Ella, a paradise in the mountains of Ceylon
A laid-back island in the mountains of Ceylon, Ella is a must-see holiday. Here’s what to see, where to stay, where to eat, and how to get there. Is it worth the trip? Read our review!
Village life in Ella is idyllic and measured: the morning haze of the mountains, the chill, the unmistakable Lankan breakfast, the hum of the locomotive and the sounds of the jungle in the evening. Time here is as thin as humid air, and a week goes by in three.
The mountain village is a match for the rest of the tourist towns and villages in Sri Lanka. It has almost perfect climate, beautiful mountains, lots of places to hike, lots of cafes with good food and – most importantly – very calm and quiet. If we knew how cool and nice it is, we would have easily skipped Negombo, Sigiriya and Nuwara Eliya and rushed here. Read our report: Life in Paradise for $25.
Dogs are revered in Sri Lanka, but for some reason cats are not loved on the island.
What to see in Ella.
There aren’t too many sights in Ella, but they’re all beautiful.
Little Adam’s Peak.
Loved the mysterious mists, the plush slopes, the cute puppies at the top, and the view of Ella Rock. Along the way there are tea plantations where you can take pictures of tea pickers for 100 rupees.
The way up is simple: in the center of Ella, turn left at the main bus stop, walk to the sign for the peak. Then take the dirt road past the plantation, then the concrete stairs.
Tip. Almost everyone meets sunrise or sunset at the peak. It’s too hot there during the day. Don’t be under the illusion that you’ll be wandering alone – there are a lot of people at the top. Unless at the top you walk further up the peak, where almost no one goes.
Little Adam’s Peak, Ella. There are so many places to have a nice walk in the mountains. This is what Ella Rock looks like from Little Adam’s Peak.
It’s more interesting to find your way to the summit than to find yourself on it. Along the way, first the twisted trees and then the gorgeous eucalyptus forest – long steel bars of smooth, like a company of soldiers, trunks.
There are plenty of trails, and the GPS pickup isn’t great, so the locals try to get tourists to the top. Of course, they want money for this. Don’t settle for helpers, don’t encourage this kind of intrusive “business.”
The crowns of the slender eucalyptus trees are hypnotizing.
Route to Ella Rock. Take a walking route on MAPS.ME and follow it. Follow the railroad tracks first, and by the big tree where the locals sit, past the lodge go downhill (they’ll tell you). Go over the bridge and immediately turn right into the tall grass. Then you come out to a small tea plantation – keep right and dive into the tall grass again. Then you will come out on a fairly wide path and walk straight up to the cafe along bushes and trees. At the fork at the cafe, take the right-hand path. Go past and enter a forest of twisted trees. From there, the climb up the mountain actually starts – 20-30 minutes through the forest on rocks and roots, and you’re on top. Good cardio exercise!
Tip. As with Little Adam’s Peak, many people meet sunrise or sunset at the summit. Climb as early as possible – at 8 o’clock it’s already hot at the top. We left the house at 6 a.m., but it’s better to go earlier. Also, after sunrise everything gets hazy and you can’t see much.
There are two observation decks at Elle Rock.
It looks cooler in the photo than in reality, but it is still beautiful and impressive. There are an unreal number of tourists at sunset. Check the schedule in advance and wait for the train to pass over the bridge – it’s beautiful. It runs from Ella to Badulla over the bridge at 6:20pm.
How to get there. It’s easiest to walk along the sleepers without the elevation change – it’s about 20 minutes one way from the station. There are beautiful views and a tunnel along the way. There is also a path to the bridge from the road leading to Little Adam’s Peak.
Tip. Come in the morning when there are fewer people. That’s when everyone goes to Peak or Mt.
The nine-arched bridge is Ella’s most popular attraction. Almost everyone walks to the nine-arched bridge on the railroad. Be careful and listen to see if a train is coming!
What else to see in Ella.
There’s also Rawana Falls, Rawana Cave, tea factories, the track to Lipton’s seat, and the atmospheric Buduruwagala Temple with 7 figures carved into the rock.
Where to stay in Ella
There are so many options. The cheapest ones start at $6. The good ones are $15-$20 and the great ones are $25-$30. We chose in the latter price range: with a score of 9, private bathroom and hot water, table and chairs, fan, small garden with terrace and mountain views, good internet and included hearty breakfasts.
We stayed in two lovely cabins:
Look for discounted hotels on Hotelluk. Here are the top rules for finding hotels.
