12 Apr Discovering Ella, Sri Lanka
by Tomas Sharp from United Kingdom
Ella is one of Sri Lanka’s fastest growing tourist attractions and it is easy to see why. Ella is a small mountain town located approximately 200km from Colombo and is easily accessible by train or car. The small town is set amongst a backdrop of spectacular mountains and rolling hills covered in tea plantations.
Below is a detailed list to help when planning a trip to Ella.
The train ride to Ella is spectacular, and the journey from Kandy to Ella has been voted one of the most beautiful train journeys in the world. The trains are slow and very old but the views are incredible. Rolling hills, tea plantations, bridges and dense vegetated mountains make this trip so amazing you can hardly believe it. When we travelled by train we always booked the first class carriage and we took this from Ella to Kandy for example. It cost roughly £4 per person so it is still incredibly affordable and its totally worth it, you have a guaranteed seat, with a window that opens fully so it’s never too hot and you don’t have to fight and push your way through. Also I know people who have had to stand for 7 hours on these trains so best advice is book early, simply go into any train station in any city and book your tickets. We booked ours in Colombo for the whole trip in one go and it was done, no hassle no stress.
We came to Ella from Udawalawe National Park in the south and for ease and time we hired a driver and I am not kidding it was terrifying. The mountain roads are steep, windy roads and they overtake EVERYTHING! So if you do decide to go with a driver its best not to look out the front window too much, I lived in India previously and this was way worse. That being said our driver was awesome and the chaos has its own logic and somehow works.
Where to sleep in Ella was a nightmare and a headache, for a small mountain town it literally has thousands of hotels and hostels so trying to decide on one with so many options was hard. And we left it very last minute, a few nights before we were trying to book hotels and this was a big mistake! All from the good to the bearable were fully booked so sadly we had to get something a bit cheap and nasty, and it was not fun. The vast majority of hotels in Ella are fairly basic and ours for example the roof of our bungalow did not fully join the walls and there were huge gaps due to basic building techniques. As a result we had every type of bug you could imagine and it was pretty unpleasant. Our advice is book way in advance, there is a hotel we wanted to stay in called 98 Acres Spa and Resort, this is the best in the area and the views are stunning. Book here, in advance and you will really benefit from your time.
The location of Ella is unbeatable; seriously, its surroundings are out of this world. However, the town itself was super disappointing. The town is built around one road which comes up the mountain and back down the other side. The road is beyond busy, there are bikes, cars, busses and lorries bombing up and down this street so it is far from quiet and super dirty too. We thought the town would be a quaint, quiet little place but it is packed and super busy but that’s ok, it’s just a little shabby. The hiking and views are totally worth it, we promise.
Eating in Ella is actually really easy, just like hotels, there are hundreds of restaurants and you will find every type of food imaginable. There is a great modern coffee shop on the main road in Ella town for morning breakfast and coffees. In the evenings we ate several times at Chill Restaurant as it was recommended to us by our driver and was also always busy which was a good sign. We ate both Indian and Western cuisine here and it was always really good, they had literally everything on the menu. As we mentioned our hotel wasn’t the best but almost all hotels serve food and they tend to be awesome home cooked Sri Lankan dishes so if in doubt this is always an easy option.
Hiking is one of the main attractions in Ella and it couldn’t be easier. You walk out of your hotel and just keep walking, it’s that simple. There are two really popular hikes from Ella and these are Little Adams Peak and Ella’s Rock. We did both these hikes and they were breathtaking. Little Adams Peak is really easy, it is probably 40 minutes to an hour from the main town and extremely easy. The main road from town takes you to a footpath which then has stairs and a proper path which ascends the peak. At the top there is a small viewing platform with a Buddha statue and then an incredible 360° view of all the surrounding peaks. From here you can walk across the peak to look back onto it also. The hike is fairly easy and there were people of all ages coming and going.
The second hike is to Ella’s Rock and this is considerably more strenuous than Little Adams Peak. It took about 2 hours to climb and 2 hours to descend again. Our hotel reception said we did not need a guide as it was easy and proceeded to give us a thousand directions of which we remembered zero, so we were on our own. It started with finding the train track and then following it across an old bridge which was super cool and really beautiful. It was like a scene from ‘stand by me’ but with amazing jungle on both sides of the tracks. Everyone follows the train track and it’s really safe with plenty of room on either side if a train does come. From here we actually did get lost going up the peak through tea plantations and ended up stumbling across a small old man who informed us we were in his garden. He then proceeded to guide us all the way to the peak which was very kind but of course we knew he would ask for a fee at the end. If we are honest it wasn’t the easiest of paths to follow at times so we were happy to have the guide but every now and again you would see fellow hikers so you could easily also find your way to the peak without a guide. The scenery up the peak was incredible, beautiful plantations and dense forests as far as you could see. It really was one of the most beautiful hikes we have been on. And then just when you thought it couldn’t get any better and you reach the peak, the views are insane! We highly recommend this and cannot express how amazing the landscapes are, but take plenty of water as it is super hot and humid.
Where to from Ella? Well, there are a number of amazing options the first being a train to Hatton and climb Adams Peak which is much larger and takes around 6 hours to climb up and down. We came from surfing in Galle, Weligama and Merissa which are all awesome spots and great for all surfers with some incredible beaches. We also came via Udawalawe National Park which we would highly recommend where you can see a heap of elephants on a safari trip. We left Ella and took the train to Kandy which was 5 hours of the most incredible landscapes you can imagine. All these we would highly recommend and just depends what you are looking for.
There are many more options so go wild and take an adventure!