Horton Plains National Park is a protected area in the central highlands of Sri Lanka and is covered by montane grassland and cloud forest. It is one of the most popular outings when staying in the Highlands city of Nuwara Eliya. There is a pleasant 6-mile hike with some spectacular views at the World's End viewpoint.
Having climbed to the top of Sigiriya Rock Fortress the day before we were looking forward to climbing its closeby partner, Pidurangala. At 200m it is only a tidge shorter than the Lion Rock Sigiriya. Pidurangala Rock which translates to “offered piles of Gold” is an important place for Buddhists and was first used as a Buddhist monastery. It is believed to date back to the reign of King Kasyapa before the first and second centuries.
This place is less touristy and to be honest, there is not much to see. Access to the rock officially opens at 5 am and closes at 6 pm – and many people chose to climb early or late to see the sunrise or sunset. It should be noted that the stairs and rocks can be quite slippery in the early morning because of dew – so be careful. We decided, on our guides advice to go a bit later in the day when things had warmed (and dried up a bit)
Parking is a little tricky so be patient and getting here is more challenging. If you don’t have a driver then the easiest way to get here is by tuk-tuk from the local town of Sigiriya. The journey costs about 200 rupees.
There is a minimal entrance fee of 500 rupees (a fraction of getting into Sigiriya’s Lion Rock). At the entrance to the trail leading to the top there is a small temple, so ou MUST cover up shoulders, knees and remove shoes at the temple at the start of the trail. There might be some cover-ups available – but this is not guaranteed so take something with you!
A couple of things to beware of: no plastic is allowed on trail (reuseable water bottles are okay) and there are no toilets after you set out upwards!
The trail leading up is mostly a man-made staircase, but the steps are uneven and higgledy-piggledy so you need to watch your step. The climb is steady but not too bad.
At around 30 to 40 minutes you will reach a cave temple, complete with a reclined statue of Buddha. There are also some pretty good views from here.
To get to the top means moving beyond the cave temple. Here the path disappears and you begin clambering over rocks, which are slippery with dust – even with good walking shoes on. We pressed on. Just before the summit, the trail narrows even more and becomes a bit of a bottle-neck. It reminded me of the pictures I had seen of queues of climbers waiting to reach the summit of Mount Everest. There was an interesting mix of people trying to get to the top, some tourists and quite a number of locals – who were making the climb in sandals or bare feet. At this point, there is a narrow space you have to scramble through to get to the plateau atop the rock. Concerned about my camera and my size being able to get through the gap I decided to hold up but Karen, ever determined went on. With the aid of some friendly tourists and Sri Lanka soldiers who just happened to be climbing the rock, she made it through.
The pictures that Karen took from the top show why people make the effort. There are spectacular views across the jungle towards the Lion Rock of Sigiriya Fortress and Palace.
I am very sad I did not make the effort to squeeze through to have seen this for myself!
Of course, as always, the journey down was a welcome relief – and we were just in time to avoid the main heat of the day.
In our opinion, it’s a must-do especially since it’s much cheaper than other local attractions like Lion Rock. The climb is moderate for the most part but getting to the very top requires some clambering over rocks which for some folks (like myself) could be challenging – but don’t let that put you off trying.
In Summary …
- This is a lot less expensive option than climbing Sigiriya, with just as amazing views
- The trail is not as well-groomed and is uneven in places. You will also have to scramble over rocks.
- Go early – perhaps for sunrise (or sunset). It might be crowded for sunrise (take a flashlight) but it will be cooler than the middle of the day
Planning the journey
If you’d like to fly, it’ll cost you anything between LKR 16,000-40,000 for a flight. Cinnamon Air, a reputable domestic airline in Sri Lanka has an air taxi operating daily from Colombo airport’s domestic terminal to Sigiriya. Although it is the fastest way to reach Sigiriya (30 mins), flying is a bit too steep in terms of budget!
The best way to reach Sigiriya from Colombo is by train and will cost you between LKR 800-1,200. It is an hour and 33 minutes from Colombo. However, there are no direct trains to Sigiriya. The best option is to board the train from Colombo Fort to Habrana, which is 15 km away. If you reserve a 3rd class ticket, the fare would be LKR 480, while a confirmed seat in the 2nd class is LKR 600. The train leaves at 6.10 am every day from Colombo Fort to Habrana and takes about 4 hours 50 minutes.
The usual route is the A01 route from Kandy Road to Ambepuss, via Kurunegala on A06. Depending on the traffic you can hope to reach Sigiriya in 3 hours max.
From Sigiriya, Habarana or Dambulla just catch a tuk-tuk.
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.
Places to visit close by
1. SIGIRIYA ROCK FORTRESS
The Sigiriya palace and fortress complex in central Sri Lanka is recognized as one of the finest examples of ancient urban planning, which has resulted in it being recognised in 1982 as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
2. MINNERIYA NATIONAL PARK
Set in the heart of the popular cultural triangle of Sri Lanka, Minneriya National Park is mostly known for its incredible elephant migration, which is one of Asia’s finest wildlife experiences. During the drier months of June to September, as many as 300 elephants congregate in the Minneriya National Park around the ancient Minneriya water tank (which dates back to 3rd Century AD), taking advantage of the receding waters that provide an important water source.
Some 800 years ago Polonnaruwa was a bustling commercial and religious centre for the Chola dynasty, as can be seen by the amazing density of ruins of temples, palaces and other buildings. In the early 13th century the city’s glory faded and it was abandoned. The capital moved to the western side of the island where Colombo is today. In 1982 Polonnaruwa as added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites
4. RANGIRI DAMBULLA CAVE TEMPLE
Dambulla Cave Temple is a UNESCO World Heritage site close to Sigiriya and about 50 miles north of Kandy. Its five chambers hold over 150 statues of Buddha and other prominent Sri Lankans from the time of kings. Amongst its greatest treasures are the stunning murals that cover its walls and ceiling. Well worth the effort to visit.
Where to stay in Habarana / Sigiriya
1. HABARANA VILLAGE BY CINNAMON
Offering bungalow-style rooms surrounded by greenery, Chaaya Village Habarana is a 15-minute drive from Minneriya National Park. The hotel features an outdoor pool and facilities for tennis, volleyball and badminton.
Chaaya Village Habarana is an hour’s drive from Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle. Driving from Bandaranaike International Airport takes 6 hours.
Featuring wooden furniture, the air-conditioned rooms at Chaaya Village Habarana come with private terraces. Each room has a TV with cable channels, a safety deposit box, and tea/coffee making facilities.
Azmaara Spa provides a range of treatments, from massages to manicures and pedicures. The hotel offers tours such as hiking in the Ritigala jungle or riding an ox cart in Hiriwadunna.
2. HABARANA ECO TREEHOUSE
If you are looking for something more unusual then you might want to consider the Habarana Eco Treehouse. This is not exactly a treehouse, as it is not in a tree, but it is in the air on stilts. To get to your room you have to climb up a rustic ladder – this is not one for those who are wobbly on their pins or suffer from vertigo.
The accommodation itself is basic, but there is electricity and hot water.
Food is prepared by the owners and are delicious local dishes.
3. IL FRANGIPANE
Located in Sigiriya, 1.1 mi from Sigiriya Rock, il Frangipane provides accommodations with a restaurant, free private parking, free bikes and an outdoor swimming pool. 2.7 mi from Pidurangala Rock and 0.7 mi from Sigiriya Museum, the property offers a garden and a terrace. The air-conditioned rooms provide a garden view and come with a wardrobe and free WiFi.