Ella is a small town in the Badulla District of Sri Lanka. It is approximately 200 km (120 mi) east of Colombo and is situated at an elevation of 1,041 m (3,415 ft) above sea level. While the Kandy to Ella train trip is considered one of the most scenic train journeys in the world, we did it a bit different by going from Kandy to Nanu-Oya, spent time in Nuwara Eliya, and then Nanu-Oya to Ella. We were lucky enough to get first class tickets (2,000 LKR each/$11USD) for the train to Ella, which made the ride MUCH more enjoyable. In this guide to Ella, you’ll find some insight into our lodging and things to do in the area.
We loved our stay in Ella at Secret Nest Homestay! Our room was nice and comfortable with everything we needed. The owner was amazingly nice and always helpful. She made us a pot of tea whenever we were just hanging out on the front porch and also cooked us amazing breakfast with fresh fruits every morning. The dahl and egg hoppers were both delicious! The location is also great as it is a very short walk to both Nine Arches Bridge and Little Adams Peak, which you must visit if you are in Ella. It was also only a 10-15 minute walk to the main street/restaurant area as well which isn’t bad at all. The guesthouse also helped us book a half day safari to Udawalawe which was helpful.
Here are some things to do during your time in Ella:
1. Nine Arches Bridge – This iconic bridge is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Sri Lanka and one of the best examples of colonial-era railway construction in the country. This beautiful piece of architecture can be found after a relatively easy 30-minute hike through the jungle and is tucked away among lush green tea fields. There is no entrance fee and you are allowed to walk on the bridge and trains cross the bridge at consistent times each day. When we were there (September 2019), the train times were 6:15am, 6:40am, 9:20am, 11:50am, 1:15pm, 2:40pm, 3:30pm, 5:30pm, 6:40pm and 7:15pm. Be prepared for crowds of both tourists and locals taking pictures of this amazing stone structure.
2. Little Adam’s Peak – Little Adam’s Peak is a 2,243 m (7,359 ft) tall conical mountain and the nephew of Adam’s Peak. From the top, you get to enjoy the breathtaking views of Ella Rock and the valley that seems to go on as far as the distant and scenic mountains. The top is a great spot to relax for the sunset and connect with other travelers. From the main street in Ella Town, it is about a 45-minute walk to the top of the mountain and there is no entrance fee. The hike is a steady incline through a local village and tea plantations, but also has concrete steps for the steeper parts once you get closer to the top and so it isn’t overly difficult. Definitely worth the effort if you are in Ella!
3. Udawalawe National Park – This national park was established in 1972 and was created to provide a sanctuary for wild animals displaced by the construction of the Udawalawe Reservoir on the Walawe River. It is a popular tourist destination and the third-most visited park in the country and is about a two hour drive from Ella. We booked an early morning driver tour through our homestay for 3,250 LKR/$18 US per person. There were 4 of us which helped with the driver and tour costs. This did not include the 5,100 LKR/$28 USD park entrance fee per person. While we saw a decent amount of elephants, water buffalo, peacocks and other birds, we weren’t overly impressed by the tour. In hindsight, we weren’t sure that the cost was worth the experience, but it all really depends on the season and where the animals are roaming in the park.
4. Diyaluma Falls – This tourist attraction is 220 m (720 ft) high and the second highest waterfall in Sri Lanka. While we didn’t get the opportunity to go here during our time in Ella, we believe it essentially takes all or most of one full day to visit. It’s about an hour drive out of Ella to the foot of the waterfall and once you explore the bottom, it is a 30-minute drive to the top. From there it’s about a 45-minute hike to reach this waterfall with many natural pools to relax in. We definitely plan to check this out next time we are in Sri Lanka. We’ve heard that guides at the bottom will try to tell you that you need a guide to get to the top when you actually don’t need one!
5. Ravana Falls – A quick 10-minute drive from town, Ravana Falls is located right on the main road so you can easily stop by to take a dip. This is much easier than Diyaluma Falls, but was also VERY crowded with both locals and foreigners while we were there. We were told that due to recent accidents (some of which resulted in death) given the slippery rocks, you are no longer allowed to climb up to the higher levels of this waterfall. This was probably the reason it was so crowded at the bottom where we were.
6. Hike to the top of Ella Rock – Hiking Ella Rock is a much more challenging task than Little Adam’s peak. It takes about 2 hours to hike from the bottom to the top and can be done with a guide or on your own. We didn’t do this given time constraints, but definitely make sure you ask your homestay or guesthouse manager for specific directions because it is not very straightforward to figure out on your own as a tourist.
If you’re traveling anywhere in Southeast Asia, TripAdvisor is without a doubt the best place to check out the reviews. Dan’s TripAdvisor page has a lot of reviews and pictures of our meals. By the time we got to Ella, we had eaten A LOT of rice and curry so we were in the mood for non-local dishes, which is pretty apparent given our below dishes. Here are the places we checked out and our two cents:
Cafe Chill – As the name suggests, this restaurant is very relaxed and one of the most popular places in town. They serve different types of food and we came here a few times. The burger, chicken sandwich and potato wedges were delicious and it definitely has a nice “night out” feel with the dinner crowd and music. The local Sri Lankan dishes also looked excellent.
Rose Cabin Mexican Restaurant – We came here for dinner on our first night in Ella based on the burning desire for Mexican food after A LOT of rice and curry meals. Everything was delicious for reasonable prices so we would definitely recommend Rose Cabin for Mexican cuisine in Ella. The quesadilla, burritos and nachos definitely satisfied our craving!
In Reincarnation – We came here after a few days in Ella and also got Mexican dishes. The burrito and nachos were both very good, but we liked Rose Cabin a little bit more than this place.
Unfortunately, we don’t know of any volunteer opportunities in the Ella area. If you do, we would love to feature it on our page. Reach out to us via email at email@example.com or DM us on Instagram (@jetsetforgood).
That’s our guide to Ella but like always, all opinions are entirely our own. Above all, enjoy Sri Lanka!
Disclaimer: We have no financial incentive to promote lodging or any other services. This recommendation comes solely from personal experience.