The UNESCO World Heritage site of Adam’s Peak is found in the Central Highlands of Sri Lanka and this holy mountain is the site of pilgrimage treks for Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, and Christians. While we know the mountain as Adam’s Peak, it also has a variety of other names -Shri Paadhaya, Sri Pada, Samanala Kanda, and Sivan Oli Pada Malai. While there is an official pilgrimage season you can hike the trail at any time of the year (weather depending), although it is traditional to hike up in the dark in time for sunrise. The trail to the top is mostly steps, 5,500 of them and you’ll be following in adventurers’ footsteps – this has been a popular hike for centuries, with explorers such as Marco Polo and Ibn Battuta climbing the mountain and writing about it. Here’s how to do the Adam’s Peak Hike in Sri Lanka.
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You’ll need to get to the small village of Nallathaniya aka Dalhousie to start this hike in Sri Lanka, especially if you want to do it the traditional way – starting in the middle of the night to arrive at the summit for sunrise. We’ve covered the details of where to stay, what the hike is like, and what you should bring with you for hiking Adam’s Peak.
The Adam’s Peak Hike
At 2 am on December 17th, my alarm had just gone off and I stumbled out of bed. We’d arrived in Nallathaniya aka Dalhousie (pronounced Delhouse and sometimes spelled that way too) yesterday afternoon after taking a train to Hatton and then lurching the 90 minutes around lake and mountain roads here to Dalhousie.
We’re here to climb Adam’s Peak. Or Sri Pada. It’s one of the best hikes in Sri Lanka and this mountain has been a place of pilgrimage for centuries. If you’re climbing Adam’s Peak, then you’re walking in the footsteps of famous explorers like Ibn Battuta and Marco Polo. The mountain is called Adam’s Peak – known as the place where Adam first set foot on earth after being cast out of heaven, and also Sri Pada (the Sacred Footprint, left by the Buddha as he headed towards paradise). Some even believe the huge ‘footprint’ crowning the peak to be that of St Thomas, the early apostle of India, or even of Lord Shiva.
In two weeks this place will be really busy as it marks the start of the official climbing and pilgrimage season. We saw Adam’s Peak from our hotel last night. Yep, GULP was my thought too.
Tradition has it that we climb in the dark, take a cup of tea just before the top, and then summit for sunrise. Hence the alarm for 2 am.
Our host here at our hotel in Dalhousie assured us last night that it wouldn’t rain while we were hiking– it was torrential rain at 6 pm when he told us this – that we wouldn’t need torches and that we’d be back in time for a shower and to check out at 11 am.
If you’re planning on hiking Adam’s Peak, then you’ll want to book a place to stay in Dalhousie.
We set off wearing walking shoes, trousers, and fleece. There are waterproofs in the day packs (they’re the same waterproofs that went to Everest Base camp with us) and a brolly just in case. It’s dark. It’s well before o dark hurty. Even the puppy dogs are asleep.
How Long Does it Take to Hike Adam’s Peak?
It will take us around 3 hours to climb and around two and a half to descend we’ve been told. It’s more of a saunter at first as we set off through the bus stand area, past the food stalls, and over the first bridge towards the start of the Adam’s Peak Trail.
We sign our names in a book, have pieces of string tied onto our wrists, are wished luck and by the second bridge have removed fleeces and have zipped off the lower part of our trousers, and are in shorts.
The trail up to Adam’s Peak
The route is easy. Lit by electric lights that you can see trailing up the mountainside and food and souvenir stalls it seems impossible to get lost. Even when the path seemingly splits it comes back together later.
The trail to Adam’s Peak soon turns to steps.
It’s a mix of folks heading up – families, couples, Westerners, and Sri Lankans. There’s even an old man with a walking stick. That’s right a walking stick, not a hiking stick. I have trekking poles but use them usually for going downhill. (My guide to the best budget trekking poles is here)
This path is mainly steps. In the main, they’re good steps, big enough for Western feet, not like those piddly Chinese mountain steps we found at Huashan and Huangshan Mountain. And the lower reaches are wide. Wide enough that when a local descending at speed sees me struggling he says “Zig-zag”. (start at one side of the track, and walk upwards by moving diagonally upwards)
And I do and while I may now be traveling further it’s much easier. How did I not know this before now?
I hit the wall at just under two hours when the stairs – and they are little more than a ladder now – narrow, when the handrails become slippery, and when there is no end in sight. But there’s no point in giving up.
I count them out. I’ll do 20 steps then rest. I make 9. But, I console myself, it’s 9 higher than before. It’s a bit like when we hiked to Everest Base Camp, thinking in single numbers was the only way forward. (read about our hike to base camp here)
It’s considered bad luck to ask how much further, but a local vendor tells us, without prompting, that it’s just 15 more minutes. 300 meters to go. It seems manageable now.
And here we are. In what is supposedly the last tea stop before the summit (it’s not actually, but it’s cozy in here). The photo is on the way down when it was light!
Breakfast on the Adam’s Peak Trail
We have hot sweet tea and spicy vegetable roti. It’s just before 5 am. All the clothes go back on, it’s pretty cold here, and my cricket sun hat goes on too (it’s the only one I’ve got!) in preparation for our attempt at the summit.
The last bit is a piece of cake. As in easy. Not to eat.
