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. Unfortunately there is not much more than the touristic infrastructure which means no local life.
The recent push in popularity also means most things you get here are really expensive.
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 (route 31) to Matara and Galle which stops at various locations along the south coast. The Matara-terminating buses at Tangalle, the Galle-terminating buses also Mirissa and Unawatuna. Also there is the direct route 99 Colombo-Haputale-Bandarawela-Badulla; from Bandarawela plenty of buses to Ella.
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 are few laundry stores in town and they are extremely expensive! They charge for 1kg at least 400R which is completely overpriced. In Kandy is a good laundry near to "The best Hostel" which costs 300R for 2kg - express service included. My advice is keep it and get it done at your next stop and dont support the rip-off.
Rawana Ella Falls are about 6km 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. Unfortunately from mid January 2018 there's police officers blocking access to the waterfall, so the only way to wash yourself in the waters is through a well that's on the right side of the bridge. You can catch frequent buses for about 25 LKR, 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.
Demodara Bridge Also called the Nine Arches bridge is a famous bridge situated between Ella and Demodara 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.
Do note that walking along and on the train tracks is standard practice in the island, and also essential for some trekking routes like Ella Rock below. However do NOT try to walk over longer bridges like Nine Arches bridge unless you exactly know the train timetable including the (quite frequent, esp. Badulla-bound) delays. Though the trains ride slowly and horn well ahead, these long bridges have no footpath to escape the train and are simply too long to escape in time on foot when a train comes.
Demodara loop tunnel. The sole tunnel in the island where the train tracks cross each other, of course on different levels - close to Demodara station. Most impressive for making a video when a train passes by.
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.
Another thing to do is to 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. 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 ridiculously fast wearing nothing but worn-out flipflops. Either with or without a guide, the view on Little Adam's peak is very rewarding.
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:
Either by train or by bus, see Get in
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: