Trekking to Ella Rock in Sri Lanka: doing it yourself

Trekking to Ella Rock in Sri Lanka: doing it yourself

Our favourite trekking experience during our travels in Asia was the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal. However, the 2 hours trek to Ella Rock from Ella town in Sri Lanka certainly rivals this for scenery. But finding the trail can sometimes be challenging, so here’s the ultimate guide to trekking to Ella Rock, easy peasy!

The town of Ella

Ella is a beautiful small town in the south of Sri Lanka in the Hill country. It is a great base for tourists who want to explore the surrounding hills and enjoy the breathtaking views of Badulla’s green valleys. The weather is usually quite humid, with moderate air temperature, sunny mornings, and often rain showers in the afternoon.

Map of Ella in Sri Lanka

Ella is located in the Southern part of Sri Lanka, in the country hills

Where to stay in Ella

There are a number of great places to stay scattered around town, with amazing views and for all budgets.

THE SECRET ELLA   Book online

  • Former tea planter’s home converted into a small luxury boutique hotel.
  • Incredible views including the 9 arches iconic bridge.
  • Prices start from $244 / £169 for a room with breakfast.

ZION VIEW   Book online

  • Beautiful property overlooking the Ravana waterfalls and the hills surrounding it.
  • Room is comfortable, clean and nicely furbished.
  • Prices start from $114 / £79 with breakfast.

CHAMODYA HOMESTAY   Book online

  • Stunning views, lovely hosts and one of the best views in Ella.
  • Prices start from $33 / £23 with breakfast incuded.
Stefan at the peak of Ella Rock

Stefan admiring the view from the peak of Ella Rock.

What is Ella Rock

Ella Rock is a famous cliff, located high above Ella’s village, roughly a two hours strenuous trek from the centre of town. The rock offers stunning views across the hill country, and the plains below. The trek to Ella Rock is about 8 km long and is quite easy if you follow the track (and our advice!).

Sebastien at Ella Rock

Sebastien considering the way down from Ella Rock

Trekking to Ella Rock and back took us around 4 hours from start to finish. We passed through the surrounding countryside, tea plantations, railway lines and then up the hills until we reached the Ella Rock peak.

You can pay for a local guide to show you the way (around 1,500 rupees / £8 / $12 per person), or you can trek it yourself quite easily.

Stefan at Ella Rock

Stefan (thinking he is) jumping down from the peak of Ella Rock

The route to trek to Ella Rock

The route for trekking to Ella Rock can be a little bit complicated and we struggled to find sufficient information about it online. We found some helpful advice on Tripadvisor and eventually managed to find the way aided by a few friendly locals who pointed us in the right direction.

1. From Ella town take the road up to the railway lines (anyone local can point out which road this is) and walk south along the railway lines for a few kilometres.

If you’ve seen the classic 1980s film, “Stand By Me”, you’ll particularly appreciate the walk along the railway lines.

Stefan trying to recreate the scene from the 1980s “Stand By Me” film – a warm train line indicates a train is imminent

Sebastien at Kithaella train station during our Ella Rock trek

2. The aim is to keep on walking southwards, passing over a bridge and past Kithaella train station;

3. Before Kithaella train station there is a left turning with some small Buddhist statues where you can turn off to cross the river and go to Ella Rock. This route will make it 15 minutes quicker but is really complicated. We did this initially, got totally lost and needed a few locals to point us the right way.

So just ignore it and keep walking towards Kithaella station.

Sebastien indicates it’s not the turning by the small temple statues

Not the turning with the bench

Sebastien points out that it is not the turning with the bench.

4. Once you pass Kithaella train station, there is another left turning with a bench: ignore this one too!

5. There will be a 2nd left turning after Kithaella train station. Take this one and cross the bridge over the river.

At all times when walking on the train lines, mind the oncoming trains!

Whilst trekking along the railway lines, watch out for any oncoming trains!

If you find the easy path you will start to see these faint blue arrows showing you the way

6.  Take the path going upwards (not right and not left yet). You will start to see faint blue arrows pointing the right way.

This path will eventually start going left towards Ella Rock, first taking you through some very large high bushy plants: walk through these.

7. You eventually reach the main ascent up to Ella Rock through the forest of rubber trees. Any path here going up will take you to the top.

Sebastien in the rubber trees forest at the foot of Ella Rock where you start your climb up

Sebastien admiring the view from Ella Rock

Sebastien admiring the view from the peak of Ella Rock after a tough trek up here

8. We found all paths going back down led to the same point and found it surprisingly easier to return.

The views from the top of Ella Rock peak are incredible, making the trek completely worthwhile.

Admiring the view from Ella Rock

The Nomadic Boys admiring the incredible views from the peak of Ella Rock

General advice for trekking to Ella Rock

Avoid to trek with sandals or flip-flops, especially after it’s been raining. The hill country is renowned for its high population of leeches. They hang on to the vegetation by the side of tracks waiting for a nice hot blooded tourist to pass by. Leeches are not dangerous, so do not panic if one has decided to befriend you.

Leech in sri lnaka on a leaf

If you see one of these, ruuuuuuuuuuuun!

