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Ella and Haputale are located in Sri Lanka’s Hill Country and are both stops along the famous Kandy to Ella route. Whilst Ella likely needs no introduction, Haputale is located just an hour away and offers a quiet retreat (away from Ella’s general business) with similar incredible views. Haputale is also close to most of the attractions Ella is famous for.
We compiled this list to combine both towns as they offer the same views and sites but with different vibes. One will appeal more to you than the other, depending on the type of traveller you are.
One of the most famous and scenic train routes in the world and the image that is often conjured up in traveller’s minds when they think of Sri Lanka. This route has consistently amazing scenery throughout the Hill Country and is an excellent opportunity to talk and mingle with local people.
Overcrowding: Be warned, It gets incredibly busy. During weekends, holidays or peak season it’s nearly impossible to get a seat or good view unless you book your tickets far in advance. Don’t worry too much if you don’t get tickets. We were travelling through peak holiday season and didn’t ride the full route. We only a couple of small parts of it when we were in Haputale. The views you get from the road are more or less the same. Plus you have the freedom of stopping to take photos.
The parts we did ride we literally couldn’t move at all. To do the full ride in those conditions would not be fun!
A 10-minute hike from just outside Ella’s main town (there is a pathway just past the Art Umbrella Cafe if coming from the main town) leads you to a viewpoint to see the Nine Arch Bridge. The walk can get quite slippery if it’s been raining but otherwise it’s an easy, scenic walk.
Keep an eye (and ear) out for the train coming and check the schedule beforehand if you want to see the train passing over the bridge. From the viewpoint you can walk down towards the bridge and cross over it. It’s a cool place to visit! As always, visit early in the morning to beat the crowds.
Not too far from the Nine Arch Bridge is Little Adam’s Peak. We ended up walking from Nine Arch Bridge to the peak in about 1 hour. Although it was quite exhausting. You can get driven most of the way up and enjoy a short, 15 minute hike to the top if you desire.
The views from the top are, once again, breathtaking. The sheer natural beauty of Sri Lanka can feel relentless and constantly outdoes itself. We came here to watch the sunset. Once you’re at the top there are a couple of other places you can walk to. Definitely not to be missed.
The Duomo (the iconic dome attached to Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral) is located in the Piazza del Duomo, surrounded by traditional Tuscan buildings, however it is unmissable. The architecture, details and colours of the Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral and Duomo are as grand in real life. The exterior of the church is an impressive piece of architecture, and you’ll want to walk around and step back to take it all in from all angles. Entrance to the cathedral is free however, you'll need to plan and book tickets ahead if you want to climb 463 steps to the top of the dome.
Ella Rock sits tallest amongst the landscape in Ella. Keen travellers can easily admire this mountain from afar. We had a beautiful view from our guesthouse, Country Homes. We loved watching the sun set each afternoon from our balcony with Ella Rock in view.
The more adventurous (or the ones who have more energy at the time) can climb to the peak in a few hours. There are a lot of guides online that explain the route in detail and we'd strongly recommend checking out a few of them before attempting to reach it yourself. We have heard a lot of conflicting reports regardingthe complexity and difficulty of the route.
One of the coolest things we did in this area was simply exploring around the railway station in Idalgasinna. Located just 15 minutes by train from Haputale on the Ella to Kandy route, you can quickly reach this area and then walk back to Haputale station. Being one of the most scenic parts of the route, this gives you the opportunity to see the views from the train and on foot.
If you plan on walking the full distance by aware that there are a couple of areas where the pathway gets narrow, somewhere you don't want to be if a train is passing through. Be aware of the train time table which you will be able to find out in Idalgasinna.
You can't visit Sri Lanka's Hill Country without visiting a tea plantation. The most famous ones in the region are found along the route between Kandy > Nuwara Eliya > Ella. Most places offer tours and the opportunity to sample their teas. The views around the establishments are often big draws too.
The tours themselves are usually free but some may have a small cost. We visited Damro Labokellie Tea Factory where we were taken on a short, 20 minute stroll through the factory. We finished in their restaurant where we sampled some tea and chocolate cake.
