The first time I visited Sri Lanka, Ella fell off of our itinerary due to a lack of time. I regretted it immediately and vowed to go back and see this region that so many travellers say is their favourite part of an already stunning country.
Ella is a small village in the Uva province of Sri Lanka. The town itself is packed with bohemian, open-air cafes and boutique shops. The surrounding area boasts waterfalls, famous bridges, mountain hikes, and lush forests. It also serves as either the destination or starting point of the country’s famous train journey from Ella to Kandy.
It did not disappoint. Ella was indeed my favourite place I visited in Sri Lanka, it was just so stunning and had an amazing atmosphere.
I recommend spending about four days here enjoying the scenery, having laid-back lunches and adventuring around all the outdoor activities.
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Visit Nine Arches Bridge
Visitor must-see and architectural marvel, Nine Arches Bridge is fairly self-explanatory. The viaduct bridge, also known as Bridge in the Sky, is one of the best examples of colonial-era railway construction in the country.
Built in 1921, it is credited to a local Ceylonese builder, P. K. Appuhami who designed it in consultation with British engineers.
It is located just outside of Ella in Demodara, between Ella and Demodara rail stations. It is about 2.5 km from Ella town centre. We got a tuk-tuk there but as it was a nice day, we decided to walk back.
Our tuk-tuk driver dropped us off on the other side of the bridge from the normal tourist drop-off. The view was incredible, much better than what you would get on the other side. But it was quite a tricky climb down to the bridge which we decided to do.
He did this so we would get the best view of the train about to pass through. But I also got the impression there might be some turf wars happening with tuk-tuks on the other side. The path (if you can call it that) is a bit steep and it had rained the night before so it was slippery so make sure you have your hiking boots on.
Trains pass by at 9:30am, 11:30am, 3:30pm, 4:30pm and 5:30pm (roughly) so make sure you are off the tracks. However, there is a man who will shout out warnings and clear everyone off. We enjoyed watching it pass by from our vantage point before heading down and walking along the tracks.
Little Adam’s Peak
This small peak is named after its resemblance to Sri Lanka’s larger Adam’s Peak in central Sri Lanka. Little Adam’s Peak is 1141m above sea level, located not far from Ella’s main town. It is a fairly easy climb with a good, signposted path and doesn’t take too long to get to the top. It was a hot day and we hadn’t started overly early but I barely remember breaking a sweat.
We started the hike from the starting point at 98 Acres Resort & Spa. The view once you reach the top is incredible, overlooking Ella Rock and the lush green valleys below.
At the top, we sat and had a coconut from a man selling them up there and sat to take in the view.
At the base of the steepest bit of the climb up to Little Adam’s Peak, you can go zip lining at Flying Ravana Mega Zipline. The zipline zooms through the ravine for half a kilometre at a maximum speed of 80 kmph.
It is a lot of fun and the views are fantastic and although it did feel very quick and a bit expensive (£25), I didn’t regret it. You can find more information on what to wear, restrictions and opening hours here.
We actually skipped climbing Ella Rock as we had read it was a bit difficult without a guide and just didn’t have enough time/wanted to spend some time relaxing.
But if you do have the time and energy, Ella Rock is a top attraction in the region and offers a gorgeous vantage point of the scenery. It isn’t clearly signposted like Little Adam’s Peak and a tougher hike so a guide is recommended. However, you can find resources about hiking it yourself here and here.
Sri Lanka is home to some gorgeous waterfalls, a few of which I visited on my previous trip through the central part of the country.
In Ella, there are a number of waterfalls to see in the surrounding area. We took some time to visit Ravana, located not far outside Ella’s town. The beautiful waterfall is 82ft in height, cascading down through the surrounding forests that form part of the Ravana Ella Wildlife Sanctuary.
We got a tuk-tuk there which cost about £2 for the return journey.
Relax at Ella’s cafes and restaurants
I loved Ella’s laid-back vibes. It’s full of casual cafes with great food that are perfect for grabbing a leisurely brunch or lunch or relaxing with a cocktail at the end of the day.
Cafe One Love – Rastafarian-style Bob Marley-inspired Cafe One Love was my favourite cafe in Ella. Try the vegetarian lamprais, a local dish consisting of different curries and sambols. After dinner, relax with a cocktail on the large swing seats.
Rainbow Cafe – We had some great veggie food and smoothie bowls at this backpacker-style cafe.
Cafe Chill – We went here a couple of times and the food/drink was lovely. Another wonderfully laid-back cafe with a mix of cuisines
Take the train to Nuwara Eliya and/or Kandy
The journey is considered one of the most beautiful in the world and it isn’t hard to see why. We did the journey in the opposite direction than most, starting from Ella and ending in Kandy. You’ll pass through stunning tea plantations, mountains, waterfalls, rivers and all sorts of natural beauty.
The journey to Kandy takes about 7 hours but the time flies by as you watch the scenery go by, preferably with a hot chai and some snacks.
Read about our experience riding the train here.
Staying in Ella
There’s definitely a range of types of places to stay in Ella to suit any budget. A friend had gone on his honeymoon there and recommended 98 Acres Resort and Spa.
We were still saving for our own wedding so we opted to go a bit more budget-friendly and booked in at a family-run homestay.
The majority of accommodations in Ella are small B&B-style homestays located in a ring around Ella. These are more budget-friendly (ours was incredibly cheap) and many have amazing views of the surrounding area. Our accommodation had a beautiful view of Ravana Falls. Many are family-run run and ours had delicious breakfast, although it wasn’t fancy with very odd decor and we kept getting invasions of snails and ants in the bathroom when it rained!Booking.com
Getting to Ella
Getting to Ella from Colombo/Kandy/Nuwara Eliya
As I mentioned, if you are coming from Nuwara Eliya, Kandy or Colombo you will likely want to travel to Ella by train, as mentioned above.
Getting to Ella from the south coast
But, if like us you are coming from a different part of the country to Ella, it isn’t as straightforward via public transport.
We started off in Unawatuna and hired a taxi for the day to take us to Yala National Park, a full-day safari, and then on to Ella in the evening for a total of $85. It was an incredibly long day but the most economical use of our time and money. There doesn’t seem to be a direct route to get to Ella from the South Coast and rather than travel there and get a separate day trip to Yala, we combined them.
Getting to our homestay in the dark on a mountain road with a driver who hadn’t been to Ella before was a little scary, Waterfall Road doesn’t have streetlights all the way along and is quite narrow with steep drops in many places. We arrived safely, trying to get our bearings, but likely not as stressed as our poor driver.
Getting around Ella
Ella is fairly walkable depending on where you are staying, but you might want to get a tuk-tuk to some of the sites. We walked most places, into town and to Little Adam’s Peak and back from Nine Arches Bridge.