Ella: Why you must visit this hill station in Sri Lanka?
Wrapped under the blankets of mist, tucked amidst wooded mountains, and surrounded by luscious green tea estates, there lied a hill town in the Southern side of Sri Lanka. As far as eyes stretched the cloud-covered summits showed their dominance over the land, occasionally gleaming as the Sun played hide and seek. The chilly wind from the nearby hills kept brushing through our skin while the continuous sips from steaming hot teacups kept us somewhat warm. We drink tea every morning. But that day it didn’t feel like any other normal morning we wake up to. As if we had straight landed into a land of bliss, fairy, and serenity. It’s so because we were in Ella. A small town in the highlands of Sri Lanka is known for vast tea plantations, mountains, rushing waterfalls, and of course for some fresh air to breathe.
Ella is a quaint little mountain town located approximately 200 kilometers east of Colombo in Badulla District of Uva Province at an elevation of 1,041 meters above sea level. Whether you are an enthusiastic day hiker or a laidback traveler who wants to enjoy the surrounding landscape from the hilltop cottage, whether an avid adventure lover or just someone who would enjoy a joyful train ride amongst some of the most beautiful scenery; Ella is a must-go hill station for backpackers, families, and luxury travelers alike.
Over the past few years, Ella has turned from a quiet town in the lap of the hills to a go-to town for every backpacker. Having all sorts of accommodation and varied food choices from Asian, Sri Lankan to Continental, owing to its centralized location (whether you travel from Colombo down the South or up North), you are sure to chalk out an itinerary that passes through Ella. So, if you are planning for your next trip to Sri Lanka then first read our guide here as to why you shouldn’t skip this town.
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Admire the rumbling Ravana Falls
On our 10-day itinerary, we were traveling to Ella after exploring the Galle district. And on the way, the first pitstop was at Ravana Falls. The gushing water plunging from the 82 feet high concave rock outcrop to several rock pools makes it a perfect spot for taking a dip if you love swimming. Nonetheless, someone like us who wants to avoid the cold water on a wintry afternoon can still admire the three-tiered waterfall from a viewpoint while getting lost in the thoughts of the story associated with it. Or the Bravehearts can dare to follow the trail by the right side of the falls leading up to one of the lower-level pools. After a point, it would require a steep climb only through muddy trails, boulders, and slippery rocks, which our driver strictly cautioned against. And apparently, there is a sign too that warns you of the dangers. We were happy to view the captivating surrounding from the roadside bridge.
The waterfall has been named after mythical warrior king Ravana as described in Indian Epic, the Ramayana. The legend has it that a cave (also named after Ravana) near the waterfall was the hiding spot of the Lankan king after he abducted princess Sita, who was living in exile with her husband Lord Rama and brother-in-law Lakshman in the Panchavati, ancient India. The furious king took this extreme step to avenge his sister’s humiliation whose nose was sliced off by Lakshman. According to Lankan folklore, it is believed that while held in captivity Sita used to bathe in the pools that accumulated from the water of this fall. As Indian kids, we grew up to the tales of Ramayana but having witnessed a location associated with the Epic, the feeling was overwhelming.
Ravana Falls is just a 10-minute drive from Ella town. You can hop in a tuk-tuk that would cost around 500 LKR. A bus would charge 50 LKR whereas a taxi would be the priciest.
Wonder at the beauty of the famous Nine arch bridge amongst tea plantations
We reached our Airbnb guesthouse by three in the afternoon. After lunch we headed out to see the most iconic attraction of Ella, the Demodara Nine Arch Bridge, also called ‘the Bridge in the Sky’. The bridge was visible from our guesthouse and seemed quite far. Although according to our guesthouse caretaker and google map it was just a distance of 300 meters. After a brisk walk and climbing down 112 steps we discovered the train track hidden up between dense green hills and bushes. For a moment we wondered which way leads towards the bridge as we did not spot a soul nor had any clue. We even wandered through tea gardens for a while. Luckily, we found a villager who pointed us in the right direction. Finally, we reached the much-famed bridge. Certainly, the path was way more than 300 meters. The daylight was almost vanishing behind the dark gloomy clouds but still, we could see some people clicking the pictures.
Commissioned in the year 1921 this bridge boasts as a colonial-era construction connecting the Ella and Demodara railway station. What separates this bridge from the rest is that it is built entirely of solid rocks, bricks, and cement without using any steel or metals. Locals say that the steel that was initially allotted for the bridge was later reassigned to Britain’s military projects for war purposes resulting in the usage of stones and bricks.
