Embark on one of the most beautiful train rides in the world, which is also now much of an Instagram sensation and should be added to your Sri Lanka itinerary. The much spoken about scenic Kandy to Ella train ride is definitely not overrated. This popular journey often means being surrounded by a lot of people, not just foreigners, but locals too because trains are a popular mode of transport in Sri Lanka.
What makes the Kandy to Ella train special?
The train actually begins from Colombo but the scenic highlights are from Kandy to Ella, stopping at hill country towns such as Nuwara Eliya, Haputale, Ella and Badulla, which are all worth visiting too! You hop on to the train ride from Kandy and an hour into the journey you will begin entering tea estates. Observe how the landscape changes from jungle to steep hills covered in tea bushes and gorgeous panoramas. Feel free to hop off at any of the stops to explore tea plantations, waterfalls and more at these towns.
How to plan the trip?
Most importantly, buying tickets for the train from Kandy to Ella have to be done in advance! Especially if you are on a tight schedule, we cannot stress the importance of booking tickets in advance, even if it is not peak season, there is a high demand. If in case you are unable to get tickets online for your preferred day, contact a third party such as travel agents or travel guides to see if they have a slot under their name.
There is a local Sri Lanka train that departs from Kandy train station at 7.45am and takes about 10 hours to reach Kandy as it stops at several stations in between. There are two express trains known as Podi Mendike that arrives at the Kandy train station at 8.55am every day and the Udarata Menike that you can hop on at 11.10am, which will take about 8 hours to reach Ella (although the timetable mentions 6-7 hours).
What to expect during the journey?
Along the scenic Kandy to Ella train ride, you will see a lush landscape of mountains, forests, rivers, waterfalls and beautiful tea plantations. Although it is an eight-hour journey, the breathtaking views makes it seem much shorter. As you head out of Kandy, the abundance of tea plantations and mountainous views start rolling in for as far as your eyes can see. At some points of the ride, the train goes along cliff sides, treating passengers to stunning sweeping views of colossal tea estates. There are also distances where the rail tracks cut through valleys so you are riding between hills and looking up towards the tea plantations. Words don’t do justice in describing the scenic beauty experienced during this train ride!
If the Kandy to Ella ride is too long for you, you could opt for the Nuwara Eliya to Ella train which is about 3 hours long. It is basically the same train which you will get on from Nanu Oya and this stretch also has some fantastic views.
Which train class is the best
The local train has an observation carriage which is ideal for tourists wanting to indulge in the view. The express trains have air-conditioned first-class tickets but many prefer the second class reserved seating as this cabin allows for opening windows and walking to open door ways to get clearer and unobstructed views. Travelers who are also photographers must avoid the closed cabin as the best pictures surely don’t come through a window! For the first leg of the journey – Kandy to Nuwara Eliya, sit on the right side of the train. And the latter part, Nanu Oya to Ella has good views on both sides but better on the left side of the train.
1st class seating, observation seating, and second class reserved seating are the ones in demand and must be booked in advance. If you are unable to do so, you can always try your luck at the Kadny train station. Worst case scenario, second- and third-class seats will be easily available but these are carriages where seats are not guaranteed so you might end up having to stand throughout the journey.
Accommodation options in Kandy and Ella
From guesthouses to 3 star, 4 star and 5 star accommodation, everything is available in both Kandy and Ella. The Kandyan Villa is a good choice for budgeted accommodation with a breathtaking view of the Hantana Mountain Ranges. And then you also have five-star accommodation within the Kandy city such as Earl’s Regency and Cinnamon Citadel. In Ella, Mountain Heavens, Ella Gap, Flower Garden are a few mid-high budget accommodations while those with a restricted budget also have plenty of options if you just search online!
The iconic train ride from Kandy to Ella is a must during your visit to Sri Lanka. Make sure you plan your itinerary in a way that will include this journey and give you the best views of Sri Lanka’s hill country.