The lush greenery and rolling hills that dominate the landscape in Sri Lanka’s hill country is a refreshing change from the coastal views of this island nation. Although we had visited Haputale before, around four years ago, we had never visited Ella. Therefore, on our return to the area, we decided to see a different place as well as visit an old friend.
Here, I’ll share what is possible to see and do in and around Ella and Haputale.
Ella: (1041m above Sea Level)
A small yet bustling town, Ella has a main road running through it, on which you can find restaurants, tea shops, convenience stores and some accommodation. The real action, however, lies on the outskirts of town.
If arriving by bus, you’ll be dropped in the middle of town. If you have accommodation booked, you’ll have to negotiate with a rickshaw driver to take you there, but be aware that they are notorious for over charging foreigners!
After some hard haggling we managed to reach our homestay, which was about 2.5km out of town. Despite the distance, it made for peaceful and quiet surroundings.
Nine Arch Bridge
The morning after our arrival, we made our way through the countryside to the Nine Arch Bridge. It took a while to find the correct path but, thanks to smiling locals, we found our way eventually. You’ll have to make your way carefully down a precarious slope through thick vegetation to get to the bridge but it’s worth it!
The Nine Arch Bridge is a stunning feat of engineering, stretching for what seems like miles. Although trains do run along it, they are infrequent and photo opportunities are possible without any issues.
It is considered a much more pleasant experience to take the train in the hill country, as opposed to the bus, simply because of the beautiful views that train travel allows. In this case, the emphasis is on the journey, not necessarily the destination!
Little Adam’s Peak
From Nine Arch Bridge we embarked on the hike to Little Adams Peak, which, though smaller than its big brother Adams Peak, is still quite a challenge. Follow signs and ask friendly locals; they’ll point you in the right direction. You’ll head through tea plantations and can follow the trail all the way up to the top; the path is marked and easy enough to follow.
The summit allows for stunning views of the surrounding hills, with greenery all around and majestic views of the tea plantations, laid out like emerald carpets before you. From this high point, you can descend and proceed up another hill slightly further away for a different perspective of Little Adams Peak. It’s definitely worth the effort if the weather is on your side.
Temples around Ella
For those looking for a temple, paying a visit to Ravana Temple to see the reclining Buddha is worthwhile. Its old chipped paint in the small cave-like temple adds to its ancient roots and authenticity.
The Halpe Temple is also nice to see whilst you are in the area; close by and sharing part of its name is the Halpe Tea Factory. It is possible to visit the grounds and have a look around; the museum provides information on the picking, processing and production of the tea and how it goes from the plantation to your teacup! Free tastings are available here, as are tours of the working factory, but only on processing days.
The Dowa Temple is another religious place in the area; the Buddha carved into the cliff-face is impressive and demonstrates how tradition runs deep.
An early start is recommended to take advantage of the cooler temperatures and reach the top of Ella Rock. The trail begins by walking along the train tracks; as mentioned before, although trains do run, they are infrequent. Locals also use this route as a walking path so drivers know to sound their horns well in advance.
Following the sign posts makes the trail easy to navigate and a guide is not necessary. At a certain kilometer marker, you’ll veer off and begin to ascend into the hills, walking through lovely rolling hills and small village settlements; the rich greens make for a peaceful and pleasant journey. The latter part of the hike is a tad more strenuous, requiring a steep climb up through bamboo forest. Ensure to bring a supply of water and snacks; you’ll be grateful for them!
A well-known attraction, you’ll meet plenty of locals and tourists going up and down the trail so you won’t get lost. If you’re reasonably fit and wearing good shoes, it’s easy enough to make it in good time.
Ella Rock, when you finally make it to the top, offers wonderful views over the surrounding hills and villages. A warning, however, for anyone that suffers from vertigo not to get too close to the edge!
Transport from Ella
Moving on from Ella is possible by train or bus, depending on your destination. Ask at your accommodation for on-the-ground information as times are liable to change. Buses run from the main road through town and it’s advisable to arrive there early to avoid missing your ride!
We took a train from Ella to Haputale; it’s possible to buy tickets just before your journey from the railway station. The simplicity and quaintness of this toy-town station reminded me of one you might find in a village somewhere in England!
