The tiny town of Ella, Sri Lanka, is located in the Hill Country of and it is gorgeous (mostly) as it is surrounded by cloud forests and tea plantations.
You can arrive by train from Kandy or on a (very long) bus journey from anywhere on the south coast (read about Kandy here).
It is 1,041 metres (3,415 ft) above sea level, so it is a little colder than the rest of the country. I visited in December and while the days were scorching hot, in the evenings I wore trousers and a jumper.
There is a mixed crowd of people in Ella. The beautiful hills and peaks attract a lot of hikers and health travellers, while the town itself has become very, very, touristy – there are young backpackers all over the place and in the evening they’re all out to party.
Where to stay
If you’re going to party and meet other young people, stay in Ella. Personally, this is not my scene – I am closer to 30 than 20 and partying with people five or more years younger than me isn’t too appealing.
If you’re not there for this either, then stay out of town in the beautifully quaint Ella Planters Bungalow. (In fact, whatever you’re in Ella for, I still think you should spend a night here).
I absolutely loved it here. From the vintage buildings and décor, to the food and gorgeous gardens – and I haven’t even mentioned how spectacular the staff were. I often stay in hotels for free in return for a review and I can tell they always go that extra mile to make sure I enjoy my stay. This is how the service felt at Ella Planter’s Bungalow – but I wasn’t there to review. The staff were simply that wonderful, attentive and friendly.
What to do
If you want a guide then arrange this with your hotel. If you don’t then be prepared to refuse help. Men tend to hang around tourist spots and hikes trying to offer help, but they will expect money in return.
Plan your route if you are going alone and if you need directions ask women or people working the tea fields.
In my research for Ella Rock and Adam’s Peak I read stories of signs pointing the wrong way and people who will misdirect you on purpose so you get lost and end up taking help from a random guide. This made me very wary when we even did the small trips like Little Adam’s Peak and finding the Nine Arches, but I think that was unnecessary there.
Let’s start with Ravana Falls, seeing as I already mentioned it. Technically you’re not meant to go onto the rocks around the waterfall as tourists have fallen and died, but lots of people do it anyway. Just be careful! You can walk on the rocks and take photos but you definitely can’t get into the water for a swim or anything like that.
If you want a waterfall all to yourself with a pool of water to swim in, head over to my review of Ella Planter’s Bungalow where they took me on a very special trip into the forest.
Hiking (from little to big)
Little Adam’s Peak – this will take you less than an hour from the main part of Ella. You turn up Passara Road and keep walking until you see Ella Flower Garden Resort. Then just ahead a little path will take you off the road and you will walk along tea plantations before you start the easy climb up to the peak.
Ella Rock – you walk along train tracks, jungle forests and rocky areas, with spectacular scenery all the way. It takes between two and three hours to get to depending on your fitness and confidence – it can be quite tough and rocky.
Make sure you have clear directions and remember that if you search where you’re going beforehand then Google Maps will remember it and GPS works without data or Wi-Fi. Where proper footwear and if it has been raining you will need high and very thick socks in case of leeches!
Adam’s Peak – the top is well known for a footprint rock formation, because of this the spot is a holy summit for Buddhists, Muslims, Christians and Hindus. In Buddhism the footprint is from the left foot of the Buddha, left when he visited the country as a symbol for worship at the invitation of Buddhist God Saman.
Depending on your fitness level, this can take to eight hours altogether so be prepared! Food, drink, clothes, shoes, waterproofs, etc. – you need it all sorted in advance. Some people start the climb in the early hours of the morning to be at the top for sunrise, if you’re not up for that it’s still advised to go early in the day.
The bridge was built by the British when Ceylon, Sri Lanka’s previous name, was a colony of the British Empire. It is a magnificent piece of architecture and you can happily wonder over it.
You can walk along the tracks from Ella Station, or you can walk up Passara Road even further than the turning for Little Adam’s Peak. Eventually you need to climb steeply down the forestry to find it so make sure to ask for directions. I was put off doing so after reading about fake touts misleading people on hiking routes in Ella, which meant we were lost for quite a long time!
Where to eat
Go for a cooking class at Ella Spice Garden! I was absolutely devastated to discover they were closed for a few days due to a bereavement when I was in Ella, but I have had amazing things.
Other spots I tried were Matey Hut, Jade Green and Ella Village Inn. They were all nice but I have to admit, I suspect standards of cuisine are a little lower due to the huge impact of tourism making it more like a club-strip you find in Europe party places. If you want some really good Sri Lankan grub, then that’s just another reason to stay at Ella Planter’s Bungalow!