Ella is by far the most popular travellers destination in Sri Lanka. The town is in a picturesque spot and is the perfect launch pad for some of the best things to do in the whole of the country.
Prepare for Ella - a quiet hillside village?
Ella's popularity is beginning to take its toll and it is no longer the quiet hillside town it's portrayed to be. The roads through the town centre are busy and there are two major highways running nearby too. No matter where you are, you’ll hear the roar of diesel engines echoing through the valleys as they slowly struggle to get up the endless hill to Ella, and this goes on 24/7.
The town is busy (even in low season), so make sure you book accommodation in advance. We had been turning up to every town in Sri Lanka without a booking and Ella was the only place we had trouble finding accommodation.
Ella is also the most expensive place we visited in Sri Lanka. You’ll get a lot less for your money here, especially when it comes to hotels. Rooms that cost $40 USD elsewhere can cost over $100 USD here. Tuk-tuks charge double the fares of anywhere else and you’ll get little change for a meal from 1,000 rupees. As Ella appeals to families and the package holiday market, the prices have shot up but the quality hasn't.
But don’t let this put you off. Ella is still a must do and you can work around the crowds by getting up at sunrise for major attractions like Nine Arch Bridge to make sure you get it to yourself. The setting is still undeniably pretty and it had some of our favourite things to do in the country. There are plenty of different restaurants and bars and the climate is perfect.
Best things to do in Ella
Nine Arch Bridge
This one will come as no surprise as it's popularity on social media is rivalled only by the Kandy to Ella train. The picture perfect viaduct situated in the lush greenery of Ella is stunning. We really enjoyed taking in the views and watching as the trains passed by in the early morning.
By far the best time to go to Nine Arch Bridge is at sunrise. You’ll have to wait half an hour for the light to hit the bridge and the valley, but it will mean you have the whole place to yourself for a while. Nine Arch begins to get busy from about 8am and gets progressively worse as the day goes on.
Little Adam’s Peak
Little Adam’s Peak is the easiest hilltop viewpoint to get to in Ella (well, apart from the one on your balcony). Less than a half an hour walk from the stunning 98 acres resort, the easy trail is firstly flat and the heads to the peak via some stairs and a dirt slope.
The path is in great condition, although it might become slippery in sections after rain.
The ideal time to go is sunrise (as there are fewer people around), but if you can’t face another early start, then sunset is also good. There will be some people there, but there’s enough space to have a seat and enjoy the views.
Getting to Little Adam's Peak - The trail to the peak starts a little way outside of the centre at Ella. You'll need to head to the 98 Acre Resort, the trail is marked from their reception area.
Drink with a view
Having hiked up Little Adam’s Peak, why not treat yourself to a cold drink and look back at where you came from! The views from the cafe at 98 Acres are amazing and its a great stop on your way back to town. If you've made the trip at sunrise you could also stop here for a well earned brekkie.
The view is so good, that you’ll wonder why you didn’t book to stay (it is likely to be because of the incredibly high pricetag!).
Newburgh Green Tea Factory
Near Little Adam’s Peak and Nine Arch Bridge is the Newburgh Tea Factory, a building that doesn’t look like it has changed in about 100 years.
Unlike the other tea factories in Sri Lanka, this one specifically makes green tea and you can actually see the process happening (many other places, such as Pedro Estate in Nuwara Eliya, show you static machines and you have to imagine what it looks like in action). It's a worthwhile stop to learn a bit more about how tea is made, and you’ll get to sample some afterwards.
Entry to Newburgh is 500 rupees (just over $3 USD) per person and includes your green tea after the tour. There are no set times, we turned up, waited for five minutes and then had our own private tour. Tours last around 20 minutes.
Getting to Newburgh Tea Factory - Newburgh is very close to 98 Acres Resort, Nine Arch Bridge and Little Adam's Peak, a few kilometres from the town centre.
Ella Spice Garden
If you're interested in finding out about more about all those spices you've been eating in your rice and curry then this is the place to come. You'll also find out a little about their medicinal properties.
Tucked in a backstreet of Ella, you’ll wonder if you’re at the right place as it is actually at someone's house. But you’ll soon be greeted by the owner with a collection of photos in his hand to explain each spice, what its used for and how its processed as you move through the garden.
