Updated: 14th August 2015

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The train journey through the hill country of Sri Lanka which transports you from the second city of Kandy right through to Ella takes just over six hours, but can be broken up to stop along the way, Nuwara Eliya is an ideal place to stop for a few days and explore the local tea plantations.

Often called one of, if not the most beautiful train journey in the world I was pretty damn excited to get on board. Trying to reserve a seat the day before It was a no go as they had already been booked so just rocking up on the day was the only option for me, but perhaps these tips will get you better prepared. This train journey is without a doubt one of the top things to do in Sri Lanka.

Tea Fields in Ella Sri Lanka

The Kandy to Ella Train Experience

Train travel in Sri Lanka is relatively cheap, the route is served by a both slower trains as well as newer ‘blue’ trains, which are slightly faster. The first leg of the Kandy to Ella train journey involved a crazy scrum in getting on board with bags, babies and anything else being thrown through windows to get a coveted place to sit! I missed the seat lottery but took prime position hanging out the open doorway for the next few hours which is kinda right where you want to be and one of the reasons if you get an unreserved ticket, squeezing in last minute might not be such a bad idea.

First class comes with air con which means no windows to get those shots out of, third class looked seriously busy and not suitable for snapping away so a second class ticket is a sure fire bet (see tips on booking tickets below).

The landscape this journey takes you through is indeed, stunning. Tea plantations, waterfalls, rolling mountains, clouds and mist all add to the picture perfect movie playing out in front of you. Given how slow you are travelling it goes surprisingly quickly, which with a backdrop like this is not a good thing.

The second leg to Ella for me sadly had two issues going for it. The first being the clouds and mist pretty much hiding much of the landscape for the journey. The second being the six armed police escorting someone in our carriage which was shut, so the toilet/door area become a very comfy home for a very amused bunch of us as we made the final leg on to Ella – hopefully, your Kandy to Ella journey comes with better luck!

Booking Kandy to Ella Train Tickets

There are around 3-6 trains serving this route each day, though reports suggest this has now increased. Some on the slower trains, some of the more modern fast trains. Some of the Kandy to Ella train services start in Colombo, some end in Badulla, others only complete a part route.

There are overnight sleeper services straight through from Colombo to Ella but I only recommend this if you are getting back and have witnessed the journey in the day time.

Reserved tickets can be booked up to 30 days in advance but only in person (expo rail can be booked online, see below) –  1st, 2nd and sometimes 3rd class offer reserved seating in carts which then mean you are guaranteed a seat and no one (perhaps) standing around you. You can either try to book these when you arrive at Colombo/Kandy or ask your accommodation to secure them before you arrive.

Due to how competitive getting these tickets are, many agents will now bulk buy them when the 30-day window opens and then sell them at a more expensive price. Have a google for reliable agents online, or check the comments below for any recommendations from people who have recently used one.

Unreserved tickets can just be got on the day, but get there early to ensure there is still one available for you. Like I said above, 2nd class unreserved was pleasant but 3rd class looked much harder to enjoy the views from. Don’t panic if you go a few days ahead to buy tickets and are told the train is full, they just mean advance tickets have sold out but will go on sale again the day of departure. 

Kandy to Ella Train costs

At latest report I got in January 2017, the Kandy to Ella train costs are approx:

1st class 1250Rs (approx $9)
2nd class 650 Rs (approx $4.20)
3rd class 400Rs (approx $2.60)

The expo rail cart is a more expensive option and now appears to add to most journeys with a five-times a day service. The bonus of this is the all glass front or back window, but unless you have the front seats it will likely be the same view as first class – it also completely removes you from the ‘experience’ of Sri Lanka train travel. That said, it can at least be booked easily online.

IMG

Getting There / Onwards travel from Ella

To get to Kandy or Ella, for the starting point you have a few options. The Kandy to Ella train line does actually start from Colombo, meaning should you wish to head straight to Kandy that is possible.