Tips. The area is mountainous, and almost all hotels are on hillsides. If you have a lot of heavy luggage and accommodation is on a slope, take a tuk-tuk – it’s hard to walk alone. In addition, the marks on the map are often wrong.
Choose hotels, from which you can easily get to the railroad – it is convenient to walk to the center, because there are no endless climbs and descents.
There is nature all around, so be prepared for uninvited guests. Frogs, ants, geckos, spiders, millipedes, and cockroaches visited.
Breakfast with a view of the mountains. The terrace with a wonderful view is a great place to work.
Where to eat in Ella.
It’s not a problem to find a good establishment in Ella – unlike Nuwara Eliya, where we suffered greatly. Everyone is geared toward foreigners, so there are lots of European-type cafes, restaurants and bars.
We searched on Trip Advisor under “tasty and inexpensive” and chose:
- Café C. A delicious fish curry for 500 rupees. Try the vatalappam pudding for 200 rupees. Juices are from 220 rupees. Lines form after 5pm.
- Matey Hut . #1 on TripAdvisor. There are huge lines after dinner because there are only 5 tables. Ate delicious coconut roti there – sweet and with dal. Prices are average.
- Nanda Restaurant. Juices from 200 rupees. Curry is tasty, but the portion is small – 350-450 rupees. Very long service in the evening.
- MozzarElla – they make delicious pizzas on thin dough in a wood-fired oven. A large one costs 1,400 rupees. Open at 4:30 pm.
- Dream Cafe. Came by chance. There’s good European food: thin crust pizza for about Rs 1000-1500, giant tuna steak for Rs 1350 for two, pasta carbonara for Rs 700. Also a hearty Lankan tuna shawarma (called Wrap, 2 pieces per serving). If you’re bored with the local food, feel free to order! Lassi and juices are around 250-300 rupees, Lion beer is 400.
The royal breakfast at Ella! You can easily last almost to dinner on this one.
How to get to Ella.
You can take a bus, but mostly everyone comes by the famous train – it’s a local attraction because of the gorgeous views along the way. Many people send their luggage with a driver to Ella and take the train themselves lightly.
We were going from Nuwara Eliya in third class. We wanted to go in second class, but when we arrived at the station for the train’s departure, there were only tickets for third class. We were lucky enough to get seated. There were only 5 cars, and most people for 2-3 hours of the journey stood in the aisle between the seats or crowded in the vestibule.
Tickets. In the 1st and 2nd class all advise to buy tickets very in advance – the seats are reserved for you. In the 3rd class must buy on the day of departure (in the 2nd class too can be so). Boarding is free, so the fact that you do not have time to sit down.
Tickets for 3rd class cost 55 rupees, but we both charged 155 rupees.
If coming from Nuwara Eliya, you have to buy tickets in the neighboring village, which is 20 minutes by tuk-tuk (500 rupees). If from Kandy, at the train station in town.
Tip. If possible, get on the left side of the train to Ella and on the right if vice versa. Everything is most beautiful there. Or take seats in the vestibule aisle – tourists love to sit there with their feet overhung.
Both locals and tourists walk to downtown Ella on the railroad.
Useful: ATMs, stores, cabs
Ella is a small mountain village where everything revolves around tourists. There are a lot of them here, but no one disturbs each other – there is no feeling of overcrowding. Everyone is relaxed, good-natured and friendly.
Through the village passes one main road – there is a concentration of cafes, restaurants and stores. Several streets branch off from it, where hotels, hostels, cafes, vegetable gardens and the homes of local people are located.
Another important road is the railway. It is convenient to downtown Ella, to the Arch Bridge and Ella Rock.
Stores. There is a supermarket in downtown Ella where you can buy all the essentials. There are also small grocery stores, fancy showrooms with clothes, stores with tea, spices and souvenirs.
ATMs. We withdrew without charge at the Bank Of Ceylon ATMs on Main Street.
Electricity. Keep all gadgets charged at all times – the power goes out all the time in Ella.
Tuk-tuks and buses. Local cabs are the ubiquitous tuk-tuks. Tourists are waiting right at the station. As always, they slap on prices and don’t want to haggle. We were charged 500 rupees for 2 km. We found another one who agreed to 300 rupees.
Many intercity buses go through Ella – for example to Badulla and Kandy. The main stop is in the center.
Walking along the railroad tracks is one of my fondest memories from Ella.
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