Adventure to Tea Country: Nuwara Eliya
Valleys of green and too many waterfalls to see in one visit! Our next stop was the slightly chillier town of Nuwara Eliya!
Nuwara Eliya is a town in Sri Lanka located in the Hill Country Region. This region is known for its vast tea plantations and cooler climate. Nuwara Eliya is nicknamed “Little England” because of the climate and colonial-era homes and buildings.
Nuwara Eliya is home to acres and acres of tea plantations, Lake Gregory, a horse racetrack, and a golf course. Elites from Colombo flock here as the temperatures rise in the capital and adventurers use this town as a base for the surrounding treks!
Planning to travel in 2022? Check out our Tips for Traveling this year + some helpful resources!
How to get to Nuwara Eliya from Kandy
You can get to Nuawa Eliya by train, taxi, tuk-tuk, or bus. The train is the most popular way to reach Nuwara Eliya from Kandy (more on that below).
Taking the bus is great for budget travelers as it is the cheapest option. However, it does take up to 4-5 hours to reach your destination.
Going by taxi can be the most comfortable, quickest, and most freeing way to get to Nuwara Eliya. With a driver, you’ll have more freedom to make stops along the way. However, the prices are a lot higher than other methods.
Train to Tea Country (Part 1)
We took the morning train from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya. The train ride is considered one of the most beautiful train rides in the world. And it WAS very beautiful. We had views of the jungle and tea covered hills for the entire 4 hour ride.
In Sri Lanka, trains are divided into 3 classes. 3rd class has no assigned seats and open windows. 2nd class is divided into assigned and unassigned cabins and has open windows. In the 2nd and 3rd classes, the doors of the cars are open for standing/sitting most of the time too. 1st class has assigned seating and AC, as well as, small movie screens in the front of the train car. Most of the car doors are closed in first class, but we were lucky to have one open.
We had 1st class tickets (just under $5) because there weren’t any 2nd class tickets left when we came to buy them. During the train ride, we got up and walked to the doors to see outside, take pictures, and watch the tail of the blue train round the curves.
What’s a Homestay?
We arrived in Nuwara Eliya and got a taxi to our homestay at the edge of town.
Homestays are super common in Sri Lanka. A homestay is an accommodation, often a house or boutique hotel where a family lives. Inside, there are rooms with private bathrooms and sometimes other private spaces or common areas. We’ve stayed in one almost every night of our time in Sri Lanka and they have ranged in quality!
PS This isn’t the home we stayed in, it was just so cute not to snap a picture of!
Bed, Breakfast, and Budget Friendly
Most of the time we book homestays with breakfast included. Often, we can also get dinner for a small additional charge (roughly $2-$4 per person). On top of the yummy (and sometimes HUGE) homemade meals, the families have connections to tour guides, bike rentals, or at least, are full of ideas and tips for your visit to the area. Overall, the average cost per night has been about $15-18 for the two of us including breakfast (and we could probably find even cheaper).
After checking in, we asked about renting a scooter to explore the area and had one within the hour! We didn’t have much time to come up with a plan so we marked some places on Google Maps and headed out.
Highlights in Nuwara Eliya
We drove to a couple of viewpoints where we could see the tea plantations stretching across the hills and the town of Nuwara Eliya. These viewpoints included Single Tree Hill and Shanthipura View Point.
Along the way up to Single Tree Hill, there is a Buddhist Temple and Stupa you can visit as well.
Next, we visited the Post Office and took a stroll around Victoria Park. The post office is a bright red/pink landmark in Nuwara Eliya.
It’s is one of the oldest post offices in Sri Lanka and was built by the British in 1894.
Victoria Park is another “must-see” in Nuwara Eliya. Victoria Park is a small park near the city center perfect for a quiet stroll.
January isn’t the best season to visit because not much is in bloom. However, we still enjoyed our walk through the calm little park.
Tea Plantations + Factories
Visiting a tea plantation or factory is an interesting thing to do here. However, we didn’t stop at any in Nuwara Eliya because we visited one outside of Kandy. There’s no shortage of them to stop at and a popular one in Nuwara Eliya is Pedro Tea Center and Factory.
