Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka Highlights: Hiking Ella Rock

The instructions seemed pretty clear on paper: follow the railway track, turn left at the bridge, head up. But we were stuck at the first hurdle. Assuming following the railway track meant we had to go to the train station, we were a little bit stumped to be met with a locked gate when we got there. Looking around and seeing no other way in we climbed up and jumped over it.

“Madam, stop!” From nowhere, station security arrived and fixed us with a disapproving stare.

“What are you doing?”

“Trying to climb Ella Rock,” I explained, waving my crude instructions in his face,” It says to follow the railway track for 2.5 kilometres.”

“Yes, but there is a road,” he sighed.

Competent hikers we were not.

We followed the road we should have been on until it abruptly stopped and then hopped up onto the wooden sleepers, as the rest of the village seemed to be doing. Ladies in lemon saris skirted along the track, men in long skirts marched past carrying heavy sacks. Every single one of them bid us hello.

The track curved around the edge of the valley – farms and tea plantations spread diagonally either side of us. As the morning sun burnt away the lingering mist a jagged peak appeared in front of us.

“We’re climbing that?”

About a kilometre into the first flat stretch I picked up a shadow. A man had sprung from the bushes and was walking a few steps behind me. He suddenly took over and awarded me a smile. Then,

“Where are you going Miss?”

I told him.

“And you have map?”

I showed him.

He nodded and went back into the bushes. Finally we came to the black bridge on our map and stopped to reread the instructions. Turn left it said, then right, then follow the path. Except there were two paths and what appeared to be a cabbage patch before them.  Were we allowed on the land? Is this the bridge the map mentioned?

Hiking Ella Rock in Sri Lanka

Suddenly our friend from earlier reappeared. “Come, come,” he said, “I show you the way.”

He guided us for the next three hours.

Kumar, as our guide turned out to be named, chose the route he thought we would be most suited to. It was longer but not as steep. (He had assessed my fitness levels and lack of appropriate footwear well).

It turns out, there are many routes to the top of Ella Rock but none are signposted or clearly marked. We were glad to have gained a guide.

Hiking Ella Rock in Sri Lanka

After that initial cabbage patch we were to pass many more farms. We hiked through people’s gardens, past waterfalls and around barking dogs. The terrain changed from wide jungle bush to tall forest trees. The last 20 minutes were a steep, crumbly climb, made harder by the high altitude and my pink sneakers constantly losing grip. Then finally the trees came to an end and there was nothing in front of us but an abrupt drop and a staggering view of the Ella Gap. Kumar, in his 40s but looking 30, stopped for a rest and, grateful for the break, we sat down too.

Hiking Ella Rock in Sri Lanka

Hiking Ella Rock in Sri Lanka

Hiking Ella Rock in Sri Lanka(Hanging out at the top of Ella Rock)

Kumar led us back down a different way than we came come up, stopping to show us honey bees and a temple in the early stages of construction.

Once back on the railway track that took us into town, I had a rush of childlike excitement when the rails began to shake. Coming round the hill was a magnificent blue engine, chugging and spluttering its way towards us.

Just like the train we had come in on this one had people hanging from doors and windows, making use of the natural air con. They all waved enthusiastically as we pressed our bodies against the bushes in order to let it pass.

Hiking Ella Rock in Sri Lanka

Kumar’s English was little but towards the end of our hike he managed to convey a sweet offer,

“Come to my house for tea?”

Kumar is not a guide but a local farmer, he explained, and he wanted to show us his land and introduce us to his wife.

His home turned out to be a humble building by the side of the railway, his land on the other side of the track below.

When we arrived at his house he called for his wife, she shook our hands and immediately set off to plug in the kettle – she did this by unplugging the TV. Kumar said something we could not understand and set off down the hill at a rapid jogging pace. He appeared 10 minutes later with sweat on his brow and a shopping bag on his arm. He had been out to buy bananas and biscuits to go with our tea.

Hiking Ella Rock in Sri Lanka(Kumar grows carrots and lettuce just beyond the railway track)

We couldn’t stay long but as Kumar and his wife waved us off from the doorway of their home we couldn’t have been more grateful for their hospitality and help. In this case being an incompetent hiker had definitely had its perks.

