After our memorable train journey we got down to business in Ella and went in search of somewhere to stay and plan our Ella sightseeing itinerary. Like most of the smaller places here in Sri Lanka there is absolutely no sense in booking ahead unless you are staying in one of the more expensive luxury hotel resorts. Here we share some of our experiences of spending a few days exploring this hill town.
Accommodation in Ella
As you descend from the station on the outskirts of town you will be offered a whole range of accommodation from the local owners. There are some very basic homestays on Station Road that were offered to us from around 1000 rupees per night. We thought these a little too basic for us, so we continued into town and accepted that we would have to pay a 500 premium for this luxury. However, we need meet some people who stayed in a local house and they were very impressed with the facilities and the huge and tasty home-cooked meals available.
After looking at about six places we settled on the Aurora at 2000 LKR per night in a huge brand new bungalow with piping hot water on tap and a beautiful view of the surrounding hills and tea plantations. We were also surrounded by wildlife with noisy song birds, tiny squirrels (some of them flying squirrels) and even some fireflies who made our stay there more at one with nature. We could have found something cheaper, but for us the private cottage in the centre of town, set back from the busy main road in a rural setting was ideal.
The fireflies were a real surprise. I was outside on the terrace on our first night and took a draw on my cigarette and in the trees opposite one of the fireflies thought I was signalling my love for it and signalled back with a few bright flashes of its bum. We continued this courtship until my fag was finished. I was fascinated but ended our brief flirtation and left the firefly to find a real mate.
Ella is a one street town (well 2 or 3 actually) with the train station at one end and at the other three roads that branch off to other destinations.
One goes into the valley below where you will find majestic views of Ella Gorge, the other two lead into the hills where you will find the pricier accommodation on one side and the tree lined road to Adams Peak along the other. This road is also dotted with restaurants and some more budget accommodation guest houses.
There is quite a bit to see around Ella and given the inclines of the terrain a push bike is out of the question unless you have a good selection of gears. Also to do it all on foot would take a good couple of days, so we took the easier option and hired a couple of scooters for the day.
Renting a Motorcycle or Moped in Ella
Around town you will get quoted 1500 LKR as a starting price but we managed to get this down to 1000 per day plus whatever fuel we used which added a couple of hundred each to the bill. We hired our mopeds from the Tarantino restaurant, which was the cheapest we could find. We had a great time visiting the sites without a fixed schedule or a tuk tuk driver to keep us company. Apparently there are only 5 mopeds available to hire in the whole of Ella, so ask in the bars the night before if this is something you really want to do, to avoid disappointment.
We started at the Dowa temple to the south of Ella, around 7km from town. It is worth the trip down there but it will not impress if you have already seen the delights of the cultural triangle temples . One special treat though is the beautiful key and lock that adorn the entrance to the temple. The temple keeper will proudly point this out to you if you happen to miss it, he is obviously very proud of his lock.
There are an abundance of tea factories along the way to amuse you if you haven’t already visited one elsewhere on your Sri Lanka journey and these are all surrounded by beautiful tea plantations.
After the temple visit we headed north to Demodara Village and up to the rail station to continue my train spotting apprenticeship . The station is up in the hills past the village and also is close by to the train track that does a complete loop around one of the local hills. The train was in as we approached so we waited with the locals by the level crossing much to their amusement as we took pictures of the train and the local station building.
From here we cut across the hills onto some gravel and dirt tracks and inclines so steep the scooter only just made it up them. We hadn’t planned this off road experience, but on the map the roads were marked the same as the tarmac covered ones we had enjoyed for most of the day. This off road route led us to the Nine Arch Bridge which ended up being a double treat. Beware, we couldn’t have completed this off-road experience if the ground had been wet, the inclines are just too steep and the bikes wouldn’t have made it had the ground been muddy. Just by the bridge were a group of tea pickers busily at work who were all to pleased at the interruption of us and our camera.
As I was bothering these workers a young boy came hurtling down hillside from his home to introduce himself and chat to us telling us he was eighteen, had just finished school and was delighted that we were enjoying Sri Lanka. It was a very special moment as he seemed very excited to be able to practice his English with some foreigners. After chatting for a while we waved him goodbye and set off back down the dirt tracks for our downhill treacherous trek on the scooters. We had very little idea where we were going, but the locals were all too happy to point these two navigationally challenged tourists in the right direction as we headed back through Ella to our final destination, the Ravana Ella waterfall.
This is an impressive natural structure with an 80 foot waterfall cascading down the mountain face. At the bottom the ubiquitous Asian cheeky monkeys have discovered the rich food pickings from anybody who doesn’t quite finish their fresh corn. These delightful snacks are sold by the locals and are well worth a try, make sure you leave a bit and toss it to the monkeys who wait for the discarded cobs to come their way. That way you get to eat and get a corn cabaret show from the squabbling monkeys.
We rounded the day of with an overpriced fruit juice at one of the posher hotel restaurants at the south end of town high in the hills. The juice may have been overpriced, but the views while we were sipping it more than made up for expense.
Perhaps the most satisfying experiences of the day was meeting the locals in some of the smaller villages along our route, they were super friendly and kind with their greetings even as we whizzed past, and of course they were more than happy to help when we got lost. You really don’t need a map here you will never be far from a helping hand. This kind of welcome is really one of the special things about visiting Sri Lanka, the people seem genuinely happy to see tourists amongst their quiet villages and will welcome you in with open arms.
Ella on a Flashpacking Budget
Since this village was transformed from the sleepy place it was twenty years ago there are a whole range of tourist centred restaurants around town. In these places you will pay around 250 LKR for a beer and around 600 LKR for a basic meal of curry and rice. There are still a couple of local cafes where you can eat a kotthu or snack on samosas, filled rotis or dal fries for a couple hundred Sri Lankan ruppees if you want to stretch your budget.
There was one place on the corner of the road that leads to the post office and is run by a charming old woman who will serve you an enormous pot of tea and a traditional Sri Lankan breakfast of dal, coconut sambal and coconut rotis. You will be served more than you can eat and will not be allowed to leave until you have eaten all of it.
If you ask nicely she will take you in the kitchen and show you how to make the delicious coconut sambal. Try it, it really is delicious.
Ella is a great place to relax, hike and wander as you rest from the hectic sightseeing you may have done in the cultural triangle. Definitely well worth adding a couple of days here on your Sri Lankan itinerary.