Tour guide to Nuwara Eliya Sri Lanka !
The quaint town of Nuwara Eliya, meaning “city of lights”, is a perfect blend of old English charm and Sri Lankan tradition.
Situated 6128 feet above sea level, this hill town boasts of lush green landscapes and balmy weather all year round. Travellers to Nuwara Eliya are sure to enjoy its temperate climate. The temperature never exceeds 25°C, while the average temperature is just about 15°C. Rainfall occurs here mostly from June to September due to the southwest monsoon.
Before the advent of the British, Nuwara Eliya played hosts to travelling princes and was also valued for the gems that were mined from here. Nuwara Eliya was revealed to the West thanks to British explorer Sir Simon Baker around 1815. Soon it caught the interest of English and Scottish merchants who indulged in hobbies like hunting in the surrounding forests. The natural beauty and cool weather here also made “Nooreliya” a favourite summer retreat for the British when the heat in Colombo became unbearable. Even now the pleasantly chilly weather almost all year round is a welcome break from the heat in Colombo, a mere 180 km away.
The hilly topography of the region was deemed ideal by the British for tea cultivation and Nuwara Eliya remains famous to this day for its tea.
Nuwara Eliya offers the traveller a unique chance to go back in time and discover why the place acquired the nickname “Little England”. Colonial style guest houses that have been maintained over the centuries, especially in the area around Lake Gregory and the western part of the town, will allow you to imagine the privileged lives of wealthy English families a century ago, when the best pastimes were sipping tea amid spectacular waterfalls or playing a round of billiards in a country club. In short, Nuwara Eliya is perfectly preserved in time and is almost a history lesson come to life!
How to get to Nuwara Eliya, Sri Lanka and how to move around
Getting there - By bus
Nuwara Eliya is well connected by bus and train routes to most major Sri Lankan cities. You can get to Nuwara Eliya quite easily from Kandy (80 km), Colombo (180 km), Haputale (50 km) and Matara (240 km).
From Kandy, buses leave for Nuwara Eliya every half an hour, and the ride last about four hours for about Rs.150. From Colombo, you can reach Nuwara Eliya in six hours for about Rs.220. A bus journey from close-by Haputale will cost you only about Rs.50.
Although Nuwara Eliya does not have its own train station, you can take a train (the Udarata Menike or Podi Menike) from Colombo or Kandy to Nanu Oya, which is 9 km away from the town.
A word of caution : Do not get fooled by touts at the bus and train stops who often try to swindle tourists by telling them that buses are cancelled or hotels are shut down. The best strategy is just to ignore them.
Top tourist attractions in Nuwara Eliya
The city centre of Nuwara Eliya is typically Sri Lankan, a surprisingly contrast when the rest of the town is so quintessentially British. Shopping at the City Centre can be quite rewarding as all the products are locally made and cheap. Plus, you can be assured of their quality and get some satisfaction by contributing to the local economy. Visitors especially love picking up sweaters and other garments at the New Bazaar St. Market, perfectly suitable to the weather here.
Fruit and vegetable market
The local fruit and vegetable market offers quite a selection of products grown in the region. The variety of fruits and vegetables is bound to surprise you. If you would like to stock up on essentials, the Hill Market and Cargill’s are the probably best supermarkets around.
Built in 1870 to honour the then-governor Sir William Gregory, Gregory Lake covers about 100 hectares. Although it is just five minutes away from the city centre, the scenery here is enchanting.
Many recreational activities are on the offer: motor boats, swan boats, horse riding, etc. You can also go there for an early morning jog or to enjoy a family picnic. A perfect area to hang around particularly if you have children in your travel party.
The place can get quite crowded on the weekends.
The ticket prices are Rs.60 for locals and Rs.300 for foreigners.
Open from 8 am to 6 pm every day, the Golf Club at Nuwara Eliya is a bit expensive, but offers you a rare glimpse into colonial times. It is also perfect for those who enjoy golf, of course.
Built by the British and Scottish tea merchants in 1889, the Nuwara Eliya Golf Club boasts of an 18-hole well-maintained course spread over 90 acres.
A golf session here will cost you between Rs.2000 to Rs.2500 (Rs.500 for membership and the rest for hiring golf clubs and shoes).
