Ella is no stranger to tourists, in fact it might even be a little too touristy. This is more than made up for by the spectacular views across the rolling hills, lush tea plantations and jagged rock formations of the Sri Lankan countryside, you just have to break out of the town centre to get to the good stuff.
A long and dusty journey, on three different local buses, from Tissamaharama in the South led us to Ella in the Central Highlands. The winding journey carried us higher and higher up into the hills, away from the burning heat of the plains and into the fresh cool of Sri Lanka’s hill country. Having sorted accommodation with a local man we met when we arrived, we rented a scooter and headed out to explore our surroundings. There isn’t much to write home about the centre of Ella itself, a dull thoroughfare that’s crammed full of western style restaurants and bars, but the town’s surroundings show off some of Sri Lanka’s greatest assets – hills blanketed in tealeaves and forests set against brilliant blue skies.
Hiking up Ella Rock
Ella is scattered with amazing sunrise and sunset viewpoints and top of our list was a hike up to Ella Rock. There are two routes to reach Ella Rock; an easy one that follows the railway tracks for a few kilometres at the start of the hike and another route that’s tricker and cuts up steeply through the forest for a few kilometres. Naturally we chose the trickier one. We started at about 4am to ensure that we reached the peak in time to enjoy the sunrise view and apparently woke up every single dog in the neighbourhood as we made our ascent. I described in my post on touts in Sri Lanka how we ended up gaining an unwanted guide along the way, he deliberately tried to confuse us by convincing us we were lost. As if trekking through a steep forest in the middle of the night weren’t hard enough on its own! Anyway, for most of the journey we had company.
After hiking up the hill for a couple of hours we eventually reached the summit and the view was a sight to behold, the tree tops were a sun dappled golden hue and the misty rolling hills of the surrounding countryside seemed endless. We stopped to admire the view with a couple of other hikers we’d met on the way up, sharing breakfast together and basking in the early morning sunshine.
Sharing Little Adam’s Peak with the masses
The same evening, because we hadn’t done enough hiking for one day, we also hiked up to Little Adam’s Peak (and again for sunrise the next day). It’s a much easier climb than Ella Rock, through gently sloping tea plantations, but it gets quite crowded with people around sunrise and sunset. Sunset here didn’t really blow us away, at Little Adam’s Peak the sunrise is where it’s at, because you get a wonderful view of the early morning sun hitting Ella Rock, opposite, and blanketing it in a warm orange glow.
Nine Arches Railway Bridge
This must be one of the most photographed places in Ella, if not Sri Lanka, with most visitors taking the customary “hey, look I’m walking on the bridge” shot. The Nine Arches Railway bridge stands between the towns of Ella and Demodara and, you guessed it, has nine arches. It was built by the British during the early 20th Century, when we were still stalking around most of South Asia like we owned the place. We paid a visit to the bridge early in the morning and the only other people around were locals using the bridge as a shortcut to work or school. Feeling energetic, we scrambled up to the top of the surrounding slopes where the best views were to be had, this also involved slipping down the slope a few times too. Lucky no one else was around to see.
Roadtrip to Idalgashinna
Idalgashinna, a picturesque little station nestled high up in the tea plantations, is a 30km drive away from Ella. Most people only see the station and a glimpse of the town as they pass through on the train, but we decided to ride our scooter there and see it from the ground. The ride to Idalgashinna from Ella is neither quick nor smooth, but it does take you through some spectacular landscape, cutting right through a maze of tea plantation paths. We made it to the station just as the local school was finishing for the day and were swarmed by dozens of excited children running home along the train tracks, barefoot and in their crisp white uniforms.
On our way home we got totally lost amongst the tea plantations in the blistering hot sun, finding shelter under the shade of some trees we managed to escape the heat temporarily. At this point a lady and her daughter appeared from their house, clearly wondering what these two idiots were doing in the middle of the tea plantation in the burning sun. They momentarily disappeared, returning with a plate of jackfruit which they offered us eagerly. They spoke no English, we spoke no Sinhala or Tamil so the usual sign language and attempts to communicate ensued before we headed off on our merry way. Happy, if a little sunburned.
After inadvertently having desiccated ourselves in the Sri Lankan sun earlier in the day, a trip to the local waterfall seemed like the best idea. Ravenna Falls is located just down the hill from the centre of Ella and to be honest, I think it’s a little overrated. Maybe we went at a bad time, but while we were there it was mostly full of locals washing or washing their clothes. Which is fine, but doesn’t exactly entice you to strip to your swimwear and jump on in amongst the soap suds. I think there are probably better ways to spend time in Ella
The train to Kandy
Taking the train from Ella to Kandy means that you pass through Nuwara Eliya and some of the most iconic Sri Lankan landscape to be found anywhere in the country. I’m fairly sure you’ll have seen an array of images of people hanging off trains against the background of lush green hills – they were probably on this train. To be fair it’s hard to resist the urge to hang out of the train with the wind blowing in your hair, while it chugs through the rolling tea plantations. And as the doors on trains in Sri Lanka are always open, you’re free to do so, that is if you can get past all of the other tourists on the train attempting to do the same. Just watch out for the tree branches and telegraph poles along the way to avoid losing your head. For the views alone the train ticket to Kandy is money well spent.
Despite the overly touristic nature of the town, the natural beauty and epic views around Ella speak for themselves and definitely made the long and dusty journey to reach it worth the effort.