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Hiking in Sri Lanka

From the wind-swept cliffs of Riverston to the UNESCO World Heritage mountainous site of the Central Highlands and from the charming quiet of Ella to the emerald green plains of Haputale; when it comes to hiking in Sri Lanka, one will be spoilt for choice. Here’s a compilation of the popular and the lesser known trails.

Best Known For

Some of the most scenic hiking routes across Sri Lanka… as broken down below:

  • Badulla district - Affording an unhindered view of rural village life, sheathed in mountain air, the hike along the railway from the Idalgashinna Railway Station to that of Ohiya’s beckons for a tranquil trek. Step onto the slopes of the Namunukula mountain range and immerse in bird’s eye views of the breathtaking landscapes. Trekking up Namunukula is manageable from February to July but may be a bit difficult with the rough and cold winds in September. Go waterfall hunting; trek through fields of lemongrass and rocky plains in pursuit of Diyaluma Falls, the second highest waterfall in the country.
  • Ella, Badulla district - In this town, the trek from the Demodara Railway Station to the Nine Arch Bridge is one of its most famous yet; surrounded by blankets of emerald green, hike for roughly 2 or 3 kilometres to a bridge located at a staggering 80 feet above ground. Make your way over to Ella Rock, settle down at the summit and bask in the beauty of Mother Nature in its raw element.
  • Haputale, Badulla district - Roughly 7 kilometres uphill from the Dambatenna Tea Estate, passing luxuriant tea plantations, one arrives at Lipton’s Seat, a statue in honour of the ‘Lipton Tea’ company founder, Sir Thomas Lipton. Since the establishment of the Dambatenna Tea Estate, this route has been commonly used by tea pluckers to make to their way to the plantations and their children to go to school and has since earned its repute as also a famed route to Lipton’s Seat. The drive time from Colombo to any attraction in the Badulla District will generally be around 6 hours. Expect a rather cool, tropical climate here.
  • The Central Highlands - The Knuckles Mountain Range takes the top spot as a famed hiking site; roughly 34 hiking trails wind amidst mountains varying from 900 to 2,000 metres in height. Coming in as a close second are two more trails: Horton Plains National Park is a vast landmass of miles of natural beauty while Little Adam’s Peak is encouraged to be taken on at the crack of dawn to catch the sunrise at its best. Attempting the slopes of Pidurutalagala, the tallest mountain in Sri Lanka, is a feat in itself, which is made up for by the view at the top. The drive time from Colombo to the Central Highlands will generally be around 5 or 6 hours. As is the Central Highlands are the holy grail of mountainous regions, crisp, cool winds and mountain mist swirl about, adding to one’s experience amidst the hills of Sri Lanka.
  • Sigiriya - Hike up the ancient rock fortress Sigiriya, which is rooted in archaeological and historical significance. On this massive column of rock, the ruins of King Kashyapa’s royal palace can now be seen. The Pidurangala Rock stands directly opposite; make your way up the rock formation to the summit which affords glorious views of the surrounding countryside. The drive time from Colombo to Sigiriya will only be around 4 hours. For the best experience, visit during the months of February and April for the weather is more moderate then.
  • Yapahuwa - Opt for a lesser visited hiking site, where a royal palace built by King Bhuvanekabahu once stood. The Yapahuwa rock fortress complex is built around a granite rock, rising roughly hundreds of metres above the lowlands, the highest points of which offers panoramic vistas of the dry zone plains. Note that the drive time from Colombo to Yapahuwa will only be roughly 3 hours. Best visit during the months of April and August when the sun is up as one will have clear bird’s eye views of the rustic surroundings.
  • Karandagolla, Kandy District - Trek to the summit of the rocky outcrop Kurullangala where what is believed to be prehistoric cave art is displayed, in a style that has never been seen before in Sri Lanka. While on a search for bee hives in the jungle, a guide named Meththananda discovered the Kurullangala caves and he now serves as the premier guide for hiking expeditions to the site. The drive time from Colombo to Karandagolla will be a mere 3 hours.
  • Bandarawela - An off-the-beaten track into nature’s best? Pilkington Point is located around 1,400 metres above sea level and offers sprawling views of the Poonagala tea estate. A further 45 minute climb will bring you to Millenium Point, one of the highest points in the highland at a height of 1,500 metres. Head through the Nyabedde Tea Estate nestled amidst the Poonagala hills to St. Catharine’s Seat, which offers sweeping views of Bandarawela, Diyatalawa and the mountainous area of the Uva Basin. The drive time from Colombo to Bandarawela will be roughly 5 or 6 hours. The weather here may be unpredictable therefore it is advised that the weather forecasts be checked before attempting to hike here.
  • Matale - Looking to wander ‘off-the-beaten-path’? An isolated peaceful trek up the mountainous region of Riverston envelopes one in sweeping views of mist-clad mountains and sweeping views of the plains below. Strong gusts of wind gush over its peaks, enough to blow one over if one’s not careful. The drive time from Colombo to Matale will be around 4 hours. Mild weather from January to March and so a hike during these months is recommended.
  • Meemure - Hike through scenic plains, surrounded by green as far as the eye can see. Embark on a roughly 3 kilometre trek up the Lakegala Mountain, the top of which affords a vantage point to take in the surreal topography around. In the vicinity of the mountain, the Diyakerella Ella Falls cascades down roughly a 45 metre high rock formation. The drive time from Colombo to Meemure will be roughly 6 hours. Ideal hiking conditions are brought about during the dry season, particularly in the month of March.
  • Colombo - Certain areas including those in urban regions are considered as significant areas for hiking, despite not being explicitly marked as hiking spots. One such site is the Beddagana Wetland Park, located in Sri Jayawardenapura Kotte, Colombo. A bird watcher’s haven, the wetland park offers a long winding trail that snakes through foliage, offering one unhindered views of migratory birds, ducks and butterflies in their natural habitat. Colombo is yet another city which has unpredictable weather and so weather reports are best turned to for a rough prediction.
  • Arugam Bay - Roughly 11 kilometres from the Panama, the history steeped Kudumbigala Monastery is the only hermitage in the country which has a cylindrical dagoba. Trek through a jungle towards a massive rock and make your way up to the summit where the dagoba, rumoured to be built by King Devanampiyatissa, stands in silent splendour. The drive time from Arugam Bay to Colombo will be roughly 7 to 9 hours therefore pencil this hike in when you’re in the area. Arugam Bay tends to have a tropical climate however do check the weather forecasts for a final say on what the day may bring.

