This morning we took the Kandy to Ella train, by far the most scenic train journey in Sri Lanka if not one of the best in all of Asia, and I’m still on a total high! Train travel in Sri Lanka has always been a highlight of my trips here, and I know many others who have spent any amount of time here say the same. There’s just something special about spending a few hours mixing with locals, hanging out the train door and being mesmerised by the passing tea plantations and picturesque hill top railway stations, or following the coast south to Galle.
PRO TIP: If you’re planning to travel in Sri Lanka, be it on a budget or on a luxury tour, I can’t emphasise enough how important it is to have decent travel insurance – especially as visits to the doctor or hospital can be surprisingly expensive. I always use World Nomads, as they’re known as the best insurer for backpackers and long term travellers.
Kandy to Ella Train: Booking a ticket
If you’re planning to ride the Kandy to Ella train on your trip to Sri Lanka (and you should as it’s definitely a highlight), you should first think about what class you want to travel.
If you would like a guaranteed seat for the 6 hour journey (or much longer if you board in Colombo and plan to ride the train the whole way), then you’ll need to book a first class ticket in advance. You can call up to book, visit the station in person the day before or book through a travel agent.
Most people book a second or third class ticket either in advance or on the day (even if you call and they say the train is full, you can show up early that morning buy tickets, and board like everyone else…it’s guaranteed to be a bit hectic though!)
The best thing about riding second or third class is that you get to mix with the locals, the photography opportunities are better and you can hang out the doors and enjoy the fresh mountain air.
The bad part is that you could well be standing for the 6 hour journey, like we were today, because the train was totally packed and there was barely room to move a single step to your left or right for the first hour or two! Sardines in a can!
Kandy to Ella train: Cost of ticket
A second class ticket from Kandy to Ella costs 230 Rupees. if you’re only going as far as Nuwara Eliya, its hould be about 160 Rupees. 3rd class cost 125 Rupees, which is less than $1.
Train travel in Sri Lanka is CHEAP!
Most scenic train in Asia
The Grand Train Tour of Switzerland will always be hard to beat, but I strongly believe this train ride could be one of the most beautiful in Asia. I’m taking The Golden Chariot across India next week, so I’ll report back to tell you how that goes!
Boarding the train in Kandy was mayhem. Most people get on here as it’s a cultural hub in Sri Lanka and there is so much to do here. You could almost feel the tension and anticipation as everyone waited on the platform for the train to arrive. Once the train arrived, the madness began. People pushed and shoved their way onto the train, and whether you had a second class ticket or third class ticket didn’t matter – you just needed to find a few inches of space inside and any carriage would do!
Most of my group pushed into one carriage and I was left alone in the one next door, but luckily I got a place by the door, accompanied by two young Sri Lankan boys. Despite my legs cramping up due to standing in the same position for almost two hours, from the moment the train left Kandy railway station I knew this was going to be a journey to remember!
Each time the train stopped, local bread, roti and samosa sellers would jump on the train and attempt to sell their wares. More people would push on, and miraculously the train never seemed to be “officially” full despite it being full from stop one!
The railway was stations we passed were unbelievable picturesque and the landscape got progressively more breathtaking as the journey went on, with the one hour approaching Nuwara Eliya the most beautiful. Hills, tea plantations, forests and rural villages whizzed by, and I was mesmerised by the scenery before me. Every time the train turned a bend many people would gasp in awe at the stunning scenery before them.
Instead of explaining any more, I’ll just share some of my favourite photos from the trip. If you have any questions, or want to share your own experiences, please leave a comment! If you’re planning to stay in Ella for a few days, be sure to read this post.
For more information on trains in Sri Lanka, check out Seat 61.