The phrase ‘it’s about the journey, not the destination’ could have been made for the incredibly scenic Kandy to Ella train journey. Of course, Ella is a wonderful destination but it is not often that a mode of transportation is an attraction in itself.
Sri Lanka has an incredible array of landscapes and one of the most stunning ways to experience this is to sit on the Kandy to Ella train, within touching distance of tea bushes and soak up mind-blowing views.
As with many railways in former colonies, the Sri Lankan rail network was initially conceived by the British colonial government in 1864. Originally it was built to transport tea and coffee (interestingly coffee quickly failed after a mystery fungus wiped out entire crops) from the hill country to Colombo for export. For years, these tightly packed crates of tea were the main passengers on this route, and it was only in the 1960s that it became a popular and inexpensive way to travel across the country.
Like any good adventure, it is worth planning your trip beforehand and that is where we can help. Read on to find out more about how to get tickets, what to expect and why this is truly one of the greatest train rides in the world!
Let’s start with some basics. This train journey is not for those looking for the fastest way to get to their destination. It takes around 7 hours to travel to Ella, and that is if there are no breakdowns or unexpected delays. The best way to think about this is that it is all part of the experience! Keep in mind that you will most probably be quite tired after the journey, and you might not quite understand why.
Let’s say that the train ride can be somewhat bumpy! Part of the charm of this mode of transport is that not a lot has changed for a long time, and as such, it is not a high-speed, smooth train like you may be used to. But, this is why it’s so memorable! As the train chugs along at a relatively slow pace you are able to soak up the views, and glimpse into the lives of all those who live along the rail tracks.
Firstly, it is important to know the different options when travelling on this route (which is very similar to the rest of Sri Lanka’s journeys). We would highly recommend booking in advance, especially if you would like to travel First or Second class. First-class is air-conditioned, and the seats are noticeably more comfortable and for those travelling with children or if you prefer a little more comfort, this could be a good option. In Second and Third Class it is possible to reserve seats, and this we strongly urge you to do. The idea of standing can sound appealing, but 5 hours into a crowded journey you might not be thinking the same! If you are a keen photographer you should keep in mind that in the First class the windows cannot be opened, so the Second class is a nice option. Also, as the train ‘climbs’ into the hills, the temperature gets cooler, so the air conditioning is not as necessary. Some food and drinks are sold by vendors who jump on and off at different points in the journey, which is always a great part of the experience. However, we would advise packing a few snacks, to make sure you don’t go hungry. You will often see local families indulging in their packed meals, and you wouldn’t want to feel left out!
For the most updated train times, we suggest checking the Sri Lanka Railway website. If you do have someone helping you plan your trip, we recommend asking someone who is in Sri Lanka to help you with booking. With regards to timing, please choose a morning option! While 5 pm might seem a nice time to depart from Kandy, the magic of this extraordinary journey is in the views, which of course get less visible as the light fades.2
To conclude, if you are prepared, this can be one of the most unforgettable train rides of your life. From the views to the changing landscape, the noticeable temperature changes and the immaculately dressed conductors – we can guarantee this is worth writing home about.