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Ella, a haven of peace and greenery amid (many) tourists

Ella, a haven of peace and greenery, was my favourite destination in Sri Lanka. After a night’s rest in Nuwara Eliya, we said goodbye to our driver and took the train to Ella. I have already told you in the article on the itinerary that this train ride was not as beautiful as I had expected, although it is still a route that I recommend to soak up Sri Lanka. And if you’re lucky, if the weather is nice and if there are not too many people in the train (that’s a lot of ifs though), it’s the most beautiful track on the island!

So, after the ascent of Adam’s Peak, we headed towards Ella to rest for three days. However, we will soon discover that this place is terrific for hiking, so the well-deserved rest will wait for the magnificent beaches of the South. 

The village of Ella is not very big but stretches over a few kilometres. Its centre consists of a long street surrounded by restaurants, cafes, bars and guesthouses. This is the real meeting place for backpackers, even if this place is much less authentic than the rest of our stops. However, it is the ideal position to explore the wonders of the surrounding area.

Situated at an altitude of over 1,000 metres, there are plenty of opportunities for hiking in the immediate vicinity as the city is located in the heart of Sri Lanka’s “high” mountains. If you want to discover green natural sites, this is really “the place to go”.

During our two days on-site, we took the time to mix hiking and relaxation. We visited Ella Rock, Nine Arch Bridge, Little’s Adam Peak and Rawana Falls. Of course, there are other incredible places to discover such as tea plantations or waterfalls more impressive than the ones we admired (discovered after the trip, quietly settled in my couch while scrolling Instagram), yet we had to make a choice.

Here’s a glimpse of what awaits you if you pass by Ella :

ELLA ROCK

After a soft night and a good meal the night before at our off-centre hotel, the Sky Green Resort, we learn that the route to Ella Rock passes under our hotel. So this will be the first hike in the area.

View from the hotel of the waterfall on the way to Ella.

Hotel staff or tourists, we met the night before at the Chill Café (see the section below), told us anything and everything about the walk. So we were going to make up our own opinion and explore randomly.

And indeed, we soon realised that the path was very, very badly marked. There are no signs indicating directions. So if you have a GPS or a tracking application, it might be a good idea to use them on this walk.

We didn’t have any GPS, so we proceeded by trial and error to get us to our destination but could have been simpler with directions. So, here they are, through the story of our escapade.

We start by going up the railroad tracks for a few kilometres. We took it on the way since our hotel was situated near the path. Otherwise, leave from Ella station and follow the tracks in the direction of Nuwara Eliya.

The track is wide, there is no danger if a train arrives. However, you must remain vigilant! The train is running at a low speed, so you can hear it coming and you can prepare to move to the side. The only time when attention is most needed is on the metal bridge where it is not possible to shift.

If you feel like it, you can go and see a small waterfall by taking a passage on the left just before the bridge. However, some locals park and ask for compensation to see it. We’ll pass on our way.

After the bridge, for the first time we got lost, we continued walking to a small and picturesque train station. Eventually, seeing the locals looking at us with big smiles, we told ourselves that we were on the wrong track. Talking with tourists, who have internet access, we realised that we had to go back.

The path to Ella Rock is located just after crossing the bridge on the left. You have to pass over a stream (which becomes the waterfall mentioned above). Then the path starts to climb through agricultural fields, small houses selling refreshments and finally the forest.

Once again, we reach many dead ends and have to turn back. We try to refer to two maps sent by backpackers who have done the hike, but it is not that easy to understand.

Eventually, still climbing, we follow routes and arrive at the first viewpoint. And there, all the little efforts made for this walk are forgotten! The view over the valley is absolutely magnificent, of lush green. Unspoilt and beautiful nature!

View of Ella
View of Little Adam’s Peak

Afterwards, we continue the trail, on a flat path, to reach the second point of view and the Buddha who accompanies it. From there, the view of the valley is even more breathtaking, allowing us to rest there for a few moments surrounded by a call to relaxation and accomplished challenge.

We go back down another way to get back to the railway tracks as a train passes by. After greeting the locals, we go to eat in a small hut near the tracks where, by pure coincidence, we come across the French team we met two days before in Nuwara Eliya. After a delicious meal, we set off to discover the Nine Arch Bridge.

I advise you to make this trip in the morning to avoid the heat of the day. Half a day is necessary for the round trip depending on your endurance.

NINE ARCH BRIDGE

The Nine Arch Bridge is a real hidden gem, often overlooked by tourist guides, and is located between Ella Station and Demodara Station.

Ella’s nine-arched bridge is located on the Demodara loop and is 91 metres long at an approximate height of 24 metres. The nine beautiful arches make it a very picturesque place, especially as it is situated in a dense jungle and agricultural setting. Halfway between the forest and the tea plantations, this bridge can be viewed in different views while waiting for a train to arrive to make the experience complete.

The bridge was built during the British colonial period. Locally, it is known as ” Ahas Namaye Palama “, which means ” Bridge of the Nine Heavens ” in Sinhalese. Indeed, when you stand under the bridge and look up, you can see the sky through the nine arches.

The peculiarity of this bridge lies in the fact that it is built entirely with rocks, bricks and cement, without using steel or metals in its entire structure. The story goes that when the bridge was planned, the First World War broke out. The steel and metal materials intended for use on the bridge were reassigned for military purposes. The materials were then collected in the form of rocks, bricks and cement to ensure that construction of the bridge continued.

