Ella, Sri Lanka: Exploring Sri Lanka’s Hill Country
March 16, 2020
My stay in Nuwara Eliya had swept me off my feet, and I had fallen head over heels in love with the charming landscapes of Sri Lanka’s hill country. I hopped into a taxi that would whisk 6 of us to Ella, deeper into the heart of Sri Lanka’s rolling green hills and colonial history.
When I got to Ella, I won’t deny I was a little bit disappointed.
While Nuwara Eliya was a quaint town tucked away into the mountains, where humans appeared to simply make an appearance amidst the tea plantations, Ella looked like quite the tourist hub. Lots of trendy, overpriced boutiques, cafes, and souvenir shops dotted the main street, and while this makes life much easier, the stark difference from Nuwara Eliya hit me.
Ella is also more expensive than everywhere else I had been in Sri Lanka so far. Laundry cost more than twice that of Nuwara Eliya. Withdraw money ONLY from an ATM here. The local exchange shops (they don’t even look authorised) quote rates that are way higher than official ones.
Give it some time, I thought. The charm of Ella didn’t lie in its main street. It was in its expansive views, stunning landscapes and gushing waterfalls. I told myself to wait for those.
The Udarata Menike train (aka the famous blue train) travels from Colombo to Badulla and back. If you’re visiting from Colombo or Kandy, take the train! The views of the rolling tea plantations had me picking up my jaw from the floor more times than I’d care to admit.
I’d recommend third-class for an authentic experience, first-class if you want comfort.
In Sri Lanka, you can rent out a Tuktuk and drive around the entire island. Definitely one of the most authentic ways to experience it, especially if you’ve got the time. If not, then a self-driven car is great too, because whether you’re in hill country or along the coast, the views are stunning. By road, you can drive down from Colombo, Kandy, and Nuwara Eliya.
Local buses ply quite often. Again, Ella is very well connected from Colombo, Kandy and Nuwara Eliya.
Best Time to Visit
January to mid-April. Weather is cool and mostly dry at this point, so it’s a good time to truly enjoy the gorgeous nature of Ella. April is still shoulder season, with the rains starting to set in, but showers are light, and shoulder season also means the crowds tend to dwindle.
If you’re hiking Little Adam’s Peak and Ella Rock, it’s quite easy to reach the starting points on foot. So is returning from there.
If you’re headed to Ravana Falls, consider taking a bus. It’s only ten minutes from the centre of Ella.
The most popular way of getting around anywhere in Sri Lanka by far, though, remains the tuk-tuk!
Things to Do in Ella
I had 2 full days in Ella, and I arrived here after a little over a month of hectic travel, so my battery was running slightly low. Plus, the country was under curfew, because of the blasts that ripped through Colombo just two days before I arrived in Ella. While there was a lot I wanted to do, I wasn’t sure how much I’d actually be able to see of Ella. I decided to take it as it comes.
I’ve put together everything I did – as well as a little bit more – that you can do on this list.
1. Climb Little Adam’s Peak
Little Adam’s Peak is named after its bigger brother Adam’s Peak in Dalhousie, Hatton. Little Adam’s Peak is much smaller and easier to do. The base of the hike is around 15 minutes from the main town of Ella by tuk-tuk. It’s also something you can walk to if you so wish. Once at the entrance, you start by walking through acres of tea plantations. Those cuddly-looking tea trees lined up in rows for as far as the eye can see sure make for a sight to behold!
The climb is quite easy. The terrain is quite flat along the tea plantations, but to get to the top, we had to climb stairs. There are quite a few of them, but for those who have climbed Adam’s Peak in Hatton, it’s a cakewalk.
The views from the top are gorgeous.
You see Ella Rock on one side, and Ella Gap on the other. I would recommend going for sunrise. The hike takes around an hour to do, so remember to start early if you’re planning a sunrise hike too. If not, I’d recommend doing it for sunset. It can get scorching during the day, and there’s no shade as such.
A lot of people climb Little Adam’s Peak and leave after sunrise, but we saw an adjoining peak which didn’t attract a lot of people, so obviously, we wanted to do it. The climb down is rocky and a little treacherous, as is the climb up the second peak, but it’s well worth the effort. Completely empty sans another 4-5 people, uninhibited vistas, the whistling wind, and a few friendly dogs!
There’s no fee for Little Adam’s Peak.
