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The last stop on our month-long trip through Sri Lanka was in Ella, a small tourist town nestled in the hill country. And apparently everyone else had the same idea, because it was packed with other travelers. In fact, we came across so many German backpackers that we somewhat regretted not visiting Berlin instead because we figured there couldn’t be anyone left in the whole country.
Of course, there is a reason Ella is one of the most popular stops on the Sri Lanka tourist trail. The location in the hill country is stunning, it’s the perfect base for some fantastic hikes, and the climate is more temperate than in other parts of the country (though not quite as fantastically cool as in Nuwara Eliya).
Further Reading: What to Pack for Sri Lanka: One Month in a Carry-On
Since we were working remotely during our time in Sri Lanka, we stayed in Ella for eight days, which was the perfect amount of time for us. If we were traveling strictly for pleasure, we probably could have squeezed everything we wanted to do into 4-5 days. But we recommend giving yourself as much time as you can. Ella was one of our favorite stops on our trip, and we were happy to explore the area in-depth.
Best Things to do in Ella, Sri Lanka
If you love hiking, you’re bound to enjoy your time in Ella, Sri Lanka. But even if your idea of a good time does NOT involve getting sweaty, dirty, hot, and almost certainly lost, you’re sure to find activities that interest you.
These are some of the best things to do in Ella, Sri Lanka:
Hike Little Adam’s Peak
Little Adam’s Peak is one of the most popular hikes in Ella. And, thankfully, it’s not super challenging either.
We woke up early and climbed Little Adam’s Peak first thing in the morning so we could get some pictures while the light was good, the temperature was cooler, and it was still relatively free from the throngs of hikers we knew would arrive later.
Little Adam’s Peak is located fairly close to town. Depending on your preference, you can either walk to the base or take a tuk tuk. Because we were hoping to catch the morning light and we both had some work to do that afternoon, we decided to take a tuk tuk (which only cost 200 rupees).
The tuk tuk drove us as far as it could, and we traversed the rest of the path on foot. The first part of the hike is along a wide trail. Then things get a bit trickier: 300 stair steps to the summit. Yup, totally earning that chocolate banana roti. The entire climb took us roughly 30 minutes at a decent but not record-breaking pace.
The views are spectacular, especially in the morning glow. We lingered at the top for quite a while taking in the scenery and snapping a few thousand pictures from several angles.
Though the hike is possible at any time of day, we recommend aiming to reach the summit as early as possible, since the top gets more crowded by the afternoon.
Further Reading: Yala National Park Safari Guide
Hike to Ella Rock
If you’re up for a bigger challenge, one of the best hikes in Ella is the trek to Ella Rock. Though it is significantly more difficult than the hike up Little Adam’s Peak, the scenery is beautiful and the views from the top are spectacular. We highly recommend adding it to your itinerary if you can!
Again, we set off fairly early so we could reach the summit before the weather heated up too much.
The hike begins at the Ella train station, and from there we followed the railroad tracks for about 30 minutes.
Then things got interesting. We turned off the railroad tracks and soon found ourselves in a tea plantation. We didn’t see any other hikers, but we weren’t too concerned at first. Since none of the trails are marked, we were blissfully unaware of just how lost we were.
Further Reading: A Guide to the Beaches of Tangalle, Sri Lanka
Fast forward an hour or so and after endangering our life by crossing—it turns out unnecessarily—a rickety foot bridge that would make Indiana Jones’ heart race, we found ourselves on the steep side of the mountain and getting a bit desperate.
When we came across a nicely dressed local man, we begged for directions to Ella Rock.
He looked at us quizzically and said, “That’s on the other side of the mountain!”
Thankfully, he showed us a “shortcut,” which involved climbing up the mountain at such a steep angle that I ended up crawling on my hands and knees with all the grace of a drunken walrus. Our guide, who made the climb in dress shoes, didn’t break a sweat.
He eventually sent us on our way and we promptly got lost again. Because apparently we can’t follow instructions.
This time we met up with another group of hikers who were also lost (and, coincidently, German). Things still looked grim, but at least we wouldn’t die alone.
Then, after climbing yet another sheer mountain cliff–this one with loose rocks perfect for tripping over–we finally stumbled across Ella Rock, almost by chance.
Further Reading: Where to Eat in Tangalle, Sri Lanka
Of course, the views were fantastic. We were muddy, sweaty, exhausted, and humiliated but incredibly happy to have finally reached the summit. The journey was worth the hassle, and at least it makes a good story now.
If you have a less-than-stellar sense of direction (AKA, you’re not an Eagle Scout with a photographic memory and a working knowledge of celestial navigation), it is possible to hire a guide and save yourself a great deal of hassle, time, and downright embarrassment.
Visit the Nine Arches Bridge
If you’ve spent much time on Instagram, you’ve likely come across a photo of a travel blogger sitting—or standing or jumping—on top of an epic bridge in the jungle with any combination of limbs dangling precariously over the edge. Because what’s an Instagram photo without the threat of imminent death?
