How and where to book your Sri Lanka tea plantation hotel
Let me say that staying in a Sri Lanka Tea Plantation Hotel is surely one of the most unique, exclusive and once-in-a-lifetime experiences on the island.
Because you will live the luxury of the 18th century, with the old British empire atmosphere at a cost that in Australia, or in England, will give you just a boutique double room, maybe with breakfast.
I personally suggest adding a visit to a tea plantation to any itinerary of Sri Lanka.
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Now add the landscape you will be immersed and you soon understand how this experience should be really unmissable once in Sri Lanka.
Now the question is more about where should I stay, which area of the country offers the best tea plantations and what accommodations are best.
How to pick a Sri Lanka tea plantation hotel
What is the best area for a tea plantation visit
There are a few areas in Sri Lanka where you could go.
The choice of the location is more based on your travel plan.
Driving 100km in this country may mean 3-4 hours due to the winding roads and traffic too.
My suggestion here is to keep in mind the transportation time, especially if you are considering just spending a night or two.
Another factor is the proximity to a train station if you are not moving by car.
And the train, in the central regions, is an experience by itself, although a very slow one.
For the interactive Google Map, please click here.
Local visit to a tea factory
This is a great opportunity to increase an understanding of tea production, from plantation to the selling through the picking and the selection.
Selecting a Sri Lanka tea plantation hotel which is an hour’s drive from a tea factory is probably not a great idea.
If not stated in the hotel description, I would suggest asking the accommodation before booking.
I was lucky enough to visit the Norwood Tea Factory in the afternoon when the tea leaves arrived in big bags.
The local pickers emptied them over a huge desiccation table to create a never-ending green “carpet”.
And how interesting was the tea taste phase?
Probably the most intriguing part of the visit in my case.
I loved my guide’s answer when I asked “Would you recommend any brand of teabags in particular?” and he said “Teabags? Nooo (with a big smile in his round face). Tea should be bought only unpackaged, that’s where you start tasting the tea” and I soon realised what he meant with that.
We had also a talk about the finance behind the tea commodity (you can check an interesting video below) and the markup made from production to the final selling point, another reminder I should buy fair trade (you may read more on this interesting article on what it means to buy directly from the producer).
Visiting a tea factory takes 1-2 hours. It is the first activity you should do when in the area.
There are, however, other things to do that you can plan during your trip in the tea lands, especially if you stay 2 or more nights.
There are a few things you can do around the tea plantations, besides a tour of the tea factory.
Ask your hotelier what is on offer. I would expect part or some of below:
- cycling around the hills. You can do this either on your own (download the app Maps.Me to have the most updated off-line maps, better than Google itself) or with a guide. In my accommodation, in Hatton, I had a full program available.
- trekking through the plantations. Again either with a guide or on your own. You can just walk around or follow a proper path. There are Tea Plantation Hotels that provide maps with 5km, 10km or even longer walks
- tea leaf picking, probably the activity that gives you the closest connection to the land. When you watch the ladies around you picking at a Superman speed, you soon realise what an incredible and hard job they are making
- White waterfalls, just to add some adrenaline to an otherwise very relaxing trip. I was surprised to see this option in the book. And even more surprised to see so many starting points in the Kelani Gang River.
Just one simple tip. Wear closed shoes, or even better boots, when trekking through the fields.
Do not do like me and walk with flip-flops 🙂
Suddenly I had an itchy foot, and I realised I was transporting with me around 10 leeches, getting drunk with my blood, ouch.
Presence of river and/or lake
The tea plantations offer already themselves an incredible landscape. However, the presence of a river or a lake makes the area unique and idyllic.
As a photographer, I always look for a contrast, this could be a different colour or texture.
In the photo below, you can see how the water of the lake helped me to balance this photo, otherwise in a never-ending green pattern.
Of course, the water presence is not a determinant requirement.
It is, however, something that would make the experience even more memorable.
For each tea plantation below, I suggest also accommodation.
For a wider picture of Sri Lanka, you can also read this ultimate guide to the best places to stay in the country
Where are the tea plantations in Sri Lanka
The tea plantations are mostly in the central region of the island, where the elevation can touch almost 2,000m, except for Ruhuna that is in the south-west part of the island.
When I visited the area, I soon realised how much in common have tea plantations and wineries; the hilly landscape is probably the biggest similitude.
Indeed, wineries cannot live in a tropical and rainy environment, as in the central region of Sri Lanka, however, the beauty of the landscape is very very similar.
It was like being in Tuscany, however, with tea plants instead of grapevines.
There are surely other few things in common, the love for the land, the passion for the product, the desire to improve, the research of the holy grain, of the best possible commodity (yes, tea is actually a commodity sold in an auction market, an attraction you can visit in Colombo)
The Hatton area is an amazing green province west of Nuwara Eliya and 2.5 hours south of Kandy.
