Nature lovers and hikers unite! In the mountains of Sri Lanka towards the south there are numerous mountain regions, the most popular of which is the town of Ella. Surrounded by mountain peaks, waterfalls, and lush valleys, this mountain town serves as a crossroads between the beaches of the south and east, national parks just west, and the second-largest city of Kandy to the north. The city is becoming more popular as visitors board what is being arguably "the most scenic train in the world" that runs from the capital in Colombo through the tea plantations and mountains to Ella and beyond. All of the hype, in my opinion, is very well-deserved and a necessary stop for adventure junkies when visiting Sri Lanka.
The Train to Ella
The train traversing the route from Colombo to Kandy down to Ella in the southeast is known as the most scenic route in Sri Lanka, if not in the world! Hang your head out the window of the blue train and watch as the tea plantations and rolling hills of green fly on by. There are many stops along the way to visit places like Kandy, Hatton to climb Adam's Peak, and all the way to Ella to visit tea plantations and do some mountain hiking as well! The views from the train are to die for, and will be one of the highlights of your time in the country.
Travel Tip: Want a window seat to get a mountain-side view?? The RIGHT side of the train facing forward is the one you want! There are two options to board the train: If you are the type of traveler to book months in advance, you can reserve a first-class seat on the train. If you are like me and leave most travel details to happenstance, either board the train in Colombo (if coming from the north passing through Kandy) or in Peradeniya (if you are in Kandy). The stop in Peradeniya is about 30 minutes via bus or tuk-tuk away from the center of Kandy and lets you avoid battling the crowds for second and third-class seats at the Kandy station! This is definitely worth it if you don't want to chance having to stand on the train as it makes its way south. I do hear that the journey in reverse from Ella to Kandy/Colombo is much less crowded!
Hiking in Ella
This hike is a grinder to the top of Ella Rock, situated at about 2,000m, that will have you traversing kilometers of train tracks, rice paddies, forest ravines, and a cardio-intense climb to the top. That being said, the view from the top has you peering down on the mountains, valleys, waterfalls, and sheer grandiose beauty that makes Ella so special.
How To: Factor in about a half-day for this hike and bring lots of water, sunscreen, and good shoes. This hike can be difficult to access on your own because directions are scarce, the trail is hard to find, and the locals have come up with a way to misguide you so that you will hire them on as a hiking guide.
If you want to do this trail on your own, I have added directions on a map at the bottom of this page that will give you all necessary information on how to do it yourself!
I only had two days in Ella to explore, which meant I didn't get to hike it all. If you had more time than I did, try not to miss Little Adam's Peak and Ravana-Ella Falls. I've heard great things about them both, and with Little Adam's Peak it seems that you get a big panoramic view of Ella Rock from across the valley.
Nine Arch Bridge
Standing at 24 meters tall and 91 meters high, the Nine Arch Bridge runs between the Ella and Demodara train stations. It is built without steel, of only rocks, cement, and bricks, which compliments its natural setting high above the tea plantations and lush forest all around. You can walk from Ella Station via the tracks, take a tuk-tuk from town, or walk down the road towards Little Adam's Peak and ascend up the mountain and down to the tracks. The train runs by a few times a day and is a hotspot for photos when it does! There is a map with detailed directions at the bottom of this page.
Photo Tip: There is an awesome viewpoint up the ridge on the left side of the tracks (with the tunnel situated on your right) at a place called Asanka Cafe. There is a sweet family that runs the cafe that can serve you drinks with the best seat in the house overlooking the tracks and tunnel. It's a great place to view the train running by if you don't want to be caught with the hordes of tourists below.
Train Viewing Times: As of March 2018, potential train viewing times from the bridge are: 6:06, 13:26, 15:15, 17:28, and 18:23 (bold = during daylight hours). Factor in that these are the times that it leaves the station in Ella towards Badulla, and the train does tend to run a bit behind schedule. Check the train timetable to ensure that times are current!
A Map of Ella + Directions
Here is a map I made to guide you through these sites around Ella. The green hiking symbols denote directions to Ella Rock and the purple to Nine Arch Bridge, as both can rather convoluted and difficult to find on your own!