Ella is a beautiful small sleepy town on the southern edge of Sri Lanka's Hill Country.
It's situated in the middle of beautiful countryside, with small vegetable plots in the valleys, tea plantations on the hill slopes and forests on the tops.
The climate throughout most of the year is typical of the high Hill Country, with a hot sun by midday, but a moderate air temperature. It will often rain in the afternoon, but only for an hour or so. A sweatshirt, or light jacket is needed at night. In December it can rain a lot!
There's not much to do in Ella itself, with a handful of small shops and only a few bars/restaurants. It's basically a nicely relaxing base for exploring the surrounding country.
Ella has a small post office and one bank (Bank of Ceylon) with an ATM. Track bashers (rail enthusiasts) should particularly enjoy the line to Badulla, where at the village of Demodara it does a 360 degree loop before crossing over itself.
By rail. Ella's a few stops from Badulla at the end of the railway line that snakes through the Hill Country. Trains go to Colombo and Kandy from here. The fares are ludicrously cheap in 2nd and 3rd class, (2nd class fare, December 2007, Colombo to Ella was R200/- or about USD 2.00) and the views spectacular. It's usually no problem getting a seat in 2nd/3rd class going to Colombo or Kandy, as the trains from Badulla are quite empty until reaching Nanu Oya. However the reverse is true going up to Ella and it can be quite crowded until the last 2 or 3 hours of the journey. Ella's railway station itself is prettily quaint.
By Road. Buses go south through Ella Gap to Wellawaya where you can change for a number of destinations in the south of the island. There is also a recently introduced direct bus service to Galle which stops at various locations along the south coast including Mirissa and Unawatuna.
Rawana Ella Falls are about 5km away on the road south through Ella Gap. They're quite spectacular. Take your swimming costume for a refreshing dip, but beware of the touts selling tourist junk. You can catch frequent buses for about R10/-, or better still walk (but catch a bus back up the hill). About half-way down the road you can stop off for a look at the small temple and a cave above it where, according to local legend, Sita was kept as a prisoner before being rescued by Rama. You are also quite likely to meet families of langur monkeys by the roadside.
Walk up to Ella's Rock, about 2 hours (each way) along the railway track and through the tea plantations, for stunning views across the countryside. The first 1.5km is along the railway track itself so keep an ear out for oncoming trains although they travel so slowly you'll have plenty of time to get out of the way. The fog tends to move in by 10am, so get an early start for the best views. If you stay at Rawana Holiday Resort they'll give you a quaint hand drawn map to get you there!
The home cooking in the guest houses/hotels is probably the best food in town.
See "eat" above.
There are a number of cheap guest houses scattered around town.
Accommodation options include:
Take a walk through the tea plantations to Little Adam's Peak south-east of the town centre, and about 45 minutes away.
For more strenuous exercise walk to the top of Ella Rock for views across the Hill Country and with the town nestled in the hills below you. This walk is about 2 hours each way, and about half of it is along the railway line before cutting off into the hills. For a longer walk, rather than head straight back to the line from the hill top, follow the track through the forest. (You can't really get lost. Just head downhill when you've had enough, and before long you will meet a road or the railway line.)
The locals who live near the bottom of Ella Rock have recently come up with a wonderful piece of inventive free enterprise. They obliterate existing tracks up the hill and create new ones every now and then. Tourists following guidebooks get completely lost, and suddenly, Hey Presto! A local appears offering to guide them.
Don't walk in the countryside in shorts and sandals/flipflops, especially after it's been raining. There are lots of leeches that hang on to the vegetation by the side of tracks waiting for a nice juicy mammal to walk by. They're perfectly harmless really and if one attaches itself to you it's best to just let it drink its fill and drop off again. You have lots of blood and can spare one or two c.c. The other alternative would be to burn it with a cigarette or match.
It is advisable to take some lime with you, and drop on the leach. It will not kill the leach like in cigarette, but it will make the leach quickly leave you without drinking blood.