Travel guide Ella in Sri Lanka: seven activities you cannot miss in Ella!

Ella: a place that you absolutely should not miss if you make a tour through Sri Lanka! In this travel guide, Ries tells you exactly what makes Ella so special and which cool activities you should definitely undertake in Ella!

Travel guide to Ella: a wonderful village in the mountains of Sri Lanka

Whether you come from the south or from the north of Sri Lanka, Ella is the place to relax. You definitely want to stay here for a few days. Ella is surrounded by rainforest, many waterfalls and endless green hills. The temperature is pleasant and fresh compared to the rest of Sri Lanka. The city is located approximately 1000 meters above sea level which makes it perfect for growing tea and strawberries. In the evening it cools a bit down so you can sleep well underneath your thick blankets.

Ella is also known for its misty mountains. You cannot escape the weather and you will get to deal with the fog (or rain) that can sometimes make your picture or even brake it. Those mountains, however, make Ella a great hiking destination. If you look for some food variety Ella is great too, it offers many restaurants with cuisines from all over the world.

Be aware that Ella is more touristy than other places in Sri Lanka. However, there are plenty of accommodations to enjoy this beautiful place in peace.

Walking on the railway Ella

The best activities to do in and around Ella

1. With number 1, the train journey between Ella & Kandy.

Yes, a train ride! In the beginning, we also wondered, how special can a train journey be? When I think of travelling by train with the Dutch Railways (public train in the Netherlands), I barely get excited. This Sri Lankan train journey, on the other hand, is an experience in itself. The route is beautiful and takes you through tea plantations, rainforests, Horton Plains National Park and many small villages. The train journey begins (or ends) in Kandy, a typical vibrant Asian city, and ends in the idyllic mountain village of Ella surrounded by green mountain tops. Read our blog about Kandy

The further away you get from Kandy, the more authentic and simpler life becomes. It feels you are travelling back in time. You see so much nature and sometimes a dirt road. Cattle are walking freely around. Houses are small and made from basic material. People seem to be genuinely happy and greet you with a smile. In the train itself, salespeople try to sell you fresh food (which you should definitely try) and tourists stand at the door to capture themselves or the beautiful landscapes.

Kandy to Ella trainride

What can you expect from the train journey between Kandy and Ella?

First, you purchase a ticket. You have the choice of reserved seats (1st, 2nd or 3rd class) or a ticket without a reserved seat. Most travellers prefer a reserved place because you can be guaranteed to sit with this ticket.

There are three operations to reserve a ticket: Online, via an intermediary, or by purchasing tickets at the ticket counter on time. The latter is the cheapest, but keep in mind that you have to go to a train station for at least a week before you travel in order to arrange the tickets (this is generally possible at any train station). And even then the reserved seats are often sold out. If you buy a ticket online (via this website) or through an intermediary (for example through your hotel) keep in mind that you pay easily three times as much for the train ride from Kandy to Ella or vice versa.

Tip: a second-class train ticket from Kandy to Ella only costs 600 rupees per person (if you buy it at the counter). That is only €3 per person for a seven-hour ride!

Sri Lanka Train

What is the difference between 1st, 2nd or 3rd class in the Sri Lankan trains?

1st class coupes: here all seats are reserved places. There is air conditioning, therefore the windows cannot open (a disadvantage if you want to take photos from the train). In addition, the seats are comfortable and the train wagon is relatively clean.
2-class coupes: both reserved and non-reservable coupes. The windows can open and there is no air conditioning, but there are fans. The seats are okay, you have enough space.
3-class coupes: both reserved and non-reservable coupes. Here too the windows can open. The benches you sit on are much less comfortable and a bit tighter. However, if the train is not full, these places will also do.

Tip: ask upon arrival at the station where “your” compartment is. This way you are already in the right place when the train arrives.

Unable to reserve a seat?

