Ella is the most beautiful place. High in the hills, with breath-taking views it is understandably one of Sri Lanka’s most popular stop-offs.
Ella is one of those beautiful places where it feels time stands still. It has much more of a backpacker vibe than the rest of the centre; which means if you have time on your hands, it would be an amazing place to while away a few days relaxing here.
If I had the time I would grab a bike and head up to the surrounding hills and visit even more tea plantations (as you can never have too much tea). But having said this, I think two or three days is more than enough for what we wanted, so for those with a tighter time-scale, these are my top 5 things to do in Ella:
- Catch the train
- Ella Rock
- 9 Arches Bridge
- Eat at Raha cafe
- Little Adam’s Peak
Catch the Train
Catch the train… Now this sounds like simple enough advise but if anyone thinks this is easily done, then check out my diary entry: ‘no room on the train’. Needless to say any journey that I am partaking is unlikely to go to plan. However, despite this, we had the most incredible journey.
The stretch of railway from Kandy to Ella is one of the most beautiful in the world; it is a must and therefore tops my list of things to do in Ella.
You can catch the train from Kandy itself or Nanu-Oya, the closest station to Nuwara Elyia. The length of the journey depends on which train you catch as there are slower, local trains that run the same route. More information on how to catch the train is in my ‘Essential Guide to Travelling Sri Lanka’.
Ella Rock is coming in at number 2. In a place of such natural beauty, hiking is one of the most popular things to do in the area, the two most popular being Ella Rock and Little Adams Peak.
Ella rock is a short walk from the town along the railway tracks. Lots of people climb Ella rock for sunrise but having done Adam’s Peak only shortly before we were happy to have an early morning walk instead. This insured beautiful views on the way up and down; still kept it relatively quiet from a tourist point of view and increased our chances of passing a train on the tracks – we saw two.
You can either set off from the train station itself or at the crossroads in the main village there is a steep path up a hill, to cut up to the railway tracks. If in doubt ask the hosts at your hostel/ guesthouse – you do not need a guide. Take a left turn once you reach the tracks and keep walking until you pass over a small, metal bridge. Soon afterwards you will pass a 166.5 marker and there will be a large granite rock on your left where you take a sharp left turn (I forgot we were looking for 166.5 and thought we were looking for 165.5 which added a bit extra onto our journey!).
If you follow these instructions you shouldn’t go wrong.. when we retraced our steps to see if there was anything to make it easier to follow there really isn’t, it is a large rock and the only one around. I don’t know how we missed it.
From here the instructions we followed told us to ‘follow your nose’ – it appears that Becky and I have a terrible sense of smell as we went wrong on numerous occasions but contrary to all the warnings we read online, any locals we met were all really helpful, correcting us and sending us on in the right direction.
If you do go wrong, it’s not far to retrace your steps and once you’ve found your way to the base of the climb even we couldn’t go wrong from there!
From the base it only took us about 30 minutes to get up (we are quick walkers) so although lots of people advise 4 hours in reality it only took us about 2.5 from the village and back.
It is a steep climb at the top so don’t forget trainers and some food for sustenance. We LOVE peanut brittle!
Also, be warned, Ella is not as hot as the coast but most of the hiking we had done so far had been very early morning. Even getting towards 11am was becoming too hot for me. I would not want to be walking up during the heat of the day between 12-2pm as I am terrible in heat! Early morning or late afternoon is best.
Once at the top you have a beautiful panorama of Ella itself and the surrounding hillside. There is an obvious viewpoint but my advice would be to turn right at the main clearing and carry on for a further 5 minutes or so through the trees, to get to a prettier spot with less tourists.
There is a small cave temple so you will know if you’re in the right place and the views are definitely worth that extra bit of hiking.
If you time your walk right, you might even be lucky enough to see a train passing.
9 Arches Bridge
Now surely this has to be the most photographed spot in all of Ella. Nine arches, also known as the ‘Bridge in the Sky’ in Sinhala, is situated at Gotuwala, between Ella and Demodara. The viaduct was built in 1940 whilst Ceylon was under the reign of the British Empire and is a fine example of engineering. The bridge itself is made of rocks, stones and cement and it was rumoured this was as a result of the war effort and the steel assigned for the bridge was instead used on war related projects.
The architecture is beautiful and again if you time it correctly you will be able to catch a train passing through the bridge. We went around 5pm and incidentally caught the 5.30pm train passing. This is a great time to visit as the heat of the day is over, there are a few less tourists than earlier and all being well, you are generally guaranteed a clearer background for photographs.
It’s easy to spend time playing around taking photos at the bridge and even though I am absolutely terrified of heights there is a slight thrill in standing atop the bridge.
The bridge is in the same direction as Little Adam’s Peak so after we had been here we did Little Adam’s Peak at sunset on our way back to the hostel. Again the bridge is easy enough to find and if you grab instructions from your guesthouse you can’t go wrong (except for we obviously did!).
For anyone that knows me it is unsurprising that a restaurant/ cafe has made it into my top 5 things to do in Ella. To me food is so important and Sri Lankan cuisine is now one of my favourites. I think it would hard to appreciate a place without embracing their culture and with that comes their food.
Ella has lots of eateries, its sad to say that over the last few years it has hugely developed with more guest houses on the way. This means lots of lovely places to eat but my favourites will always be the small, local options which more often than not also prove to be the cheapest (yay!).
Raha cafe was both of our favourites and I think we ate here a total of 4 times, which I know seems excessive and we should have tried somewhere new but when the food is that good, it’s impossible not to go back. In fact, I would be tempted to go back to Ella just to eat here again!
The menu had the basic roti, kottu roti and curries and they were all incredible. Just go! You’ll see what I mean.
Little Adam’s Peak
Last but by no means least is Little Adam’s Peak. This is another beautiful spot. An easier climb than Ella Rock and from the road only took us 20 minutes to climb up. Towards the top it does get a little steeper, but having done the real deal only a few days before Little Adam’s Peak seem like a walk in the park.
The views from Little Adam’s Peak and over Ella Gap to Ella Rock were stunning and I would definitely recommend a sunset climb.
It is quieter than during the day and Becky and I were probably the last two to come down and it’s easy enough to find your way in the dusk. We perhaps left it a little late as by the time we hit the road we were walking back in the dark but it’s simple enough to follow the road back to the town.
Sunset itself was cloudy but still worth seeing as you watch it setting over the rock to the west. As mentioned above, link this is with the 9 arches bridge as they’re in the same direction and you’ll have an amazing afternoon.
This is by no means an extensive list of what to do in Ella but what I would recommend as definitely worth doing. Other things if you are around for longer would include hiring a scooter to see the surrounding countryside; going up to Lipton’s seat and visiting Rawana Falls (although you can easily do this as you are leaving Ella and I’m not convinced would be a good use of a day).
As I mentioned, as Ella is so popular it has understandably been going through development recently and has much more of a backpacker vibe than most of the other places we visited in the centre. Lots more guest houses and infrastructure was being built whilst we were there. However, having said this although there are bars and live music it doesn’t appear to be a wild night out or huge for drinking. Peak time appears to be in the early evening and often when we were vacating around half 10 a lot of the restaurants/ bars were already clearing out. Obviously like us, getting ready for another early morning hike the following day!