Trekking in the Knuckles Mountain Range, Sri Lanka
Posted On November 18, 2018
Trekking in the Knuckles Mountain Range in Sri Lanka was one of the main highlights of our trip. Set high in the Districts of Matale and Kandy, the range is named after the peaks and folds that create a knuckle shape when viewed from certain angles. The constantly changing cloud and mist cover make this mountain range an incredible place to explore, with constantly changing views and a plethora of wildlife to spot.
After booking our flights to Sri Lanka one of the first things we looked at was trekking options. But researching treks in Sri Lanka wasn’t as easy as we had hoped. There were the popular walks, Adam’s peak, Ella’s Rock, Little Adam’s Peak (all of which are great-find out more here!) but we wanted something more off the beaten track. A bit more of an adventure. We could find very little information but settled on trekking in the Knuckles Mountain Range. We’ve put together a guide to make your trip a little easier to research!
Book a guide for the Knuckles Mountain Range trek
We would have loved to go alone but, along with being strictly prohibited, after reading up on trekking in the Knuckles Mountain Range we decided the many unchartered paths, unpredicatable weather and lack of decent maps of the area meant we would have had to take a guide anyway.
We booked with Sri Lanka Trekking and rate them very highly. They offered competitive prices and we had excellent contact with them from the moment we booked. They provided with all the information we needed well in advance so that we could be properly prepared for the trek. Your guide will sort out all your permits for you to make entrance to the national park smoother and easier.
Top tip: Make sure you tell your guide exactly what you want from your trip before you go. If the focus of your trip is to see the wonderful nature that exists on the mountain, they will be able to recommend the best route and guide for you. If you want adventure, or something a little easier, just let them know. Also, keep in mind that they know these mountains a lot better than you. The weather will dictate your trip and the guides know which views will be completely hidden in the clouds, or which animals will be out with the sun!
Popular trekking routes
Niitro caves is a massive cave inhabited by thousands of bats but this isn’t the only part of the trek that will take your breath away, with some of the trek being at an elevation of 1216 metres. You will take in incredible views of the mountain range. The 11-kilometre path starts at Corbett’s Gap and will take about five hours to complete.
Mini World’s End
This dramatic 1,192-metre cliff (with no barriers! Watch your step!) offers sweeping views of the mountains. The trek begins at the Knuckles Conservation Centre (KCC) and is 1.5 kilometres in length.
Dothalugala nature trail
The Dothalugala nature trail will have you trekking your way up the Dothalugala Mountain. It offers breathtaking of views from the south of the range. You can complete this trek as a circuit by coming down the other side of the mountain, making the entire trek 5.8 kilometres. The trek beginss at the Knuckles Conservation Centre in Deanston and your guide will sort out your permit for you.
Duwili Ella trail
The Duwaili Ella trail leads to a 40m waterfall hidden in the forests of the Knuckles Mountain range. What makes this waterfall special is the cave behind it, meaning you can walk behind the waterfall.
These treks in the Knuckles Mountain Range can be completed in a day, but we recommend you spend a night there for reasons explained below!
Where to stay before you trek the Knuckles Mountain Range
The Knuckles Mountain Range lies in central Sri Lanka. There are various ways to access it, but the easiest and most convenient for the majority of travellers is to start in the city of Kandy. You will want to book at least a night as you will need to leave very early in the morning for your trek. Here there are numerous accommodation options, ranging from budget to luxurious. We’ve listed a few below, but for the best deals it is definitely worth shopping around.
We stayed over night at a home stay booked through air bnb. The family were lovely, and so were their many cats! They made us feel at home with tea and biscuits after our long journey and it was nice to be in a slightly separate part of the house so we didn’t feel bad about getting up at silly o’clock to start our trek (not that they would have cared as they were up way before us, making us feel incredibly lazy for our 5.30am lie in!) You can book with them here.
Air bnb offers many more home stay options. If you don’t plan on staying at a home stay in Kandy then we highly recommend you fit it into your trip elsewhere. We found home stays were the best way to meet local residents and get top tips on the area.
If you want something a little more mainstream that doesn’t break the bank, then try one of the many guest houses. Freedom Lodge is located near the scenic Kandy lake but is tucked away from the bustle of the city streets. It is run by a lovely couple who speak English fluently. Their 8 homely, but immaculately kept, rooms all come with basic necessities such as mosquito nets and fans and all come with their own modern, private bathrooms. There are two different garden areas for you to relax in and the guesthouse offers a simple but filling breakfast to start your day.