No worries, there are almost always places left in the non-reserved 2nd or 3rd class coupes. You can buy tickets for this on the day of departure at the train station. Our experience with these seats is positive. We bought tickets and everytime we could sit. We did travel in Sri Lanka in low season. I can imagine that in high season the coupes are full and you might have to stand. Standing is not a bad thing, you can often just hang out of the train to enjoy the view. Besides tourists, locals travel by train too which makes the train journey even more special.

Sri Lanka trainride with Ries

The best part of the train journey:

The most beautiful part of the train journey is between the village of Nanu Oya and Ella. You first cross many tea plantations, followed by the dense forest of Horton Plains National park. The transition from the landscapes is beautiful to see. The train journey takes seven hours and often the train is half an hour to an hour late.

Tip: we split the ride and got out in Nuwara Eliya for a few days to visit tea plantations and climb Adam’s Peak. Read more about Nuwara Eliya here and about Adam’s Peak here.

Ella Rock seen from Little Adam's Peak

2. Climb Lipton’s Seat in Haputale, followed by a tour of the Dambethenna tea factory.

Yes, you are right, we are talking about the famous Lipton tea brand that you encounter in the supermarket. The genius behind this brand is Sir Thomas Lipton. In short, Sir Thomas removed all middlemen from the tea chain and purchased his tea directly from the tea plantations. He then went a step further and started producing tea himself. At the end of the nineteenth century, this was a revolutionary idea.

Sir Thomas Lipton was so proud of his empire that he did nothing more than look at it. He did this from a very beautiful place, a viewpoint, now baptized to Lipton’s Seat. From this place, you have a beautiful view of his entire empire: all tea plantations. You can also climb to this point to see what Sir Thomas Lipton was so proud of. Keep in mind that it can be cloudy and foggy, just like in our case. Our views were very limited and if I had known this before, I would save myself the time of going to Lipton’s seat.

A visit to the largest tea manufacturer in all of Sri Lanka

Near Lipton’s Seat is also the largest tea manufacturer in all of Sri Lanka: the Dambethenna tea factory. Here you can get a tour of the factory for a payment of 250 Rupee. The special thing about this is that unlike other tea factories, you get a tour in a factory where you can see everyone working in production. People still use the same equipment that Sir Thomas Lipton introduced here. Time has literally stood still and there seems to be little time for innovation.

Tea blaadjes

A lot of work is still done manually; from picking tea leaves to sorting and processing. Working in the tea factory is therefore very hard. And then, we are not even talking about the hours that women make here, often more than 12 hours a day and probably for a small wage. Yes, you read that right, the women do almost all the hard work and the men have leadership positions. All of this makes you wonder whether you should want to buy tea that has been produced in these types of factories, where the well-being of employees seems to be of such minor importance.

Price Lipton Seat: 100 Rupee per person
Price Dambethenna Factory: 250 Rupee per person (unfortunately, the tea tour does not end with a tea tasting, but you can buy tea here)

Tip: by travelling to Haputale by train from Ella, you once again have the opportunity to enjoy the beautiful scenery from the train! Haputale to Ella is only one hour away.

Lipton's tea factory

3. Little Adam’s peak and a delicious coffee at 98 Acres Resort & Spa

Little Adam’s peak is really a must when you are in Ella. The hill is very central and the walk up can be done in two hours. If you only have a few days in Ella and you only want to do one hike, choose this hike. Within a few hours, you can already enjoy the beautiful view.

The walk to Little Adam’s peak can easily be combined with a coffee break or lunch at 98 Acres Resort & Spa. This is a beautiful resort where they serve delicious coffee. After a break, walk to the famous Nine Arch Bridge Viewpoint (only 2 kilometres away). From there it’s only a 40-minute walk back to Ella. In short, a good program for half a day of activity.

Tip: Climb Adam’s Peak during sunrise. You have the greatest chance of clear, dry weather in the morning.

You also have a zipline here that costs $20. That sounds nicer than it is, the zipline is short and absolutely not high. For the real adrenaline junkie, this is not worth it.

