Sri Lanka is packed with some magnificent mountains, and there’s no better way of experiencing them, than by bringing your trekking boots along for the hike. The best climbs in Sri Lanka offer up more than just a great view, but a celebration of the diverse landscapes, climate and changing weather which makes Sri Lanka so unique.
In this blog, we’re sharing our tips for climbing Adam’s Peak, a 2,243-meter conical mountain, located in the central highlands — about 32 km southwest of Hatton. The trek to the summit of Adam’s Peak is a sacred pilgrimage route, to all major faiths in the island, and has been a pilgrimage route dating back as far as 1298 CE, based on the journals of Marco Polo. Famed for the ‘sacred footprint’ measuring at 5 feet and 11 inches in rock formation near the summit – it draws in thousands of Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus and Christians each year, each believing that the footprint is of the Buddha, in Hindu tradition that of Hanuman or Shiva, and in some Islamic and Christian traditions, that of Adam. Today, it is still among the top hiking trails in Sri Lanka, and a great activity for anyone looking for an active holiday.
1. When to climb
Traditionally, the pilgrimage season kicks off from the first full moon in December, ending with the full moon the following April, giving you a 5-month window for clear skies. Beyond April, rainy weather and poor lighting make this climb more challenging, but not impossible.
Taking place in the wee hours of the morning, to reach the summit in time for sunrise, each trail is lit with electric light, making night-time climbs possible. Rest stops and wayside shops selling tea, biscuits and basic rice and curry meals along the trail are only open during the season between December to April.
- Adam’s Peak is an important watershed, and the source of three major rivers in Sri Lanka: Kelani River, Walawe River, and the Kalu Ganga (river). The districts to the south and the east of the mountain are believed to yield precious stones including emeralds, rubies, and sapphires.
- Lieutenant William Malcolm of the 1st Ceylon Regiment was the first Englishman to make the ascent of the peak, on 26 April 1815, using the Ratnapura entry point.
2. The sights
Though far from being the island’s tallest peak, the mountain is among the most popular climbs in the hill country, with no mountain to compete with in size, nearby. The region along the mountain is a wildlife reserve, housing many endemic species including wild Asian elephants and leopards, although rarely seen along the trail. Along the climb, you are bound to encounter a variety of birds and reptiles resting in treetops, and you’ll walk by small creeks and river crossings, all the while being flanked by tall, dense forests which open out to panoramic views of the valley below.
3. History & Folklore
The first mention of Adam’s Peak by explorers can be traced back to the journals of the famous Chinese sea explorer Fa Hien, who visited Sri Lanka between 411 and 12 CE. Marco Polo in his 1298 CE travels makes a reference to Adam’s Peak being an important place of pilgrimage, but without any reference of the footprint at the summit. When Ibn Battuta climbed the summit in 1344 CE, he named it ‘Sarandīb’, and went on to describe the stairways and iron chains that helped pilgrims navigate the climb – the same stairways that travelers use to this day.
4. Entry points
The most popular route is the ascent via Hatton, and descent via Ratnapura. Although the steepest, the Hatton trail is also shortest (by approximately 5 kilometers). The total climb from this route takes approximately four or four and a half hours. Access to the mountain is possible by a total of 6 trails:
Each of these entry points are linked to major cities or town by bus, so once you reach the starting point, the rest of the ascent is done purely on foot, on a mix of flat trails by the mountainside, or steep steps and stones built into it.
5. What to expect, and bring
As the climb begins at night, we recommend wearing light but warm and comfortable clothing, trekking boots, an extra jumper as the night and early morning hours can get cold. A water-proof, light back pack will help you vary your phone and camera. The climb down begins at daylight, and the morning cold quickly changes to hot and humid weather. The descent can be hard on your knees, if you’re not a regular hiker, so we recommend going at your own pace.
When planning a hike to Adam’s Peak, we recommend that you leave the rest of the day free, to rest, recuperate and possibly have time for a massage afterwards.
6. Is it kid friendly?
Adam’s Peak can be moderate to strenuous, due to the steep and uneven steps towards the last section of the summit but is a great hike for an active family. It may not be suitable for children or adults with respiratory illnesses or knee injuries.