After the heat of Arugam Bay, the mildly cooler Ella was a very welcome relief. Ella was definitely one of my favourite places in Sri Lanka. It is located north east of Arugam and is reachable by bus but, we chose to take a private taxi which took 4 hours and cost AU$80. The drive wound through the mountains as we slowly ascended providing little glimpses of the world below through breaks in the trees offering some breathtaking views. Our driver pulled over for lunch at one of his preferred restaurants where we shared a huge plate of devilled chicken and side dishes among a group of very merry locals. This particular meal is popular in Sri Lanka and is made with a sweet and sour sticky sauce and lots of fiery hot peppers. I think it is delicious!
Ella is small village located up the mountains on one of the main roads. The accommodations and restaurants have a shanty-shack vibe and are stacked on top of each other up the steep mountain sides. I was surprised by the number of tourists in Ella, thinking smugly that I had stumbled upon this hidden stretch (silly me). It was busy and bustling the whole time we were there and after discovering a little more about what the area had to offer, it all made perfect sense. If you are into hiking, waterfalls, wildlife, tranquility, good food, 360 degree views or fun (who isn’t?), then Ella has something to offer you.
Ella is home to the famous ‘Adam’s Peak’ hiking trail which has magnificent scenery but takes around 6 hours to complete. If hiking is your thing, it is something you would not want to miss out on. Take note on the best season for hiking though, as we were told even if we made the hike, it was unlikely we would see much due to the low cloud cover and rain. As we were only in Ella for a couple of days, 6 hours of hiking with no guarantees felt like too much of a commitment, so my partner and I decided to do Little Adam’s Peak instead which is a lot easier on the body and accessible for most (normal, non-hiking folk) people, plus it takes way less time and effort! The entrance path to Little Adam’s Peak is well signed and there is restaurant at the start that boasts an impressive cactus garden and pet birds. The trail consists of an dusty incline, winding pathways through the tea tree plantation and smiling pickers (be careful of getting caught taking photos, they may ask for a tip), many, many narrow stairs and then finally some steep, rocky and sometimes slippery goat tracks through the scrub. Take plenty of water and maybe a snack as you will definitely need it. The sights all the way up are spectacular as you peer out across the huge gorge between the peaks.
On our way back down the mountain, we continued on to a green tea factory where we did a 30 minute tour for 500 rupees. It was fairly simplistic, but also fun (we had to wear blue shoe covers and hair nets) and included a relaxing cup of green tea afterwards. We needed all the hydration we could get! After walking for so long, we were exceedingly hungry (more than usual anyway) and as we headed back towards town, we stumbled across a little eatery called Adam’s Restaurant where I had some of the best samosas I have ever eaten and a delicious Sri Lankan curry set to the background music of Bob Marley’s greatest hits. What a memory! They LOVE Bob Marley in Sri Lanka.
Back in the village, we stayed at the Ella Tea Garden which boasts awesome views of the surrounding mountain side and is home to a very laid back Dachshund called Renske which was just an added bonus as I am a little dog crazy, especially when it comes to Dachys and Frenchies. Renske got all the love and attention any dog would need in a year from the couple of days I stayed there. He was probably relieved when I left.
The Chill Bar is a wooden treehouse-style restaurant with fine dining downstairs and upstairs houses an open rooftop area with beanbags that is ideal for cocktails and pizzas. After eating, we could hear all this drumming and loud talking over a microphone. We followed the sounds to discover quite a sight. There was a band set up in the middle of a field with huge posters and lights everywhere (I’m still not sure if they were religious or political). At the back of the field was a long winding row of tuk tuks and in front of the sights and sounds onstage was a group of Sri Lankans all dancing, jumping up and down and having a great time. It was fun to see the drivers of the tuk tuks at the back having a great time down the front and losing themselves to the music.
Tangent Time: While in Ella, I developed an ear infection and had to go on the hunt for a doctor or pharmacy that would be able to help. I figured the cause was from all the swimming I had been doing at Arugam Bay and also knew it would only get more serious without treatment. I started by googling doctors and hospitals in the area and asking the staff at my hotel but they all said the same thing: I would have to travel 2 hours to the next big city to go to the hospital or see a doctor. I was preparing to do this (mentally only) when I walked past a small sign with a red cross on it while exploring some markets. It pointed to a narrow alleyway and up some steep stairs. As I arrived at the top, I found a large the room with literally 2 waiting chairs, a tiny reception window, a small office and a patient bed. No one was around and there were no phone numbers that I could see. My hope began to waiver as I went back a couple of times during the same day to see if anyone would show up and be able to help me. On the third time, I studied the signage a little more closely even though it was written in Sinhala, and found a couple of numbers that looked like they could be opening hours. They were from 7-9am and 4-7pm but I had only discovered the place in the middle of the day. I waited until 4 and then returned in a last ditch effort to find help as my ear throbbed relentlessly. As I took the final step to level with the reception window, a young girl popped her head up smiling. She spoke some English and waved me into the little room where a female doctor was waiting for me. She spoke English as well which made the whole process easier and she was able to give me what I needed right then and there. The service was excellent and we chatted for quite some time about her private practice and her life in Sri Lanka. She was planning to open her own guest house with her husband (also a doctor) and they were going to add their own practice to the back. She pulled out a notebook and pen and started asking me all these questions about what tourists wanted from a guesthouse and what services and prices I had been paying as I traveled around Sri Lanka. It was quite fun! I was so lucky to find her and grateful for her help and the antibiotics. The consultation was free and I only had to pay 3000 rupee for the meds she provided. The only downside was that I couldn’t put my head under the water at the waterfalls that we explored the next day.
Ravana Falls is situated about 15 minutes south from Ella. You can walk it and many do, but it is uphill all the way back, so we chose to get a tuk tuk which cost 1000 rupees and he waited for us at the bottom until we were done exploring. If waterfall climbing, slippery stones and mud doesn’t interest you, then there is a large pool at the bottom where most people swim and enjoy the refreshingly cool water after a long day of hiking. It gets busy quickly though, especially on weekends and there are a variety of locals who are trying to sell you produce and items the whole time you swim. Watch out for the men who try to swap you a crystal for a “coin from you homeland for my child who collects coins.” If you are feeling a little more adventurous, you can make your way up the waterfall to the more secluded pools at the top. It is not easy, but it is definitely worth it, though we found a much easier (and secret) path only after we had scrambled our way up the hot stone. If you know what you are looking for, there is a gate to the right before you reach the main pool that says ‘no entry’ (Yeah, I am that rebellious) and from there you can follow the water pipes that run up through the rain forest to about halfway up the waterfall and then you can make your own way from there.
For such a small place, Ella has a plethora of things to do and see and I really enjoyed every aspect of it and I hope you do too.