We had planned to come from Arugam Bay however, as we missed our train we stayed the night in Ella again (not complaining) then headed to the little English town. So from Arugam Bay to Ella it’s the same deal, just keep catching buses and asking locals for the direction of Ella and you’ll make it! Our route, was Arugam Bay to Monaragala to Ella. If you are doing the extended trip try get on a 6am bus so you can make the train. You can however catch the bus all the way to Nuwara Eliya but the famous train ride is a must and the buses have to head into the hills so the trip is longer. Once you get off at Nura Oya, walk outside and jump on the bus for 25 LKR each or take a tuk tuk for 500 LKR.
Tip: Secure yourself on the right hand side of the train if you are heading from Ella to Kandy or Nura Oya. Make sure you go to the station and ask about tickets prior, we were told to come back in the morning to buy an ordinary ticket 110 LKR each. Originally we were offered reservation ticket from 400 – 1,000 LKR which may be necessary if you are visiting in high season however we bought our ticket 2 hours in advanced for the 9.23am train and got ourselves a second class ticket. They were sold out once we arrived so buy as soon as you can.
So accommodation is not cheap here. We were shocked at the price climb going into the hills so we just rocked up and found the best little gem in town for 1300 LKR a night compared to the 3500 LKR for the basic everywhere else. You can’t find this little old ladies place online but if your desperate for this here are the directions and see how you go.
Once you leave the bus station turn right along Bazar Street. At the roundabout, on the left is Kandy Road. Follow this along past food city until you reach Chapel Street. The house is about a quarter of the way along, across from the mosque and on the left. Here is the photo below that we used to find the place!
Your options in town are pretty limited so we just ate locally, we lived off egg hoppers and fruit from the markets. Other than one place, we found Salmiya Italian restaurant tucked away near the lake, it was hard to find however, worth it for the amazing pizza. If you want to treat yourself, head to the Grand Hotel. Set in the most amazing gardens they have many on site cafes and restaurants, Indian, Thai, traditional, various bars, high tea and coffee shops. They have it all.
Things to do
Mackwood Tea Shop in town: pay a visit to their shop in town near the Winter Bazar. You’ll be taken to the top floor for some free tea tasting and a little insight into the tea business. You will also be sitting in an English 1900s inspired sitting room decked with leather loungers, arm chairs and a ceiling filled with chandeliers as you listen to a vintage record player.
The Grand Hotel: this is the place to eat, sit and wonder through the gardens. Depending on the hour you are here at either have a coffee and cake in the front garden, have a drink from the bar in the back garden or go for a meal at the Thai restaurant below ground level. Whatever you decided it will be worth it. Also, make sure you explore the full perimeter inside and outside of this amazing property.
Tea Plantations: We visited Mackwoods, Blue Fields, Heritance and Pedro Plantation. Our best recommendation is Blue Field Factory and Tea Gardens, here you get a free and insightful tour through the factory, a complementary cup of tea and after you can throw on a basket and head out into the plantations to try your hand at tea picking.
Ramboda Falls: We didn’t visit as it was bad weather however this is the perfect place to visit in the afternoon after all the tea plantations. I believe it is about a 40 minute walk to reach.
Like many, we’ve had thousands of cups of tea in our life but ask me about the farming process or history and I couldn’t tell you. So for us this was a super insightful little excursion and exploration into the tea market. The most significant part was the rich history of the industry as well as the women in the fields. Since the 1800s women and children were sent to the fields for as little as $1 a day for picking 20kg, slavery here has been a massive problem and although there has been massive improvements like raising the children’s working age to 12. I believe there is still a long way to go. It is also believed families of the tea fields are not subject to the same rights as other citizens and they are expected to live with no electricity or running water in huts built in the fields as in this lifetime, “it’s the best they will ever get”. These huts often have two rooms with 6-11 people living within and the conditions are very poor and it’s almost impossible to escape as they are the lowest paid people in Sri Lanka and they’re not privileged to be educated. The only thing I can suggest is, if you pass by a field of women picking for a photograph. Slide them 100 LKR or whatever you deem appropriate because this is the only means of extra income they have. I do not support begging or giving money to anyone else on a usual basis however this is an exception and I encourage it.