Ella was our final destination during an amazing two week trip to Sri Lanka. Having travelled through the chilled out beach towns of the South Coast, we were ready to head inland and explore the famous Hill Country of Sri Lanka. Ella ended up being a real highlight of our two week trip. The beautiful town offered such a wonderful variety of things to do. From amazing hiking routes and waterfalls to swim in, to exploring the tea plantations, and learning first-hand about Ella’s rich cultural history.
We did an impressive number of things in two days in Ella but had we had even longer to spend in the Hill Country, we could have visited more of Ella’s must-see attractions. In this Ella travel guide, I’ll share all of the best things to do and in Ella, as well as where to stay and a snapshot of some of the best restaurants in Ella too.
Essential things to know before visiting Ella
Ella itself is a small, chilled-out town nestled into the hills in Sri Lanka. It has become famous for its chilled-out vibe, its exciting outdoor activities and for certain Instagram spots, such as Nine Arch Bridge.
It has a backpacker vibe, not dissimilar to the small traveller towns in South East Asia for example. Ella is the perfect rural complement to the beaches of Sri Lanka, and both the hills and beaches can easily be done in a two week Sri Lanka itinerary.
When to visit Ella
The best time of year to visit Ella is from January to May, as with the South Coast beach towns. Ella will have hot but comfortable days, with cool, pleasant evenings. There is least rain in Ella from April onwards. We were in Ella in early May, and the weather was perfect every day, and not too cold in the evening. Unlike other areas in Sri Lanka however, Ella can be visited year-round.
How to get to Ella
Ella is at one end of the most famous train rides in the world, the Kandy to Ella route. This stunning train ride can be done in either direction and is one of the best things to do in Sri Lanka. This entire route between Ella and Kandy can take around 8 hours. So whilst it’s the most stunning way to arrive in Ella, it is quite lengthy.
There is no airport in Ella and no quick way to get there. If Ella was your first destination on your Sri Lanka itinerary, you would still land in Colombo at the international airport. From Colombo airport to Ella, the drive is around 6 hours and will cost around 16,000 rupees (£71) in a comfortable private taxi.
Sri Lanka is well connected by road, and you will find a local taxi company from almost any of the beach towns in Sri Lanka to drive you to Ella. It’s also a slow way to travel, but still faster than the train!
Best Places to Stay in Ella – Chill Ville View Point Hotel
So you’re wondering where the best places to stay in Ella? There are literally hundreds of tiny guesthouses to pick from in Ella. There are no large chain hotels, but a dizzying number of guesthouses and small hotels to pick from and it can be hard to distinguish which to pick!
If you choose a guesthouse closer to the heart of Ella town centre, you will be located close to all of the best cafes and restaurants in Ella. You will also have a quick (and safe) journey home if you enjoy the nightlife in Ella.
Ella town centre is tiny, but there are plenty of roads leading off and they are all pretty steep. There are plenty of accommodation options along these roads, but the further you head out of town, the riskier the drive. A lot of the roads are not well-paved and a lot of them have very steep drops off the side (but stunning views of the valley!). However, along these roads are where some of the best hotels in Ella are located. If you are not too fussed about being near the restaurants and bars of Ella town centre, you will find some particularly stunning places to stay.
We stayed at Chill Ville View Point hotel. This amazing hotel is run by the same team behind the extremely popular Chill Ville restaurant in the centre of town. I was initially annoyed by how long the ride was to Chill Ville hotel (around 15 minutes by tuk-tuk). But actually, the drive ended up being one of my favourite things about this hotel. The scenery en-route was absolutely stunning and it was a wonderful opportunity to pass by tiny local villages.
Other places to stay in Ella
98 Acres Resort & Spa is one of the best established and most well known places to stay in Ella. Occupancy is always high, so book as early as you can. It’s famous for its stunning elevated rooms, with gorgeous views across the tea plantations. 98 Acres Resort & Spa is also located conveniently close to the start of the hike to Little Adam’s Peak. You can check rates for 98 Acres Resort & Spa here.
