Hiking in Ella
After a relaxing two weeks in Arugam Bay it was time to head inland to the highlands of Sri Lanka. We were sad to say goodbye to our little beach home but I was looking forward to a cooler climate and a couple of days of hiking. The drive is about 4 hours from Arugam Bay to Ella (a small mountainside town in the highlands of Sri Lanka). Our taxi driver dropped us off on the side of the road and pointed down a small (perilous-looking) mountain path at the end of which apparently lay our guest house. Off we went down this tiny path, hoping that a room awaited us at the end of it, luckily he was right and after a 5 minute walk across the mountainside we arrived at Raveena guest house, where the views of Ella Rock are magnificent (sadly our room didn't have a view).
For such a small town, Ella houses a surprising number of restaurants, cafes and bars, mostly aimed at thirsty tourists who've spent the day climbing one of the peaks surrounding the town. After dropping our bags at the guest house we headed out for a cool drink & some dinner at a really lovely (and super friendly) little restaurant called Ak Ristoro, we sat outside on the terrace with the twinkling lights of Ella surrounding us, Sander observed that it reminded him of a Alpine mountain town at Christmas. He wasn't far off and the locals must think so too as many 'Merry Christmas & Happy New Year' signs adorn the town...
After a good night's sleep and a hearty Sri Lankan breakfast we decided to ease our legs back into hiking by tackling Little Adam's Peak. We set off around 9am to avoid the midday heat; it's relatively easy to find the path to climb the peak (it's just beside the Ella Flower Garden resort) . Most guides we read online beforehand informed us there's only one path to follow to the summit, so we didn't think we could go too wrong. Well, there isn't only one path, and we did go off the beaten track!... we ended climbing through tall grass and foliage to reach the summit rather than climbing the handy concrete steps that have been installed for tourists to reach the top! On reflection, we were glad we went the wrong way, as I would always rather climb the mountain than walk up some ready-made steps!
The climb is relatively easy, if you are moderately fit you shouldn't have a problem. The views of Ella Rock, Ella Gap and the surrounding highlands are really beautiful and it made us excited to climb Ella Rock the following day.
The climb up Ella Rock was a more challenging and rewarding hike, we decided to use a local guide for this one as we didn't fancy getting lost on this particular climb. (A group of locals purposefully misguide tourists and block the better pathways to the summit). The hike begins in Ella and takes you down the railway tracks that circle the town, from there you head up and up through dazzling green tea plantations and through shady woodland. Occasionally the path opens up in front of you and the views are a spectacular array of sparkling green. We would highly recommend hiking up Ella Rock if you have the time when visiting Ella, it was one of the most beautiful and rewarding hikes we've ever done. It's not for the unfit though, especially as the local guides set a rapid pace!
Other than these two wonderful hikes and good food, we also really enjoyed our Sri Lankan cooking class in Ella. I'd seen on TripAdvisor that a popular restaurant Matey Hut also holds a daily cooking class. I was very keen to have a go! I love cooking and have been missing making my own food since we left Hikkaduwa. The class is in a wooden hut on the mountainside overlooking the tea plantations, probably the most beautiful kitchen view I've ever had! We joined six others and under the guidance of one bossy yet friendly Sri Lankan lady we made six different curries and sambol in 3 hours. It was a great way to meet fellow travellers & take home Sri Lankan recipes. We made mango, banana, bean, pumpkin, aubergine and lentil (dahl) curry, accompanied by rice, poppadum and sambol.
Ella has a certain charm, and you can definitely while away a few days there. You won't run out of places to eat if you're there for a few nights. Make sure you book a room with a view as that's the one thing we didn't have and would really have appreciated. The hikes are best done in the early morning if possible as it does get extremely hot by midday and often a storm cloud rolls in by mid-afternoon and you really don't want to be scrambling down the mountains in the rain!
From Ella we made our way by train to Kandy (Sri Lanka's second city after Colombo). The train journey is one of the most beautiful in the world.. but more about that in the next post.