If you're visiting Nuwara Eliya any time between April and August, chances are you're going to face rain..... A lot of rain. Whilst the rest of Sri Lanka was dry during our visit in July, Nuwara Eliya was under a constant cloud and heavy showers reminiscent of a biblical story. Despite the weather it is still a beautiful spot, surrounded by tea plantations which looked even more atmospheric as the mist rolled in.
Nuwara Eliya is known as 'Little England' and there are some old colonial buildings, such as the Grand Hotel, but we wonder if it ought now to be known as 'Little Arabia'. Lots of signs are in Arabic and you are often greeted by Sri Lankans with 'salaam alaikum'. The majority of visitors we met were from the Middle East.
Another thing you will notice on your visit is the horses. The horse is to Nuwara Eliya what the cow is to India, not in terms of them being sacred, but in terms of them being everywhere! Horses wander the streets, lazily crossing main roads as tuk tuks and cars swerve to avoid them. There is a race course in town and it seems that, when not in use, the horses are left to roam at will. It was lovely to see them enjoying having some space, and the tiny foals were gorgeous.
Best things to do in Nuwara Eliya when it rains
Whilst Nuwara Eliya is famous for it's tea plantations and waterfalls (two outdoor things), there are a few things you can do in between building your ark.
Tea & Cake at Damro Tea Lounge
Just 7 km north of Nuwara Eliya is Damro Tea Lounge which offers beautiful views across their tea plantation. The Tea Lounge is a great stop for some delicious (and cheap!) tea and cake to enjoy whilst looking out to the views of the tea plantation.
The tea is free if you buy the cake (which is 100 rupees/75 cents per piece) and we had the choice of chocolate or tea flavoured - complete with fresh tea leaf on top. Both were really nice! We'd never tried tea flavoured cake before and after one taste, promptly ordered another slice... when in Nuwara Eliya.
Getting there - You can get a tuk-tuk to Damro and it takes about 15 minutes from the centre of Nuwara Eliya. You'll want to agree a price for the driver waiting and taking you back as there's virtually no tuk-tuks waiting around here that are not already booked!
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Indulge in strawberries at Adma Agro Strawberry Farm
This cafe is not going to win any awards for decor or atmosphere but maybe it will for its strawberries! They serve up freshly grown strawberries in several different ways.
We chose the strawberry and cream pancake with a couple of strawberry milkshakes, but you can also have ice cream or even a strawberry pizza (yes, they even have delivery bikes for the pizzas!).
The pancake was so so. We'd recommend maybe just going for a bowl of fresh strawberries and a strawberry drink.
Getting there - Adma Agro is at the far end of Lake Gregory. It should only cost about 100 - 150 rupees (75 c - $1 USD) to get there by tuk-tuk.
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Check out the tea tour at Pedro Tea Estate
If you're looking for a tea factory that feels like it has barely changed in a century, then Pedro is the place for you. This tea plantation is about 8km from the centre of Nuwara Eliya and is situated on one of the most picturesque landscapes we've seen in Sri Lanka.
This was the second plantation we visited and we were so glad we didn't skip it, the views alone are worth the journey out.
Pedro offers tours of the factory for 250 rupees per person (just under $2 USD) which go as soon as there's enough people to guide. It lasts around half an hour and briskly takes you through the equipment and processes in making tea (most of it looks like you're visiting a museum rather than a factory still in operation).
You are not allowed to take any photos during the factory tour - nor "waste any time" : ) Read the rules on your ticket if you need a good laugh!
Afterwards you can sample a cup of their tea for free and enjoy the spectacular view. The reception has large windows and a balcony.
Getting there - Pedros is about 8km by tuk-tuk from the centre of Nuwara Eliya. You won't need to get a tuk-tuk to wait for you to come back as there are plenty waiting around the main road near Pedro.
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Short activities during rain gaps
Walk through the plantations
Ok, so this one isn't really a rainy day activity, but you will get a gap in the rain and this doesn't take long. Whilst visiting Damro or Pedro, you can have a walk around the tea plantations. This was our favourite part of visiting the plantation, it really is a gorgeous landscape.
When we had gaps in the rain when visiting Pedro or Damro, we hopped out and started exploring. However, it was not long before we had to dive back in for cover again!
You will likely see some tea pickers in the fields as you wander. We've heard if you take photos you will need to give them a small tip, so it's worth having some smaller notes with you.
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Wander round Victoria Park
Another short activity is to wander round the manicured gardens at Victoria Park. Lonely Planet described it as the best kept park in South Asia and while we think that might be a bit far, it's a nice place to stretch your legs after being inside for a while.
It's pretty small (so it doesn't take long to walk around) but having a stroll round the park is a great break from the traffic filled roads in the majority of towns in Sri Lanka.
Entry for foreigners is 300 rupees per person (about $2 USD) compared to 40 rupees for locals, but if you get a big enough gap in the rain it is a relaxing way to spend some time in Nuwara Eliya. It seemed to be popular with young Sri Lankan couples and families.
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The best way to get to Nuwara Eliya
By train! The train from either Ella or Kandy is spectacular and is one of the highlights of any trip to Sri Lanka. You can't buy reserved seats unless you book fairly far in advance, but hanging out by the doors and watching the greenery roll by is a stunning alternative to a traditional seat. Train tickets are incredibly cheap, a four hour journey in 2nd class cost us 160 rupees or $1.20 USD.
If you are travelling to Nuwara Eliya from Kandy try to grab a spot on the right hand side of the train, if from Ella opt for the left.
Places to stay in Nuwara Eliya
Nuwara Eliya is expensive, by far the most expensive place we have been during one month in Sri Lanka. We checked out so many hotels hoping to find a bargain, but came to the conclusion that even in low season there just aren't any bargains in Nuwara Eliya.
Our Pick - Midky Hotel
We ended up staying in Midky Hotel, a good midrange option for those who don't want to break the bank, but also want a comfortable bed, warm shower and clean room. It's a little bit out of town, but the hotel was quiet at night (a lifesaver in Sri Lanka) and we found it to be a really restful place.
The downside is that you are at the mercy of tuk tuk drivers who have to be booked, we found that this was fine for short trips in to town but for longer trips they definitely tried to rip us off. Having said that after checking out five other hotels this was still the best choice.
Luxury - Heritance Tea Factory Hotel
If you have a bigger budget then most definitely take a look at the Heritance Tea Factory hotel. We really wanted to stay here but it was a bit out of our budget. The rooms looked incredible and the setting on a plantation beautiful. It's quite far out of town but the perfect place to kick back with a book and a cup of tea for a few days.
Budget - King Fern Cottages
If you are on a tight budget you could look at the backpacker hang out King Fern Cottages. The setting was stunning, with gorgeous views and the place seemed clean with very friendly staff. There is live music every night so it's best if you're looking for a bit of a social scene. Rooms are basic but functional.
One to avoid
Hill Pride City Hotel - We don't normally do this but want to save you from wasting your time or money looking at this place. The rooms are basic, the sort of place we had been paying 4,000 rupees for in other areas, they were asking 13,000 rupees in low season and we were trying to book three nights. This is the worst value place we came across in Sri Lanka.
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Would you go to Nuwara Eliya in the rainy season? Have you been and found some hidden gems? Let us know in the comments below!
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