Daytrip to Ella, Sri Lanka

One minute we’re packing the car at 4am till the next moment where we are waking up to a dream like vision of misty rice fields being tended to by the local farmers. The mountains in the background are also cloud covered. The air is fresh and we’re alive once again. 

This was perhaps the best day we all had in Sri Lanka during the whole one and a half week trip with family. It was a day filled with so much adventure and came out with a few additional surprises that weren’t expected. 

While Sri Lanka is mostly known for its long beaches and friendly people, it also has lots to offer in the mountains. You may want to look into the train ride from Kandi to Ella as this part of the island is stunning. 

We were based in Galle, which is in the Southwest corner of the island, and has lots to offer. But it also made it so that we were stuck there unless we hired a driver or took the bus for a long journey. We took the first option, as we had limited time and it wasn’t that much. (Ask for our driver recommendation if you need any help!)

Only thirty minutes from the rice fields, we’re starting to climb the mountains and get some stunning scenery. The mountain air is cooler and you’re basically driving along the cliffside. Even the hotels are built on stilts.  

Only thirty minutes from the rice fields, we’re starting to climb the mountains and get some stunning scenery. The mountain air is cooler and you’re basically driving along the cliffside. Even the hotels are built on stilts.  

One of the first places we stopped at was Ravana Waterfall, which is the highest in Sri Lanka at 90m. If we were more prepared, then we could have tried to swim and drink some of the fresh mountain water. 

We then drove past Ella to Haiela so that we would have a few train station stops before it stopped back in Ella. The train leaves at 9:10 and expect a crowded train. 

The nice part is that you can hang out the windows to get great views. This part of the train ride is great because the train goes slower than usual. As an additional tip, you want to be on the RIGHT side of the train and choose a window close to a door in front of you so that you can take the iconic hanging out of the train photo. We didn’t have the seats on the right side, and only the window, so we had trouble trying to take shots. Also the famous Nine Arch Bridge comes up on the right side, so you’ll want to be in a window or door on the RIGHT side to get the best view. Also, we took third class tickets and those were good enough. If you have a longer train journey, you may want to do the 2nd class to get seats to sit on. 

Some of the photos that you’ll see online are very photoshopped and people are likely cropped or brushed out. Here’s a fairly normal shot that I took and then the next is how it actually is. But still, it’s an exciting bridge and train ride experience.

Once we got off the train in Ella, we took a short drive to Little Adam’s Peak trailhead and started climbing. It’s only maybe a 20-30 minute climb and not much elevation. But the Sri Lankan heat is nothing to mess with. 

And then we were treated to great views of the mountains and roads that we had driven. 

The heat and the humidity all make it so that the clouds move and change so much. For being a fairly popular tourist spot, it’s fairly peaceful at the top of the trail. 

After climbing down the trail to the start of the walking path, we decided to take a 1,000 rupee Tuk-Tuk ride to drop us off at the Nine Arch Bridge. This saved a huge amount of time walking in the sun, and made our walk along the train tracks more enjoyable. 

Here’s my attempt at looking Sri Lankan with the Sarong. 

Here we took lots of photos on both sides of the bridge. This side has a trail going up that takes 10 minutes back to Ella main city. 

We then enjoyed some food at Little Restaurant, got a coffee one of the cafes and then did some shopping. 

The drive back down to Galle was also interesting. Monkeys that would come up to the car window (although be careful if they approach) to peacocks in the rice field. Our next stop was Buduruwagala Raja Maha Buddha statues. The photos on any tourist sign don’t do it justice, but it’s an impressive set of carvings in a huge rock face. Here’s some of the history on this temple.

Then, the most unexpected thing to happen this day: wild elephants. We were driving and then suddenly our driver stopped and backed up the car.

At first it was just one, but then we saw a second elephant come out of the forest. 

And so that was all that happened on one of the best days in Sri Lanka. 

A big thank you to Marie and Knut for making this trip happen. 

Ella & Train Ride Tips:

  1. You’ll want to ride on the right side of the train from Haiela to Ella and it’s about 5 minutes away from the Ella actually. 
  2. Shopping is likely to happen in Ella as there’s lots of great shops for women’s wear.
  3. I would not trust a bus down the sides of the roads there, and would suggest getting a car to go up and down these parts.
  4. There’s some temples that we missed that you need to climb up to and take a trek to reach. Perhaps next time we’ll go visit. 

Location:

Ella is 3.5 hours from Galle by driving. It may take more via the bus. You can also reach Ella by train from Kandi/Colombo if you have time, but the train ride between Kandi and Ella is 8 hours total. 

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