The tour only lasted about 15 minutes but we learnt a few new things and were happy to support the very friendly owner.
Entry is 100 rupees per person (just over $60c USD) and you can buy some of his homegrown spices at the end.
Sri Lanka’s second highest waterfall isn’t as impressive from the bottom as you might be expecting, so make sure you head to the top for the real treat.
The upper falls have several infinity pools with astonishing views, so whilst it may be a hard slog in the heat to get to, it is well worth it.
Ravana Falls is around a 15 minute drive from from Ella and a nice spot to take a cold dip under a waterfall. Be careful though as the rocks become like a bar of soap when wet, so avoid after it rains.
The falls are in a small and enclosed area and become very popular with locals and tourists. Locals use the falls as place to bathe so expect to see many families here lathering up and if you want this place to yourself you’ll have to go early as, think sunrise early.
We had planned to hike to Ella Rock, but simply ran out of time (even when we were staying here for five nights). The track takes at least four hours return and you can add on Ravana’s secret to observe the upper falls at Ravana Waterfall for a fee too (500 rupees).
Be wary of people offering advice along the track, there’s a lot of stories of locals telling people to go the wrong way and even turning the signs the wrong way so you have to pay them to guide you. We'd suggest reading this meticulous blog about how to hike Ella Rock without a guide.
Chill with a view
The views from most of the guesthouses in Ella are out of this world. From the mountainside, we were able to get an amazing view of Ella Rock from our balcony. Maybe this is why we ran out of time for the Ella Rock hike.......
If you’re short on time to make a longer trip to Haputale, then you can do a day trip from Ella. Lipton’s Seat is set among the most beautiful tea plantations we saw in Sri Lanka and getting here for sunrise is magical.
You can have some delicious tea and rotis at the makeshift cafe at the top and then meander downhill through the tea fields.
Read more: Why you must do sunrise at Lipton's Seat
The train from Kandy
Taking the train from Kandy to Ella is one of the highlights of the whole of Sri Lanka. Along the way you'll see staggering views of the tea plantations and Hill Country, making this pretty long and slow journey endlessly entertaining.
If you grab a door, you can lean out and take in the cool mountain air whilst the train slowly plods through the heart of rural Sri Lanka.
It is something you should plan in advance as when to do it and how can really affect how enjoyable it is.
The weather in Ella
Ella seems to follow the same climate as the East Coast, avoiding the monsoon between April and August that the west coast and other parts of the Hill Country (Nuwara Eliya) receives. It has a rainy season from October until January.
However, just like the rest of Sri Lanka, Ella doesn't ever have a period of guaranteed dry weather. We visited in the dry season and got drenched on one of the days and had little sporadic showers on the others. Don't let the weather put you off planning when to go to Ella as the rain in the monsoon season in general only comes in short sharp bursts.
Places to stay in Ella
Where we stayed - Zion Guesthouse
We tried to book the Waterfall homestay mentioned below, but Ella is far too busy a place to allow you your first choice if you haven't booked a long way in advance. Most places were fully booked, a real surprise after the rest of Sri Lanka being so quiet.
We ended up spending a lot more than we were planning to on Zion. Whilst we don't think it represents good value for money it was a nice place to stay. the views are tremendous and we loved the hammock on the balcony. The location is good just a five minute walk from the town centre - though it's a killer hill on the way back up! The hot water and wifi were both very iffy but the rooms were large and comfortable.
Luxury - 98 Acres Resort
We hadn't heard of this place before we arrived in Ella but when we stopped by for a drink we couldn't believe how stunning it looked. The rooms are individual bungalows on stilts and the views are incredible. It's directly on the walking track to Little Adam's Peak so it's in a quiet area a couple of kilometres from town.
Budget - Waterfall Homestay
This is the place we were hoping to stay if we had booked in advance. It gets great reviews and is known for it's stunning view. It's run by an Aussie couple and the breakfast gets rave reviews. There are only three rooms so you will need to book in advance.
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Are you planning a trip to Ella? Have you been and think we missed somewhere great? Let us know in the comments below!