Lying 32km south of Nuwara Eliya in the central highlands of Sri Lanka, Horton Plains National Park, along with the adjoining Peak Wilderness Sanctuary, constitutes Sri Lanka’s most important catchment area of almost all major rivers. The Plains are also of outstanding natural scenic beauty and conservation importance, containing most of the country’s wet and montane zones, with the western slopes supporting the most extensive area of montane cloud forest surviving in the country today.
The park, upgraded to national park status on the 16th March 1988, comprises a gently undulating highland plateau at the southern end of the country’s central mountain massif. Dominating the area to the north is Mount Totupolakanda (2,357m) and to the west, Mount Kirigalpotta (2,389m), both just falling short ofSri Lanka’s largest peak, Sri Pada (Adam’s Peak). Two escarpments falling from the Horton Plains have contributed significantly to its awe inspiring features, the ‘Small Worlds End’ dropping by 274 metres, and the ‘Big Worlds End’, dropping by a rather larger 884 metres. The altitude of the park ranges from around 1,800m to 2,389m.
Traditionally known as ‘Mahaelilya’, the area was renamed as ‘ Horton Plains’ after Sir Robert Horton, a former British Governor who travelled to the area to meet the Ratemahatmaya of Sabaragamuwa Province in 1836. Stone tools dating back to the Balangoda culture of prehistoric times have been found within the park boundaries, but no other cultural relics have yet been discovered.
Well recognised for its rich biodiversity, Horton Plains’ flora has a high level of endemism, with 5% of the species thought to be endemic. The plateau, at 2,100m, supports grassland fringed and interspersed with patches of dense montane cloud forest. The forest canopy grows to around 20m and is dominated by the endemic keena (Calophyllum walkeri), in association with varieties of Myrtaceae sp. and Lauraceae sp. The tree fern maha meewana (Cyathea sp.) dots the forest openings, whilst binara (Exacum trinervium) and nelu (Strobilanthes sp.) are endemic and exhibit beautiful flowers. ‘Patanas’ or plains vegetation occurs above 1,500m asl and a rich herbaceous flora flourishes in these areas with numerous species of both temperate and tropical origin.
With regards to fauna, elephants (Elephas maximus) disappeared from the region almost a century ago. Sambar deer (Rusa unicolor) are a common sight at dusk and in the early morning hours whilst other mammals occurring in reasonable numbers include the endemic Kelaart’s long-clawed shrew (Feroculus feroculus), slender loris (Loris tardigradus), toque macaque (Macaca sinica), purple-faced langur (Trachypithicus vetulus), rusty-spotted cat (Felis rubiginosus), fishing cat (Prionailurus viverrinus), leopard (Panthera pardus kotiya), wild boar (Sus scrofa) and barking deer (Muntiacus muntjak).
Twelve species of endemic bird can be found in HortonPlainsNational Park, such as the Sri Lankablue magpie (Urocissa ornata), the dull-blue fly-catcher (Eumiyas sordida), the Sri Lanka white-eye (Zosterops ceylonensis) and Sri Lanka wood pigeon (Columba toringtoniae). Not only great for bird watching, the park is also a haven for butterfly enthusiasts too.
A 10 km trail runs through the park which takes in a swim at Baker’s Falls, as well as the two main attractions of Big and Little Worlds Ends. Locals regard these escarpments as the finest in the country, looking over the southern plains to the sea, 60km away.
Horton Plains is best visited in the early morning, so aim to get to the gate for around 5am for the trek up to the big Worlds End. Going later in the day will increase the chances of your view being swallowed by cloud. The park is reachable from bases in Nuwara Eliya, Belihul Oya, Koslanda and Haputale, with Kelburne Estate Cottages, and Living Heritage Koslanda great options for staying nearby.