If you want to witness some picturesque cascades, lush tea plantations and enjoy breath-takingly beautiful hikes, Nuwara Eliya is a place that you do not want to miss.
However, someone might wonder if there is a significant enough difference between Nuwara Eliya and other hill country destinations in Sri Lanka to allocate couple of nights for Nuwara Eliya.
According to my experience as a travel agent, most tourists find themselves in this dilemma when they plan the travel between Kandy and Ella. They have the option to travel directly to Ella (from Kandy) or spend a night or two in Nuwara Eliya to break the journey.
(Kandy to Ella drive takes about 5 hours by car. Kandy to Nuwara Eliya drive takes about 3 hours. Nuwara Eliya to Ella drive takes about 2 hours.)
There is no one right answer to the question “Is Nuwara Eliya worth visiting?”. Here are a few tips to decide whether to include or not to include Nuwara Eliya based on your individual requirements.
Check if you have enough time to visit Nuwara Eliya
Depending on the excursions that you plan in and around Nuwara Eliya, you will need to plan one or two nights in Nuwara Eliya.
If your itinerary is already packed, do not try to squeeze in Nuwara Eliya. If you are visiting Ella from Kandy, you may even make a stop in Nuwara Eliya to enjoy some of its attractions. Check our itinerary “Sri Lanka and Maldives family holiday”. You will notice how we have included some of the excursions in Nuwara Eliya without including an overnight stay there.
Note - If you are NOT visiting Nuwara Eliya from Kandy or Ella, you should also check the travel times. It takes a significant time to reach Nuwara Eliya from some parts of the country. For an example, it takes about 6 hours to reach Nuwara Eliya from Colombo by car. If you are using buses or trains it will take even longer to get there.
Ask yourself if you want to take any of these excursions
If you like to enjoy any of the below excursions, allocate one or two nights to Nuwara Eliya. These excursions are not practical without having an overnight stay in Nuwara Eliya.
1. Nanu Oya – Ella train ride
One of the main reasons that we include Nuwara Eliya in tour itineraries is to include Nanu Oya – Ella scenic train ride. According to our experience, most travellers find the 7-hour long Kandy – Ella train ride a bit too tiring. Therefore, when we arrange scenic train rides for our guests, we plan an overnight stay in Nuwara Eliya.
Have a look at our itinerary, “Sri Lanka culture trip”. You will see how we have planned the train ride including an overnight stay in Nuwara Eliya.
2. Horton Plains
Horton Plains is another spot that would require an overnight stay in Nuwara Eliya". It is a national park in the central highlands that encompasses montane grasslands and cloud forests. Most species that you find in Horton Plains are endemic to the region. It is also the headwaters of three major rivers in Sri Lanka, the Mahaweli, Kelani, and Walawe.
In order to witness the true beauty of the national park, you need to visit it between 6.00 am and 10.00 am. After that it is usually very misty. You can barely even see few meters ahead of you when it is covered in mist. For this reason, you cannot visit Horton Plains without spending a night in Nuwara Eliya, which is the closest tourist destination to the national park.
If you would like to see a sample itinerary that includes Horton Plains, please refer to our itinerary, “3 weeks in Sri Lanka”.
Other attractions that Nuwara Eliya offer
In addition to above mentioned excursions, you may also visit a tea plantation, tea factory, Seeta Amman Temple and the Lovers Leap waterfall while you are in Nuwara Eliya. However, I would not make a decision on spending few nights in Nuwara Eliya solely based on these excursions, as there are similar alternatives to these excursions in other parts of the country.
3. Tea plantations
Tea plantations in Nuwara Eliya are well known for their beauty. If you decide to spend a night in Nuwara Eliya, or if you are travelling through the Nuwara Eliya area, make sure to see one.
If you do not have sufficient time to include Nuwara Eliya into your itinerary, you can also find tea plantations in Ella, Haputale and Hatton.
4. Tea factory tours
If you would like to see how Sri Lankan tea is processed, visit a tea factory while you are in Nuwara Eliya. Pedro tea factory is the closest tea factory to Nuwara Eliya town, but you may also visit Blue Field, Damro or Glenloch tea factories while you are there.
If you are not visiting Nuwara Eliya, you may visit Blue Field tea factory as a day tour from Kandy. You can also find tea factories in Ella and Haputale.
5. Lovers Leap waterfall
Lover’s Leap is a beautiful waterfall just few kilometers away from Nuwara Eliya. If you are visiting this waterfall, you will have to hire a tuk tuk for the last part of your journey. Alternatively, you may reach it by foot, which will take you about one and half hours.
Alternatives for Lover’s Leap would be Ramboda waterfall and Ravana waterfall.
6. Seeta Amman Temple
Seeta Amman Temple is a colourful Hindu temple in Nuwara Eliya visited by Tamil tea plantation workers in Nuwara Eliya. According to Ramayana legend, it is the place where Seeta was held captive by King Ravana.
If you are unable to visit Seeta Amman temple, you may visit Sri Kaileswaram Temple in Colobmbo, Sri Muthumari Amman Kovil in Matale, Koneswaram temple in Trincomalee or Nallur temple in Jaffna.
Nuwara Eliya is beautiful small town in the hill country that is well worth your time. If you would like to enjoy a scenic train ride or visit Horton plains, you must allocate one or two nights for Nuwara Eliya. You will also be able to visit a tea plantation, tea factory and many other interesting places while you are there. If you are pressed for time, and if your itinerary already includes a destination like Ella, you may decide to omit Nuwara Eliya from your itinerary.
Hope this article helped you to decide whether to include or not to include Nuwara Eliya into your itinerary. Feel free leave a comment if you have any questions. As always, I am looking forward to answering all your questions.