Our next destination after Kandy was to be Ella, a small but very popular hill town in the central highlands. Now for this journey there was only one option, the epic train journey between the two places, renowned for its incredible views.
Our ever helpful Kandy host was more than willing to help us arrange our train travel, however unfortunately our last minute planning meant there were no seat reservations remaining for the train we planned to travel on. The only other option was to take the early morning cargo train, a guaranteed seat but the small matter of a 3.30am start!
Waking up, packing and getting to the train station is a bit of a blur but we made it in time, and after paying a barely believable R.30 (15p) each for a 2nd class ticket we were on our way. After sleeping through the first few hours of darkness we woke up to some incredible scenery on both sides of the train, as the train slowly made its way through valleys and tea plantations.
As we had chosen to sit in 2nd class we could open up the huge windows which are perfect to hang out of and take photos. We chose to sit on the left of the train, and although the views were incredible, they did seem to be even more impressive on the right side.
Its a good job the scenery was so impressive as you get plenty of time to enjoy it. The cargo train we had chosen to take was very slow, especially uphill where a number of times the driver seemed to get half way before giving up, letting the train roll back down the hill before trying again.
The station stops also varied between a few minutes and over half an hour, although as we didn’t really know what was going on we stayed on the train the whole time. We were able to buy a bottle of water and a variety of snacks from the vendors that passed through the train at each stop, but I would definitely recommend stocking up before the journey as it is a long way.
After 11 hours on the train in total we finally arrived into Ella train station, and ready to take a look around. We were immediately struck by how touristy it was in comparison to Kandy and Colombo, with locals in the minority and lots of backpackers wandering around. The town is essentially one road, with either side packed with bars, cafes and shops, with the roads off this containing most of the areas many guest houses. While we only tried a few of the places on offer we would highly recommend trying both 360 Ella and Chill Cafe.
As we had planned for only one night in Ella, we had limited time so tried to pack in as many of the sights as we possibly could. We started with a great leisurely walk up to Little Adam’s Peak. While you could walk from Ella town to the peak in around 45 minutes, we took the lazy option and hired a tuk tuk to take us to the start of the climb. Once at the top you are greeted with breathtaking 360 views of the surrounding valleys and Ella rock, some of the best we experienced in Sri Lanka.
Second on our list was a walk to the famed and much photographed Nine Arches Bridge. While we didn’t walk all the way down to the bridge itself where you can walk along the tracks, we stopped at the Nine Arches Cafe, which has an excellent viewpoint of the bridge from a slightly suspect wooden balcony. We were informed by the cafe owner that a train was due very shortly, but given our experience with Sri Lankan trains we thought this could mean anything up to 2 hours. However after about 20 minutes we were in luck and it was well worth the wait for the photo opportunity!
The following day we did manage to fit in a couple of other attractions before departing. We took a short tuk tuk ride to the Ravanna Falls, which was not overly impressive, as well as a quick visit to the Ella spice garden. For a reasonable R.100 each we were given a short tour of the garden by the very friendly owner. In fact he was so nice we were even convinced to buy some of his spices. The spice garden also provides cooking lessons which we would definitely be keen to try if we ever return to Ella.
Our time in Ella was fairly rushed, and we could have happily stayed there for a few more nights given how relaxing a place it is. While we did manage to take in most of the main sights, it was a shame to not attempt the more challenging climb to the summit of Ella Rock.
After the previous days train journey, we decided to take the next leg of our journey to Tissamaharama in the relative luxury of a private taxi, and it was so worth the extra money.