Ella is a beautiful small backpacker-hub on the southern edge of Sri Lanka's Hill Country. It has become to go-to town in the hill country for tourists and as a result has a reasonably well-established tourism-orientated economy. For example, there is espresso coffee and fish and chips on offer, as well as lounge/backpacker -style bars aimed solely at the visitor.
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.
Self-Drive Tuk-Tuk Hire
Arguably, the most authentic way to experience Sri Lanka is by hiring and driving your own Tuk-Tuk. Some travellers report that they have been able to strike a deal directly with local owners for the use of their vehicle. This is not recommended, however, due to licensing and insurance concerns. Since December 2016, Tuk Tuk Rental Sri Lanka has been providing socially responsible, self drive Tuk Tuk hire for tourists and travellers visiting Sri Lanka. Tuk Tuks can be collected from Mount Lavinia, Colombo, or delivered nationwide. As Tuk Tuks are hired directly from local owners, the company provides a good and reliable income for some of the poorest Tuk Tuk drivers in Colombo, who would otherwise be working long hours as a driver to support their family. All Tuk Tuks provided are no more than 5 years old, and rentals include comprehensive insurance, 24 hour support and a number of other extras to make your trip safe and hassle-free. They even provide you with your own Sri Lankan driver's license! Travel like a local and drive your own Tuk Tuk around Sri Lanka!
Waterfall Rd might be muddy after rainfall.
There is one laundry store in town and they are extremely expensive! Its down a little side street near "Chill Bar". There are no prices listed so its basically what she says and knows that there is no where else to go. My advice is keep it and get it done at your next stop.
Nine Arches Bridge in between Ella and Demordara
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.
Demordara Bridge Also called the nine arches bridge is a famous bridge situated between Ella and Demordara railway stations. This is a historical brick bridge constructed in 1921 during the colonial rule of the British Empire. Amazingly it is still in use to take trains weighing dozens of tons through the track from Colombo to Badulla and vice versa.
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. Early start may be ideal, but not essential.
To get there:
- Head south along the the railway tracks (watch out for trains!)
- Walk over a big railroad bridge
Pass the Buddhist statues and the Kithaella Train Station. So far the hike is easy. Where to turn isn’t so clear.
- Keep walking until you see a little path off to the left that overlooks a creek and a farming field. This left is just before kilometer marker 166 1/4.
- Cross the small bridge over the creek and immediately take a left up the hill. There should be a path through low bushes that leads you all the way up the mountain.
Be wary of "directions" from locals along the route. A common scam is to misdirect tourists so that they become lost at which point a local "guide" will conveniently appear and offer to assist for a fee. You can find legitimate guides in town (~1500 rupee) if you really want but it isn't necessary; the route is quite straightforward.
The home cooking in the guest houses/hotels is probably the best food in town.
- Rawana Hotel Perched on a hill top with views down the valley, book a dinner with the owners before 3 PM. If you come late the owner might not be able to serve you. For nearly 400 - 500 LKR/person you will be served an explosion of flavors -- about 8 small dishes with each order. If you are not staying here, you must eat here. Do you want to reproduce the meals? -- ask the cook for lessons! This might be your best meal in Sri Lanka.
- Ella View Restaurant and Bar serves hot meals, but the quality is very poor. It's quite a dingy place that tends to be frequented by local arrack addicts. Stop in for a chat with the locals. Strong (8.8%) for 200 LKR or take a bottle home for 230 LKR. Not ideal for unaccompanied women.
- Ella Holiday Inn opened in 2005 at the Wellawaya Road junction in the centre of town is a good place for meals, snacks and drinks, sitting on the verandah looking out at life on the main street.
- Moonlight Holiday Home, ☎ 057-2228790. (July 2014) This very centrally located homestay with very nice views of Ella Rock and surrounded by tea bushes is currently renovating its rooms. There are two double rooms and - possibly - one mixed dorm with shared bathroom. Pricerange for the double room will be 2000-3000 Rupees (dorm 500 Rupees). The rooms are spacious and have hot showers. A/C is not necessary in Ella. There is a small terrace in front of the rooms where you can enjoy breakfast (200-300 Rupees) or a pot of tea (150 Rupees). edit
See "eat" above.
- Cafe Chill, Wellawaya Road, Ella, Sri Lanka. you can chill out with a drink in the beanbag area upstairs or enjoy western & Sri Lankan food down next to the open kitchen. cooking class available. edit
There are a number of cheap guest houses scattered around town.
Accommodation options include:
- Idyll Homestay, ☎ 94 71 911 3701 (firstname.lastname@example.org). A short walk from town, along the railway line. Peaceful and comfortable. Friendly young family. Great views down Ella gap from the attached breezy covered terrace. LKR 3500 (incl breakfast and all day tea). Tripadvisor:  Facebook:  edit
- Sunnyside Holiday Bungalow, (web: , e-mail: email@example.com, tel. 057 5615011) in Ella Sri Lanka is a peaceful bungalow surrounded by lush foliage and offers comfortable accommodation with home cooked meals. There are three clean rooms with attached toilets and hot water showers. Room rates from LKR 3,500/- (US$30).
- Hill Top Guest House, (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, tel. 057 2228780) has a balcony with a wonderful view through Ella Gap, and serves delicious home-cooked meals. The rooms are quite basic but clean and all have showers and hot water. The owner, Chattura Swarna, is very friendly, helpful and has a great sense of humour. Internet access is also available. Rooms are about R4500 (December 2012). On a last check on the 30th of April 2011, the owner said they were going to close for construction but did not specify for how long.
