Ella is one of the loveliest towns in Sri Lanka, so nice we’ve been there twice. And while it used to be small it’s grown up quite a bit. However, it is surrounded by beautiful mountains, green plantations of tea, and an incredible amount of waterfalls. The name “Ella” actually means waterfall and you’ll see plenty of them in your time here. If you like the outdoors, then this is a fabulous place to visit. Ella is popular with all types of foreign visitors, and it’s probably the easiest place in Sri Lanka to find bars and restaurants that cater to foreign tastes. It does, however, get busy in high season. So, to help you plan, here’s our guide to the best things to do in Ella.
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The main road that runs through Ella can be quite busy (and noisy), so you’d be advised to stay off the main street (and there are plenty of options, which I’ll cover later), but you will definitely be able to find somewhere quiet to stay. There are some great things to see and do here, and Ella is also a super place to get some downtime if you’re looking for a break in your travels. So let’s get on and explore shall we?
15 Fabulous Places to See and Things to Do In Ella, Sri Lanka
We have arrived in Ella on a train from Haputale, and also in a taxi from an amazing trip to Yala National Park. Read about our Yala National Park Safari here. Ella is well connected by public and private transport and easy (if a little tortuous) to get to. That said, the first thing you should do when arriving in Ella is to find your bearings and figure out where things are. It won’t take long.
1. Take a walk around town
I recommend you start discovering Ella with a walk on the main street where there are bars, restaurants, small guest houses, and stores for some foodstuffs and also souvenirs. There’s a great pizza restaurant, and you’ll be able to find rice and curry, that fabulous Sri Lankan food staple in a lot of places. If you’re a breakfast person, then I recommend booking accommodation that comes with breakfast, as Sri Lankan breakfast is fabulous.
One of the nicest things to do in Ella is to take a walk and there are some great walks. One of the nicest to hike is Little Adam’s Peak. As the name suggests, Little Adam’s Peak is a mini version of the more famous pilgrimage hike. It’s a very mini one. You can read my guide to hiking Adam’s Peak here. However, turn your mind back to Little’s Adam’s Peak, which is both a nice walk and easy enough for inexperienced hikers.
If you’d like to go hiking around Ella, then I recommend this trip, which includes hiking to Ella Rock AND Little Adam’s Peak along with a visit to the famous Nine Arch Bridge.
The trail to Little Adam’s Peak starts from the entrance of the 98 Acres Resort. You have to follow the road down to the spa, and you will get to the main gate where tuk-tuks are parked. There’s no fee to enter this area, just keep following the trail.
I’ve marked on the map where the entrance is and once you get there it’s easy just to follow the trail. Go past the zipline entrance and start walking up. The hike should take around one hour there and back and it’s a lovely walk.
On your way and at the top you’ll likely encounter some stray dogs, which are generally friendly. Once you reach the top you’ll find two viewpoints. The landscape is absolutely stunning. You’ll be able to see the valley, Ella Rock, Ella Gap, Newburg Tea Factory, and Rawana Falls among the hills.
You can keep going following the pathway further along until you reach a second peak. Needless to say, the view from there is amazing too.
The best time to hike Little Adam’s Peak is early in the morning or before sunset. I recommend checking the weather conditions before starting the climb to be sure it won’t be foggy. There’s no entrance fee to go to Little Adam’s Peak.
I’ve covered much more detail on hiking to Little Adam’s Peak in my guide here.
If you’re short on time when you’re visiting Ella, then you can wrap together seeing Little Adam’s Peak, Ella Rock, and the unmissable Nine Arch Bridge with transfers between them as well as with an English-speaking guide. Here are the best options.
- Ella Rock, Little Adam’s Peak, and Nine Arch Bridge with transfer
- Little Adam’s Peak and Nine Arch Bridge Hiking
3. Go zip-lining in Ella
If you’ve hiked to Little Adam’s Peak, then you’ll have walked past the zip line. It’s a great option for a little adrenalin and some great views (assuming there’s no fog) And if you’ve never ziplined before, then I recommend trying the Flying Ravana zip-line in Ella. It was the first zip line in Sri Lanka.
The Flying Ravana zipline is more than half a kilometer long and you can get up to a speed of 80 km per hour. It’s good fun to watch too. The zip line lasts less than a minute but I promise you that after that you will get addicted to that adrenaline rush under your skin. If you’re looking for the ultimate in zip lines, then I recommend the Gibbon Experience in Laos – it is truly fabulous and you get to zip line in and out of your own treehouse.
The Flying Ravana zip line costs US$25, which is pretty expensive for both just one zip line and for Sri Lanka. However, it’s just on the way to Little Adam’s Peak so you can have a look and think about it while hiking.
