The Best Things To Do In Ella, Sri Lanka
Ella is the most beautiful town in Sri Lanka. Situated in the famour Hill Country region of the island, Ella is best for trekking mountains, watching the valleys from amazing view points and taking it slow. And if you are curious, one of the world’s best train journeys is in Ella, Sri Lanka!
In this blog post, you’ll find everything you need to know to plan a trip to Ella in Sri Lanka (consider this your very own Ella travel guide), including details on where to stay in Ella, the famous train journey in Sri Lanka, where to eat in Ella, the best things to do in Ella and secret tips on spending less than LKR 2,400 (INR 1,000/USD 14) a day while experiencing all that the town has to offer!
What makes Ella so special?
Ella is a mountain town in Central Sri Lanka, which is popularly known as Hill Country because of the chain of mountains and hills all around. These mountains offer many trekking routes and amazing nature walks for visitors, all for free!
Ella is famous for its Nine Arch Bridge which looks like the Hogwarts Express had just passed over. Ella is also famous for its Little Adam’s Peak which has a beautiful view of the entire valley around it.
Above all, Ella is also the last destination on the Kandy-Nuwara Eliya-Ella train route which is the most beautiful train journey in all of Sri Lanka and one of the top 10 in the world!
The World’s End at Little Adam’s Peak
Little Adam’s Peak is much easier to climb than any major other peak in Sri Lanka. There is a paved pathway and stairs all the way to the top.The edge of the Little Adam’s Peak is also called as Mini World’s End because the sheer drop into the valley is absolutely terrifying!
At the top, the views of the southern plains through ‘Ella Gap’ actually puts things into perspective. Little Adam’s Peak is about 3300+ feet above sea level with so many mountains and valleys all around, and little hamlets and waterfalls dotting the landscape.In fact, if you look around, you can even see Rawana Falls in the centre.
Tip: Take a tuktuk (LKR 100 per person) if you don’t want to walk 500m from the street to the climb entrance.
The climb takes about 30 minutes. Consider spending about 2 hours here in the evening. Relax at the top enjoying the sunset and walk back through the tea estates. Entry is free.
Tip: Want some adrenaline rush? The longest zip lining adventure in Sri Lanka is here at Little Adam’s Peak, called the Flying Ravana. You can book a ride on the Flying Ravana on the spot, for USD 25 (or LKR 4500)
Trekking on Ella Rock
The Ella Rock is one of the tallest mountains in Sri Lanka. The summit, almost floating in the clouds, offers unparalleled views of not just the valley, but the low lying plains to the South. The hike to Ella Rock takes under 4 hours. The best time to do it is either early in the morning or in the late afternoon to catch the beautiful sunset. Guides are available, but its also possible to do it on your own.
Ella Rock is a great alternative to hiking in Horton Plains. Its easier than the Adam’s Peak trek, offers similar surreal views and takes half the time to complete the trek.
Get wet at the legendary Ravana Falls
The famous Ravana Falls is located on the hill road to Ella, about 7 kms outside the town. If you are travelling from the plains (Wellawaya), you will spot it halfway through the ascent towards Ella.
Ravana Falls is very popular with tourists and locals! The waterfall is nestled in between two large hills in the Ella range and usually gushing with lots of water. There are multiple tiers in the waterfall and its possible to the climb to the top. The second waterfall apparently has a little rock pool to swim in!
Spend about 20 minutes here admiring the falls whilst snacking on spiced street food and enjoy the weather.
Tip: For a ‘wetter’ experience, pack some swimwear and climb to the upper pools of the waterfall (watch out for leeches).
The most beautiful train journey in the world
The three hour train ride between Ella and Nanu Oya is the best part of the Colombo-Badulla train journey. Nanu Oya is higher in elevation than Ella and so, the train technically climbs the hill from Ella. And the views are just incredible!
On one side you’ll see the mountains rising higher and on the other side, the steep descent to the valleys. Along the way, there are beautiful train stations looking like they did in the colonial 1900s. And once you pull out of the station, the train chugs through delicate cloud forests passing waterfalls, small pools and brooklets, over stone arch bridges, by colorful villages and flower gardens grown by the locals along the railway line.
This famous train journey can be experienced in two ways. You can ride the train from Kandy to Nanu Oya (Nuwara Eliya station) and from Nanu Oya to Ella which is eastward. Or you can ride it westward, from Ella to Nanu Oya and from Nanu Oya to Kandy.
Both routes are equally crowded and priced similarly too. The ticket costs LKR 210 (INR 85 or USD 1.2) in second class, but its almost impossible to buy it at the local price if you are a foreigner. Since there is no way to buy a ticket online from the railway website, you must buy it through one of the many agents who charge USD 12 or above. If you are willing to take a chance, you can buy it one day before travelling and might get lucky. Othrwise you may have to buy an unreserved ticket in the crowded car.
See Sri Lanka train ticket prices and book tickets here
The Iconic Nine Arch Bridge
The arch bridge at Demodara, Ella is the MOST iconic railway bridge in all of Sri Lanka! The locals call it the bridge in the sky, mostly because of the sheer height of the bridge, when seen from the tea plantations below, where they make a living. It was built in 1921, with no steel or metal beams, but entirely in stone, brick and cement. The curving bridge is nestled inside a valley with multiple view points all around.
The trains go by three times a day and the train that enters the tunnel is heading towards Ella from Badulla. Ask your hotel or host about the train timings so that you get to see it. You can also see the schedule online.
Our experience: We made it to the view point with about 15 minutes to spare before the train was to pass through at 3:30 pm, but we were told at the cafe in the view point that there was a 20 minute delay. Delays are very common.
