For decades Sri Lanka has been widely known for its breath-taking sandy beaches with turquoise blue waters that stretch for miles, but little do most people know that the island is also abundantly gifted with various waterbodies, from rivers and lakes to rushing waterfalls. The journey from Colombo through the towns of Balangoda and Belihuloya (a small basin nestled within the Adam’s Peak Mountain range) is one filled with picturesque views of distant verdant mountains that never fail to mesmerize travellers. The central highlands, located in the south-central part of the island, contain several protected nature reserves including Peak Wilderness, Horton Plains and the Knuckles Conservation Forest, all of which are home to spectacular waterfalls and numerous walking trails.
Bambarakanda Falls is the first stop along the way. Although not the most scenic, it makes up for this by its sheer height, standing at 863ft and earning the place of the highest waterfall in Sri Lanka. The trek to the base of Bambarakanda is covered in lush vegetation, but a narrow trail that will take you to a large opening which provides a stunning view of this fall. For those who are interested in making the trek up to the summit, it’s best to bring sufficient water and food with you as there are several trail options up to the top, including the trail to Lanka Ella, the path that leads to Uduwara and Nagadowa, two beautiful waterfalls hidden within the mountains in the area. If you’re keen on the view but not particularly on walking, then you can make the journey to the top in a four-wheel drive. The area is also great for bird-watching, but swimming in the pool in foot of the waterfall is not recommended.
Tips – Stop at the Belihuloya Rest House for breakfast they have a variety of delicious Sri Lankan breakfast options.
Don’t forget – The best times to see Bambarakanda is during March and April.
Located along the Koslanda – Wellawaya road en route to Ella, the next stop is Diyaluma Falls, which is roughly 2.5 hours from Bambarakanda Falls. Identified as the third tallest waterfall in the island, Diyaluma looks majestic on its best days as the water cascades through the plateau with mists covering the summit. Apart from its general popularity due to its beauty, the falls is also shrouded in the mystery of local folklore. It is said that a king fell in love with a girl from a lower cast and, whilst they were climbing the rocks to escape the wrath of the villagers, she fell into the waterfall. It is said that the tears shed by the king in his grief were collected by a deity and turned into the fall that we see today.
Tips – There are many vendors near the waterfall: pick up some hot corn cobs for a snack or have a hot ginger tea to energize you for the rest of the journey.
The last waterfall in this whistle-stop tour is Ravana’s fall, a waterfall shrouded in ancient mythology located just outside the laidback town of Ella. Although relatively small, this waterfall is visited by most tourists staying in the surrounding area, as there is the opportunity to bathe in the shaded plunge pool, or – in the dry season – to hike up to the top. Its popularity is fuelled by the historic myth of intrigue that surrounds it, a narrative of love and revenge found in the Hindu epic Ramayana. In the tale, the beautiful princess Sita is kidnapped from her husband Rama by Ravana, King of Sri Lanka, and kept prisoner in the cave behind Ravana’s fall. After staying here for many years, Sita is rescued by Rama who slays Ravana for good measure.
There are many other things to see and do around Ella – although unfortunately no others involve tales of captured princesses. Rise early in the morning to climb Little Adam’s Peak, a gentle stroll through neat rows of tea plants which ends in a short but steep set of stairs. Once at the top, gaze out at the stunning vista of rolling hills and misty mountains known as the Ella Gap, named as such because you can see all the way to the south coast on a fine day.
Don’t miss – Chill Café, an arty restaurant with a relaxed atmosphere and an extensive menu featuring delicious international and local dishes.
Stay at – 98 Acres Resort, a 12-room, eco-friendly boutique hotel set amidst tea-covered hills with magnificent views.