Nuwara Eliya, otherwise known as ‘Little England’, is the heart of the plantation sector and is a haven for those who look for cooler climes – particularly in the hot month of April. Discovered in the 1800s by British explorer Samuel Baker, Nuwara Eliya is usually quiet and peaceful but turns into a hub of activity, especially during the April – May season.
The town rests at an altitude of 1868 metres and is situated at the base of Piduruthalagala which is the country’s highest peak. The town is situated just over 170 km from Colombo amidst misty mountains, scenic waterfalls and vast tea estates.
The town is mostly populated by Sri Lanka’s Indian Tamil population, who were brought from South India during the colonial period to work in the tea estates. Most of their descendents still traditionally continue the occupation. There are also Sinhalese and Sri Lankan Tamils in the area.
Places/Activities in Nuwara Eliya
Standing at a height of 97 metres, Devon Falls was named after a pioneer British planter, Devon, whose tea plantation is located close to the waterfall. It is the 19th highest waterfall in the country, and is quite scenic and can be easily spotted along the Hatton – Nuwara Eliya main road.
Identified as one of the widest waterfalls in the country, St. Clare’s is also known as the ‘Little Niagara of Sri Lanka’. At a height of 80m, it is the 20th highest waterfall in the country. The name of the waterfalls derives from a tea estate nearby. St. Claire’s can also be seen along the Hatton – Nuwara Eliya road, but the best view is by train.
Recognised as a symbol of elite life in Nuwara Eliya, the Golf Club was built in 1891 by British planters so that they could engage in some golf during their visits to the hill country.
The Golf Club is a members’ club, but welcomes guests of members and visitors who seek accommodation during their stay in the town.
The British cemetery is located adjacent to the club and houses the graves of some well-known British planters including Major Thomas William Rogers who was notoriously known for slaughtering hundreds of elephants. Legend says that his tombstone is constantly struck by lightning and massive cracks on the tombstone bear evidence to this.
The Race Course in Nuwara Eliya has one of the oldest horse racing tracks in the country, dating back to the British period.
Spread across 37 acres, there are four stables which house prize-winning horses and ponies. The best time to see the horses in action is during the annual races in April which attract large crowds from Colombo.
If you visit Nuwara Eliya during off season, make sure to visit the Race Course to see the horses. Like all horses these prize-winning beauties have an attitude, so be wary when petting them.
Built by the British Governor William Gregory in 1874 and extending to 91.2 hectares, the Lake Gregory is one of the most scenic lakes in the country.
Believed to have been used by British planters for recreational activities during their visits, the lake was built by stopping the Thalagala stream and the Nanu Oya. Even now visitors can take boat rides. In 1912, water from the lake was tunnelled into a power station in Black Pool to generate electricity for the town. There is also a SriLankan air-taxi service from Colombo to Nuwara Eliya which lands on the Lake.
Started in 1861 for the purpose of experimenting and promoting the cinchona cultivation in the country, Haggala Gardens is one of the three main botanical gardens in the country. The garden experienced several phases as it was used as a tentative tea cultivation when tea replaced cinchona, before it was transformed into a botanical garden.
The garden is located at an altitude of 1745 metres above sea level under the shadow of the Haggala Rock and offers scenic views of Madulsima and the impressive Namunukula mountain range. Spread across 28 hectares, the flora is sub tropical and consists of representatives of the indigenous mountain flora intermingled with those introduced from other sub-tropical countries.
The best time to visit the garden is from mid March to the end of April.
En route to the Pattipola station and Horton Plains you will see the lush meadows of the Ambewela Dairy Farm. Renowned as one of the most scenic landscapes in the hill country, this is also home to the country’s only milk powder factory.
The farm is separated into two animal husbandries, the Ambewela Farm and the New Zealand Farm, both which have purebred Ayrshire and Friesian cows.
Visitors are bound to encounter thousands of animals at the farm and there is a cheese factory and a goat yard too.
The Labookellie Tea Centre is known as the heart of the Labookellie Estate which is one of the finest tea plantations in the country. Over the decades, the tea centre has gained immense popularity with local and foreign travelers owing to the guided tour given at the premises. The centre also organises tea plucking and tea tasting competitions for guests during special occasions. With over 500 foreign and local travelers visiting the tea centre every week, this is definitely a must visit. The tea centre also serves freshly brewed premium ‘cuppa’ with an absolutely delicious home-made chocolate cake.