- Zion View Guest House, Wemulla Hena (in the middle of Ella Gap), ☎ 072 7855713 (email@example.com), . Expansive views overlooking the entire valley and through to the south coast. It has seven rooms with balconies, super comfy slat beds and spotless wood-trimmed bathrooms, spring water. $ 50.00. edit
- Green View, Ella, ☎ 057-2228774(firstname.lastname@example.org). checkout: 12:00. fantastic and friendly place to stay. best home cooked curry in sri lanka. wonderful rooms at various prices, from 2000rp Various. edit
- Paddy Field View, ☎ 077-1595134, 057-5614849. Great view to the waterfalls on the hill but about a kilometer away from the center downhill. Take a torch with you if walking to the center after dark. It will be an uphill walk. 1000s/1500d. (6.870088,81.045833) edit
- holiday homes, Sapumalthenne, Passara Road, Ella 90090, Sri Lanka. 10 min walk from Ella center,close to the start of Little Adam. Nice and clean rooms, relaxed atmospher. Sumitra the host is lovely and a good cook. cheap- you can bargain. edit
- Raveena Guest House, Wellawaya Rd, Ella, ☎ 072-4098888 072-4838423. (email@example.com). checkout: 12:00. A very Friendly an extremely clean, family run guest house with great views of Little Adams Peak. 4 rooms (2000 to 4000Rs). A great place to relax on the terrace in one of the hammocks and watch the birds and monkeys. edit
- Rockside Inn Guest House, Wellawaya Rd, Ella, ☎ 072 460 9177 / 071 090 4884. firstname.lastname@example.org), . checkout: 11:00. 2 rooms (2000 to 5000Rs). 5 minute walk from centre. Free pick by tuk tuk from railway station. Call in advance to arrange. Located in quiet area with clean rooms and hot showers. edit
- Moonlight Holiday Home, ☎ 057-2228790 / 071-7008110 / 071-3679214. (July 2014) This very centrally located homestay with very nice views of Ella Rock and surrounded by tea bushes is currently renovating its rooms. There are two double rooms and - possibly - one mixed dorm with shared bathroom. Pricerange for the double room will be 2000-3000 Rupees (dorm 500 Rupees). The rooms are spacious and have hot showers. A/C is really not necessary in Ella. There is a small terrace in front of the rooms where you can enjoy breakfast (200-300 Rupees) or a pot of tea (150 Rupees). edit
- Moonlight Holiday Home, ☎ 057-2228790 / 071-7008110 / 071-3679214. (July 2014) This centrally located homestay with views of Ella Rock and surrounded by tea bushes is currently undergoing some renovations (one of the double rooms is ready). The plan is to have two double rooms (2000-3000 Rupees per room) and a six bed mixed dorm (500 Rupees per person). The double rooms are spacious and have hot showers. A/C is not really necessary in Ella. There is a small terrace in front of the rooms where you can enjoy Sri Lankan or Western Breakfast (200-300 Rupees) or enjoy a cuppa (150 Rupees a pot). edit
- Ella Eco LoDge, Wamullahena (walk along the wamullahena road for about 400 meters until you sight the Ella Eco LoDge name board.), ☎ 00971557573462, . checkin: 3 pm; checkout: 2 pm. This is a wooden cottage on a mountain slope of famous Ella GAP. Only 400 Meters distance from both Ella Town & Ella railway station. Lush green forest surrounding & over looking mountain range from the wooden cottage makes your stay cozy in perfect natural settings. Lunch & Dinner can be arranged at much lesser rate than eating outside. 42 B&B basis for 2. edit
Take a walk through the tea plantations to Little Adam's Peak south-east of the town centre, and about 45 minutes away.
Countryside on route to Ella Rock
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. If you are not used to climbing in this climate, leave Ella around 5 in the morning. The temperature will be more pleasant and you have the added bonus of having breakfast watching over the sunrise. For a longer walk back, rather than head straight back to the line from the hill top, follow the track through the forest.
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.
Just follow the track. You will soon cross your last chance to buy some extra water. Walk on to the bridge, then see a little praying set up. You should start to see «guides» really soon. Turn left straight into the jungle and keep walking up. The «guides» usually hang out in the high grass where you will feel lost in the many foot paths. Stay confident, ignore the «guides» and keep walking upwards. Should you require the aid of a guide, they will ask somewhere around 1500 Rupees, which you can easily bring down to half that. Beware of the fact that they will climb the rock rediculously fast wearing nothing but worn-out flipflops. Either with or without a guide, the view on Little Adam's peak is very rewarding.
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 but the following is good advice for leech removal:
- Firstly - what you shouldn't do - don't just rip it off. If the mouth parts of the leech are firmly attached you may leave them behind in the wound, thereby increasing the risk of the wound becoming infected.
- Secondly - what isn't recommended - it's quite easy to remove a leech by applying a flame, a lit cigarette, salt, soap or a chemical such as alcohol, vinegar, lemon juice or insect repellent. The leech will detach itself quite quickly but it is also likely to regurgitate some of the contents of its stomach into the wound in its haste, thereby increasing the risk of the wound becoming infected.
- Thirdly - the recommended technique:
- Identify the oral sucker at the anterior end (mouth end ) of the leech - generally this is the thinner end of the leech
- Put your finger or some other flat, blunt object on the skin adjacent to the oral sucker and then slide it under the sucker to break the seal, at which point the leech will detach its jaws.
- Repeat the process with the sucker at the posterior (rear end) of the leech - generally this is the thicker, bloated end of the leech. Take care to ensure that the leech doesn't reattach itself at either end!
- Clean the wound and bandage it. Bleeding may continue for sometime because of the anticoagulant - it could be anything from a few hours to a few days. The wound normally itches as it heals and care should be taken not to scratch it, thereby increasing the risk of infection.