At these places you can learn about how the tea is grown, harvested, and processed for sale. Did you know green, white, and black tea all come from the same plant? They are just dried and processed differently.
Another thing to do in Nuwara Eliya is to stop at one of the strawberry farms for a sweet treat.
We visited two (and a half) places selling strawberry treats during our visit. First, we chose the wrong location on Google Maps and found ourselves at a private farm with a big gate and security guard, oops.
Luckily, there was a smaller cafe nearby, Somerset Tea Center, selling strawberry goods so we grabbed a snack. We did eventually make it to the other strawberry farm cafe, Simply Strawberries by Jagro Farms, because you can never have too many strawberry treats.
There are over 15 waterfalls in the surrounding hills of Nuwara Eliya. You can book a tour to see some of them or explore by scooter as we did! While renting our scooter, we managed to visit 4 of the waterfalls in the area (had to leave some to bring us back, right?)
St. Clair Waterfall
The first waterfall we visited was St. Clair Waterfall. There’s a viewpoint near a restaurant where you can see the falls or you can take some backroads to get closer. We were running out of daylight during our stop, so we only made it to the viewpoint.
The next morning, we took the scooter again for the entire day. Our first stop is a popular site called Lover’s Leap. Lover’s Leap is a waterfall named after a local tale.
According to the tale, there was a prince who fell in love with a local girl in Nuwara Eliya. He was forbidden to marry her but they were so in love. Instead of living without each other, together they leaped off the top of the falls and…well their love story ended. Not sure if that’s considered romantic but it was a pretty waterfall.
Falls in Nanu Oya
We stopped at two more waterfalls that day, both in Nanu Oya near the train station. The first was Nanu Oya Falls (pictured below left) and the second was Glassaugh Falls (pictured below right).
High Tea at the Grand Hotel in Nuwara Eliya
Preface: This next section is not to sound like a complaint, but to help others who may visit and be looking for the same experience we were hoping to get. After reading so much about the High Tea at the Grand Hotel, it let us down and we don’t want others to waste their time when it could be filled with a better experience!
The last “exciting” thing we did in Nuwara Eliya was have High Tea at the Grand Hotel…sounds fancy right? We freshened up and headed to this event. We had read some blogs that said it was worthwhile to visit for the beautiful gardens, variety of teas to try, and a 3-tiered tray of veg or non-veg finger foods to try, all for less than $7 per person.
The Grand Hotel is an English countryside-styled luxury hotel in Nuwara Eliya. Part of the building was constructed during British Colonial rule between 1830 and 1850.
We were seated outside the T Lounge at the hotel. There was no view of the pretty gardens we had read about, only the parking lot. There were 3 options to choose from but besides the most expensive package having champagne and scones, we didn’t hear the full difference. We didn’t need the extras so we ordered the standard High Tea package that came with tea and some finger foods.
There was another couple sitting in another section outside the restaurant and with hopes of better views of the gardens we moved there. There was a short hedge so although it was closer, still no view. Oh well, at least we would get to try exciting teas.
Waiting for Something More
After 45 minutes, we were served a 3 tiered tray of tiny bites, savory, sweet, and desert. They looked delicious and tasted pretty nice too. There was not a vegetarian-specific option but most of the finger foods were veg-friendly.
We had read in a blog that you chose different teas to try and are taught about them and where they came from. This wasn’t true for our package. It was another 20 minutes before we got our tea, regular Sri Lankan Black Tea.
We aren’t 100% sure if the other packages include a variety of teas. However, there was a couple who ordered the package with champagne and it looked like they had regular tea as well.
After two hours and two cups of black tea, we paid our bill and left. It seems that the other couple near us were expecting a bit more too. The hotel must have changed how it works since COVID. It’s definitely not the MUST DO experience we had read about anymore.
If you’re heading to Nuwara Eliya, skip the High Tea and visit a tea center instead!
Farewell to Nuwara Eliya
The green tea plantations that go for miles and various waterfalls were stunning here. The people were so kind and it was fun to explore by scooter again. Although this “Little England” didn’t blow us away, we definitely packed a lot in just a couple of days.
Now it’s time to get back on the train and head to Ella!
Until next time,
Sam and Ty