Well, THIS is that bridge.
Though it looks like it is tucked far into the jungle, reachable only by brave travelers who have a machete and an exceptionally high tolerance for venomous insects, it’s actually *reasonably* accessible from town. Just don’t attempt the hike in flip-flops unless you’ve got a hankering for muddy feet and/or a sprained ankle. We learned this the hard way.
You can either walk or take a tuk tuk from town to the closest road. From there it’s about a 15 or 20-minute hike through the jungle. There is a well-worn path to follow, but it is uneven at times and, if you visit directly after several days of heavy rain like we did, you can expect to encounter a good amount of mud. Again, don’t wear flip-flops.
The bridge itself is beautiful.
It is also extremely popular, so visit early in the morning if you want to take some pictures without photobombers.
Ride a Moped through the Tea Plantations
After several days of hiking in Ella, Sam and I were ready to try an activity that didn’t involve mud, sweat, and exerting obscure muscle groups I didn’t know I had.
Sam had been begging to rent a moped for weeks. I had flatly refused, citing practical concerns like being too young to die. My aunt refers to motorcycle riders as “organ donors,” and I tend to fall into that camp. My two requests when Sam and I got married is that he would never ride a motorcycle and that he would remain faithful to our wedding vows. In that order.
But the idea of exploring the hill country while siting down—albeit in an unnatural and exquisitely uncomfortable position—was too powerful of a temptation to pass up. So we headed into town to search for a moped.
Well, if there is one thing we learned during our first three weeks in Sri Lanka—other than that you should enter a bus depot bathroom at your own peril—it was that nearly every restaurant proprietor in the country drives a tuk tuk as a side hustle, has a cousin nearby who owns a guesthouse, and has a moped available to rent.
We rented a moped at the first restaurant we passed. And, I’m shocked to say, it ended up being one of our favorite parts of the trip. Though Ella is populated by tourists, the surrounding area felt like a completely different world. We spent hours happily speeding through vast, green tea fields.
By the end of the day we were saddle sore but exhilarated. And, luckily, all our organs were still intact and in working order.
We paid 2,500 rupees to rent the moped for a full day. An international driver’s license is not required.
Tour the Finleys Tea Estate
You’ll probably drink tea by the bucket load while in Sri Lanka, so why not learn about how it’s produced? Visiting a tea plantation is one of the best things to do in Ella, Sri Lanka. Several tea estates near Ella offer tours. We chose to visit the Finleys Tea Estate, which is approximately 3 kilometers outside of town.
We were feeling especially cheap, so we walked instead of spending 400 rupees on a tuk tuk. But if you’re legs are aching, you shouldn’t have any trouble finding a driver willing to take you.
When we arrived at the estate, our tour guide provided coverings for our hair and shoes and told us not to take any pictures inside the factory. Then she led us—along with another couple, who was, unsurprisingly, German—on a tour of the factory, quickly walking us through each step of the production process.
Though the tour was brief—about ten minutes—we enjoyed getting a behind-the-scenes look at Sri Lanka’s favorite beverage. At the end of the tour, we each received a complementary cup of tea.
The tour cost 500 rupees per person.
Visit Ravana Falls
Though not as impressive as the hikes up Little Adam’s Peak or Ella Rock, trekking to Ravana Falls is worthwhile if you have extra time. Or, since most of the hike follows the road, you can easily take a bus or tuk tuk if you’re all hiked out (or if you’re terrified of walking alongside the whizzing traffic like I was!).
We actually attempted to visit Ravana Falls twice. In one day. The first time we walked about halfway down the hill before we got caught in a torrential downpour.
That was when we learned another rule about Sri Lanka: For every ten minutes of walking, a minimum of three tuk tuk drivers will offer you a ride. But as soon as you are hot, tired, or—in our case—drenched on the side of the road far from town, there won’t be a single tuk tuk for miles.
After ten minutes of shivering under the canopy of a tree, a kind tuk tuk driver and his wife—who had evidently just returned from the market—offered us a lift back to town and then refused to accept payment.
After the rain let up we took another stab at reaching the falls, and this time we were successful.
The falls are lovely, but the setting just off the main road is not exactly serene. Be sure to keep your eyes open for mischievous local monkeys!
Where to Stay in Ella, Sri Lanka
Because Ella is a popular tourist destination, finding a guesthouse to match any traveler’s budget and needs isn’t a problem.
We stayed at Rowinrich Cottages. The room was clean, spacious, and included a desk area and loft. And the view from the balcony was stunning. We enjoyed sitting outside in the mornings while eating breakfast and drinking our tea.
Unfortunately, the power was spotty—it went out at least once per day—the internet was unreliable, and the breakfast was inconsistent. And because the property is located at the top of a steep hill, we faced a steep climb every time we visited town.
Though I would consider staying at Rowinrich Cottages again, I would also be interested in checking out other options.
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