Nestled in between the misty mountain ranges of the Central Highlands, Ella is a small village in the heartland of Sri Lanka. Here, nature awaits not only with slightly cooler (read: pleasant) temperatures but with lush scenery that will have you fall for Ella in an instant. Endless tea plantations, mountain panoramas, and scenic hikes are just some of the things that will keep you busy here.
On your trip across the diverse island nation of Sri Lanka, Ella provides for a stunning change in scenery, and an excellent escape from the searing heat of the coastal regions. This laidback mountain hangout is one of Sri Lanka’s most captivating destinations.
No matter what route you ultimately decide on, make sure to squeeze in at least 24 hours in Ella. The list of things to see and do is long – but recharging your batteries for more Sri Lankan adventures to come has never felt better. Here’s my one-day itinerary for Ella.
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How to Get to Ella
Most likely, you will visit Ella as part of your tour through Sri Lanka. And if your trip across the island looks something like a clockwise circular path, you will head towards Ella from the northern regions. In that case, traveling to Ella by train is your natural choice – for several reasons.
First and foremost, the route from Kandy to Ella ranks amongst the world’s most scenic train rides. Be prepared for breathtaking views of the Sri Lankan backland. The trip takes about 3 hours – but with scenery like this, it’s impossible to get bored.
Along the way, you will be spoiled with visually stunning tea plantations, mountain ranges, and local rural life. Sit back, relax, and take in your surroundings, while the wagons navigate steep climbs, sharp crves, and several tunnels.
Where to Stay in Ella
Ella has become increasingly popular amongst visitors eager to explore this Sri Lankan mountain village. Unsurprisingly, the small hangout offers an excellent selection of guest houses and hotels.
If you only have time for a quick stop, base yourself somewhere close to the main station. Recently opened BBQ Hub Ella is a convenient choice for your stop in Ella. If you’re in for a longer stay, a slightly more remote location will allow you to fully take in the serene surroundings. 98 Acres Resort & Spa has been added to my bucket-list.
What to Do in Ella in 24 Hours
morning | Explore the Stunning Nine Arches Bridge
The Central Highlands of Sri Lanka hold many treasures – and given your limited time in Ella, you clearly need to prioritize. On your first (or sole) morning in Ella, checking out the stunning Nine Arches Bridge should be your number 1 priority. And getting there is already half the fun.
From Ella Station, walk along (or on) the train tracks towards Badulla for about 30 minutes. Yes, I feel you. This might feel somewhat dangerous. But don’t worry, there’s only a couple trains per day slowly rattling along those tracks – and they make themselves heard from afar.
Once you mastered that final tunnel (for those scared of bats, just don’t look up), you will find yourself on top of the colonial-era viaduct bridge. The lush tropical surroundings paired with the nine brick arches makes for a fascinating sight.
Built in 1921, rumors have it that with the start of World War I, steel designated for the construction of the bridge was allocated to more pressing projects in Europe. As a result, this stunning architectural masterpiece was erected with bricks and cement only.
You will be tempted to photograph the bridge from various angles, and roaming the area will definitely make for a couple of pleasant hours. If you’re in for the money shot, wait for one of the few trains making its way across the bridge. A local guard observing the tracks is a good indicator that a train is about to pass.
afternoon | Hike Little Adam’s Peak
Once you made it back from your first trip of the day, recharge with a quick bite and a coffee (or a fresh coconut) at The Barn on main street. The mountain ranges around Ella offer several exceptional hikes – and leaving the Sri Lankan Highlands without checking out one of the trails is not an option.
The most prominent (and most strenuous) hike in the region leads up Adam’s Peak, a 2,250 m/7,300 ft tall elevation in Sri Lanka’s Central Highlands. Close to the top of the mountain you will find a distinct rock formation said to show a footprint of Buddha. The hike takes 5-8 hours and preparation plus adequate gear is a must.
Given your limited time in Ella, you might want to opt for the mountain’s small brother – Little Adam’s Peak. And while your legs might still scream NO, hiking up Little Adam’s Peak is a perfect activity during your one-day stay in Ella.
The hike starts at Ella’s southern exit and leads through seemingly endless tea terraces. Due to the clear signage, hiring a guide for the hike up is not mandatory. The trail itself is a mix of steps carved in stone and an easy-to-maneuver beaten path. For the last stretch, a free hand will make it easier to navigate the final rock formation.
But again, this is an easy one. In fact, the 1-hour hike can be done as an afternoon “stroll” and will provide dramatic views – for little effort. Doesn’t sound too bad, right? From the peak, the views across lush meadows and misty hills might suggest otherwise – but you’re still in the tropics!
evening | Recharge at Ella’s “Cafes”
After a packed day of roaming Ella and its remarkable natural surroundings, your evening should be all about relaxation. Luckily, Ella offers a wide range of restaurants, cafes, and bars, that offer just that.
For example, there is Cafe Chill, a large lofty complex located on the main road that runs through Ella. The bamboo-roofed structure is an excellent place for recharging after a long day of walking and hiking. Guests are asked to take off their shoes at the entrance, there are beanbags available for seating, and the kitchen offers anything from comfort food to Sri Lankan delights. The cafe’s name is not far-fetched.
If Cafe Chill is fully booked for the night, go for the excellent curries at Cafe Eden or – if you crave some Western cuisine for a change – a bite at Ella Dream Cafe, all in easy walking distance from each-other. For foreign visitors, the designation as “cafe” might be a bit misleading. In fact, most of the places will fix you up with anything from a perfect breakfast to a dinner that will leave nothing to be desired.
24 hours in Ella will fly by in an instant, and you will be tempted to extend your stay in this relaxed mountain village. But trust me, there’s more Sri Lankan adventures to come. Read about them here.