A great mid -range option is The Bamboo – you can check rates for this hotel here.
Where to eat in Ella
There are plenty of great cafes and restaurants in Ella. The most well-known place to eat in Ella is Cafe Chill. Renowned for great food and a lively bar in the evening, this beautiful cool cafe is huge, with an abundance of helpful and fun waiting staff around.
Some other great options include Matey Hut, AK Ristoro and Udayanga Restaurant.
The Best Things to Do in Ella
So now you’ve got the essential information down to plan a trip to Ella, I’m going to share all the best things to do in this beautiful town.
Visit Nine Arch Bridge
This iconic bridge in Sri Lanka has become famous for striking arches and its sudden presence in the midst of the dense jungle surrounding Ella.
There are several ways to get to the Nine Arch Bridge from Ella town centre. One way is to walk along the train tracks from the Ella train station. I know this sounds like the least sensible advice ever – but it’s really wide either side of the tracks and not that dangerous at all. The trains aren’t very frequent and you certainly hear them coming so you can head to the side.
Another way is to take the path the meanders away from the start of the Little Adam’s Peak hike. It isn’t really signposted at all, but plenty of locals will direct you in the right direction towards to the Nine Arch Bridge.
We walked to the Nine Arch Bridge from here, and back to town along the train tracks, and found both walks stunning.
The views at the Nine Arch Bridge are stunning, no matter where you stand – each and every view point is spectacular. You can walk underneath the arches by walking down and exploring the tea plantations below. You can of course walk across the top of the bridge and you’ll find small cafes serving up tea and snacks at both ends of the bridge.
If you really want the famous Sri Lankan blue and red trains to be going across the bridge for a photo opportunity, you can check the times in advance. Sri Lankan National Railways website is a good place to start.
Hike Little Adam’s Peak
Little Adam’s Peak is a stunning hike, and is definitely the easiest and most accessible hike to do in Ella town. This beautiful hike starts just outside of the town centre, by the 98 Acres Resort entrance. The Little Adam’s Peak hike takes around 30-40 minutes to reach the top and isn’t too challenging. The route is well-marked and easy to follow. Once you’re at the top, where the Buddha and mini temple are located, I’d recommend walking along the trail that continues ahead to have picture-perfect ledges to take photos from.
We did the hike at around 9am in early May. We enjoyed a hot and clear morning hike, with views stretching across the rolling hills. If you can get up for sunrise, we’ve seen stunning photos of Little Adam’s Peak at this time too.
Hike Ella Rock
If you’re up for a bit more of a challenge, then definitely consider hiking Ella Rock whilst in town. This is definitely a tougher hike, but visitors are rewarded with stunning scenery and magical vistas across the tea plantations. This hike takes around 3-4 hours from Ella town centre/the train station. I would start the Ella Rock hike either early in the morning, or in the early afternoon, so you don’t do this hike in the dark.
Explore Ella and the surrounding area by train
One of the most popular activities to do in Sri Lanka is travel on its world-famous trains. Ella is an excellent starting point for some of the island’s best train rides. The most popular train route is Ella to Kandy (or Kandy to Ella), which takes around 8 hours and can be broken with stops in towns such as Nuwara Eliya. Many people tend to do the whole journey in one go though, and the Kandy to Ella route is often considered one of the most beautiful train journeys in the world.
Another option, and a great choice if you have less time, is to do the shorter route from Ella to Badulla. This route goes in the opposite direction but does in fact go directly over Nine Arch Bridge which is a unique vantage point. This gives you the perfect opportunity to experience a train ride with the locals in Ella, but not do the whole way to Kandy. In fact, this section is considered one of the most beautiful and the extra benefit is that you won’t have to worry about your suitcase on the journey! Once in Badulla, it is an easy 45 minutes bus directly back to Ella town. Another wonderful experience in itself!
Visit a Tea Plantation in Ella
Ella is lined with rows and rows of tea leaves on every hill you see. Not only are they mesmerising to walk by, you’ll often see local tea pluckers out collecting the leaves in their brightly coloured outfits. Tea is one of the biggest exports from Sri Lanka and Ella is one of the main towns in the country where it originates.
