Jaw Dropping Trekking in Sri Lanka: Ella Rock and Beyond
For a small, island nation, Sri Lanka offers a wide variety of hiking options for the adventurous traveler and active explorer. Hiking trails vary from tough mountain hikes to casual walks through sprawling tea plantations. Let’s take a look at the best trekking trails in Sri Lanka and what you need to know for a fantastic hiking holiday.
Plan a Trip to Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka is a wonderful country that offers a wide variety of activities for any type of traveler. There are UNESCO World Heritage Sites, world-class eats, pristine beaches, ample wildlife, friendly locals, and plenty of outdoor activities.
In terms of trekking in Sri Lanka, most of the trails are not too demanding and all of them can be done in a day or less. There is a wide variety of hikes from the challenging trek to Ella Rock to a leisurely stroll to Sri Lanka’s highest waterfall.
For more inspiring travel ideas and practical information, be sure to check out these posts:
- Everything you need to know before visiting Sri Lanka
- Spend the perfect two-weeks in Sri Lanka
- Your guide to the Kandy to Ella Train
- Wildlife safaris in Udawalawe National Park (coming soon)
- Sri Lanka transportation guide (coming soon)
When to Visit Sri Lanka
You can visit Sri Lanka year-round. This tiny island has a unique weather pattern where half of the country is in monsoon (heavy rains) for half the year, and then the other half of the country sees the monsoon for the second half.
If you plan on doing a lot of hiking in Sri Lanka, you’ll want to visit when the hill country is in the dry season for the best views. This happens between the months of December and March. This is also the busy season for tourism, although we never felt as if the island was completely overloaded (the exception to this is the town of Ella and ultra-popular beaches along the southern coast).
Where is the Best Hiking and Trekking in Sri Lanka?
The south-central part of Sri Lanka is covered in rolling hills and steep mountains covered in green. This lush, cloud forest jungle offers some of the best trekking in Sri Lanka. Here you will find hillsides covered in tea, dramatic green mountains, and the most amazing views in Sri Lanka
What do I need to Trek in Sri Lanka?
Since most treks only last half a day, you won’t need any special gear to trek in Sri Lanka. However, it’s always good to be prepared. Here’s a look at what you should bring with you on your hike.
- Sturdy shoes and proper socks
- A jacket (if you plan on hiking Ella Rock, Adam’s Peak or see the sunrise at Pidurangala rock you’ll want pants, gloves, and a hat too!)
- A Buff. This handy item helps with sweat or keeps you warm
- Sunscreen, sunhat, and sunglasses
- Water. Ditch the plastic water bottles and purchase a LifeStraw universal filter (fits on any water bottle) or SteriPen to help the environment.
- Snacks. There are vendors along some trekking routes in Sri Lanka.
- A phone with GPS such as Google Maps and a data plan is very helpful.
How Many Days Should I Dedicate to Hiking?
That is all up to you. If you’re an avid hiker, you could easily spend four to five days hiking along different trails, exploring different areas, and enjoying the beautiful natural scenery of Sri Lanka.
If you’re new to hiking or don’t hike often, I’d recommend setting aside at least three half-days to explore Sri Lanka’s trekking trails (that’s three hikes). Most of Sri Lanka’s treks aren’t too complicated or strenuous, making them perfect for a more leisurely hike.
New to hiking? Here’s a great beginner guide to hiking to get you ready for your trip to Sri Lanka.
What Should I expect when Hiking in Sri Lanka
For the hiking veteran, Sri Lanka’s hikes won’t be what you would see in the Alps, the USA, the Himalaya or any other premier trekking destination. Trekking in Sri Lanka means simple day hikes. The challenge in Sri Lanka is knowing if you’re on a trail or not.
Trekking trails in Sri Lanka are not marked, and most of them involve diversions of paths seeming to go on in all directions. Most “trailheads” are actually train stations, where you will walk down the tracks until you reach a fork in the road where a trail breaks off.
Most locals walk the tracks to get from point A to point B (it’s a lot easier than bushwhacking through the jungle). There is almost always a place to get out of the way if a train were to come by but pay attention to the schedule. Secondly, A lot of the time, you’ll feel like you’re on private property. In Sri Lanka, taking a path through private property is perfectly okay.
At Ella Rock, for example, you will find several trails with various signs leading you in all sorts of directions, including up to people’s doorsteps who want to sell you things. Don’t fret – all of the trails lead to the top of Ella Rock, although some are more direct than others.
Weather and Hiking
It’s important to remember a few key things when it comes to the weather in Sri Lanka. First, if you want clear skies, even during the dry season, plan on getting to your hiking destination early. Later in the day, views get socked in with low-lying clouds. Aim to be at your viewpoint destination no later than 10 am if you want to soak in the best views.
The Most Amazing Treks in Sri Lanka
I spent three weeks exploring, hiking and trekking in Sri Lanka. We did a wide variety of hikes to temples, viewpoints, through tea plantations, and for sunrise. Each trek in Sri Lanka had its own special appeal. Below is a list of the best hikes in Sri Lanka and what you need to know to hike them.
Wander the Tea at Lipton’s Seat
Lipton’s Seat, located near Haputale, is much more about the tea plantation than the viewpoint at the top. Early in the morning (aim to be there by 8 am for the best weather) hire a tuk tuk (around 800 rupees from Haputale) to take you to Lipton’s Seat. You can have the driver drive you to the top for an extra fee, or get out before the entrance and walk your way up.
At the top are spanning views of hill country and beyond. On an exceptionally clear day, you can see all the way to the ocean. Take your time and walk back down to the base of the tea plantation (there is an area where the tuk tuk drivers will wait for you). Wander your way through the tea plots and soak in the beauty all around you. The nearby village is colorful and the locals are all extremely friendly. You can wrap up your morning with a tea factory tour at one of the oldest factories still operating.
