Nuwara Eliya is located 150 km away from Colombo in the Central Highlands of Sri Lanka.
Nuwara Eliya can be reached from Colombo via Kandy, which is the gateway to the Central Highlands of the island. Colombo-Kandy-Nuwara Eliya is the most scenic highland motor road of Sri Lanka. Though the city of Nuwara Eliya has no Railway station, the highland railway line that winds past the city of Nanu Oya makes the journey by train one of the most scenic and memorable experiences. The journey to Nuwara Eliya from Kandy by train as well as by car is equally spectacular. The alternative route to Nuwara Eliya from Colombo is via Hatton which is located in the southern area of the Central Highlands.
Nuwara Eliya which is at an elevation of 1890 meters above the sea level is the highest city in Sri Lanka and it lies beneath the tallest peak of the island, Pidurutalagala or Mount Pedro (2555 meters).
The salubrious climate has branded Nuwara Eliya into a sanatorium that attracts Sri Lankan tourists as well as foreign travellers to the seasonal event during February to April. Golf tournaments, horse racing, motor cross, clay pigeon shooting and carnival features are some of the main festivities. The downside of the season is the accommodation rates that shoot up above all. With thousands of local tourists flocking to Nuwara Eliya filling up hotels and guest houses that provide budget accommodation in the season and narrowing the accommodation options, foreign tourists would find it necessary to have the hotel bookings sorted out well in advance.
Though Nuwara Eliya had been inhabited during the early period of the kingdom of Kandy, the existence of the spectacular “Eliya” (Sinhala: opening or clearing) valley set amidst the wooded green mountains wasn’t known to the Colonial British until the accidental discovery by the colonial civil servant John Davy in the year 1819. However it took another decade for the British to realize the potential of the city as a whole.
Governor Edward Barnes converted Nuwara Eliya into a commercial and a coffee planting centre during the 1830s. In the year 1847 the great colonial explorer Samuel Baker introduced the gardening of English vegetables in Nuwara Eliya. To date, Nuwara Eliya is the leading producer of European vegetables in Sri Lanka and it distributes all vegetables to the rest of the island.
Following the Coffee Blight in Sri Lanka during the 1870s, the plantation of tea was introduced by Sir James Taylor resulting in the development of the Nuwara Eliya district as the heart of the tea growing region of the central highlands of Sri Lanka, then called Ceylon. The first plantation on experimental stages was established in 1867 at the Loolecondera Estate situated between Kandy and Nuwara Eliya. In the year 1885 the highland railway track was extended to Nanu Oya, a town 5km south of Nuwara Eliya.
In the centre of the town is the local Central Market. South of the market is Victoria Park spreading over an expanse of 27 acres with well maintained shrubs and trees. The cluster of exceedingly tall eucalyptuses is a main feature therein. Victoria Park though is located at close proximity to the city centre, is an ornithological hot spot where bird lovers would spend long hours. River Nanu Oya that runs through the Victoria Park and a number of lakes within it supports the endemic birds of Sri Lanka as well as migrant birds from neighbouring countries and regions such as the Himalayas. Among the birds are Kashmir flycatcher, Indian blue robin, Pied thrush, Dull-blue flycatcher and the yellow-eared bulbul.
To the South of the Victoria Park is the Racecourse and behind the Race course is Lake Gregory. Nuwara Eliya’s finest Golf Course is located just opposite the Victoria Park. Built in 1891 by the British colonialists in Sri Lanka, then called Ceylon, this 18-hole golf course is well maintained by the Nuwara Eliya Golf Club. The club rents golf equipment and charges a fee for playing at its golf course.
A path from the race course leads to Single Tree Mountain that affords a bird eye-view of the surrounding hills. Single Tree Mountain unravels the spectacular sceneries of the entire town of Nuwara Eliya including the Pidurutalagala Mountain, Hakgala Mountain, Lake Gregory as well as the Northern section of Horton Plains.
Pedro and Labookelle tea estates afford opportunities to get on-site knowledge regarding the tea industry of Sri Lanka.
Located 3 km east of Nuwara Eliya, beneath a flank of Mount Pedro is the Pedro Tea estate. The resident guide at the estate explains and elaborates on the process of growing and manufacturing Ceylon Tea. Labookelle Tea Estate which is located 20 km north of Nuwara Eliya, is set at an elevation of 2000 meters. The expansive estate is fully geared to host the visitors with a tour around the entire property. The café is a fine place to enjoy a cup of Ceylon tea while having a delicious slice of cake.
Nuwara Eliya’s scenic mountainous terrain provides visitors with numerous hiking possibilities. Mount Pedro or Pidurutalgala rising to a height of 2555meters above the sea level is a great place for hiking enthusiasts, although the summit isn’t open to the public Waterfalls around Nuwara Eliya make the hiking and trekking all the more pleasant: Ramboda Falls; Devon Falls; Lakshapna Falls are to name a few. The Turf Club is also located within the city and affords visitors horse riding and pony riding. Boating opportunities are made possible by the boat house at Lake Gregory.
The Horton Plains National Park, A UNESCO World Heritage is perched on the edge of the Central Highlands midway between Nuwara Eliya and Haputale, another hill country retreat, which consists of the highest plateau of Sri Lanka at 2000 feet and a paradise of bird watchers, nature lovers and hikers. The precipice that falls vertically for over 1050 meters in the park at the southern edge of the highlands to the lowlands below, called World’s End, is an excursion that wouldn’t be missed at all by the holiday makers at Nuwara Eliya.
Since the grand view from the World’s End is clouded with mist from 10 am onwards, particularly during April to September, timing on arrival at the escarpment needs to be planned. Horton Plains can be reached from Haputale too.
Sri Lanka is one of the world’s largest exporters of tea. Since the introduction of tea to Sri Lanka in the mid 19th century, Nuwara Eliya has been the capital of the tea industry. For many miles prior to reaching Nuwara Eliya from either direction you will find acres of tea plantations; in fact nothing but tea estates. There are many factories open for visitors which also consists of tea sales outlets for you to purchase.
An old tea factory turned into a fine hotel is about 30-45 minutes away at Kandapola. Managed by one of the largest hotel chains in Sri Lanka, it offers good food and excellent accommodation.
Walking distance from the town centre, built in 1891 the club consists of a 18 hole golf course. You can rent clubs, shoes and buy old balls.
10 km southeast of Nuwara Eliya, sprawling at the base of the Hakgala Rock at an elevation of 5000-6000 ft is the Hakgala Botanical Gardens established in 1861 by Mr G.H.W. Thawaites then director of Royal Botanical Gardens at Peradeniya.
Originally established to grow Cinchona, the source of Quinine, the anti-malarial drug, Hakgala soon became a host to a wide array of foreign species. The roses that bloom during April to August steal the limelight at Hakgala. The hill is wooded with a range of foreign trees: Cypresses from California; fine old cedars; enormous tree ferns; stands of Japanese camphor; and pines eucalyptus; and bark-shedding Australian melaleucas.
Hakgala Botanical Gardens is host to a considerable flock of endemic mountain bird species including the dull-blue flycatcher, Sri Lankan whistling thrush and Sri Lankan bush warbler.
Lake Gregory which is spread across an area of 91.2 hectares was built British colonial Governor Governor William Gregory for the purpose of making use of water from River Nanuoya that flows past Nuwara Eliya. Boating opportunities for the visitors are made possible by the boat house at Lake Gregory.