Camping in Sri Lanka’s major headwaters, Horton Plains – Nuwaraeliya
24 August 2021
Reading Time – 07 Mins
Horton Plains National Park is located in central highlands of Sri Lanka and its located 2,100 meters above sea level. Horton Plains is one of the well protected national parks in Sri Lanka and the geography and harsh weather make it even more protected. If you are a wild life lover there are lots of wild life you can see and photograph. If you are lucky you can even see Sri Lankan leopards here. With recent COVID-19 situation, park has very less visitors and leopards are roaming much freely.
This area’s annual rainfall is greater than 2,000 millimetres and frequent cloud cover helps to keep the temperature around 13 degree Celsius and during off season and night times can go down to 2 to 3 degree Celsius. This makes Horton Plains camping one of the coldest camping experience in Sri Lanka.
Closest villages to the park are Ohiya and Pattipola both are approximately 8 to 10 kilometres away from the park entrance. There are two roads leading to Horton Plains.
Most common road is via Pattipola. But the road from Ohiya also very scenic. Both roads start from it’s respective train stations and it’s called world’s end road. Pattipola railway station is Sri Lanka’s highest railway station situated in an elevation of 1,897.5 m above sea level.
There are two parts i would like to explain. First part is important since it contributes a lot for camping. As explained Horton Plains is a National Park so to camp you have to book the campsites and this is one of the few places in Sri Lanka where you can legally camp. Yes folks it’s prohibited by law to camp in Sri Lanka unless it’s specified camping site.
Camping sites can be booked by visiting the Department of Wildlife Conservation Battaramulla. Unfortunately it’s not online friendly yet. They have the online booking facility for bungalows but not for camping sites.
It would be challenging if you live out of Colombo, because finding this office in other major cities is doubtful but you can always do phone inquiries. In fact i recommend you to give a call to check the availability before you go there in person.
Department of Wildlife Conservation – Phone: 0112 888 585
Map Location – https://goo.gl/maps/fgzifBpoNeJka72S6
There are 3 dedicated camping sites.
This map will help you to get a better picture. Campsite 01 is my favourite because its next to Belihul Oya river and covered from all 4 sides and you have the total privacy. But its difficult to accommodate more than 6 i would say. For a larger group campsite 03 is the best choice as you have more space to pitch tents and for better privacy as well.
Campsite 02 is located next to the footpath which tourist take during the day time to visit bakers falls and world’s end points. Advantage you have in here is you can get closer to the path which leads back to the main gates as well as you can take walks to many attractions in the park. But you lose your privacy during day time.
To book each campsite for one day (at the time of writing) will be LKR 2400 [Note – Price can change over time so it’s better you inquire prices] Each campsite can accommodate up to 12 campers. Apart from this Wildlife department will charge vehicle fee when you enter into the park.
Now that booking campsites are done let’s get to part-2 of preparations.
Horton Plains can be a tough and rough place to camp if you go underprepared. I always like the simplicity of camping and recommend you to not go overboard with equipments. Night at Horton Plains can be cold so below are some of the essential you will require
1. Rainproof camping tent [Rain here is unpredictable so be prepared]
2. Cooking facilities [campfire is prohibited here. So gas stove will be ideal]
3. Warm Clothes [This will change from person to person. Temperature can drop to 2 or 3 celsius so be prepared]
4. Sleeping bag [This will go a long way for a good sleep]
5. Enough food for your stay [Plan your meals and make sure to pack snacks]
6. Camping lights [This is obvious but since you don’t have a campfire, head light and a camp light will go a long way]
7. Garbage Bags [ I mentions this specifically since we have witnessed people litter the campsite when they leave. Please refrain from littering. Make sure to collect your garbage and dispose into the provided garbage bins at the main entrance]
There are plenty of things I can mention on this list. But I’m sure that the essential mentioned are adequate.
If you are traveling from Colombo it will be a long drive, approximately 6 hours. Camping site will be open for you from 11.00 a.m onwards. So my advice is try to reach your campsite by at least by 1.00 p.m so you have enough time to pitch the tents and settle in. Deadline to reach campsites are before 4.00 p.m.