Duration: 3 to 4 hours
Difficulty: Easy with downhill walking along either paved roads or tea plantation paths
Hiking Adams Peak
If you are reasonably fit and up for a challenge, then you must hike Adam’s Peak for sunrise. Adams Peak or Sri Pada, is the holiest mountain in the country and one of the best treks in Sri Lanka. The entire trip will take you one overnight and the following morning but is well worth the effort. Hiking to the top of Adams Peak for sunrise is considered a birthright by every Sri Lankan. Join the locals for this incredible journey.
Hop off the train at Hatton and catch a tuk tuk ($12 round trip) or bus ($2 round trip) to Nallathanniya. Spend the night at the base of the peak. Start your hike to the top around 2:30 in the morning. Slowly make your way up over 5,500 steep steps to the top of the mountain. There are plenty of stalls selling snacks and tea along the way, so take your time and stop.
The going gets pretty tough towards the end (and I regularly climb mountains). If you arrive a few minutes early, take some time to wander the temple grounds before descending the mountain about 100 yards or so and plop down along the side of the trail. The sun rises directly from the trail itself, and the views are far better than from the temple at the top. Bring plenty of warm layers and even an extra shirt. It was below freezing when we were there and windy!
Return to the base of the mountain, eat some breakfast and head to Hatton to catch the 11:30 train towards Ella.
Duration: 3 hours to the top and about 1.5 hours to get down. Plus an overnight.
Difficulty: Difficult – this is by far the hardest hike on this list
Admire the Views at Ella Rock
The town of Ella is honestly a disappointment. It is over-run by tourists and looks nothing like the rest of the country. In many ways, it reminded me of Ubud (Bali), but without the cultural significance. However, it is worth a stop just to hike to Ella Rock.
Many people complain about how to get to the top of Ella Rock. Locals have created a network of confusing trails. You do not need a guide to get to the top of Ella Rock, it’s really quite straight forward.
Start early (no later than 8 am to beat the crowds and the heat) at the Ella train station or cut some time off by starting at the next station, Kithalella. Walk past the train station away from Ella, ignoring local hawkers. You’ll walk along the tracks until you come to an obvious path that takes a hard left. Head across the footbridge then take a left at the fork in the road. Keep on the obvious path until you reach a viewpoint, continue upwards on a steep trail, on any of the paths (there are several) and you’ll reach Ella Rock. For more in-depth directions, use this post.
Take in the amazing views – this is the best thing to do in Ella. Since you started early, you’ll likely have the place relatively to yourself. If you hike down a path from Ella Rock heading towards the right if you’re looking at the view, you’ll come across a shrine with a Buddha that offers even more beautiful views with a fraction of the people.
Duration: 3 hours including a long break at the top
Difficulty: Moderate, the top of this hike is steep and slippery, take your time and watch your step.
See the Sunrise at Pidurangala Rock
No trip to Sri Lanka is complete without making a stop at the cultural triangle in the north-central part of the country. Here you’ll find world-class UNESCO World Heritage sites such as the famous Sigiriya or Lion Rock. This rock is an icon of Sri Lanka and found on many postcards. You can experience that postcard view for yourself by hiking to the top of nearby Pidurangala Rock for sunrise.
Get up well before dawn and hire a tuk tuk or car to take you to Pidurangala. The base of this hike starts at a Buddhist Temple, so be sure to be covered properly (no bare shoulders, hats, shoes, or knees showing). Walk through the temple up the steep path to the top of Pidurangala.
The top of the climb requires some scrambling and isn’t for those who are unable to use their hands to climb up about ten feet to the top. If you’re new to scrambling, it is only a few short moves and isn’t too exposed so don’t be too worried. There are plenty of people to help and you can easily hoist yourself up.
The reward? A 365-degree view of incredible jungle scenery and a picture-perfect sunrise over Sigiriya. Remember to bring a warm layer, it’s often windy up there and quite cold before the sun comes up. Oh, and a bonus? The entrance is only a dollar.
Duration: About a 20-minute walk to the top and a 15-minute walk down, but you’ll spend roughly an hour or so admiring the views and watching the sun.
Difficulty: Easy to moderate
Take a Dip at Bambarakanda Falls
The best easy treks in Sri Lanka embrace the beauty of the waterfall, and Bambarkanda Falls is the tallest waterfall in the country. It’s a staggering 863 feet tall! You can see it as you make your way down the meandering path towards the base of the falls.
Getting here is very straight forward. It is about a 45-minute tuk tuk drive from Haputale and costs around $1US per person to get in. Once there, the easy path makes its way through beautiful gardens and a pine forest (unexpected in these parts) until you reach the base of the falls.
Be sure to bring your swimsuit and take a dip! The water is incredible. Just be careful on the slippery rocks, it’s easy to lose your balance and you can slice your foot open (we saw this happen to another group).
Duration: 15-minute walk one way, spend as much time as you would like at the falls.
Explore the Views and Wildlife of Horton Plains
Horton Plains National Park in Sri Lanka offers a variety of hiking trails for all abilities. The best one is called World’s End. This hike takes you through plains, forests over gentle terrain to a spanning vista of nearby mountains. Go early to spot wildlife such as deer, birds, monkeys, and more!
This hike is sometimes shrouded in mist, so like all other hikes in Sri Lanka, head out early for your best chance at a view. The big downside to Horton Plains is that it costs roughly $40USD to get in (not to mention you can only arrive by van). For the price, there are better things to see, but the view is pretty spectacular and doesn’t require the effort that other treks on this list require.
Duration: 3 hours round trip
Most people don’t know that trekking in Sri Lanka is one of the best ways to see the country. With most treks only taking a half day to complete, Sri Lanka offers up some incredible views for just a little effort.