Besides hills, this region has mountains, waterfalls, verdant scenery, tea plantations and a cool climate that is a welcome antidote to the heat of the coast and low-lying plains. Situated at 6,525 ft/1,990 m, Nuwara Eliya is one of the highest and most attractive towns in the hill country. The town was built by English tea growers, and it looks more English than some English towns. In fact, when sipping tea at The Hill Club (a musty, rustic old colonial inn), you could begin to believe that the empire hasn't ended. Nuwara Eliya is also the site of the best golf course in Sri Lanka and the Hakgala Botanical Gardens, where everything from roses to rare mountain orchids grow. With prior notice, some of the tea estates that surround the town will show you around their factories and even let you spend a night (highly recommended). Contact the tourist office for more information.
Ratnapura (about 60 mi/100 km southeast of Colombo) is the place to go if you want to learn about gems. You can hire an inexpensive guide to show you the entire process—from digging in the gem pits to polishing and setting the stones. There's an excellent gem museum in town, too. However, we recommend not making any purchases in Ratnapura—it's the most expensive place to buy gems in Sri Lanka.
Ratnapura is a good starting point for climbs to 7,360-ft/2,245-m Adam's Peak (Sri Pada), a site that is sacred to Buddhists, Muslims, Christians and Hindus. Climb the peak to see the stone imprint of either Buddha, Adam, St. Thomas or Shiva (religious leaders disagree over exactly whose footprint it is). Make the trip early in the morning (perhaps to see the sunrise) to avoid the afternoon heat. Another popular place to hike is Horton Plains National Park, a high plateau that begins 12 mi/20 km south of Nuwara Eliya. You can spend a great day or two hiking through the grasslands (there is some forest, too). World's End is dramatic: The high plateau drops 2,300 ft/700 m. From there, the terrain slopes downward another 4,250 ft/1,295 m toward the coastal plains. It's a truly spectacular site. The hill country begins about 50 mi/80 km east of Colombo.
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