Going up and down Adam’s Peak in Sri Lanka
Once upon a time in Kandy, I met three French people and we went on a road trip to climb a small mountain. Here’s how I got there, a brief guide to Adam’s Peak and what it was like!
About the Adam’s Peak
Adam’s Peak, also known as Sri Pada, is a famous trek made by pilgrims of many different religions including Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity. In Buddhism, it’s thought to be the footprint of Buddha. The name Adam comes from Christianity.
Located in central Sri Lanka, it’s 2,243 meters above sea level. Peak pilgrimage time is April, although high season lasts for several months starting with a major religious holiday in December.
It is quite a tough journey, so be mentally and physically prepared!
How it was that I tagged along with 3 French folks
Sri Lanka has a history with France, so there are many travelers coming from France all the time. My friend’s parents run a homestay for French travelers in Kandy, and find their lodgers through forums and word of mouth.
Not speaking a lick of French, I met a handful of French people who stayed with them. There were three French friends who were on a 2-3 week trip. They spoke more English than the French couple who were also staying there, and we had a few laughs together at the dinner table.
The four of us were eating a lovely dinner prepared by my friend’s mother. Talk of their plans for the next few days came up, and they enthusiastically asked me to go with them. They were leaving the next morning for Adam’s Peak with their van and hired driver, Fernando. After spending the first part of their trip seeing all of the cultural triangle, they were heading south to the peak, Nuwara Eliya, and then eventually the beaches on the southern coast.
Slightly taken aback by the sudden invitation, by the end of the meal I agreed to join them. Although I hadn’t planned the rest of my stay in Sri Lanka, this chance meeting would lead me to Adam’s Peak. I had only heard things in passing about this hike…and had no idea what I was getting myself into!
The next morning, we all clambered into the van and made our way up windy roads through hill country to get to the main climb.
Going up Adam’s Peak
Later that night, we wake up after a few hours of rest to head out. It’s dark and we’re sleepy as we head towards the peak. The first half hour is kind to us, with wider steps and stretches of flat path. Many of the shops and stalls were not open yet, with their tarps tightly wrapping their shopfronts.
On the way up, we passed families on their way down. Some were young, some were quite old. Some were carrying their infant children in their arms. Many of them were barefoot.
Going up, it felt as though we were climbing to the stars. The lights showed the outline of the path and almost looked like they led right to the stars in the sky. In some parts, you could hear the rushing water of the stream beside the stairs.
It took about two and a half hours of near constant pressing onwards and upwards to make it to the top. We tried to keep up a pretty good pace, and took a few short rests to catch our breath. There are stalls periodically all the way up if you want to get food, extra clothing (it does get chilly!), or drinks. We stopped for a little longer at the last stall before the last 20-30 minutes to the top.
Sunrise at the peak
Although it was crowded at the top, there was space for everyone to watch the sunrise. The best spot is the last bit of stairs as you go up to the temple. There are a few roofs there that you can also place your camera if you want to take photos to do a time lapse.
On a clear morning, you can see pretty far. Some rumors were that you could even see the city of Colombo in the distance. The day I went, though, it was cloudy and misty. It was still pretty to see the clouds surrounding the hills in the area.
Check out my video of some of the sunrise:
A tussle at the top
There was one guy who climbed onto one of the roofs (on the left in the video) and refused to get off when a security guard approached him. They had a little bit of pushing back and forth there, in full view of the dozens of other people also watching the sunset. It took several minutes to finally get him off the roof, which is several minutes too long.
Don’t be that guy. Please be respectful. This is a place of worship for many people, and you are not entitled to do whatever the h*** you want because you feel like it or you get a “rush.”
At least the crowd had booed, heckled and got angry at the guy, but I wished he didn’t do that in the first place. I kept hoping that he wasn’t from my country, because we have a bad enough rep and don’t need a doofus making it worse.
