Ella is one of the most famous tourist destinations in Sri Lanka. It’s not hard to understand why. Naturally it lies in an incredible area. The mountains, the jungle, the tea plantations, the climate all make it a wonderful place. Let’s see now the all the top things to do in Ella and all the downsides of it. Because there are some things that’s worth to mention, so you’ll avoid some disappointment.
Top things to do in Ella
Hike to Nine Arches Bridge – Choose the right path!
You can get to the Nine Arches Bridge on two paths. The first path require a bit of trekking, let’s say 20-30 minutes maximum. But the views on the bridge won’t be the best, as locals started building houses to cover the view – in order that they can sell / rent their apartments out with exclusive view on the bridge. This is not nice – especially if you arrive to the viewing point, and your view is already covered by a big house and its fence, so you won’t see anything. You can have an arial view – but from kind of far from this little bar. And they only have one seat on their terrace, so if you don’t arrive at the right moment, you won’t even have the chance to sit down, nor enjoy the view.
We were also disappointed with this experience, this is why we decided to go for the second path as well. It’s better – you just need to follow the road, that drives you to the official car parking of the Nine Arches Bridge. Here, you can access the bridge much easier, you’ll be able to get on the tracks even and take the perfect shot of the bridge. They also sell fresh coconuts and you will meet here more tourists. We definitely recommend the second path to discover the Nine Arches Bridge!
Visit the famous Ella train station – Be prepared, it’s always crowded
The Ella train station is most likely the second most crowded place – after the Nine Arches Bridge. As all tourist guides and blogs are highlighting as a must have, to take the popular train to Kandy or Haputhale from Ella. Because it’s picturesque and it became an Instagram sensation. Therefore, when you enter the train station, be prepared to face the crowd of almost only European and American tourists, who have no clue where they are and why the tourist bus brought them here.
You need to make space for yourself if you just want to take a look at the old fashioned, really cool time tables, train signs, and enjoy the charm of these old style stations. Side note: the train station of Haputhale is less visited, and maybe even more charming, with much less tourists!
Don’t take the popular train to Kandy, please!
Following up on the previous point, we wouldn’t recommend to take the popular train to Kandy. As these trains are used by locals to get to work, to reach the next villages. You basically interfere with the local’s schedule. By making a tourist attraction out of an ordinary transport is a bit weird. Regardless of how picturesque the train ride is. You can get to the most picturesque places with your tuk-tuk too!
Imagine, it’s like suddenly your everyday bus / metro / tube line would become touristy, and packed fully with tourists all parts of the day and all those tourists would occupy your place, and would be observing and taking photos of you while you’re getting to work…
Those cool chill-out bars…
Well, if you have been travelling around Sri Lanka, you know that’s hard to find a normal bar or cafe in the entire country. Maybe in the bigger cities (Colombo, Negombo, Kandy), towns you can have options, but out of those territories, you need to hunt for touristy places. Luckily.
In Ella, the situation is different, it’s packed with touristy places and those places are packed with tourists. Personally, it was great to take a look and have a nice (and over-priced) ice-coffee. We couldn’t get such a thing nowhere else during our round-trip in Sri Lanka. But the percentage of tourists at all these places made us feel rather leave the town sooner. As in the end of the day, we are travelling to enjoy local and authentic places and understand the local culture, vs. sitting in fake and over-priced touristy places – that we can do every day in Europe too.
Where to stay in Ella
Ella – being the one of the most touristy place in Sri Lanka – has a lot of options for tourists. But since it’s so visited all year long, you might be out of the better options if you plan to book ad-hoc. But if you are fine with a standard place, you will have plenty of choices!
How to go to Ella
Ella is about 132 km from the Bandaranaike International Airport – where you most likely will land. And the nearest airport to Ella is the Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport in Hambantota, 87 km from the town’s center. The quickest way recommended to reach Ella is by taxi (even by tuk-tuk), train or bus.
Many direct buses run from Kandy and Nuwara Eliya. But from most other major cities you’ll have to make at least one change. The schedule is a bit unpredictable, but buses definitely have the priority on every roads.
It’s possible to take the train from Colombo all the way to Ella. Passing through Kandy and therefore taking the same scenic route. Realistically, it’s almost impossible to get a seat on a train to Ella if you don’t book in advance. When the alternative is standing on a train for 5-6 hours then we think it’s worth the extra cost.
By your own transport
We have arrived to Ella by our own tuk-tuk. Thanks to that we have been able to visit all the scenic points on the way, by ourselves. Whenever & wherever we wanted to stop, we stopped. We highly recommend this option. As you are dependent only on yourself and not limited by any schedule or tourist crowd.