There’s an old bell at the summit of Sri Pada, Sri Lanka’s iconic pilgrimage known as Adam’s peak. The bell is rung once for each time a person makes the journey to the top. As the sun edged its way through the mountain mists, I rang that bell two times.
Still mist coated the Sri Lankan mountains like a painting, seemingly only moved by our trudging green tuktuk, Avo, which chugged into the small town of Dalhousie after a full day of driving.
Dalhousie is one of those towns the world would have forgotten if not for its proximity to magic. In this case, Dalhousie’s significance lies in the fact it's the closest town to the famous pilgrimage climb to the summit of Sri Lanka’s tallest mountain, Adam's Peak.
Every morning hundreds of people climb to the summit of Adam’s Peak to watch the sunrise. To most, it’s a significant religious passage, to others, it’s the chance to vicariously experience what it's like to take part in a spiritual pilgrimage.
It was already mid-afternoon by the time we arrived in Dalhousie. With no accommodation booked, we quickly negotiated with a few hotel owners on the main street and scored a good deal: hot water, breakfast upon return, and a quiet room we could get as much rest as possible before our 2 am start.
To reach the top of Sri Pada, you need to walk around 5500 steps and rise 2243 meters (7359 feet). The steps gradually get steeper, and more challenging as you get higher. By the end, your legs will feel like jelly.
Getting to Adam's Peak
There's a number of ways to get to Adam's Peak. Probably the most common is to catch the train to Hatton. Hatton is located between Kandy and Ella on the famous Sri Lankan train ride.
If your plans involve catching the Kandy-Ella train, you can simply get off at Hatton and continue the train ride once you've completed Adam's Peak.
Upon arriving into Hatton station you can either catch a tuktuk (more expensive) or a local bus which will take you right into Dalhousie town (very cheap). This bus takes about 30 minutes and once you arrive into town, most accommodation is within walking distance.
If you have your own transport (ie a tuktuk) there's a number of ways to get to Adam's Peak. We drove in from Kandy, stopping at AmbuluwaraTower, which we highly recommend. The mountainous roads in this region were some of the most beautiful we came across in Sri Lanka.
There's always the option to hire a personal driver from almost anywhere in Sri Lanka. As the country is quite small and affordable, people often opt to hire a driver to take them long distances, and honestly, it's surprisingly cheap when you consider how much a private car and driver costs in the west.
Adam’s Peak Summit
We were actually surprised by how good we felt when reaching the summit. We were exhausted, but definitely not as tired as when I had climbed the year before.
Relief quickly turns to confusion at the summit. Everyone tries to find a good spot to sit and wait for the sunrise, while the “temple” authorities usher people away from sitting on temple grounds.
The sun rises directly in front of the steps you have climbed to get here, so most people will start sitting on the steps waiting. This causes traffic jams from those still climbing and, during busy times, late-comers don’t even make it to the summit for sunrise.
We'd reached the summit in good time, but with two hours before sunrise. However, the windy mountain top has little protection from the cold and we shivered, huddled together in what seemed hilarious, but almost serious at the same time.
A small nook at the back of the temple was protecting a number of locals from the elements. Watching us shiver nearby, an elderly woman signed over to us to join them. We obliged. She laid out an old mat I’m certain had seen more prayers than my days on earth. We sat with them, still cold, but now warmed by the generosity of the people around us.
I truly believe experiences are what you make them. But there is something about being on the summit of Adam’s Peak right before sunrise. The energy is palpable, and whether you’re spiritual or not, there is an undeniable feeling of magic up there.
What you need to know about climbing to Adam’s Peak summit:
Know your fitness level: The climb is tough, there’s no side-stepping that. I don’t think anyone finds it easy, so know your fitness level, and pace yourself.
Leave adequate time: The idea is to catch sunrise, so if you feel you’ll be slow, leave more time for breaks on the way up.
It gets cold: No matter the ground temperature, the summit before dawn gets extremely cold. Make sure you have enough clothing/blankets prepared for the wait at the top.
Weather can factor: Bad weather can make it impossible to reach the summit. Make sure to stay up to date on rainfall and try to time your hike in the dry. You can view Adam's Peak weather forecasts here.
Be respectful: This pilgrimage is extremely important and sacred to locals and those who have traveled far to experience this. Don’t be loud, keep music to yourself, and generally behave as the guest you are. You’ll get so much more out of the experience this way too.
What to bring on the Adam's Peak hike:
You don't need much, but before you head out into the night make sure you have:
Appropriate footwear: It’s easy to spend most of your time in Sri Lanka in thongs (flip flops), but proper enclosed footwear is key when climbing Sri Pada.
Water: There will be places to buy water on the way up, but it will be expensive. Stock up beforehand to save money.
Toilet paper: Pretty self-explanatory. There are only local-style toiles on the way up. There won't be any toilet paper available should nature call.
Warm clothes: Pack warm clothes, and a blanket is a good idea. Especially, if you get to the top early and have to wait.
Snacks: For some energy on your way up. We didn’t bring enough fruit and ended up taking out a loan for two oranges. It definitely pays to think ahead here.
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How much does it cost?
Climbing Adam’s Peak is free. However, accommodation in the nearby town can be more expensive than the average Sri Lankan price. The closer you get to the start of the trek, the more inflated the prices.
Is it a hard hike?
Yes, it’s a tough one. Fitness levels play a big role here, but generally, most would agree this isn’t an easy climb.
Is climbing Adam’s Peak as a tourist ethical?
Adam’s Peak is part of a spiritual pilgrimage for many different religions. For this reason, some people can feel invasive climbing for touristic reasons. However, climbing Adam’s Peak with awareness and respect for others is perfectly acceptable and ethical.
Will I be sore after climbing Adam’s Peak?
This depends on your legs. Some people can be sore for a week after, while others can recover quite quickly. But expect to have sore legs for at least a couple days after this hike.
How cold does it get at the top of Adam’s Peak?
Temperatures can vary but expect it to be very cold and windy at the top, especially before sunrise.
What seasons are best to climb Adam’s Peak?
You can climb Adam's Peak year-round, but the temple closes during monsoon season between May-December. January-April is considered the best time to climb as it's the drier season and less chance of rainfall.
Is Adam’s Peak dangerous?
Generally the climb is safe and lit the entire way. However, if you’re old and/or have an underlying health condition you might want to check with a medical professional before taking on the challenge.