We advise you take some lime with you, and put a drop on the leech. It will not kill it, but it will make the leech quickly leave you without drinking your blood.

Watch our travel video diary of our adventures through Sri Lanka as we ate our way through this tropical island, took some beautiful train journeys and enjoyed excellent safaris spotting leopards at Udawalawe and blue whales at Mirissa.

Sri Lanka travel recommendations

 

Transportation: First, there is no need to stress about getting taxis around the capital. Uber is heavily used in Colombo airport as well as Colombo city and if you’ve never used it before, we give you your 1st ride for free using this link. To go to Kandy, Nuwara Elya or Ella, just take the train: the landscapes are stunning, tickets are cheap and it is an amazing adventure.

Travel insurance: Whether you go on a safari in Yala National Park, scuba diving in Unawatuna, hiking in Ella or just lay on the beach all day long in Negombo, you need travel insurance. We use World Nomads because they offer considerable coverage especially for adventure travellers. They also make it easy to make a claim as it’s all done online.

Flights: Flying domestically in Sri Lanka doesn’t make much sense, you’re better off taking the train. For international flights, flying to Sri Lanka can be expensive, Google flights can help you find cheap fares and Momondo is our favourite website to book airfares. In addition, flights from Sri Lanka to India and The Maldives are cheap so don’t miss out on the opportunity.

Hotels: Sri Lanka has a huge diversity of accommodation options. Make sure you check out our Sri Lanka content for hotel recommendations first. Tripadvisor is also a good place to start researching places to stay and activities to do. Going to the hotel in person and negotiating the price face to face will most of the time result in cheaper prices compared to what you would get online. But if like us, you’re a bit of a control freak and like planning ahead, we recommend using Booking.com to find the best deals and book your accommodation online.

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46 Comments

  1. Philippa

    This is such an awesome life experience for you guys! You always look as if you are enjoying it to the max. Stay safe xx

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Hi Philippa, thanks for reading and for your lovely message 🙂

      Reply
  2. Claire

    Looks beautiful guys! 🙂

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Thanks Claire 🙂

      Reply
  3. trekkingsrilanka

    good photos and look like you enjoyed all

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Thank you very much.

      Reply
  4. Jay

    Love your pics guys!!! What is the filter you used to edit these?

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Thanks Jay. We don’t use filters. We use a setting on our camera (called Impressive Art) which brings out the colours – good for scenic shots.

      Reply
  5. Steenburg Nation

    We used your instructions to hike up Ella Rock last week. Big help. Thanks for posting!

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Really pleased 🙂 Thanks for letting us know!

      Reply
  6. Chami Dias

    Found this very useful even though I’m a Sri Lankan ?

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Thanks Chami

      Reply
  7. SCOTT OER

    Thank you so much for this! I used your directions today and they were perfect. Not only did I make it to the peak without any problems, but I didn’t even encounter a single ‘guide’ asking me to use them. I feel like this route is the ‘backdoor’ way, as the stuff I’ve read about the trek on the Internet is very, very different. A few points I’d like to add in addition to what you have here:
    1. The blue arrow in your picture above is now half gone. There is still some blue paint and you can tell that at one point it used to be an arrow, but you will easily miss it if you are not looking for it.
    2. At the first left from the railway tracks where you say not to go, I encountered some friendly locals insisting that I should turn left there. I think this is where most people turn and encounter the bad setup with the ‘guides’. For future trekkers, be polite but insist that you want to continue straight.
    3. Towards the end where the ascent is steep, there was really only one main trail going up. No need to even think about which one to take; there is really only one.
    Thanks again, it was a great hike!

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Thanks Scott – really appreciate your points 🙂

      Reply
  8. Darryl McKenzie

    Hey boys,

    Used your directions today to hike to Ella Rock! Just wanted to say thanks for such a detailed and well written explanation of the route! You made it easy and fun! Well done fellas!!

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Ahhhh super great to hear 🙂

      Reply
  9. Alexander Le

    Thanks guys – just got back from the rock, and am having lunch in town. Your instructions helped a lot. Cheers, Alex

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      So pleased! Amazing views right? 🙂

      Reply
  10. Adeline

    As others have said – thank you heaps for this, I was alone and knowing this in the back of my head helped so much 🙂

    Note that after you take the path upwards with the remnants of blue arrow markings, it will curve around a bit and flatten out, sometimes even sloping slightly downwards. Don’t worry, just keep following! It will start sloping up again. You’ll eventually cut through a small area with some shrubs and then reach the rubber trees mentioned in the post.

    I would actually suggest coming down via a different path, trying to move generally rightwards – I came to a little hut selling coconuts, and immediately turned right onto a small path which eventually hugs the edge of the hill as it goes down. This path takes far longer, but it’s more than worth it. Got the most amazing views of my hike following this path!

    Cheers
    Adeline x

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Thanks Adeline 🙂

      Reply
  11. George

    Used these directions today. Thanks.