You'll always be surrounded by beautiful mountains and hills when you're travelling through this region. However, all the hiking you'll be doing to seek these views will leave you tired. Why not treat yourself and bring the views to you? That way you can appreciate them from the comfort of your balcony with a hot cup of tea!
We spent a night at Leisure Mount View Holiday Inn where we had an incredible view from our balcony that was nearly as good as what we saw at Lipton's Seat. This guesthouse also served up a very delicious buffet in the evening which was one of the best meals we had in Sri Lanka.
When you're on the road for weeks at a time you may find yourself craving some of the food you're used to back home. Or maybe you just want to eat something other than rice and curry. Don't worry, we won't judge you.
Ella, being a touristy backpacker town, has a great variety of restaurants and can help settle those cravings! Cafe Chill serves up excellent burgers and breakfast staples such as avocado on toast. Cafe UFO is your answer if you're seeking somewhere fancier. A date night perhaps? We spent New Years Eve here and enjoyed a great meal with cocktails.
Have no fears if you wish to keep it fully local though. There are great Sri Lankan restaurants in the area too.
One of the highlights of our trip to Sri Lanka was visiting Lipton's Seat and it’s surrounding tea plantation. Lipton's Seat is where Sir Thomas Lipton, founder of Lipton teas, was said to look over his vast tea plantation fields. Having seen these fields ourselves, it’s not hard to see why. On a clear day you can see all the way to the coastline from this vantage point.
Dambatenne Tea Factory is just a 7 - 8km trek away through these beautiful fields. Combine these activities together and they make a great half day trip from Haputale or Ella.
In order to arrive before sunrise you’ll need to arrange tuk tuk transportation beforehand.
From Haputale: Around 45 MinutesFrom Ella: Around 1.5 Hours
It’s also possible to catch the train from Ella to Haputale in the morning and then take a local bus to Dambatenne Tea Factory and begin the trek upwards. The benefit of catching the tuk tuk is being taken right to the entrance and getting to walk downhill.
It’s advisable to arrive as early as possible as the area becomes quite foggy by midday. To be fair, we had quite a foggy view even at sunrise (but it was still spectacular!).
Round trip cost from Haputale: 1,500 rupees
Lipton’s Seat has quite a large observation platform and there is a restaurant there where you can have tea, coffee and breakfast. Behind the restaurant there is also a small observation platform where you get an even higher view. Definitely check out both.
In addition to these there is a lovely statue of Sir Thomas Lipton himself, where you can pose for a photo next to him with a freshly brewed cup of Lipton tea.
Entrance Cost: 100 rupees per person & 50 rupees for tuk tuk
From Lipton’s Seat, you can organise to have your driver meet you at Dambatenne Tea Factory whilst you walk down through the beautiful tea fields. We really loved walking through this area. There was hardly anyone around, just the occasional friendly local.
The walk is around 7 - 8kms and will take you around 1 to 1.5 hours depending on your pace. It’s quite fast as it’s all downhill. There are opportunities to take shortcuts at parts but definitely check with locals first if it's the correct way. If you stick to the road the path is quite straight forward, but veering off can lead you to overgrown pathways and dead ends.
We learnt this the hard way whilst following Google Maps. The pathway disappeared under the overgrowth and we kept walking until we ran into 2 older Sri Lankan women. They immediately told us to turn back and walk the other way. They also imitated what I imagined to be a wild boar, implying that we will be eaten by an animal if we keep going! Our imagination was likely running wild but we were quick to take their advice.
They ended up leading us to a shortcut that was hidden just over a waterfall. You wouldn’t be able to find it unless you knew where to look. Be wary of the direction you are going and you’ll have a fantastic time. Better safe than sorry.
When you arrive to Dambatenne Tea Factory you have the option to take a tour. We skipped it as we had already seen one at Damro Tea Factory. We were also tired from the early start and all the walking!
Photos aren’t allowed during the tour, otherwise we have read that it’s quite an informative one.