You can access the region either by car or by train (Hatton station). In both cases, you will be open mouth for most of the trip.
It’s one of the most beautiful parts of Sri Lanka, next to the Castlereigh and the Maussakelle Reservoirs and probably a 1.5-hour drive from the Kelani Gang River.
This is where I visited the Norwood Tea Factory which I would absolutely suggest to everyone
Once in the area, I highly suggest staying at the Mandira Craig Appin Bungalow. For me, it was really like stepping back to the 19th century. The interior was so well-curated, and the service was so kind and helpful (they organised for me the visit to the tea plantation). I particularly enjoyed the dinner in the common dining room with the other travellers.
There are only 5 rooms which makes this place really a boutique and luxurious accommodation (see photos here). I had a bungalow with a view of the valley, something I will remember for a long, long time.
Mandira Craig Appin has plenty of activities on offer, including 2-hour trekking through the fields for a morning, or afternoon, tea at the other cottages they own.
The hotel is located 10-minute drive from Hatton town.
This is probably the most famous province for a tea plantation trip.
It is reachable by both car and train (Nanu Oya Railway Station), again a unique trip 2.5 hours south of Kandy.
The climate in Nuwara Eliya is cooler than usual, get ready with a light jumper for the night.
The altitude is over 2,000m. It’s also wetter than in most parts of the island however it tends to rain more in the night than during the day.
The Heritance Tea Factory Hotel is another special place with a superb interior design, a mix of post-industrial era and British colony style making it really a unique accommodation in its own genre.
Once a real tea factory (till 1972), the Heritance is now more than a fully refurbished hotel in a corrugated iron structure. It is almost a museum with pumps, engines and pulleys still working as in the old days (see photos here).
It is located on a hill, at over 2,000m altitude with a 360-degree view of the tea plantations.
The hotel is 30 minutes east of Nuwara Eliya. You can see the old machinery in the hotel, have a tea-tasting session and you can even pluck your own tea 🙂
From Nuwara Eliya, you can also drive, or take a train, to Haputale, a beautiful original town off the beaten track. You can read more on this Sri Lanka Itinerary.
Just outside Kandy town, you will have the possibility of experiencing the birthplace of Ceylon Tea.
This is actually a great location if you do not have enough time to visit either Hatton or Nuwara Eliya.
It is so convenient to be based close to town, visit the many attractions of Kandy, and spare half a day, or even a full one, to visit the hills around.
The tea made here is stronger than in the previous provinces.
The main reason is the low altitude, around 1,000m.
The higher the altitude the lighter and subtler is the flavour (I am now an expert LOL).
The Ceylon Tea Museum is an easy 4km drive from the city, however, the road is so winding that a tuk-tuk takes around 15-20 minutes.
It is a 4-level museum hosted in an old tea factory. Two levels are dedicated to the machinery, on the third level there is an outlet and the top floor is used by a tea cafe’, with a beautiful view of the surrounding tea fields.
From the museum, keep driving on the Hanthana road and you will arrive at a real working factory called Hanthana Estate Tea Factory, around 6-7km from Kandy (tours available).
Kandy is a beautiful town, however, it can be a bit chaotic.
The Amaya Hills Hotel will allow you to rest in a peaceful place up in the hills, close to the museum and the tea plantation, yet a stone away from Kandy itself.
The infinity pool is a great reward at sunset, after a busy day touring the area. Just think of yourself immersed in the water watching the unique hills landscape (see photos here).
You can select either a room or a boutique bungalow. A healthy and wide breakfast is a great way to start the day.
Taylors Hill and Loolecondera area
The Loolecondera area is located right in the middle between Kandy and Nuwara Eliya.
This is where the tea scene started, in 1860.
Tea was the main industry in Sri Lanka in the 19th century.
James Taylor from Scotland run here the first commercial tea factory in the country, called Loolecondera Tea Factory Sri Lanka.
Believe it or not, this factory is still working and it can be visited.
James Taylor was the first producer to make it commercially around the world.
The Loolecondera tea started the era of the Ceylon tea, so well recognised in every corner of our planet.
This is an area that can be reached either by car or bus. Unfortunately, there is no train station nearby.
I would personally recommend visiting Taylors Hill if you are on a car trip from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya.
It’s a great way to break the 3-hour trip. There are, however, options for a night stay like the Taylor Hills Hotel.
This tea mansion, named after James Taylor, was built over 100 years ago by a British planter.
It is now a beautiful boutique hotel with 5 bedrooms.
The Taylors Hill Hotel is surrounded by hills and tea fields. I
t has a swimming pool and a tennis court besides other activities to keep you busy.
It’s 30km from Kandy. You can book this hotel as a base to visit the town, however, budget a one and half hour’s trip, each way.