The Ella to Kandy train is one of the absolute highlights of a trip to the incredible country of Sri Lanka. One of the most diverse and beautiful countries we’ve had the pleasure of visiting, from crystal clear blue waters and white sandy beaches, to dense jungles and weaving tea plantation lined mountains, it has it all. Taking the train from Ella to Kandy is a meandering 8 hour journey through some of the most stunning landscape in the world, all whilst rubbing shoulders with local people, hanging out of the train door and taking in one of the best travel experiences in the world and one of the cheapest too! Here’s our guide to taking the Ella to Kandy train, one of the best train rides in the world!
Ella to Kandy train: One of best train rides in the world and the most beautiful
After spending almost a week in the stunning mountain town of Ella, hiking through the incredible tea plantations of the central highlands of Sri Lanka we set off on the next leg of the journey around the country. Sri Lanka has an incredible railway system that began as a way to transport the tea produced in these regions during the colonial period. It hasn’t received many upgrades since it was first established but this really is where the charm lies.
The slow rolling trains chug at a leisurely pace through the incredible landscapes of the country, the journey then becomes much less about getting from A to B and more about the experience. Pulling out of the little station nestled in the hills of Ella, it’s hand painted sign and hanging pot plants the 8 hour journey begins.
The incredible train through the tea plantations of Sri Lanka on the local slow train
An 8 hour train journey might sound like quite a slog, but bear with us! Unlike many of the long bus, train and boat rides we’ve endured whilst travelling across Asia (27 hours on a Chinese sleeper train, 24 hour on a Vietnamese bus as the worst examples!) the Kandy to Ella train is just a magical experience. There is a real old world charm to the slow old trains and crumbling colonial stations you pass along the way, traversing the lush green tea fields where workers can be seen in their vibrant saris as the train rolls by.
The 8 hours fly by as the ever changing landscape enchants and mesmerises you. If the landscape outside of the train walls wasn’t enough, the experience inside is just as special. These trains might now be popular with tourists and travellers, but at their core they are local methods of transport for the people of Sri Lanka to affordably get around the country. The trains are busy, loud and packed full of all different kinds of people and stories.
The Sri Lankan people are wonderfully friendly and love to talk to their fellow passengers, this makes the Ella to Kandy train a perfect way to get to know more about the beautiful culture of Sri Lanka through the experiences of the locals. Combine that with the incredible local food on offer by the vendors wondering up and down the train and it becomes one of the most intense and incredible travel experiences of our round the world journey.
Hanging out of the doors and taking in the incredible views in the Kandy to Ella train!
One of the coolest experiences when taking the Ella to Kandy train is the lack of health and safety on the Sri Lankan railway system. The doors and windows remain open the whole time and locals hang off the sides and out of the doors to quickly jump on and off at tiny stops or literally in the middle of nowhere. But for those wanting to take in the incredible vibrant landscape the old style train mean you will be hanging out of the door with your camera the entire time.
I think I must have only sat down for a couple of hours on the entire journey and spent the other 6 hours bouncing around the carriage from one side to the other and the endlessly changing landscape kept revealing itself! There is also something quite liberating about hanging out of the door of a moving train after living in the UK and Australia where health and safety is often a little over board and is another reason we love Asia!
How long does the train take?
The Ella to Kandy train takes at least 8 hours from start to finish and is even often delayed by an hour or so. Expect it to be a full days journey, but hey, its one of the best train rides in the world so instead think of the Kandy to Ella train as a day of adventure, incredible landscapes and amazing experiences!
How much is the train, how to book your trip and the different classes
The Ella to Kandy train is one of the most affordable journeys in the world but there are several different options you can pick from, whether you pre book and head for the first class section or rock up in the morning and stick with the locals in third class, it’s still incredibly cheap considering how far you are going and the wonderful experience.
Ella to Kandy train / Kandy to Ella train:
* 3rd class 400 LKR (£2.00 / $2.50)
* 2nd class 650 LKR (£3.15 / $4.00)
* 1st class 1250 LKR (£6.00 /$7.75) (Depending on the company you could pay up to 3000 LKR)
Differences between class:
* First Class:
These are reserved tickets and should be bought in advance, over the holiday periods these tickets can sell out months in advance. The compartments are air conditioned and don’t have open windows and doors like the other areas of the train. These areas are also mostly full of tourists rather than locals and in our opinion take away most of the real joy of taking this incredible train journey and also makes it harder to take pictures too!
* Second Class:
These are bought on the day of travel and your seats are not reserved. You should get there early to get a seat but often after an hour or so you will have space to sit down. This section has comfortable seats and is a mixture of locals and tourists.
* Second Class reserved:
As the name suggests these are booked in advance and are the same seats as normal second class but the seats are numbered. These can sell out a few weeks in advance in peak times but most people book them a day or two before. Prices are around 50% higher for reserving the tickets.
* Third Class:
We travelled third class on many train journeys in Sri Lanka and it was a great experience. The seats are still comfortable but the carriages are much more crowded. You might be sharing the train with animals, crates of food and vegetables and many locals jumping on and off!
booking your tickets
For reserved tickets you can book at the station from 30 days before travel, most people try to book around 2 days before to be sure of getting reserved seats on the train they want. You can also buy tickets online too and from some of the local travel agencies. However its best to book at the stations for the most up to day info on train times and availability.
You can also turn up on the day and buy tickets for second and third class travel, this is what we did and we have no problems. However during peak holiday season it might not be the best idea. You should ask at the station the availability of tickets and train times for your estimated dates. One of the nice things about turning up and travelling on the day is the flexibility it gives you which is one of the things we love about backpacking. If you are on a tight schedule you should try to reserve your tickets or be prepared to stand.
Tips to make the most out of the best train rides in the world:
* Check the train times as early as you can and book if you know when you want to travel
* Try to get an early train, the ones around 9am offer the best light for the whole journey.
* Get to the station early and well before your train to be sure to get a ticket and a seat
* Keep your ticket with you until you arrive at your destination
* The trains have a shop selling food and drinks in one of the carriages and local vendors hop on and off throughout the journey with some amazing snacks such as Dhal balls (Masoor Dhal Masala Vadai) and spicy peanuts. However I could bring some snacks and water just incase as its a long journey.
* Charge your camera and get ready to jump around the carriage from side to side, hang out of the doors and windows! Bring a spare battery and memory card as well as a battery pack for your phone too! A selfie stick and Go Pro are also great too.
* Be open and ready to have a chat to the friendly locals!
Other great train rides in Sri Lanka and ways to get to Kandy and Ella:
Other amazing and under rated train journeys in Sri Lanka are Colombo to Galle which traverses the incredible coastline and Kandy to Nuwara Eliya, another amazing but smaller town in the tea growing region.
Booking your accommodation in Ella and Kandy
Book your accommodation here
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