Set on the southeastern edge of Uva Province, ELLA is one of the hill country’s most appealing destinations. This is the closest thing to an English country village you’ll find in Sri Lanka, enjoying a pleasantly temperate climate and surrounded by idyllic green hills blanketed in tea plantations and offering some good walking, as well as one of the finest views in Sri Lanka.
There’s not much to Ella village itself. An attractive scatter of cottages and bungalows enclosed in neat, flower-filled gardens, it preserves (for the time being at least) a pleasantly low-key atmosphere despite the number of foreign tourists passing through – although increasingly rapid and uncontrolled development around the edges of the village is increasingly beginning to threaten its peaceful rural charm. The single street meanders gently downhill, past assorted guesthouses and a scatter of cafés, before reaching the edge of the escarpment, just below the Grand Ella Motel, from where there’s the classic view past the towering bulk of Ella Rock on the right and through a cleft in the hills – the so-called Ella Gap – to the plains far below. There’s also a small Buddhist temple on the road here, where passing motorists stop and donate a coin for good luck before negotiating the treacherously twisting highway to Wellawaya, which descends into the sheer-sided valley below.
The most rewarding, and most taxing, hike around Ella is the ascent of the majestic Ella Rock, which looms over the village. It’s around a four-hour hike in total, with an interesting mix of rail track, tea plantation, and some steep stuff near the summit. Carry food, water and good footwear, and take care in wet weather, when tracks can get slippery – and be aware, too, that mist and rain can descend quickly at the top. There are several different possible routes; most begin by following the rail line south out of the village, then following one of the various paths which strike off up the rock.