Bus connections from other parts of the historic triangle are a good bet, Dambulla, in particular, seemed to have regular yet unorganised connections which would take you to Kandy. Hiring a private driver may also be a good, time-saving option.

Ella is a little bit more removed, and here I opted for a private driver to go towards Yala park / Matara and the beaches on the south. Buses leave Ella on the same route around 9 am each day from the Curd shop on the left-hand side of the dusty main street, but check in with locals for more up to date timetable information. There seemed to be a handful of taxi drivers based in Ella itself as a backup.

Where To Stay

There are some beautiful colonial tea stations to stay at on the Kandy to Ella train route, modern and chic apartments and more traditional budget guest houses. I personally stayed at OZone hotel in Kandy for its rooftop pool looking over the city, The Tenth Hotel in Nuwara Eliya for their sheer hospitality and would highly recommend the eco-lodge feel of 98 acres in Ella, which is set aptly in 98 acres of lush tea plantations.

You can find out more information on all the stunning places I stayed in Sri Lanka here.

Got any more Questions or want to chat adventures? Find me over on Instagram and ask away! Safe travels, Dan

33 replies
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  1. Paayel Agarwaal says:

    Hello Dan
    I am planning to go to Sri lanka with my 17 yr old son for a week. We plan to do mountains, beaches, rafting and tea estate. Somehow I have not been able to understand the position and connectivity of the cities and places; as to where to start from and where to end. I am thinking of hiring a taxi for 7 days. Can you help me plan out the itinerary. Thanks

    Reply
  2. David says:

    Hi Dan
    Great website, your top ten things are all what we plan for our 13 days in Sri Lanka so it is perfect! We are looking at the trains and like most people we are trying to cram a lot into 13 days. We have the option of either having a driver from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya then going to Horton Plains or getting the train from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya and then deciding where to go. Neither offer us the trip from Nuwara Eliya to Ella. What do you recommend please and is/are the train journey/sights to Ella better than from Kandy? Would you suggest Ella or Horton plains if it came to a choice between the two? I know you didn’t get the best weather, is it still worth going to Ella after the train from Kandy? Thank you so much, kind regards, David

    Reply
    • Daniel James (Dan Flying Solo) says:

      Hi David,

      Fantastic, glad to hear it was handy planning your trip.

      I haven’t personally done the Horton Plains so can’t really give a subjective opinion. The train is worth doing I think either way though the first hour or so out of Kandy isn’t as interesteing where as NE – Ella is all tea and hills which makes it more exciting. Ella has a lovely sleepy vibe to it with a bit of a backpacker bar feel to it by evening. I think it will also depend where you are heading to after that, if you are going on to the coast or Yala etc as getting around the country is by far the hardest bit.

      I’m heading back in a few weeks for the second time to do the north and have opted to have a driver for most the trip because with time constraints it seems to be the best option.

      Hope that helps a litle. Enjoy!

      Reply
  3. Fiona says:

    Hi Dan
    So pleased to find your blog. I’ve booked a little tour in late August with a company called Best of Lanka as we have limited time and wanted to get to Kandy, the train and Yala. Their website recommended the train trip from Kandy to Ella and I asked them to put it on our tour. I now find out they have booked 3rd class tickets for us and assure us it is impossible for us to get 2nd class. I’ve paid a lot for this trip and I’m now a bit worried (especially as my husband has a bad back!) What do you think?
    Thanks.
    Fiona

    Reply
    • Daniel James (Dan Flying Solo) says:

      Hey Fiona,
      Have an amazing time, it will be great.
      The third class looked very hectic to me, the only way to get around it I suggest would be to get there super early and get on 1st so you get a seat, that said expect a big push/fight to get in before the locals have the seats. The alternative would be to go the day before and see if you can get 2nd class tickets, they do 2nd class unreserved carriages where you aren’t guaranteed a seat but at least will have a bit more room hopefully.

      Lastly, have a look and see if anything comes up in one of the viewing carriages which are pricey but might be worth it if they come up: http://www.exporail.lk/ExpoRail.php

      Enjoy!

      Reply

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