I told you that this is a hidden gem, as it is not so easy to find it. We were told to go by tuk-tuk (not very adventurous), to take a path from Little Adam’s Peak (done the next day), and then, we just realised that this bridge was designed for trains to pass and that it is located between Ella and Demodara stations. It took us no more than three minutes to decide to go along the train tracks to get there.

A sign advises tourists not to do this when leaving Ella station, but seeing the locals walking around the tracks every day, we don’t ask ourselves any more questions as we see other travellers doing the same (be careful though, the train doesn’t run fast, but stay on the side). These are the same conditions as for reaching Ella Rock.

View of tea plantations

It takes about 30 minutes to get to a somewhat gloomy tunnel from where we end up on the beautiful bridge. The spectacle is there. The landscape is grandiose. We explore the surroundings before settling down at the small hut, which is located directly at the exit of the tunnel on the left. We will wait for the train, comfortably seated sipping a coconut, surrounded by animals and tourists.

A place that seems straight out of Harry Potter, in a little more dense jungle mode! We are waiting to see the Hogwarts Express pass by.

It seems like an eternity passes without a single train showing up (remember, beware of timetables in Sri Lanka, the delay is a national sport). Yet when the train does turn up, everything follows in quick succession. Just enough time to get the camera out to immortalise the scene and the train is already out of sight. This is a show not to be missed to soak up Ella’s typical atmosphere.

LITTLE ADAM’S PEAK

After climbing Adam’s Peak, when we hear that there is a hike named after Sri Pada’s little sister, we plan for time and expect a challenge almost as enduring. Well, it turned out to be nothing of the sort. It was more like a quiet Sunday morning walk. Perhaps the name Little Adam’s Peak comes from the fact that there are a hundred steps to the “summit”. This is a far cry from the 5’500 of his so-called sister.

Anyway! Despite the uncertain name, the view from Little Adam’s Peak is magnificent, and in the end, that’s what matters most. The view over Ella Rock as well as over the whole valley to the plain is wonderful.

A path leads us up to about 1’140 metres although we already start at a high altitude. The trail is marked in contrast to Ella Rock and well maintained.

We start the walk at the main crossroads on the road to the centre of Ella. You have to take the Passara Road. You go up for about 1 kilometre and after a big bend, you come to a kind of florist/restaurant, the Ella Flower Garden Resort. From this point, you have to start climbing between the tea plantations. From there signs indicate the way up.

It is a pleasant walk to do at the beginning of the day to avoid the heat of the afternoon (which we did not do…). Take your time to admire the surroundings, as the walk itself does not last more than 2 hours round trip.

RAVANA FALLS

Ella is also known for its waterfalls. We just went to Ravana Falls, but there are other opportunities in the area.

Ravana Falls are located just 10 minutes by tuk-tuk from our second hotel. This succession of waterfalls of almost 25 metres between the mountains is impressive. Many locals and tourists come here to swim or just to soak their feet.

We simply stopped for a moment before heading to our next stop, the primitive forest of Sinharaja.

As I told you at the opening of this article, I discovered another waterfall near Ella that looks incredible, it is the Diyaluma Falls. They are about an hour away and actually offer a natural swimming pool at the top of the high 220 m high waterfall. A short walk is necessary to get there. If you want to dream, check out the falls hashtag on social networks.

HQ: THE CHILL COFFEE

We spent the rest of our stay in Ella in this café, which bears her name incredibly well.

It is a pleasant coffee shop where the staff is competent and friendly, and operates in a relaxed atmosphere, enhanced by lounge music, sometimes electro, towards the end of the evening. There is a terrace overlooking the street, and you have to take your shoes off before entering.

At first glance, this place looks like a “cool” backpackers’ hangout that could be found in any major Western city. However, we found it charming to sip fruit juices, cocktails or enjoy good food, western, but it is a change from typical food for a few days. It was also an opportunity to meet and chat with travellers, mostly French, around aperitifs.

ACCOMMODATION

We spent three nights in Ella in two different hotels. The first one was the Sky Green Resort, located at the top of a green mountain and two kilometres away from the centre (15 min by tuk-tuk). It is a nice and quiet hotel with a good restaurant. The only snag was the wake up after New Year’s Eve with singing at 6 o’clock in the morning. A tradition we didn’t know existed.

We then went to the other end of Ella, on the road to Uda Walawe, to Ella’s Edge Resort. The view from here is beautiful over the Ella Gap, but our room was simple and basic for one night (we had taken the lowest rate).

View of the second hotel

These are recommended addresses compared to the guesthouses on the central street (according to the opinions of travellers we met at the Chill Café). Moreover, the prices, for small budgets, are accessible with better comfort.

GENERAL IMPRESSION ON ELLA

Over the years, Ella has become a tourist centre! I am clearly not an “anti-tourist” person, since, firstly, I am also one and, secondly, I am studying in this branch of the economy. However, in Ella, authenticity is being lost to the ever-increasing tourist demand. Apart from the tuk-tuk drivers or some restaurant owners, we wondered where the local population was “hiding”.

Fortunately, it was only in Ella that I had this impression. A kind of gap, between some travellers with numerous excesses towards the environment and the local culture (prohibition to drink alcohol at certain periods, for example).

A bit of humour

We were not expecting this international atmosphere at all, in a city nestled in the middle of Sri Lanka and the mountains. We had come to Ella for the beauty of its landscapes.

In the end, we also enjoyed the atmosphere, although it was not what we were looking for. Despite this, it was fascinating afterwards to visit the last remnants of the primitive forest of Sri Lanka. Goodbye comfort and welcome to the big spiders…

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