Perched on the very edge of the hill country midway between Nuwara Eliya and Haputale, Horton Plains National Park covers a wild stretch of bleak, high-altitude grassland bounded at its southern edge by the dramatically plunging cliffs that mark the edge of the hill country, including the famous World’s End, where the escarpment falls sheer for the best part of a kilometre to the lowlands below. Set at an elevation of over two thousand metres, Horton Plains are a world apart from the rest of Sri Lanka, a misty and rainswept landscape whose cool, wet climate has fostered the growth of a unique but fragile ecosystem. Large parts of the Plains are still covered in beautiful and pristine stands of cloudforest, with their distinctive umbrella-shaped keena trees, covered in a fine cobweb of old man’s beard, whose leaves turn from green to red to orange as the seasons progress. The Plains are also one of the island’s most important watersheds and the source of the Mahaweli, Kelani and Walawe rivers, three of the island’s largest.
The park’s wildlife attractions are relatively modest. The herds of elephants which formerly roamed the Plains were all despatched long ago by colonial hunters, while you’ll have to be incredibly lucky to spot one of the 45-odd leopards which are thought to still live in the area. The park’s most visible residents are its herds of sambar deer, while you might see rare bear-faced (also known as purple-faced) monkeys. The park is also one of the best places in the island for birdwatching, and an excellent place to see montane endemics such as the dull-blue flycatcher, Sri Lanka bush warbler, Sri Lanka whistling thrush and the pretty yellow-eared bulbul. You’ll probably also see beautiful lizards, some of them boasting outlandishly fluorescent green scales, though their numbers are declining as the result of depredations by crows, attracted to the park (as to so many other parts of the island) by the piles of litter dumped by less environmentally aware visitors.