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.
It does seem churlish to visit a country and not get to grips with its culture. Just travelling through Sri Lanka, visiting towns and archaeological sites had given us a new perspective on this country (this was our first visit), but when given the chance to do a traditional village tour we jumped at the opportunity. I guess the question is how authentic these experiences really are but we thought it might provide some new incites.
Near to Sigiriya, where the Lion Rock fortress and palace is located (which many tours of Sri Lanka pass through) are a number of places that offer “traditional village tours”. We went on Traditional Village Tour #3 – but to be honest, I am not sure what the number actually means, but it included a ride on an ox-drawn cart, a boat ride and some time in a traditional house with a cooking demonstration – plus we’d get the chance to eat the food. The tours last for about 2-hours and cost around $30 per person. A little pricey, but what you expect to pay as a tourist for these type of experiences.
For the first leg of our little journey, we embarked on an ox-drawn cart along some country lanes away from the main road. Looking at the cart before we set out I expected that the suspension was a little ropey and I was not disappointed as we bumped and jiggled our way along the tracks.
The ox-cart tour did not last more than about 15 minutes, bringing us alongside a lake where our little boat was waiting for us. The man who led our ox-cart was also our boat driver.
The boat was tiny and man-powered so it was very relaxing to be spending time pottering around this man-made lake. Luckily, there had been a lot of rain so the lake was full which allowed us to get parts that we wouldn’t have been accessible otherwise.
We probably spent 1/2 an hour cruising around before docking next to some traditional Sri Lankan village houses.
The traditional Sri Lankan village house is a long single room structure. There are no windows so it is open to the world, but it doesn’t get cold here. For me, the issue would be the bugs! The roof is made of woven fronds of palm leaves (we got a demonstration of how the leaves are woven!).
The kitchen area is barely isolated from the rest of the home. Cooking is done over an open fire in earthenware pots. A part of this tour is to have some lunch – so we got to help prepare the food, from grinding through to cooking the daal, roti bread and desserts. Hot work … I don’t know how these people cope in tropical climates.
With the food prepared we sat down to eat, whilst getting some more demonstrations, such as the weaving of the palm fronds for the roof covering.
After lunch, we all climbed into a tuk-tuk and headed back to our starting point.
In Summary …
- We are not sure how authentic all of this was but it was a lot of fun
- The food served at lunch was delicious.
- Definitely worth fitting this in if you are in the area
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.
Travelling to Sigiriya can be quite tiring, considering the direct options to reach there are limited to none. If you’d like to travel by bus, it may take longer than driving in a cab or a rental car. From Colombo, the number 15 bus to Anuradhapura or number 48 to Kaduruwela are the best options; alternatively, you’d board number 49 to Trinco and get down either at Dambulla or Habrana.
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
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.