There is a dress code here as with most golf clubs around the world.
For those who are not into the game, the wood-panelled bar or billiards table can offer alternatives to appreciate the setting. A full English dinner is available (we recommend the lamb chops with mint sauce). A fine selection of Asian cuisine is also on the menu.
Another fitting tribute to Nuwara Eliya’s colonial history is the Hill Club. The Hill Club is situated right next to the Sri Lankan President’s official residence, making it a highly sought-after location.
Dinner at the Hill Club should be part of every vistor’s itinerary wishing to travel back in time. Although you will not be able to order dishes of your choice as they only serve a set menu, the whole affair is “classy”. All guests are required to stick to a formal dress code and are treated to a very English five-course dinner.
You can even drop by a little before the 7 pm dinner for a drink at the bar. Historically, only Englishmen were allowed in the bar but this rule has long since been changed to include women and locals.
The Hill Club outing can be a tad expensive compared to local restaurants. You may be required to pay an entry fee of Rs.100 if you are not staying at their hotel.
Pedro Tea Estate & Factory
Have you ever wondered where the tea in your mug comes from? Find this out at the Pedro Tea Estate and Factory, situated just 3.5km east of Nuwara Eliya.
Built in 1885, the tea estate now uses modern machines to process a light tea. Most of this processing occurs at night so you don’t get to see much of the activity. A half-hour tour however covers a lot of interesting ground when it comes to tea production. Once you have learnt how the tea goes from the plantation to the factory and into the packaging, go down to the teahouse and sample some of the delicious brews.
If you do not have a vehicle on your own, travelling to and back to the factory costs about Rs.350 on a three-wheeler, including waiting charges. Alternatively, you could also take a bus to Ragalla from the main bus stop at Nuwara Eliya for under Rs.15.
Entry fee to the estate is at Rs.200. No photography allowed inside the factory building.
Sita Amman Temple
Located in the nearby village of Sita Eliya, the Sita Amman Temple has great religious and mythological significance for Hindus. It is believed that this is the place where Princess Sita was held captive when she was captured by the demon King Ravana. This place is mentioned in the epic Ramayana as well.
The Sita Amman Temple is just a kilometre away from the Hakgala Botanical Gardens.
A choice of appealing places to visit around Nuwara
Horton Plains National Park is only 20 km south of Nuwara Eliya. Sir Robert Wilmot-Horton, in whose honour the park was named, was Governor of Sri Lanka between 1831 and 1837.
The park covers an area of 3,160 hectares and is situated at an average altitude of 2200 metres. Sri Lanka's three major rivers (Mahaweli, Kelani and Walawe) take their source within the limits of the park.
Horton Plains was declared a national park in 1988 and was inscribed in the World Heritage List in 2010 as "Central Highlands of Sri Lanka”.
Visitors here are thoroughly enchanted by the scenic beauty of Mother Nature, the biggest attraction being 'World's End' where the plains come to an end and the ground abruptly drops down for about 700 m. Please bear in mind however that the park gets covered by fog quite easily as early as 9 am and hence your chances of an unhindered vision of the scenic beauty can be difficult especially during the rainy season (April to August).
Temperatures are low, with an average annual temperature of 13°C and frost is common during the coldest months (December to February). The dry season, from January to March, is best to enjoy a visit to the park.
The park entry fee is around Rs.2000. The park can be visited by jeep or on foot on your own but there are guides available for a small fee. They do a great job and know a lot about the area. For female travellers, it is advisablethat you take a guide along. When packing, do take food and warm clothes as the weather changes suddenly and without warning. Also note that there are no toilets once you start the hike.
The hiking trail here is a 9 km loop that takes you around four to five hours if done at a leisurely pace. Although you can do the loop in either direction, it is better to start at Bakers Fall and the finish at World's End to avoid a steep uphill climb. If you are travelling with toddlers, the mini trail to “Little World's End” can be very sufficient.
Horton Plains can be a great pleasure to nature enthusiasts. Those wishing to spot animals need however to look elsewhere. Be sure to carry water (guards at entrance will forbid you from carrying water bottles with labels and plastic bags to avoid chances of polluting the park). If you have opted for a trip organised by your hotel, it is wise to order a packed lunch. Lunch can also be had at the canteen at the entrance of the park.
