32 Hours in Ella: 98 Acres by Rail

Ella is an energetic little village, buzzing with the ever-increasing demand for tourism, with visitors enthusiastically streaming in from all over the world. Primarily known as a destination for backpackers and seasoned travellers; families and couples with a culture vulture streak also appear to be frequenting this hill country hotspot.

The locals are exceptionally friendly (in just one 10 minute tuk tuk journey I received 2 waves and three charming smiles) and there are a surprising number of activities available; from climbing Little Adams Peak or Ella Rock to visiting a tea plantation/ factory, spice garden or spectacular 115 year old ‘Nine Arch Bridge’ (in the featured image)- there are plenty of ways to keep busy, not to mention simply admiring the most spectacular of views.

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Little Adams Peak, photographed from my private balcony at 98 Acres

Colombo Fort to Ella by Rail 

My transport of choice was a 10 hour train journey through the winding tracks of the picturesque hillside; the Kandy to Ella stretch often described as one of the most scenic train journeys in the world. Although the time is considerably shorter by car (6 hours) I had to experience it for myself.

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Inside the observatory carriage- my seat front right!

Having booked a 1st class observation carriage, I was (much to my delight!) allocated the seat right at the back of the train with a full glass window, allowing me to shoot two different perspectives- from the comfort of my seat and more traditionally, precariously hanging out from the side.

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Photo taken at the back of the observer carriage through the glass window

There are also some generous half moon turns whilst meandering in and out of tunnels along the way- ideal for photographing the full length of the train amongst the landscape.

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Approaching one of the many tunnels on the Kandy-Ella stretch

As the train continued further upcountry on the Kandy to Ella stretch, views transformed into impressive, vast hills of lush green tea bushes, their swirling patterns almost too picture perfect to believe are purely functional.

It’s truly hard to take your eyes away from the window (let alone turn your camera off!), with interesting locals walking the tracks and tea pickers in action meters away from the tracks whilst the train ventures through clouds and tunnels, over bridges and streams.

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Handy hint- bring plenty of sustenance as it’s unlikely food and water vendors will venture into the observatory carriage. Fresh mango made a brief circuit but it’s not wise to buy pre cut fruit.

98 Acres

Upon arrival early evening at 98 Acres it was pitch-black and quite literally bucketing it down. As I avoided trampling on frogs, insects and other lively inhabitants, I spotted a balcony outside my room but not a glimpse of what lay beyond. As the bed lay directly opposite the balcony doors, I decided to leave both blinds open, encouraging the morning light to naturally awaken my surround.

The following morning, as I glimpsed beyond the balcony (bearing in mind I’m really quite blind without glasses or contact lenses), I sensed the warm glow of burnt orange and pastel hues. Feeling somewhat smug with my body’s perfectly timed alarm clock of 5:45am, my eyes adjusted into focus as I placed on my glasses, forming the most spectacular view of the mountain range at sunrise- with Little Adams Peak in all its glory directly in front of me.

With no time to waste, auto pilot work mode drove me straight out of bed, grabbing my camera and tripod on route.

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At 7:30am sharpish, my in room breakfast arrived- pre ordered the night before via 98 acres’ personalised order forms; a smart concept to ensure everyone receives their perfect breakfast whilst avoiding unwanted options. Ordering the (almost) full Sri Lankan affair, I was welcomed by stringhoppers, pol rotti, kiri hoddy, chicken curry, pol sambol and dhal. Kolakanda; my favourite herbal soup, a selection of fresh local fruits and an indulgent slice of butter cake also arrived. It was all godack rasai- ‘very delicious’ in Sinhala.

Word of warning- you may find yourself in a somewhat intense battle with ninja crows if you decide to dine on the balcony. Don’t entertain the thought of leaving your breakfast unattended to fetch something from the room- your stringhoppers will be mid flight before you know it!

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Breakfast on the balcony at 98 Acres

Even whilst a storm is brewing, 98 acres retains its beauty; the wind howling, trees creaking and ominous clouds looming in the sky. Some nights, low clouds diffuse into the restaurant, their mist forming the most surreal atmosphere.

The verdict? Ella is a truly remarkable town, with an honest, welcoming atmosphere for all. The views are unlike any in the world and is an ideal place to escape city life to be at one with nature.

This visit was arranged by travel agent Sunny Ceylon Travels 

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5 Comments

  1. Dear Alice, this is a remarkable expressions of sheer joy, it was an honor to meet you in Colombo and arrange your stay at 98 Acre Resort. you are a powerful writer combine with sense, expression and appreciation. all the best in your quest to capture the world in to your lens. Best regards from Nishan

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  2. […] making this #1 on your hill country ‘to stay’ list, alongside previously reviewed 98 Acres in […]

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  3. FJB

    I visited Sri Lanka for the second time last September and I hope to visit again. Thank you for this informative and enticing post – it’s gone on my list for “next time”.

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  4. Jasmine Wijesuriya

    Hi Alice,
    Fantastic post – I am going to the 98 Acres Resort whilst backpacking around Sri Lanka in December and am planning to take the train back to Colombo. Ideally would like a seat in the Observation Carriage – How far in advance can you buy these tickets?

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    1. Hi Jasmine, responded to you on Instagram! Up to 30 days in advance but you must purchase observation at Colombo Fort station itself.
      Hope this helps 🙂

      Like

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