5 waterfalls you should visit around belihul oya, Sri Lanka
Complete with flowing mountainside creeks and streams, cascading waterfalls, misty trails, and commanding peaks – Belihuloya seems to have a generous helping of everything. A modest mountain station only a few hours away from the bustling capital city of Sri Lanka, this spartan community is home to some of the most treasured and most traversed trails by the local trekking and adventure community.
The area is celebrated for some of the most exceptional scenery you can witness within the transitional zone of the mountains and the inland plains. This uncommon topographical blend is further complemented with overlapping climate zones – the island’s dry and wet zones crisscross each other inside the general area surrounding Belihul-Oya.
This combination of Dry and Wet Zones at an altitude that is perfect for simultaneous ecoregions allows Belihuloya to nurse a rare combination of evergreen forests, tropical savanna forests, dry patina grasslands, wet pathanas and a smattering of montane rain forests.
The small hamlet is always associated with extensive mountain ranges that border its edges, which extend onwards to encircle the central part of the island. This varied geography gives way to exciting and stunning mountain escapes that are truly rewarding to traverse. With many trails crisscrossing the area considered by many in the hiking community as absolute joys- and it is no surprise that places like Hawagala and Wangedigala have become more and more popular, catering not only to the more dedicated enthusiast but also the average weekend adventurer.
With such lush greenery and majestic mountains bordering to one side, it is no surprise that there are countless numbers of streams and rivulets that run through it. With many catchment areas perched above Belihuloya, the area is teeming with waterways ranging from large to small and seasonal to regular flowing. The name of Belihuloya itself is derived from the “Belihul-Oya” (stream) that tumbles down through the area.
Given the massive number of almost vertical drops present all around, they make excellent candidates for mountain cascades. Indeed, the Belihul-Oya area is almost teeming with waterfalls that are seldom hidden and difficult to find. But if you are in search of new adventures and love to explore the wilderness – here are some interesting destinations that are easy to reach and somewhat off the beaten path.
Trail difficulty 1/5
Notes – known to locals in and around the area. Isolated much of the time.
Nestled inside a hidden alcove that is just opposite the main road leading onward to Haputale, there are 2 individual falls right next to each other. The Fall that is the Brampton Falls is almost 6 meters in height. Fed by a cold mountain stream originating from the nearby Papulegala mountains (The mountain cliffs can be seen when you traverse the Wangedigala trail. You can read more about How to do the Wangedigala trek here. )
The fall itself seems to be in a relatively early part of its evolution. The water seems to have eroded the (small amount of) soft rock above exposing the hard stone beneath resulting in a water cascade that almost glides over the angled surface. Usually, on the drier months the fall dwindles to a mere trickle – but given the rainy season, the higher water flow gives it extra life.
While visiting you should be mindful of the steep ravine that the water gushes into -and also of sudden increases of water flow with rain. It can sometimes be hard to foretell the increasing water levels since the rains usually happen way higher up in the slopes.
A few hundred yards away you will find the second, more hidden waterfall – the stream that feeds it also makes it’s way down from the Papulegala mountains. This waterfall does not have a definitive name but is generally referred to as the no.2 Brampton falls. This is by far quaint and secluded than the former and is bordered by the untouched wilderness. You can find lots of endemic and unique flora and fauna in and around here- with a high number of puddling butterflies and colorful dragonflies flying all over.
Lanka (Ella) Falls
Trail difficulty 2/5
Notes – Very famous with travelers who come to Bambarakanda, but only a handful visit the falls.
Untouched by the mainstream traveler the Lanka ( ella) falls is a lesser-known and far less traversed waterfall within proximity To Belihul-Oya. It is located basically on the other side of the more popular Bambarakanda Falls. The waterfall can be categorized as a punch bowl type waterfall with the stream channeling into a narrow hanging gorge and flowing over a sheer drop into a plunge pool.
The pool is in the rough shape of Sri Lanka and incidentally the shape of the pool is what gives this waterfall its name. To reach the waterfall there is a fair amount of hiking required. you need to make your way through the Pine forest that borders the slopes leading up part of the way. from there onwards, the trail is through tall grass lined savanna / manang patches.
The trail diverges here. The upper trail leads you to the upper slopes of the waterfall while the lower trail leads you to the base of the falls. you should take the time to visit both these places since each has its distinct charm. You can read more about what to do while at Bambarakanda here.
Surathali Ella Falls
Trail difficulty 1/5
Notes – extremely visited destination. Usual to expect lots of people.
Surathali Falls is a very popular road stop and sightseeing attraction along the route 99 that is nearby to Belihul-Oya. The waterfall is Made up of 3 individual cascades measuring up collectively to about 60 meters. The upper part is easily seen from the road, and it takes only a few minutes of walking to get to the base.
The waterfall is (still) known locally as the Marangaha Ella ( Ella meaning Falls in Sinhalese) And is fed by mountain streams originating from the nearby mountains including Balathoduwa and Gommolikanda in the Sri Padha and Hortain plains reserve. Interestingly this is one of the few waterfalls that is known in an abbreviated name stemmed from its brief inclusion in the local cinema. Filmed in 1956 and featuring the first outing of the celebrated Srilankan vocalist H.R Jothipala, Surathali became a very well-known film. One of the songs was filmed next to the waterfall and the name of surathali has been associated with the falls ever since.
you can read more about the movie here.
with little effort you can scale to the second tier of the waterfall which forms a small basin. You need to be very careful though, the rockface being extremely smooth and slippery. There are very few curious things you can see once there- namely an effigy of a man that seems to appear out of the rock.
Nonpareil Estate Falls
Trail difficulty 3/5
Notes – less visited, although on a well-traversed road – can be difficult to reach because of poor road conditions.
Nonpareil falls is located right next to the road leading up to Nonpareil estate and is formed through numerous mountain cascades that are found throughout the valley. Reaching it can be a bit difficult since the road leading up to the falls is in a semi-state of disrepair. You can either take the public bus that services that route although it is better to go on your vehicle. The best way is to have a vehicle with a good amount of ground clearance and able to tackle the rough roads found there.
This waterfall too is a cascade type waterfall with three distinct tiers making up the almost 30meter high cascade. although reaching it can be difficult the road leading up to the falls is breathtaking. There are countless numbers of unnamed cascades snaking down this stretch of the road making for an unforgettable experience.
Trail difficulty 3/5
Notes – well known but relatively unvisited. you need to very aware of the weather when visiting.
Pahanthudawa falls stems its name from its signature shape. According to local folklore the waterfall resembles the wick on a lamp. Plus the shape of its base pool is also irregularly formed like a traditional clay lamp and is another reason for naming it as such.
This waterfall resides nearby to Hawagala ( you can read more about camping at Hawagala here). You need to turn from the main road ( route 99) next to the Belihul-Oya Rest House and make your way forward along the road heading up to the Landuyaya village.
The waterfall itself is less than a few meters high, but careful navigation over waterways and thick scrubland are needed to get to it. the waterfall itself is located at the end of a long rocky gorge. This makes the location utterly unique as well as immensely dangerous, especially in the rainy season. with the increased water flow, flash floods are more common than you might expect, and with a minimal amount of cover on the exposed rock bed things can go wrong rather suddenly. so you need to keep your witts about and be alert while vising here.