Located 32 km from Nuwara Eliya, Horton Plains was declared as a national park in 1988. At an altitude of 6,900-7,500 feet, the plateau is the highest plateau in the island and is a haven for bio diversity. Most of the species found here are endemic to the region.
Large herds of Sri Lankan Sambur are a common sight at Horton Plains, especially in the evenings. It is also a significant bird’s paradise. The plateau is renowned for World’s End (a precipice with a 2854 foot drop, located at the southern boundary of the park) and Baker’s falls, a thundering waterfall that attracts a large number of local and foreign tourists.
Pattipola sits at an altitude of 6204 feet above sea level and is the highest railway station in the country. Built around the late 1880s, the station is mostly popular for its location and the scenic view surrounding it.
Trains on the Colombo – Badulla route stop at the station. The original railway station was renovated in the 1960s. Tourists who take the train to visit the Horton Plains can either get off at Pattipola or Ohiya.
Located in Meeplimana, the Kande Ela Lake is situated close to the Kande Ela nature reserve which extends across 25 acres.
The lake was once famous for trout fishing, as it is the only type of fish that could survive at an altitude of 1800 metres. However, over the years the fish have become a rare sight in these waters.
The Nature Reserve has its own educational and information centre where it houses a nature lab for wood identification, forest conservation methods and a nursery.
The nature trail extends to about 3 km and hopefully you will see otters, sambur, barking deer and highland loris during the excursion. You are also bound to see 50% of endemic birds in the country in this reserve.
Located within the town limits of Nuwara Eliya, this is a paradise for bird watchers and nature lovers. Declared as a wildlife sanctuary in 1938, it was elevated to the status of a national park in 2006. The Galway’s Land Bird Sanctuary covers an area of 57.6 hectares and has been identified as a significant birding site in the country by the Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka. The sanctuary is home to 30 native bird species as well as 20 very rare migrant bird species. It also has valuable flora species, both foreign and native. Endemic highland birds including the Dull Blue Flycatcher, Yellow-eared Bulbul and the Sri Lankan White-eye and migrant birds such as Indian Blue Robin and Pied Thrush can be seen here.
Note- If you plan to go bird watching at the Galway’s Land Bird Sanctuary, make sure to wear comfortable clothes that are not brightly coloured, and do remember to take a pair of binoculars with you.
Named to commemorate the 60th Jubilee Coronation of Queen Victoria in 1897, it was originally used as the research field of the Hakgala Gardens. Accordingly, the Queen Victoria Park was set up when a German Princess visiting Nuwara Eliya planted an oak tree in the premises.
Extending to 27 acres, 90% of the tree species at the park are foreign. Popularly known as a tourist destination, Victoria Park is also perfect for bird watching as a large number of rare bird species gather here. Birds, including the Indian Blue Robin, Scaly Thrush and the Kashmir Flycatcher, have been sighted at the park.
Originally an unpopulated area, the history of Nuwara Eliya dates back to 1819, when a colonial officer named John Davy led a hunting party to the area. Thereafter the British Governor at the time, Sir Edward Barnes, decided to take up residence in Nuwara Eliya. He also wanted to set up a sanatorium which later gained international recognition.
As the area was popular among British officers in ‘Ceylon’ as it was then called, Sir Samuel Baker decided to design the town to resemble an English village. Some of these architectural designs can still be seen.
Speaking of crops, coffee was one of the first crops to be grown in the area by the British, but the plantations failed due to a disease, resulting in a switch to tea, which flourished and continues to do so even today. The first tea leaves harvested in the country were planted at the Loolecondera Estate, between Nuwara Eliya and Kandy. Soon after, Nuwara Eliya came to be known as the tea capital of Ceylon.
Travel Tips and Planning Information
- Make sure to take a mix of warm and normal clothes as the temperature tends to fluctuate.
- While the nights are cold, it can be quite warm during the day, so be prepared.
- Prior to booking your accommodation make sure it has warm water and preferably heaters.
- It is advisable to drive to Nuwara Eliya during the day rather than at night.
- If you are prone to motion sickness we recommend you purchase medication for motion sickness prior to the journey to Nuwara Eliya.
Due to its high altitude of 6,064 feet, Nuwara Eliya has a cooler climate than most parts of the country. The mean annual temperature is 16°C, but it fluctuates and can get as low as 3°C. During the months of November, December and January, it is cold at night and there is even the chance of frost. However, during the day the warmth catches up and the sun shines brightly.