Ella is a small village towards the south of the hill country in central Sri Lanka that has become very popular with backpackers and budget travellers. There are some popular hiking locations close by that pass by waterfalls and tea plantations and provide some very rewarding vistas at their end. Most travellers arrive in Ella on a train from Kandy. This train journey is one of the nicest in the world and it’s worth coming to visit Ella for this alone.
There are many really nice guesthouses in Ella. To reach them turn left as you exit the Ella train station road and look for them on either side of the road as you walk through town. There are dozens of options so feel free to go inside some and check out the rooms and ask for a price. While the guesthouses don’t have dorms, it should be possible to get a price close to 1000 LKR per person by sharing a 3 or 4 bed room with other travellers. It helps if you travel to Ella as a small group and look for accommodation together.
This is one of the few places that I could find that has dorm style accommodation. Spice Hut is a very small hostel with only about 6 beds. The room is nice with fans and mosquito nets available on each bed. The woman running the hostel was delightfully friendly. The price is about 1300 LKR. It is possible to find cheaper accommodation in Ella but if you want something quick and easy to find not far from the train station then it’s a great option.
Sights and Highlights
This hike takes around 2 hours in each direction. It can be done quicker if you want, but why rush it? It is not particularly strenuous but is uphill constantly and in the heat of the day you will need frequent rests. The path is easy for the first 30mins. Walk to the railway, turn left. Walk along the tracks until you cross over a black bridge, then turn left and cross the river. After crossing the river take an immediate right and then basically find a path up the hillside through a tea plantation. Look for a hiking path at the back of the plantation and follow this all the way to the peak of Ella Rock. It is possible to get a bit confused, particularly after you leave the railway tracks. You will undoubtably encounter a local guide at this most opportune time. Be warned that they expect a hefty tip at the completion of the hike, 2000 LKR is typical. It is best to negotiate this before you start to avoid any awkward negotiation at the end. Read the GirlTweetsWorld.com/hiking-ella-rock if you are after some more advice, her story was very similar to mine.
Little Adams Peak
This hike is a lot shorter than the one to Ella Rock and more popular. The view however is possibly more impressive. From Little Adams Peak you can look across towards Ella Rock and down the valley through the Ella Gap. To reach Little Adams Peak. Walk down the main street away from the train station and take a left when you reach a fork in the road. Continue along this road for about 1km and then take a right towards the peak. It should be obvious at this stage which direction you need to go.
A really beautiful piece of architecture located about 30 mins walk along the railway tracks out of Ella. Simply head to the railway station and walk to the right along the tracks (opposite direction as Ella Rock). Eventually you will reach a tunnel and just out the other side of the tunnel is the bridge. Make sure you ask around to find out what time the train will be passing over the bridge. This is important because the train passing by will give you a fantastic photo opportunity, but also because you do no want to get caught going through the tunnel when the train is going through.
Ella to Kandy Train
While this is not a place you can visit in Ella, but rather a method of transportation to get from Ella to Kandy, I am including it here to make sure it is not glossed over. If you visit the interior of Sri Lanka, this train trip is not to be missed. It is often mentioned as one of the most scenic train journeys in the world. It takes about 6 hours as the train winds back and forth around mountains, past tea plantations and through small villages. For more details check the transportation section below.
For general information on popular Sri Lanka dishes, check out my article Sr Lankan Food on a Budget.
Fish and Chip
I must confess, this place has me a bit confused. They do have fish and chips on the menu, but they are basically run like any other cheap eatery in Sri Lanka. They serve a range of different sweet and savoury rotis, kottu roti and of course rice and curry. Good prices. I went here for breakfast several times and was always satisfied.
Down Town Roti Hut
By far the most popular bar in Ella. It seems to be full each evening and it can be hard to find a spare table if you arrive late. The drinks are priced at a point fairly typical for Ella. Ella in general is fairly expensive compared to some of the less touristy locations in Sri Lanka.
All of the things to see and do in Ella on this page are walking distance from the main town. There are tuk-tuks available just like elsewhere but it is unlikely you will need one here.
Getting In and Out
Kandy, Nuwara Eliya and Hatton
Jump on the train towards Kandy and stop at either Nuwara Eliya to visit the Horton Plains, or Hatton for Sri Pada (Adams Peak). Information on this train journey including timetables can be found on Seat61.com
Arugam Bay is one of the most popular destinations in Sri Lanka and Ella is relatively close. To reach it from Ella, you will need to take multiple buses. The first should take you to Monaragala, from Monaragala you can transfer to a bus to Pottuvil, the major town to the north of Arugam Bay. The bus to Monaragala passes along the main road in Ella. However if you catch it from a spot closer to the train station you will be able to get on the bus earlier and you will have more chance of finding a seat.
To head directly to the south coast it is possible to catch the 31 Bandarawela -Matara bus route that travels from the central province down to Matara. From Matara you can transfer to another town on the south coast. Make sure you ask around in Ella to find out when this bus departs and from which location in town. An alternative if you can not catch the 31 bus is to catch any bus that heads south on A23 towards Wellawaya. Get off at the bus station in Wellawaya and transfer to the next available bus to Matara.