Things to do in Ella - Sri Lanka Hill Country
The Sri Lanka hill country is one of the most beautiful areas of the tropical island. Bright green tea plantations, lush jungle, misty mountain peaks and flowing water falls are just some of the tempting sights. The most popular town to base yourself in is Ella. A laid back highland village in the middle of some spectacular scenery. It’s somewhere to stay for more than just a couple of nights as there are lots of things to do in Ella.
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Heavy rain was falling and fork lighting striking the mountain sides as our Kandy to Ella train pulled into Ella station. We’d had some rain and poor visibility on the slow moving scenic journey. However the crescendo was arriving in the middle of a tropical storm, which we later found out is a daily occurrence in the Sri Lanka hill country. At least at this time of year anyway. The rumbling thunder and low lying cloud rolling though jungle filled mountains made for a very atmospheric arrival.
As our tuk tuk drove us through Ella’s centre we were both surprised by the town’s appearance. We’d heard such rave reviews of Ella. People telling us how beautiful it is and how it’s got such a good traveller vibe. We had high expectations, with the idea that Ella may be similar to the incredibly picturesque rural towns of Loang Probang in Laos or Ubud in Bali, but this is not the case.
Ella is a simple town consisting of mostly one main street lined with tourist restaurants and cafes. It’s tiny compared to the two previously mentioned Asian towns. In the pouring rain and dark skies it didn’t look too pleasing to the eye and felt almost empty. We looked at each other with confused looks on our faces but later learned that the beauty of this place is held in the surrounding landscape and not within the town itself. Phew!
Things to do in Ella
After our first night in Ella, we started to feel what all the fuss is about. The town comes to life at night with that chilled traveller vibe everyone goes on about. And when the storm cleared we caught glimpses of the stunning Sri Lanka hill country landscape surrounding the town. We couldn’t wait to explore!
Climb to Panoramic Views of the Sri Lanka Hill Country
Most of the tourists in Ella, including us, are there for the two scenic walks of Little Adam’s Peak and Ella Rock. Probably the most popular of things to do in Ella. Both hikes start from the town centre and need no guide. Having a few days in Ella meant we were able to hike one each day. It’s best to start early in the morning to beat the like clockwork storm that rolls in daily at around lunchtime.
Without too much effort, both hikes reward you with breathtaking views of the Sri Lanka hill country and beyond. The routes to the peaks are also wonderfully scenic as they take you through tea plantations, woodland, hill side train tracks and more. An absolute must on our things to do in Ella list.
To see our photo journey blogs on both of the walks please read these: Little Adam’s Peak – A Photo Journey & Ella Rock – A Photo Journey.
Visit Ravanna Rock Temple
One afternoon as a storm was brewing, we walked to the Ravanna Rock Temple. It was much further from town than we anticipated (about an hour walk) but just about worth the trek. The Rock Temple is a 2000 year old Buddhist temple carved into a huge rock on the side of a mountain. Inside contains original rock artwork on the ceiling, a large sleeping Buddha statue made from clay and two smaller statues in the meditation and teaching pose. The temple is still used today by local Buddhists.
Make sure to chat to the friendly temple care taker who will explain the interesting history of the temple. He doesn’t expect a tip but it’s nice to slip him some change as he was full of fascinating details.
Stay in a Jungle Guest House
We stayed at Green Lantern Inn. A great little guesthouse consisting of just two rooms with a shared terrace. The guesthouse is only a five minute walk into central Ella but it felt so remote. It’s surrounded by jungle with just a handful of other guesthouses and local houses nearby. The only sounds to be heard were an array of bird call during daylight and chirping nocturnal insects at night. There’s of course also the dog barks echoing through the valleys of the Sri Lanka hill country. Something that all travellers have to get used to if visiting any part of the island.
To get to Ella town from Green Lantern Inn, we walked through a jungle pathway. We always enjoyed the stroll. In the mornings we saw monkeys jumping around the tree tops and every night the jungle would be filled with fire flies. The fire flies glowed brightly as the only light was from our iphone torch function. We would often switch off our torches and count the mesmerising glows silently floating around us.
Eat some of the Best Food in Sri Lanka
When looking for things to do in Ella, you don’t have to try hard to tick one of them from the list. Ella and the surrounding Sri Lanka hill country is known for some of the best food in the country. This is mostly because of the high number of guesthouses and home stays offering authentic home cooked food.
Breakfast of Champions
Our breakfasts at Green Lantern Inn were the best we had in Sri Lanka. The breakfast, which we never managed to finish, consisted of string hoppers (flattened noodles), dal (lentil curry), coconut sambal (spicy dried coconut), coconut and honey filled pancakes, omelette, fruit platter, bread, jam, fresh juice, tea, coffee and water.
Unfortunately our accommodation did not offer lunches or dinners so instead we eat at a couple of restaurants on Ella’s main street. As always, we avoided the over priced popular tourist restaurants serving western foods and instead headed to a couple of places we’d read about online.
Our clear favourite was Nilmini Restaurant. A tiny shack like restaurant owned by a charismatic elderly lady, with just three tables in the front of her home. She cooks just enough curry and rice to serve ten people each night. She’s done it that way for years and has never wanted her business to get bigger. Her food was absolutely delicious and again the best curry we eat in Sri Lanka. You can thank us later for putting this on our list of things to do in Ella.
For just 400 rupees (£2) she serves four different aromatic curries with a mountain of rice. She made such ordinary vegetables like green beans, aubergine, cabbage and even jack fruit taste out of this world. If we still had room she would humorously shovel more food onto our plates like your force feeding grandma. She clearly enjoyed seeing western tourists enjoy her home cooked food.
Other Things to do in Ella
Halpewatte Tea Factory
While in the Sri Lanka hill country it’s a must to try a cup of their Ceylon tea. You’d be offending them if you didn’t and you don’t want to offend the lovely people of Sri Lanka. Do you? The best place for the perfect cuppa is while visiting the Halpewatte Tea Facotory. The world famous tea is manufactured here and you’ll get to see the step by step process. Visitors can also buy a box of factory fresh tea before they leave.
Ella Spice Garden
Most people assume that the only thing to do here is take a tour around the small spice garden and learn about your favourite ingredients. Yes that can be an enjoyable way to kill an hour but they also offer cooking classes to add to your things to do it Ella. It’s a fun, informative and personal lunch time class that teaches how to cook real Sri Lankan food.
Demodara Nine Arch Bridge
Not into bridges? Neither are we but if you’re still looking for things to do in Ella then for some this piece of Sri Lanka hill country architecture is a worthwhile trip. Just 2Km from Ella town, this impressive British built brick bridge was constructed in the early 20th century. Go check it out if you dig bridges.
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