewed Ceylon tea were on the menu.
The first stop was the beautiful Gregory Lake. Apparently, enjoying the view wasn’t enough, so I joined kids’ activities such as boarding a swan-shaped paddleboat, which brought us almost to the other bank, and with which we started a competition with the other kids in the group.
Hike to Pidurutalagala, Sri Lanka’s highest peak
After the excursion at the lake, blessing Sri Lanka weather that that day was not too warm or cold but just about chili enough to be a booster for our energies, we headed (by car) to the country’s highest peak, Pidurutalagala, which is also a military station. The path to arrive on top is beautifully green, a tree-lined boulevard that just inspires you with clean air and peace.
Sadly, it’s not allowed to walk through on foot but only by car. Once on top you can get off and enjoy the view, but again going down, only by car. Fortunately enough, on our way down, we had a flat tire, so we all had to hop off the car and while the experts were doing the fixing I, for one, was taking pictures.
After all the excitement, the day wasn’t over yet. As a matter of fact, it was going to end where it all started, over a cup of tea.
Relax in Victoria Park
Victoria Park is a beautiful quiet garden, so one of the best places to visit in Nuwara Eliya if you need to unwind after sightseeing and traveling. It’s perfect if you have just arrived the day before and want to start exploring but don’t feel like pushing it too much.
Named after Queen Victoria in 1987 to celebrate the 60th year of her reign, Victoria Park is a very easy stroll and you are surrounded by native plant species and colorful tropical birds. There is also a children’s area so if you are traveling with your family, the little ones will have plenty of fun.
The best time to visit Victoria Park and everything in Nuwara Eliya is during our spring from March to May as it’s the blossoming season, and also at the end of summer between August and September. The ticket to enter Victoria Park costs 300 LKR (less than 1 USD) and the park is open every day from 7 am to 7 pm.
Visit a tea factory
You probably know I’m a big tea fan (if you don’t, read here), and learning how the tea leaves are actually harvested, plucked, gathered, dried, fermented (or not, in the case of green tea), brewed and finally served was precious.
Needless to say, the quality of the tea produced at Pedro Tea Factory, located in the aptly named area Lover’s Leap near a famous waterfall, is excellent. It contains the very precious property of keeping you alert and concentrated (read: awake) but still calm and not over-caffeinated. Raashid’s mom gave us as a gift a huge bag of black tea from Pedro Estate each, and once back home this was my main source of the Asian beloved warm drink.
Galway’s Land National Park
Galway’s Land National Park is a mountainous ecosystem located a few kilometers east of Nuwara Eliya town. You can drive to the entrance but getting around will require a good amount of trekking through the hiking trails that are clearly marked.
This park is one of the best places to visit in Nuwara Eliya for trekking and nature enthusiasts as it’s famous for its wildlife and native plant species. Head to Galway’s Land to spot the Sri Lankan wild boar and the famous local barking deer (muntjaks). This is a paradise for those who enjoy bird watching because it’s home to some 30 endemic bird species.
A day trip to Horton Plains National Park
Horton Plains National Park is located in the central highlands of Sri Lanka at an elevation of over 2,100 m/6,900 ft. You can reach Horton Plains from Nuwara Eliya with a short drive of some 30 km/20 mi.
This is a fantastic day trip from Nuwara Eliya. You can soak in nature all day, and do some wonderful trekking immersed in Sri Lanka’s lush greenery between montane grassland and rainforest. The abundance of native wildlife such as herds of Sambar deers and plant species from wonderful flowers to tall trees living here show the huge biodiversity Sri Lanka is blessed with.
Apart from the nature-spotting treks, Horton Plains offers breathtaking views of dramatic cliffs such as the one known as World’s End, and natural wonders like Bakers’ waterfalls not far from the deepest cliff.
If you don’t feel like venturing into this huge rainforest on your own, you can book a tour with a local guide.
A day trip to Adam’s Peak
You might have heard of Adam’s Peak, one of Sri Lanka’s holiest sites, Adam’s first place on earth after being cast out of heaven, and the last place where the Buddha was before reaching Nirvana and paradise. Adam’s Peak is a must in Sri Lanka, the only advice being to go when it’s the right season, the only period when your fatigue will be rewarded.
