Sri Lanka days 8-10: iconic train ride + tea country hills of Nuwara Eliya + Horton Plains National Park

After my time in bustling Kandy, I headed to my next destination, Nuwara Eliya, a small town in the tea country hills in central Sri Lanka. Nuwara Eliya is known for its beautiful tea plantations, cooler mountain temperature, ample hiking options, and unique western architecture. Nuwara Eliya is usually treated as a 1-2 day stop-over from more active tourist destinations like Kandy or Ella, but I felt this town had so many things that I loved and I was craving a quiet spot after Kandy, so I decided to spend a whole week here. 🙂

Day 8: iconic train ride from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya

For the first time this whole trip, I was excited for a travel day. That’s because I was about to take one of the most iconic train rides in the world. One of Sri Lanka’s top activities is taking the train from Kandy to Ella (7 hours), and Nuwara Eliya is around halfway between (4 hours). I was excited to finally cross this off my bucket list as I’ve been dreaming of taking this train for years!

After my hectic local bus experience, I decided to splurge on a first-class ticket for this train ride. It was the best money spent – I got a designated seat, air con, ample legroom…it was such a comfortable ride!

The best part of this train ride was sitting outside on the platform between the trains. I got the best views as I hung my legs out in the open – I felt so free enjoying the scenery like this. Because I’ve been thinking of this train ride for years, I knew about this insider tip and was able to secure a spot early on, but once word got out, a queue started to form so I ended up giving others a chance after about an hour. Nevertheless, I was grateful for having a good chunk of my ride on the platform.

The train took us from the lush forest through the tea country hills – it was the most gorgeous train ride I’ve ever been on, and it certainly lived up to the hype! It was hands down one of the best things I’ve done on my trip so far. Feel free to check out some clips I took:

After the lovely ride, I made it to Nuwara Eliya. The first thing I noticed was that it was MUCH cooler – similar to San Francisco where you always need a light jacket. I checked into my hostel and spent the rest of the day chilling. After staying in a hotel in Kandy, I was craving social interaction, so I stayed at Vibe Hostel which has been an absolute treat so far. The actual space had more of a guesthouse vibe, but it attracted a bunch of backpackers so the atmosphere was lively. The manager has been SO helpful and has basically planned my entire week for me. 😛

The best part of the hostel was that it was on a small market farm! I love farm stays so this was literally my dream.

Day 9: exploring town + Gregory Lake + strawberry farm

For my first full day, I decided to explore what I could by foot. As I started strolling, I immediately noticed that all the buildings were unlike anywhere else in Sri Lanka. It felt like I was placed in Denmark meets Colorado – no wonder Nuwara Eliya is nicknamed “Little England.”

Between the western-looking buildings were green rolling hills, regal gardens, small farms, and cows surprising you in the street. I had a great feeling about this town based on its atmosphere. It also helped that the climate was cooler so I could be out-and-about all day without drowning in heat.

There was a modest downtown area that was more like what you’d imagine Sri Lanka to look like. It had its usual dose of franticness, but coming from Kandy, Nuwara Eliya felt much more manageable.

I definitely felt more at ease in this downtown and was comfortable enough to eat at local spots. The street eats / local food have been amazing in Nuwara Eliya. Contrast to Kandy where I hid out in my hotel for most meals to escape the hectic city. 😛

After getting a feel for the city, I headed to Lake Gregory, a large lark where you can rent boats/jet skis and relax in the park area. There were also lovely views of the quaint buildings on the hills across the lake. I thought the lake was pretty nice; I walked around while cherishing the relaxing vibes.

After lake time, I headed to Adma Agro Strawberry Farm. Nuwara Eliya is known for growing strawberries, and there are several farms you can visit. I probably didn’t pick the best one because the “farm” here was just a small greenhouse. Growing up in upstate New York where we went strawberry-picking every summer, I was not impressed. 😛

There was a restaurant next to the farm that sold strawberry ice cream, juice, milkshakes. I relaxed there for a bit while sipping on my fruit drink.

After a full day of walking, I was ready for some relaxation before the next day’s activity.

Day 10: Horton Plains National Park

The next day was an exciting one as I headed to Horton Plain National Park. Horton Plains is a large park known for its high mountain ranges up to 2,300 m or 7,500 ft, vast grasslands within a cloud forest, and rich biodiversity. I met two Dutch women at my hostel who were heading to Horton Plains, and I decided to join them as this was on my to-do list and it was cheaper to go with a group. I was looking to do one big trek while in Nuwara Eliya, and this was the perfect opportunity.

We got an early start, leaving the hostel at 5am to beat the clouds rolling in typically by mid-morning at the park. We got to the mountain in time for sunrise…it was breathtaking. We saw the golden sun slowly illuminating the mountain ranges for miles away.

After entering the park, we headed out for the World’s End trail, a 10 km hike that is popular among tourists and locals, with a breathtaking viewpoint called the “world’s end” as it is a sheer cliff with a drop of about 4,000 feet (1200 m). The beginning of the hike was pretty foggy as the morning clouds rolled through.

After some time, the fog went away and the sun brightened up the land. Around us were grassy hills with all different types of plants and birds/monkeys making sounds all around us – it didn’t look like any other part of Sri Lanka! The scenery had the dry grassy vibes of California mixed with the moist cool air of an elevated cloud forest.

The hike itself didn’t feel too challenging as there were rolling hills and not too much elevation gain. It was a well-marked loop and easy to follow. Funny enough, at the start of the trail, there were two directions you could take – clockwise was labeled the “easy” way and counterclockwise was the “difficult” way. I’m not sure how that was possible with a loop. 😛 Nevertheless, we took the “easy” way, which was the best decision as we had it all to ourselves! Most other hikers took the “difficult” way, which meant there were lines of people going in the other direction. The hike was super enjoyable as the three of us took our time enjoying the scenery and having good conversation.

Finally we made it to the World’s End viewpoint. It was stunning, especially looking down at the steep cliff. It was so rewarding after the heart-pumping hike and early wake-up call. 🙂

What a fabulous hike. At the bottom of the mountain, we treated ourselves to some Sri Lankan pastries and coffee. We made it back to the hostel by 11:30am with the whole rest of the day to nap and relax. 🙂

After some chill time in the afternoon, I hung out with the Dutch crew and another German girl from the hostel in the evening. We all had the same idea and independently brought street food back home for dinner, and it ended up being one huge tasting as we all shared our food together. We chatted away and listened to music while keeping warm in the cool mountain air. Grateful for finding this hostel with a great atmosphere! ❤

Hope you’re having a wonderful week!!

2 thoughts on “Sri Lanka days 8-10: iconic train ride + tea country hills of Nuwara Eliya + Horton Plains National Park

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