Tucked away in the misty Sri Lankan high country, amongst idyllic green hills and gushing waterfalls, lies Ella: one of this tear-shaped island’s most appealing destinations. From scaling the heady heights of Ella Rock, to laying eyes on the mystical Nine Arch Bridge for the very first time; standing on the edge of the roaring Diyaluma Falls (the second tallest in the country), and winding through the tea plantations and mountains passes on the famous Kandy to Ella train; many of our favorite Sri Lankan adventures can be found right here. At its heart, Ella is a charming and laid back village perfect for relaxing, hiking and escaping the searing temperatures of the southern coast.
If a strenuous hike in the sun doesn’t really appeal but you’re still keen to get the legs moving and explore the Sri Lankan countryside, the easier hike up to Little Adam’s Peak is absolutely worth checking out. Named after its similarly shaped, yet far taller older brother, Adam’s Peak, the Little Adam’s Peak hike takes about two-hours roundtrip from Ella town, and starts in the lush tea plantations before slowly snaking its way to the first set of viewpoints. From here, you’ll have 360-degree views overlooking the giant Ella Rock and Ella Gap towards Udawalawe National Park, perfect for photos. We recommend hiking up during late afternoon and watching glorious sunset unfold.
Diyaluma is Sri Lanka’s second tallest waterfall. Cascading from high in the Sri Lanka mountains, Diyaluma may be a little off the beaten track, but the epic views and natural infinity pools make the 1.5-2-hour journey more than worth the effort. To get to Diyaluma, you should travel by in a tuk tuk from Ella to Poonagala, through quintessentially Sri Lankan tea plantations. Once we’d arrived in the small village of Poonagala, we set off hiking downhill through long, dry grass for around 30mins before getting our first glimpse of the upper Diyaluma falls. A short walk further and there we were, standing above a sheer 220m rush of water to the valley floor below. At this point we need to warn you that safety barriers do not exist, so if you’re adrenaline junkie, and like to stand on the edge of just about anything, please be careful.
Just outside of Ella, on the road winding south towards Wellawaya, lies one of Sri Lanka’s most easily accessible attractions: Ravana Falls. According to local legend, King Ravana is said to have kidnapped princess Sita and hidden her in the secrecy of the forest-protected caves behind the waterfall, to avenge the slicing off of his sister’s nose by Sita’s husband (Rama). Today, the 25,-high, multi-tiered waterfall is less hidden, given its location right next to the road into Ella from the south, but it’s no less impressive, particularly if you make the effort to hike further up to the second and third-tier falls. From the top of Ravana falls the views over the valley below are majestic, and worth the somewhat tough and precarious hike up. To get to the top, follow the tracks to the right of the waterfall and slowly make your way up, following the well-trodden paths. Be warned though – due to the sheer volume of water this hike should only be completed during the dry months, and with the assistance of a local guide. During the wet months, the torrent that flows down this waterfall is a sight to behold, showering the road and local area in spray.
Ella is the one place in Sri Lanka where western food and a small, but decent, night out exists for those who seek it. If you’re keen to get into the mix, the best place to take it all in is at Cafe Chill, located right in the center of town. Serving delicious western-style food, cocktails and a decent soundtrack, Cafe Chill is where the cool kids hang. At night, the upper deck becomes a bar/lounge, perfect for a few Lion Beers. Further towards the train station are a number of relaxed bars serving beers and cocktails, some of which are open 24-hours, including the Bob Marley inspired Cafe One Love.
Tea is synonymous with Sri Lanka, and the name Lipton is synonymous with tea, so it was only natural that our Sri Lankan travels would eventually bring us to Lipton Seat. This is the famous viewpoint where entrepreneur and tea mogul, Sir Thomas Lipton, used to sit and contemplate his vast plantation and the magnificence of Sri Lanka’s high country, and sample some of the world’s finest tea straight from the source. If you’re looking to visit Lipton Seat from Ella, we’d advise taking the 6am Ella to Kandy train and jumping off at Haputale (let’s face it, any excuse to spend additional time on that train is well worth it – it’s amazing!), and then paying a tuk tuk driver to take you to Lipton Seat from the station (10-15 US$)
Did you know that Sri Lankan tea is some of the World’s best due to the altitude at which it is grown? Or that tea bushes cover 25% of Sri Lanka’s surface? Considering Dambethenne factory was built by the great tea man himself (Lipton), it’s a pretty darn good place to learn all about what makes this country (and most of the world) tick. Just north of the town of Haputale, this tour will take you through the whole tea production process in great detail, from the picking, rolling, drying, fermenting, cutting, sieving and grading of the tea, through to the final auction process (80% is on sold to Colombo, and exported to the world).