As I write this, we are trundling along on a sky blue train which is snaking around endless rolling hills of luscious green tea plantations.
This train journey has been dubbed one of the most beautiful in the world and as soon as you set off from the stations between Ella and Kandy in Sri Lanka, it’s easy to see why.
With the rise of tourism in Sri Lanka, plenty of enviable footage of this particular journey has been created and shared online, enough to make you want to quit your jobs and book your flights today. If you follow the likes of Ladbible or popular travel hashtags on instagram, you’ll probably have already added this trip to your bucket lists but for those that haven’t seen or heard of this increasingly popular route, here’s what you need to know…
Popular train route between Badulla and Colombo in Sri Lanka. The total journey between these two destinations is approximately 10 hours, but most travellers board the train between Ella and Kandy (two of Sri Lanka’s most frequented towns) where the scenery is the most impressive, and the duration is only 6 ish hours.
A lot of people take the train to hop off at Nuwara Eliya (2 hours from Ella by train), which is known for its tea plantations and is ideally located for those planning on hiking up Adam’s Peak. It also helps break up the journey even further if you’re not in a rush!
It doesn’t take long to get between places in Sri Lanka given the size of the country. For example. If you’re not tight on the purse strings, are pushed for time or just keen on comfort, private taxis and tuk-tuks can take you from the south coast to the centre in only a couple of hours or so and for only around £20.
Buses are also an easy way to get around and while they might overuse the horn and have a horrid tendency to overtake on blind corners, they get you to where you need to go in one piece and for a measly 25p.
So why this train?
You might not think that a train journey is something to get excited about but travellers and holidayers alike are recommended by the locals to take this train during their time in Sri Lanka. The train takes its passengers on a route through the hills and forests of Sri Lanka, which are not so easily accessible by foot or public transport.
As soon as you leave the station from Ella to Kandy (this is the leg of the journey we tried and tested at least), you are surrounded by spectacular views of the hill country, dotted with trees, fields, waterfalls and small villages. As you head further north towards Kandy, you enter the tea plantations of Newara Eliya where the blue train contrasts perfectly with the neatly patterned carpet of vibrant green covering the hills – a photographers dream!
But the best bit? The windows and doors of this train can be opened at will, which means you can hang out of the carriages and enjoy the beautiful surroundings with wind whistling through your hair, or rather hang on for dear life as you pose for a picture…
Tip: If you’re booking tickets in advance, ask for a window seat! You’re not confined to your seat of course, but it’s worth having access to the window itself if the train is full.
The trains run 4 times a day – 3 of which are fast trains, 1 is slow. The train runs throughout the year, but be aware that it may be harder to book in advance during peak season (Dec – Feb) or on weekends.
Kandy to Ella also seems to be the favoured direction for travellers to arrive in Colombo and want to go clockwise around the country. This means however that this direction is extremely busy, and we have met many people who were unable to get tickets (one pair were even forced to get a bus down to Ella just so they could ride the train back to Kandy before continuing down again as planned).
Speak to your guesthouse hosts for help in advance or head to a train station to speak to the ticket office for more info and to avoid disappointment. From what we hear, you cannot book tickets easily online (unless it’s way in advance), so just speak to someone face to face when you can!
The times of these trains are here. (Subject to change)
Tip: The direction of Ella to Kandy (as we did) may be easier if you can factor it into your travels!
1st and 3rd Class are the only tickets that can be reserved days before the journey itself. 2nd Class tickets must be purchased on the day of the journey but cannot guarantee you a seat.
1st Class Reserved – Rs. 1000 (approx £5)
2nd Class on the day – Rs. 600 (approx £3)
3rd Class Reserved – Rs. 400 each (approx £2)
You can buy tickets on the day, but bear in mind that you may have to use your speed and agility (and maybe a little brute force) to get yourself a seat. I’d recommend asking the platform attendant where the best place to stand is, or else tag along with any locals that look like they’re in the know!
Tip: 1st Class is air-conditioned but the windows do not open, so if you want to enjoy the freedom you should opt for 2nd or 3rd. We went 3rd class both legs of the journey and it was perfectly spacious and comfortable!
Whichever side you sit, you will have a good view and most people wander through the carriages and stand in the doors anyway. However, here’s what you can expect to see depending on your side and direction:
KANDY —> NUWARA ELIYA (approx. 4 hours)
Request to sit on the right – the most spectacular views of undulating tea plantations, forests and valleys are on this side
NUWARA ELIYA —> ELLA (approx. 2 hours)
Request to sit on the left – as you move away towards Ella, the views are more impressive on the left side of the train for the majority of the journey
ELLA —> NUWARA ELIYA (approx. 2 hours)
Request to sit on the right – views start on the left, but are on the right in this direction for the majority of this stint
NUWARA ELIYA —> KANDY (approx 4 hours)
Request to sit on the left – as stated, while both sides are beautiful, the valleys of tea stretch out further on the left
So there you have it. The train ride of dreams. The most beautiful and enjoyable train journey you’ll probably ever take and for £2-3 – that’s a pretty good date!