Ella is a small town that emerges almost at the end of the railway line that runs through the Hill Country, a mountain area located in the center-south of the island of Sri Lanka. Along the way, from Kandy to Ella, the train meanders through hill dominated by tea plantations, a green but monotonous landscape, punctuated here and there by small clusters of houses, mostly belonging to one of the dozens of tea plantations, the Tea Estate, that keep the colonial philosophy of boarding workers and family.
Along the way are the most popular stations among foreign visitors, as Nanu Oya to visit Nuwara Eliya, a relic of British colonialism, Haputale near the Horton Plains National Park and World’s End, two natural parks that provide good hikes in the mountains. Any of these destinations was out the route of this visit Sri Lanka; Nuwara Eliya by having the reputation for being hard to find budget accommodation, with most lodgings in the cottage and heritage hotels; the walks through nature parks imply a $15 entry fee, higher than the daily budget for a backpacker traveling through Sri Lanka.
So the best solution to avoid this highly touristic itinerary, was the humble but peaceful train trip, especially the section between Haputale and Ella, which provided magnificent landscapes illuminated by the calm light of the down, that here comes early, with the sun hiding behind the mountains, leaving room for the fresh mountain air that forcing to dress one more layer of clothing.
Ella at first glance little has attractive because it is no more than a set of buildings along the national road, with one or two more streets. However, the site offers in January a mild climate with sunny days, not too hot, with cool but not freezing nights.
The high number of guest houses and homestays offers rooms for all budgets, the small size of the village, and the quiet and informal atmosphere makes Ella an attractive destination for a couple days of rest, after Adam’s Peak hike.
Excelling in Ella landscape is called Ella Gap, a valley that forms a kind of canyon that descends steeply towards the southern plains of Sri Lanka, by a winding road between steep slopes. Making this journey toward the south, is notorious the abrupt change of the climate just as you arrive at the next town, Wellawaya, leaving behind the fresh mountain air to soak in the hot and humid tropical climate.
Ella left a memory of a peaceful and relaxing days in a tasteless village; but above all the strong memory of delicious food, with Ella unexpectedly provide the best rice and curry, tasted during the 30 days stay in Sri Lanka … where wasn’t a day without rice and curry !!!!
Where to stay in Ella:
Ella has many accommodation options, one or the other next to the train station, some along the national road (which by the way is not very noisy); but the majority is spread along the slopes around the village, at a walking distance from the train station of from the bus stop, that is in the middle of Ella.
The wide balcony, a view of the Ella Gap and an atmosphere that takes us to the past, not only by the architecture of the house, an old mansion but also by the decor and furniture, in a mix of antique and kitsch, were decisive in the choice of Rock View Guest House. It’s located very near the center of Ella, less than 10 minutes walking from the train station, near the main road, but given the high position you’ll not disturb by the traffic noise. There are several rooms in different buildings: some are more modern but others still maintain an attractive and charming patina.
Rock View Guest House
double room with bathroom: 3000 LKR
Where to eat in Ella:
By attracting much tourism due to the peaceful environment that chooses to remain a few days in Ella, there are plenty of options in terms of restoration, from traditional rotis and kotus, to the most sophisticated restaurants with international cuisine, pizzerias, cafes…
Prices are inflated even in for local food, with dishes adapted to western taste, away from excessive spicy food by which Sri Lanka is famous. It is not easy to find a restaurant that serves an authentic rice and curry, but by chance, the attention was for a small grocery store with a placard at the entrance advertised buffet of rice and curry: Latha Rice Shop.
Serving delicious curries (pumpkin, jackfruit, green beans, bananas, etc…) the usual pol sambol (a spicy seasoning to coconut base) or gotukola sambol (one raw mixture of a green leaf vegetable with coconut and chilli), the always present dhal (lentils), two varieties of rice (white and red) and a lot of sympathy make this hidden location a choice among the local population. The best rice and curry experienced during a month in Sri Lanka. Very spicy!
The meal costs 200 LKR with a refill.
Address: on the right side of Passara Road, a bit up after a modern and shiny bulding
Apparently Ella is famous for curd and honey, which is no more than yogurt drizzled with honey, which in fact is not honey but treacle. It can be found in almost all restaurants. One traditional stall, now converted into a restaurant, the Curd Shop, is one of the places where you can try this delicious combination. Among several options, the choice fell to curd and honey with rice, which makes it a good choice for breakfast.
Train from Hatton to Ella:
The train trip from to Ella takes close to four hours, and can be hard to find a seat, at least in the beginning of the journey, if you are taking the first train of the day. However after Nanu Oya, many passengers get out, leaving the train quieter and make it easy to find a seat.
Ella station is less than 10 minutes from the center of the village, a distance easily covered on foot.
Train ticket: 160 LKR (2nd class)
Direct Bus from Ella to Kataragama:
At the junction between the main road and spent Road (the only two roads in Ella) is a tourist information stall where you can get some information about buses and trains schedules for Ella. The Curd Shop directly opposite is also a good source of information.
So for those who want to go to Kataragama (direct bus): 13.00h, 14.00h, 14.45h, 15.30h
The journey takes 2.40h (with a 15-minute break for lunch). You should arrive earlier to the bus stop because the bus doesn’t always respect the departure time: for example, 13h left at 12.55h.
Bus Ticket: 166 LKR
Direct bus from Ella to Tissamaharama (bound for Matara):
8.40h, 9.20h, 11.00h, 12.00h, 14.45h, 15.30h, 16.40h
The bus number 10, which makes the Kandy-Kataragama connection goes through Tissamaharama (Tissa) before reaching Kataragama, at the times indicated above (13.00h, 14.00h, 14.45h, 15.30h) are also valid for those routes Yala National Park.
For those making the trip to Tissamaharama and Kataragama in the morning outside this schedule, can take one of the several buses passing through the center of Ella, toward the south to the village of Wellawaya. In Wellawaya is necessary to change from bus to the desired destination, which may require an intermediate bus exchange.
There isn’t a proper bus stop at Ella. Buses heading north stop in front of Curd Shop. For those who follow south to stop is about 10 meters down the intersection with Pasara Road, in front of a hotel.