If you are in Ella you simply have to go to Nine Arch Bridge. This is definitely one of the things you must do in Sri Lanka. Nine Arch Bridge is located just outside of Ella in a green valley and surrounded by tea plantations. Nine Arch Bridge was completed in 1921 and is entirely made of brick, cement, and stones and it has nine arches for a total length of 91 meters.
One of the top things to do in Ella is to arrive at Nine Arch Bridge in time to see the famous blue train go over the bridge. You’ll notice that it’s cunningly missing from my photo. Read on to find out why.
The most famous Sri Lankan train runs from Kandy to Bandarawela (via Ella) runs several times a day but rarely on time so check the train timetable but then be patient for the train to pass over the bridge; it can be worth the wait. Or like us, arrive at completely the wrong time, wait until 1 hour after it was due and then give up. In the meantime, you can enjoy the view and the tea plantations, and walk on the tracks to reach the other side of the bridge. A whistle will announce the train is arriving.
There are several small coconut stalls with tables and the best view of the bridge. And yes, the coconuts are delicious.
You can also (despite the signs) walk across the bridge and view it from the other side too.
The easiest way to get to Nine Arch Bridge is to take a tour from Ella, the tour takes in visiting Little Adam’s Peak as well. It’s a great (and easy) way to see Nine Arch Bridge with a local guide. The next easiest way to see Nine Arch Bridge is to take a tuk-tuk from Ella for around 600 LKR (Sri Lanka Rupees).
Alternatively, you can walk there. You can make it a round route and walk through the tea fields and jungle. It’s rather lovely. In the dry season. It would not be a good hike in the wet season.
If you want to go on a tour of Ella that also include Nine Arch Bridge, these are a few options:
Once you’ve seen the train passing on Nine Arch Bridge, you should also ride the train. The six-hour journey from Ella to Kandy is the most famous and scenic train ride in Sri Lanka. The route goes through stunning mountains, splendid tea fields, beautiful valleys, and colorful towns.
There are up to 11 trains a day and for a good view you’ll need to prebook. Do it as soon as you know your dates. This is the most famous train ride in Sri Lanka and it gets booked up.
You will need to buy first-class tickets for $20-25 USD in advance if you want to be sure to find a window seat. But if you don’t mind standing and traveling like a local you can get a third-class ticket. Bear in mind for this you won’t get a window seat and your viewing will be waiting in line to get a view at the doors.
If you like hiking and don’t mind waking up early in the morning, hiking up to the top of Ella Rock is one of the nicest things to do in Ella. Hiking Ella Rock is really worth it! Going early in the morning means you will avoid the heat; fewer people and the sun rising from the top of Ella Rock is something you won’t forget. I wrote about hiking Ella Rock here.
You will, however, before starting the hike make sure to check the weather forecast, particularly in the rainy season, to be sure it won’t be too foggy. It seems that everyone I talk to said they had some fog at some point!
This was the photo five minutes later at the top of Ella Rock!
From Ella, it takes approximately 3 to 4 hours to climb up and come down. This hike is not as easy as the one to Little Adam’s Peak so take your time to reach the top: stop for pictures, drink some water, bite a snack and last but not least enjoy the stunning view. This is one of Sri Lanka’s best hikes and you shouldn’t miss it.
You’ll walk through some tea plantations, on rail tracks, and go on a steep ascent. Once you reach the top, the view is simply breathtaking! Don’t forget that with steep ascents come steep descents. Hiking poles are a definite advantage here.
The 8 km (5 mile) “trail” to Ella Rock is not very well marked and touts along the trail may even point you in the wrong direction. You may want to hire a guide for around 1500 to 2000 LKR – check with your hotel or local people or, during the busiest time, follow other groups with a guide! We paid a local to point us in the right direction. Alternatively, you can book a guided hike online.
These are the best options for guided hikes to Ella Rock:
7. Take a tea plantation tour near Ella
You have the opportunity to walk through a tea plantation almost everywhere around Ella: tea fields are on the way to Little Adam’s Peak and in the valley next to Nine Arch Bridge. But if you want to have more information about how tea is grown and the refining process, you should take a tour of a tea factory.
I think it’s one of the best things to do in Ella – after all, Sri Lanka is the fourth largest producer of tea in the world, and tea in the Uva district is so good and famous thanks to the altitude at which it’s grown.
There are many tea factories around Ella. The following are just a couple.
Located near Haputale and close to the famous Lipton’s Seat was built in 1890 by Thomas Lipton. Lipton tea is cultivated in Sri Lanka and is exported all over the world. You can rent a tuk-tuk or take a local bus to Dambatenna and then walk from there to get to the tea factory. We visited Dambatenna Tea Factory as part of our trip to Lipton’s Seat and it was a seriously interesting trip!