- Badulla: Rs 48, 45 minutes (For Kandy change in Badulla)
- Bandarawela: Rs 36, 30 minutes
- Wellawaya: Rs 67, 1 hour
- Galle: 8am, Rs 340
- Badulla: Rs 40/20, 1 hour (5 daily)
- Bandarawela: Rs 30/15, 35 minutes (5 daily)
- Colombo: Rs 350/190, 9 hours (4 daily)
- Haputale: Rs 50/25, 1 hour 30 minutes (5 daily)
- Kandy: Rs 240/130, 6-10 hours (5 daily)
All prices are 2nd and 3rd class respectively
Haputale: (1431m above Sea Level)
Considered a highlight of Sri Lanka, this simple yet beautiful spot in the hill country is a must on any itinerary. We visited Haputale on our first trip to Sri Lanka and it felt right to return, having enjoyed it so much before.
We again stayed at Bawa Guesthouse, where the owners remembered us! Home cooked food here is fresh and plentiful; though the rooms are basic, they are spacious and it still feels like an authentic family-run guesthouse.
Haputale is famous for its tea production and plantations; perhaps the most famous is the Lipton Tea Estate, founded by Sir Thomas Lipton. Scottish born Lipton discovered Haputale during the time of British rule in India and set about investing in the area; the Lipton brand was thus created.
One famous viewpoint not to be missed is Lipton’s Seat. It is said that he used to sit here and watch over proceedings, as the tea pickers, brought over from Tamil Nadu in India, plucked the fresh leaves. To reach it, head to the Lipton Tea Estate, make your way through the plantation and follow the well sign posted route. It is well known and therefore easy to find!
Dambatenne Tea Factory
Another well-known location is the Dambatenne Tea Factory. Here, you can have a look around the factory and learn more about the process from picking to the final product. The simple pleasure of walking through the extensive plantations is a fantastic way to see the daily lives of the tea pickers (although they often finish working by late morning) and to appreciate the quiet tranquility of the hill country.
The Adishan Monastery was, unfortunately, closed when we passed by so we couldn’t get close. From what we could see through the gates, however, it more resembles a small country house than a monastery.
Prabhawa Mountain Viewpoint
Also worth heading up to is Prabhawa Mountain viewpoint, not really a mountain but certainly a high enough vantage point. Following the sign posts and traversing tea plantation paths will lead you steadily to the top; the climb is relatively easy though fairly winding. A small Hindu shrine with typical offerings lies at the summit and sweeping views are possible, as long as the weather is on your side!
Horton Plains National Park
Accessible from Nuwara Eliya or Haputale is the famous Horton Plains National Park, a fabulous area with beautiful hiking opportunities. From the park’s upland plateau, you can see Sri Lanka’s second and third highest mountains, Kirigalpotta (2395m) and Totapola (2357m).
Routes are well sign-posted and easy to follow, making walking through the plains a delight. With grasslands, lakes, forests and waterfalls, various scenes can be witnessed here, as well as an abundance of wildlife; the area is especially good for bird watching! World’s End viewpoint also offers stunning panoramas (weather permitting!)
It is advisable to start as early as possible to avoid the crowds and midday heat; views are also more likely to be obscured by cloud later in the day. No public transport is available so you’ll have to arrange a taxi or rickshaw with a local driver or through your accommodation. Tours are available but can be expensive. The entrance ticket is also steep once all the extra charges have been laid on.
Entrance Fee Breakdown:
- Adult/child: $15/$8
- Jeep/car: Rs 250/125
- Service charge (per group): $8
- All of this PLUS 15% tax!
Although the charge for foreign visitors isn’t cheap, it is a worthwhile trip and a must-do when in the area. The right weather conditions do, however, make a trip that much more enjoyable!
Transport from Haputale:
Buses depart from stops close to the main junction on the east side of the town centre. Regular services include:
- Badulla: Rs 76, 2 hours
- Bandarawela: Rs 28, 30 minutes (change here for Ella)
- Wellawaya: Rs 93, 2 hours 30 minutes
- Nuwara Eliya: Rs 116, 2 hours 30 minutes (three daily)
Travelling by train, considered the best way in the hill country, is possible to the following destinations:
- Bandarawela: Rs 20/15, 30 minutes (5 daily)
- Colombo: Rs 330/180, 8-9 hours (4 daily)
- Ella: Rs 50/25, 1 hour 30 minutes (5 daily)
- Kandy: Rs 210/115, 5 hours 30 minutes (5 daily)
The hill country is a breath of fresh air and makes a pleasant change of scene from the coastal destinations. Full of historic significance, greenery and of course tea, making a trip to this part of Sri Lanka allows for a different look into the traditions and customs of local life. The hill country also enables you to escape the heat of the plains and enjoy a few days, or weeks, breathing in some cooler mountain air.
For information on another unmissable hill country destination, check out our post: Top Sights in Kandy: The Cultural Heart of Sri Lanka!