Ella – Hidden in the jungle

The oceanside of pearl island is cool. The hillside of Sri Lanka is cooler – weatherwise and vibe-wise. So going to Sri Lanka and not seeing the hillside that got the nation’s most beautiful train route is a sin.

So here is your complete Ella Travel guide- the green and tea paradise.

Index

What is special in Ella?

Girl on the walking train track inside a tunnel with tea estates in the background at Ella, Sri Lanka

Galle is Sahana’s favourite city, and mine is Ella in all the towns we have visited in Sri Lanka. This is the best place to enjoy solitude and to be able to meet the crowd when you want to. The lush green forest to hide, hippie cafes to mingle, hiking trails to be one with the earth – Ella is tranquil.

From the authentic Sri Lankan dishes to the Crissoants – good food, lesser people, and more nature are what won my heart.

Where to stay in Ella, Sri Lanka?

Small homestay with yellow colour floor, white walls and green glass windows at Ella, Sri Lanka

When you choose the locality in Ella, consider if you want to be in the town centre that has got trendy cafes and spas. Or closer to any hiking trails in the jungle. Both have their own pros and cons. The Town centre is great for those who love city vibes and nightlife. You get to meet and eat with globe travellers here. But you miss jungle tranquillity.

If you choose a homestay in the interiors amidst woods, you wake up to birds chirping, and your eyes always have a serene view. You breathe the freshest air. But you have to depend on your only homestay for food unless you are ready to spend on tuk-tuks. Or ready to walk 2 to 5km for every meal.

The view matters most

Choosing the latter, the jungle tranquillity, we stayed at Nine arch viewpoint, now called Nine Arch Jungle inn.– The prices are super affordable; the locality is perfect, the host cooked us a delicious dinner and was super friendly. It was a 10 min downhill walk to the nine arch bridge. We could even see it from the front yard.

It is 2km away from the town, in the middle of the forest beside tea estates. . You need to hire their Tuk-Tuk for 100 LKR to go to the town. The cars can not reach the homestay. You have to inform them about your arrival prior. Then, they will come and pick you up from the Ella main road or the road near the guest house.

I recommend this for a shorter stay as the rooms are congested and only one power socket was working. To top it, electricity power cut is quite common in the rural areas. 

Typical Sri Lankan Breakfast with Appam, fruits, sombal and fruits on the tablle.

Perks of Travelling in Ella gets you health and delicious food with awesome views

They have one petty shop selling biscuits, water and some chips. So for lunch and dinner, you either have to go to Ella town or request the host in prior for meals on extra payment. When you are nested in the green like this, you may not feel like moving your butts from the floor where you can see the iconic 9-Arch bridge.

How do you get to Ella Sri Lanka?

Travelling to Ella by train takes you through tea estate and forest
  • Nearest airport– Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport – 85km. Direct flights from few cities in Tamil Nadu of India and Colombo are available.
  • Nearest Railway station – Ella is all about scenic train routes. Many claims that Kandy to Ella is the most beautiful train journey in the world. Ella is well connected with the railway network.
  • Buses: We came to Ella from Mirissa partLy by bus and shared a taxi for the next half.

How far is Colombo from Ella?

The fastest and most expensive way is by taxi. It takes less than 4hours but cost you more than 15k Rs. The cheapest way is to catch a train that takes you on a beautiful scenic journey through the tea estate. But we recommend you not to get to Ella directly from Colombo. There are many beachside towns en route. Like Hikaduwa, Galle, Mirissa, Tangalle. So enjoy the sun and sea vibe for a few days and continue to the mountains of Ella.

Travelling from Mirissa to Ella

Mirissa to Matara bus journey is faster, and we didn’t have to wait for it long. But buses didn’t leave until full at Matara bus station, route number 31 (Matara-Bandarwella). So I think there is no fixed timing for these buses. Plus, Those “butt-hurting” red buses take five long hours to reach Ella from Matara. We saw many tourists like us standing in the station wondering what to do. Along with tourists, taxi drivers approach tourists saying, “3-hour journey- 9000 LKR” Fortunately, we got to the club with an Australian couple, so it came up to 2250LKR/person, and we saved money+time

Man walking in the streets of yellow beside red tuk-tuk
TUK-TUKS RULE SRI LANKA

How many days should you spend in Ella?

Roadside cafe at Ella, Sri Lanka

We met a family from England, travelling in Sri Lanka past two months. They are in Ella for 8 days with their kids because they love Ella’s weather. They were on a hike to all possible mountains and waterfalls nearby. It looks like Ella is a paradise for long-time travellers! If you are in Sri Lanka for less than 15 days, two days are needed for Ella. Though the 9-arch bridge is just a bridge, it is one of the most serene places to enjoy yourself for hours together.

For those who want to see the 9 arch bridge only once, a day trip or on the way to Mirissa/ Nuwara Eliya can be an option, but we recommend at least an overnight stay.

What are the best restaurants in Ella?

Out of four restaurants we tried in Ella, ELLA HERITAGE CAFE UFO are our picks..

Brick hotel with lots potted plants
ELLA HERITAGE

If you are craving full plate complete Lankan meals, Ella Heritage is the best place. There is a lot of difference between Mirissa’s beachside meals to this hilly region meals.

Thatch rooof curved in a cafe UFO at Ella
CAFE UFO

Cafe UFO – Justifying its name, the appearance is uniquely chic and alien-ish. This is a great place to meet other travellers. If you are looking to tag along for your next destination to save money on a private taxi, you must not miss the place. Continental to Lankan food, you get a wide range of breakfast options with excellent coffee and funky music.

