Ella is one of the most famous places in the tropical island Sri Lanka. It’s well-known for many reasons; but primely, the natural paradise around the location and tourist town there that becomes party central once dusk falls. The Ella town itself is surrounded by the beautiful hills of the Central highlands; covered in rolling green tea estates, the tall trees of cloud forests, and interesting natural formations. The town is a delight to be in as it maintains its originality and rural feel while still catering to the thousands of tourists that visit it during seasonal highs. Oh, and it has a rather hippie vibe and has some of the best eateries in the island.
Things to do in Ella
Places to See
Here are some of the places that are not to be missed if you’re visiting Ella:
Little Adam’s Peak
Adam’s Peak in Sri Lanka is one of the tallest peaks of the country standing at 2243m. It’s well known for both its flabbergasting views; and for the religious significance placed by all the local religions on the strange giant footprint on the mountain’s summit. While, quite high on a visiting hiker’s places-to-see list, it’s also quite a challenging climb that can be difficult for an not so experienced hiker.
Little Adam’s Peak in Ella, however, is the perfect cousin of the larger peak to hike with your training gloves on. It’s not as exhausting to hike; and, at just 1141m of height, can be climbed by even an inexperienced hiker. The views are straight out of a fantasy movie and possibly even better than that of the larger mountain. The entire hike both ways, including taking photographs, will take approximately 3 hours. We recommend that you do an early morning hike to catch the sun rising over the surrounding hills in all its glory. It’s also best to go with a good guide or join a group of other hikers to avoid getting lost, as the locals’ directions can be quite obtuse.
Ella Rock lies just a little further from Little Adam’s peak; and hiking to it will require a guide as well. Though many of the locals will advise you to start your hike at the Ella station, it will be easier and save quite a lot of time for you to start your hike at the next station, Kithal Ella. You can catch the train there, or take a three wheeler. The climb up to the rock is quite strenuous, and there are several routes up. This means that you may miss the easier ones and take one of the tougher ones up; making your hike harder. Alternatively, if you are an experienced hiker, the climb up Ella Rock gives you the opportunity to challenge yourself if you feel like it. Once you get up to the summit; you will be faced with stunning views of the surrounding landscape. This includes views of Little Adam’s Peak and a clear view of the Ella Gap. The Ella Gap is a space between the mountains as an arrow flies; that gives a fantastic view all the way to the southern coast.
The entire hike will take up till 4 hours or more. While it is hike that is not to be missed and can be done at any time of the day; it is recommended that you start around 3:30am, so that you will arrive at the top of the rock in time to watch the sun rise over the hills and the Ella Gap.
Ravana Ella as the locals call the Ravana Waterfalls can be hiked to or be traveled to in a vehicle. It’s 6km from the Ella town and just off the main road. This beautiful and dangerous waterfall is approximately 25m and has a legend surrounding it.
The ‘Ramayana’ is one of the most famous Tamil Hindu literary classics of all time. It tells the story of the Indian Prince Rama; an avatar of the Hindu God Vishnu, and the challenges he faces after he is exiled due to the lies of his enemies. One of the main challenges he faces is the kidnapping of his beautiful wife Sita by Ravana, the king of the race of Rakshasas. A demonic people who according to the story lived in the island of ancient Sri Lanka. the classic goes on to say that Ravana initially imprisoned her in a cave over a waterfall. Though the’Ramayana’ was initially believed to be a mere story; archaeological digs and discoveries in Sri Lanka in the recent centuries have proven that the places that have been mentioned in the story truly exist. What’s even more surprising, is the traces found in each place supporting the events in the Ramayana; giving way to speculation that the story may be based on truth, if not entirely true.
The Ravana Falls gained their name from the evidence found there in a cave high above the falls; showing ancient traces of someone having been imprisoned there. You can climb to the cave. The rock staircase is quite tricky and located about 500m from the falls on the same road.
The waterfall itself has a little footpath alongside starting from the bridge that passes over the rapids and whitewater that follow the falls. This footpath serves to get a closer look at the falls. There are many large flat rocks that can be seen in the rapids; and some visitors and locals attempt to get photographs or pose on these rocks. However, be warned that this is quite deadly; as the rocks are slippery while the rapids are swift, deep and dangerous. Many have lost their lives in this manner as is evidenced by the many funeral rituals that happen soon after they are killed. Hence, please take any photographs from the shore, no matter who may urge you to try climbing the rocks; and do not attempt foolish dares.
Demodara Railway Station
The Demodara Railway Station is the just one station away from Ella; and is home to one of the most interesting historical architecture in Sri Lanka, the Demodara Loop. This loop has the train coming into the station on a higher elevation from one direction. When the train leaves it loops around and returns in the same direction; but passing by through a tunnel directly below the track that it used to arrive at the station. The elevation change happens during the loop. This interesting piece of architecture is best seen from a high viewpoint. The locals will be happy to show you the best place to see it.
The Nine Arches Bridge
So if you ask the locals in Ella about the attractions in the area; one of the first places they will mention is the so-called ‘Nainach’. Take them to Nainach. You have to see Nainach. We will show you the way to Nainach. Which would leave you completely clueless about what they are talking about. You would wonder whether it’s a word in the local language. What they said was ‘Nine Arch’; the localized name for the Nine Arches Bridge; a historic railroad bridge with a story.
