Named after the ridges along the mountain range that resemble knuckles of a closed fist, the Knuckles Mountain Range in Central Sri Lanka is a UNESCO Heritage Site that features stunning viewpoints, a cloud forest, waterfalls and hiking trails; the entire region is considered a super biodiversity hotspot.
According to UNESCO, “the forests are globally important and provide habitat for an exceptional number of endemic species of flora and fauna” including the shy and rare purple-faced langur monkey, leaf-nosed horn lizard from Knuckles, Asian elephants and even the Sri Lankan leopard. It also features almost all major climate zones including a dense “cloud forest” that helps to purify moisture in the air to form nutrient-rich streams and rivers that flow back towards the ocean.
There are dozens of trails and entry points into the Knuckles Mountain Range, and avid hikers and nature lovers could easily spend days upon days exploring the wonders of the region. However, if you are unsure of where to go and what to see in Knuckles, here is a good place to start!
Together with our experienced guide, we experienced a magical day trip to Knuckles forest reserve and hiked to the Mini World’s End near Riverston (or Riverstone), visited a local village and had a home-cooked Sri Lankan meal overlooking lush rice terraces and went swimming at the base of a roaring waterfall. Read on for a guide to spending 1 perfect day in Knuckles!
Where to stay near Knuckles Mountain Range
The Knuckles Range can be accessed from Kandy or Matale, about 4 hours by car from Colombo. There are several options for where to stay if you are visiting the Knuckles Mountain Range, here are some of my recommendations:
Madulkelle Tea and Eco Lodge: Located on the border of Knuckles and offering a panoramic view of the “closed fist”, Madulkelle offers 18 safari-like lodges each with its own private balcony overlooking the tea plantations below. The property also features a infinity pool, on-site spa and incredible restaurant. Click here to check rates and availability at Madulkelle Tea & Eco Lodge!
Rukgala Retreat: Rukgala Retreat is located just outside of Kandy city and is nothing short of a true sanctuary where you can lounge, breathe in fresh mountain air and soak up the sunshine. The star of the show at Rukgala Retreat is the beautiful open-air shala. Yoga classes are held twice daily at 8 AM and 5:30 PM, and are suitable for all levels of Yoga practitioners – whether you’ve never attended a class before, or have a consistent practice. Click here to check availability and current rates at Rukgala Retreat in central Sri Lanka!
The Grand Mountain Hotel in Matale: For easy access to Knuckles consider staying overnight in Matale, a small city near Kandy. The Grand Mountain Hotel is a new hotel that offers spacious and clean rooms, friendly staff and a great on-site restaurant. Click here to check availability and current rates at The Grand Mountain Hotel or head on over here to check out even more options in and around Kandy.
Interested in seeing more of Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle? Here are 7 incredible heritage sites you won’t want to miss!
1 day itinerary for Knuckles Mountain Range
This 1-day Knuckles itinerary is perfect for avid hikers and non-hikers alike – even though I am not a big fan of trekking, the outrageous views and easy trails made this a highlight of my latest trip back to Sri Lanka. To book this customizable tour get in touch with Aravinda Rathnayake via Instagram – he is an experienced naturalist and grew up in the Central Highlands of Sri Lanka.
The best time to visit Knuckles in Sri Lanka is during the dry season from November to April – the other months experience more rain and trails can get muddy, and viewpoints may become very foggy. We got an early start at 7 AM and finished the itinerary in the late afternoon, though you can easily modify this itinerary by letting Aravinda know what you’re looking for; the best part about working with a local expert like Aravinda is that you aren’t signing up for a set itinerary that hundreds of other people have already been on.
Wondering what to do in Knuckles? Here is how we spent our perfect day in the Knuckles Mountain Range!
1. But first…breakfast
Before any physical activity it’s important to fill your belly! On our way to Riverston we stopped at a roadside family-run stall serving up freshly made hoppers and lentil vadai, and don’t forget the steaming hot tea. These types of traditional stalls run on a trust-based system: you walk in, eat what you want from the table and tell them what you had at the end.
Remember this spot because you’ll want to stop for some post-hike treats at the end of the day!
2. Hike to the Mini World’s End (Pitawala Pathana) near Riverston
After breakfast, start your morning with this Knuckles hike: this hike is short and sweet and is one of several “Mini” World’s End spots around the island. The hike is no more than 2 KM-or-so and shouldn’t take more than 20 minutes each way, just watch your step because there is a lot of buffalo dung lying around!
The best part about this hike is the unobstructed views and jaw-dropping cliffs over Riverston – you’ll want to check out the various viewpoints for some seriously stunning photos! It goes without saying that you absolutely must be careful when approaching the edge of the viewpoints – there are a few where the drop is no joke. If you are uncomfortable or afraid of heights your safest bet is to stick to some of the earlier viewpoints along the trail that are a bit wider and further in from the edge.
Entry costs 650 LKR per person (approximately US$3.5).
3. Visit a local village for lunch
Most first-time visitors to Sri Lanka travel around the island for 1-2 weeks. The issue is, the vast majority of people visit the exact same spots and tourism spending is heavily concentrated on a handful of areas. One goal of the Sri Lankan tourism authorities is to spread that tourism load around more evenly, and to ensure that more communities are able to benefit not only financially, but also experience more cultural exchange with visitors. This is why the community-based tourism visit to a local village in Knuckles was unforgettable.
After trekking to Mini World’s End, we hiked another 30 minutes to a village nestled among lush rice paddies and terraces. In this village there are 32 families and homes who take turns hosting visitors and cooking delicious meals.
Here, our host walked to his king coconut tree and plucked coconuts for us to drink, before serving up the most scrumptious vegetarian meal. Pumpkin curry, anyone?
We each plopped ourselves down in a chair and wolfed down our lunch while watching flocks of birds fly over the emerald-green rice paddies. Bliss!
I can’t recommend this experience highly enough, so make sure you get in touch with Aravinda early enough to make sure you are able to visit this village.
4. Sera Ella Waterfall
Finally, cool off from your Knuckles day trip by swimming in the pool at the base of the Sera Ella waterfall! The twin falls are located at the base of a few flights of rock steps and is best visited from November to about March during a weekday, as it can get busy over the weekends and school holidays.
Make sure you bring your swimsuit and towel so that you can hop in the water for a swim, and step behind the veil of the waterfall into the cave behind the plunging stream.
Visiting Sri Lanka for the first time? I have tons of detailed destination guides to help you plan your trip. Click here for all of my insider Sri Lanka travel tips!
What to bring and what to wear to Knuckles
Weather in the Knuckles Mountain Range is unpredictable, so bring a light sweater or scarf. Though the hikes are not strenuous, make sure you wear proper walking shoes with long socks and pants – these will come in handy when you inevitably run into a pesky leech or two. You may also want to bring a bottle of salt water to get rid of them if they latch onto you.
Though some areas are shaded, you will still need sunscreen and/or a hat. Bring your swimsuit and towel if you plan on visiting the waterfall, a bag for any rubbish (leave no trace!) and a bottle of drinking water for the day.
Wondering where to stay if you are visiting the Knuckles Mountain Range? Head to Madulkelle Tea and Eco Lodge for the ultimate glamping experience and a panoramic view of the “closed fist”. The property also features a infinity pool, on-site spa and incredible restaurant. Click here to check rates and availability at Madulkelle Tea & Eco Lodge!
I also love Rukgala Retreat just outside of Kandy city where you can join twice-daily Yoga classes and eat the most delicious vegetarian fare. Click here to check availability and current rates at Rukgala Retreat in central Sri Lanka or check out even more options in and around Kandy.
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