A few minutes later and we’re there, removing shoes to wander around the shrine area, hurriedly putting them on again afterward, it’s cold up here.
And we join the throng to await the sunrise.
It’s pretty cloudy today and the sunrise isn’t great.
Neither is there any sign of the Adams Peak shadow, when the sun casts a perfect shadow of the peak onto the clouds down towards the coast. Says Lonely Planet “As the sun rises higher this eerie triangular shadow races back towards the peak, eventually disappearing into its base.” – sad to say that it didn’t happen for us.
The summit empties as folks head back down. We stay, to let the crowds go, as there’s a ceremony happening in the shrine area and we haven’t paid our respects to the whole reason that we climbed. Apart from the sunrise of course.
This is where you’ll find the footprint of Adam, Buddha, or Lord Shiva.
There are no photos allowed inside. And you can’t actually see it, drapes of clothes and flowers make sure of that, but we file past solemnly watching the devout lay down their offerings and then begin the descent.
Descending from Adam’s Peak
We pass the man with the walking stick and I want to cheer and shake his hand. He’s made it! We’ve climbed in our Merrells – and you can check my guide to the best budget hiking boots for men here. However, many climb in their flip-flops.
We’re in much better shape going down than the flip-flop wearers, but it still takes us two hours and fifteen minutes of jumping down calf-tightening steps. There are different stalls open on the way down – now is the time to eat sweets and candies – although we restrain ourselves and head back to the hotel for a shower and check out.
Now too is the time when the porters are carrying building and food materials up the mountain, now that we tourists are deserting the mountain.
It seems a long way down, but the views are magnificent. Of course, we saw none of this on the way up, dark as it was. And it’s nice to descend in relative peace the crowds having departed quite some time ago.
If you’re looking for places to visit in Sri Lanka that have great views, then I can recommend heading to the UNESCO World Heritage site of Sigiriya. It is stunning.
How to Get to Nallathaniya to do the Adam’s Peak Hike
You’ll need to get to the small village of Nallathaniya / Dalhouise to start this hike. Nallathaniya is 32 kilometers (20 miles) from Hatton, which is where you’ll find the closest train station. From Hatton take a bus to Dalhousie/Nallathaniya, which should take about 2 hours.
Key Tips on Hiking Adam’s Peak
Thinking of hiking Adam’s Peak? Here’s the key information that you’ll need to prepare for this fabulous Sri Lanka day hike.
How long does it take to hike Adam’s Peak?
It should take between 3 and 4 hours to hike up to Adam’s Peak if you have reasonable fitness. Your return will take about 2.5 hours.
What time do you set off to hike Adam’s Peak?
If you want to catch the sunrise on Adam’s Peak, then you should start your hike around 2 am. This will give you time to grab some breakfast before sunrise. You should check with your hotel when checking in for the best time to set off. We recommend the Mango Tree Hotel in Dalhousie – it’s great for hiking, has a late checkout so you can get a shower when you return from hiking and they get super reviews too.
What should you wear to hike Adam’s Peak?
We hiked in zip-off trousers, t-shirts, and fleeces. It’s cold at the top, and it was also cold to start with, this is hill country. We also hiked in walking shoes – but some locals were wearing flip-flops all the way up and back. We took waterproofs just in case (and as another layer for the cold at the top), sunglasses and a sunhat too.
Do you need Hiking Poles to trek to Adam’s Peak?
I took a set of poles for coming back down, some of the steps are quite steep, and if it’s wet then they’ll be pretty slippery.
What’s the trail like to Adam’s Peak?
It’s a well-made trail, that turns to steps quite quickly, so it’s rather like hiking a Chinese National Park, being that there are so many steps. The trail is lit in the dark and you can’t go wrong.
What’s the elevation gain when hiking Adam’s Peak?
You’ll gain around 1,000 meters of elevation (3280 feet). Your start point in the village of Dalhousie is 1252 meters (4107 feet) and the summit of Adam’s Peak is 2243 meters (7358 feet).
If you’re looking for an easier hike, then head to Horton’s Plain National Park and hike to World’s End. I wrote about our hike here.
How hard is it to hike Adam’s Peak?
It’s not a difficult hike, although you should bear in mind that it is up, up, up and you’ll need to be reasonably fit to do this hike in Sri Lanka.
Is the trail busy at Adam’s Peak?
20,000 people a year climb Adam’s Peak. It is busier during the pilgrimage season, which is from December to May.
When is the official climbing season for Adam’s Peak?
The official pilgrimage season for Adam’s Peak is from the poya day (full moon) in December to the poya day (full moon) in May. If you’re hiking at this time then you must book your accommodation in Nallathaniya ahead of time.
We hiked two weeks before the start of the season. Hiking well out of season means that you’re more likely to get rain, low mist, and not get a view at all, but you’re very, very unlikely to have crowds.
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Final Words on Hiking Adam’s Peak
This glorious day hike in Sri Lanka’s Central Highlands is great, as you can actually hike it in the early hours of the morning and get even more time to spend in this fabulous country. The UNESCO World Heritage site of Adam’s Peak is a place of pilgrimage for many and you’ll need to plan ahead if you’re visiting during the pilgrimage times. The Adam’s Peak Hike is a super day hike, with great views if the weather collaborates and the trail is simple, albeit with thousands of steps!
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