The best view of the bridge can be seen from the tea gardens under it. However, be aware of the muddy small trails leading down the hill to the tea plantations. During rainy days it gets slippy and not to forget the fright of leeches. Although they are quite harmless their bites can be annoying and feel cold and itchy. However, for some, it may also cause allergic reactions. It would be recommended to carry some leech repellent or ask the locals about some preventive ideas such as Lemon and salt., Dettol etc. During summers you can easily trek down to the bottom of the bridge. Enjoy the stunning view of the bridge against the backdrop of the hills and sky. Or walk along the tracks where you will be presented with scenes of rolling tea plantations and dense jungles.
Most tourists visit the bridge as per the train schedule to catch a glimpse of the train crossing across the bridge. During our visit, there was only 1 train running early in the morning and evening. It was right after the Covid lockdown restrictions were lifted, and there were not many trains running. We could only spot the sight of the evening train from our guesthouse.
How to get to the Bridge: The bridge can be reached from either side of the track. It is close to Ella town. Hire a tuk-tuk for a minimal price between 300-500 LKR.
Enjoy the view of the valley from your wooden cabin at Hideout Ella and Sisila View
While in Ella we wanted to stay somewhere very close to the Nine arch bridge so that walk to the bridge. Aptly we found this cute tiny wooden cabin called Hideout Ella on Airbnb. The view of the Nine arches bridge and the foggy valley from the open balcony makes it all the special. Whether you jump on the hammock at the end of the balcony to enjoy the spectacular view or lean onto one of the bean bags with a cup of Ceylon tea and a book in hand; the cozy atmosphere is just right for a romantic escapade. Unfortunately, the place does not fit more than 2 or has a no child policy.
So, we booked another Airbnb right next to it, a few stairs uphill. The Sisila view guesthouse was a very modest and simple guesthouse that just has a few basic amenities. What makes this simple family room an amazing stay is its 180-degree view of the valley and the bridge through the glass walls. Not to forget the hearty conversations we had with caretaker Rohan over his delicious authentic meal preparations and servings. We were delighted with the hospitality, help, and guidance received which acquainted us with the generosity of Lankan people.
Both places were like 10-15 minutes’ walk from the Nine arch bridge. While Little Adam’s peak and Flying Ravana are just 2 km away and 3.5 km to Ella station.
Pump up your adrenaline while ziplining at Flying Ravana
You’re strapped to a thin steel cable at a height of 82 meters. You look down for a moment only to realize that you are hanging high above the treetops. As if you must cling onto your dear life and it might slip away the very next moment. The heart skips a bit. Sensing some danger, the “fight or flight” mode in your body kicks in and a large dose of adrenaline dumps into the bloodstream. You close your eyes, take a step forward, letting go of all the fears you just jump into. Ready to slide at a speed of 80 KPH for more than half a kilometer.
At a distance, the clouds are floating by the mountain peaks. The lush green tea gardens below are appearing dreamy after hours of rain. The atmosphere has turned somewhat moody. But the feeling is exhilarating. It’s action-packed. Almost euphoric. Coz now you are just zooming with a bird’s eye view of the whole valley.
This is exactly the experience you will have if you are planning to try Sri Lanka’s first-ever mega zip-line at Flying Ravana Adventure Park (https://www.flyingravana.com/). And the price you pay is just 20 USD (or 4000 LKR). I was so excited about the experience that I decided to do it once again after landing on the other end of the cable. The repeat ride only costs an extra 1000 LKR. This park is exclusively designed for adventure enthusiasts who want an unforgettable hillside experience. You can do many other things such as Abseiling, ATV/quad bike rides, Archery, and Air rifling.
If you are staying at the 5-star 98 Acres resort which is just next to Flying Ravana, then as a guest of the resort you get a 10 % discount.
Also, Little Adam’s Peak is right next to the park, so if you are up for short hiking then you are in the right place.
Behold the beauty of Ella rock or hike till the top of Little’s Adam Peak
For the hiker in you, Ella has a few trails that will not disappoint you. Whether you are a day hiker or an experienced trekker, Ella is sure to amaze you with Little Adam’s Peak and Ella Rock. Also, you can hike near the waterfalls such as Ravana, Diyaluma, etc. With heavy rains ruining one of our days in Ella we had to skip the hike to Ella rock as the trails would be slippery, muddy, and filled with leeches. Our driver cum guide told us that the summits of the Ella rock or the Little Adam’s peak will present spectacular views. So, if you are in Ella during the non-rainy season then do not miss out on these hikes to quench the thirst of trekking through some amazing trails.
Lastly one of the most talked-about things to do in Ella is undoubtedly the Ella to Kandy train journey that takes you through forests, endless tea fields, waterfalls, small streams. However, as it was just after the lockdown the iconic blue train was not on the go. Only there was one local carriage that would leave as early as 6 am and there were no other tourist trains towards Nuwara Eliya, where we were heading next. With rainy days, cold mornings, and a baby on board we had to let go of the train ride this time. But it is certainly the most recommended experience while in Ella. You can book the tickets for the journey from Ella station.