7 hikes in Sri Lanka for having fun with its lush landscapes

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Given its exquisite hinterland and beautiful hiking weather from December to May, Sri Lanka draws lovers of the outdoors from all over the globe. And with this year’s launch of The Pekoe Trail – the nation’s first long-distance hiking trail – there’s even more reason to visit. 

Here are seven hikes across Sri Lanka to consider exploring in the upcoming months, when its crisp air and blue skies beckon.

1. The Pekoe Trail

A journey through tea country 

A 300km walk across Sri Lanka’s central highlands, the Pekoe Trail passes through the heart of Sri Lanka’s tea country, with valleys, waterfalls and tea-carpeted hills along the way. The trail is designed to completed in 22 stages, which means you can choose to do it in short segments or as a multi-day trek. 

The Pekoe Trail is named after a famous golden Ceylon tea. Photo: Shutterstock

Stay at: Pick the elegantly restored former tea planter residence Norwood Bungalow at Ceylon Tea Trails. Located at stage eight, it’s only a nine-minute drive from the trailhead. 

While there: Book a guided tour at the Dunkeld Tea Factory to find out more about tea-making and the nuanced history of Ceylon Tea. 

2. Pidurangala

For a taste of the historic 

Once known only to local pilgrims who frequented the adjacent Buddhist monastery, Pidurangala is a soaring rock that overlooks the plains below and the UNESCO World Heritage Site Sigiriya, a four-hour drive northeast of Colombo. It’s a fairly easy hike, but go early before sunrise to enjoy the morning breeze and avoid large crowds. The view of the lion-shaped ancient rock fortress Sigiriya at sunrise is not to be missed.

Gaze at Sirijaya Rock to your heart’s content from Pidurangala. Photo: Shutterstock

Stay at: In this area where rustic cabins are the norm, enjoy instead the eco-luxury of Jetwing Vil Uyana, a local-owned hotel that features lush paddy fields and suites with plunge pools. It’s a twenty-minute drive from the Pidurangala trail. 

While there: An eight-minute drive from Vil Uyana, cooking classes at Sajee’s Place offer hands-on experience in Sri Lankan homecooking.

3. Knuckles Mountain Range

A rugged journey for the bold

Named after the five peaks that some say resemble knuckles of a clenched fist, the Knuckles Mountains is best described as an off-beat choice. Some small settlements of the hill range – marked by evergreen forests, rice terraces and natural pools – are still with rough roads that are not ideal for motorists.

Knuckles Mountain is named after its shape. Photo: Shutterstock

It’s also a birdwatcher paradise thanks to the 128 species that frequent an area of 21,000ha of this valley, often shrouded in mist. 

There are trails of different lengths to choose from, like the 1.5km long beginner-friendly Mini World’s End Trail, where a cliff drops at 1192m high, and the arduous 16-km Duwili Ella Trek to a 40m high waterfall inside the thick jungle.

Stay at: Santani Wellness, perhaps Sri Lanka’s best wellness resort overlooking the mountains with guided hikes. From here, the trailhead is a scenic one-hour drive away. The resort would be happy to help with arranging your exploration of Knuckles Mountain. 

While there: Pamper yourself with a day at the tranquil Kandy Samadhi Centre, with yoga, Ayurveda treatments, waterfall visits and a hearty Sri Lankan lunch.

4. Sinharaja rainforest

Sri Lanka’s last untouched rainforest

Sinharaja is a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in the southern interiors, and its nearest entrance is a mere three hours’ drive south of Colombo. Over 60% of the reserve’s trees are endemic, most of which are rare species. Several moss-clad trails run through the dense, thick forest. You’ll get to know more about the forest’s inhabitants by exploring them on foot with a guide from Donga, a regional tour company in the south of Sri Lanka. 

Also noteworthy: Sinharaja is home to over half of the island’s endemic mammals and butterflies, and other rare insects and reptiles. 

Sinharaja Forest. Photo: Shutterstock

Stay at: Nothing is quite as good as the Rainforest Ecolodge in Deniyaya, a 14-minute drive from the southern entrance of the rainforest. Book a luxury chalet hidden inside the loud, roaring forest.

While there: Join a birdwatching tour organised by the lodge – they’ll make sure you spot some of the 21 out of 26 endemic bird species that live in these green lungs.

5. Ella Rock

One for the ‘gram

Ella, once a sleepy town, has become Instagram-famous over the years, thanks to the nine-hour train journey from Colombo that spans unparalleled views of Sri Lanka’s highlands. Complete this scenic train ride with a hike up Ella Rock, which overlooks surrounding hills and valleys, giving you more stunning social media fodder as well as big leg-day energy. The 10km roundtrip hike to Ella Rock is quite steep in parts and can take three to five hours to complete. 

The scenic Ella Rock. Photo: Shutterstock

Stay at: 98 Acres Resort & Spa. Set amidst a tea estate, this charming boutique hotel is only a 15-minute drive from Ella Station, where you’ll have to walk along the rail tracks to reach the starting point.

While there: Join a Sri Lankan cooking class at Matey Hut, where you’ll learn to prepare traditional coconut-based Sri Lankan dishes from scratch.

6. Horton Plains National Park 

For a lighter climb

You’d be forgiven for thinking that this mountain plateau – at above 2000m – feels like a different world from the rest of the island, given its thick forests, bright-red rhododendrons and herds of sambar deer. Clouds roll in before midday, so start the easy 9.5km trail early in the morning to World’s End, where the plateau ends at a cliff plunging over 800m. From there, you’ll see the valley below with tea estates and circle back to the park’s famous Baker’s Falls

See if you can spy sambar deer at Horton Plains. Photo: Shutterstock

Stay at: It’s best to stay in Nuwara Eliya, the biggest town in the region, an hour’s drive from the trailhead. Pick the Grand Hotel next to the town’s iconic golf grounds. 

While there: Craving more adventure? Take the one-hour hike to the atmospheric Bomburu Falls.

7. Devil’s Staircase 

A tricky trek with spectacular views

Many hikers prefer to start this 13km trek from Bambarakanda Falls, Sri Lanka’s tallest waterfall that stands proudly at 263m high. The hike, which begins in remote Kalupahana, 200 km east of Colombo, involves hairpin turns, steep, uneven paths, narrow ridges and dilapidated estate tracks. It is all worth it for the breathtaking vistas of the southern valleys, but don’t go without a guide as it’s easy to get lost here.

Bambarakanda Falls is Sri Lanka’s tallest waterfall. Photo: Shutterstock

Stay at: There aren’t many hotels due to its remote location, but Hill Safari Eco Lodge in nearby Ohiya is a local-run guesthouse with comfortable rooms, great views and outstanding Sri Lankan hospitality. 

While there: Take the train, or go on a railway hike from Ohiya to the mountain hamlet Idalgashinna – it’ll take you through 14 tunnels. 

For more information on Singapore Airlines flights to Colombo, visit the official website



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