The best view points to see the Nine Arch Bridge
There are many view points all around the Nine Arch Bridge and you can easily walk between any of these points once you reach the first view point.
Top view point: To get here, look for The Cabin Ella or the Asanka Cafe. Since we were exploring the town on a scooter, we parked it at the estate entrance and then walked down to the cafe in 15 minutes.
View from below: For a Tea-Planters’ perspective, you can consider walking further down from the Cafe to the base of the valley.
On the bridge: Taking a tuktuk to the bridge helps you reach the parking area near the tunnel (as seen in the photos above) and you can walk on the bridge while you wait for a train.
Stay in a wood cabin in the hills
Our answer to the FAQ: where to stay in Ella – the best homestays, cabins and family run boutique hotels are located on the edge of the slopes. Almost every such house has an impressive view of the valley and the Ella mountain ranges. Homestays are very cheap to stay in and worth every rupee. Usually a wholesome breakfast is also included and dorm rates start at USD 2/night while private rooms cost USD 5/night.
We stayed at Ella Ridge View (wood cabin) and at Ella Golden View (cheaper, regular rooms). Both homestays offer amazing views of Little Adam’s Peak and Ella Rock!
See all accommodations here
Other places to see and things to do in Ella
Ella is home to the the holy Buddhist shrine of Dowa Rajamaha Viharaya. Here you can see an ancient, rock cut Buddha idol. Another popular spot is the Ravana’s statue at milestone A23 on the Wellawaya-Kumbalwela highway.
Tea plantations are popular places to see in Ella. There are many tea factories in and around town, including near Little Adam’s Peak. You can also visit a spice garden located along the winding roads!
Where to hang out in the evenings?
Ella is like a hippie town and there are more foreign travellers than its locals, on the main Ella Street! There are so many cafes, bars and restaurants across a variety of cuisines and budgets!
How to travel to Ella
There are three main modes of transport to get to Ella:
Train: The train journey between Ella and Kandy through Nanu Oya is amongst the most beautiful train journeys in the world! The prices are reasonable (so cheap if you manage to buy them yourself in the country) and its a great way to visit Ella or to leave from Ella to Nuwara Eliya or Kandy. We did the Ella-Nanu Oya-Kandy route. Sit on the right side on this route!
Bus: There are buses to Nanu Oya and Wellawaya amongst other towns, but the frequency is very low. If you want to travel to the southern coast, take a tuktuk or bus to Wellawaya and then take the express bus for LKR 180 (INR 70 or USD 1) to Matara, the city nearest to Mirissa and Weligama. We have done this and it was comfortable, but crowded.
Taxi: Expensive option at about LKR 12,000 (INR 5,000 or USD 65) for the drive to Nanu Oya (Nuwara Eliya) or more if you want to head to the coast.
Traveling directly from Colombo to Ella can be hectic and strenuous because of how many hours it takes!
See all transport options and prices here
Getting around in Ella
It is very easy to cover most of Ella on foot, considering that it is a small town and most view points are a couple of kilometres away from each other. You can also take a tuktuk or rent-a-bike.
A full day’s bike rental costs about LKR 1,000 (INR 450 or USD 7) and one litre of petrol costs about LKR 137 (INR 59). This is the best way to cover all of Ella at your own pace in limited time. There are many shops renting bikes on the main street of the town, but its much easier to ask your hotel/bnb host to have one brought to you.
Tuktuks charge a couple of thousand LKR for a tour, depending on how many places you want to cover. Although the general rate is LKR 35/km all over Sri Lanka, the rate doubles in the mountains (at Nuwara Eliya too). Many agencies organise safari trips to the nearby Udawalawe National Park. Check with your hotel for the tours.
Where to stay in Ella
Stay in one of the homestays not too far from Ella Street, that way you can easily reach any of the main sights in town and still be close to the cafes and restaurants. Like we mentioned in the paragraph above on staying in a wooden cabin, that could just be the best experience in Ella. There are larger hotels and fancy resorts too.
See all Ella, Sri Lanka hotels here.
Travel costs, food and safety
Ella is one of the cheaper places in Sri Lanka. Room and dorm rates are very low, starting at less than USD 2 and in most places, traditional Sri Lankan breakfast is also included! Bus tickets are very cheap at less than USD 1, even between cities and towns.
Cafes and restaurants at Ella serve all major cuisines including Italian and Chinese but local delicacies are really good! Taste the string hoppers, feast on Sri Lankan rice and curry, or even the famous sea food brought in fresh from the coast everyday!
Ella is reasonably safe. Couples and even female travelers can explore the town in the city in peace. It gets dark at 6 pm and is very quiet after sunset especially on streets away from the main Ella Street. Police is very helpful and so are most locals!
Suggested itinerary for Ella
It is best to spend atleast two days and one night in Ella because of the oppportunity it presents to connect with nature. Based on how long each one of these activities take, you can plan your stay in Ella accordingly:
- Little Adam’s Peak (2 hours, sunset time)
- Ella Rock (6-8 hours early morning, hard trek)
- Nine Arches Bridge (1.5 hours in the late afternoon; 3:30 pm train)
- Ravana Falls (1 hour including drive time)
- Visit to the tea plantations (1 hour, before noon)
- Dowa Rajamaha shrine (1 hour, preferably before 6 pm)
- If you have more time, you can include a safari to Udawalawe (8 hours day trip)
The travel time to Nuwara Eliya is about three hours and to Mirissa or the Southern Coast, it takes 4 hours.
If you have more questions, or want to explore Ella and Sri Lanka with us, write to us or leave a comment below!
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