You guessed it, so strongly we wanted to go all of a sudden, that we didn’t even take into serious consideration our friends’ advice not to as, being out of season, the weather wasn’t right and we wouldn’t have seen the sunrise, which, being none of us Buddhist, was probably the only reason why we were embarking on a 7-hour night climb.
Only remembering and writing about the adventure is making my legs sore. I think the main problem was that the trail was not properly lit, and the tour guide didn’t mention to us that we were to bring our own light, on the contrary, they told us the trail was easy and lit, and that at the beginning we would have found a place where to get some rest and refreshments before starting the climb.
Obviously, none of this happened, and the inaccurate information added to the unease of not seeing any sunrise since the main consequence of being out of season was a very, pitch thick, foggy dawn. Coming back down in the morning was definitely easier, certainly because it was downhill, but also because we could actually see where we were stepping on. The natural landscape was breathtaking, and should I go back (in the right season), I’ll do my best to better enjoy the unspoiled greenery and wildlife of the area.
Exhausted and sore all over, we resumed our journey towards Dambulla, but first, a quick stop in Kandy, the city that I’d probably choose to stay in if I were to return to an expat lifestyle in Asia, and about which you will read on my next post.
After Nuwara Eliya, the original plan was to head straight north to enjoy the attractions of popular destinations such as Dambulla, Sigiriya, and Polonnaruwa, which we headed to after climbing Adam’s Peak.
Is Nuwara Eliya worth visiting?
If you are a nature enthusiast, a trekking fan, a tea drinker, and like traveling off the beaten path, Nuwara Eliya is totally worth visiting! I very much enjoyed my trip and I wouldn’t mind going back to visit more places and also just take it easy and appreciate the greenery and some slow traveling in the area.
I have read a period novel set in Nuwara Eliya, Butterfly Island by Corina Bomann, and this tickled my curiosity to get back to Sri Lanka and this specific region. Even though it was a fiction novel, some historical facts were true and fascinating.
How many days do you need in Nuwara Eliya?
I spent two days in Nuwara Eliya and I felt that was enough to build a very general picture of the town. If you want to go more in-depth, visit more places, and also take some exciting day trips, I would recommend staying in Nuwara Eliya for three days or even four.
Why is Nuwara Eliya famous?
Nuwara Eliya is most famous for its tea production. Nuwara Eliya means “above the clouds” and their tea is the one produced at the highest altitude in the whole country. Dilmah is Sri Lanka’s most popular tea company and all their tea is produced around the area of Nuwara Eliya. Whether you are bent on drinking great quality tea or visiting historical colonial tea production estates, Nuwara Eliya is what you are looking for.
Apart from tea, Nuwara Eliya is a famous destination for its fantastic natural landscape and the many opportunities for hiking and trekking lovers. If travel for you means soaking in nature, grab your gear and head to this beautiful and green part of Sri Lanka.
What to pack for a trip to Nuwara Eliya
In Nuwara Eliya, temperatures never really become too cold, with the lowest being around 18°C/64°F in January. This, however, is not the wettest season, which is around our fall, in October, that sees the largest rainfalls. While I suggest you visit Nuwara Eliya in spring for a better experience, here are some of the essentials you should pack no matter when you travel.
- Travel documents. This is the first thing to pack. Make sure you have a valid passport and you check beforehand if you need a visa or if you can get one on arrival.
- Umbrella. Pack a small foldable umbrella to avoid surprises.
- Sunscreen. Never really cold and often sunny, Sri Lanka requires sun protection pretty much all year long. You can find
- Hat. More protection from harsh sun rays.
- Walking shoes. Either hiking or trekking shoes, don’t forget a comfortable pair or even two in case one gets wet.
- Backpack. In most of the places you are going to visit in Nuwara Eliya, a backpack will be necessary to carry your valuables, your camera, a bottle of water, and all you need for a trip in nature.
- Water purifier. Tools like SteriPen are very handy in this part of the world as tap water is not safe to drink so even if mineral water is always available, having a water purifier device can help.
- Light trousers. Cotton or linen trousers are your best option.
- T-shirts. You will sweat a lot so you will need plenty of t-shirts.
- Medicines. If you are taking medicines or you know you are going to need some specific ones, carry them with you from home so you don’t risk not finding the exact ones in Sri Lanka.