2. Nine Arch Bridge
Anyone taking the train to Ella will ride this bridge. It’s an iconic piece of architecture in all of Sri Lanka, defined by its – duh – nine arches. It’s very easy to walk here from Little Adam’s Peak, and that’s what I’d recommend doing. The route is beautiful, and there are local shops where you can stop and grab a tender coconut if you like. I love indulging in fresh coconut water. Do me a favour and skip the straw, though?
This road will open up to a spectacular view of the bridge. From there, you will have to descend a rough pathway to reach the Nine Arch Bridge. If you time everything correctly, you’ll arrive in time to see the blue train pass. It’s certainly a sight to behold – that bright blue juxtaposed against lush green, through which the cream-and-beige bridge lies. It’s one of those picture-perfect moments.
Just do everyone a favour and don’t be that person who rushes into the frame when the train is passing just to get your own shot. Everyone is waiting for their turn. Be nice. Okay?
3. Climb Ella Rock
If there’s one thing Sri Lanka’s got, it’s hiking for all levels. Hiking up Ella Rock is a tad more challenging than Little Adam’s Peak and would need around 4 hours in total. To reach the starting point of this hike, start at Ella Station and walk along the tracks to Kithalella Station. The route has been roughly marked out on rocks and such, but I would recommend following the crowd. There are always people walking to Ella Rock. Even if there aren’t, you will find locals to guide you the right way.
I just didn’t feel good enough to push myself and do this hike, so I let it go. I know I missed out on some of the best views Sri Lanka has to offer, but hey, now I have a reason to go back 🙂 From what fellow hostellers told me, beware of leeches (carry salt with you. Sprinkle a little bit on the leech, and it will fall off), wear good shoes and start early if you’re going for sunrise. If not, sunset is a great option too
4. Visit the Gushing Diyaluma Falls
Diyaluma is the second tallest waterfall in Sri Lanka and is also one of the most beautiful ones. It starts as a series of infinity pools at the top, which pool into one another as smaller waterfalls and eventually cascade down the side of a cliff, making for a stunning curtain of gushing white.
It’s located around 45 minutes from the centre of Ella. If you’re a whole bunch of people, you can consider hiring a jeep. It’ll cost you around 6000 LKR for 9 people. I was headed there with Ladina, a Swiss girl I’d met in Nuwara Eliya (we ended up travelling for 2.5 weeks together from there), so the two of us decided to hop into a Tuktuk which cost us 2500 LKR. A little expensive, but we only had the evening, and we really wanted to see the falls.
Our Tuktuk guy took us to the base of the falls where he got our tickets (included on the LKR 2500). From there, we had to hike up for around 30 minutes to the top of the waterfall. It’s not too strenuous – a little steep in the start but mostly involves walking through tall plants and low trees, and clambering over a few rocks. Consider it a bit of a full-body workout, if you would.
Gurgling pools form the top of the waterfall, and it’s a great place to enjoy a swim. A lot of locals visit as well, but they leave you alone. They do take a lot of pictures of themselves though, so if you don’t want to end up in them, scoot around a little or just ask them not to click you.
There’s something else you CAN do here. It’s completely optional, and there is an element of risk involved as it’s not authorised and there are no lifeguards around. Still, if you feel like taking a bit of a risk, you can jump off the top of the waterfall into the infinity pool below. Again, it’s OPTIONAL and NOT AUTHORISED. The risk is solely yours, so think about it.
Now, I REALLY wanted to do this and went and perched myself at the edge of the rock.
And then I looked down.
The water below looked like solid ground, and to was at that moment that I realised, damn girl, you have a fear of heights! I stood there, at that ledge, for an hour – no kidding – before I threw all caution to the wind and jumped.
It’s not a great height, but those two seconds it took for me to crash into the pool below felt like the longest two seconds of my life. But it was also FUN. Did I do it again? No. Am I happy I did it? YOU BET!!
The hike down took around 20 minutes, and we passed the topmost point of Diyaluma from where the gorgeous landscape of Ella unfolded before us. Dreamy indeed.
5. Visit the Ravana Falls
We passed this on the way to Diyaluma. It’s a beautiful waterfall – one of the widest in the country – which is much, much closer to the centre of Ella (10 minutes away) so if you don’t have the time to go all the way out to Diyaluma, you could spend some time here. You can go swimming here as well.
I spent two days in Ella soaking up as much of nature as I could get. It was a slow visit, and I want to go back for more. Sri Lanka’s hill country is a jewel and no amount of time will be enough here, so space it out. I enjoyed every bit of my visit, and I hope this guide helps you plan your best one too. If you think I missed something, let me know in the comments!
Travelling around Sri Lanka? Check out my other posts from there!