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Awesome 🙂

      Reply
  12. COEN

    Unfortunately, I did not use your tips today and we became ‘victim’ of the local guides tricks. If you take the first turn at the railway as the locals insist, you’ll most likely encounter a guide that tells your you’re totally on the wrong path. Of course they are happy to help and bring you with a little off tour (so you don’t see the other tourists) to the top.

    Everybody who want to do Ella Rock and reads this; DO use the tips in this post 🙂

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Thanks buddy

      Reply
  13. Morgan

    Thank you. These were very helpful and pretty key to me reaching the top! Some additions…

    3. Walk past Kithaella for about 200m for this turning. DO NOT take the small one that leads into a tea field. Go past this and take the next left beside a big rock (can’t miss it; the rock has chalk on it, too, saying “Ella Rock” or words to that affect). You’ll see the river and bridge shortly after turning down it.

    4. You’ll see three paths: one goes left immediately, then further ahead there’s two; one beats left (“straight”) and one goes right. Bear left. This will take you among tea bushes and then a field on your right. Follow the path round one bend, and then turn left.

    5.You’ll see a green/yellow house on your right. Walk past it toward the long grass. Walk through the long grass until you reach a “cross roads”. TURN RIGHT. This will take you up. You will reach an orange house. Go past it on your left, then stick left toward the rubber trees.

    6. Stick at it, going up. You’ll reach a ridge where you can see some of Ella Gap. Here, turn right and ascend up a steep, rocky path among the rubber trees. Climb all the way until you reach a sandy, rocky road and turn left. Ella Rock will be 100m ahead of you.

    Advice: Mark trees or rocks to help you get back, or if you get lost! If anyone sees any ‘M’s – that’s me! Enjoy.

    6. You eventually reach the main ascent up to Ella Rock through the forest of rubber trees. Any path here going up will take you to the top.

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Nice one – thanks for this Morgan 🙂

      Reply
  14. Andy & Sue

    Did hike in Oct 2016. The bench seat has been removed, uprights still visible. Definitely turn left (almost straight on and upwards through tea bushes) immediately after the bridge. Carrying straight on along the path (turning to the right after bridge) takes you to a village. Some people deliberately give misleading directions for the route that goes to peak from this village. One has deliberately obscured path with branches which he pulls aside while asking for money. Do not encourage him by giving money.

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Thanks for that 🙂

      Reply
  15. Steve

    We took the turn off and bridge crossing before the train station and got a bit lost trying to fillow someone else’s GPX tracks.
    This is the nicest way!! Cross the bridge where the small waterfalls are and head left. After that there were various choices but you want to head for the peak of the hill immediately above you to the left of the ella rock. It seems like you’re going to far left but it’s correct. You should pick up a trail with the DMC markers. At yhe peak you get great views of Ella. Fkllow the path around the left side of the peak, through a tea field and down to a little hut selling drinks. Buy water or whatever then turn left and follow the trail up. You get great views along the way.

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Awesome tips 🙂

      Reply
  16. Amar

    It was amazing how many other hikers we passed that was using this blog post to hike Ella Rock. Great work!

    Sadly the bench you mention has disappeared since you wrote this and so have the blue arrows!

    I just did the hike myself and did a detailed picture guide with instructions – http://gapyearescape.com/ella-rock-hike-the-best-step-by-step-direct-route/

    Hopefully this will help future readers!

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Nice one thanks Amar.

      Reply
  17. Dordaneh

    Great trekking adventure and fun pictures! 🙂 And I will follow your posts in your blog!

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Thanks 🙂

      Reply
  18. Lisa

    Thanks to everyone who has contributed to the directions. We followed the Amar’s directions and had no problems. Great walk.

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Please to hear 🙂

      Reply
  19. not-me

    hey boys, this path does not exist any longer… there have been some railway works done recently and the bench was removed. Also a local field owner doesn’t wish random people go through his fields so you really need a guide or keep asking locals for the right direction… rule no. 1: take 1st turn to the left just before the railway station as the sign says.

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Thanks for that.

      Reply
  20. Dilra

    Wonderful post guys…! You guys are amazing.. Enjoying your trip to the core.. The pictures too look electrifying. Thanks for sharing. Also well detailed and informative post.

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Thanks!

      Reply
  21. Anita

    Very good thanks, a guide is not needed, if in doubt follow everyone else.

    By the way, I am female and was travelling with my female friend, the people in the orange houses tried to guide us, one of them took us up a secluded path and left us there, then there was a rustling in the bushes, and another man with his trousers around his ankles was pleasuring himself and laughing. We ran away, quite a terrifying experience.

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Wow!

      Reply
  22. Dorene

    Great post, all I can say it, I wish I found this before I did this trek – we took some wrong turns and got lost. Great pics. Cheers Guys!

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Thanks Dorene. Sorry you got lost. But amazing views up there though no?

      Reply
  23. deen

    Hi nomadic boys
    its very nicely written guide to ella rock and also good you avoid the locals earning a 500 rupees for their rice any way you have write
    (Sebastien in the rubber trees forest at the foot of Ella Rock where you start your climb up)
    this is not a rubber trees this is Eucalyptus forest
    thanks

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Thanks

      Reply

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