“Some journeys are more exciting than the destination itself”
The Kandy to Ella train ride in Sri Lanka is considered one of the most scenic train rides in the world.
The original train system in Sri Lanka was introduced in 1864 by the British Colonial government to transport tea from the hills to Colombo but nowadays, the train is an extremely affordable way to see the beautiful countryside of Sri Lanka.
Below is our experience and advice for taking the train from Kandy to Ella (or vice versa).
Getting The Train Ticket from Kandy to Ella
We were told to arrive at Kandy Railway Station one hour before our train departed to try and get a ticket. We did this, but due to the holiday period all 1st class tickets had been sold weeks prior and in fact, there were no available seats for at least a month. So what to do now?
As we stood there contemplating our alternative options, we were approached by a very friendly man who informed us to buy 2nd class tickets, however, it came with the risk of having to stand the entire 4 hours. Yikes. We took our chances, bought the tickets and made our way to the platform.
As the train approached, all the tourists gathered in the centre of the platform ready to push their way into the carriage. We didn’t get a seat at first but about 30 minutes into the trip, 2 seats became available. I guess you can say we got lucky. Don’t be put off by not having a guaranteed seat if this happens to you. The trip is worth it seat or no seat.
Local Life & Beautiful Scenery
The train trip from Kandy to Ella is not only taken by tourists but by locals themselves. This isn’t just a tourist attraction, it’s life for the people of Sri Lanka and I’m sure they must find is somewhat amusing how excited tourists are about a simple train ride. Can they blame us?
The lush green hills are purely breathtaking. The train takes you high into the mountains, through dense forest & vibrant green tea fields, over bridges, through tunnels, local villages and beside smiling faces. If you look closely every so often you’ll notice the colourfully dressed ladies pop their heads up amongst the tea fields as they carry on with their work.
4 hours on a train has never gone so fast!
Old World Charm
The stations are old & the trains are even older, but this adds to the journey. It adds so much character! Similar to our local train journey in Yangon, Myanmar.
As we approached each new train station, enthusiastic vendors would enter the train selling Sri Lankan street food, drinks, fresh fruit, and spicy peanuts.
Every new corner there was a new photo opportunity, and our camera was on for at least 90% of the journey. There is something so refreshing and magical about hanging out the door or window of a train as the wind blows in your hair! There aren’t a lot of places in the world you can do this. Be careful though, the bushes come close at times.
The journey takes approximately 7 hours from Kandy – Ella and whilst that may sound long, it is 100% worth it. If you want to break up the trip halfway (as we did), consider a stop in the beautiful town of Nuwara Eliya also known as “Little England”. (Nanu-Oya is the station you get out at). This station is a colonial hill station 2,000 metres above sea level.
There is enough to do in Nuwara Eliya to keep you busy for 2-3 days so it’s certainly worth considering if you have the time.
>> Read our related post – Surviving World’s End & Exploring Nuwara Eliya
How much does the train ride cost? Peanuts!
- Kandy – Ella (2nd class compartment) – 120 LKR. That is less than $1 USD for a 4-hour train ride. It’s even cheaper than the train journey in Yangon, Myanmar.
- Nuwara Eliya – Ella (2nd class compartment) – 120 LKR.
- First class ranges between 1000 LKR and 3000 LKR ($6.50 – $20 USD). Depending on which company you book it through, the price changes immensely – if you can even get a ticket.
There are 3 types of tickets you can buy for the train and they differ in cost/comfort and compartment. Here is each of them explained briefly.
1st Class – These tickets are reserved tickets and can be bought in advance to guarantee yourself a seat. The compartments also contain A/C. The downside of these tickets is you have no open doors and windows to hang out of for that picture perfect shot and they are filled 95% by tourists. Slightly boring don’t you think?
During the holiday season, these tickets sell out months in advance so get in early. We were disappointed we missed out on the 1st class but after riding in 2nd class, we were more than happy with our arrangement.
Note: If you want to book these in advance head to ExpoRail or organise them through a travel agent in Sri Lanka.
2nd Class – Tickets can only be bought on the day of travel. You cannot reserve a seat, therefore, you are not guaranteed to get one. In saying that, both times we took the second class we got a seat halfway through the trip. The rest of the trip we sat with our legs out the train door for the perfect unobstructed views of outside.
2nd Class Reserved Seat: They are the same coaches as above but with numbered seats and they can be reserved in advance. The price is about 50% higher than standard price and these also book out well in advance during high and holiday seasons. Some people we met paid for this class and still did not get a seat.
3rd Class – Quite the experience! If you travel third class, you will not only be travelling with people, but with chickens in cages, vegetables, dogs, cats and anything else you can think of. We attempted to take the 3rd class for our trip from Nuwara Eliya to Ella but the carriage smelt so bad and the seats were falling apart, so we hopped off and waited for the next train a few hours later (and it was the best choice we’ve made). 3rd class tickets from Colombo – Kandy cost 10 LKR. That is not even worth the conversion…
For all the latest information on the train schedules, see here. The man in seat 61 knows it all!
Ella – Kandy Train Travel Tips & Advice
- Show up at the train station early to grab yourself a ticket.
- Keep your ticket coupon until you exit the station, they will ask for it when you get off the train.
- Don’t take the overnight train from Kandy to Ella – you miss the beautiful scenery!
- Sit on the right side of the train from Kandy – Ella.
- Sit on the left side of the train from Nuwara Eliya to Ella.
- Charge your camera to 100%.
- Bring toilet paper/sanitizer, the trains do have toilets but they are as clean as you would expect!
- Pack snacks & water.
If you’re travelling to Sri Lanka, this journey should be on everyone’s itinerary. It truly was one of the most incredible, unique, train trips we’ve ever taken.
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