Tours of the Dambatenne Tea Factory are from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm for 250 LKR and show the whole tea production process from the picking, drying, fermenting, sieving, and grading of the tea.
You can take a full-day tuk-tuk safari and visit the tea fields as well as the tea factory from Ella here.
I wrote about how to visit Lipton’s Seat and both of our visits there
Halpewatte Tea Factory
Dating back to 1940, this is one of the largest factories in the Uva region. It’s located 6 km outside of Ella. Mornings, except Mondays or any days after holidays, are the best time to visit the factory, when all activities are running at full capacity.
A tuk-tuk to go, wait for you, and come back costs about 1500 LKR. Guided tours start at 8:00 am and run until 4:00 pm Monday to Saturday. They last about 45 minutes, cost around 450 LKR, and include a detailed explanation of all the steps of tea making, a tasting of different kinds of tea, a stop by the shop where you can buy many varieties of tea powder, and, last but not least, have a walk through the plantations.
Lipton’s Seat owes its name to Sir Thomas Lipton, the owner of acres of tea plantations throughout Ella who used to supervise his tea empire from here. We’ve been here twice now. And while this is definitely one of the most incredible viewpoints in Sri Lanka, almost 360° over tea estates up to Udawalawe National Park and beyond to Hambantota Port. It wasn’t the first time that we came.
The views on our first visit to Lipton’s Seat
The best time to enjoy this view is early in the morning, mainly because fog covers up the view later in the day and you won’t be able to see past your nose. At the top, there is a statue of Sir Thomas Lipton and a small café where you can have a delicious cup of tea (what else?) while admiring some of the most breathtaking scenery you’ll ever see.
The second time, we took a tuk-tuk tour from Ella in glorious sunshine. And the view was much, much better.
The tea and breakfast were just as good. The tuk-tuk ride was superb.
How to get to Lipton’s Seat from Ella
From Ella take the train to Kandy and get off at Haputale, then hire a tuk-tuk to the Dambatenne Tea Factory (around 2500 LKR for the whole trip), where the trail begins, or directly to Lipton’s Seat. The hike lasts a couple of hours and costs 100 LKR per person. On your way back you can visit the Dambatenne Tea Factory.
We’ve done it both ways. We’ve taken a trip from Ella to Lipton’s seat and been there independently. It’s much easier on a trip.
If you enjoy food in Sri Lanka, don’t miss the opportunity to learn how to prepare it. Chances are that during a cooking class, you’ll be making rice and curry, the most popular dish in the country, and another 3 or 4 dishes. We took a cooking class on our first visit to Ella and it was fabulous. And then we ate it. And it was superb.
Many family-run restaurants and guest houses in Ella offer cooking classes. The very best comes at the end when you get to eat what you’ve cooked! I recommend booking it in advance as this is one of the most popular things to do in Ella and classes fill up quickly.
Ella Spice Garden – classes start with a tour of the spice garden where you get lots of information about how to use the different spices and end with a recipe book. There is one class in the morning and one in the afternoon. Check availability and book an Ella cooking class here.
Diyaluma Falls is the second-highest waterfall in Sri Lanka and it is a marvelous sight. Water comes down from a height of 220 meters over a smooth rock side to the valley below and it’s simply amazing. Getting there is a bit of a way, so you may want to plan it as a day trip from Ella – but it’s well worth the effort.
When you reach the top you won’t find any safety barriers so you really need to stay away from the cliffs! At the top, there are a series of natural pools where you can swim – though make sure not to do so during the rainy season as the current will be too strong.
To get to Diyaluma Falls From Ella independently:
- You first need to go to Wellawaya by bus
- Then from Wellaway take the bus headed to Beragala/Haputale – or a tuk-tuk to Poonagala (it is between 3500 and 4500 LKR).
- Then there are two ways to get to the top. You can hike from the bottom, on a circular trail that starts right off the main road and takes an overall 2 to 3 hours.
- As the trail is not really well marked you may want to invest in a guide for around 2000 LKR. Alternatively, you can start the hike at Poonagala village – it is shorter, less popular, and not so strenuous.
If that all sounds too difficult, then you can maximize your time at the falls (and not on local buses) by joining a small group tour from Ella – this is a fabulous way to see Diyaluma Falls from Ella.
On the way to Ella, make sure to look for the magnificent Ravana Falls. It’s roughly a 15 to 20-minute drive. You can hire a tuk-tuk for around 600 LKR or take any bus heading to Wellawaya. This really is one of the nicest places to visit near Ella! Alternatively, you can take a small group tour and enjoy pickup from your hotel in Ella.
The falls are 90 meters high and are multi-tiered. You will definitely meet several monkeys looking for something to eat, so pay close attention to your backpack and do NOT feed them!
