It’s time to visit the beautiful mountains of Sri Lanka. This amazing little town, nestled amongst the tea fields, is home to some of the most incredible mountain views. The scenes from the top of Little Adam’s Peak and Ella Rock are breathtaking. It is also home to the most famous bridge in Sri Lanka, Nine Arch Bridge. There is definitely no shortage of awesome things to do in Ella.
Getting to Ella
If you are coming here from Yala National Park, you’ll have to get out of bed early to catch a direct bus to Ella from Tissamaharama (the town closest to the National Park). The last direct bus leaves the main bus station in Tissa at 08.20 am. There are no direct busses after this and we have heard it can make the journey much more difficult to leave in the afternoon. The journey on a local bus should cost around 180 LKR ($1 USD) and takes just over two hours. The local bus is a great way to travel Sri Lanka on a budget.
Alternatively, many people take the scenic train from Kandy to Ella in order to reach this town. However, we strongly believe its better to work your way around Sri Lanka counter-clockwise to avoid a very overcrowded train. We have heard nightmare stories about how busy the Kandy to Ella route was, whereas our train (Ella to Kandy) was quiet and enjoyable.
Things to Do in Ella
1. Nine Arch Bridge
This was one of the places I had seen so many incredible photos of, so I was worried we would be disappointed when we actually saw it. I’m glad to say, it is just as good as we had hoped. The bridge rises dramatically from the tea fields and it’s something special to watch the famous blue train cross the bridge in the evening.
It’s also a really cool walk to get there. Around 100m after passing Art Café Umbrella there is a small sign to Nine Arch Bridge on the left hand side of the road. This will take you down through the jungle. It is a fairly easy 15-minute walk to the bridge from here. We also felt the best view was offered from the tea fields at the end of this path overlooking the bridge.
2. Walk along the train tracks
After hanging out at Nine Arch Bridge for the evening, we decided to take the scenic route home. We walked along the train tracks back into town and watched the sky turn red as the sun set behind the mountains. There were no other tourists taking this route home as it does take 45 minutes to get back to Ella, but it is worth it. We walked past lots of friendly locals and got to take in some beautiful views down the valley. This train track is still in use so make sure you keep an eye out for oncoming trains.
3. Little Adam’s Peak
This is the easiest and best way to get a 360-degree view of the surrounding countryside. It is an easy 30-minute walk from town to the base of Little Adam’s Peak and this walk takes you right through some of the beautiful tea plantations. A short but tough 15-minute climb will take you to the summit where uninterrupted views of the mountains, including Ella Rock, are on offer. To get to the base, take the same road out towards Nine Arch Bridge but continue on until you reach Ella Flower Garden Resort and take the path upwards.
4. Ella Rock
If the hike up Little Adam’s Peak sounds a bit too easy for you, then there is always Ella Rock. The trek to the top of Ella Rock takes around 2.5 hours and is much more gruelling. Depending on your comfort level, it may be advisable to take a guide with you as it can be quite intense, although many people do it guide-free without an issue.
5. Diyaluma Falls
Seeing Diyaluma Falls was one of our top priorities when we researched Sri Lanka. We royally mucked it up. Read how just below. We had seen and heard amazing things about the falls and more specifically swimming in the natural infinity pools at the top. It seemed to be the highlight of many peoples trips and we highly recommend you do it better than we did.
As we are always looking to do things on a budget, we decided to take the public bus there. It took us two buses and 2.5 hot and sweaty hours to arrive at the bottom of the falls. To then reach the top it was going to be another 30-minute tuk tuk ride for 1500 LKR ($8.60 USD) and a 30-40 minute hike into the falls with a guide for 1500 LKR ($8.60 USD). As it was getting late in the day, we sadly ended up taking a bus straight home after 15-minutes at the base of the falls. Nightmare. This is one of those times where it is just better to fork out a bit more money and take a tuk tuk directly from Ella to the top of the falls.
6. Visit Ravana Falls
It can be tough to find a way to cool down in Ella when you are away from the ocean. We searched for a swimming pool, but an even better way to relax and cool off is to visit the nearby Ravana Falls. Popular with locals, these falls are only 20 minutes away on the public bus for 30LKR ($0.18USD) and there is the perfect little swimming hole at the base for taking a dip. Keep an eye out for the local crew of monkeys while you swim.
7. Take the Ella to Kandy Train
This was the experience I was looking forward to most and it lived up to the hype. The 7-hour slow train crosses through the mountainous tea plantations at the heart of Sri Lanka. It was an amazing experience to sit in the open doorways, dangle our feet out of the train and watch the natural beauty of this crazy country go by.
It is usually advisable to book your tickets ahead of time as the train can be quite busy. We booked reserved seats in 2nd class for 600 LKR ($3.40 USD) each and our train left at 6:40am.
For more tips and advice on taking the Ella to Kandy train, read our full blog here:
8. Hang out at Café Chill
Right in the heart of Ella is Café Chill. This place seemed to always be busy when we walked by and when we finally went to check it out, it was easy to see why. Kick your shoes off, grab a beanbag and hang out under the thatched roof. The atmosphere here is really relaxed and we spent a couple of afternoons with a cold drink in hand, chilling and chatting about the amazing days spent exploring Ella.
9. Explore the tea plantations
Our homestay owner told us to explore the tea fields around where he lived and we learnt long ago to always trust the locals. Walk through the tunnel under the railway tracks at the top end of town and take the first road on the right, then walk along the road for a couple of hundred metres until you hit the tea fields.
The owner of our homestay recommended it as a sunset spot and we fully enjoyed wandering through the tea fields during golden hour. There was nobody else out, making it an awesome getaway from the hustle and bustle of town and a great alternative sunset spot to Nine Arch Bridge.
Where to Eat in Ella
Vimala Hotel – Our favourite little hole-in-the-wall place in Ella. A cheap and delicious local spot. We had the house curry here several times.
Mateys Hut – Tucked away at the top end of town, be sure to get there early to get a seat. Another cheap and delicious local restaurant that also offers cooking classes.
Dream Café – Sometimes you just want something familiar to eat. We had really delicious bacon and egg rolls here for breakfast for 400 LKR ($2.30 USD)
Café C Ella – Another good little place for cheap and tasty rice and curry.
Café Chill – We only ever had drinks here as it is a bit more expensive, but definitely worth stopping in for a drink.
Where to Stay in Ella
We stayed right in the middle of town at Udayanga Restaurant and Bar. It had really comfortable beds, was very clean and a bit more modern than the basic rooms we had grown accustomed to. It was one of the better places we stayed in Sri Lanka and would definitely recommend it. Due to the cold nights in Ella, there is also no need for air conditioning. It cost 2300 LKR ($13.20 USD) per night.
When looking for accommodation, it is worth staying as close to the centre of town as possible as it is quite a hilly area. What may not appear far on Google Maps might result in you trekking up and down a hill a couple times a day. Café Chill is a good landmark when trying to get a sense of where the centre of town is.
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Before arriving here one of our friends told us Ella was his favourite town in Sri Lanka and that was a big deal because he went to Sri Lanka to surf. After spending almost a week in Ella we understood why. Spending time amongst the mountains and the tea fields was something so different to the coast of Sri Lanka, but no less amazing. It was also unreal to have the temperature drop below 20 degrees each night and get a comfortable nights sleep. We fully recommend heading inland and seeing the amazing geographical diversity Sri Lanka has to offer.
Next stop Arugam Bay!
*Please note, prices are a reflection of our experiences while traveling Sri Lanka in March 2019 and are subject to change. Prices quoted in LKR were the exact prices we paid and USD conversions are listed for your convenience.