Visiting a tea plantation in Ella is one of the best things to do in Sri Lanka. You can learn so much about the country at a tea plantation, from the history and culture in Sri Lanka to the origins of tea.
I would highly recommend Halpewatte Tea Factory, about 20 minutes tuk-tuk ride out of Ella own centre. Not only can you learn about the entire process of making all the different types of tea leaves, but you can fully explore the working factory. If you go before 10am, you’ll see a lot more of the various equipment in action. It’s absolutely fascinating and also interesting to learn how the machinery has transformed the tea factory.
Our guide was fantastic and patiently showed us through all the various rooms and equipment areas of the Halpewatte Tea Factory. The tour finished with a delicious tasting session, where we sampled the teas at different stages of the process and found out which suited our particular tastes. At the end, we were left to explore their store alone and it wasn’t pushy at all. We ended up buying lots of loose teas and teabags as gifts for friends and family!
The entry cost for Halpewatte Tea Factory is 350 rupees per person.
Visit Lipton’s Seat in Haputale
Around a trip to nearby Haputale to visit Lipton’s Seat, the famous location where Sir Thomas Lipton first laid eyes on the land that would later become the tea for his world-famous Lipton Tea!
Soak up the views from a beautiful hotel
As detailed in my ‘Where to Stay in Ella’ section above, there are two main options for accommodation in Ella. The first is more centrally located hotels, which will be less expensive and less scenic. Or spend a little more and travel out a little further for some of the best hotels in Ella (and Sri Lanka), many of which offer some of the most stunning Hill Country scenery on the island.
Our hotel, Chill Ville View Point had such amazing views over the hills that we spent a full afternoon enjoying ourselves there. We enjoyed drinks in the pool and marvelled at one of the best views in Sri Lanka for hours.
Enjoy a local cooking class
If learning to prepare and cook Sri Lankan food is on your list during a visit to Sri Lanka, then doing a cooking class in Ella is an excellent idea. It really adds to your Hill Country experience to prepare dishes using local ingredients in Ella and I would highly recommend. You can learn to make Sri Lankan curry and to your own tasting too! Some of the best cooking classes in Ella are at the well-known Matey Hut in the heart of town, and at Ella Spice Garden.
Try local food in Ella
Well, this is generally a good idea anywhere in Sri Lanka – but you’ll find more cafes and restaurants serving up local food in Ella than in other towns. Ella is known for its excellent places to eat, and the town is a good place to explore your palette with Sri Lankan food. One of the best cafes in Ella is Chill Cafe, a vast chill out bar offering a great atmosphere and delicious food from day to night.
Go on a safari day trip from Ella
If you’re short on time, then it’s possible to go on a safari directly from Ella, rather than driving all the way to Yala National Park. Around a 2 hour drive from Ella is the second most-visited safari park in Sri Lanka, Udawalawe National Park. You can see an impressive number of animals on a game drive here. Although do note that if it is the infamous leopard you want to see in Sri Lanka, you have a better chance at Yala National Park.
You can plan a day trip to Udawalawele National Park from Ella in advance through GetYourGuide here:
So there’s my travel guide to Ella, the most beautiful town in Sri Lanka’s Hill Country. This is your destination for exploring the outdoors, from the dense jungle to the tea plantations. Ella is the prefect place to immerse yourself in the heart of Sri Lanka, and to learn about its fascinating culture and history first-hand. Ella is totally unmissable on any Sri Lanka itinerary, so I really hope this guide helps in your planning. You can do a good number of the top things to in Ella as so many of the attractions are located close together.
If you’re looking for some of the best beach towns in Sri Lanka, read my guide. I’ve also written a detailed blog post on staying at Chena Huts by Uga Escapes in Yala National Park, as well as a hotel review on the beautiful Anantara Peace Haven Resort in Tangalle.
Have you been to Ella? Have I missed any other activities from my list? Let me know in the comments below!