Going back down was by far the most difficult part of this hike for me. The sun was shining, so it was warmer on the way down. It wasn’t oppressively hot yet, but you could tell it would get there soon.
But that wasn’t what bothered me. What I didn’t expect was that my knees hurt so badly, and by the end every step hurt. I lagged behind the others, while on the way up I was usually in front. I started going sideways and backwards to try to ease the pressure on my knees, but it was already too little too late by then.
For the rest of the day, sharp pain in my knees would hit me every time I tried to go up or down stairs (or even get in and out of the van).
I’m not sure if they really were scams or not, but there were many Buddhist monks hanging around at the temple near the bottom of the path and in some sections in the first part of the climb.
The first part is, as you are leaving Dalhousie, a monk standing at a fork telling people to go to the right. This path goes through a temple and then joins with the path that forked to the left. They ask for donations, bless you and tie a white string to your wrist. I felt this was a little dishonest on their part because they were herding people as if their path was the correct path to the peak. (They also had some signs in English saying that they do not “charge” an entrance fee to Adam’s Peak. I guess others have complained about this. They also asked you to sign a guestbook, listing how much you were donating, which could be some kind of peer pressure to give the same amount as everyone else.)
The other is a monk who sits in a booth across from a small temple-like setup. He says “Come here!” quite aggressively, adding that he will teach us something and repeatedly saying he’s a monk. I didn’t like how aggressively he was telling us to go over to him. People who do go over to him leave with an orange mark on their forehead that he presumably gives them after he has taught them something.
Maybe these weren’t scams, but I felt that most people who did talk to these monks or go into the temples were foreigners, thus making it feel scammy. I also didn’t like how aggressive these “monks” were being, and that made it feel scammy too. You can judge for yourself if you go.
Guide to planning your climb up Adam’s Peak
As opposed to other types of site seeing, it’s actually better if you do go during the high season for this. Many restaurants and food stalls along the way up are only open during the months of pilgrimage. It does get crowded at the top, but on the way up and down it was manageable when I went in January 2017 on a Tuesday/Wednesday.
The high season starts in December and goes through May. Don’t go on major religious holidays and weekends to avoid the biggest crowds. Other months of the year, it may be too rainy to do the climb and there may not be as many hotels, restaurants and shops open.
Make sure you book a room in the “town” of Dalhousie, which is near the start of the climb to the peak. It’s a cluster of buildings on either side of the main road towards the main path up to the Peak. There are a few restaurants and shops that during high season are open all night. You can also go back to your hotel after you come down from the peak to have breakfast and shower before heading to your next destination.
Most people who do this climb start out at around 2 AM. Try to get a few hours of sleep before heading out. Pack snacks and water, but you’ll be able to buy things from the shops along the way if you don’t.
If you go at a decent pace, that gives you a few hours to get to the top for the sunrise. It gets chilly the farther you go up, so bring layers. You may also want a hat or gloves. Your body will stay warm from the physical activity, but your hands may get cold. If you will be waiting for a while to see the sunrise, it may be cold and windy. A light down jacket at this point would not be overkill.
Another reason to do the climb during nighttime is that it can get hot during the day, and you don’t want to be climbing all those stairs in the heat. We saw some porters who were starting their climb as we were going down, and I was amazed and impressed that they could do this climb with the sun out and with a heavy load!
Do go, but be warned!
Our driver, Fernando, told us that if you are in Sri Lanka and you don’t do Adam’s Peak, you are stupid. And if you do it a second time, you are also stupid! (He was a funny guy, and later on the drive from Nuwara Eliya back to the coast he’d treat me to the best egg hoppers I ate on this trip!)
I am glad that I did it, though my knees were totally wrecked afterwards. I don’t regret doing it and I was ok the day after, but wish I took care of my knees better on the way down. Lesson learned! If you are healthy and fit, this climb is well worth the effort. Consider avoiding if you have knee problems, though!
Have you seen a sunrise from the top of a mountain or big hill?
Save this for later!