One of the reasons I knew I would love Sri Lanka is because of its Hill Country; a beautiful area famed for its miles and miles of tea plantations and its abundance of great walking tracks. After exploring the ancient cities north of Kandy, I couldn’t wait to experience the nature of the hills – and hiking is one of my favourite ways to do so.
After leaving Dalhousie, where we had climbed Adam’s Peak, the next stop on our itinerary was Nuwara Eliya. This is a small town hidden in the green of the high country, surrounded by tea.
With such a name, we weren’t sure what to expect of World’s End. Would we be hiking to the edge of a cliff, unable to see the ground below? Or perhaps we’d be hiking into an endless fog, so thick we wouldn’t be able to see our feet? We had heard from other travellers what a great place this was, so we were eager to hike to World’s End ourselves.
Now that I can say “been there, done that”, was the hike to World’s End worth it?
Situated in the depths of Horton Plains National Park, World’s End is the name of a viewpoint along a 9km loop track through the forest and across the plains of a wildlife conservation area. The Park is rich with birdlife and endemic species such as samba deer and leopards – before we reached the entrance we saw three sambar deer! The best time to do the hike is in the early morning: firstly, so you aren’t walking in the heat of the sun, and secondly, because the view from World’s End is covered in a thick mist after 9am.
Before starting the walk, there’s a toilet block (cost: 20Rs each) and a place to buy food and drinks. Then you pass through security; your bags are checked for plastic which is thrown away and replaced with paper. I loved this concept as I’m all for protecting the environment and discouraging non-biodegradable litter (and littering full stop) – particularly in places that are rich in biodiversity and also popular with tourists. Unfortunately, the checks weren’t particularly thorough; our re-sealable bag containing the sun cream wasn’t taken. Obviously we weren’t going to litter in the park but you never know what others will do.
The hike starts by walking towards a fork in the road which is where the loop begins. Most people choose to turn left and walk to World’s End first. The track is well-graded for the entire loop and is signposted so you won’t get lost. After walking over some rocks, many of which are red in colour, the path leads through the trees before reaching the first lookout: Mini World’s End. The view from here is surprisingly breath-taking considering the ease of the hike to reach this point.
Continuing along the route, a friendly pup decided to be our guide. He walked with us until we reached World’s End, stopping if we stopped, and only keeping a few metres ahead of us. The track continued through the trees; it isn’t strenuous though I would advise good walking shoes as the ground is uneven.
We arrived at World’s End after about half an hour of walking. The views weren’t what I expected, but they were truly beautiful. The hills seem to appear as layers, one on top of the other, as far as the eye could see. I noticed the small towns in the valley below, slowly waking up for the day. The viewpoint was understandably busy with tourists, all hoping to snap a great photo (we did the same). We had a banana and put some sun cream on; even at 7:30am the sun was strong.
I was surprised to see some people turning back on themselves at this point; I can only assume they had busy days ahead of them and needed to get back to Nuwara Eliya. We continued along the loop track. The walk trespassed the plains out in the open. There’s no protection from the heat of the sun for this part of the hike so I’m glad we chose to put sun cream on beforehand. We spotted many lizards lurking in the plants but no leopards unfortunately.
Baker Falls is signposted from the main route and is well worth a stop. A series of steps descend to a platform where there’s a good viewpoint. It’s a small waterfall where the falls run over the rocks, but it’s a gorgeous spot and was mostly shaded in the early morning. We lingered for a while to snap some photos and rest our feet.
After this, the track became slightly more difficult with a gentle incline through the trees, before flattening out again as we reached more open plains and an artificial waterfall. We arrived back at the start of the track after about 3 hours – including rest stops and photo opportunities (we take ages!!)
Overall it was an enjoyable walk showcasing some beautiful scenery in a protected area of Sri Lanka. There’s an information centre at the start of the track which advises about all of the species found in the park; it could do with some updating but is a worthwhile stop.
Unfortunately, Horton Plains isn’t possible to reach on public transport. In fact, the only way to get to the National Park is by car or tuk tuk (but, having done the journey myself, I wouldn’t recommend taking a tuk tuk).
Most guesthouses can arrange transport to Horton Plains for you; usually a car is around 4000Rs for a return journey (including waiting time while you walk) and a tuk tuk is 500Rs or so less. Some providers are happy for you to split that cost between multiple passengers, others charge extra per additional person. Our driver assured us that this was a fixed price per journey so we hoped that the other guests in the guesthouse would want to join us; unfortunately, they had other plans.
On top of paying the equivalent of two nights’ accommodation for our transport, the admission fee to the National Park itself is considerably steep. Sri Lanka is generally quite a cheap country where it’s easy to travel on a relatively low budget, however admission prices to sites and attractions appear to be incredibly inflated. Below is a copy of our admission ticket to Horton Plains National Park.
As you can see, the price is calculated quite complicatedly. The admission for one foreign adult is 2175Rs (Foreign Adults x2: 4350Rs). You also have to pay for your driver (Local Adult: 60Rs) to enter the park and to take in the vehicle (125Rs). Additionally, there is a fixed service charge (per group or ticket) of 1160Rs, and finally VAT is charged at 12% of the total (854.25Rs in our case). Entrance to Horton Plains cost us a total of 6549.25Rs for two people (we actually paid 6550Rs to the ticket office).
In total, we spent 10,550Rs (about $70 USD) on our trip to World’s End.
As a budget backpacker, I’m going to say no.
The hike itself is enjoyable, and the view from World’s End is beautiful. You also have the opportunity to visit one of Sri Lanka’s most famous nature conservation areas and may be lucky enough to spot some of the endemic wildlife. I knew before we decided to do the hike that it would be expensive, but I didn’t realise just how pricey it would be!
I do agree there should be an admission fee to enter the National Park, and I even support that foreigners are charged a higher rate than locals to visit. But the admission prices alone (without the added payments for car, driver, service charge and VAT) are steep. Comparatively, Sigiriya costs 4500Rs per person ($30 USD), the Cave Temples of Dambulla cost 1500Rs per person (10 USD) and Polonnaruwa costs 3750Rs per person ($25 USD). This puts Horton Plains up there on a pedestal being more expensive than some of Sri Lanka’s most popular sights.
Then you have the issue of paying for transport to the National Park, which is clearly exploited as companies and guesthouses realise that tourists have no alternative to reach Horton Plains. The cost of this wouldn’t sting as sore if you are renting your own vehicle for your trip in Sri Lanka and can drive yourself there. Public transport routes would greatly benefit the park, perhaps even increasing visitors as the trip would be a lot more affordable.
Perhaps it’s just me. My friends Sarah and Nathan over at Exploring Kiwis absolutely loved the hike to World’s End, so I feel a little bad that I think differently.
Perhaps James and I have been spoilt by living in New Zealand, where hikes with astounding views are available all over the country for free. I also didn’t think it helped that we had done the incredible Adam’s Peak just two days before going to World’s End. So, although the views of World’s End and the loop track are gorgeous, to me, it doesn’t seem worth the money or the hassle of arranging private transport to reach.
I won’t tell you not to do it, but if you’re thinking of visiting Horton Plains, be aware that it’s not really a ‘budget’ activity and you too may question whether it’s worth the price.
I won’t recommend the place we stayed as it was very damp. Here’s a few recommendations from the Lonely Planet:
Thanks for reading and happy hiking!
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