how to hike Ella Rock without paying for a guide: scams to avoid + what to expect

Along the train tracks of Ella, up rolling hills, and through eucalyptus forests lies Ella Rock. This cliff offers gorgeous views of the valley below for those who brave the heat to climb it. The four-hour roundtrip trek up Ella Rock is one of the most famous hikes in the country, and it was one of the best outdoor activities I did while in Ella. Which says something, because I had a lot of nature adventures there.

Immediately after hiking Ella Rock, I had messages in my inbox asking if I paid for a guide or not. Many people shot me a message asking:

“CAN YOU HIKE ELLA ROCK WITHOUT A GUIDE?” Absolutely.

In fact, I don’t see why anyone with a smart phone and the right apps downloaded would spend the money on hiring a guide! I’ve written this guide to explain exactly how to hike Ella Rock entirely on your own.


READ ON FOR EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT HIKING ELLA ROCK


HOW TO HIKE ELLA ROCK WITHOUT A GUIDE
HOW TO HIKE ELLA ROCK WITHOUT A GUIDE
HOW TO HIKE ELLA ROCK WITHOUT A GUIDE

why people get guides- scams + tricks to avoid

Most people get guides for one of two main reasons: 1. They are new to traveling and aren’t comfortable navigating on their own {understandable} or 2. They are scammed into thinking the hike requires one.

THE HELPFUL FARMER- I read numerous articles about how travelers get stopped by someone who looks like a local farmer and told they are going the wrong way. The farmer then leads them to the top of the hike and asks for a tip. Sometimes, apparently, these “farmers” are quite aggressive about receiving a tip. This is a scam. Most people aren’t even lost, but being told they are by a local is intimidating and so they take the help that’s being offered. If a local tells you you’re lost, consult with Google Maps or Maps.Me apps, both of which work offline, and politely decline help.

TRAIL TRICKERY- It’s common for locals to hide the hand-painted signs that mark the trail or turn them around so that you get a bit discombobulated. The idea is that you feel so confused, you tire out and ask for help from a local, who will later ask for a tip.

I’m all for injecting your dollars into the local economy, but not when you’re being tricked or when dishonesty is the root cause of your confusion. Instead, I highly recommend you lacing up your boots and hiking sans guide.

HOW TO HIKE ELLA ROCK WITHOUT A GUIDE

getting to ella rock

If you haven’t downloaded Google Maps, Maps.Me, or any navigating apps make sure you do before you head out. Google Maps and Maps.Me both work offline, as long as you save the maps while you’re still in WiFi.

Getting to the start of the Ella Rock hike doesn’t require getting any transportation. You can start from the city center, Ella train station, or by walking along the train tracks. Follow the train tracks to the start of the hike and keep your eyes on the lookout for signs. You’ll go over a railway bridge, and pass through tea fields. From the tea fields, you’ll begin the uphill journey on loose and gravel-like terrain.

If you do get terribly stuck along the way, it’s likely that there will be other tourists hiking who can point you in the right direction.

NEED HELP NAVIGATING? I’VE CREATED A MAP FOR YOU BELOW!


what to expect on the hike

The Ella Rock hike takes roughly 4 hours from the centre of the town. I’d allow yourself 3-5, depending on where you’re based in Ella, your fitness level, and how long you wish to spend taking photos or having a picnic at the top. I started my hike up Ella Rock from Namal’s Great View Homestay, and made the roundtrip journey in almost exactly 3 hours.

At the top of the cliff is a vendor selling fresh fruit juices and coffee, though the price is a bit escalated since they have a monopoly as a seller at the viewpoint. Still, it’s a nice treat at the top for those who want to reward themselves for a hike well done.

The view is stunning, but the viewpoint is quite steep and there is a sharp drop-off. I set my travel companion’s camera bag down and it rolled nearly all the way off the cliff. Luckily, some kind strangers grabbed it before it got too far gone. Be aware of the space around you and the number of people wanting their photo at the top!

HOW TO HIKE ELLA ROCK WITHOUT A GUIDE
HOW TO HIKE ELLA ROCK WITHOUT A GUIDE
HOW TO HIKE ELLA ROCK WITHOUT A GUIDE

quick tips for hiking ella rock

DOWNLOAD GOOGLE MAPS OR MAPS.ME BEFORE YOU GO

As mentioned a million times already in this post, if you’re not getting a guide, it’s safest to download Google Maps, Maps.Me, or other reputable navigating app to help you if you get anxious about directions. Google Maps and Maps.Me both work offline as long as you save the map for your intended destination while you’re still in WiFi.

WEAR PROPER HIKING SHOES

Yes, locals gallop up the steep and rocky trail in sandals without a problem, but I would not recommend it. The trail gets loose near the top and it would be easy to lose your footing. Opt for trainers, tennis shoes, or hiking boots to be safe.

HIT THE TRAIL EARLY

To avoid the harsh Sri Lankan heat as best as possible, not to mention the crowds, you’ll want to start your hike early. I headed out from my accommodation around 7:30 AM, and it was nearly too late. Many people suggest going for a sunrise hike, though it’s not always guaranteed you’ll see the sunrise through low cloud coverage. Just do your best to hit the trail as early as you can.

BRING PLENTY OF SNACKS & WATER

On any hike, you need to stay fueled and hydrated. In a place like Sri Lanka, where the sweltering heat makes you sweat at an increased rate, it’s especially important to bring water and healthy nibbles.

DON’T FORGET YOUR SUNSCREEN

Those who follow me on Instagram might have seen that despite my multiple applications of high-quality sun cream, I got absolutely roasted on the hike. Forgetting to put any on, or neglecting to reapply your cream on your hike is a major mistake that will almost definitely lead you to the inevitable sunburn.

HOW TO HIKE ELLA ROCK WITHOUT A GUIDE

not convinced to go guide-less?

If you still aren’t comfortable navigating on your own then, yes, go ahead and book a guide. Guides for the Ella Rock hike can be booked at most accommodations or from tour agencies in town. A guide for this trek will set you back anywhere from 1,500-3,000 LKR {USD $8.50- USD $17.10}.


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HOW TO HIKE ELLA ROCK WITHOUT A GUIDE
HOW TO HIKE ELLA ROCK WITHOUT A GUIDE