Tips for hiking Ella Rock

Ella Rock takes approximately 4 hours to hike from Ella town. It is best to set off early in the morning as mist tends to roll in during the afternoon and hiking during the middle of the day can be incredibly hot.

You can hire a guide in town to show you the way for approx. 2-3000 rupees. If you want to go alone most guesthouses will provide you with a map and if you get lost you can always pick up a local guide along the way as we did. We tipped Kumar 2000 rupees for his efforts.

Ella Rock House

Ella has a range of guesthouses to choose from and it looks like they are in the process of building a swanky hotel too. We stayed at Ella Rock House, a new (in 2014) guesthouse close to the centre of town. Rooms are spacious and modern and have an outside terrace, which is where our breakfast was served as the were still completing the building work on the restaurant. A double room with breakfast and AC costs $35 per night. Management will pick you up from the train station for free and are super helpful with booking drivers and tours during your stay. I also loved the way they lit the house up like Christmas so you can easily find it at night!

Search for hotels in Ella

We took the train to Ella from Kandy. It was the most beautiful train journey of my life and costs less than £1.80.

Read next:

What To See & Where To Stay In Sri Lanka 

First Impressions Of Sri Lanka

Highlights from our 2 week tour of Sri Lanka

Riding the rails in Sri Lanka

About Author

I'm a freelance blogger and writer who loves boutique hotels, brunching and shopping. I've been blogging for 11 years, visited 60+ countries and called London, Sydney, Melbourne and (oh so briefly) New York home at various points during the last decade. We purchased our first home during the pandemic & have been infusing it with a feeling of travel while we wait to see the world again.


  • Mariana
    February 19, 2014 at 10:17 pm

    OMG, I’m pretty sure it was the exact same man who saved my friends and I when we were trying to climb it! Such a beautiful place 🙂

    • Jayne
      February 20, 2014 at 7:58 am

      Hahah I bet it was! It seemed to be used to saving lost tourists!!

  • Catherine
    February 20, 2014 at 3:44 pm

    Kumar sounds lovely! So sweet that he ran to fetch some bananas and biscuits too! Sounds like you have a great day out 🙂

  • […] Sri Lanka Highlights: Hiking Ella Rock February 19, 2014 […]

  • Kelly
    April 20, 2014 at 1:34 am

    How early did you buy your Ella to Kandy train tickets? I can’t wait to see Ella!

    • Jayne
      April 22, 2014 at 10:15 am

      Hi Kelly, we travelled from Kandy to Ella by train and booked it when we arrived in Kandy 2 days before travel. We could only get seats in 3rd class at this time but were more than comfortable there! From Ella we hired a driver to Yalla and booked it the day before leaving. Most guesthouse owners can help you with travel arrangements and it is very easy to book them as you go along. Enjoy 🙂

  • Elisabeth
    June 10, 2014 at 7:05 pm

    Hi. You did this hike in February? Any idea if it is possible to do the hike all-year? we are going to Sri Lanka at the end of august, staying till beginning of October. I love to hike, and after seeing your blog-post this hike is now on my wish-list. =)

  • […] of Unawatuna) so excursions are often booked via your guesthouse or with a driver directly. At Ella our guesthouse manager was happy to answer any questions we had about what to pay for services (at […]

  • Nuwan
    September 28, 2015 at 6:21 am

    Hiking can be done all year around. Just watch out for the weather, it can get wet and windy during the monsoons, so trails are slippery and not very safe.

    Those train engines are engineering marvels. They have been running since the 50s. You can see the name Vancouver on that one, they were a gift from Canada during the Colombo plan project.

  • Ella -
    September 25, 2016 at 4:50 pm

    […] is best to negotiate this before you start to avoid any awkward negotiation at the end. Read the if you are after some more advice, her story was very similar to […]

  • Amar
    October 24, 2016 at 9:11 pm

    Haha you sound as confused as we were!

    I just did the hike myself so put together a detailed visual guide on how to hike Ella Rock.

    Seems to confuse a lot of people but hopefully this will help a future reader!

    • Jayne Gorman
      October 25, 2016 at 9:54 pm

      Your guide is awesome! I def could have done with this when I was there 🙂


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