Tucked away in the misty Sri Lankan high country, amongst idyllic green hills and gushing waterfalls, lies Ella: one of this tear-shaped island’s most appealing destinations.
From scaling the heady heights of Ella Rock, to laying eyes on the mystical Nine Arch Bridge for the very first time; standing on the edge of the roaring Diyaluma Falls (the second tallest in the country), and winding through the tea plantations and mountains passes on the famous Kandy to Ella train; many of our favourite Sri Lankan adventures can be found right here.
At its heart, Ella is a charming and laid back village perfect for relaxing, hiking and escaping the searing temperatures of the southern coast.
It’s a place where Sri Lanka’s colonial heritage coexists with its rich Sinhalese and Tamil culture, and where abundant natural experiences can be found alongside plentiful cultural ones. And it’s a place where learning to cook the delicious Sri Lankan cuisine is an absolute must (NOM!).
We do have to warn you, that this once simple hamlet in the hills has transformed into a major tourist stop since our first visit in 2016.
Growing in popularity and in size has lead to a number of concrete eyesores now dotting every corner of the village, which has taken away some of the peaceful, rural charm that made the area so incredible.
But there’s still so much to see and do in Ella – if you’re willing to go deeper than just the touristy pretty sights and epic landscapes.
After two visits to this lush hill-country village, we’ve put together our list of the best things to do in Ella, Sri Lanka; a town we feel should be firmly embedded on your Sri Lankan itinerary.
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THE BEST THINGS TO DO IN ELLA, SRI LANKA
#1 RIDE ABOARD THE KANDY TO ELLA TRAIN
Hotter than the London Underground in a summer’s day, takes eight hours yet only costs £5.
Sounds a little like hell, but trust us, the train ride from Kandy to Ella is the best thing you’ll do in Sri Lanka (read our complete guide to the Kandy to Ella train here — it also includes how to book and our insider travel tips).
Winding through misty forests, verdant tea plantations; over gushing waterfalls and streams, and past colourful towns and excitable locals, this is, in our opinion, the most picturesque train ride in the world. But it’s not just the scenery that makes this train ride so incredible. It’s also the vibe.
Every person you encounter seems to greet you with a genuine smile; groups of local boys play sing, dance and play drums; vendors rush through the train spruiking sweet chai and snacks, while tourists hang their heads out the windows to stare in amazement at the sheer beauty. Literally everyone is wide-eyed and happy, which in this day and age is hard to find.
The most scenic part of the journey is from Nanu Oya to Ella, through the dense forest of the Horton Plains national park, so we recommend getting the window seat or standing in between the doorways, and enjoying the views as they pass by.
When we first visited Sri Lanka is 2016, the Kandy to Ella train ride was yet to really hit the big time, however due to its currently popularity, you need to book your travel in advance (usually 1 – 2 days prior). The train may also be quite crowded, especially during peak season, so be warned you may need to push your way on.
Third class may be the cheapest option, and in our opinion it’s also the best as it allows you to sit/hang out of the doorways. You’ll also find it’s filled with friendly locals keen to help you enjoy your experience.
Where | Ella Train Station, Ella
Cost | 2nd class: LKR 240 per person, 3rd class: LKR 175 per person
Kandy to Ella train times | Express trains depart Ella to Kandy – 0640 and 0924 (subject to change)
Read more | Our complete guide to the Kandy to Ella train