When you enter park gates [from Pattipola or Ohiya] officers will check your campsite booking receipt and you will have to pay parking fee for your vehicle. Upon reaching the main entrance you can park your vehicle inside the parking lot [don’t park by the road] and head to Wildlife office. Here they will check your baggage. Alcohol is prohibited here and I find this a good thing because here you should not be intoxicated but bond with nature.
Tip – If you go using your own vehicle make sure to let officers know your vehicle number.
Once you pass all your checkings it’s time to walk to your camping site. Here you will find my packing tips handy because you will have to carry everything by your self to the camping ground. So other than your tent rest of the things should be packed into your backpack. This will make your walk easy.
From main entrance to the camping sites it’s a 10 minutes short hike. Approximately 2 Km hike. If you are a first timer get assistance from the wildlife officer to show you the campsite because as the growth of the grass is excess and fast in here and footpaths gets covered very often.
One of the common questions i receive about camping is how you manage the nature’s calls aka pooping. While almost all the time in Sri Lankan camping you have to do your duties in a dry toilet. Simply dig a small hole do your job wipe with toilet paper and cover your tracks. But here in Horton Plains department of wildlife kind enough to provide you squatting toilet. If you don’t know this google the term “squatting toilet”. You will have to carry a water bucket for necessity. This I find outstanding since lot of people find dry toilet difficult so anyone new to camping will definitely admire this.
There are variety of things to do here. It is explained in my “things to do” section. During mid day with sun it will be difficult for you to stay in your tent as it will get hot. So find some activity which you can enjoy. Apart from the mid day if the weather is good you can relax, read a book or listen to music sitting next to spectacular Belihul Oya. Don’t forget to climb up to the plains to watch the sunset.
Trust me this is one of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen in my life. Make sure you take a sweater, camera and a torch. It gets super dark right after the sun goes down.
Also if there are no clouds you will be witnessing one of the most coolest sky with full of stars. Horton Plains is one of the best place to do stargazing since there is no light pollution at all. If you are a photographer make sure you bring your tripod along with warm pair of gloves and a beanie as I have already mentioned it’s super cold during night time.
Things to Do
Anything related to Horton Plains involves walking. So every activity here requires you to walk. But the best part is there are activities to be done from a beginner to experienced outdoor person. So don’t worry. I will start from easiest to difficult in physical activity and this will be very brief intro as i don’t want the post to be too long.
But trust me all of this activities are not difficult in my perspective. You just have to take your own time and do it accordingly.
1. World’s End Trail – 9 Km loop. Plenty to see here
World’s End drop
Mini World’s End
Mini World’s End Drop
Plenty of things to photograph and lot’s of birds
2. Kirigalpotta Mountain Hike – 14 km return trip [2nd highest mountain in Sri Lanka]
3. Thotupola Kanda Hike – 4.5 Km return trip [3rd highest mountain in Sri Lanka]
This is the only place not marked in the map below. You will have to take your vehicle and drive back to Pattipola park entrance and hike’s starting point will be 1 km before the gate. Walking can be done as well
Here is a small map to make it more easy to understand. Blue line is the World’s end trail where most of the attractions located and path are easy going. Also it’s marked so you will be lost on your way. Also you can hire a wildlife guide for a guided tour if you love to learn in depth details on Horton Plains.
Horton Plains is one of my favourite places in Sri Lanka. It has so much of diverse nature and I find new things every time I go here. Camping here is one of the best experience you can get and the weather can be one of the most challenging as well. But I love the whole thing.
Finally i would like to mention that Wildlife department try their level best to protect the area and keep plastic and polythene free. They remove every single polythene wrapper from day tourist and put those content in a paper bag to keep garbage 100% out of the park. Kudos to the officers.
But as campers they allow you to bring plastic and polythene since sometimes they come in handy to store your belongings. I humbly request you not to miss use this. I have seen many campers discard the noodles packets and plastic bottles in the camp grounds and it stinks the entire place and crows have become the regular visitors here.
Wildlife officers do clean up time to time but this can be easily avoided if you are responsible. Let’s enjoy camping while keeping the place clean so we can handover it to the next person to enjoy in the same way like we do.
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I’ll meet you soon with another one.