Ella is a beautiful small sleepy town on the southern edge of Sri Lanka's Hill Country.
It's situated in the middle of beautiful countryside, with small vegetable plots in the valleys, tea plantations on the hill slopes and forests on the tops.
The climate throughout most of the year is typical of the high Hill Country, with a hot sun by midday, but a moderate air temperature. It will often rain in the afternoon, but only for an hour or so. A sweatshirt, or light jacket is needed at night. In December it can rain a lot!
There's not much to do in Ella itself, with a handful of small shops and only a few bars/restaurants. It's basically a nicely relaxing base for exploring the surrounding country.
Ella has a small post office and one bank (Bank of Ceylon) with an ATM. Track bashers (rail enthusiasts) should particularly enjoy the line to Badulla, where at the village of Demodara it does a 360 degree loop before crossing over itself.
By rail. Ella's a few stops from Badulla at the end of the railway line that snakes through the Hill Country. Trains go to Colombo and Kandy from here. The fares are ludicrously cheap in 2nd and 3rd class, (2nd class fare, December 2007, Colombo to Ella was R200/- or about USD 2.00) and the views spectacular. It's usually no problem getting a seat in 2nd/3rd class going to Colombo or Kandy, as the trains from Badulla are quite empty until reaching Nanu Oya. However the reverse is true going up to Ella and it can be quite crowded until the last 2 or 3 hours of the journey. Ella's railway station itself is prettily quaint.
By Road. Buses go south through Ella Gap to Wellawaya where you can change for a number of destinations in the south of the island. There is also a recently introduced direct bus service to Galle which stops at various locations along the south coast including Mirissa and Unawatuna. The bus station is located at the southern end of Ella's main road. Buses to Ampara leave in front of the curd shop/Lavazza Barista shop. Useful buses:
- 8.45am: Ella-Matara
- 9.15am: Ella-Ampara, via Monaragala (2hrs/184Rs) and Siyambalanduwa. Onward buses to Pottuvil (for Arugam Bay) leaves from both destinations so no extra change in Wellawaya is required. An direct bus from Monaragala has a direct bus to Arugambay via Pottuvil (3,5h/247Rs).
- 1 Rawana Ella Falls. About 5km away on the road south through Ella Gap. They're quite spectacular. Take your swimming costume for a refreshing dip, but beware of the touts selling tourist junk. You can catch frequent buses for about R10/-, or better still walk (but catch a bus back up the hill). About half-way down the road you can stop off for a look at the small temple and a cave above it where, according to local legend, Sita was kept as a prisoner before being rescued by Rama. You are also quite likely to meet families of langur monkeys by the roadside.
Walk up to Ella's Rock, about 2 hours along the railway track and through the tea plantations, for stunning views across the countryside. The first 1.5km is along the railway track itself so keep an ear out for oncoming trains although they travel so slowly you'll have plenty of time to get out of the way. If you stay at Rawana Holiday Resort they'll give you a quaint hand drawn map to get you there!
Have an authentic Ayurveda Massage at one of the local massage places in town. Expect to pay around R1000 for one hour of massage.
The home cooking in the guest houses/hotels is probably the best food in town.
- Down Town Rotti Hut, right in the center of town you can't miss it. Nice cold beers and good quality Kotthu Roti's. Recommend the beef!
- Rawana Hotel Perched on a hill top with views down the valley, book a dinner with the owners before 3 PM. If you come late the owner might not be able to serve you. For nearly 400 - 500 LKR/person you will be served an explosion of flavors -- about 8 small dishes with each order. If you are not staying here, you must eat here. Do you want to reproduce the meals? -- ask the cook for lessons! This might be your best meal in Sri Lanka.
- Ella View Restaurant and Bar serves hot meals, but the quality is very poor. It's quite a dingy place that tends to be frequented by local arrack addicts. Stop in for a chat with the locals. Strong (8.8%) for 200 LKR or take a bottle home for 230 LKR. Not ideal for unaccompanied women.
- Ella Holiday Inn opened in 2005 at the Wellawaya Road junction in the centre of town is a good place for meals, snacks and drinks, sitting on the verandah looking out at life on the main street.
See "eat" above.
There are a number of cheap guest houses scattered around town.
- Green Hill, (e-mail: email@example.com) is situated on top of the Ella Gap overlooking green mountains with a picturesqueness view through Ella Gap. The owners, Podi and Prasanna are very welcoming and provide authentic Sri Lankan meals including egg hoppers for breakfast. The rooms (as of Dec 2012) have only recently been constructed and are of very good quality. It is 200m walk back to the center of town and approximately 1.5km walk to Little Adam's Peak. The water is hot and the rooms are very modern and clean. Rooms are about R2500/3000.
- Sunnyside Holiday Bungalow, ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. is a peaceful bungalow surrounded by a tea plantation and offers comfortable accommodation with home cooked meals. There are three clean rooms with attached toilets and hot water showers. LKR 3000/3500 (US$30)(2014)..
- Zion View Guest House, Wemulla Hena (in the middle of Ella Gap), ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. Expansive views overlooking the entire valley and through to the south coast. It has seven rooms with balconies, super comfy slat beds and spotless wood-trimmed bathrooms, spring water. $ 50.00.
- Hill Top Guest House (Walk down the main street past Rotti Hut until you see a steep little street on your right.), ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Has a balcony with a wonderful view through Ella Gap, and serves delicious home-cooked meals. The rooms are rather and all have showers and hot water. Internet access is also available. LKR 5,500 with breakfast.
Take a walk through the tea plantations to Little Adam's Peak south-east of the town centre, and about 45 minutes away.
For more strenuous exercise walk to the top of Ella Rock for views across the Hill Country and with the town nestled in the hills below you. This walk is about 2 hours each way, and about half of it is along the railway line before cutting off into the hills. For a longer walk, rather than head straight back to the line from the hill top, follow the track through the forest. (You can't really get lost. Just head downhill when you've had enough, and before long you will meet a road or the railway line.)
The locals who live near the bottom of Ella Rock have recently come up with a wonderful piece of inventive free enterprise. They obliterate existing tracks up the hill and create new ones every now and then. Tourists following guidebooks get completely lost, and suddenly, Hey Presto! A local appears offering to guide them.
Don't walk in the countryside in shorts and sandals/flipflops, especially after it's been raining. There are lots of leeches that hang on to the vegetation by the side of tracks waiting for a nice juicy mammal to walk by.
It is advisable to take some Dettol with you, and spray it on the offending leech. It will cause the leech to stop biting and let go. It is not advised to scrape or pull a leech off as you may leave the leech's teeth inside the bite which will be very itchy until you have the teeth removed with a needle/tweezers (without being removed, they stay inside the bite for weeks).