Ambuluwawa is a biodiversity complex and Sri Lanka’s first multi-religious sanctuary situated in the central highlands of the country
A visit to Ambuluwawa Tower had not originally been on our original plan of places to see but we had met a young German couple who had given it an outstanding review and so we persuaded our driver to take us there – and it turned out to be definitely worth the detour!
The tower, or more officially the Ambuluwawa Trigonometrical Station, is located about 5km (about 3 miles) from the small town of Gampola and about 25km (or 16 miles ) from Kandy. Due to the country roads, it takes about 1 hour 10 minutes to reach here from Kandy.
To get to the tower you have to head up a mountain along a winding road, which gets you most of the way there. The last 1.5km is not open to private vehicles so we had to hop out. You could, of course, walk the rest of the way which is what the locals seem to do – but it is steep and will likely be pretty hot going in the heat of the Sri Lankan day. Instead, we jumped into a tuk-tuk, which was an adventure itself as we bumped our way over the pot-holed track and navigated tight bends as we snaked our way upwards. Some sections were so steep that the tuk-tuk huffed and puffed, so our tour guide had to leap out and walk!
Eventually, we reached the top of the mountain and the Ambuluwawa Biodiversity Centre. The Centre was inaugurated by Sri Lanka’s former Prime Minister, Dissanayake Mudiyanselage Jayaratne, popularly known as “Di Mu”, who was born near Gampola. Ambuluwawa Mountain stands approximately 3560 meters (11,680 feet) above sea level – pretty high!
The views across the surrounding countryside and adjacent mountains are incredible. Ambuluwawa is surrounded by many mountains including Piduruthalagala to the east, Bible Rock (Bathalegala) to the west, Sri Pada (Adam’s Peak) in the south and the Knuckles Mountain Range to the North. The area is also renowned for the extensive biodiversity of its flora and fauna – I guess that is why they put a biodiversity centre here!
The most striking feature of the centre is the stunning tower that rises 48m (160 feet) above the mountain. It is somewhat whimsical and looks like it came right out of a Dr Suess book. From the base of the tower, you can climb an internal stairway that takes you about a third of the way up and out onto another viewing platform, with spectacular views. If you are adventurous and not afraid of height the stairs continue up the tower, this time winding their way around the outside, getting progressively narrower and more rickety as they approach the top. I didn’t go up but my wife Karen, who likes a challenge, did and she confirmed my fears. On the top section, the width of the stairs narrow to about 12 inches, and the walls of the tower lean outward, forcing you to lean out and over the balustrade. Not for me thank you! I was happy enough to stay down below and admire the view.
There are other things to see in the complex, including a miniature version of the tower, which I felt a lot more comfortable scaling and some small temples that pay tribute to the primary religious cultures of Sri Lanka including a stylized Buddhist stupa, a Hindu kovil, a Muslim mosque and a Christian Church
In Summary …
- Go here if you love spectacular 360-degree panoramic views
- Go here if you love culture and wish to celebrate biodiversity
- Don’t climb the tower if you are unsteady on your feet & suffer from vertigo
- Don’t go up if you find riding a tuk-tuk around bends with steep drop-offs scary.
- Definitely a place worth taking a detour to. You can see it in an hour or less!
Planning the journey
From Kandy board the board a Nawalapitiya bound train and get off at Gampola and take a bus or taxi to Ambuluwawa.
The journey from Kandy is only about 26km but it takes an hour, mainly due to the last few miles from Gampola, which winds its way up the mountain. The road from Gampola city, a winding road up the mountain, is a smooth, well carpeted road. Road width is okay so large vehicles can easily pass each other. Be mindful of the larger vehicles such as buses, give them ample space to complete their turn at hairpin-bends. As you proceed further up the mountain spectacular views beyond the cliff edge will definitely give you goose-bumps. The last section of the road is not great so it is better to park at the parking lot an catch a tuk-tuk for the last kilometre or so. You could of course walk from this point but it is steep and gets hot by late morning.
|Ending location:||Ambuluwawa Biodiversity Complex|
|Journey time:||1 hour (26km – some uphill!)|
|Fees:||LKR 50 for Sri Lankans and LKR 300 for Foreign Nationals (per person)|
|Hours:||Daily from 8:30 am to 5 pm|
Best time to visit Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka has a variety of different tropical climates where rainfall periods and amounts of precipitation determine the distinction between a rainforest climate, tropical Savannah climate and tropical monsoon climate. Sri Lanka can be visited year round, however because of the two rainy seasons there is a lot of confusion as to when is the best time to visit. Here is a peek into the various monsoon periods: You have the Yala Monsoon; this means rain in the west, southwest and inland from the end of April to September. The other is the Maha Monsoon; this means rain on the east coast from October to March.
Are you planning to travel to the west and south coasts or inland? Then you have the highest chance of pleasant weather from December to March. Are you going to the east and north coasts? Then you have the highest chance of good weather from April/May to September.
Where to stay in Kandy
1. MCLEOD INN
The McLeod Inn is a family-run homestay that sits on the hills overlooking central Kandy. The views are amazing from the shared balcony. The Inn has been around for 25-years and the owners are very welcoming and helpful. It has 10 delux double rooms with air conditioning, satellite TV, hot water and free Wi-Fi.
The main tourist attractions and shopping areas are only minutes away on a tuk-tuk.
The continental breakfasts are hearty and the owners make tasty Sri Lankan meals on request..
2. THILANKA HOTEL
We stayed at the Thilanka Hotel during our stay in Kandy. It is located very close to the Temple of the Tooth Complex … it is probably a 10-minute walk (we never tried this) but it involves going down and up a steep hill! You could also walk around the lake and get to the main shopping centre and public market.
Our first room was on the main balcony where the bar and restaurant were and was a little noisy, so we moved the tower and it was a lot better.
The restaurant was excellent and next to the main patio and a great place to take breakfast with good views across the city. We had breakfast and diner at the hotel and the food was excellent and plentiful.
3. RADH HOTEL
Another option for staying close to the Temple of the Tooth complex is the Radh Hotel. Located in a local street the hotel is only a 10-minute walk from the complex and 10-minutes from the shopping mall and central market.
There is great buffet breakfast and very accommodating even for vegans.