Ella (also spelt 'Elle') is a beautiful small town on the southern edge of Sri Lanka's Hill Country. It is poopular with tourists and makes a great base from which to explore the surrounding countryside.
It's 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 and 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.
Ella is a few stops from Badulla at the end of the railway line that snakes through the Hill Country. 4 trains per day go to Colombo via Kandy from here. As for all train travel in Sri Lanka, fares are cheap (2nd class LKR 490, 3rd class LKR 310 as of 2021) and the views are particularly spectacular. It's usually no problem getting a seat in 2nd/3rd class (seating is unreserved) 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 is prettily quaint.
- 1 Ella Railway Station.
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 direct bus service to Galle which stops at various locations along the south coast including Mirissa and Unawatuna.
The bus station is at the southern end of Ella's main road. Buses to Ampara leave in front of the curd shop/Lavazza Barista shop.
- 8:45AM: Ella-Matara
- 9:15AM: Ella-Ampara, via Monaragala (2 hr, Rs184) and Siyambalanduwa. Onward buses to Pottuvil (for Arugam Bay) leaves from both destinations so no extra change in Wellawaya is required. An direct bus from Monaragala has a direct bus to Arugambay via Pottuvil (3½ hr, Rs247).
There are plenty of tuk-tuks around, but the best way to get around is to rent a scooter (most guest houses do this) or walk.
- 1 Little Adam's Peak. A much easier hike than its big brother, It is situated to the east of the town center. Walk along the main road for 20 minutes to reach the path, cutting across tea plantations before the final climb up. Great views on Ella Rock and Rawana Falls. You can see the Newburgh Tea Estate on the other side (north).
- 2 Newburgh Green Tea Factory. A bit further down Passara Road (after Little Adam's Peak path), and 30 minutes from the town center. Quick visit of the tea factory, including green tea tasting at the end. Rs500/person
- 3 Nine Arch Bridge. Beautiful rock bridge east of the town center. 45 minutes walk from the town center (Passara road, same as Little Adam's Peak and Newburgh Estate), then take a left to walk down to the bridge. If unsure ask the locals. Can be a bit crowded with tourists, come early to enjoy the fresh air. Check the time tables to be able to see a train pass while you are there. Possible to walk on the tracks back to Ella Station, just be careful. Supposedly there is another more quieter bridge further down the track.
- 4 Ella Rock. A more strenuous exercise than Little Adam's Peak. About 2 hours (each way) along the railway track (south of Ella) and through the tea plantations, for stunning views across the countryside. The first 1.5 km is along the railway track 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. If you stay at Rawana Holiday Resort they'll give you a quaint hand drawn map to get you there! 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 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.
- 5 Rawana Ella Falls. 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 Rs10, 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.
- 6 Dhowa Temple.
- 7 Ancient Rawana Buddhist temple.
- Have an authentic Ayurveda Massage at one of the local massage places in town. Expect to pay around Rs1000 for one hour of massage.
The home cooking in the guest houses and hotels is probably the best food in town. You can find a lot of tourist-oriented bars, cafes and restaurants on the main street.
- Down Town Rotti Hut, right in the center of town you can't miss it. Nice cold beers and good quality Kotthu Roti's. Recommend the beef!
- Rawana Hotel Perched on a hill top with views down the valley, book a dinner with the owners before 3PM. If you come late the owner might not be able to serve you. For Rs400-500/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 Tavern serves hot meals, but the quality is very poor. It's quite a dingy place that tends to be frequented by local alcoholics. Stop in for a chat with the locals. Strong (8.8%) for Rs200 or take a bottle home for Rs230. 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.
See "eat" above.
There are a number of cheap guest houses scattered around town.
- Green Hill, (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org) is on top of the Ella Gap overlooking green mountains with a picturesqueness view through the gap. The owners, Podi and Prasanna were very welcoming and provided authentic Sri Lankan meals including egg hoppers for breakfast. The rooms were constructed in the early 2010s and were of very good quality. It is 200m walk back to the center of town and approximately 1.5 km walk to Little Adam's Peak. The water was hot and the rooms were very modern and clean. Rs2500/3000.
- Sunnyside Holiday Bungalow, ☏ , email@example.com. Peaceful, surrounded by a tea plantation and offers comfortable accommodation with home cooked meals. There are three clean rooms with attached toilets and hot water showers. Rs3000/3500 (2014).
- Zion View Guest House, Wemulla Hena (in the middle of Ella Gap), ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. 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. USD50.
- Hill Top Guest House (Walk down the main street past Rotti Hut until you see a steep little street on your right.), ☏ , email@example.com. Has a balcony with a wonderful view through Ella Gap, and serves delicious home-cooked meals. The rooms all have showers and hot water. Internet access is also available. Rs5,500 with breakfast.
Don't walk in the countryside in shorts and sandals or 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.
It is advisable to take some Dettol with you, and spray it on the offending leech, which will drop off. It is not advised to scrape or pull a leech off as you may leave the leech's teeth inside the bite which will be very itchy until you have the teeth removed with a needle or tweezers (without being removed, they stay inside the bite for weeks).