Mai Globe Travels Managing Director Catherine shares her top things to do at the Hill Country town of Nuwara Eliya:
As the summer heat creeps in, Sri Lanka’s Nuwara Eliya season begins! I’ve visited this stunning town several times, and it never fails to disappoint. Nestled among verdant mountain ranges covered in mist, Nuwara Eliya is Sri Lanka’s highest town. Its mild temperature and scenic beauty provides a great respite from the burning lowland humidity during the dry season. Here’s a list of things I’ve absolutely enjoyed during my vacations there:
Beautiful Nuwara Eliya looks like an old English town.
The first time I visited Nuwara Eliya, I went on a city tour on foot. Nuwara Eliya is a bustling town unlike anywhere in Sri Lanka. It’s a delight to see townspeople wearing beanies and woolen sweaters so close to the equator. The crowded boulevards in town are lined with imposing colonial buildings, which make the whole place look like a London suburb in the 18th century. There are many markets here selling highland veggies, fruits and decorative plants like boughenvillas, orchids and roses. It’s fascinating to see around town.
Don’t miss out on visiting thecharming Victoria Park at the center of the town. It’s a stunning landscaped garden with lovely topiaries and beds of exotic flowers. When I visited in April, the flowers were blooming making the area look like a painting with all sorts of colors thrown in. The park, to me, felt like a royal garden from an English romance novel. Perhaps it was the name that marks Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. There are rows of majestic oak trees planted by visiting German princes that are just perfect to relax under. I may or may not have seen a white rabbit run past while sitting under one.
This beautiful artificial lake is in the southern end of town. I enjoyed several evening strolls on the paved pathways around the lake and amusing rides on swan-shaped paddle boats. There are big helicopter boats to try too. Tip: There’s a great spot reserved near the lake for picnics.
The gorgeous Nuwara Eliya Golf Club.
I’ve never been much of a golfer but I greatly enjoyed a game at the gorgeous Nuwara Eliya Golf Club. It’s the oldest golf club in Sri Lanka, established by colonial-era planters. I tried my best at the 18-hole course and then greatly enjoyed an excellent after-game meal at their club restaurant.
Horseback riding through tea plantations!
Best. Thing. Ever. I love horse riding and had the time of my life riding an Indian Marwari around Gregory Lake. On my second trip to Nuwara Eliya, I went on a long horseback tour across town, starting at the golf course, then past vegetable markets and finally uphill through lush tea plantations.
A woman busy plucking tea in the morning.
Tour a tea estate
Of course, one simply cannot leave Nuwara Eliya, one of the biggest tea producers in Sri Lanka, without touring a tea plantation. The sight of verdant hills blanketed by tea bushes is what usually greets visitors first here. You can stroll through tea bushes watching sari-clad women dexterously pluck tea leaves. At the tea factory in the plantation, visitors can see firsthand how tea leaves are processed into famous Ceylon tea with old, colonial-style British equipment. The factory owners keep the old machinery to ensure that Ceylon tea remains traditional and authentic. After tours, you can sample a steaming cup of aromatic tea freshly made right there.
The incredible wildlife at Horton Plains National Park.
Trekking and mountain biking
There are a number of excellent trekking and mountain biking trails near Nuwara Eliya. I’ve been on unforgettable treks at the Horton Plains National Park only a short jeep ride from the town. I hiked to the top of a plateau 2,000 meters high and trekked to a steep cliff called the World’s End with a cool view over the area. This trek has to be finished around 10 a.m. because any later the mist comes and shrouds the stunning view. So make sure to arrange a jeep in advance to pick you up early morning.
Nuwara Eliya area is brimming with stunning waterfalls like this one.
There’re many gushing waterfalls scattered around town that must not be missed. I trekked to several small ones just so I can enjoy soothing dips after. My 5km walk to the Lover’s Leap waterfall was definitely worth the incredible sight that greeted me. On the way to Nuwara Eliya is the stunning Ramboda Falls, one of the largest waterfalls on the island. Definitely stop there for some pictures!
Hakgala Botanical Gardens
This alluring herb garden is a short drive from Nuwara Eliya town. When I visited I only expected local plants but the garden has a variety of flora such as cedars from Bermuda, cypresses from the Himalayas and pines from the Canary Islands. The garden became prominent in the 1800s for growing cinchona, a plant used to treat malaria.