Price: visiting Little Adam’s Peak is free

Coffee 98 Arcres resport

Looking for some warm temperatures after Ella? Make sure to visit our favourite beach, Dickwella. Read the travel guide here!

4. Take photos of the Nine Arches Bridge

This is the picture that you immediately see when you google Ella (or even Sri Lanka). A train viaduct that was built a hundred years ago from only bricks and cement. It is one of the best-preserved railway constructions from the colonial past.

Price: a visit to Nine Arches Bridge is free
Train times: Almost every hour a train arrives. However, keep in mind that trains are often late.

Tip: If you want the Nine Arches Bridge (almost) entirely for yourself, go as early as possible in the morning. The first train goes around 6 o’clock in the morning.

Nine Arches Bridge (credits Dez)Nine arches bridge

5. Hiking to Ella Rock

This is a long walk with views of Little Adam’s Peak and the Ella Valley. In total, you are on the road for four to five hours (depending on your starting point). You can make the walk to Ella Rock on your own, but don’t be surprised if several locals on the road tell you that the route is difficult to find. These people (who call themselves guides) offer their services for an absurd amount (3000 Rupee) and guide you to the top. Definitely not necessary and moreover way too expensive. In the worst case, you may go off-track a few times but chances are high that you will see fellow hikers who gladly help you.

Price: if you walk yourself, the hike to Ella Rock is free

Tip 1: The route to Ella rock is sometimes a bit unclear. Use a GPS tracker (for example, or Komoot) so that you won’t get lost.

Tip 2: The hike to Ella Rock is physically more challenging than the hike to Little Adam’s Peak, however, the view from Little Adam’s Peak is nicer in my opinion.

Ella Rock summit

6. Follow a cooking workshop and learn how to make delicious Sri Lankan curry!

Unfortunately, we were unable to do a cooking workshop ourselves, but everyone we spoke to and who had done this was wildly enthusiastic! In Ella, you can do a cooking workshop at different restaurants where you learn to make curry yourself. Perfect to surprise your family and friends with your newly acquired cooking skills on your return to your home country!

Price: from 2000 NPR per person (€ 10)

Ella Chill House

7. Enjoy lunch or dinner at the many restaurants in Ella.

If you have had enough of the curry, then here in Ella there are more than enough alternatives. Just try-out a different kitchen. The restaurants below are our favourites!

Cafe Chill: the place to be in Ella. The food is tasty and very Instagram worthy.
AK Ristoro: our favourite restaurant in Ella. The menu is diverse with sushi, good pasta and tasty salads. Since the chef is half Japanese so the sushi is very good! The prices are also very neat.
The Barn by Starbeans: Starbeans is a coffee chain that is also located in Mirissa. They serve good coffee, but also tasty tuna wraps and main courses.
98 Acres Resort & Spa: this beautiful hotel has a nice bar with tasty coffee. It is the perfect place to stop after a hike to Little Adam’s Peak!

Best coffee in Ella

Are you planning your trip to Sri Lanka? Then read this article about which beaches in Sri Lanka suit you best!

The nicest places to sleep in Ella:

Ella is full of nice homestays with almost all a beautiful view of the green mountains. Below you will find three nice homestays and hotels in different budget classes!

Tip: book a hotel outside the centre. This way you will find more peace and you will really be in nature!

Idyll Homestay €Idyll homestay

We stayed in this great hotel. Owner Ansil has taken great care of Charlotte who was sick! The beautiful rooms have a great view. Breakfast is included and the diner is delicious! You sleep here from €21 a night.

Book now!

Country Homes €€Country Homes

The nice wooden houses of Country Homes have a nice view and cosy balconies. A perfect place for reading a book and enjoy the green hills. You sleep here from €42 per night including breakfast.

Book now!

Mountain Heavens resort €€€Mountain Heavens resort

This luxury hotel has a beautiful infinity pool with views of the green mountains and the Ella Valley. Also, the breakfast is super! You sleep here from € 200 a night.

Book now!

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