A Budget Travel Guide to Nuwara Eliya in Less Than 48 Hours
Whenever someone reminds Zin of Nuwara Eliya, she thinks of her first trip there. She thinks of snappin’ a picture from a small digi cam with her friends back in school. She thinks of all the unlimited waterfalls, mist-laden mountains in pretty greens. It recalls her memory of going to a tea factory for the first time. Her memory of lying down on the greenest grass by the Lake Gregory with ma. For Nathan, Nuwara Eliya was never on the books of many places he visited. And finally, years later, when Z tagged him along to Nuwara Eliya, he was overjoyed!
How to Get To Nuwara Eliya
Train: Trains are obviously the best way to travel around Sri Lanka. Up country train journeys are quite fascinating. Did you know that the train journey from Kandy to Ella is regarded as the world’s most scenic? If you are boarding the train from either Colombo or Kandy, get off the train at Nanu Oya Railway Station. The train journey to Nanu Oya from Colombo takes about 6 hours. Nanu Oya is about 8km from Nuwara Eliya town.
You can either stay at Nanu Oya and use it as the base to explore the area or stay in one of the many hotels in Nuwara Eliya. From Nanu Oya, you can take a tuk or board the bus to Nuwara Eliya. Buses are frequent throughout the day and the cheapest way to get to the town (costs only Rs. 25). The bad part about trains is, they can get crowded. That, too, unbearably! You can reserve your seat prior to your journey at Colombo Fort or Kandy Railway Stations. If it’s the season and a long weekend, the seats get reserved quite fast so make sure you reserve yours at the earliest. Sugar plum, we couldn’t reserve ours even three weeks prior to our journey. Yes, we aren’t even kidding!
Third class reserved tickets cost Rs.400, second class, around Rs. 600 while first class (AC) cost Rs. 1000+. There are also compartments from Rajdhani Express and Expo Rail which you can book online and costs a little more. It’s always best to reserve second class compartments. Since you are travelling to up country, AC compartments aren’t necessary. Oh and sugar plum, you would want to open all the shutters to soak up the beauty in the hills!
Bus: A frequent and the cheapest option to travel to up country. There are normal buses and air conditioned mini buses. They will take about 5-6 hours to Nuwara Eliya from Colombo. If you’ve motion sickness, be prepared!
In our case, we couldn’t reserve train seats. So we boarded the very crowded Podi Menike (Sri Lankan trains have quite fabulous names and that’s why we love them) from Colombo during a long weekend! (Also read: why train is the best way to travel.) We got squashed. Sandwiched. And heard many beautiful stories. But when it reached Kandy, we got off the train, had brekkie and boarded the normal bus to Nuwara Eliya!
Where to Stay in Nuwara Eliya
We stayed in a small guesthouse called The Train View in Nanu Oya. We paid 10$ for a double room per night! If you think cheap = bad, you are WRONG (and this blog is probably not for you). The Train View guesthouse is one of the most amazing places we’ve stayed throughout our journeys. (Also read: Nuwara Eliya,where the joy is much more real.)
You can stay in Nuwara Eliya town or escape to the quieter Nanu Oya! And there are many other nearby quiet areas, too. Nanu Oya, despite having the Railway Station, is, a perfectly unspoilt little town. There aren’t many food options around. In our case, our guesthouse provided us free unlimited Sri Lankan brekkie (nomnomnom) and we lunched in Nuwara Eliya town and packed food for dinner back at the guesthouse. If you want to indulge in delicious Sri Lankan cuisine, you can pay a small amount and have dinner at The Train View.
Things to Do in Nuwara Eliya
1. Lake Gregory
We came here the first day, directly after our bus journey from Kandy. We caught a tuk from the town (cost us Rs. 200). There are many food joints here so this is the perfect lunch time or snack option. You can also paddle around the lake in a swan boat or go on a speedboat ride! Or lie down on the grass, just like us. We spent time lying down on the softest and the greenest grass, soaking up the scenic beauty and admiring the oxygen-laden mountains.
We took the bus back to Nuwara Eliya and headed to our guesthouse in Nanu Oya! If you are coming to Lake Gregory from Nuwara Eliya, take the bus to Welimada. It will only cost you around Rs. 20.
2. Nuwara Eliya Post Office
With gorgeous London style architecture, the post office in Nuwara Eliya creates an aesthetic spot! It’s right there in Nuwara Eliya town opposite the bus stand. The Hatton National Bank building next to the post office is quite aesthetic, too.
3. Pedro Tea Estate
Catch the bus to Borelanda. The Pedro Tea Estate is quite pretty! For a local, a ticket costs Rs.50 (Rs.200 for foreigners) which includes a nice cuppa at the tea boutique overlooking the endless tea plantations. You get a small tour around the tea factory to see how world’s finest chai is born. While you are here, enjoy a walk through the tea plantations. There’s a beautiful lake bordering the estate and we went their with a help of an aunt who plucks tea here.
4. Lover’s Leaf Waterfall
We went to Nuwara Eliya during the dry season and our guesthouse recommended us to not visit Lover’s Leaf as there’s only very little water. It’s pretty close to Pedro Tea Estate and can be done easily! Go there if you around!
5. Haggala Botanical Garden
If you are a fan of pretty man made gardens, you will love it here. Nathan wasn’t quite fond of going to a botanical garden. Ha! There are plenty of small shops to junk-shop on the main road! We loved our puhul dosi the most! You can easily catch a bus to Welimada and get down at the botanical garden.
6. Seetha Amman Temple
This beautiful golden temple is the only Seetha temple in the entire world. So expect it be attracting pilgrims from all around the world. According to Ramayana, this is the exact place where Sita, wife of Rama was held captive by King Ravana. It’s about 2km away from Haggala Botanical Garden.
7. Evening walks to Nanu Oya Railway Station
Since we were based in Nanu Oya, we had plenty of time to do small walks around the area. The railway station is one of Zin’s favorites since Meghna, one of Z’s Tumblr friends came to Sri Lanka (Also read: one year and a little more.) If you love beautiful railways, misty hills, vintage trains, you will love this beautiful station. Oh and they’ve a cute train schedule, too.
Places to Eat in Nuwara Eliya
Hela Bojun Hala
Hela Bojun Hal are food stalls established by Agriculture Department. These places have delicious, healthy, hygienic food for quite affordable prices. A full meal including herbal porridge or tea with Kithul jaggery would cost you less than Rs. 150. It’s right there in the town near the Victoria Park in Nuwara Eliya.
Apart from that we lunched at the Lake Gregory Park and had dinner and snacks from two small ‘hotels’ near the bus stand. Maybe it’s just us but food outside Colombo are ten times delicious and twice cheaper compared to the price in Colombo. One more reason to move to the hills? Potensh!
There are plenty other things to do in Nuwara Eliya including St’ Clair Falls, Devon Falls and Hortain Plains. Stay tuned for our next journeys!
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