The waterfall can get extremely powerful during the rainy season, so avoid going beyond the balustrade as the rocks may get very slippery and the chances to fall are high! During the dry season local people usually cool down in the water but, please, don’t follow them even if the temperature gets very high. There are signs everywhere that warn you not to swim in the falls – and for a good reason!
If you want to reach the top, exclusively during the dry season, ask a local guide to come with you and show you the way. The view from the top is breathtaking and well worth the hike.
13. Visit Ravana Cave
Near the falls, at the top of 600 steps carved in the rock, you can visit Ravana Cave, one of the most popular tourist attractions in Sri Lanka. Although it’s a small cave located at 1370 meters above sea level, it has an important legendary and historical value: in fact, according to legend, it was in this cave that King Ravana hid Princess Sita hoping she’d fall in love with him.
To get to Ravana Cave from Ella take the road to Wellawaya and after 2 km on your right, there’s a trail going up the mountain until you reach the cave. It’s easier to take a tuk-tuk and ask the driver to be left at the beginning of the trail. On the way to the cave, you’ll find a small stall that sells tea and drinks. Carry a torch or headlamp to walk inside the cave.
14. Swim at Elle Wala Waterfall
One of the nicest things to do in Ella is visit Elle Wala Waterfall. This is a small waterfall hidden in the jungle with a lovely natural pool where you can swim. Once you have seen the Ravana Falls, you can ask your tuk-tuk driver to continue driving on the same road (A23) for another 18 km until you see the Rathmal Wehera Buddist Temple. Once there, take the opposite direction to the temple to get to the waterfall.
You can hire a local guide to show you the way or walk on your own to the falls following the trail. It only takes a few minutes on foot to reach it, and you are bound to love it as it is not nearly as crowded as Ravana Falls. Take your time to enjoy the place, cool down in the water and relax. Be aware that during the rainy season, the level of the water rises dramatically.
15. Visit Dhowa Temple near Ella
Dhowa Rock Temple is a protected site located about 10 km from Ella on the main road to Bandarawela.
This small temple is famous for its 12-meter unfinished Buddha statue, carved in granite rock, the ornamental gate, and the Sri Lankan style Buddhist murals on the walls of the cave shrine. The temple dates back over 2000 years and is thought to be the work of King Walagamba when he found refuge in this area after the Indian invasion. Unfortunately, the Buddha statue is not very well preserved.
All the buses from Ella to Bandarawela pass right by the temple, tell the driver that your destination is the Temple because it’s well hidden in the jungle. A stupa is the only signal of the temple on the main road. A donation is requested to visit the temple.
Map of Things to Do in Ella
You can see the full map of the Best things to do in Ella here.
How to get to Ella
Ella is very well connected by train, with direct trains to Kandy and Nanu Oya, right outside Nuwara Eliya. You should book the train in advance, especially if you want a first-class ticket. I’ve written about the journey between Ella and Nuwara Eliya here, and it’s one you should take, it’s glorious.
Buses from Colombo’s Pettah bus station are also available every day. Tickets are cheap but I won’t recommend the bus for such a long distance due to the traffic jams and the bumpy roads.
When to visit Ella
Ella is located in Uva Province, south of Kandy, and thanks to its altitude, about 1000 meters above sea level, the temperatures are usually not nearly as warm as they are in the rest of the country. It was cold both times we stayed in Ella and we wore long trousers and fleece most of the time that we were here, apart from when we were hiking.
The driest seasons in Ella are from January to April and from June until September.
Where to sleep in Ella, Sri Lanka
Ella has some excellent accommodation options. Much like in the rest of the country, you can eat your meals at the hotel or guest house. Bear in mind that Ella is a bit of a sprawl these days and its built on hills. So you might find a glorious place to stay, but it could be quite a distance from “town”. These are the best places to stay in Ella:
As the Rock View was full when we stayed in Ella the second time, we stayed at the Ella Odyssey Inn, which we really enjoyed. There are sofas in the rooms and the Sri Lankan breakfast was superb, different every day, and absolutely LOADS of it. The shower was also a welcome very warm one! Check the availability of this fabulous place to stay in Ella here!
A cautionary note for accommodation in Sri Lanka – power sockets differ throughout the country – our guide to electric sockets and power plug requirements is here.
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Final Words on the Best Things to Do in Ella
It was 8 years between our visits to Ella and I’m glad to say that the town and people were just as lovely the second time around. Ella Rock is the same, the views from Little Adam’s Peak are just as nice and Nine Arches Bridge doesn’t change. This is a lovely town in Sri Lanka’s hill country and there are some great places to see here and you should definitely make time to come and visit.
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