As the story goes that during British Colonization of Ceylon in the late 1800s; they were creating the railroad. While laying the tracks between Ella and Demodara; they found that the only way through was to cross a chasm with a marshy bog at the bottom. They were unable to build any bridges due to the instability of the land. But then one of the locals, a man named P. K. Appuhami heard of this. He was reasonably friendly with the colonizers and decided to curry favor while getting something out of it. He asked the British to allow him to take over the making of the bridge. The project was handed to him with much reluctance. The man then ordered the locals to topple giant rocks into the chasm, lessening its depth while also forming a firm rock foundation. Then he simply used only bricks to construct the bridge. The construction was completed within a time period and using a cost that both seemed impossibly low to the British. They suspected Appuhamy of foul play and ordered that he had to lie under the bridge when the first train passed over it to prove it sound. Appuhamy did so without hesitation; and after finding him innocent of any such guilt; the British rewarded him for the work by paying him the full amount that should have been used for the bridge. He is said to have celebrated with his entire village using the money.
You can still see this marvelous bridge standing to this day. While you can hike over it from Ella, the best viewpoint is located amongst the hills, at the end of a rustic farm track not far from Ella. This place lets you look over the bridge; with a clear view of all nine arches.
This place has ranked high on the ratings of both us and many other visitors; and therefore takes the place of honor as the top place to visit. Like its name suggests; the cafe is a really cool place to hang out in. It has an eclectic mix of artsy, retro and hippie decor that somehow combines well in a open and rustic hut-type cafe-bar. The food is delicious, especially the local menu. The music is great. The drinks; which include beers, cocktails, coffees and detox smoothies; are pretty good and reasonably priced. All in all its a comfy place to let go of the day’s stress and relax; or to socialize as there’s always a nice crowd there.
A tiny rustic log cabin type of place that has only a few tables. Their food is extremely cheap with very generous proportions. However, since the lines of people waiting to get food here are usually long and its very difficult to get a seat; it may be easier to get the food to-go.
A tiny family-run restaurant with delicious Sri Lankan food. There is a bit of a wait to get the food after ordering. But the taste is totally worth it.
Down Town Roti Hut
This is a great place with all types of different Rotis. A ‘roti’ or ‘rotti’ is a delicious type of Asian food that you really have to try; and you will get to try it here in abundance. The Hut is great to refuel or you can get your food to-go as well.
A K Ristoro
A K Ristoro is a little Italian restaurant just off the main thoroughfare, that has a great menu of fresh pizzas and pastas. While it isn’t the cheapest restaurant in Ella; the food is definitely worth going back for.
A little family run restaurant on the way to Little Adam’s Peak. It has koththu, noodles, curries and Western dishes. The food is good and its a great place to stop by after the climb.
An adorable little teashop that sells delicious cakes and tea. You really don’t want to miss this one if you have a sweet tooth.
Where to stay
Ella is filled with places for visitors to eat and stay. Almost every house on the outskirts of the town functions as a family run inn or a homestay. These are of course cheaper than the few large hotels there; which are more expensive, but also have better facilities and amenities to cater for the more exclusive clientele. Of the hotels, 98 Acres is the best in the area due to its location on the side of a mountain; giving a great view of the Ella Gap. The hotel strives for perfection with cleanliness, rustic atmosphere and excellent facilities and service. This also makes it one of the most expensive hotels in the area.
Some of the other good hotels are the Ella Gap Hotel and Eden View. However, don’t led the name mislead you with the Ella Gap Hotel; while it has great facilities and service, the hotel doesn’t actually give you a view of the Ella Gap.
There are also a number of other small inexpensive inns including Raveenas Guesthouse and Ella Bird’s Nest. Bird’s Nest in particular has rooms high up on a cliff with treehouse style decor; and has excellent views of the Ella Rock.
Other Things of Interest
While food and places to stay can be obtained cheaply; Ella, like any other tourist town, hikes up its prices on souvenirs and other objects. The antique shop in particular hikes up its prices to almost double when tourists ask about an item. While some are very genuine items; many of the items in the shop are replicas or decent fakes. However, there are some items that the owner values down incorrectly, due to a lack of knowledge. So if you are good at negotiating and have a good knowledge of Asian antiques; you may find something interesting.
During the tourist season, once dusk falls most of the thoroughfares in Ella become a giant party location. Music wafts out of the hip cafes, and drunk or simply partying people fill the avenues. While the outskirts are completely dark with no streetlights; the center of the town becomes filled with the warm glow of lightbulbs. The aroma of food wafts into the air as people socialize in the many eateries. While this is a fun time to be in the Ella town; be sure to arrange a trustworthy three-wheeler driver beforehand if your place of stay is on the outskirts where the streets are dark, as they can be frankly quite scary and dangerous with the jungle surrounding them. Also take care of your valuables and leave them in a safe place before venturing out in the after-hours.
Don’t trust the locals to have your best interests at heart all the time; though some of them are actually good. Make your own decisions when it comes to places to stay, or where to buy souvenirs; as many of the locals give or receive commissions for these things.
And that’s all the advice we can offer. Enjoy your holiday!