Best Things to do in Ella

Closer view of an arch of the train bridge

Hike to little Adam’s peak and chill at the cafe resting your foot. Bathe in the sky at the natural pool at Diyaluma falls and take the train to Kandy. – Watch the train pass on the iconic NIne -Arch bridge from different viewpoints – Trust me, this is the most serene thing you can do in Ella. Get a spa or an ayurvedic massage in the town, and wander in the nearby tea estates.

Wow, this was our plan for two days. But because of Sahana’s “over adventurism” at Mirissa, where she was almost about to die, she couldn’t walk at all on our second day at Ella. So we stuck to watching trains at the bridge and enjoyed cafe scenes at Ella – something less hurtful for her feet.

Tall waterfalls with less water and lots of tourists

Super crowded Ravana waterfalls weren’t worth our time and tuk-tuk money. We went there after a traveller at UFO Cafe explained how wonderful it is to shower here. But when we went, at least 50 people were showering and waiting to shower – We found it not worth the hype.

So we spent time at Nine Arch bridge mostly, walked around the tea estates and enjoyed the cafe scenes at Ella.

Ella Nine Arch Bridge

Every homestay owner in Ella will likely brief you about what this bridge is and the train timings. A 91M length, 24m in height bridge built with stone, Concrete and NO STEEL during the British era was built by a Sri Lankan engineer Mr Appuhami and his team.

Fine – an ancient engineering marvel – But what so wow about it?

The epic scenery, semi-circular arches, stones, and widespread manicured tea estate are magical to see the bright colour painted trains move on the arched bridge. It is neither a hidden gem nor as touristy as other places in Sri Lanka. You will find a group of people waiting for the train. The train comes, they click pictures and leave immediately. Soon, singing birds, the forest and the tea estate next to it all are yours! Again a train comes, people come and go – get back to solitude. It is beyond beautiful.

Red colour train going on the nine arched bridge in the middle of tea estate

Where is the Nine Arch Bridge located?

The bridge was a 10minutes downhill walk from our homestay. Many tourists came here by tuk-tuk and walked downhill. The other route is a longer one (5km walk). From Ella, walk on the rugged road to reach Barn hills. Again, not so steep downhill walk gets you to the train track.

What time train passes Nine Arch Bridge?

On Friday we saw one train crossing at 6.30 PM, which was supposed to arrive at 5.30 PM. Saturday morning – 6.30 AM and 7 AM. Check with your host for accurate timings.

But do not plan your day like” I will watch the train at 9 AM and catch a bus at 9.30 at Ella” Very likely such plans do not work. The delay in train arrival is an obvious thing. Moreover, this place is so blissful that you may end up sitting here for hours together.

Blue colour train going on the nine arched bridge in the middle of tea estate

Early mornings are the best time to be there at the bridge: fewer people and good lighting for the photos. At 6.30 AM, there were probably 15 people. But everyone left as soon as the train passed. At 7 AM, it was only us, so we ended up staying till 9 AM! The previous evening there were around 80 people! It was entertaining to watch what tourists like us do here.

nine arched bridge in the middle of tea estate with lots of tourists waiting by the side.
ALL OF US ARE BUSY

A young couple was doing their pre/post–wedding photoshoot.
A group of pranksters plucking the tea leaves to sniff it and throw it! I wonder how much the owner loses by these kinds of idiots.
Teenage girls (maybe aspiring to be models) trying to walk on the train track with high-heeled shoes and super stylish dresses posing pretty, perhaps for their Portfolio. People like us sit quietly in the middle of tea plants, watching all the madness around.

Why do tourists visit Sri Lanka?

We got the answer to this question here! You hear the train horn blowing, and people are off the tracks. The locals travelling on the train know well that many tourists wait here. So they wave and howl, and so do the tourists. Click-click-click and Vanish as soon as the train passes. – It was a phenomenon to be experienced in the evenings.

A man walking on the parapet walls of  the nine arched bridge in the middle of tea estate

The mornings are different. The sun rises slowly, changing the bottle green colour of tea leaves to parrot green. The foggy day is turning into a warm yellow sky. A few tourists go jogging. Other tourists set up their tripods, whispering. So you really hear birds singing and leaves rustling now. As usual, we sat on the bridge until a train arrived.

The joggers disappeared in the woods after the red train vanished. Probably four or five of us took sunshine and the cold breeze and took a walk on the steel rails and wandered in the tunnel.

Girl walking on train track's stee; rail in forest at Sri Lanka

A coconut vendor approached us. After the fresh coconut water, he pointed in a direction and said, “Go hill. very nice”. But, you must never ignore a local’s recommendation. Regretting, Sahana sat on the parapet with a hurting foot, and I climbed the hill to see the best view of all.

Different viewpoints in Ella to Enjoy the Nine Arch Bridge

View of Blue train passing on the nine arch bridge
View of nine arch bridge from the jungle
View of nine arch bridge from the track
View of nine arch bridge from below tea estate

To save the route map, click here. The maps show longer routes; you can walk in the forest along the cliffs to reach those viewpoints.

  1. Guesthouse – 9 arch jungle inn front yard
  2. While going down from our homestay. The route is for non-guests too
  3. The bridge itself
  4. From the tea estate. You can further go down to the foot of the bridge.
  5. THE BEST – VIEW FROM HILLTOP
Best view of Ella Nine Arch bridge from the top of tea estate, Sri Lanka

Which is your favourite station in the world? Let us know in the comment section below.

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