After visiting the paradise village Ella, we hopped onboard one of the old diesel locomotives to Nuwara Eliya, a colonial city in the highlands founded by the British for its fertile soil and cooler climates. It became a center for tea cultivation and was a popular retreat for the pioneers of Sri Lanka’s tea industry during the British colonial period. No wonder it was once called and often referred to as “Little England”.
The old colonial style of Sri Lanka’s Little England
The train ride was immensely slow but timing seemed irrelevant; the scenery made it one of the most enjoyable rides we have experienced. Riding through the awe-inspiring highlands of Sri Lanka, through tea plantations, lush-green valleys, waterfalls and tree covered mountains, it’s not difficult to see why exactly this train ride is supposed to be one of the most scenic in the world.
We decided to book first class tickets, just to be sure we had a good view. In hindsight we’d say that second class tickets are good enough if you’re travelling on budget. The first class coach had quite small windows and it was steaming hot, so we ended up sitting on our backpacks by the open door where you could enjoy the panoramic views and feel the fresh mountain air. You can do the same in second class for a much lower price but the coaches can get a bit overcrowded.
We stayed two days in Nuwara Eliya, which should be enough to cover this small city. Most people use it as a base before heading to the Horton Plains, a natural park, hosting the popular hiking route towards World’s End, a sheer precipice with a 1050 m drop. We decided to skip it since we were planning on hiking up Adams Peak a few days later, Sir Lanka’s highest mountain.
Nuwara Eliya is the highest city on the island, with an even cooler climate then Ella village. Throughout the year the climate is like an Icelandic summer at its best (15°C) and it was such a treat for us to sleep without using the fan for once.
While walking around the town we enjoyed seeing a lot of colonial buildings, which are today mostly fancy hotels or golf clubs. However if you go past the post office it goes back to being a normal Sri Lankan town with noisy traffic, small shops, cheap street food and basic concrete buildings. We stayed at the “British” side of town, where prices for accommodation are known to be more expensive then the rest of Sri Lanka. We found a good deal for 20 dollars a night after some bargaining.
Nuwara Eliya is the island’s tea capital and a tea factory tour is one of the town’s main tourist attractions. What we didn’t know was that the British brought the first tea plants to the island (James Taylor in 1867) and founded the business, which is today one of Sri Lanka’s main industries. The humidity, cool temperatures, and rainfall of the country’s central highlands provide a climate that favors the production of high-quality tea.
There are number of factories you can choose from, some even have free tours, but we chose Pedro Estate after reading some positive reviews on TripAdvisor. The plantation is located only 10 min by bus from the town’s bus station. It was very interesting to see how the whole process, from the ladies plucking the leaves (7-10 kg per day), the drying process, the rolling, heating, filtering etc. After the tour we got a cup of their exclusive black tea (most tea sold in stores are from more than one factory), which we enjoyed in the sun with a view over the soft landscape of endless tea fields.
Close to Pedro Estate is a famous waterfall which is nice to visit, called Lovers Leap. In Iceland, where waterfalls are abundant and dramatic, we would hardly call this a “real” waterfall (more of a falling stream), but we enjoyed the short walk from main road which leads to it. We met some very cute children playing around in this photogenic environment.
We truly recommend visiting this charming little town for at least 1-2 nights. That should be enough time to see most of the town highlights along with a tea factory tour. We recommend to go boating at Lake Gregory and visiting Victoria Park, a beautiful botanical garden, where you can enjoy a scoop of ice cream under the tall leafy trees and escape the summer heat.
The British ruling had its influence on Sri Lanka. The most notable example is the nation’s number one sport, cricket! Everybody seems to love the sport and you can’t visit the island without seeing kids playing cricket on the streets, gardens, roofs or even on the railway tracks. In Nuwara Eliya you’ll see the influence even more clearly, not only through colonial architecture but they also have a horse racing track which is popular among the locals and an 18 hole golf course. To see all this British influence on this far-away tropical island was a surreal experience for us, something we definitely didn’t expect to see.
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