Fancy staying inside the park? There are two bungalows run by the authorities: Maha-Eliya, situated on World's End Road and Ginihiriya (or Anderson Lodge) on Ohiya Road. Camping is also possible near the Park Office.
For more information, contact the Department of Wildlife Conservation at +94 11 288 85 85.
Dubbed “Little New Zealand”, Ambewala is just 17 km away from Nuwara Eliya, on the way to the Horton Plains National Park. Famously for its birdwatching potential, it is a grassland plain with some forest cover. It is also the entry point for the New Galway tea district.
The area is best suited for dairy farming and has Ayrshire and Friesian cattle. Wind turbines remind you that ecology and sustainable development are not strange concepts to the island.
A drive through this area is very scenic and peaceful, with grazing cattle and misty mountains. The farms also have petting zoos that are a hit among children. A trip to Ambewala can be marvellously eventful if you have small children travelling with you.
Nuwara Eliya offers some exciting things that you can do!
The Ramboda waterfalls are nearly 330 feet high, and flow close to the A5 Trunk Road, around the 53 km mark. Three branches of the waterfall plummet into the jungle, near the road and below the road.
Very close to the waterfall is the Ramboda Falls Hotel where you can have a very relaxed lunch or afternoon tea from their dining area overlooking the falls. A nice spot to take a break and admire the unspoilt nature surrounding the place.
Climb up Single Tree Hill
A hike up the Single Tree Hill is not very physically demanding but quite rewarding. The path is only 2 km uphill, and takes about 90 minutes from the communications tower on Haddon Hill Road.
The path is scenic, refreshing and green but not crowded. You will not need a guide to do this hike. Hotels around will provide you with a map and directions upon request.
Where to take your children during your trip to Nuwara Eliya
Queen Victoria Park
One of the most well-maintained parks on the island, the Queen Victoria Park is situated right in the city centre of Nuwara Eliya. Set up in 1897 to celebrate the Silver Jubilee of Queen Victoria’s coronation, it sprawls for about 27 hectares. There are many species of plants and birds here because this park was used for researching the potential of the Hagkala Botanical Gardens.
Stop by the old oak tree, planted by a German princess during the opening of the park.
The Nanu Oya River also flows through here, and is home to many bird species. Birdwatchers love spotting the Kashmir Flycatcher, Scaly Thrush and the Indian Blue Robin.
There is also a playground and a miniature train for children. A day spent here is worth the Rs.300 entry fee.
Hakgala Botanical Garden
Hakgala Botanic Gardens, situated south east of Nuwara Eliya at the edge of the Hakgala Natural reserve has an area of about 28 hectares.
Originally, the garden was established in 1861 as an experimental cultivation for cinchona, a commercial crop during that time. Once tea cultivation replaced cinchona, the area was turned into an experimental tea cultivation.
It was in 1884 that the cultivation was transformed to a garden and several sub tropical and temperate plants were planted. Today, it is a classic botanical garden with beautifully manicured lawns, a great rose garden and magnificent trees.
There are over 10,000 species of flowering plants here. During spring, thousands of visitors flock to the place to see them in full bloom.
Great things to see in Nuwara Eliya
Bird's eye view from Shantipura
Shantipura is one of the many villages that make up the district of Nuwara Eliya. The village, situated at 1,690 metres, is considered as the one of highest-altitude settlement in Sri Lanka. A visit to the village before your entry into Nuwara Eliya offers a beautiful bird-s eye view of the town and its surroundings.
Sip a cup of tea in a tea estate
Nuwara Eliya gained prominence thanks to its tea industry that flourishes to this day. Nuwara Eliya is right in the middle of tea cultivating country, and most of the plantations will allow you to tour the factory and sample or buy their products. Labookellie Tea Gardens on Kandy Road offers free tours and has an on-site tearoom where you can sit down to sip their different varieties like Orange Pekoe.
The Tea Cup, owned by the Watawala Plantations is on the way to Colombo and has a tearoom and a small café. You can also check out the St Clair’s Tea Centre on the same route – from the restaurant here you can see the St. Clair waterfalls as well.
Consider buying small packages of authentic Ceylon tea on your way out. They make authentic, valuable and unique souvenirs for friends and family back home!