The little town of Ella, deep in the heart of the hill country, was without a doubt my favourite place in Sri Lanka. Not only does it have the most amazing hiking opportunities and beautiful scenery but it was also the location of my favourite restaurant and hotel of our entire two-week trip. If I was going back to Sri Lanka this is the area I’d choose to spend my time in and hopefully this post will give you a little glimpse into why.
Getting There – The World’s Most Scenic Train Ride
The best way to reach Ella is by train, thereby experiencing what is often referred to as the “world’s most scenic train journey”. The train line through Ella comes from Colombo in the east of the country all of the way through Kandy, Nuwara Eliya and Ella to Badulla.
The train service in Sri Lanka is cheap but it is slow and often busy, so unless you’re really on a budget you’re unlikely to make it your primary mode of transport around Sri Lanka. That being said, it’s the sort of thing you should experience at least once and if you’re going to do it then the stretch to travel along is the line between Nuwara Eliya and Ella.
The journey takes around 3 hours and will whizz you past some of the most jaw-dropping scenery in Sri Lanka’s hill country. Make sure you travel in 2nd or 3rd class if you want to get the most out of your journey, this way you can lean out of the windows and take photographs or sit in the open doorways (health and safety doesn’t exist on these trains!) In contrast.
Nine Arches Bridge
The Nine Arches Bridge is located on the stretch of railway between Ella and Demodara stations, which means you won’t cross it whilst on the train if you’re disembarking at Ella, however, you can walk to it from the centre of town or take a tuk-tuk part of the way and then walk down from the road to the bridge along the railway line.
You might want to time your walk with when the train is due to pass over the bridge. Check the timetable and make sure you are there just after the time that the train is scheduled to depart Ella. As you will realise if you travel to Ella by train, the timetable does not always run to schedule and the trains are not very regular so it is best to go with no expectations!
Little Adam’s Peak
Little Adam’s Peak was one of my favourite hikes we did in Sri Lanka. It is not super difficult and offers you an amazing view at the top! From the centre of Ella it’s less than 2km walk to the start of the trail that takes you up to the peak – you come off the main road next to the white buddha marking 98 Acres Resort (and if you want to make it really easy you can just take a tuk-tuk to this point from the town).
From here the trail begins on a gentle incline through the tea plantations on an obvious path. The last section of the ascent is the hardest part. It begins with a steep climb up some steps to a smaller peak next to Little Adam’s Peak. There are some amazing views to be enjoyed even from here if you don’t fancy braving the next section, which takes you down a dirt trail and then back up to the final viewpoint. This section is quite steep and can be a bit slippery so extra care is required – but it is all worth the effort!
Full disclosure, I did not climb Ella Rock during my trip as it was not on our planned itinerary. We really didn’t have the time to do it during our trip so wasn’t something we even considered, however we probably would not have undertaken it during this trip due to the amount of physical activity we were doing generally and the amount of early starts and long days we had.
The hike to Ella Rock is the most challenging in Ella. It is around 5km from the town and is more complicated to get to than the Nine Arches Bridge or Little Adam’s Peak, apparently there are a few misleading signs and the like. Also watch our for “guides” offering to help you find the way for a fee as they might point you in the wrong direction in the hope that you will enlist their help. Check out Atlas and Boots’ guide to hiking Ella Rock for some detailed instructions on how to get there.
Ella might only have one main street but there are an abundance of restaurants to choose from for dining out. Our favouite place was Cafe Chill, which was recommended to us by our Sri Lankan guide, and I think this ended up being our favourite place that we ate at during our whole trip!
Firstly, the atmosphere is brilliant. Ella is popular with backpackers and this restaurant attracts a young demographic. It was packed full when we went there (and it’s a big restaurant) but luckily a table came up just as we walked in and we managed to nab it. There isn’t much of a system as the waiters are all rushed off their feet so if you can find somewhere to sit you pretty much just go for it! However, if there’s nothing free there’s a bar area upstairs for you to wait in.
Even more importantly the food is incredible. I have to say we didn’t really have any under-par food in Sri Lanka so our standards were pretty high by the time we reached Ella and the curry here exceeded them. We opted for the 10 curry selection which you can get with different meats or as a vegetarian option. It comes wrapped in a banana leaf and is seriously so tasty!
Where to Stay
Of our whole trip the best hotel we stayed in was Mountain Heavens Hotel in Ella. The rooms are modern and spacious with amazing amenities but the real selling-point in the view right down the centre of the Ella Gap with Little Adam’s Peak on the left and Ella Rock on the right.
Not only did our room have a whole wall-length window looking out on to this view but we also had a huge balcony with our own seating area where at one point we spent a whole afternoon just sitting and looking out. The hotel has absolutely made the most of its defining feature, gearing itself up so that you are greeted with that view at every possible moment and honestly, I just couldn’t ever get tired of it.
What with the train ride, hiking and hotel location Ella gave me some of the most beautiful views I’ve ever seen… where was the best view you’ve ever had?