The Kandy City Hotel is affordable but offers a little more luxury than a home stay. It’s in a great location, being near to the central railway station and the city sights. The rooms come with all the essentials, and even boast air conditioning, WIFI and a TV! You can eat in the restaurant here and they offer great advice about the surrounding area.
Things to do in Kandy
We’re not huge lovers of cities so we planned our trip with minimal time in Kandy but what we did see of the city was beautiful. If you have time then it may be worth booking a few days here before or after your trek so that you have time to explore the area.
If you only have an evening to spare before your trek then make sure you visit the lake in the centre at sunset. It is truly stunning with the water turning pink and orange and huge bats flying over the water to nest in surrounding trees. There was a really pleasant feel to the city and we would have been happy spending a day or two here if time had permitted.
What to expect from your trek in the Knuckles Mountain Range
You’ll be starting the trek early, so get a good nights sleep! Our guide, Prabeth, was prompt and very friendly. He took us to a local cafe and insisted on buying us a coffee before we set off on about an hours drive to reach the start of our trek.
Day 1 of the Knuckles Mountain trek
The beginning of the trek led us through beautiful green woodland covered in butterflies. Prabeth knew the name of every tree, flower and insect but his particular passion was birds and he was extremely excited when I bought out a pair of cheap binoculars. This is a huge benefit of having a trained local guide, there is so much we would have missed without his knowledge. One of my favourite parts of the trek early on led us through a tiny collection of houses amongst fields and fields of rice paddies. We had lunch provided by the company and ate next to a waterfall, resting our feet in the cool water. If you don’t like spice then bring your own food, most of my lunch was fed to the hungry fishes!
After lunch we walked through the smallest village I have ever seen, watched the children playing beside the rice paddies and the villagers at work in the fields. It was a snapshop view into a completely different way of life. We spotted a rattle snake in the long grass, a countless array of lizards and numerous colourful birds (that to be honest all looked the same to us but apparently were very different!)
Over night accommodation
Sky camp was a line of metal roofed huts with tents set up in each. We had the whole camp to ourselves which was quite magical. The view was spectacular, get up for sunrise and you won’t be disappointed! There were clean showers, cups of tea and a delicious cooked dinner. If you’re not completed exhausted there is more stunning scenery a short walk from the camp that you can explore on your own. We fell asleep, exhausted, to the sound of crickets.
Day 2 of the Knuckles Mountain Range trek
The next day was slightly more strenuous as we climbed to the top of one of the peaks. We were greeted with stunning views, even through the clouds. The walk through a ‘cloud forest’ provided a completely different scene again and we spotted barking deer and leaf nosed lizards found only in a certain small area in the mountains. Lunch was provided by a family from a village we trekked through. There was a wide choice of food and we were welcomed cheerfully into their house and made to feel at home.
We were disappointed that the second day wasn’t a bit longer (we were picked up at about 2pm) but even the drive back to civilisation was incredible (and a little terrifying, if you’re anything like me you’ll spend the whole way down gripping your seat belt).
Top tips for trekking the Knuckles Mountain Range
Leave as much luggage as possible at your home stay/hotel, you won’t need much and the walking will be easier without heavy backpacks! If you can’t leave them let the trekking company know and they can store them in the vehicle.
Bring water for your first day. We were asked on the way there how much we would drink on the second day and our guide bought supplies for us which were dropped off at camp.
Bring a small bottle of Dettol. We were confused about where to get this but it turns out most small convenient stores in Kandy sell them. There are LOTS of leeches and the dettol really worked, though we weren’t sure about it’s effects on the environment. If you’re more prepared than us and you read up on it and decide it’s a bad idea, I’ve had luck with salt pouches before which could be easily made with a rag and some salt from a restaurant. We didn’t get a single bite (and they really are everywhere!)
Wear decent walking shoes that are covered-protect yourself from those leeches!
Bring sun cream and something light to cover up. Lots of the trek is in the shade but there are large sections that aren’t, and you won’t find any relief from the boiling hot sun.
Take cash. There is a small village store along the way. Try to buy something here to support the locals. You will need to pay (and tip) your guide at the end, though if you’re not happy to carry around large amounts of money then the driver will stop at a cash point on the drive home.
Should you book a trip to the Knuckles Mountain Range?
We would highly recommend the trip, especially if you’re keen on seeing parts of Sri Lanka that are slightly off the beaten path. Trekking in the Knuckles Mountain Range was moderately strenuous (we’re not the fittest but have done lots of mountain trekking before), the changing scenery was beautiful and our guide was faultless. It was an amazing way to get away from the busy towns and cities and is still a very little known of trek, so you’re unlikely to see anyone else along the way.