After a three-hour drive from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya, Sri Lanka, we finally arrived at our hotel in the pitch black. My eyes adjusted, I turned and gazed over the town from the hill we’d perched ourselves on, and appreciated the beauty of the area. Dotted house lights spread over hills and mountains, you could hear a pin drop it was that peaceful.
Nuwara Eliya is known as ‘Little England’ and you can see how it earned the name. You move from a tropical climate and gradually go higher into the mountains, where you’ll experience all four seasons in the space of a day. You’ll need to pack warm clothes and wrap up, as most days it’s raining and temperatures can drop below 10C.
That said, Nuwara Eliya gives you better scenery than Britain.
Sri Lanka takes great pride in preserving the natural habitat it has been blessed with, with eight UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) sites within its borders. One of them is Hortons National Park, considered one of the region’s super biodiversity hotspots. The forests inside the 3,160-hectares park are globally important, providing habitats for an exceptional number of endemic species of flora and fauna. The park features high numbers of threatened species, and although elephants no longer roam the grounds, a visit there will still offer sightings of macaques, wild boar and the Sri Lankan samba deer.
Tourists are expected to take just as much care of the environment as the locals are. Hortons National Park has strict rules that must be followed. Guests are not allowed to litter, veer off designated paths, or bring any plastic materials into the park. What’s more, you aren’t allowed to take anything away from the park. Because of these rules, and the completely natural feel that they result in, you forget that the park is less than an hour away from the bustling city of Ohiya.
Hortons National Park is a showpiece for Sri Lanka’s peaks and valleys. Once a popular place for hunting, it has now become a haven for all visitors wishing to see Sri Lanka’s natural side. The park can be explored on dirt roads and hiking trails by Jeep or foot, but by foot will be the only way you can appreciate the park in its entirety. The main trail around the park is 9.5 km, and takes around four hours to complete by foot.
World’s End is the main attraction and the goal for the hike, standing 7,000 feet above sea level. The name is fitting, given the feeling you get when you arrive and look out over the dramatic 4,000-foot drop. It’s about 4km into the hike, and perhaps the most disconcerting thing is that, when you get there, you’ll note there’s no fence between you and the cliff edge. Still, the view is worth it – mountains turning into highlands and then rolling into fields that end abruptly at the coast. Looking down at the small villages sweeping through the hills you marvel at how untouched by civilisation this part of the world is. The inhabitants of the area have built their lives around the hills and thick vegetation.
You will need wake up early is so you can see the sights before the afternoon clouds and mist obscure your view, but it’s well worth the heavy eyelids. We manged a brief 10 minutes of clear view before the clouds starting rolling in, and they were pure bliss.
Moving on, you’ll make your way to Baker’s Fall. At 66 feet, it’s one of the most beautiful natural waterfalls in Sri Lanka. There are two observation decks that you can view the fall from, one of which brings you closer to the plunging water. From time to time, daredevils line up for a plunge into the pool, but it’s not really recommended – for all the obvious reasons.
Still, the waterfall is another sight to chalk off your list when taking a leisurely stroll around Hortons National Park – the only way you should see it. And if you’re a keen naturist, you do have the option to opt for a tour guide, who’ll give you specific details on animals and foliage.
We had plenty of close encounters with nature, though. As we were set to leave, a deer walked up to us, his nose twitching, sussing out whether we were a threat. Before we could do anything, he was sniffing at our backpack, which had left-over sandwiches inside and were a big draw to the large mammal. We took the opportunity to have our own private feeding time.
We wouldn’t have been able to do that if we were in a Jeep.
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