Interesting Facts

  • Hiking trails in Sri Lanka are aplenty and may vary in ease or difficulty levels.
  • A number of tour guides and facilitators are available across Sri Lanka, each having expertise in varied hiking areas. Tour guides include ‘Sri Lanka Eco Trekking’, ‘Sri Lanka Knuckles Trekking’, ‘Sri Lanka Trekking Team’ and the ‘Sri Lanka Trekking Club’.
  • One of the best things about hiking is that it is not just limited to the rural areas but is available in urban regions too. Certain sites may not be specifically marked as hiking spots, however they it is a well-established fact that they are hiking ground, as they’re so commonly used for trekking purposes.

Times, Seasons and Tips

  • Travel light. The hike may be strenuous enough as it is, without the added burden of heavy bags.
  • Rejuvenation is important. As most of the mountainous regions are protected sites and the other hiking areas have attractions of religious or cultural significance, there won’t be shops or eateries along the hike from which snacks and water can be purchased from. One may have to stock up on the essentials from food stores in towns and villages nearby. The exception to this is the hike to Lipton’s Seat, which has a small shop serving snacks quite close to the attraction.
  • Kindly avoid littering due to the vast negative effects it has on the surroundings and the life built on the sites itself. Should you be packing in a few tidbits to munch on, take with you a spare bag in which empty wrappers and plastic bottles can be stored.
  • Due to the unpredictability of the weather, make sure to check the forecast before you head out to the trails.
  • Carry along salt and insect repellent to ward off leeches and insects.
  • Dress according to the hike setting you’ve opted for. Should you be venturing through the wilderness or a more forest-like area, best be clad in clothes that fully cover your arms and feet to refrain from being pricked by thorns and bugs. A hike in an open area such as the mountains may call for lighter clothing due to the tropical heat you will be exposed to.

Sri Lanka is a land rich in natural diversity, from the plethora of mountains and forests that stand on its ground to its rambling countryside plains and tea estates and the sheer magnitude of hiking opportunities available are limitless. Stumble on famed natural highlights along the way or those of historical or cultural significance; immerse in the paradise island at its finest.

Note: Listed are the locations of a few sites famous for hiking.

Location info

Hiking in Sri Lanka - Knuckles Mountain Range, Matale

Hiking in Sri Lanka - Horton Plains National Park, Ohiya

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Sports and Recreation

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