November 2017


Discover Belihuloya
November 2017




The Colombo - Batticaloa Highway carves its way through the Central Highlands

Belihuloya often isn't a destination itself; simply a stop on the way to Haputale or Ella, or a base camp from which to visit several nearby attractions. But for those deciding to tarry a little longer, Belihuloya provides traditional village life, exhilarating hiking trails and scenery that is challenging to describe in words.


Words and Photography: David Blacker


Belihuloya isn't really a town. It is an area roughly 40 kilometres square, centred on the point that the Belihul Oya (river) crosses the A4 Colombo-Batticaloa Highway, 616m above sea level and 156km from Colombo. The Belihul Oya itself originates in the heights of the Horton Plains where it forms Chimney Pool and Baker's Falls, amongst other beautiful features, rushing down the steep slopes to the Samanala Wewa, Sri Lanka's deepest reservoir.


The Belihul Oya's valley carves its way through thick highland jungle, layered tea plantations and brilliant green terraces of rice paddies. The valley's slopes are dotted with many hotels and guesthouses that provide visitors with stupendous views of the valley and the plains beyond.

The Hurried Weekend

Day 1
- Leave Colombo at dawn and get to Belihuloya in time for a late breakfast.
- Explore the mountains above Belihuloya by car or on foot.
- After lunch, visit the Bambarakanda Falls.
- Drive up to the Beragala Pass and watch the sun set over the southwest plains.
- Have a barbecue dinner on the banks of the Samanala Wewa or at one of the many hotels higher up the valley.


The Bambarakanda Falls, reached via the village of Kalupahana is right next to the main road. At 263m, the Bambarakanda Falls, fed by the Kuda Oya, is Sri Lanka's tallest waterfall. Visitors can drive close to several hundred metres of the falls, after which the falls can be reached along a steep but well-maintained trail. An entrance fee is charged.


For the more daring, the road continues past the Bambarakanda Falls until it becomes the Old Udaweriya Road - the legendary Devil's Staircase - which climbs 1,200m over its 16km length, out of the Kuda Oya Valley, across the Ohiya Gap, and up the Haputale Ridge to Ohiya. The Devil's Staircase is one of Sri Lanka's most spectacular hiking trails. For an even more hair-raising experience, navigate the Stairs in a 4x4 truck or jeep.

The Adventure Spot

Climb, bike or drive the Devil’s Staircase.

Camp at the top of the Bambarakanda Falls, or on the banks of the Samanala wewa.

Hike up the Belihul Oya Valley to Horton Plains.


Below the highway, the land slopes away more sedately to the Samanala Wewa. In addition to being Sri Lanka's deepest, the reservoir sprawls over 372 square kilometres, looking for all the world like a giant Chinese dragon on maps. Hire a kayak or canoe or even a traditional local outrigger, and one can spend days exploring the many coves and inlets of the Samanala Wewa. During the dry season, the reservoir's surface level drops to expose broad sandy areas perfect for camping and impromptu barbecues.


North of the highway, the Belihul Oya Valley climbs steeply to the Horton Plains plateau, a few hours drive, or a gruelling day's hike, away. Along the way, the valley reveals its diverse topography; perpendicular jungle slopes alternate with open clearings of terraced rice and rolling tea-covered hills. In places the Belihul Oya burrows deep into the bottom of rocky ravines, almost disappearing from view, its waters shadowed by the overhanging jungle.

The Hurried Weekend

Day 2
- Wake up early and drive to the foot of Devatagala.
- After breakfast, spend a morning boating on the Samanala Wewa.
- Leave after lunch.


Little farming villages coexist alongside hotels of various sizes and visitors can walk through these hamlets and paddies, experiencing typical rural life in Sri Lanka.


The upper reaches of the valley are a great place for walking, be it a romantic stroll through the tea plantations or a forest hike along a remote dirt trail. The jungle-covered Devatagala Ridge, which forms the north face of the Belihul Oya Valley offers panoramic views once one has broken through the jungle to the tea plantations and pine forests beyond.


The foot of the Devatagala peak is just over an hour's drive from many of the hotels.


So whether one is looking for a quiet getaway, a holiday close to nature or an exciting off-roading or boating experience, don't let anyone suggest that Belihuloya is just an unexceptional stopover. This valley in the jungle is one of the best holiday destinations in Sri Lanka to explore.

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    The upper Belihul Oya Valley opens out into occasional terraced fields, providing visitors a chance to experience traditional highland rice farming

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    Do-it-yourself camps

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    Spectacular hiking trails and interesting roads crisscross the mountain sides

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    The Bambarakanda Falls is just a few kilometres from Belihuloya, and is easily accessible

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    Experience stunning views while strolling through a remote trail

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    Samanala Wewa (Butterfly Tank), Sri Lanka's deepest reservoir

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    The Belihul Oya Valley from the Devatagala Ridge with the mountain itself on the far right

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