Welcome to Ella – a backpacker hangout in the middle of the mountains where you can satiate your desire for Western food; pizzas, burgers, pastas, panini’s, fruit shakes – and get beer more easily here than anywhere else in Sri Lanka’s ‘Up Country’.
For those who have travelled in northern Thailand, Ella’s chilled mountain vibe may remind you a little of Pai, complete with the Rastafarian-wannabe tuk-tuk drivers.
Although hardcore backpackers may wince a little at the modernisation taking place in the tiny ‘city’ of Ella (and we hope it doesn’t go too far), at the moment, it’s a good place to indulge in a little of those comforts you may have missed in more traditional parts of Sri Lanka and India.
Plus, the hiking in the nearby hills is incredible. Easily accessible from the city, you can start many treks right from your guest house.
A short walk to Adam’s Peak or Ella’s Rock will offer amazing views of the awesome countryside surrounding Ella and you’ll instantly understand why Ella is so popular, if a little bit touristy.
Things to do in Ella:
Hike to Adam’s Peak
Adam’s peak is around a 45 minute to an hour easy-moderate walk from Ella. The views through Ella gap are spectacular and surprisingly there are not crowds of tourists up here.
Hike to Ella Rock
Ella Rock is a little more difficult to reach. Take a right along Waterfall Road until you find the train track. Walk along the railway track (listening out for trains always!) in the direction of Kithalella Railway Station. You will pass by Rawana Small Waterfalls (which were dry due to drought when we visited) and from here you can continue to Ella Rock, which offers possibly the best views in Ella!
Walk to Rawana Waterfall
It’s a nice walk to these falls, which are really pretty during the rainy season. Many locals come here for a day out and to bathe in the falls.
Get an Ayurvedic Massage
Ayurvedic medicine and treatment centres abound in Ella where you can get foot, head, face and body massages, as well as steam baths and other more traditional ayurvedic treatments. Be sure to haggle the prices as they drop considerably when you ask for a discount.
Visit Uva Halpewatta Tea Factory Tour
If you’re a big tea drinker, this factory, 15 minutes from Ella city, is really interesting in educating you on how your Lipton, PG Tips and Earl Grey is actually made! (With a lot of hard work from the local Tamil tea pickers!)
Only 300 Rupee a visit, this is an interesting tour where you’ll learn a lot about your morning beverage! Amazing views from the terrace where can sample a cuppa after your tour.
Visit Rawana Rock Temple and Seetha Cave
If you’re up for the climb of around 600 steps to the top, the cave itself is not much to see but is a challenge in fitness and great views!
Hire a scooter
You’ll see many signs around Ella offering to hire you a scooter which can be done for around 1,000-1,500 Rupees a day. Be careful driving on those winding mountain roads, use that horn like the locals do!
Indulge in great Western food at the Dream Café
Best Western food (steak and chips / chicken and vegetables / tuna steak) we’ve had in Sri Lanka. Sometimes a little piece of home comforts is what you need!
Places to stay in Ella:
Budget: Madushanka Resort – At around 15 Euro / night you can’t complain at this basic hotel, surrounded by nature in the hills around Ella. The owners don’t speak a lot of English, but make up for it through outstanding friendliness.
Budget: Elegant Homestay Ella – Cheap price, good location, basic rooms and an incredible reputation for their breakfast.
Backpacker budget – New Blue Home – Cheapest digs in Ella and backpacker favourite. Popular for its cleanliness, friendliness and, of course, its breakfast.
Mid-range: Ella’s Edge Resort – Amazing views of Ella’s Gap from every room. Mid-range price and decent breakfast. It should be said, the rooms can get unbearably hot!
Splurge! 98 Acres Resort & Spa Treat yourselves to luxury at this amazing resort. If you’re arriving by helicopter you can land right on the helipad!
By train from Kandy
Getting to Ella is one of the best things about the whole place! If you’re coming from Kandy, make sure you opt for the six-hour train rather than the quicker two-hour bus as this could possibly be the best train ride of your life!
Along the way, you’ll pass through tropical jungle, small villages, misty cloud forests and bright green tea plantations. The temperature will change as you climb high from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya and then down into Ella.
Hang out the window or if the train is packed sit yourself down by the door and let the changing breeze blow on your face. Have your camera at the ready at all times!
By bus from Kandy
If you’re short on time, its still a nice bus journey from Kandy and only takes two-three hours.
Where to go next
Colombo – Head to the nation’s multi-cultural capital for a bustling atmosphere, great street food and nearby beaches.
Kandy – The city of the temple of the tooth.
Yala National Park – One of the best places to spot elephants in Sri Lanka on the south-east coast.
Arugam Bay – Surfer’s Paradise and chilled out beach resort on the East coast which is around three hours by direct bus. If you miss the direct buses (7.45am and 9.15am) then you’ll have to take three buses and a tuk tuk to get there, a total of around 6-8 hours travel time. Change at Wellawaya, Monaragala and then catch a tuk tuk from nearby Potuvill.