Have you ever seen travel photos on Pinterest or Instagram that show a cute little blue train chugging along a lush green hillside? Dreamy, right? I was lucky enough to live that dream on my recent trip to Sri Lanka. Turns out that train goes about 20-30 kilometers per hour– that’s slow. Luckily, it’s known for being one of the most scenic train rides in the world, and it lived up to that title.
My friends and I arrived in Ella around 7 pm on Friday night. We stayed at the Pasla Hotel which is right on the main strip near all the restaurants and shops. It was dirt cheap at only $25 CAD, and although the room was huge, it was super basic. Good enough for us though! We freshened up after the long drive (Colombo to Ella by car is about 6 hours) and headed out for dinner and drinks. Our friends had recommended Cafe Chill and for good reason– it was amazing. The food was delicious, the drinks were deadly, and the atmosphere was, well, chill. I’m talking open-air, beanbag chairs, friendly staff, and no worries. I was so relaxed (and a little buzzed from the mojitos). The nightlife in Ella is pretty great, and I don’t know if the tourists go for the nightlife or if the nightlife only exists because of the tourists, but either way, you can party with both locals and travelers and it’s a really fun time.
The next morning, we were up bright and early to hike Ella Rock. Some people like to do it for sunrise, but honestly, the trail was so difficult to find and challenging to climb that I would never recommend anyone heading out there before sunrise. It just would not be safe. We grabbed breakfast first at the cafe across from our hotel, Starbeans Coffee (so original) and then walked up to the train station to start our journey. Like I said, the trail is hard to find and we could not have done it without this article by Atlas & Boots. The hike is quite difficult at some points but the view from the top is worth the burning legs and dripping sweat, I promise. Bring lots of water and a good pair of shoes. This view was honestly the best I saw in all of Sri Lanka. Absolutely breathtaking. Give yourself a good amount of time to just sit and take it all in.
After we made it back to the hotel in one piece, we took a quick break, showered, grabbed lunch, and then got a tuk-tuk to the well known Nine-Arch Bridge. It was about ten minutes by tuk and then a 15-minute steep climb down to the bridge. I did not expect the climb and was wearing flip-flops. Fun times. Again, it was worth the struggle. The bridge is very beautiful and we were lucky enough to catch the training going across, which made for nice photos. After chilling out for a bit, getting our pictures, and enjoying dangling our feet over the side, we climbed back through the tea fields to our kind tuk driver who waited for us and brought us back into town.
By that point in the day, we were pretty spent from all the hiking. We decided to again enjoy dinner at Cafe Chill, then we headed to another bar, 360, for a few more drinks before bed. I slept so well that night. It was an early rise again the next morning to catch the train back to Colombo. We sat down for breakfast at 360 and grabbed chocolate-banana roti to-go from Downtown Roti Hut. The roti was for the long ride ahead of us, and they were freakin’ delicious. Make sure you buy your tickets early and arrive at the platform early as lots of people are waiting to get on, but that being said, finding seats wasn’t too difficult a task. The train ride from Ella to Colombo takes 12 hours. Yep, you read that right. We were on the train from 9 am to 9 pm. Bring snacks, books, and download some Netflix cause you’re in for a long ride. Please, don’t let the length of time turn you off of taking the train. The views are phenomenal and the vibe is so chill– at one point, some locals broke out their instruments and started playing music. Sit in the doorway and dangle your feet for a while as the scenery rolls past. Be in the moment, appreciate where you are and what you’re doing. It can truly be the experience of a lifetime.
Ella was amazing. If you find yourself in Sri Lanka, don’t miss it. We didn’t fit in all the tourist attractions because we wanted a relaxing weekend (and it was still exhausting), but if you’re up for the challenge, I’d suggest fitting in the waterfall between Ella Rock and the bridge, and Little Adam’s Peak for sunrise on Sunday morning. It will be tiring, but do-able. Another perk about visiting Ella: it’s in the hill country so you can escape the scorching heat and enjoy a cooler climate– still about 20-25 degrees Celcius. Really lovely.
Have you been to Ella? Sri Lanka? Did we miss something? Let us know in the comments! And check out our other posts about Sri Lanka: