Ella & Haputale: Our Favourite Things To Do

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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.

Ride the train along the world famous Kandy to Ella route

Sri Lankans and foreigners departing the train in Haputale

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!

Watch the train pass over Nine Arch Bridge

The famous blue express train passing over the Nine Arch Bridge

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.

Take in the breathtaking views from Little Adams Peak

Ponte Vecchio bridge

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.

Trek from Liptons Seat to Dambatenne Tea Factory

Tea pickers and Sir Thomas Liptons statue at themain viewpoint

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.

Admire (or hike) Ella Rock

The view of Ella Rock from our guesthouse

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. 

Walk the tracks between Idalgasinna and Haputale

Idalgasinna Train Station

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.

Visit a Tea Plantation

Damro Tea Factory

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.

Spend the night with a view

Views from our guesthouse in Haputale

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. 

Eat some comfort food in Ella

Ella offers traditional Sri Lankan food and health staples such as avocado on toast

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.

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Sigiriya: Climbing Lion's Rock and Pidurangala Rock


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Lion Rock is Sri Lanka’s most famous tourist attraction and for good reason. Its simply spectacular and visiting it was one of the best experiences we had during our visit. Nearby Pidurangala Rock is also definitely worth a visit. Read on to find out why.

Which rock should you climb?

The views from the top of Pidurangala Rock

The short answer is both. Absolutely climb both if you have the budget, and more importantly, the time to do so.

Lion Rock is notoriously expensive (tickets cost $30USD) and some backpackers tend to not climb it to avoid the entrance cost. Nearby Pidurangala Rock offers a good alternative at a fraction of the cost. It also has the benefit of being able to see Lion Rock in from the top.

Both offer incredible views overlooking the area. There was something really special about climbing up the Lion Rock. An ancient fortress built on top of a giant rock 1,500 years ago. It reminds us quite a bit of Machu Picchu.

So, to summarise the slightly longer answer:

Lion Rock: Prioritise Lion Rock if you only have time for one
Pidurangala Rock: Visit this one if you don’t want to pay the $30USD entry fee but still want phenomenal views

Lion Rock

The main pathway leading to Lion Rock and stairs to reach the final peak

Catching the first glimpse of Lion Rock when arriving in Sigiriya was a great moment for us. The sun was setting and there was a golden glow cast over it that made it appear so beautiful.

Given its popularity it’s essential to visit early in the morning. The place to buy tickets is located on the west side of the Rock. It's marked as the 'Foreigners Entrance' on Google maps.

From the main ticket entrance it will take around 45 minutes to 1.5 hours to reach the top (depending on your level of fitness and how often you stop for photos). The pathway up is well-kept but wearing decent shoes is recommended as there are some uneven surfaces on the peak.

Entrance Fee: $30USD (Price paid in rupees based on current conversion)

The lion's paw and ruins at the top

The ancient fortress was built atop of Lions Rock by King Kashyapa in the 5th century. The rock was used partly because of the views in every direction from the top, allowing enemies to be easily spotted. The views from the top are breathtaking. Lush, green forest as far as the eye can see. White Buddha statues and monuments dot the landscape too, contrasting with the green forest.

There is a small museum in the main access area you can access that's included within the ticket. Worth a visit if you want to learn more about the historical significance of this amazing site. 

Pidurangala Rock

Perfect view of Lion Rock in the distance

Located just a few kilometres away from Lion Rock is Pidurangala Rock. Offering the same incredible views of the area with Lion Rock as well. You enter the walk through a small temple after paying the entrance fee. There are a couple of pathways up. The one on the left has a detour where you can see some old statues. You need to consider what you’re wearing as you pass through the temple but it’s possible to borrow a sarong when you pay the entrance fee.

The walk up to the top is much shorter in distance than Lion Rock but has quite a difficult part right before the peak. This section will require careful climbing and is best to be done with some one else so you can support each other. Proper shoes are essential.

If you’re concerned about doing this by yourself you can hire a guide at the bottom to help you out with this section (and also learn a few things!).

Last thoughts

Housing and facilities for the tea factory workers and a tea picker beginning their mornings work

It’s very much possible to climb both rocks in a single day. Both offer incredible sunrise and sunset views but, as always, its dependent on the weather. We split them over a couple of days and preferred it this way. Although we also had the luxury of staying in Sigiriya.

Staying in Sigiriya

Sigiriya makes a great base for exploring the spectacular Lion Rock. It also sits in the centre of Sri Lanka's Cultural Triangle. There are wildlife parks nearby such as Kaudulla, Minneriya and Eco Park.

We stayed at Sigiri Rock Side Home Stay and had a great time. The owners were lovely and helpful. The breakfast was delicious. It was quiet and also within walking distance of a bunch of a local restaurants.

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Sunrise Trek: Liptons Seat to Dambatenne Tea Factory


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.

Getting to Lipton’s Seat in time for sunrise

The restaurant at the observation platform. Above it is the smaller observation platform

In order to arrive before sunrise you’ll need to arrange tuk tuk transportation beforehand.

From Haputale: Around 45 Minutes
From 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 Viewpoint

Statue of Sir Thomas Lipton and hot tea from the viewpoint restaurant

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

Trekking to Dambatenne Tea Factory

Landscapes of the area

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.

Housing and facilities for the tea factory workers and a tea picker beginning their mornings work

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.

Dambatenne Tea Factory

Dambatenne Tea Factory entrance

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.

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Anuradhapura: Visiting Mihintale and the Ancient City


Anuradhapura is one of the most important cities in Sri Lanka. Known for its ancient ruins dating back over 2,000 years ago. It's part of the Cultural Triangle (the other parts being Polonnawarru and Kandy). Most of its sites are located in the Old Town’s archaeological site.

Nearby Mihintale, a mountain peak featuring ruins and temples, is also easily accessible from Anuradhapura. In this guide we won’t go into detail on every site, just the ones we found were the most interesting.

For a full list of the sites check out TripAdvisor.

Mihintale - The birthplace of Buddhism in Sri Lanka

Mihintale is located just 13km outside of the town centre of Anuradhapura. It makes for a great half-day excursion and is not to be missed if you're in this part of the country.

Regarded as being one of the birthplaces of Buddhism in Sri Lanka, Mihintale is a culturally important place to Sri Lankans and you’ll see devout buddhists and monks making their pilgrimage here.

Inside the main complex you’ll find ruins, stupas and a giant Buddha statue. These are all easily accessible. There is also the mountain peak which you can climb. Unfortunately, we had to miss this due to heavy rain that happened halfway through our visit, forcing us to end it early.

Entrance Cost: 500 rupees (as of 12/12/19)

Exploring Anuradhapura - Guides, entrance & transport options

Anuradhapura is guarded behind a steep entrance fee. To be honest, we aren’t quite sure which parts are required to have the ticket and which parts aren’t as we didn’t end up paying until halfway through our tour.

There is the option of cycling around the different sites or renting a car/tuk tuk. We originally had our hearts set on renting bicycles but the heavy rain the night before ensured us that it wouldn’t be pleasant, so we opted for the tuk tuk. This ended up being a good decision as our driver spoke great English and gave us a good amount of background on each site we visited.

Hiring a driver with knowledge of the ruins makes for a good alternative if you don’t want to splash out for a guide. However, local guides are available.

Touring the ruins by bicycle will take up to 8 hours, whilst via Tuk Tuk could could take 4 - 5 hours depending on how long you spend at each location.

Entrance Cost: 25USD (The cost is dependant on the exchange rate at that time)
Bicycle Rental: 500 rupees
Tuk Tuk Tour: 2500 - 3000 rupees

Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi - Home of the oldest known tree in the world

Drummers leading a parade to take the orange cloth to Ruwanwelisaya

Our first stop of the tour was Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi, home of the sacred Bodhi tree that’s the oldest known and documented tree in the world. It was supposedly born from a sapling from the Bodhi tree that Buddha sat under when he gained enlightenment.

The tree itself is held up by golden railings and a temple complex surrounds it. It’s a deeply important religious centre for Buddhism and thousands of Buddhists bring offerings here every day.

Buddhists dressed in white with offerings and incense

The best part about visiting this place of worship is to witness the level of dedication. We were fortunate to see a ceremony begin where the local people (and tourists alike) were holding a very long orange cloth, intended on being wrapped around Ruwanwelisaya, led by drummers through the temple (pictured).

Throughout the complex are a number of smaller sites to visit as well.

Ruwanwelisaya - The white stupa

Buddhists following a monk around the stupa exterior and the stupa's spiral peak

Close to the Bodhi Tree is Ruwanwelisaya, a wonder of the ancient world dating back to 160 BC. Standing at 92 metres with a golden, jewel-encrusted spire this stupa is also of huge significance to Buddhists.

An engineering and architecture marvel of its time, the stupa is truly a sight to behold. There are many spots to take great photos of the monument and the best thing to do is take your time walking around its exterior, likely talking to friendly locals along the way.

Into the Ancient City

Monks visiting Kuttam Pokuna, the twin ponds

Next we enter the main archeological zone of all the different sites in Anuradhapura. This area has more guard stations who will be on the lookout for people without tickets.

Some of the ruins are over 2,000 years old and are in bad shape. So be ready to use your imagination to picture what this area would have looked like back then.

Our guide defining the visual differences between types of stupas

There are many fascinating stops you’ll make along the way, including Kuttam Pokuna (The twin ponds), Jetavanaramaya (the worlds tallest stupa), the Samadhi Buddha statue and the Moonstone.

Last thoughts: Should you visit Anuradhapura?

Monks and local Buddhists entering a stupa and a design similar to the Moonstone

We could only imagine how it feels to visit a place of such cultural significance as if we were Buddhists, but visiting as we are was a very special experience and one of our highlights in Sri Lanka.

Depending on how much time you have in Sri Lanka and where else you plan on stopping is what will ultimately factor in to your decision to visit Anuradhapura. You may experience 'temple-fatigue’ if you combine this with the likes of the Dambulla Rock Caves or the other ancient city, Polonnaruwa.

We feel it’s worth visiting Anuradhapura over the others due to its significance and less touristy feel. A lot less people make the journey this far north so you will have less families and selfie-stick aficionados to contend with.

Where to stay - Amsterdam Tourist Rest

It’s entirely possible to visit as a day trip from Sigiriya, however we feel it’s best to stay nearby. It’s a long day to explore the area in full. Especially when you factor Mihintale in as well.

We stayed at the Amsterdam Tourist Rest and had a fantastic 1 night stay. The owner was lovely and helped us arrange all our tours and transport options. The food was also delicious. However, there are plenty of local eateries not too far away if you prefer to eat outside your guesthouse.

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