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A Beginner's Guide to Hiking in Sri Lanka

If you've got the wish to wander but don't know the wheres and hows, this is here to help you out.

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We've said this once, twice, thrice, and will probably say it a hundred times more, but Sri Lanka is an amazing place (once you get out into the countryside at least). With its wide vistas, sweeping mountains, tea estates, paddy fields, waterfalls, and breathtaking sunrises and sunsets (need we say more?), an avid hiker is spoilt for choice.

If you've always wanted to go on that great big adventure but didn't know how to begin or where to go, here are a few headers. Just pick a friend — or anyone basically — who's up for anything and who doesn't fuss much, and latch onto a bus or train. If you have a vehicle, all the better because that just makes things a lot more convenient. Don't forget to take your travel essentials along!

Straightforward Hikes

Not much into knee-busting climbs or have a phobia of tripping over rocks and spraining an ankle in the middle of nowhere? These places are quite easy-peasy and involve straight walks coupled with great views.

Idalgashinna - Ohiya Railway Hike

Considered one of the most beautiful treks in the country, you just need to follow the railtrack from one station to the other to complete this journey. You've got nothing to watch out for but eucalyptus and pine forests, a few thorns, all the tunnels you'll walk through (13 in total), and the trains that pass through it. Keep a keen eye and ear out for the latter and you'll be safe enough.

The rail hike is an 8km walk between the Idalgashinna Railway Station and the Ohiya Railway Station. The weather is continually cool and nippy given the villages' elevation, and the walk is refreshing.

Demodara Rail Hike and Nine Arches

Just a few kilometres long (about 2-3kms), the walk from the Demodara Railway Station to the Nine Arches Bridge will take you only one and a half hours: with multiple stops for photos along the way. You wouldn't break a sweat, and it's like a mini version of the Idalgashinna Rail trek.

You reach the famous Nine Arches Bridge towards the end of the hike. Climb one of the hills surrounding the bridge, find the cafes tucked in the nooks, and stretch your legs out as you enjoy the view and wait for a train to rumble out.

Riverston, Knuckles

Misty, chilly, and windy, the knuckles mountain range has a number of hiking options to choose from. Check out Riverston, a steady uphill climb but through well maintained paths (actually a gravel road in most cases) or drive a short way from the Riverston carpark down to where Mini World's End is.

You walk across flat land basically, until you reach the edge of a cliff and risk being buffeted off by the strong winds if you're underweight.

Slightly Arduous Hikes

These have a bit of climbing to do, but won't leave you panting for breath.

Diyaluma

The second highest waterfall in the country, the hike to the top of the fall head takes you across fragrant fields of wild lemongrass and trees laden with local gooseberries.

It's a lovely walk, but will take you a couple of hours.

Horton Plains

Leading to multiple other sights including Baker's Falls, Kirigalpottha, and World's End, Horton Plains is a vast landmass filled with shrubs and semi-tame sambhurs. If you're lucky, you might even spot the elusive fishing cat. 

Little Adam's Peak

This has a bit of a vertical climb. There are two (or possibly more) ways to get there, one taking you through bush and the other having a series of steep stairs. Both will leave you slightly breathless, especially when you're puffing your way up at the crack of dawn (which is the time you should be climbing up there, so you'd catch sunrise from the peak).

Yaapahuwa

Yapahuwa is one of the lesser-visited historical sites in the Cultural Triangle, inexplicably so since it's really easy to access (you can drive right up).

If you're wondering about views, worry not because the view from the summit is breathtaking. The plains of the dry zone scattered with rocky outcrops is visible in all its glory.

Pidurangala

Pidurangala is the smaller, less well known neighbour of the tourist draw that is Sigiriya, from which you have stunning views of the rock fortress itself. 

The top surface of Pidurangala is large rolling field of stone, beyond which the fields and mountains spread out in a crazy perfect circle. It’s huge and undulating rolling landscape to be blown about and from every side thudded with stunning scenery.

Namunukula

Situated in the Badulla District and quite close to Ella, Namunukula is for serious campers. Whether this is tough or not actually depends on the season, with it being manageably easy during February to July, but with rough and cold winds during September. Questions about this place are best directed at Buddhika, our resident hardcore backpacker.

Tough Stuff

If you're super fit (or fitter than most of us), this won't be a problem for you. 

Kirigalpottha 

Kirigalpottha is the highest accessible mountain in Sri Lanka (you need permission from the SLAF to climb Piduruthalaagala). You ascend the peak after climbing over a few flat and steep rocks with sheer drops on either side. The view is stunning once you get through, though.

Meemure — Diya Karalla

The Meemure-residents will suggest the Diya Karalla to you: the name they use for a waterfall located right at the summit of a 3km vertical hike. You have a few rocks and waterways to hop over, a bit of climbing to do, and a couple of hours to walk through. There are a few vantage spots to stop and rest up, and given that you're almost following the river upstream, you can fill in your waterbottles along the way.

Ella Rock

I'm yet to meet someone who hasn't gotten lost a bit on their way up. Unless you go with a guide maybe, but why take a guide when you can carve your own path? Not like you'll lose track of civilization forever, just make sure you have a bit of victuals with you so you wouldn't starve. There are approximately 16 paths to the summit, and the last half is quite a bit of a climb (unless you have pretty good lungs). I've been here twice and I found it harder than Kirigalpottha both times, which is weird because many people find the mountain much tougher.

Things to Keep in Mind

Your plans won't always go as expected, so keep an open mind and adapt. If you're the type to have a melt-down every time your well-thought-out itinerary doesn't go according to plan, you're going to have a pretty unpleasant time, overall. Also remember that unlike a party or a dinner or any other social situation, you're not going to be around people who have their fun demeanor on at all times. You'll get to learn about the best and worst of your companions (and yourself), so make each hike a learning experience.

Be well prepared but do not overpack. It's incredibly difficult to lug along heavy packs, so unless you have a place to stash your bags make sure that you just have the bear necessities. Keeping hyrdrated is important, so have at least a bottle of water each.

Dress comfortably and hardily. Wear sturdy, reliable shoes or slippers if you're more comfortable with the latter. I find wearing long clothes easier than shorts and shortsleeved ones because it protects you from thorns and bugs.


We hope you found this helpful. If we've missed anything out or if there's anything else you need to know about, just hit us up in the comments and let us know!

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