3 days in Ella: Sri Lanka

We spent three great days in Ella in September 2017, as part of our 12- day trip around Sri Lanka.

We arrived by taxi (£30 for 3- hour journey from Udawahlawe National Park) to our accommodation around lunch- time.  Between 3 people, and because this was a special holiday and we weren’t on a strict budget, this was by far the quickest and simplest way to travel. There were local transport options, but apparently it meant multiple buses and an unreliable time- table, which didn’t fit in with out strict itinerary or restricted time frame.

We stayed at Rawana Den, a small guest house with two rooms, which was located an easy five- minute walk up a (very) steep hill just off the high street by Chill Bar. They provided us with a delicious mango lassi on arrival and were otherwise very helpful too, by giving us a map of the local area with walking routes for the most popular hikes in the area, highlighted.

After such a large breakfast of hoppers, dal, sambal and rotis’ at our homestay in Udawalawe, we didn’t fancy any lunch, so we changed and set off to hike to nine arch bridge, which we were advised was roughly a six- mile round trip. The weather was great- warm but without burning sun. The first part of the hike headed on a road out of town towards the tea plantations. It gradually climbed, past the turn- off point for the Little Adams Peak hike and past tea plantations, some guesthouses outside of town and a few little cafes and road side food stalls. We were looking for a turn -off to the left of the road, which we had been advised was just after the Finlays Tea Factory. We found this lane and meandered down, until we could see the nine- arch bridge, quite far down- hill! After looking puzzled and walking back and forth for a while, we came across some locals who were coming up from the bridge who laughed and told us to head down a steep little dusty path which would lead us onto the tracks. After a few slips and dusty bottoms, we made it to the tracks, had lots of photos, took in the scenery and had an ice cream at the convenient café next to the bridge. It was a Saturday and it was lovely to see many Sri Lankan people here, sight-seeing in their country and having a fun day out too; all of whom were friendly and happy to talk to us. They also told us an easier (steps and a well- marked path through woodland) to get back to the road, which we had missed on the way up! We also witnessed the train passing over the bridge, which happens roughly twice every hour. Everyone on the train was waving to us and it was nice to be involved in the atmosphere. On the way back down to Ella, we stopped at the Art Café, and had a refreshing soft drink and a snack of delicious local curd and kithel. I would recommend trying this – it’s a Sri Lankan speciality, like a thick sour-ish yoghurt with a jam/honey type syrup on top!

The view from the top of the lane before the slippery scramble down the undefined path!
Mum walking on the tracks
Just posing on a bridge trying not to appear scared of the reeeeeeally long drop!
Locals came to watch the train go past
Art Cafe, where I was so hungry I ate my Curd and Kithel before I could take a picture of it!

That evening we went for dinner opposite the Chill Café, but unfortunately, we cannot remember the name. It served Sri Lankan and western food, and we opted for beers and vegetarian burritos, which were delicious! We then headed to Café one love, situated near the train station in Ella, for cocktails and beers. The vibe here was totally chilled and we sat on bean bags and cushions on the floor with candles and fairy lights surrounding us, listening to reggae until late.

Cafe One Love was a great chilled out place to have beers and cocktails whilst listening to reggae

The next morning Mark and I rose before sunrise, around 530am, and started our hike to Little Adams Peak. The hike was initially along the road, then through a small village of tea pickers and passing by picturesque tea plantations and panoramic views. The ascent was via steps, initially, then some slippery dirt paths up and down, which made me a little weak at the knees as my trainers just weren’t quite cut out for slippery terrain. The view from the top was stunning – we had missed actually seeing sunrise, but the new morning light was equally as beautiful, and we would recommend this time of day to go on this hike as it was not busy and not too hot either. There were a number of hikers that we passed along the way, but it was by no means- busy. There were lots and lots of stray dogs, and one dog followed us the entire way from the small tea-plantation village to the summit of Little Adams Peak then all the way back into town. We had not stroked or offered this dog any love or attention during the hike, but felt so sorry for her as she pottered all the way back into town with us, that I did what my head was absolutely telling me not to; and bought a roti for her to eat, which she enjoyed.

The stunning dawn light over the tea plantations on the hike to Little Adams Peak
The view from the top. Just stunning and peaceful.

We met up with Mum for breakfast, at Dream Cafe, of scrambled eggs, toast and jam, with fruit juice and coffee, all for around £3 which we felt was very reasonable as the portion sizes were large. We then split up, Mum went shopping around all the little hand made boutique shops in Ella, whilst I went for a full body massage at one of many massage salons in Ella. It was delightful, and fairly reasonable (around £17). We spent the afternoon relaxing and reading at the guesthouse, and in the early evening, Mark and I headed to Ella Spice Garden for our Sri Lankan cookery class, whilst Mum went for an ayurvedic massage and dinner for one at Chill Café.

The cookery class at Ella Spice Garden is for a maximum of eight participants and in our case, was four couples. The class leader was a local man who ran the course out of his family home and told us that he had lead the course every day for six years! We cooked, dal, potato curry, sambal, rice, poppadoms and garlic curry! For the garlic curry we used 160 garlic cloves! For 8 people! It was utterly delicious, but we were both displeased with how our tummies felt the next day!! Garlic is not native to Sri Lanka; hence this dish is a special celebration dish had at weddings! I for sure wouldn’t want a garlic curry on my wedding night though! There was a notepad with recipes and blank spaces, provided at the cookery course, which meant you had to be engaged and listening all the time to fill in the blanks. The course leader was meticulous, if a little sarcastic, and there was ample food for everyone, which we all ate together in the family home with family members pouring us water throughout and offering to take group photographs.

Handy cookbook with blank spaces for filling in what we’d learnt
So much garlic!
Timed challenge to see who could peel 20 garlic cloves the quickest!
Everyone was given jobs to do – this is mark using a pestle and mortar to make a curry paste
The group and the class leader!
The final meal! All waiting to tuck in

I would highly recommend the cookery course at Ella Spice garden, as well as the hikes to nine- arch bridge and Little Adams Peak.

We loved our time in Ella, and felt that two nights and three days was enough to see and do everything. It would be a great little town to relax in and catch up on WIFI and laundry etc if doing a longer trip, as it certainly appears to cater well for backpackers.

I would however, book a train ticket in advance, if you are travelling on to Kandy or Hatton etc, but that is another story!!

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